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On saving the world

   “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” — Mahatma Gandhi

Brady at Chlo's

I want to go back to just a week ago, when I, blissfully ignorant, did not realize that many animals in shelters across the country are packed in gas chambers and suffocated as a form of “euthanasia.” Being a lifelong animal rights advocate, I can’t believe I didn’t know this until now. I had been researching different animal rescue sites in my search to adopt a puppy to add to our family, and I came across the horrifying revelation. Gas chambers? In 2013? I had thought that, as horrible as it is to euthanize healthy animals simply because there are no homes for them, it was implemented by injection–quick and painless. Yet in my happy search for another dog, I uncovered what many are calling “America’s dirty little secret.” This is a somber and an unpleasant topic, but I do not apologize for it, because it has to be told. Again and again and again, by many voices, until there is change.

According to the “Take Action – Ban Animal Gas Chambers” Facebook page, there are fifteen states in our country whose shelters use gas chambers to kill animals, with eight more states who did not share information about their euthanasia method. Animals are placed in a gas chamber (without sedation) where they suffocate. In some shelters, cats are piled in with dogs, small dogs are mixed in with large dogs, live dogs are placed on top of dead ones, and they all fight each other for the last breath of air. It is often a slow death: sometimes taking twenty minutes or more to kill the animals, who are often packed into the chamber. Some have even had to be put back in for another cycle. It is a barbaric, primitive process.

This knowledge has made it so that lately, my mental energy is focused here, not the novel I’m nearly halfway through. I look at every one of my three dogs and four cats, and I think of animals just like them going in a gas chamber. The puppy I just adopted from a Mississippi rescue was one day away from euthanasia before his litter was pulled from the high-kill shelter…in a state that uses gas. This puppy’s soulful eyes, his baby face, are heart-breaking. I cannot fathom that he could have been one of those killed. I wake up in the night and think of the image I had seen of a dog’s mouth open wide, entitled “One Last Breath.” I think of the photo of the bodies of Shepherd and Lab and hound mixes, the black and brown and yellow dogs of varying sizes, piled up in a metal chamber. I think of their terror and distress, and it is unbearable. But these animals have to bear it – they don’t have a choice.

A couple of nights ago, I posted on my Facebook page a link from the Take Action: Help Ban Animal Gas Chambers site and briefly explained this “dirty little secret.” I said I hoped it would be shared. I apologized for upsetting people and said I didn’t want to bother anyone. And then I got to thinking. People NEED to be upset. We cannot be complacent. Of course we can feel thankful that our pets are safe, loved and well-cared for, but we cannot forget about the millions of other animals who are not so fortunate.

I hope I reach many animal lovers with this post, and that you will want to take action. I am including links below, which I urge you to visit and share. Post, tweet, talk, write. See if your state has a ban on gas chambers, and if it does not, contact government officials. If you are financially able, adopt pets from shelters or rescues. If you can’t adopt, perhaps you can foster. Join a rescue website and share the available animals posted. And in the wise words of Bob Barker, spay and neuter your pets!

My husband teases me about how I want to save them all. And I do. I want to save every terrified cat, every cowering dog. It breaks my heart that I can’t. At the very, very least, I want these animals who tragically must die–through no fault of their own–to have quick, humane deaths at the hands of compassionate individuals. I want to not only raise awareness of this issue, but to bring about change. Ignorance may be bliss…but knowledge is power. We need to save them. And in doing so, we save ourselves.

American Veterinary Medical Association


Words of Wisdom

My daughter Chloe (now 20) used to be locally famous when she was a toddler for what we called her “Chlo-isms” – cute expressions which I used to write down in a notebook. A few of our favorites were when she’d call bowls, cups and plates “food furniture,” telling us emphatically “I don’t like nuns,” and announcing after she’d gotten dressed, “My boots are too tight, but I don’t matter.” Little did I know that today, seventeen years later, I’d be documenting her sayings again…after she had her wisdom teeth removed. I didn’t get a video, but I did have a pen and paper. Here are some of her “words of wisdom” coming out of anesthesia…

Am I in the same room?

[wide-eyed, grabbing my phone] I want everyone to know I’m okay! I’m going to send them a picture of me. [looking at phone and gasping] Your inbox is 100% FULL! [handing it back to me] QUICK!

You have four eyes.

Chlo: They had to wait to start me because there was an emergency.”
Me: What happened?
Chlo [scornfully]:They didn’t tell me. It’s PRIVACY.

Is this the same room?

Don’t laugh at me.

