Here’s what I learned about COVID 19 (the novel coronavirus) when I ended up in the local hospital emergency room this week.Continue reading
I was a young mid-level marketing manager working in New York City on 9/11. I remember sitting at my desk the night before going over the information for my first day of graduate school as rain poured against the eaves of our tiny Long Island apartment. Newlywed, living in about 800 square feet, working in Manhattan with an hour and a half commute each day, I was embarking on graduate school at New York University and my first “official” marketing management class was supposed to be on Tuesday, 9/11.
I remember what I wore that day: my favorite comfortable black dress slacks, black suede Oxford shoes (the better to walk around Manhattan and thank God I wore them that day), a purple suede jacket, purple t-shirt, my beautiful silver heart locket that my husband had given to me. I slung my briefcase over my shoulder, kissed my sleeping husband good-bye, grabbed a coffee to go, and headed into Manhattan.
The skies over the city that day were so crystal clear blue it was breathtaking. There’s a moment when the LIRR train dips into the tunnel at the East River where you see the entire sprawl of the tip of Manhattan. The Twin Towers gleamed that day. I loved those buildings. I had a poster of them in my room growing up. They were my touchstone. When I traveled on business, as our plane entered New York air space, I’d look for them, and smile when I saw them. They meant I was home.
That day I remember glancing out the window at the silver sparkling city and the gleaming towers and feeling the heft of my new marketing textbook in my briefcase nestled against my lunch and I smiled thinking of how happy I was finally moving ahead in my career.
The rest of the day…well, I have told the story before. How I watched an endless stream of rescue vehicles roll down Columbus Avenue from my office. How I sat huddled with my coworkers in Conference Room A while we watched lower Manhattan under attack on the big screens normally used for Board meetings. And how I walked 40 blocks to Penn Station, caught a train, and sat near a woman covered in debris who couldn’t even tell us her name because she was in such a state of shock.
My memories of 9/11, here: Remembering 9/11
The full story.
Never forget. Never. Over 3,000 people lost their lives that day in a terrorist attack.
I’d forgotten the simple truth of dogs: they are our greatest teachers. When you work with a dog, you must learn your own lessons first before you can teach a dog his lessons.
Some of you know that after two years of being dog-less since Shadow, my German shepherd’s death from cancer, we chose to add a new German shepherd puppy to our home. I wasn’t prepared. Not one bit. You see the calendar pictures of puppies and think, “Aw, how cute” and expect a cuddle buddy.
Instead, you find yourself sleep deprived and caring for a voracious velociraptor who is intent upon destroying your home and your sanity.
Between sleep deprivation, my constant anxiety (a holdover from childhood), and reading too much online for my own good, I was a nervous wreck.
The internet is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because at a moment’s notice I can access the equivalent of a full library of research. I used to depend on my public library’s collection for research; now the world is at my fingertips.
It’s a curse because any yahoo can write anything (present company excepted), publish it, and have it seem like gospel truth.
I made myself absolutely crazy the first two weeks with my new puppy by reading all sorts of advice. I felt pressured to do what the ‘experts’ said but all the experts said different things. How was I to pick out the best bits if I didn’t know who to trust?
My sister said look at Cesar Milan’s site. My friends gave me the names of local trainers ranging from one who jumped immediately to tough love to another who preferred game play. Our dog’s veterinarian gave me the card of a local trainer and said that behavior and training wasn’t his field so he could only answer my veterinary questions. Fair enough. I felt that I didn’t know how to raise a puppy and that if I did something wrong I’d have a 90 pound ferocious mess of a dog on my hands in a few months.
Ridiculous, I know, but this is where my thoughts went. “If I make a mistake now and don’t do the right thing he’s going to be Cujo.”
My husband said, “Forget about the experts. We raise this dog as we mean to have him. We’ll be fine.”
I tortured myself by reading every single online forum about German shepherds. It seems as if I’d added a maniac to my family – hadn’t I?
I’d forgotten the truth of internet forums: NOBODY POSTS GOOD THINGS THERE. You only read the horror stories. Everyone who shows up to a forum looking for advice is desperate. If you read forums on dog problems, you end up reading all the crazy stories and scaring yourself.
I realized I was like a mother who, bringing home her newborn baby, worries that if she doesn’t do every single thing perfect he’s going to turn into a serial killer.
