Sunday, October 31, 2010


I spent many, many summers in Paris where poodles frequent restaurants. I visited Pablo Picasso's museum and home, walked through William Shakespeare's birthplace in the Cotswalds, hiked and dined in Dubrovnik, landed by chopper on the Mendenhall Glacier, danced with abandon on a tabletop in Corfu (yes me), and stood in awe of Michaelangelo's Sisteen Chapel and his 'David.'  I pulled a woman out of the canal in Venice, spent Spring in Switzerland, rode elephants in Bangkok, taught cooking classes on a cruise ship on the inside passage of Alaska and lived for 2 years 'on the economy' in Seoul, Korea.  I have done more 'stuff'  than we have time for here, nor are you interested, nor is it pertinent.  All beautiful experiences yes, but none so packed with emotion and power than living fiercely and with wild abandon today.

But with that ferocity and abandon a heavy price has to be paid and is paid daily.  There are some tears that come and dry up and then some of the time aren't allowed to come at all.  But when they do there is a reason.  Today there is a reason. 

It is my fundamental belief in goodness that lifts me up, and over, and beyond all that is ugly and tragic and pathetic and just plain wrong in this world. Sometimes the tragic and ugly comes in the door wearing sheep's clothing.  Much like Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf.  Today keeping that belief in goodness is the hard part.  An almost impossible mission, for the moment.

My brain is cluttered with 'stuff' I want to get rid of, much like my closet and the untidy drawers and cupboards in my house that have been in need of tending for a very long time.  Neglect of closets and drawers and a cluttered brain can become overwhelming. So can neglect of the human spirit.   But time and life take over and sometimes you are thrown a curve ball that is so fundamentally painful that it is indeed hard to catch your breath.  Today was such a day. 

So today I stepped into a book and cuddled up close to my dog, to escape. The book, From Baghdad, With Love by Lieutenant Colonel Jay Kopelman. I realized soon that dogs 'watch over our sanity,' and our warriors sanity. As Kopelman put it, "When you spent  you entire career on the fringes of violence, the dogs helped remind you that you were still human." 

Okay, that I can understand!  I have read the book three times.  Most unusual for me. These words are consistent in putting my life back on track.  Why do I keep trying again and again when the arrows are continually shot at my back?  I  do this because dogs have an extraordinary ability to remind us that we are human.  And more importantly, they remind our warriors, coming home from hell, that they too are human. 

In a few short words, this is a book about the true dramatic rescue attempt of a dog named Lava and Lava's rescue by one Marine from the emotional ravages of war.  An unforgettable true story of an unlikely band of heroes who learn unexpected lessons about life, death and war from a mangy little flea-ridden refugee. I quote further after Lava ultimately makes it to the United States and freedom, "Film footage later shows a dog barreling toward a well-composed Marine (Kopelman) in uniform who bends down, catches the dog in mid-leap, stands up and turns circles with his face buried in the dog's fur, and all you have to do is add hot water, and bang, instant answer to the question. Koppelman asks, 'why wasn't my time spent helping people instead of a puppy?  I don't know, and I don't care, but at least I saved something.'"
We all try to create our world.  We try to do the right thing, aim at the right stars and dust off our pants when we are knocked down.  We try.  But sometimes we don't know what galaxy we have landed in, when those in a place of reverence pay homage to something quite alien.
So for a couple of days I have buried my face in dog fur, scratched tummies, made homemade sweet potato dog treats, petted horses noses, and listened to the silence and inhaled the fragrance, as they munched  sweet hay and carrots.
So to hell with the naysayers, to hell with the arrows flung in my direction, and to hell with hell. Today I don't care for disipline.  I am going to create my world the way I want, not the way someone else directs me.  Time and life does what it will. And in the process makes us who we are in the end. And in the end I am a pretty good person. And yes indeed should anyone ask, my dogs indeed make me human! So hold on world, I am still here!  I promise tomorrow I will be back and do my work. You see, to paraphrase, I am on this earth to do good, what the others are here for I simply do not know.
"I resolve to surround myself with EXPLORERS who are not afraid to wander the back roads of their minds.  Luckily for me, I enjoy small intimate parties." ~Kay Foley


Wednesday, October 27, 2010



What grows your soul, deepens your mind and, mostly what opens your heart?