Kiss me on the forehead.

Me: You need to stop talking. The doctor doesn’t want you to talk.
Chlo: [pouting] I like to talk.
Me: You can tell me later.
Chlo: What if I forget?
Me: I’ll remind you.
Chlo: Don’t forget!

Is this a rocking chair?
I like it.
I really like this rocking chair.

[touching her chin, horrified] What is THAT?

I don’t like my tongue right now.

That was FAST. I was asleep, then I was awake!

Me: Do I still have four eyes, Chloe?

Chloe: [singsongy] Hmm…no. You have pretty eyes.

I like the color of this room.

[touching in and around her mouth and announcing it] Gauze. Lip. Gauze. Lip. Teeth.

I’d like to take this blanket home. They should give it as a going away gift. For being a TROOPER.

My tongue should not be in my mouth right now.

Are you writing stuff about me?
Don’t put me in your next book.
I take that back. Write a book about me.

Maybe not a book, Chlo, but perhaps a blog post :).

Going To The Dogs (and cats)

Moby and Murphy…typical.

Well, it’s been a month since I’ve written a blog post. That teaching thing I do has put blogging on the back burner – but having 10,000 pets is a big factor, too. Since my menagerie is one of the most prominent things in my life, I thought I’d feature them here. I wrote about my beloved Tucker in my first post, so it’s only fair to introduce the rest of my furry family.

When I say “10,000 pets,” I really mean nine. Two dogs, four cats, two horses and a pony. All with issues. I’ll save the barn animals for a later post and will start with the felines, or as my husband calls them, the Teeming Sea of Cats.

Moby:  5 year old long-haired white cat, one blue eye and one green eye. Also known as Whitey Friendly and the Lurker (always at the door when people enter). Mostly low maintenance except for predisposition to hairballs and needing lube in his food twice a week. Nothing seems to faze him. Provides mild entertainment by pulling open the sliding trash cabinet (nightly) and balancing on the edge of it to see what goodies are inside.

Murphy:  6 year old orange tiger cat. Moby’s same-sex partner. An absolute love; purrs more often than not. Will meow at door for me to take him outside; behaves better than a dog on a leash. Likes to watch TV. Was the first cat to discover the joy of whipped cream. Had a brief, unexplained phobia to seeing whipped cream on the floor after it was sprayed out of the can. That’s all better now.

Dasher, the lovin’ boy.

Dasher:  13 year old gray tiger cat. Probably the most normal pet we own. Loves to hunt and prowl, but a big fan of the lap. Also known as the Third Dog since he likes to walk with us when we take our two dogs down the road.

Moxie being Moxie.

Moxie:  5 year old calico. Fat. Not her fault. Highly sensitive; at times borderline psycho. Developed a deep-seated fear of dog Riley after a visiting yellow dog came in our house and scared her. That’s all better now. Loves getting in empty grocery bags after we come back from store. Needy…and kneady. Flips out–and I mean FLLIIPPSS OUTTTT–going to vet. Must be sedated. And so must we, after trying to get her in the carrier.

The Canines

Joey: 6 year old Chihuahua/Spaniel/poodle/your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine mix. A rescue from Arkansas where he was a stray. Also known as Hobo Joe, Couch Dog, The Scrounge, and Four Thousand Dollar Dog (ruptured disc). Likes to make nests for himself out of blankets and must sleep under the covers with his claws in my back. For some reason is scared of the water bowl – will cautiously creep up on it and take tentative, fearful licks. Has conquered this enough to drink, which is good since water is kind of important. Likes to go into the shower stall and lick any remaining water (this may or may not be related to water dish phobia). Distracts self from hunger by playing with ball while food is being prepared. Freakishly obsessed with carrots.

Joey, probably begging for a carrot.

And then there’s Riley:

Riley…appearing calm, but we know better.

7 year old yellow Lab mix. Also known as Truck Dog, Farm Dog, or simply, Misery. As a puppy, would randomly get on her back, writhing and making strange growling noises, prompting us to think that something was wrong with her. This has since been confirmed. Given the title “The Fun Police” by my husband since she interferes when he plays with our other dog. She is All About The Ball. Very oral; used to carry rocks and tennis balls in her mouth which subsequently wore her teeth down to nubs. Rocks and tennis balls replaced with expensive orange Chuckit balls which she loses, despite them meaning the world to her. Re-lent-less with requests for you to throw Chuckit. Once ball is thrown, will kill herself scrabbling across the floor to get it. Chewing on it for extended periods causes her eyes to glaze over. Fond of dropping it in things, like pails, horse manure, bag of birdseed in the garage, bin of recyclables, the bulldozer of the guy who delivered us gravel. Believes everything is the cats’ fault and will take any excuse to chase them: husband exclaiming about a bad referee call, me closing my laptop and standing up, someone sneezing. Terrified of vacuum cleaner. Lives to “help” me with horses, which involves dropping her ball at my feet/in the wheelbarrow/under a horse, ignoring my repeated, heated commands of “Riley! GIT!” Playing the part of horseback riding cheerleader by racing around the riding ring as my horse and I attempt not to run her over (except when we are trying to).