All the forums and articles made me more anxious. I read all sorts of advice that included:
- Crate training is a MUST for your dog (No, it’s not. It’s completely optional. People have been raising dogs for hundreds of years without crates and in some countries today including Finland and Sweden, it’s actually illegal.)
- You can housebreak your dog in just two weeks! (Not likely).
- Never say NO to your dog.
- Start training now.
- Don’t train until he’s six months old.
- Teach bite inhibition.
- Don’t teach bite inhibition.
- You definitely need a professional trainer. (Maybe yes, maybe no. Depends.)
- Don’t feed your puppy rawhide. (Our vet said it’s fine.)
- Don’t let your puppy go on hikes! Long walks are bad! It will ruin his joints and set him up for hip dysplasia later! (No evidence of this. Our vet said it is fine.)
- Don’t take your puppy walking on a leash on the street until he is 6 months old or he can catch something horrible and die. (No, our vet said it is fine. Just no boarding kennels or dog parks or places with a large concentration of dogs until Zeke is 6 months and completes his vaccinations.)
Thirty some-odd years ago, I had helped a woman retrain an off-track Thoroughbred. I exercised her horse, helping instill consistent commands to turn a racehorse into a pleasure hunter. I’ve ridden horses, trained horses, and worked with rescued dogs.
I had forgotten the big lesson: to work with animals, you must know yourself. You must be confident. Have a plan. Reward. Punish fairly. Never harsh discipline. And leave time for play, in whatever way the species plays, because all work and no play makes for cranky animals (and people).
There is no right or wrong way to raise a dog. The only wrong way I know is to abuse an animal. The rest? It’s an enormous canvas of gray area.
I read an article by, of all people, a Navy SEAL and Meagan Karnes, a woman who trains Belgian Malinois for the armed forces. Both said the same thing in different ways and it really resonated with me. I’m paraphrasing it here:
When a puppy is young, it wants a leader, not a mother. It had a mother. You have to step up and be the leader. Not alpha (that’s old-fashioned thinking that’s been debunked) but a LEADER. Leaders LEAD. Never give a command to a dog you don’t intend to follow through on. Lavish with praise, use the lightest amount of correction and graduate up. Find what motivates your dog. Work with him daily. Be consistent.
Yes. This is what I had forgotten. I needed to be a leader and rise to the challenge if I wanted this young pup to become the wonderful companion dog I sought.
There is no right or perfect way to raise a puppy, a horse, or a person. I’ve ridden horses that were Western trained who had to be taught English riding style. I’ve ridden green horses who knew very little and needed consistency to understand and grasp the rider’s commands. I know how to do this.
Perhaps someday I may need a trainer or an expert to help me with something and I now have a list of people whose training styles I like and respect and think might work for us as a team if we want or need them.
But I might not need them. We may just be fine on our own. The majority of people raise great dogs in their home with love, kindness, and fairness. I can, too.
We are learning together, one day at a time. Meanwhile, I’ve removed all the bookmarks to all the forums where all the people with problems go.
Maybe someday I’ll be one of those people and need advice and help. But today is not that day.
Today, I choose to trust myself, learn from my dog, and become a better human being because of it.
God gave us a great gift in our relationships with dogs.
This weekend, we visited a German shepherd breeder to meet her and visit with the parents of our hopefully soon-to-be puppy.
No, I’m not adopting a shelter dog this time around.
I am, too. But I know it’s the right decision for my family. Here’s why.
What do recurring dreams tell us? Have you ever had the same dream, or similar dreams, night after night?
Recurring dreams feature prominently in my forthcoming novel, the latest book in the Majek family mystery series, I See You. In the novel, David and his family experience similar dreams, linked to a mystery from the past they are drawn into solving.
In my own life, I’ve studied dream interpretation. I first made sure it wasn’t against my faith (it’s not; the Bible is full of dreams and their meaning) and then I set to work studying patterns and symbolism.
Dream interpretation and meaning is a private matter. Symbols take on shades and meaning depending on the dreamer, their life experiences, their cultural affiliation and more. And yes, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar (sorry, Freudian fans).
Over the past several weeks, I’ve repeatedly dreamed one of two dreams. Sometimes they alternate. Sometimes a week goes by without one. But both came up continually until I took action in my waking life to address what troubled me.
