Nurses and the Bigger Picture

Yesterday, as I was finishing prepping my patient for surgery, he looked at me and asked, “Have you ever had those days when something set you off early in the morning and it threw you off for the day”. I smiled, snickered and replied, “All the time”.  He told me that a night shift staff member had come into his room in the wee hours of the morning to do a quick procedure, one that he does for himself at home. He said the staff member really hurt him and that when he told her so and tried to explain to her how he does it at home so it doesn’t hurt but she was insensitive about it and didn’t want to listen to him. He went on to tell me that when he was filling out his menu order for yesterday, he ordered blueberry pancakes for yesterday’s breakfast. He knew he wouldn’t be able to eat breakfast because he was going in for surgery but said he’d look forward to warming up the blueberry pancakes when he returned to his room after surgery. He said while he was in the bathroom, a member of the kitchen staff came and took his tray, uneaten without waiting for him to come out of the bathroom to ask if he wanted to save the tray for later. He expressed to me how disappointed he was that he wasn’t going to get those blueberry pancakes. He also described to me on another occasion, during a treatment, he had to repeatedly remind a member of his health care team multiple times to be careful with a tube that was in his body.

This patient was an admitted inpatient that had come to my unit to be prepped for surgery. I’d taken care of him several times recently as he had developed a problem that required multiple surgical procedures. He always opened up to me about different aspects of his life. I liked him and I knew he’d been through a lot recently. Today, I could see it in his eyes. He was down in the dump and my heart ached for him.

Many things went through my mind as I listened to this man. First, my heart was filled with gratitude that he chose me to vent his frustrations to. To me it meant we had made a connection somewhere in the care I provided for him. From that point, I was determined to help him as best I could in this situation.

I thought about my own experience as an inpatient in the hospital and similar things that bothered me about that hospital stay. My son was born six weeks prematurely via emergency c-section because I was critically ill. Things happened quickly to deliver my son and it saved our lives. I remembered that my husband told me he could hear me screaming “Ouch you mother fuckers” from where he was standing in the hallway outside the operating room when they rammed the epidural needle in my back without numbing my skin or giving me any warning. I remembered throwing a terrible terrible phlebotomist out of my room in the middle of the night because his skills sucked and he was too rough with me. The morning after my son was born, residents coming into my room and ripping my bandage off my c-section incision, and then rolling me over, ripped the epidural bandage off and removed the epidural.

On that same day, my sickest day, I had a nurse that was a bitch from hell. There were many instances that day where she clearly lacked compassion when I needed it the most. I was sick and afraid. I was on a stretcher for 36 hours in a holding area outside of the operating room in case they had to wheel me back in to do an emergency hysterectomy. I couldn’t figure out what was more uncomfortable, my c-section incision or my neck and back from that stretcher. I tried so hard to keep my mind focused because the medication they were giving me made me feel so foggy. I can still see the look of disgust on the night nurse’s face when she relieved bitch from hell nurse and saw that I was still on the stretcher coming up on 36 hours postpartum. She put me on an egg crate mattress and in a bed and I slept six hours. It was the best sleep I’d had in days and that egg crate mattress act of kindness that will never be forgotten.

I was an RN for four years when my son was born so I understood everything that they were doing but that doesn’t matter when you are 28 with a premature newborn and both of your lives had been in danger. I had such a textbook case of Pre-Eclampsia and HELLP Syndrome, that every resident and student nurse wanted to get their hands on me. I felt like a slab of meat in a butcher shop. I knew exactly where my patient was coming from. That egg crate mattress for me was like the blueberry pancakes he was looking forward to.

I told my patient briefly about my experience with my son’s birth but more about a lecture we had in nursing school that I never forgot. My instructor was trying to teach us about giving patients a little bit of control of their care while in the hospital and making sure we remember to do the little things that are so appreciated. She expressed the importance as a psychological aspect of care and always advised us to look at “the bigger picture” when providing patient care. She shared with us that once she had a spider bite, developed cellulitis and had to be admitted to the hospital. She said the moment she put the hospital gown on, she flipped out because she knew she was relinquishing control of her body to the health care providers at the hospital and that was difficult for her.

