Posted in Dogs

We Miss you, Dear Dog: Goodbye to our Golden Girl, Italia.

img_9516She was my 10.5-year-old furry best girl. She moved a little slower, barked less, listened harder, chased less, and paced more, especially when given a bone that she carried, guarded, hid, found, savored, and so on. She snored intensely, like a drunken crew of grandpas dreaming of fishing trips.  Although she played less, she still wagged the feathers of her perfectly fluffy and pristine tail everyday.  More than any of that, our glory girl loved effortlessly, without limits. 

I’m heartbroken that our beautiful golden retriever, our Italia, recently passed away on January 18, 2017. We believe she suffered a myocardial infarction, a sudden and unexpected heart attack.

That morning, I woke around 2:00 a.m., and shortly after, Harry and I could hear her belabored and heavy breathing.  She was right outside the girls’ doors in the hallway, guarding them at one of her favorite bedtime spots.

Italia’s eyes, framed by her long white lashes, were unblinking and dilated, like glassy chocolate brown marbles.  Although she kept panting deeply, she was unresponsive.  Her mouth was so cold, like she ate a box of her favorite Popsicles.  I wish.  

She was heaving and immobile, so I called the vet who planned to meet us for an emergency visit in a half hour. By this time, the girls woke and joined us on the floor where we all hugged, snugged, and pet her soft fur that absorbed our four sets of tears.

Our five year old sheltie, Louie, quietly walked away and hid behind the couch.  Even though these dogs were the best of friends, he avoided sniffing and pawing at her, like he normally did.  I now realize he knew what was happening before we did, and he didn’t have it in him to say goodbye to her.

img_9515

Although scared, disoriented, and helpless, my kids, husband, and I remained hopeful Italia would recover.  None of us knew it would really be the end.  Harry lifted her hefty body by scooping her up from her soft, warm belly; her four lifeless legs dangled without fussing over this ride to the vet. With love, Harry carried his girl to our SUV and lay her in the far back.  The girls got in the backseat, and we sped off.

img_1097

We drove for six seconds when I yelled, “Stop the car!  I need to be with her.” Of course I needed to lay with her but was so confused that, at first, I took the wrong passenger seat, the one where she usually sat.  I ran to the back to join her with the Steelers blanket I brought to pillow under her head. I wrapped my arms around her and caressed her until the end.

For most of the trip, Italia sporadically lived, but I feared she was gone before we got to the doctor at Greener Pastures. I said nothing and hoped my private diagnosis was wrong, yet her last moments ended in my embrace.  The vet’s stethoscope and warm, trained hands could only detect the true love within Italia’s stopped heart.  The kind doctor consoled us in the rainy parking lot where more tears mingled with the sky drops Italia and I loved running under.  With great compassion, the vet left us to say our final goodbyes.  I clutched my chest as she wheeled her away from us.

Italia had what seemed to be a pain free exit from this world. Thankfully, we got to hug her before she crossed over to the Rainbow Bridge.  I took her and Louie for a wintry walk around our hood the day before.  She seemed perfectly fine and gave no signs that this was her last walk. She was indeed a lady who went out with dignity.  Still, our human hearts are broken and Louie is so confused.

She was an amazing part of our lives for 10.5 years.  She rocked her golden years and had so many good times with the people who loved her and the dogs who admired and played with her, especially her lil’ Louie brother.

We are unsure how to be at home without her.  We even miss the tufts of fur and fluff she shed on our pants, floors, carpet, furniture…  I cannot sweep up the fur left behind in the vehicle.  I suppose, it will just blow away in the wind every time I open the hatch.    

Personally, Italia was my shadow and was always right there to accompany me in her many roles: daughter, sister,  friend, co-worker, runner,  secret-keeper, protectress, and heroine.  She was more than my antidepressant, my sunshine, my song, my prayer, my light, my compassion, my heart, my soul, and my strength. Italia was all of this wrapped up in the most glorious feathers of golden retriever-ness.  She helped me live harder and happier in the years she kissed me with her whiskers and chewing gum tongue.

