Dogs Don’t Simplify Life – they simply make it better

Princess Grace 2003-2020

You know what doesn’t simplify life?

Dogs. They are expensive. They are messy. They are time consuming.

And they bring immeasurable joy.

This week we said goodbye to our beloved family pet, an American Eskimo we got when she was just a puppy. To say she aged well is an understatement. She was a fluffy, pure white beauty with dark brown eyes. Her cotton-candy tail curled up over her trim 18-pound body. Her sweet face could melt your heart. She lived to be 17 and a half years old.

Like all of God’s creatures, she came to us with her own personality. The day my children and I brought her home, she fit in our cupped hands. She posed regally in the grass, one front leg draped over the other. She needed a name fit for royalty and was dubbed Princess Grace.

It took nearly two years to convince our princess she should use the bathroom outdoors. She was aghast, but finally accepted the situation. From then on, she was a well-mannered, elegant addition to our family.

American Eskimos are extremely intelligent, making them typical circus dogs. Grace learned to perform all kinds of tricks including prancing along the garden wall and jumping back and forth through a hula hoop.

By the time she was five, asking her to do tricks seemed as inappropriate as asking the Queen of England to sit, lie down, and roll over. She was a classy lady who had an air about her that demanded respect.

Grace did not suffer fools. She looked at other dogs with a raised eyebrow. She did not drool on people, jump on furniture, tear through the house, or bark unnecessarily. She enjoyed a restrained pat behind the ears and mature conversation. Loud children were to be avoided.

She was a pedigree with high standards, and she made everyone in our home want to be a better human. The bumper sticker that reads, “Be the person your dog thinks you are” couldn’t be more apt when it came to how we felt under Grace’s watchful eye.

Gracie was set in her ways, as any 119-year-old would be. You could set a watch by her meal times. Breakfast was served at 8 am, and dinner was at 5 pm sharp. If the help deviated from this schedule, she let them know.

Her favorite place was in the garden, where she often rested in the sun among the flowers. She looked so pretty with red and pink impatiens blooming all around her. I wouldn’t have been surprised if she rang for tea.

Every snowfall brought out the child in Grace. It was fitting that an American Eskimo would beg to go outside and stare straight up at the sky to catch snowflakes on her tongue. Rolling on the cold ground in delight, she disappeared against the white snow.

Gracie was a one-in-a-million girl, a dog who witnessed our family go through more than seventeen years of challenges, changes, and growing pains. Through it all, she remained a reliable friend and gentle spirit who simply made all of our lives more beautiful.

No, dogs don’t simplify life.

You will spend a small fortune at the veterinarian’s office. You will endlessly clean nose smudges off glass doors. You will constantly pick white hair off black clothes. You will cry your heart out when it’s time to say goodbye.

But every time you see a fluffy, dog-shaped cloud in the sky you’ll be reminded of the unconditional love and pure happiness your furry friend gave you.

The Joy of Overcoming Obstacles

After a stormy night, the trail I walk each morning was scattered with sticks and debris. As I hiked along the wooded path, I picked up a dozen large limbs and heaved them to the side in a gesture of goodwill towards the next traveler.

The warming sun sent smoky shafts of light through the cool forest mist. The soaking rain intensified the heady smell of pine straw carpeting the trail. My eyes remained on my feet to avoid slipping on the muddy slopes.

I came to a stop when I looked up to see a huge oak tree had fallen across my path. The trunk, three feet in diameter, hung precariously over the trail and stretched about forty feet each direction into the thick woods.

Ducking under the tree seemed unwise. Crawling over it wouldn’t be easy. I briefly considered turning around. Then stepping forward, I heard myself say, “The obstacle is the way.”

It was the title of a book I’d just read. Author Ryan Holiday draws on the ancient philosophy of Stoicism to encourage readers to face life’s challenges with resilience. Holiday writes, “Whatever we face, we have a choice: Will we be blocked by obstacles, or will we advance through and over them?”