I never forgot that lecture and after I returned from maternity leave I made sure that my care reflected remembering to give them some form of control over their care and to do the little things for my patients that made them human. Every patient deserves that. As for my patient yesterday, I gave him some suggestions as to how he can verbalize his needs for his care. After he was taken into surgery I called the nurse that was taking care of him on the floor. I filled her in on some of his frustrations, a little background information on him, enlightened her on his “bigger picture”  and encouraged her to give him a little more TLC. I hope she listened.

The moral to this story is, don’t forget to look at the bigger picture. We get so tied up with completing tasks because we are busy and many times in a time crunch, we overlook the simplest things that would put a smile on someone’s face, make their day just a little better and their situation just a little more tolerable.

January Books

January Books

I am an avid reader. I remember the very day I decided I was a reader a reader. I was in fourth grade. It was the end of the school year and we were taking standardized tests all week. My teacher said after we completed the test we were permitted to choose a book to read from the bookshelf in the back of the room. I chose Tales of Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume and instantly became hooked. I looked forward to returning the the book each day after I was finished testing. That’s when I knew that I was a reader and would always be. I love to read for the simple reason that reading a book transports one’s mind into a different world.

The only time in my life that I have not read regularly was nursing school. Nursing school tends strip its students/victims of all things normal and fun. Reading was too cerebral for me during that time period. I took up cross stitch instead. After I took my RN boards though, it was right back to reading.

I’ve had a Good Reads App on my phone for a few years now. At first I liked it, then I didn’t. I almost took it off my phone until I realized one of my reading buddy fellow nurse coworkers was doing a reading challenge. I decided to give it a try. Last year, 2017 I joined a reading challenge. I challenged myself to read 41 books. I was only able to finish 37 though. I’m human. I know what I did wrong. It’s ok, I’ll try harder. This year I challenged myself to read 55 books. Yes, 55. That’s 14 books more than the 41 books I didn’t get finished last year. I did it it partially to annoy my coworker because she and I enjoy a little competition and I totally upped her number and partially to challenge myself to put my phone and other time wasting distractions down to spend my time on one of my favorite past times.

So here we are on January 31. This month I found myself taking advantage of times I was idle. I picked up a book.  I am pleased to say that I’ve already read 5 books! Here’s what I have so far and some background as to why I chose the book.

1. Lost on the Appalachian Trail by Kyle Rohrig
Obviously when I was in my early 20’s I didn’t get the memo that one should thru hike the AT before they start their adult lives because if I knew then what I know now, I would have started walking long ago. Because a thru hike isn’t in my immediate future, I enjoy reading about others who do. I’ve read several of these personal accounts and have enjoyed each person’s journey, including this book. I was disappointed to see that someone on Good Reads actually gave this book a poor review when I thoroughly enjoy this young man’s writing. Not only do I look forward to his next book, I subscribe to his blog. He thoughtfully places his readers into his experience.

2. Night by Elie Wiesel
My daughter had to read this for English class recently. Because I’ve been known to read what my kids have to read for English, I decided to read it. This book gives a detailed account of the author’s Holocaust experience in concentration camps. Very sad. Some day I’ll get to the other two books in his series.

3. and 4. Books 1 The Walk and Book 2 Miles to Go of The Walk series by Richard Paul Evans. I’ve always enjoyed this author’s books and decided to try this series at the suggestion of another fellow reader nurse coworker. This series is about a man walking from Washington State to The Florida Keys after losing everything in his life. I’m happy this series has 5 books because the author keeps you guessing, wondering and wanting more at the end of each book.

5. The Hideaway by Lauren K. Denton. This is my February book club book. Tomorrow my book club will discuss this book over dinner. This takes place in Alabama when the main character returns home to settle her deceased grandmother’s estate, she uncovers secrets about her grandmother’s past. Coincidentally I began reading this book just last week on the 8th anniversary of my own grandmother’s death. The dead grandmother theme was hard for me at first, my grandmother and I were very close.  I kept going though because my grandmother was one of the strongest women I’ve ever known and as the story unfolds, so was the grandmother in this book. So in a little way I was able to visit in my heart with my grandmother again, who I’d also like to add, was an avid reader. I found myself anxious that I was away from this book and yearning to return to it throughout my work day. Today I brought my nook to work to read over lunch. One of my coworkers was rambling on like Charlie Brown’s teacher  “wa wa, wa wa, wa wa” about what she was making for dinner and at one point, I looked at her with a blank stare and realized I didn’t hear a word she said. Now that’s a good book!

