Friday, January 31, 2020

The Island of Two Trees

The Island of Two Trees by Brian Kennelly is is not a book that I would have probably picked up on my own.  Up until reading "The Lord of The Rings" series when I was in college and then later C.S. Lewis, I had no interest in Science Fiction and Fantasy literature.  I'm still not really into it, thus why I wouldn't have picked up this book on my own.  I received this book to review and was open to it in that I knew it was from a good Catholic publisher and would hopefully not have any objectionable material to share with my son.

The first chapter was more interesting to my 6 year old than to me, but soon I was so engaged in the book with my son that as soon as I picked him up from school, all the both of us wanted to do was to read it and see what was up next.

This book exceeded my expectations in every way except one.  There were a few typos, which I was disappointed in, but the content, and engaging story line as well as the obviously Christian (and Catholic, but not "too" Catholic where our non-Catholic brothers and sisters would feel left out) material was great for building conversations with my son and exploring the battles between good and evil that continue to this day.

I loved a particular part in the book where the author used a hypothesis from the Garden of Gethsemane to explore how bitterness literally takes root and how even the smallest and weakest can play a large part in God's story.

This was a great book in that my son and I were both engaged and challenged together.  I sometimes have a hard time reading youth fiction because it just seems so predictable.  This book was possibly one of my favorite books I have read this year and it was great to share it with my son.  You know the sign of a good book when a child would rather listen to you read it than watch TV or play with their toys.  I am grateful for the unexpected opportunity to have read this book and I think many others from age 6 (a mature 6) and up would get a lot out of this book.

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Friday, January 10, 2020

Are Vets Real doctors?

I wouldn't think of saying this to my son's pediatrician, or to any medical professional.  Yet somehow veterinarians aren't always seen as medical professionals.  More than one M.D. has said to me, "I wanted to be a Vet, but I couldn't get into vet school."  Then a D.O told me, "is being a veterinarian an associates degree?"

A couple old jokes in the veterinary profession are, "Real Doctors treat more than one species," and "Veterinary Medicine- because Humans are gross!"  I actually got accepted into one of the top public health programs in the country, and that was my back up plan to Vet School.  They couldn't believe I would decline my admission.  But I did.  Veterinary school is actually one of the most expensive medical schools and let me tell you- when you get out, you don't get paid as much and you still need to purchase malpractice insurance.

Some clients understand the value of our education and I've had more than one ask me for medical or psychological advice (I decline and say that would be practicing without an appropriate license).  I've gotten into discussions with doctors, my own or relatives and have brought up valid medical concerns.  I try not to be "that vet," who thinks they know everything, but let's face it, I have to know about dog vs. cat and at one point cow, horse, sheep, turtle and chicken physiology.  Comparative biology is a thing.  I even participated in a shadowing program with a human MD and discovered how much is similar, and that cost is very much a limitation on how veterinarians practice, but almost not at all on how humans in an ER setting are treated.

Here's a recent exchange-

"What's this exam?  I don't want to pay for an exam, I just want the shots and test."

I calmly explained, "your dog is getting Rabies vaccine, by law that means it needs to be given by a veterinarian."

"Just what is this exam, what's involved?" She haughtily responded.

"The exam was what I did in front of you where I made sure your dog was healthy, I told you she was a good weight and I explained that you may want to start brushing her teeth, remember that?'  I calmly explained trying to keep my eyes from rolling back in my head.

"Well, I don't know why I need to pay for that."  She huffed.

"What you were paying for ma'am was my time.  The time I spent talking with you and the education that I went through that makes me a professional who is able to give your dog a rabies vaccine and interpret the results of the tests."  I could have added, "and now you should pay me for the extra time I've spent explaining to you that I'm a professional and my time is not free."

I never would have been so blunt a few years ago, but unfortunately this conversation, or the feelings behind this conversation are becoming more common.  My respect for other professions has grown through this time.  I understand why a plumber is a plumber and an electrician is an electrician. While youtube can help with some problems, it can't do everything.  When it comes to safety, there's no substitute.  That's why the government recognizes certain things, such as rabies vaccine as being specific to a professional.  It's not worth the risk of someone DIY off of youtube.