Dream 1: The Train Station
In the first dream, I’m walking through the equivalent of Penn Station, New York City. This was my commuting hub for many years. The smell in my dream is vivid – yes, I can smell things in dreams. Subway stations and train stations in New York City have a very strong odor of grease, sweat, and a hundred other things you don’t want to think about.
The floor also feels gritty, especially in subway stations. Sometimes it is sticky. You don’t think about that, either.
In my dream, I’m hurrying to the kiosk to purchase my ticket. When I get to the kiosk, I can’t get it to work. I punch in the wrong numbers for my credit card. I realize I have no money. Or the ticket prints and I accidentally lose it somehow. I can’t get on the train.
Other variations of this dream find me getting on the wrong train and ending in Holbrook instead of Huntington where I used to live or taking an odd subway and ending up in a strange place. I never arrive at my destination and I spend the dream searching for my ticket, stumbling through strange places, or frantically trying to find the right train to get to my destination.
I wake up feeling frustrated and upset.
Dream 2: No Passport
In my second dream, I’m either embarking on a business trip or a school trip. The school trip dream is fun because I am back in high school. I enjoyed high school!
In both dreams, I arrive at the airport and am in the terminal with my luggage. I am meeting a group of people. I step onto the line to board the plane. It is only on the line, or at the counter, that I realize I needed a passport…and I do not have one.
Sometimes, I find myself traveling to the destination, which is usually Paris or Hong Kong, and am told I did not need a passport, only to find when I get there that I did. Sometimes I have to hurry and apply for a rush passport to get to where I want to go. At other times, miraculously, I am waved through.
Never have I turned back because of my lack of passport in my dreams. Sometimes I am simply waved through, or overlooked. At other times, I am able to complete an emergency set of paperwork and receive the appropriate documents. I wake up feeling relieved.
What Do These Dreams Mean?
Here is how dream interpretation works for me: once I decode my dreams and realize their meaning, they stop. It’s as if my subconscious, relieved that it is being heard, thanks me and moves on to another life problem.
For the past several years, I have felt the call on my life to focus on my fiction. I have felt deep in my spirit God saying, “Write. Just write. Don’t worry about anything else. Tell the stories I’ve given to you.”
I have a story map hanging over my desk with at least 12 novels mapped out that I would like to write. But my full-time work as a marketing manager and marketing writer keeps me from working longer hours on my novels.
This frustration led to my recurring dreams of the train station. Trains, subways, and stations in dreams represent the flow of your life and the destination your life is headed towards. Your personal journey through life is the train. In my dreams, I cannot get to my destination. Sometimes I can’t even get on the train. I lose my ticket (my entrance into the journey) or I cannot find the destination.
My subconscious was telling me that I wasn’t following my heart’s path and that I was slowly losing my way. I needed to make a big, bold move to step onto the right train.
The second dream also represents my life’s journey as planes represent it but more so the higher element, the soul or spiritual journey. Notice how in this dream, I don’t have a passport. A passport is an official document or “permission” to embark.
In my dreams, I don’t have “official permission to embark on my journey.” But note: I do so anyway. And it all works out.
One of the things I struggle with frequently is the notion of being judged on my job title or my job itself. When I worked in Manhattan and had impressive titles, car service, an expense account, and at one point two administrative assistants, I felt important. I had my nails done at the salon weekly and wore expensive clothing. I felt like I was Somebody.
But it’s all ephemeral, wrapping paper on the same gift inside. The same Me who walked calmly into meetings of 250 people and addressed a packed ballroom is also the same me who dons jeans and workboots and heads out into the garden to dig weeds alongside her husband and till the soil. Whether I live on my 17-acre farm, work outside in the morning and write in the afternoons and evenings or take a subway to work 12 hour days in an office building, I am the same person.
My dreams are telling me to go, to embark on my life’s mission. They are telling me it will be okay (I get there without a passport) and that if I don’t start soon I will miss my calling; I will end up at the wrong destination. (Poor Holbrook! Why does my subconscious pick on that lovely little town? Holbrook = hole in book =hole in my book of life, or a big missing part of myself).
I am entering my 50th year on this planet, and with it, the feeling of a clock ticking. No longer do I have the luxury of time. This month, I cut back on my client work to free more time for my life’s passions, the farm and garden, and my writing. The clients I retain will be enough. I have more than enough. What I do not have more than enough of is time left to write those stories God has placed on my heart to share with the world. Whether they are successful or not, popular or unpopular, I do not know.