Seasons of Change

I spotted my daughter from thirty yards away.  She was standing in a circle with her friends and she was smiling. She didn’t see me yet so I studied her face. Her face is round with high cheekbones and full oval lips. Her eyes are ice blue and they look even bluer when she has her navy marching band uniform on. She’s beautiful. I’m so grateful that she still comes to me for hugs and I cherish her little giggle when she nestles her face between my neck and collarbone.  Some days she’s so sweet and we click, yet other days her words sting and we throw daggers at each other. I know my mouth was no picnic to my parents when I was a teenager so I pick my battles.

Finally she looks up and sees me staring at her. She smiles at me. Her smile makes me smile. With her eyes, she motions for me to approach her. I walked over to her and as I’d done many times before, I grasped her white gloved hand. It was always our special moment to grasp hands before she took the field in a marching band competition. I looked into her clear blue eyes. We didn’t have to speak, her eyes told me everything, “Mom I’m scared about this performance and the upcoming change”. My eyes responded, “I know baby. Go out there and play with your heart and it will all fall into place. It’s healthy, you’ll see”.  In our hearts, we both knew this was the end. There would never be another day like this. This was the end and it hurt.

Moments later, four chaperone band moms (my friends)  and myself, the nurse, escorted this marching band into the University of Maryland Stadium for Regional Championships. We always had such a great sense of pride as parents escorting them into stadiums, supporting this marching band and being in their presence. These musicians, our children played their hearts out.

Season change, people change and believe it or not, so do high school marching bands. Days after this picture was taken at the final competition, it was announced that this marching band would no longer compete through USBANDS. The band directors have decided to march the band in a different direction, literally. Next year they will continue to perform half time shows but they will transform from being a competitive field show band and become a parade band. Most of the band was upset to hear this news. Some cried. Some stormed out of the band room. Some planned on quitting. As for my daughter, her heart has been with that marching band since she was in fifth grade, the year my son began high school and entered that band. She’s a little upset too but her ability to think outside of the box will come in handy when changes are made to this band and I know she’ll go with the flow.

When I asked my daughter if we could take a picture of our hand grasp she agreed immediately, no questions asked. For me, it was a two part reason. The final marching band field show competition and something deeper. As a parent, it’s about finding common threads and establishing bonds with our children during each phase of their lives. It’s about sharing special moments like a hand grasp that they can remember and take with them throughout their lives. It’s about teaching them everything we know about life before they spread their wings and leave the nest. It’s about putting your own needs aside to tend to theirs. It’s about giving them your time.  It’s about accepting their coming of age and embracing it.

120 Minutes for the Asthmatic Hiker

I asked for silence and the freedom to hike at my own pace as we entered the woods. Silence to quiet the noise. There was way too much noise in my head. Noise that means nothing in the grander scheme of things but was just enough to send me spiraling into a self criticizing session. Noise like, I’d set false expectations on the time schedule for the morning in my household and I was in fear of running out of time for a hike before we went to our Thanksgiving dinner. The REI hiking pants that I’d purchased in September were tight in the waist and the scarf I’d brought on the hike to cover my nose and mouth from the cold was too itchy.

It had been 129 days since my last hike. I’ve been hiding from the trail with my tail between my legs and making excuses why I haven’t made the time to go hiking. In reality when I want to do something, I find the time. Fear tends to paralyze you though. This year has not been a good one for my asthma. Sensitivity to below freezing or stifling hot temperatures, three rounds of Prednisone therapy between early February and late August and a harshly stated truth in September from my primary physician, “Your asthma is uncontrolled”. I also find myself easily winded when I am forced to walk or hike at other people’s paces. People who are taller than me and can handle longer strides and are able to take faster paces with ease. Faster than my 5’1″ legs. This has been my reality this year. Sometimes it makes me want to fucking scream. Scream in frustration as my self confidence smashes into the ground like my grandmother used to smash the ants in her backyard. There would be nothing left of the ant after she finished with it. Self confidence level zero in the feeling healthy and fit department. Great. Just great.