Exams before vaccines are necessary.  It used to be that veterinarians were able to charge less expensive exams because we would be compensated by the other items that were sold, such as food and medication.  Most people choose to purchase these online or from other sources, so we need to be able to charge a reasonable rate (way less than human doctors, by the way) for our time, our education and our continued education and sacrifices that make us competent professionals.  I have actually discovered serious, even life-threatening problems when animals have presented for "shots".  Please don't trivialize a profession’s value, either your doctor’s or your pets doctor.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Just say No

No, this isn't a diatribe on drugs.  It's really about sanity and keeping it.  This year I have tried to say, "No," with great frequency.  While this might not seem like a positive statement it really is.  Saying, "No" to volunteer opportunities, extra-curriculars and even music lessons and a lot of enrichment activities for my son is actually saying, "yes" to time at home, time to spend as a family and time to rejuvenate.

In this time of "FOMO" (Fear of Missing Out), sometimes it's good to miss out.  Sometimes, because I'm a helpful person and people are aware of this, it has been hard for me to say no, especially when friends are in a jam.  (Depending on the friend, the nature of the issue and how helpful I might be, I might say, "yes").  I've told myself, "if I say "No," I'm giving someone else the opportunity to say, "Yes."  Someone who is maybe shy or reluctant to step out and normally assumes that people like me will just do it.

This saying, "No" has been especially helpful and yet hard at Advent.  Go to Christmas concert or go to holiday event at zoo?  My husband has been helpful in my life to slow me down.  My husband and son are definitely introverts, and they need their down time.  I have become that way more and more over the years.  I don't know if I'm a natural introvert, or if over 12 years of having to play nice with people who aren't so nice at work, (you know, those people who push your buttons, who just try to do things to get a rise out of you by treating you poorly) has made me into an introvert.  We all need quiet time and we all need some time at home to enjoy with our family.

My family has said, "No" to Elf on the Shelf, even though my kid told me everyone in his class has an elf.  Instead we have multiple Advent calendars and incorporate prayer into our Advent.  This is our family culture and we are fine saying "No" to some stuff.

I like to remember that we have Epiphany and the stuff I wasn't able to get done before December 25th, can still happen after Epiphany.  We organize "Epiphany Caroling" at a retirement home every Epiphany.  Everyone in our Lay Dominican group enjoys it and it's a lot easier on everyone's schedule to do an event in January rather than squeezing something more into December.

Figure out what's important to your family, give yourself grace when you aren't able to do things you wanted to.  As a matter of fact, we normally put up 3 wreaths on our front windows every year.  I got a wreath on the main window and told my husband the others may not happen.  I told him, "That's the frosting, it's not necessary if it's going to stress us out (it involves taking screens out of third story windows).  He told me, "I like the frosting,"  I told him, "I'll go without frosting if it means going without cranky."

We will see if I ever do get the wreaths up, our son won't remember that, but he will remember if mommy and daddy were cranky and I'm fine saying "No" if it means saying "yes" to sanity.  Give yourself grace if you didn't get everything done this year and focus on what is important.

It occurred to me as I was lamenting that no matter how much I plan and chop from my to do list, I still don’t have the house as ready as I want or the cookies baked and the gifts prepared.
Mary and Joseph weren’t really physically ready for Jesus- I mean they didn’t have a hotel reservation and she gave birth in a manger.   That didn’t matter though.  They were spiritually ready and God took care of the rest.

Though we may not be physically ready, let’s pray for spiritual readiness and the grace to have open hearts this Christmas season.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Purple Light and unsolicited advice

The other day as I was leaving the gym, a boy about 3 years old came running by me with his mother hollering behind him.  His mom was pushing a stroller with a baby and had no hope of keeping up.  It didn't look like the boy was being disobedient, just an energetic 3 year old.

I slowed down and turned to him and said, "it sounds like your mommy wants you to come back."  The mother was rushing to get him and thanked me for keeping him from running into the busy parking lot.  I turned to her and said, "you know what really used to work for my son?"  I could see the eyes rolling in the back of her head, like "great, I have to hear some unwanted advice."  I knew if my husband was there he would chide me for giving unwanted advice, but I continued.  "We did red light, green light," her eyes told me she had tried that before, and there may have even been a sigh.  "But we had a purple light."  She was now intrigued.  "Purple light means, come back and give me a hug."  She smiled.  She liked that, she said.  I told her, "It's hard for kids and adults to get a red light, but a purple light is fun."  She told her son.  He started to run and then she said, "Purple light" and he ran back to her and gave her a hug.

A little later as I walked back to my car, I heard the little boy call "Purple light" on his own and run back to his mom and give her a hug.  She gave me a big thank you and said, "Wow, thanks so much, this is life-changing."  Unsolicited advice is not always bad...  When you feel the urge to share something helpful, remember if given in a non-judgemental and sympathetic way, it could just be "life-changing"

Friday, November 29, 2019

You should say thank you to me...