I will see you again, my dear, but until then, I take comfort in the big heavenly hands that pet you, walk you, run you, feed you, and try to play fetch with you (I know you rather catch and keep, but try again to give it back.)

italia-and-donna
Italia and I dancing on my 40th birthday.  She was 42 in dog years.  

We all love you, Italia, our golden girl.  Thank you!  I can’t even put into words what you have done for our family for over a decade, but I will continue to keep your furry and mighty memory eternal through the human words I can grace you with.  XOXO.

Posted in Inspiration, Storytelling, Writing

Dedicated to my Mother, an Amazing Inspiration for Storytelling

img_0568

Today, on my mother’s birthday, I wish to share how influential she has been to me as a storyteller.  Ever since I was a little girl, I tuned into her talent for spinning a tale, sharing an anecdote, and captivating her listeners with heartfelt and humorous narratives.  Her stories stick with you like a favorite song you need to hear over and over again.

Her life has been blessed with a variety of experiences that she is more than willing to share with those interested. She is busy, involved, witty, and approachable, so she has a lot to talk about.  Her stories touch and include audiences of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.  Her plots grow out of the seeds of her actions, observations, and conversations which continue to dot her active, golden years.

My mother, a master of the oral storytelling tradition, is not a writer, but is a vibrant speaker.  Her knack for painting pictures with words encouraged me to use my voice as both speaker and writer; I am a high school English teacher with a  passion for storytelling.  I read, write, listen to, and tell stories, and I require my students to do the same.

I got more serious about my writing five years ago and composed a memoir of my life with my beloved father who is deceased.  Aside from writing many non-fiction pieces: personal narratives, essays, and reviews, I wrote one piece of fiction that is being published by The Wild Rose Press, Inc.

It is a novella about a a pencil sharpener, of all things, and my mother inspired my development of the protagonist and plot.  Most of the story is fiction, but it is based off of my mother and what she did on her birthday, exactly four years ago.  Here is how I recapped the situation then:

Happy birthday to my mother Mildred today! She continues to be witty, courageous, outrageous, youthful, and beautiful. She performed quite a stunt this evening when she visited her old Monaca home which she sold over three years ago!

Her mission was to ask the “new” owner if he still had the old heavy duty metal pencil sharpener that my father used to sharpen the tools of his artwork. I recently told her I regretted not dismounting that from the basement closet where it eternally hung. Tonight, she knocked on our old Washington Avenue door, reintroduced herself to John, the buyer/homeowner, and inquired about the piece of nostalgia, the sharpener I wished for my own classroom. John graciously unscrewed it from the cellar closet and gave it to her.

Wow! I’m not sentimental about “things,” but I truly can’t wait to get to polish dull pencils with that old powerhouse of a device. As a teacher, I know the value of having a strong writing tool, and although we put iPads into every student and teacher’s hands at my high school this year, I still embrace the reliable, old school pencil/paper method.

My mother continues to be as bold and beautiful on this birthday as on the few others she’s had. I’m excited and thankful that she retrieved such a mechanically symbolic tool that my father’s hands turned so often.

I’m thrilled we get to continue to exalt my mother in this world. A little touch of heaven poured into her hands full of #2 pencil shavings tonight. Each spin and point will keep my father’s Memory Eternal. Blessings and memories abound around precious birthday candles. May God grant her Many Years!

img_0128

Her retrieval of this treasure is the entry point of The Pencil Sharpener.  This piece is in the final stages of edits and will be available for purchase as an eBook when complete.  This will be my first published work, and I dedicate it to my mother, an amazing inspiration for storytelling.

Happy birthday, Mother!  Have a day you dreamed of!  xoxo

Posted in Health and Wellness, Weight Loss

Weight Loss Goal: I plan to lose four sticks of butter, a chihuahua, and a bowling ball.

On October 4th, 2016, I set a goal to lose 16 pounds.  After turning 40, I gained an average of 4 pounds per year, for the past 4 years.  If I were to live another 44 years, at that rate, I would gain 176 more pounds.  I realize that I am throwing a lot of numbers out there, and I prefer words to numbers, but ignoring the math got me into this pudgy-podgy mess.