Well guess what? I got tired of that crap. I’m 47, not 90 and I enjoy being physically fit. Six years ago I was running 5K’s and treadmill running. I’d run 3-5 miles 2-3 times a week on the treadmill at the gym and I loved every minute that I was dripping wet with sweat and my heart and lungs felt like they were going to explode from my chest. I’ve since lost interest in running but I do know there are other ways you can get a satisfying high from cardio exercise. I prefer walking and hiking now.

Time to reclaim my lungs. Baby steps. First, I began using my inhalers differently. This was a little mental for me. I continued with my twice daily steroid inhaler and weaned myself off daily use of my rescue inhaler. I had to realize that I don’t need the rescue inhaler as much as I think I do. When I walk to exercise, I remind myself that my heart is pumping away and I’m sweating and breathing a little faster because I’m exercising, that I’m okay and this feels good. When it gets really cold out, I plan to wear a cold weather face shield. Second, I began taking daily vitamins. Vitamin D3, Super B-Complex and a Women’s One a Day Energy and Metabolism. Third, I joined Young Living. I purchased an essential oil roll on called Breathe Again that I roll on my chest after my shower each day. The fourth and final thing is my favorite. Deep breathing exercises. The easiest way to bring yourself into the present and prevent your mind from traveling to places you don’t want it to is to take deep cleansing breath. I found this has been beneficial to my lungs as well.

So on Thanksgiving morning, with my trekking poles in hand, my boots tied tight and a heart filled with hope, I left all the nonsense noise in my head at the trail head took my newly reclaimed lungs hiking for the first time in 129 days. My husband graciously left me to hike my own hike at my own pace and I set off by myself in silence and planned to meet him at our designated check point.

I was a little nervous at first. We decided to hike the opposite direction of our favorite trail and that involves a gradual steady rise in elevation that in the past I haven’t wanted to challenge myself with. I covered my face and kept a steady pace, pausing when I needed to for a quick breath or to just observe nature. When I noticed the swishing sound of my hiking pants rubbing together with each step, it occurred to me that I’d established my own rhythm and that I was tolerating my comeback hike without difficulty. With each landmark of the trail that I arrived at, I smiled in celebration and conquered each elevation rise at a pace I could tolerate. I didn’t see any wildlife but midway through I crossed paths with another hiker who had his two dogs off their leashes. The dogs approached me silently and we made eye contact and went our separate ways. They were beautiful dogs and my encounter with them only enhanced the beauty of the experience.

Yesterday I hiked 3.19 miles in 120 minutes of silence and today I hiked 3.75 miles in 150 minutes of silence, leaving the woods with renewed motivation, confidence and a sore butt. I’ll take it.

Pressing On

In case you are new to this blog, I am a Pre-Op nurse. I am assigned on average 7 patients during my nine hour shift. My job is to do a physical assessment, a medication reconciliation, a health assessment and comb through their medical history with a fine tooth comb to find anything about their health history that may indicate the patient is not safe to go under anesthesia. I also educate patient and families, comfort them, medicate as needed, place IV access and give IV fluids. It’s fast paced and mental. Some patients come for elective surgery. Some come because their lives depend on it. Lots of sick people for me this week. Today was particularly difficult. Everyone’s life depended on their surgery today. To top it off, in the middle of the day, one of my coworkers was notified of a death in her family. She had to leave immediately. Those of us that remained just pushed on as if we were soldiers on a battlefield, pulling our own casualties to safety and pressing on to fight the terrible war against death. The day dragged on and on with hard IV sticks, complicated medical histories, and unexpected additional tasks.

When I sat in my car to go home, I realized that I had not yet processed the death of my coworker’s parent. Despite our busy start, we’d spent the beginning of our morning laughing, teasing each other and bickering as we always do when we are assigned in the same area. Now the flow of her life has changed and I am sad for her.

Towards the end of the day I was getting some negative vibes from a patient. I felt like she and her husband didn’t like me. Maybe I just sounded too systematic to her or too routine. Maybe it’s my imagination. Maybe she was too worried about her condition to appear friendly. She was assigned to me as fast as my coworker ran out the door. I was hypoglycemic and in shock over my coworker’s loss. Yet I pressed on as best I could, because I am a nurse.