Do you neglect or reject parts of yourself?

Today I met a woman, who in a short thirty minutes changed my life.  I do not know her name.  I shall call her Ann.

At the quarterly Marine Town Hall Meeting (Wounded Warrior Battalion) at SAMMC, Ann managed to touch my life and  heart most unexpectedly.  Not surprisingly, we met playing with the Marine's newest mascot, an English Bulldog female puppy named Amos.  She sat on a bench with a neatly folded handmade quilt in her lap, as we talked about dogs.  Her dogs and mine.  There was a deep unspoken sadness in her face.  Her eyes told the story. I knew the story before she spoke. Ann was from California.  I simply asked if she had 'someone' at SAMMC in the hospital.  This is when I once again grew up. 

Her son, a Marine, had been severely burned over two years ago in Iraq and was still in ICU.  "I stayed here with him for a year, but then I knew it was time to go home."  Living in Northern California in a space no larger than half of a garage, she flies into San Antonio every month to sit by her son's bed and just be there.  He doesn't hear her, see her, and most likely doesn't know she is there.  She has no choice.  This is her son. Where else would she be?

I came home and wept.  Wept for her, for her son, for all the other young men and women and their families just like hers who grieve, who live life minute to minute in fear, in disbelief, in agony, in rage, in outrageous pain. What do you say? What do you do? 

You want to do something, anything, to stop their pain.  But there isn't anything you can do.  You can pray, you can emotionally walk away, you can stop cold in your tracks and yell and scream, "This isn't fair!"  But where do you go with your own pain? How do you stop your own suffering?  How can you suffer when their pain is so much worse? How can you forget, turn away, or ignore what they are going through? 

The Marines don't forget, or turn away or ignore her horrendous grief!  They hold her in their arms, close to their hearts.  She is family!  She is their family.  She has a place where she belongs and is welcomed and understood.  And more importantly is accepted and not judged, because they too feel her pain and grief, because her son is one of their brothers.

She held the handmade quilt close to her chest.  As comfort perhaps or perhaps not.  Perhaps she wanted to scream into it and stiffle the sound.  Perhaps she wanted to do anything to stop the suffering for both of them.  I had no words.  There were no words.  She knew I cared and cared deeply.  Tonight there are still no words. 

She is returning to California tomorrow to her one half garage and her cats and her birds and her fish.  She is surrounded there by life, living things.  I sensed she couldn't go on without the peace these creatures provide. 

Tonight I think of her and pray for her and cry for her.  Tonight I praise the Marines who hold her as if she were their own mother, as she holds them, as if they were her son.  I wish I could take away her pain. I wish I could erase the unbearable grief in her eyes that tonight is held much to close to my heart. A heart that is wide open. 

I wish I knew her name.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


It is 7:30 am.  Falling leaves are gathering in the yard and a pot of Carbonade Flamande (Beer Stew) is simmering on the front burner of the stove and chocolate chip muffins in grandma's cast iron muffin tin are in the oven.  Ten minutes until they are done.

I am sitting with a pumpkin macadamia biscotti and a cup of hazelnut coffee, with little Gracie's head resting on my lap.  She sleepily turns over to have her tummy scratched.  This is how I like to write!
I don't like to write to remind people that there is a war and that our young men and women fighting seem to have been forgotten.  Just this morning the New York Times tells its readers the same thing.  But today I want to focus on awe.  What inspires me?  What inspires you? 