Bottom line: Drives my husband and me absolutely nuts, and when I think I can’t take it any more, all I need to do is think of how much I will miss that when she’s gone.     We love our pets despite their idiosyncrasies. Or maybe it’s because of them. How is your pet unique or quirky? Please share…misery loves company :).

Borrowing from the Best

Recently, I gave my first author talk to kind souls who braved a rainy, blustery night to come out and listen to an unknown. I don’t know if they got anything out of it (I certainly hope so), but I did. I felt like a real author. I also felt relieved that it felt good, and surprisingly easy, to talk about my writing…probably a combination of the friendly atmosphere and because it’s my passion. The fact that I’d rehearsed it a kajillion times and brought notes didn’t hurt, either.

One thing people seemed to like was my display of a stack of books I’d loved as a child. Whenever I am asked how I got started as a writer, I say, as a reader. I wanted to read anything about animals, Charlotte’s Web by the brilliant E. B. White being an all-time favorite. I treasured the bi-weekly trips to the public library and soon narrowed my focus to books about horses. My mother would slip in biographies about Helen Keller and Amelia Earhart, but my heart belonged to Ken McLaughlin in My Friend Flicka, Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series, Elisa Bialk’s Tizz the Pony and C. W. Anderson’s Billy and Blaze)…pretty much any book with anything remotely equine on the front cover was devoured and revered. Not surprisingly, the first stories I wrote were about horses. I even went so far as to take the idea (a/k/a basically copy) the plot and characters of My Friend Flicka. I didn’t know the term for it until grad school, but I was employing intertextuality: the idea that whatever we read becomes part of us, can be consciously or subconsciously “borrowed” and even incorporated into our writing.

This story, entitled Outlaw, the Horse That Ran Away (see – I was original with that, at least), was my first “major” piece, written when I was nine. My favorite elementary school teacher, Mrs. Kleine, would have me stay in at recess so she could edit it with me. (Looking back, I am immensely grateful to her, because after teaching for seventeen years, I F U L L Y appreciate how precious time a teacher’s time is without the children.) My father, who was Dean of the College of Education, wanted to feature a young writer and picked me (imagine) to appear on a bulletin board in the education building. One of the art professors drew three beautiful illustrations, and my Outlaw story was “published.” This was the first time I remember feeling like a real writer.

I did branch out with my reading, enjoying Beverly Cleary’s books and delighting in Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. I even went so far as to keep my own little black notebook where I would spy on people, jotting down Harriet-like things such as “That little boy looks sad…I wonder why” or “That woman in the checkout line is fat…I wonder why.” I would usually add, Think about this, just like Harriet did. I certainly had fun with my observations, and they also helped me realize the vital importance of looking and listening as a writer.

Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden became close friends, although I didn’t end up writing any mysteries. I remember enjoying How To Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell, as well as his very unique, quirky The Portmanteau Book, which prompted me to experiment with humor in my own writing. As I morphed into a teenager, both the books I read and my writing became more angst-y. Forever by Judy Blume dealt with teen sexuality and was the “must-read (but don’t tell)” book of that time. The sex in it was deliciously shocking, and I later incorporated PG-13 romantic scenes in my writing. I would fill up spiral notebooks with stories and surprised myself by killing off a main character. When I reread what I’d written, I cried and was very taken aback that my words could have that effect (even though it was just on me).

Later authors whom I read voraciously were Stephen King (I marveled at how much that man could scare me) and Flannery O’Connor. Their dark tales and dry humor surfaced in my writing pieces in high school and college. I had never known I had “dark” within me and was quite pleased to find that yes, I do.

It would be nearly impossible to list all of the authors I enjoyed during my youth, and I would love to hear from other readers in their mid to late 40’s about their own favorite books. I am so grateful to the wonderful writers I’ve mentioned here. It is with a bit of sadness that I realize they will never know how much they meant to a scrawny, bespectacled, young horse lover on a yellow beanbag chair in her bedroom. I’m hoping to pay it forward by creating enjoyment for readers of my own.