I am sitting in a soft folding chair in a grassy field. Even though it is only 0900 as I write this the sun is already beating down and the dew that glistens on the grass will soon evaporate. It will only grow hotter as the day progresses and the bugs will soon have their feast on us. By the end of the day my hair will be falling out of it’s ponytail and I will be sticky from the bug spray and stinky from the heat and looking at another late night. It’s ok though, I’m embracing the suck because I am present. 

My daughter’s high school marching band is in it’s second week of band camp. On Sunday the band left home to spend three nights at away camp. I accompanied them because I am volunteering as the marching band nurse. My job is to administrator prescribed medications, provide first aid, moral support and assist with anything else that arises. This is the fourth year I’ve volunteered as the marching band nurse and the third year I’ve been at this camp. 

The purpose of going to this camp is for uninterrupted rehearsal time. Consistency is essential in marching band. In order to be consistent, interruptions must be alleviated. Consistency builds discipline and in the world of high school marching band, this yeilds success. The schedule of rehearsals and team building activities remains the same each year. This band returns home from away camp as a united, disciplined band. 

Even though I’ve been on board with the culture of marching band since my son entered his freshman year of marching band fall of 2012, I’ll admit it took me two summers of attending this away camp to appreciate their traditions which have remained the same for many years. I used to think some of the activities were childish perhaps because I wasn’t included or that I was lonely for my band parent peers. Now I realize they are essential. 

Sunday I drove to this camp with similar feelings of dread but was quickly and pleasantly surprised on how my attitude changed… for the better. All of the things that have irritated me in previous years seemed to have evaporated as soon as I pulled into the camp. 

This year I’ve had kids approach me with a variety of issues; physical issues and psychosocial. I’ve invested time since day 1 of this year’s band camp communicating with their parents, reassuring them from one parent to another that this marching band is a good place for their child. I’ve spent time with the kids, tending to their individual needs, getting to know them, learning to look past their adolescence into their hearts to understand what issues and concerns in life they have and how I can help them at the moment. 

Being a nurse who works in a hospital, things like this are part of my daily work life as a registered nurse and of course I’ve applied my same hospital work ethics to my work here as volunteer marching band nurse. These kids deserve my very best care. 

In my personal life, through various ways, I spend a great deal of time looking for ways to improve my spirituality by releasing fear,  maintaining a positive outlook during difficult situations, practicing daily gratitude and learning to experience joy wherever I go. I’m learning to be present. 

I don’t know how it happened or which electrical pathways in my brain decided to synapse, but I’ve been extremely aware of and focused on my purpose here, leaving insecurities and worries of other parts of my life behind. 

Last night as darkness quickly approached during the final moments of rehearsal, I watched this tired band give everything they had and bust their asses until the very end and the music they produced moved me to a state of joy.  I felt myself being completely consumed in the moment and I realized that I’d been present and focused on my purpose here since the moment I pulled into this camp. 

Finally I have captured the essence of being present. Now that it’s in my grasp, I will not let go. I can continue to grow and master it even more. I am present. 

Reset and The Nursing Process

Reset and the Nursing Process

Reset is a word I hear often. The high school marching band that my son spent four years with and that my daughter will enter her second year is a field show marching band. Each year they have a different theme, music and show. It is exciting to see the creativity of the show play out onto the field as the band comes together and evolves throughout the season. They begin band camp in the worst heat of late July. They spend long days marching on the field and playing music to rehearse the show over and over again. When the band director determines they need improvement on something, he calls, “Reset”. Last year, every time the band director called reset, one of the senior boys would respond with great enthusiasm, “I love reset”. At first it got on my nerves but then it began to resonate with me. I realized that it was his way of being positive to do what he needed to do to help the band get the show right.

With that said, what exactly does the word reset mean? According to Webster’s Dictionary, the word “RESET” is defined as, “To set again or begin anew”.

So, how can we apply the word “reset” to our daily lives? How do we reset our attitudes when work days are often shit shows due to staffing, family life is so busy you don’t know if you should identify with the energizer bunny or Judy the Hyperactive Brownie (played by Gilda Radner on SNL) or both.