"If we think long and hard enough about whatever inspired it, awe can turn things we've gotten used to into revelations that make us wonder how we could ever have taken them for granted." ~Paul Pearsall

Physician Joanna Siebert wrote of an experience that needs to be shared.  "Today I visited an 8 year old girl dying of cancer.  Her body was disfigured by her disease and its treatment.  She was in almost constant pain. As I entered her room, I was overcome almost immediately by her suffering - so unjust, unfair, unreasonable.  Even more overpowering was the presence of her grandmother lying in bed beside her with her huge body embracing this precious child.  I stood in awe, for I knew I was on holy ground.  I will never forget the great, gentle arms and body of this grandmother.  She never spoke while I was there.  She was holding and participating in suffering she could not relieve, and somehow, her silent presence was relieving it."

To me awe is having the courage to experience the wonders in our lives, the pain, the happiness, the joy, the misery, the ambivalence, the passion, the fears, and the love.  Awe carries with it the willingness to be surprised by the sacred, if we dare.  It is when we lose our sense of awe and wonder, that we miss the large and small miracles that occur each day in our lives.

For now I find I have not lost my sense of  awe and wonder, as I went downstairs to get a warm chocolate chip muffin, to find my two therapy dogs had pulled an entire unopened loaf of seven grain bread off of the counter and consumed it!  In some unique way it reminds me of a bumper sticker that says, "Who rescued who?"

Let the day begin!  I am inspired!

Monday, October 25, 2010


I recently heard a story from a woman just back from a book tour.  She had traveled and stayed in a different hotel every night.  On the final night of her tour she went to her room too exhausted to smile one more smile or utter one more word. She put the card into the lock and the door would not open.  She kept trying, twisting, turning, pulling, and shaking the handle.  Finally in total exasperation she looked up at the room number and realized it was the wrong room.  She repeatedly was trying to open the wrong door! 

I feel certain you know where this is going.  How many times are we faced with a door we try and try to open only to find it is the wrong door?  We may have the key, but perhaps it is meant for a door that leads us to a much more extraordinary place. 

Okay, yes it is hard.  It is hard to stop trying to open a door that just won't open and try another one.  We have to be awake, aware, observant and have an open heart to open that other door. But the deal is, it takes courage.  Whether a marriage, a relationship, a job, a decision, staring at the closed door too long keeps us stuck and in that quagmire we remain.  We remain closed to the rest of the world that would open up to us.  We become closed to life.

In Merry Thoughts, Kay Foley writes, "I have become convinced that the real key to living life wholly, fully, and rightly is openness.  Stephen Levine writes in his book, Who Dies? about a Hasidic teaching that says we must be ready for whatever life has to offer and more specifically for a particular event or moment for which each of us was born."

Supposing the key is to accept life, to be open to change and the mystery of it all, rather than striving for mastery over it. We then are able to experience a remarkable wisdom when we become open and receptive.

Today I am tired and the only door I want to open is my bedroom door.  But you see I have experienced that one event and moment for which I know I was born.  It is a gift, a blessing, and at the same time a burden.  But nonetheless, it is mine. There are doors I have pulled and tugged at so long I have blisters and yes, even scars.  And then when I released them, the doors began opening by themselves with no key needed. Once I stopped clinging to the 'stuff' that wasn't working and depleting my soul, life, and energy - joy and happiness opened with unanticipated clarity and ease.

One of the wounded warriors wrote me the other day in reference to a question I posed on FacebookWhere is your bunker?  Where do you go when you can't face the day and fear takes you by the hand?  His response was, "I have a TBI and PTSD.  I go and pull up a chair by my chicken pen, throw feed to them and just sit and watch them.  Just sitting there for a little bit, I get the motivation to get up and do some yard work.  Sounds silly but seems like daily getaways for me clear my mind."  I understand.

Another soldier wrote, "Most often I just sorta zone on my couch with my best friend. I will often find myself just sorta swirling her soft ears between my fingers, Then she'll get up to "remind" me that I need to snap out of it. Don't know what I would do without her. Patsy you know I love my wife more than anything in the world and bless her she tries to help me, but there are some things only a dog can do." This too I understand.