Feeling the Love: A Grateful Newbie Indie

Thanksgiving may be a couple of months away, but I’m getting a head start on the feeling-thankful thing. There are many lessons I’ve learned as a new citizen of the self-publishing community, and one thing I learned very early on is that overwhelmingly, people are so darn nice. An international best-selling author taking the time to respond to an email from an unknown indie asking about self-publishing…a best-selling U.S. author telling me to call her so she could give me some advice and then talking to me for an hour…another established author sending me lengthy emails outlining specific marketing tips…the people who have taken the time to read, rate or review my book. And at the top of the list: the gracious, professional and kind bloggers and reviewers who understand their importance to an unknown author and write honest, detailed reviews.

The prevailing sentiment there is room for everyone has been echoed repeatedly in all aspects of the self-publishing world. There is sharing of, not competing for, readers. It feels like we’re all in this together–miles and sometimes continents away, but connected by love for the written word. As a mom whose chicks have flown the nest, I have needed to “meet” people, make new friends and build new networks, to stimulate my mind and challenge myself…to fill the empty, aching hole when I used to feel whole. 

I’ve been feeling a lot more whole lately. I gave my first official talk as an author last night. As I posted on my Facebook page, I had been torn between wanting no one and a whole bunch of people to show up. It turned out to be just the right number. I was touched and honored that people would come out to listen to a new author, especially on a rainy, blustery night. Let me tell you, there was a whole lot of sunshine in that room.

This new venture of mine has felt good. And when you feel good, you want to do good. Like many writers, I’ve fantasized about what I’d do if I made a lot of money from my books, and this included giving to charity. AUTHOR’S NOTE: I am not making a lot of money. Yet. (A girl can dream.) But it occurred to me, why am I waiting? I have my teaching job. I am comfortable. I am making extra money with my book. Why not start giving now?

At the same time I was mulling over what form this giving should take, it occurred to me that while my main character, hypochondriac Christine, provides laughs for readers as she obsesses over her numerous maladies, the diseases she imagines are real for many people. I want it to be known that I am sensitive to this. From this point forward, I am donating a minimum of 25% of my book royalties to a health organization each month, using the National Health Information Center’s calendar as a guideline. All organizations will come from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Service’s website.

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and 25% of this month’s royalties will go to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition in Dallas, Texas. Since October highlights breast cancer, I will donate 50% of my book royalties to the Susan D. Komen Race For The Cure, as I have had family members diagnosed with breast cancer. My beloved grandmother, Rose Abelli Dooling, died of the disease, so it is in her memory that I make this donation.

I am very grateful to those of you who have supported me as a new author. I’m looking forward to celebrating Thanksgiving all year long :).

From Rush to Hush

Let me tell you something about my youngest daughter. She is loud. Correction, LOUD. Not vocally so much as doing things like thundering down the stairs, slamming the toilet lid, and her specialty: shutting doors. No matter how many times we’d tell her to please close the door quietly (at one point, I even demonstrated how to gently close the door and turn the knob so it latched with a soft click), Caleigh never seemed to get it. My husband and I soon gave up, looking at each other and shaking our heads when we’d hear the all-too-familiar click-BAM of the bedroom door upstairs.

I attribute it to her big and blooming personality. Ever since she was a little girl, Caleigh Shayne had charm and swag. When she entered high school as a freshman, even the upperclassmen thought she was cool and wanted to hang out with her. She had everyone (teachers included) eating out of the palm of her hand: a friend to all, genuine, savvy, fun and witty. Now off to college, Cal is beginning a new journey. For really the first time in her life, she’s a little fish in a big, big pond. The confidence she had in both the classroom and on the athletic fields will hopefully serve her well, because what was sure and straightforward in the smaller, sheltered world of high school is not so much anymore.

The business of mothering was also sure and straightforward. For the past twenty-two years, my world has been a flurry of school lunch checks, muddy cleats, smelly sneakers, long-distance games, scribbled parent permission slips, report cards, team gatherings, prom dinners, driving-driving-driving where kids wanted to go or needed to be. There was constant teaching of both major and minor life lessons, and a fair share of grousing (okay, nagging) over the dishwasher that never seemed to get emptied and complaining about damp bath towels draped over the closet door, instead of in the hamper where they belonged. Mother stuff.