Even though I am active and exercise 3-6 hours a week, I packed on the pounds, basically gaining one per season.  Exercise is vital to me for aesthetic, mental, and physical reasons, but I was using it as an excuse to indulge; I rewarded myself with way too many treats because I thought I deserved them for my consistent, physical work.  I would run extra miles for a glass of cabernet and a bowl of Goldfish Crackers (my all-time favorite food combo).  Many nights I’d pour more wine and crackers and end up with a bellyfull of fish, a whole school, partying in the red sea.  Double-fisted, glass in my right (pinky up), bowl in my left (Flavor Blasted, Xtra Cheddar), I sabotaged my workouts.

After turning 40,  I could not keep running for food incentives and maintain my weight. My chemistry, hormones, and age had to be factored in, but again, I’m not a numbers person.  I did not want to count calories in or burned.

So, I became thicker and constantly looked bloated.  It was not a miracle that my water weight turned into wine handles, and the flat stomach I crunched to maintain became flabby.  Instead of Sunshine, I could be coined as Puff-Shine. I was untoned and dumpy,  and, although I was not yet fat, I was on my way to a roomier belt buckle.  Who am I kidding?  I hadn’t needed a belt in years.

Last fall, the heavier reality bell rang in with my *151 pounds on my 5’5” frame.  I kept stepping on the scale to make sure it was right. How could this be?  Is the scale broken?  Can I deduct a few pounds for my wet, shampooed hair?  Could the motion of flipping-off the scale promote weight loss?  Could using both middle fingers burn more calories?   That last pound, 1-5-1, changed my BMI (Body Mass Index) from normal to overweight.  (*In the About Me section, I declared my weight loss goal.)

Ever since puberty, with the exception of two pregnancies, I consistently maintained an American medium size 6-8 that I was happy with. (I stress American, because many foreign countries calculate sizes smaller.  I am not China Girl Medium — I know this because the adult-female-medium size Steelers jersey that came from China was just big enough to fit Sports Fan Barbie).

I love my colorful, eccentric, extensive wardrobe, and was not about to replace it with bigger clothes.   When I could barely button or keep the zipper teeth from flying open on my pants, I cried.   When I walked and my bum jiggled with a bowl full of jelly (grape on the left, strawberry on the right),  I cried.  I tried to suck in my cheeks, (face and backside), but all that clenching gave me a headache, so I cried.   Elastic waistbands and dresses were my go-to-garments, but then I got stuck in a denim dress at an Old Navy fitting room; I nearly threw out my back, trying to get free, and I cried. Shedding tears is not like shedding pounds.   Look at the chart.  See for yourself.  There are no waistband perks for eye drops or crying rivers.  I could wade in my own wallow, but it wasn’t gonna get me out of a Levi’s straightjacket.

I needed to shrink into the clothes I already  have. I decided it was time to commit and get smaller before I let one more ounce creep in.  In order to get my skin closer to my bones, I had to control what I put into my mouth.  I needed a plan.  (FYI – Looking for a plan that controls what comes out of my mouth too, but one step at a time 😉

My plan was to join a popular club to help me out.   Read my blog, “Slimming Down…” to find out what happened to my bones, skin, flab, muscles, and all that jazz. (Click “Blog” at top of this page.) Before you do, look at my weight loss goal.  Look at your own, if you need one.  What can you get rid of?  If need be, I know YOU can get rid of a toilet with a  bloodhound on top. We are that strong!!!

how-much-does-stuff-weigh_50f3e93004fdb

Posted in Orthodox, Serbian, Uncategorized

Happy New Year – Srećna Nova Godina!

serbian-new-years

In observation of the Julian calendar, the Old Calendar, today I wish you ALL a Happy New Year.  As a result of being an Orthodox Christian who is half Serbian and half Croatian and marrying a man who is a beautiful mixture of Italian, Hungarian, English, and Irish, my two daughters, husband, and I get to have two Christmases and two New Years.  It’s pretty slick to get this holiday redo option.  