I do know that there are stories to be told and that I am the teller of them.
This is dream interpretation. It is dreaming and finding the meaning underneath. I am convinced that the subsconscious has much to tell us if we learn to quiet and listen to what it says, via symbols and feelings, and learn to interpet our own inner landscape.
This past week, I hit the wall. I pushed my body to the maximum and could go no further.
Yet I did go on. I had to. I was about two or more miles from my car and night was rapidly approaching. Here’s what I learned from moving beyond my body’s self-imposed physical limitations.
I am grateful I can walk. I have the blisters to prove it.
I walked a charity 5K on Saturday and hiked 11+ miles on Monday.
Here’s what I did and why I did it.
Who said writers were sedentary creatures?
I’m a few months shy of turning the big 5-0, but middle age is on my mind. A lot. Every snap, crackle and pop of every joint in my body sounds like a warning knell to old age.
I’m starting to think about retirement. I’m only a few years away from qualifying for the ‘mature’ or ‘golden’ checking account at my bank.
I like what I look like at almost-50:
It seems as if everywhere I turn these days, people look younger. My pastor is young enough to be my son. How did this happen?
But I am happy. I like who I have matured into. I am someone who stopped today to take a picture of a purple flamingo on an old building in town because it amused me.
I am someone who has never stopped being excited by the appearance of trains. I count the cars and engines. I wish on the caboose. I’m instantly transported back to age four, strapped in my stroller as my mother pauses under the tunnel in Floral Park as we near the playground so that I can count the cars and clap with delight as the train thunders overhead.
I am, in short, still me. Still Jeanne. Still the girl who loves Herb Alpert and horses, who prefers vanilla over chocolate ice cream, who loves her cats and misses her dog, who prefers the company of animals to the company of people, who loves a crackling fire and a fine merlot and a good mystery novel.
With every year that passes I gain gratitude and strength, crows feet and silver hair, inches along my waistline and wisdom in my soul. I can’t wait to focus on my writing this year as God calls me deeper into my truth, deeper into my fiction, and deeper into sharing stories with the world.
I’ll leave you with this sign I saw along my walk in Appomattox today:
I’ll admit it; I’m not the most athletic person. I vowed to change that this year.
I’m tired of being fat, tired of being tired, tired of aching all the time. I took an inventory of all the times in my past when I was able to lose weight – what worked well? What didn’t work?
I cut out sugar in mid-August. I started walking at least two days a week, clocking 1.5 – 2.5 miles each time. On days when I did not walk, I made sure to do some yoga stretches, light weight lifting, or gardening, anything to get up and moving.
It was then that I thought about the list I had made of all the physical activities I love to do. Walking and hiking are first, followed by horseback riding, but that’s expensive and I feel like I’m too fat to ride right now. Yoga, pilates and weight training are all okay, but there’s on activity I have loved since I first pedaled a tricycle at age 3: bicycling.
My childhood bike was a blue 1978 Columbia Roadster with coaster brakes, one speed, and a chain that clanked loudly against the chain guard every time I hit a pothole. I fell off of it on the hill on Magnolia Avenue, tumbling butt over teakettle and bearing scars on my knees and noggin to this day, thick raised keloid scars that tell the story of what happens when you pretend your bike is a dragon and you’re riding the wind on Pern.
I rode my bicycle all over the streets of Floral Park, often pedaling the 1.5 miles to Belmont Race Track on steamy July mornings to lean against the fence on one of the dead end streets adjoining the exercise track just so I could watch the horses trot on by.
My bike took me to the library, that cool temple of heavenly adventures where hundreds of books awaited; my bike and I traveled into Stewart Manor to the Averill Boulevard Park Pool because you could pay as you go.
Summers without my bike were unthinkable.
My poor blue Columbia Roadster is long gone. My husband, then my boyfriend, tried to fix it for me and ended up helplessly dismantling it. We could have brought it to the shop to have it re-assembled but decided not to; my old friend and writing mentor, Dr. Patricia Gross, sent me home from her house in Pennsylvania with her bike which she no longer rode on the hills near Scranton. I had a new bike, so my beloved Roadster went the way of many old bikes, to the landfill.
Pat’s bike was too heavy for me to pedal over the hills in Huntington, and so we gave that away, too. I was bike-less until I moved to Virginia.