I have a coworker who posts funny things on social media when her feisty three-year old daughter has a meltdown. Recently she posted that during one of her meltdowns her daughter said, “I just can’t deal with it”. I snicker to myself every now and then about that post because it’s so true. I know that when I feel like throwing myself on the ground because I, “just can’t deal with it”, it’s time for a reset.

Ironically sometimes it’s nursing that plays a role in my need for a reset yet it’s nursing that helps implement the reset. The American Nurses Association describes the Nursing Process as “the essential core of practice for the registered nurse to deliver holistic, patient focused care”. So as nurses who care for patients, why not use the nursing process to care for our selves? Self care is essential for every human being.

  1. Assess: collect psychological and physiological data about yourself: I’m tired and crabby. My temper has become short and I become anxious when something unexpected arises and I have a problem to solve. I need a lot of self talk to be able to accomplish daily tasks. My body is demonstrating signs of stress; heartburn, neck and back tension. Sometimes I wake up during the night and worry about things.
  2. Diagnose: I need a break. I need a reset.
  3. Planning: What things can I do to put a smile on my face again, to feel at peace and to get myself out of this rut?
  4. Implement: Carry out your plans
  5. Evaluate: How did that work? What would you keep? What would you do differently?

I usually require a reset twice a year; after the school year and after the holidays as the new year approaches. This year was no different. By the end of June I knew my attitude was in the toilet and it was time for a reset. I held on by a thread until we left for the lake.

I didn’t just use our lake vacation to be away from home, work and the challenges of daily life. I used it to reset. I spent time with my family doing fun activities. We ate all of our favorite lake foods. I ate ice cream everyday. I dug my feet into the earth for many minutes at a time to clear my Root Chakra. I meditated. I wrote. I read. I slept. I took vitamins. I got my 10,000 in steps each day in a new scenery that wasn’t sterile hallways of a hospital. I sat outside just to “be” and listened to boats passing by and birds chirping. We hiked. I didn’t think about our life at home, I only focused on recharging my battery and not what I had to go home to or what my fall is going to be like. I made a conscious effort to be present. I am at peace. I am now reset.

I highly recommend a reset to anyone who feels like throwing themselves on the ground and having a temper tantrum like a toddler because they “just can’t deal with it”. Don’t worry, it happens to all of us. Take care of yourselves. Everyone needs a reset. Reset. Reset. I love reset.

Just in case your are curious, the ice cream flavors I ate were: Cake batter, grape sherbet, black raspberry, chocolate, maple walnut. cotton candy, berger cookie.

 

 

 

Beau Jangles

I always listen to music when I write but I only allow myself to listen to instrumental music. No singing. Singing is a distraction. Tonight, I am listening to the 70’s station on Pandora Radio.

It’s funny how when we revisit old memories how those moments in time are frozen, waiting for us to revisit them. As I write this, I need to listen to the music that brings me back to my childhood. 

It’s June 26, 1978. I am 7 1/2 years old living in my childhood home in Buffalo, New York. My younger brother was four and my older brother was 11. It was after dinner , still light out and we were playing in our playroom.

“BEAU STOP”, my father yells. Tires screech and then a car peels away. There is yelling. There are men in the street. Our neighbors. My brothers and I run out of the house to see what’s wrong. There is blood all over the street. My father firmly commands us to turn around and go back into the house. My grandma runs out of the house to bring us back in. They don’t want us to see what happened. We know though. Our dog has been hit by a car. He is dead. Our dog is gone. That was a terrible night in our house.

The bitch that ran him over just kept driving. Although I would never wish anyone harm, for all these years I have wished karma would find her. Accidents happen and Beau did bolt across the street but it was obvious she killed our dog and she drove away without apology when my father was standing in the driveway. Really? Who does that?

Then men on our street hosed off the blood and helped my father put Beau’s body in a box. The box was placed up against the house in the driveway for the SPCA to retrieve the next day. My bedroom faced the driveway. For the longest time I could not sleep facing my bedroom window which faced the driveway. My back always had to be facing the window. Who knows what a psychiatrist would say about that today. Denial maybe.