Knowing which door to open and which to close takes work.  But more importantly, it takes courage.  We can come up with a thousand reasons why we keep pulling and struggling to open the wrong door. But what peace and comfort and solace there is to be found behind the right door. People who don't have our backs, who pout, yell, scream, accuse, cajole, threaten, and beat us verbally shouldn't be in our lives.  It becomes all about them, their insecurities, not us.  This isn't a dress rehearsal.  This is life - the only one we get. 

Whether you find solace throwing feed to chickens or rubbing the soft warm ears of your dog, these soldiers have found the right door.  So today my suggestion to you is to stop fighting, stop fretting, stop the pain of being in the wrong place struggling with the wrong door.  Step back, open the right door.  One day it will happen ~ BOOM.  You will step through and see the sun shine and feel the warmth that permeates your very being, as you become aware that you have been fighting demons endlessly for nothing. 

I'll just bet your eyes twinkle, your step is brighter, your heart lighter. And with any luck one day you just might thank me. Oh what we miss with this human thing called caution!

Thursday, October 21, 2010


"Rules!~Hell, there are no rules here...we're trying to accomplish something." ~Thomas Edison

A drink of emotional devotion.  We all need a big swallow once in a while. Sometimes we aren't so fun to live with and sometimes we are downright obnoxious.  We always have a reason, whether warranted or not to have, what I call, "A BUNKER DAY".  You know the day where you want to pull the covers over your head and kick the world, and everyone in it, out the door.  A common PTSD reaction to stress!

I have never been one to feel that I had to be important in order to feel that I have significance.  Quite the contrary.  I know I have significance each time a warrior with PTSD sends me an email telling me, " I don't know what I would have done if I had not found you guys!"  This is of great important, in other words significance, for me.  There is a rich and free enjoyment of my advantages to be able to do this. For this I am abundantly grateful. The time I have on this earth, I intend on spending wisely and fully.  And most of the time exhaustedly!

So today I look at this cup being held by a wounded warrior plowing through the hell of PTSD with Cocoa by his side!  He wrote me and told me he was able to drive for the first time with Miss Cocoa by his side.  And to celebrate they stopped for a refreshment!!  Perhaps Tom Sobal was correct when he wrote, "Pain is weakness leaving the body."  Maybe we all have to go through pain to surface again stronger than ever before.  Perhaps these "Bunker Days" are as necessary as a cup of coffee or 'Cocoa' for all of us.

When I asked an author friend about what he did when he was 'bone tired.'  He said, "Somedays I want to live. Somedays I don't.  Somedays when I write a little bit I'm okay.  If I write a lot, I'm better.  I write to find out who I am." 

So today I write.  I eat a little chocolate.  I sit in the garden and listen to the doves cooing and watch the sun begin to set a little earlier.  I think of my friend and thank him for giving me permission to pull the covers over my head and close my bunker door.  Because he knows, as well as I, that soon I will be out again, just as I know he will.

Not too long ago I was railing against my schedule.  I am not paid for these 12-15 hour days.  I am a volunteer for goodness sakes.  Why do I do this?  The answer rolled off of my tongue before I knew what I had said.  I do this because I have no choice.  My entire life has lead me to this time and place.  And I do not have a choice.  I dream without fear.

Randy Pausch said, "It's not how hard you hit.  It's how hard you get hit, and keep moving."  I choose to keep moving. He continued that we have a 'finite period of time.  Whether short or long, it doesn't matter.  Life is to be lived.' 

Today I choose to live in the bunker!  Today there are successes and values in life that are greater than just coming out on top. Today is to rejuvenate myself for my warriors!  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


The smile might have told the end of the story, but in truth it told the beginning.

The first time I met Michael he was cordial and standoffish. You could read PTSD all over his face. He was slightly bent and occasionally grimaced in pain, trying to hide the severity. His case manager had written to me, suggesting that Michael might benefit from a support service dog. She said he had been through hell and this just might be his ticket out.