Really we are all a melting pot of some other ethnicity beyond being an American, so why don’t we all just observe the OLD CALENDAR today?  C’mon, raise your glass, bang your pots and pans, kiss your loved ones, and blow obnoxious noisemakers to ring in the new year (again).  

If you celebrated two weeks ago, perhaps, like me, you faltered on some or all of your resolutions. Just take another shot at it. “Another New Year, A Better New You!”  How do you like that motto?

Here’s a second chance to restart and work on a Resolution List if you haven’t made one or had setbacks already. We’re human, so changing to improve is hard!  But you can make yourself proud of who you plan to be.  State a goal and make it happen. Just keep believing in yourself, because you can’t change anyone else.  This is where we all need to go listen to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”

Shortly after January 1st, echoes from the previous year prevented me from feeling completely refreshed, restored, and ready for another calendar month, let alone year. It took a couple extra weeks of reading, praying, and soul searching to get back on track.  Ahh!  The healing power of Father Time.  

Instead of itemizing all my resolutions this New Year, I want to simply be better tomorrow than I am today.  I have a checklist in my heart, and I’m ready to propel ahead.  Happy New Year!  Have an amazing 2017 that you dreamed of!  Srećna Nova Godina!

serbian-new-year-fireworks

Posted in Creativity, Seize the Day!, Time, Writing

A Judging Squirrel Picture is Worth a Half-Thousand Words.

squagI have totally been misusing after-work hours today (and most others) neglecting my art, adult coloring books.  Ha!  I wish that was really the problem because I can’t get enough of those, and I have new gel pens and a bad words book.  It’s really funny to see flowing cursive curses surrounded by paisley patterns and glittery colors.

squirrel-zentangle-stylized-vector-illustration-pattern-free-freehand-pencil-hand-drawn-print-coloring-books-68428212

Nuts and Bolts!  Can you imagine this guy with a swearing thought bubble!  It makes me laugh.  I’m so immature sometimes.

But my true neglected art is writing.  I promise to post a new blog!  I think I can.  I know I can. Squirrel!

Oh, how I procrastinate to create!  I interrupt my free time with online shopping, puzzle building, exercise, coloring, games of Skip Bo, social networking, and so on. All of this keeps me away from my stories though.

Why do I often hide from the keyboard?  I am not a squirrel but am a mole, tunneling underground with only a few finished projects and a messy yard.  I don’t play Whac-A-Mole and instead breed more reasons to keep from my writing.

Why do this?  I truly love words and making them sing on the page. I love writing and have so much to say.  I’m not secretive.  I’m not lazy.  But I think, therefore I am the intrusion to my own creative muse.  Thoughts come and go, and so do opportunities to write with a genuine commitment.  I let them soar away like a flying squirrel.

Squirrel!  I just want to go nutty on this little gavel pounding varmint.  Who is this fuzzy judge in the picture urging me to compose something new, refreshing, and interesting?   The pressure is on to create, yet I just want to go Bill Murray-Caddy Shack-Crazy and crush him.  I will steal his food. I will plug up his hole in the tree and…

And actually I will hug him.  Yes, yes I will.  I will call him George and I will love him and pet him and squeeze him. I will pet his feather duster tail and hand feed him buttery Ritz Crackers.  I will shake his little paw in thanks for getting me off the hide-and-seek writing hook. I do not want the squirrel of judgment looking down on me.

I really must balance on my alphabet beam or I’m going to lose some letters. Oh dear!  What would happen if I even lost one of the twenty-six alphabet characters.  I once went a whole day without the letter “L” on my keyboard where I teach.   It was very hard to be Mrs. _ucas.  What the “L”?  I needed that middle of the alphabet player, so I’m not willing to lose a single one, not even Q (I get it.  He needs U to make sense, but they’re quite a beautiful couple if you query me.)

Seriously, no more distractions.

Squirrel!  I have stories to tell, and this year I’m getting it done!!!