Beau Jangles, Beau for short was a black mini poodle. My parents must have adopted him shortly after they purchased that house. I was around two. My little brother wasn’t born yet and my older brother was adopted later on. Beau peed on the light post in front of our house. That was his spot. When he wanted to go somewhere on our street he ran. He bolted as a matter of fact. There was a fat basset hound named Maude that lived down the street. She used to lay in the street and never got hit by a car. As a matter of fact sometimes people would stop to pet her. Beau slept on a rug in my grandma’s room. She’d let him out the back door and when she wanted him to come back in the house she’d call for him out the door and he’d come running. In the winter, my grandma let Beau out to do his business and he came right back in. He didn’t play around with Buffalo’s harsh winters. Moments before his death, he came into the room we were playing in. He’d approached each of us. We greeted him and pet him and then he went outside for the last time.

We moved to Atlanta two years after Beau died and never got another dog. We had a few cats instead. I was too young to understand the magnitude of a dog’s love as I do now but somewhere deep inside I could never bring myself to get attached to other people’s dogs, simply because they weren’t my dog. That didn’t happen until I was 41. My friend adopted a poodle mix that I fell head over heels over. I loved his face and the la la la playful way about him. That’s when I knew it was time for me to love another dog.

My husband had never had dogs growing up. Only cats. I gently eased him into a conversation about getting a dog. It was a good time for our family to adopt a dog and our kids had been asking. A few months later I was on Petfinder looking at Black Mini Poodles. A black poodle not to replace Beau Jangles, but because that little girl who lost her dog in 1978 can’t imagine herself with any other kind of dog.

Beau Jangles must have been watching over me from Heaven because there was a black male mini poodle waiting for us on Petfinder when I began my search. He was 2 1/2 and he’d been listed a few months.  I looked at other poodles too but kept going back to him.They say you don’t choose the dog, the dog chooses you. It was his eyes that drew me to him. Eyes that said, “I need you, you need me. Bring me home”. We went to meet him, spent two hours with him and brought him home. We changed his name from Pooky to Cooper Jay. There was an adjustment period of course. He’d been in a shelter for six months and wow did he ever have skeletons in his closet. We got through it though. We earned his trust and he taught us how to take care of him and love him on a level we didn’t know we were capable of.

I think of Beau from time to time. Especially on June 26. I wish he didn’t die so tragically. The little girl from 1978 believes somehow from Heaven he let me fall in love with my friend’s dog here on earth and  helped realize it was time okay for me to love another dog again and go looking for Cooper.

 

Just Because

On Thursday June 8, my husband and I did something that was so much fun. We provided trail magic for 2017 Appalachian Trail Thru Hikers.

We arrived at Pen-Mar County Park at approximately 1050 in the morning. Our drive was seventy miles and we’d left the house an hour later than I’d wanted to but we’d been going non stop that week and were up late the night before so I guess we needed the sleep. In anticipation of of wanting to relish each moment of this experience, I was worried we’d miss the hikers as they walked through the park.

Pen-Mar County Park has a charming appeal. There are multiple pavilions, grills, picnic tables, concessions (that were not open) a play ground, a scenic overlook, restrooms and plenty of tall trees that provided shade and a nice breeze. To be there for the day was peaceful in itself.

 After we parked the car, we decided to walk around the park to find a place to set up tables and get a grill started. My husband drove my Jeep in the grass so we didn’t have to carry our supplies so far and immediately got screamed at by a ratty old man who identified himself as the park ranger and threatened us by stating we are lucky the other park ranger wasn’t here because we’d have been thrown out. I decided immediately to ignore him and tune him out because his energy was negative. Once he realized what we were doing, he wanted to stand around and talk for what seemed like an eternity. I wanted him to leave so my husband I could focus on spending time with the thru hikers. Not to sound rude but I wasn’t about to offer him food either. It was for the hikers. He came around periodically and once the hikers realized he wasn’t with us, they ignored him.
We spotted a thru hiker immediately. I asked him if he was a thru hiker and told him we had food. He helped us unload the car and kept us company while we got the food going. Soon other hikers began to appear and before we knew it we had eight hikers joining us. We served hotdogs, chips, watermelon, oranges, brownie bites, honey buns, soda and coca cola and watched them chow. The hikers came in waves during our six hours at Pen-Mar County Park. We fed a total of 25 hikers that day.