I arranged to meet Michael and his wife close to Austin and see how we could help.  In an instant, I knew that this was a young man that needed 'his' dog.  Within a matter of days we had located a fostered dog that had been rescued from a kill shelter because of his amazing temperament and potential.  His name was Kingsley!  For weeks Michael took a giant leap and drove by himself to San Antonio every Friday to training classes with Kingsley.  The connection was instantaneous.  The bond was to grow deeper.  As graduation day approached it became apparent that all of us had developed a bond not only with this dog but also with Michael.  His smile lit up the room and his stories ripped at our hearts.  We were all sad to see them leave, but knew they would continue to return for additional training. Then I received a photo of Michael and Kingsley. In this photographic  moment, a simple promise of connection and an alliance of hope was captured.  The days of nightmares that had been a blur, yet all too real, ones that had kept Michael from living his life, were becoming less and less.

"I'll cry with you,"she whispered "until we run out of tears. Even if it's forever. We'll do it together." Author Unknown

It was there, a simple promise of connection.  Together Michael and Kingsley had survived there own personal wars.  Together they were united and both survivors of the dark night of near death.  Together they are teaching each other to not live in the past, and to not fear the future. 

What makes Michael different?  Where does his courage come from?  B.C. Forbes said, "History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heart-breaking obstacles before they triumphed.  They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats." 

Perhaps that is the answer for all of us.  I am certain is has been for me.

"Never doubt that  a small group of committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Unknown

Let us never forget Franklin D. Roosevelt's words, "Those who have long enjoyed such privleges as we enjoy, forget in time that men have died to win them."  I won't forget.  And I won't forget Michael and Kingsley.  That smile in the photo keeps me answering endless phone calls from other Michaels. When the voice at the other end simply says, "I need help." 

One hundred years from now it will not matter what kind of house you lived in, what kind of car you drove, what your bank balance was. What will matter is the depth of your commitment and your devotion to give purely. 

Yes, love does heal!

"The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others." ~Ghandi



One thousand dollars (tax deductible) will sponsor a dog and warrior with PTSD. 

13423 BLANCO ROAD, STE 218

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Recipe for success: Study while others are sleeping; work while others are loafing; prepare while others are playing; and dream while others are wishing.
- William A. Ward

Albert Schweitzer noted, "I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve." 

Well, one thing I know is that this comes with a price! A heavy price for those of us who 'serve' nonstop!  There is such a thing as Compassion Fatigue, and I have come face to face with it more times than I wish to remember.  Defined as a 'chronic lack of self care', it is also a 'Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder.'  So the bottom line is that I suffer from the same thing as 'my' wounded warriors with PTSD! 

I took three days off last week.  They weren't enough, barely sufficient.  I needed more. I prayed for more.

I sat on the beach wrapped in sunshine and the cries of seagulls. I watched pelicans dive into the sunrise for breakfast and sandpipers fight for the right-of-way on the beach, children building sandcastles that would soon disappear and young lovers walking hand in hand along the shore with a lifetime ahead of them.   I wanted to disappear into the warm breeze that seemed to dust off the cobwebs and dust from my soul.  I wanted to sleep, to absorb nothingness, to vanish into a place where nothing could disturb this beautiful peace. 

The first morning my phone rang all day long, one crisis, one problem, after another.  I cried and railed against it, until I realized this phone had an 'off' button.  More importantly, I realized that the world would not stop if I made a conscious decision to not answer the phone. Suffice it to say it was glorious.  I didn't care.  I didn't want to know who called. I didn't check my messages.  I walked on the beach at sunrise and sunset and envied the winter Texans who were there for months on end.  It is a clean refreshing existence.  One that I fear would be all too easily consume me.  An existence where I could sit and write and remember and rejoice and breathe, as each wave would rush in to wash away the anxiety, the pain, and the never-ending stress.