I ran a tough marathon this year.  It was the second one of my life and quite likely the last.  It was my longest marathon and the toughest weather.  I jokingly called it my first triathalon, and that's not far from the truth.  I believe it was the remnants of a tropical storm we ran through.  Rain for 6 hours, wind and general misery, before clearing up and finishing with sunny skies and temps in the 70's.  Don't worry, I won't post pictures of my close to 30 blisters, but they were definitely there- and painful.

I had totally wanted to quit.  The weather was miserable and my body wasn't doing much better than the weather.  I didn't think I was going to make the cut-off times where they cut your marathon short if you don't keep up to a certain pace.  When I thought about quitting, though, I recalled how my husband and son sacrificed so much time for me to be gone for my training.  It had probably been great for their relationship and bonding to do all sorts of things without me when I was training, but it was nevertheless sacrifice for them.  I didn't want to quit.  I knew if I didn't make it, they w
ould understand, but I knew that I wanted my son to see me persevere.  Because, after all, much of life is perseverance.  I prayed on that marathon, I offered up and I rejoiced when I finished.  I ran with a friend who is about a foot taller than me and finished about an hour and a half before me (I told her I didn't feel bad about this disparity, especially when we discovered what had taken her 55,000 steps to finish took me 72,000; the disadvantage of short legs...)

I had planned ahead for recovery, right down to the Epsom Salts, scheduling a massage and cleaning out the bath tub.  I did NOT plan for what happened when I got home.

I had told my husband I didn't want to stop for a meal post-marathon because I was afraid if I sat down, I wouldn't be able to get back up.  My husband and son got some food and joined us back in the car for the half hour ride home.

We got home and I struggled up our townhouse steps (nothing like an extra flight of stairs).  I was already envisioning my hot bath.  I went to open the door and discovered- it was locked.

Apparently, my husband had tried to take a nap after he dropped my friend and I off at the race and he didn't realize that my son had messed with the internal lock on our door.  He had locked the door from the inside.  Both "keys" we had for the door did not seem to work.  The twisty-tie I had used previously in situations like this were in my bedroom.  I was pretty much in shock and my feet felt like I was walking on hot coals.  I did not yell at my son, but he could tell how exhausted and frustrated I was.  He told me he was sorry.  I told him I forgave him but I still needed to open our door.  I kept from saying things out of anger that could have easily happened.  I knew he had made a mistake and I knew that speaking in anger, frustration and exasperation was not going to help anyone.

My friend suggested I just take a hot shower in the guest bathroom and I explained that would work, but I needed clothes and they were in my room.  I considered whether I could climb up to the bedroom from the second floor porch and than contemplated that even if the windows were unlocked it would be a really bad idea to put my dilapidated body on a ladder.

I asked my son to bring me a stool.  I couldn't stand any longer.  I messed with the door for a while and my husband offered to kick the door down.  I told him I had previous experience with that and it's way more expensive than calling a locksmith.  I can only imagine how dejected I looked.  My son sat a little bit away from me and fortunately realized that silence was necessary.  My husband came with a grocery store card and was finally able to open the door.

We all sighed with relief.  Then my son came over with a smile- "You should say thank you to me."  I looked at him and annunciated slowly- "Oh, I could say a lot of things to you right now, but thank you is not one of them."

Then I said, "why do you think I should say thank you?"  He replied, "because it was thanks to my prayers that the door be opened that it opened."  I think I managed an "Oh, I see."

As we celebrate this time of year and express gratefulness, I think of how many situations do we get into where it's really difficult to find room for gratitude.  Think of the times where maybe you think prayers are like a vending machine, you put coins(prayers) in and you get goodies out.  Sure, that happens sometimes.  But sometimes it feels like the Kit Kat you asked for isn't working and you get a protein and fiber bar instead.  I find myself wanting to bang the machine and tell me to give me what I asked for.  Never thinking that maybe I needed that protein and fiber bar.

That door getting locked and that frustration taught me two things- I'm more patient than I thought I was and my son can teach me a thing or two about having faith in answered prayers and for that, I'm grateful.

Friday, November 8, 2019

God's Wildest Wonderment of All

God's Wildest Wonderment of All by Paul Thigpen and beautiful illustrations by John Folley is a wonderful book exploring the uniqueness and gifts of all of God's creatures and especially the dignity of the person.

It was a pleasure to receive this book and share the illustrations and discuss with my son the amazing creatures God has created and most importantly, human dignity.  Weaving a love and curiosity for animals with solid theology my family enjoyed this book.