The hikers that arrived as we were setting up were the hungriest and stayed the longest. It was lunchtime. The ones that arrived later were there to snack and stayed less time. They told us how many miles they had to hike to get to camp for the night. They told us their trail names and how they acquired them. They told us where they were from and what their plans were after they summit Mt Katahdin. The ones that came later in the day, knew the ones that had come earlier in the day. The ones that came earlier in the day told us who we could expect later on and sure enough they appeared. They knew each others eating habits, how many miles their “tramily” does in a day, what time they leave camp in the morning, what they eat, who hikes ultra light, who’s a loner, who’s a loud mouth know it all, etc. What I read about the culture of the AT was validated through my conversations with the hikers.

Through the course of the day I made a mental note of the different reasons they were thru hiking. Some were thru hiking for the adventure. There were three hikers from Germany and one from Israel and they all planned on returning to their countries after they summit Mt Katahdin. There were some that were using their thru hike to figure out their next steps in life. Some were retired. My nurse radar also zoned in on a few that seemed to be working through things in their lives by the way they carried themselves, didn’t offer much information and through the looks in their eyes, enjoyed the solitude of hiking alone. Whatever the reason for their thru hikes, I wish I could have talked to them all day. We had a little notebook and some of them signed it.

The picture that I have enclosed is the only one I took. The paper on the tree is a sign I made and put near the white blaze so they’d see it as they came out of the woods and into the park. I had planned on taking more but I decided I didn’t want to photograph the hikers and publish it on social media. I can picture them now in my mind, where they were sitting, when they arrived, what they looked like and what their stories were. The fact that they let me into their community if only for an afternoon is enough for me.

It is a known fact that I am fascinated with The Appalachian Trail. My fascination began last summer when I read “Hiking Through” by Paul V. Stutzman because it appeared as an advertisement on my Barnes and Noble Nook and continued with more books, blogs, websites, you tube videos and Instagrams. When I learned what trail magic was, I knew I wanted to provide some. Just because.

 

Trail magic is defined as, “an unexpected act of kindness” and according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, it is a quintessential part of the AT experience. The people that provide the trail magic are defined as “trail angels”.

This experience was definitely one that will keep my husband and I smiling for years to come and something we plan on doing more of, hopefully two or three times per year if time allows. In September we’d like return to provide trail magic for the SOBOs making their way to Springer Mountain Georgia.

One of the female hikers was open about what she and her boyfriend’s plans were for after their hike was complete and she was interesting to talk to. She even invited me to follow her on Instagram. She asked me what role we played in the hiking community and if we hadn’t thru hiked, why we were doing this. My answer was simple; pay it forward when you can, I love feeding people and most of all, because I wanted to.

Pause.

I have a bump out room off my kitchen. We call it the sun room. It’s about 10 feet by 12 feet. It has a sliding glass door on the front wall and a deck attached. On the left wall is windows. My desk and writing space sits up against this wall. I can open up the blinds and gaze out the window when I write during the day.  My husband’s Ikea Poang chair sits in the corner between the sliding glass door and the left wall. The right wall has a futon and a television. We have a throw rug on the floor and the walls are painted with a warm oatmeal color. The roof is slanted with sky light windows. In the sixteen years and six months I’ve lived in this house I’ve watched plenty of bad weather through those sky light windows.

Tonight while watching an old season of Top Chef, I glanced up at the sky light windows and noticed that the sky was gold. I asked my husband to pause the television and we rushed outside the front door to look at the sky. On the left, the sky was dark and grey. On the right it was yellow. In the middle of the yellow sky was a patch of clear sky as if the other side of our neighborhood was experiencing a sunny evening. It soon began to rain hard and we went back into the house.

I returned to my futon and continued to watch television. I glanced up at the sky light windows and noticed sky was now completely grey and it was pouring down rain. I listened to the rain hitting the glass. One of my favorite sounds, especially when I am home. At that moment it occurred to me that there was no place on this earth that I’d rather be than cuddled up with my dog watching a storm through those windows. An intense feeling of gratitude embraced me.

I’ve learned to pause what I’m doing and observe in silence moments like this. For me, they help me experience gratitude at a deeper level. Sunrise, sunsets, nature, weather. These moments come to us for a reason. Stop. Be silent. Enjoy.