Then, my husband bought me my current bike, a purple Roadmaster.
I am learning to ride a bike – again.
And I absolutely love it.
It was on my summer list – ride my bike again. Every day, I had an excuse. Too hot. Too many client calls. Too busy. The list went on and on.
We are blessed with the High Bridge Trail less than two miles from my home. It’s a rail trail, part of the Rails to Trails Conservancy which helps transform old railway lines into bicycling, walking, and horseback riding trails. It’s traffic-free so there’s no dodging cars and it’s less than a 10% grade so no trudging up the piedmont hills on the roads by my house.
I loaded the purple Roadmaster into the back of my husband’s SUV and drove the two miles to the trail on Monday as if I was learning to drive again as well as bike again. I inched along, feeling like I was driving a tank after moving from my sedan to his hefty SUV.
Once at the trail head near Elam, I wondered: what would happen if I popped a tire on the trail? Was I too fat today to ride a bike? If the tire blew out when I was at the far end of the trail, how would I get back?
Well, it was a holiday. I could walk. It might take me a while, but I’d get there. If I was too fat, sitting on the sidelines wouldn’t help me lose the weight to ride again. I clipped the chin strap on my helmet, swung my leg over the frame, and pedaled my wobbly way towards Pamplin.
Muscles screamed in my thighs; the unfamiliar hard sport seat of the mountain bike always takes my behind by surprise. It wants the old spring-loaded apple seat of the 1970s Roadster.
My hands hurt from clutching the straight handlebars but I did get the hang of the gears again. I pedaled in 2nd gear, then switched to the easier 1st gear when I asked myself what I was trying to prove. Nothing, Jeanne, I thought to myself. Relax and enjoy the ride.
I did. It was lovely.
The High Bridge Trail from Elan to Pamplin passes through lush, dense forests on the southern side. It skirts the highway, so you’re never far from the sounds of civilization: tractor trailer trucks, cars, lawn mowers as people cut their grass. A squirrel darted out in front of me, crossing the trail to the oaks on the opposite side of the trail. I passed a cyclist and we nodded to one another as if we were old comrades. He seemed to smirk a little and I felt guilty, as if my sweat-streaked face and funny modest culotte shorts made me a laughingstock.
But I pressed on, and on. I passed Harvey Jones Lane, the first private road that crossed the trail, then another farm lane. My goal for the day was to cycle to the Five Forks Road crossing, then turn around and ride back. It was approximately two miles to Five Forks Road from the Elam parking lot, so I knew if I made it, I’d cycle four miles. A little ambitious for someone cycling seriously for the first time in 30 years? You bet. No guts, no glory.
Besides, I’m tried of being fat and tired.
I made it to Five Forks Road, mile 20 on the trail. The parking lot is at mile 18.
The ride back was easier even though I sweated more. I sweated so hard that I sweated right through my t-shirt.
I’m not someone who enjoys sweating. I do anything I can to avoid it. And I’m not one who loves strenuous exercise; I always feel like I’m dying and give up before I get to the sweat sticking to my t-shirt stage.
I couldn’t give up. I was two miles from the parking lot. I had to ride back.
I rode back as quickly as I could, pedaling fast, standing up a little to stretch my left leg where the knee was shrieking for attention as it does when the old injuries flare up, the cicadas singing their end of summer paean to heat stroke.
I made it. The parking lot was one of the most welcome sights I’d ever seen. I had cycled four miles.
I took this picture to remind myself that it feels good to have sweat dripping off of my face. It felt awesome to have my hair plastered to my head under my bike helmet. It felt wonderful to walk around on strong, sturdy legs, the knee no longer screaming as if working my quads, glutes, hamstrings and hip flexors had somehow supported the knee joint damaged from too many horseback riding accidents and bicycling accidents. That knee is my war wound to clumsiness and I lost the battle.
My ultimate goal is to ride to the end of trail – 3.0 miles from Elam as you can see on the sign – and back again. Six miles. And I’ll do it, too. By Thanksgiving, I think.
I’m hooked. I’ve learned to ride my bicycle again in middle age and I am a child again, happy and carefree, riding on my purple Roadmaster and conquering the trail.
Family stories shape and mold our expectations of the world around us. Some families believe in positive myths – “We always win!” Other families believe negative stories – “Nothing every goes right for us.”
In my family, one simple saying guides us:
When you need it, God provides.