My son enjoyed the book and all the animals it discussed, it arrived in perfect time for him to share with his class prior to a field trip to the zoo.  Especially as a veterinarian, I enjoyed the appreciation of all of God's creation.

With beautiful rhymes and illustrations, it is an engaging book and is pleasant to read.  With words like, "yet every beast, like girl or boy, makes some small gift to God's own joy" the book is full of enthusiasm and shares in the joy of God's creation.  It would make a great gift for a teacher or family member, especially those who love animals!

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Tuesday, October 29, 2019


I hope we all remember to nurture our friendships, especially those that challenge us.

A few weeks ago, I found a towel that said, "We've Been Friends For So Long, I Can't Remember Which One Of Us Is The Bad Influence."  As I was pondering whether to get this for my friend, my mom just blurted out, "You are getting that for her, right?".  She saw the towel and had immediately thought of the same friend I was thinking of.

Sometimes, I think of us like the characters in the Bette Middler movie, Beaches.  I might be a little more Bette Midler and she might be a little more the other character, but we might also split that a little even.  I'm more conservative, she's more liberal.  I'm religious, she's secular.  I'm barely over 5 feet, she's closer to 6.  It took me 72,000 steps to finish our marathon, it took her 55,000.  I'm a married family woman, she's single.

In college, she helped me with her editing skills.  As my husband can attest, my grammar probably would have had me failed out of many classes if it hadn't been for her help.  I helped her not burn the house down.  She didn't know how to cook even macaroni and cheese at that time (she is now something close to a gourmet cook through many years of practice).  We met because of her old roommate that neither one of us has talked to in over 20 years, by chance.

I still remember her being mortified when a socialist professor of ours said, "Aah, my 2 liberals," as we left a party at his house.  She responded to him, "You do know what she believes, right?".  He replied, "No, I'm not talking about party affiliation, I'm talking about people who think outside the box."  She was there with me when I was crazy enough to take a Marxism class with a former Marxist Black Panther.  She thought I was flirting with disaster.  I naively responded, "Well, if I have to learn about it, I want to learn about it with someone who actually believed it."  Her jaw dropped when in that class I had the further cajones to say that some people said the Civil War was more than about slavery and also about states' rights.  My professor fortunately respected that I had the bravery to say this.

But instead of the "wind beneath my wings" she probably thinks I'm the blisters beneath her feet.  I'm the one who recruited her to come down from New England and run another marathon with me.

After finishing our marathon and eating a much earned wonderful meal by my husband, my friend looks at me as if she was just struck with a new realization, "This was your fault, you are the one who got me to do this crazy thing."  She was ultimately happy that I challenged her, and it was an excuse for us to get together and bond, but she experienced the travails of the marathon just like I did.

While I joked with her about doing a "Tough Mudder" as our next endeavor, she firmly stated that a "Spa Weekend" would be our next excursion.

She asked my husband if he could think of anything the two of us had in common.  He had a blank look.  I didn't realize how much this bothered her until the next day when she said, "I can't believe he couldn't think of anything we shared in common."  I reminded her that this is the same wonderful man who was engaged to me and couldn't remember what eye color I had; being observant wasn't really his greatest skill.

We dabbled in the topics of religion and politics a little and then we stepped back.  We have worked out a rhythm of about how much we can dialogue before it no longer becomes dialogue.  As we were spending time together I turned to her and said, "I think I know what we have in common; we are generous with each other and others and we like to think the best of people."  We are idealists and though some of our moral values are not the same, we know we are both trying to be the best people we can be.  We ask questions of each other without insulting the other.

In a world of polarization, it makes a big difference if we are trying to understand each other or convert one another.  Our friendship is one of conversion, not of each other, but of ourselves.  We hold each other accountable to be the best they can be.  We are not always diplomatic with each other (both of us have abruptly laid the truth out for each other when it comes to relationships).  She's my friend who told me, "He's too hot for you" about a boyfriend and she turned out to be right.  He was not my type.

Sometimes, joys come in friendships not over common interest, but over common good.  Sometimes, we are called to engage with those who aren't in our "sphere" of likes and dislikes.  Our society is becoming more and more polarized and it is easier for us all to judge and separate and label and think of "other" as someone separate and not someone we need or choose to have a relationship with, but whether it's our family, friend or acquaintance,  it's great to see and try to understand the "other".  Even if I see her through eyes of faith, and she sees me through the eyes of a humanitarian, we can still see each other as sisters in humanity and friends.