I took bags of bread saved for just this occasion.  As I tossed the bread skyward, seemingly hundreds of birds, arrived out of nowhere.  With each slice torn and tossed, I tried to visualize a problem being sent skyway and devoured by the birds.  With each piece thrown I visualized the knots being untied around me. I watched a grumpy sandpiper chase away other birds from his territory.  Time and time again he would charge the other birds, sending them rushing in the opposite direction, only to return in a matter of moments.  He was the boss, this was his few square feet on this earth.  I felt akinship.  For this day, these few square feet were mine as well. I too had turned off my phone and chased away interruptions in this time and place.

It didn't take long before it was the dreaded time to pack up my 'stuff' and a few shells to head back to reality.  I haven't the answers, but I do know that for those few short hours I was in a place and time I didn't want to leave.  I thought endlessly of sacrifices made daily that seem to devour me at every turn.  But what is lost, if I no longer pursue this passion.  Will the world end? No. But the answer eludes me.  Words escape onto a computer, into groceries to be bought and dinner to cook and linens to be washed and cars to be filled with gas. 

What is it our Marines, Soldiers, Navy, and Airmen fight for?  Is it my right to have this choice to make?  Perhaps so.  But I know exactly how they feel when they return home with PTSD.  They want to escape to peace, to nothingness, to a place where no one, nor anything, can ask anything of them. 

A place, much like this island, where they can dig deep and find out who they are and what exactly they are made of.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Nelson Mandela has been quoted as saying, "It always seems impossible until its done."  For our wounded warriors in training for a Penny's From Heaven Foundation/TADSAW Support Service Dog, the feelings are the same.

Being present for our Train A Dog-Save a Warrior PTSD Support Service Dog classes held in the large gazebo at the Warrior Family Support Center at Brooke Army Medical Center is a huge gift and blessing. To be witness to our wounded warriors, struggling knee deep through physical pain and grueling anxiety,  as they work with their service dog-in-training, is humbling. I try to string the words together to explain these times, but I have learned to listen only to the action. 

Dogs learning how to work beside a wheelchair, walker, or cane, slowly and in tune with their handler, is inspiring.  Many of these warriors also have a Traumatic Brain Injury. This  more often than not is accompanied by short term memory loss.  Trying to remember the commands and implement them in a split second is not always easy.  But the underlying reality is that they want to succeed.  They want to learn.  They want this dog by their sides.  By their sides in the grocery store, a restaurant, a movie, anyplace.  They have distinguised that this is worth doing.  They know how they feel with this dog close by at all times.  They know the difference it makes.  So despite their physical pain and mental disruptions, they push through fearlessly.  A grimace every once in a while accompanied by frustration, turns these men into warriors once again.  They will succeed and they will win.  Their lives, to some very great degree, depend on it, as they appear to be waiting to wake up from the pain, from the night terrors, from the anxiety.  They too are no different than the rest of us.  We all need to feel someone cares deeply for us, no matter what. As Erik Hoffer said, "It is loneliness that makes the loudest noise." With a PTSD Support Service Dog by their sides, the dark places are illuminated and loneliness disappears. For with this risk there is much more to be gained than lost.

The rough edges slowly are smoothed out and the dog becomes aware, sometimes awkwardly, how to read his warrior's needs and commands.  They watch their faces closely for what is expected or required of them next.  But this doesn't all happen quickly or easily. There are definite distractions, but habitual movements alert the dog to what is needed. They are giving passionate attention to the details surrounding them.  Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, but always they succeed.  For each step is a step toward success, because ultimately, they really have no idea just how beneficial this will be for them.

"No trumpets sound when the important decisions of our life are made.  Destiny is made known silently." ~Agnes De Mille

For these Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Seamen that have come home from war with Post Traumatic Stress, recovering a sense of possibility, is all important. They have no payoffs for remaining stuck.  Nor do they want them.  What they want is to be rid of the demons that appear out of nowhere at anytime. They want a more normal existence.  With a PTSD Support Service Dog trained just for them, this can and often does become a reality.

"Look and you will find it - what is unsought will go undetected.

"Self control is about being in charge of the direction our lives are taking.  Now for the paradox: We get control of our lives, ultimately, not by will power but by surrender."
~Lewis B. Smedes 


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