Deciding a fallen tree wouldn’t stop my daily hike,  I stretched one leg on top of the trunk, grabbed hold of the thick bark to pull myself up and over and dropped ungracefully to the the other side. My arms and legs were dirty and scraped, but I felt surprisingly good.

When I reached the blocked path the next day, I crawled on the tree trunk and stood up to take in a higher view of the woods before jumping to the other side. This morning, I walked up and down the full length of the trunk like a balance beam. The fallen tree had become the best part of my morning.

Holiday believes overcoming obstacles in life requires the discipline of three critical steps:

1. Perception – How we view what happens around us can be a source of strength or weakness.

2. Action – We can always choose to act with deliberation, boldness and persistence.

3. Will – We have an internal power we shouldn’t allow the outside world to undermine.

Take notice of obstacles in your life. They may come in the form of disappointment, difficulty, rejection, injury, injustice, illness or heartbreak. When an obstacle appears – large or small – notice how you react to it. Do you accept it? Do you face it with grace and resilience? The good news is if we don’t handle it well, we will certainly get another chance to try again, because obstacles are a part of life.

More than 2,000 years ago, Marcus Aurelius wrote, “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

I know the folks who maintain the hiking trail will eventually remove the fallen tree, but until then, it remains a fun daily reminder that the obstacle is the way. §

A Corona Wedding – 5 simple lessons for this mother-of-the-bride

My daughter was a Corona-bride. In late spring she and her fiancé cancelled their September wedding due to uncertainty about the pandemic. I wasn’t too disappointed, as the initial plan was to postpone the ceremony until next year.

A few weeks later my daughter excitedly told me they were getting married at city hall. In accordance with CDC guidelines, there would be a small outdoor gathering afterwards with just a few people who could easily and safely attend.

The picture I’d held in my mind of my daughter walking down the aisle on her wedding day surrounded by family and friends faded from view. A civil ceremony followed by toasts from a few masked guests wasn’t the vision I had for my little girl’s wedding.

This practical mother-of-the-bride secretly began lamenting a fairy tale wedding complete with an orchestra playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D and white doves released the moment my daughter said, “I do.”

I don’t know what got into me, but I was a tad difficult – a real MOB. I credit the bride’s younger brother for snapping me out of it by offering millennial advice like, “It’s not your wedding, Mom.”

Yesterday my beautiful daughter married the love of her life, a wonderful man whom I adore. Their wedding day is over, and it was simply perfect.

Let me wipe away my tears of joy and share five lessons in simplicity I learned from the experience.

1. Accept What Is – As much as I wished a pandemic didn’t upend my daughter’s wedding plans, it did. The Stoics embrace the idea of Amor Fati, or love of fate. Epictetus said, “Do not seek to have events happen as you wish, but wish them to happen as they do happen, and all will be well with you.”

2. Relinquish Control – I admit I’m a control freak. In my mind, I’m only trying to help. The problem is it undermines others’ abilities and shows a lack of trust. My daughter’s wedding day was absolutely lovely without me pulling all the strings. Pandemics remind us how foolish it is to believe we are ever really in control.

3. Manage Emotions – There’s a reason people cry at weddings – it’s freaking emotional. Milestones in our lives, and that of our children, bring out all the feels. When emotions are surging, remember to take a deep breath and make sure you’re not over-reacting to a fleeting feeling.

4. Banish Comparisons – Thanks to social media, Pinterest, reality wedding shows, bridal magazines and a slew of Hallmark movies, there’s no shortage of ideas about the perfect wedding. Actually, doesn’t that apply to just about everything in life these days? As Theodore Roosevelt wisely warned, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

5. Remember What’s Important  – There are few people the pandemic hasn’t affected – some much more than others. Yet in many ways, it’s reminded us what’s really important. Health, not wealth. People, not things. The marriage, not the wedding. Sometimes we need to step back, see the big picture, and ask ourselves what truly matters.

From this day forward, do I vow to remember the lessons I learned from my daughter’s wedding? I do. §