But while I’m certainly still a mother and will be for the rest of my life, of course, it’s different now. The night Caleigh moved out, I opened the door to her bedroom and was struck by how quiet it was. Quiet, and still, like the expectant hush before a snowfall. It is still unsettling. No heavy scent of perfume (a/k/a skunk piss) lingering in the air, no raucous rap music my husband and I used to complain about, no teenspeak and laughter from skyping. In the wake of her leaving for college is this emptiness and ache, like a part of me is missing. Which of course, it is.

It was comforting on move-in day to see all the other mothers who were experiencing the same emotions. We’d flash rueful smiles that said, I know, isn’t this tough? as we passed each other in the cramped hallway. As parents, we realize it’s the ultimate goal to prepare your children for life and then (often reluctantly) send them off. You mentally rehearse for this event, tell yourself they’ll be home between semesters, count the days till fall break. You know, however, it will never be the same. And this is what stings.

Still, there are bright spots. The week unfolds more slowly, no hurrying to get to away games after work. A bag of chips lasts longer than a day. There is more time to ride the horse, to write the book. As the new proprietor of an empty nest, I’m finding that I, too, am beginning my own journey into uncharted territory. Both Caleigh and I will ask ourselves the same questions: who am I? what’s important to me? what now? But we will go our separate paths: Caleigh taking her “loud” into the dorm, blending with other new voices in the pandemonium that is college life—while I must learn to listen to myself, in the hush of this empty house.

The Mighty Mighty Indies

Hope. Despair. Celebrate. Lament. Repeat.

Why didn’t anyone tell me the world of indie publishing would be so…stressful? overwhelming? agonizing? Ohh wait a minute, they did. But I thought they were talking about other authors’ experiences, which wouldn’t apply to me. Now, as I sit here trying to coax my tweet-fried, over-clicked brain into writing this post while my husband plays on his iPad and sings to the cat, I am in full and utter appreciation of all indies who have come before me: people who have (other) full-time jobs, and children, and pets, and…and…and…but who still make the time to market, promote, research, email, read, blog, tweet, update Goodreads, search for groups and book clubs and reviewers, network with authors, reply to threads–and if they’re lucky, maybe even shower. And write. This is not for the faint of heart. Even as a newbie, I took offense to the recent comments by established, traditional authors who labeled indies as “lazy.” That’s like saying hummingbirds need to step it up.

In fact, that’s a damned good analogy. Sometimes, I feel exactly like a hummingbird: zipping over to dip my beak in the feeder for a taste of delish sugar water, then flitting to the telephone wire to chill for a sec before beelining it to a very attractive petunia and zooming to nest in a pine tree. Except the sugar water is a delish review, the telephone wire is where I balance precariously between self-labels of success and failure, the petunia is bestseller status, and the pine tree is the shelter and safety of my pre-indie life.

I knew self-pubbing would take time, I knew it would take determination, I knew it would take effort. I didn’t know you would need to add “tremendous” in front of each of those characteristics, and I didn’t know it would take so much courage. It’s scary as hell to put your book out there – to leave it all alone like a frightened toddler in a dark and tangled jungle of a million other unfamiliar creatures (some of which bite). Kimberly Llewellyn, my first professional reviewer to whom I will always be immensely grateful, thanked me for trusting her with my “baby.” She got it. From what I have seen, indie reviewers are kind, professional and know what’s at stake. Still, mailing out a paperback or pressing the button to send your ebook prompts a deep, here-we-go, I-hope-they-like-it sigh. It takes courage to believe in yourself when a flurry of sales slows down, and when you realize how staggering the odds are against you to get noticed, let alone make it big.

In the midst of all this indie-induced stress, it certainly helps to keep a sense of humor. The night after my book went live, my husband and I had dinner at one of our favorite local restaurants, wanting to celebrate the beginning of my new journey as an author. Our waiter, a/k/a The Weakest Link, was a very nice young man, but forgot the lemon for my water (twice), didn’t give us chips and salsa, and brought us the wrong meals. I told my husband I wanted to grab the waiter by the shirt and say, “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM? I’ve sold EIGHT COPIES on Amazon!” I’m sure he would have been impressed.

I know I am far from alone in what I’ve experienced with indie publishing. And I know this is just the first step on a long, long road. I will draw upon the strength, tenacity and courage of other indies as we all strive to realize The Dream. I’ll call forth the kind words and advice of authors and reviewers who were truthfully too busy to offer support to a newbie, but who did it anyway. Here’s to all the inhabitants of our brain-straining, heart-hammering, soul-stirring indie world. Fellow hummingbirds, take flight!