Tag Archives: dogs

Community or Netflix: (get off your couch)

She needs to get out more often, don't you think?

She needs to get out more often, don’t you think?

So this is new: going out socially as a single entity. I’ve never really done it. Not in my daily life.  I mean—yeah—to the grocery store, or kids’ sporting events, or whatever quotidian life has required. But socially…I’ve always travelled in some version of a pack. And in that pack, I feel an innate belonging. When I travel, it’s the other way. I’m a solo act and I love it. I love to get that rush of “the world is my oyster. I can do anything I want. In fact, I want to eat oysters! Where’s the best place for oysters in town???” And I get that zingy, buzzy feeling of being at home in the world. A little daring is involved. A little “anything is possible” fuels it. When I was nineteen and traveling all around Europe in trains, I used to adopt new personalities and pretend I was a completely different person. On any train, or in any restaurant, or youth hostel, or pension, I could be a woman running from the law, a college drop-out filled with a Holden Caulfield malaise, a photographer on assignment for National Geographic. I was trying life on for size and it was positively exhilarating.

Not so much now. And not so much in my own back yard. Suddenly, I find myself quite pack-less. A lone coyote yowling in a cold snowy night. Only she speaks English, and she’s standing in my living room, and she’s kinda mean: “Uh—it’s Saturday night, girl. What you gonna do with your bad-ass self? Sit here and watch freaking Netflix and drink wine in your pjs with the dogs in your lap? Again?”15401066_10154263575531406_2886694505637283739_n

“No. Actually. I’m going into town. To a brewery. To hear my friend play guitar. At a local fundraiser. Which makes me cool. And not just because I freaking know a musician…but because I’m freaking altruistic too. So suck it.” I can dish it right back at her, but it never feels very good. I mean, being at war with yourself, as it were. In your living room.

I think we all know that I’m already on the couch, with my finger on the remote control, the dogs looking up at me to invite them up on the couch. My actual pack wants me in it, and they want me here watching The Crown. Apparently they like the smell of wine breath and a proper English accent instead of my midwestern twang.

I sigh and wonder if I’m brave enough to drive the dark, snowy, foggy, black-icy, deer-full country roads. And I get mad at myself for forgetting once again to replace my windshield wiper blades. They suck. And so will I if I spend another night on that damn couch.

So I let the living room lie fallow, and invite the dogs up to my bedroom instead because I need to deal with my hair and my face and put on actual clothing that’s not plaid flannel and tied with a drawstring, and say “yes” to the lovely invitation to go out and make it count. I mean, it’s not like I’m just going into town on a pub crawl. Even though that sounds fun. I haven’t done that in years. I had some solid pack members along the way who lived for a good pub crawl. I miss that sometimes.  But even if I got that wild hair…well, it would be fairly rare to find an Uber driver around here that would want to brave it out to my remote home in the woods. Sometimes they do. And sometimes they don’t. And either way, it costs more than my whole night in town costs, so is it worth it to go on that pub crawl? No. And honestly, who wants to go on a pub crawl alone. Maybe in Ireland?Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.57.04 PM

“No,” I say into the mirror, and my dogs perk up like I’ve just told them we’re going for yet another walk in the wild woods where the mountain lions do NOT hibernate. Which isn’t far from what it will feel like in town on a Saturday night, solo. “I’m going to an event. Where I know the musician. And the money I buy food and drink with goes to a non-profit. That supports at-risk teens!” And I look down into my dogs’ kind, longing eyes. “But it’s true. I’m really wanting to know what happens to Charles and Camilla. Oh. Actually, I do know what happens to Charles and Camilla.”

Suddenly the coyote bellows from the other side of the mirror, and don’t tell anyone, but she looks just like me. “Go to the fund raiser! Put on some clothes and get thee out, woman!”

“Oh, so now I’m a woman, not a girl. Maybe I’ll pretend I’m a girl. I liked being a girl. She knew how to have fun. She wouldn’t be staring into the mirror thinking about how grey her roots are, and how hopefully the dark lighting will make her look like she’s got blonde highlights, not Cruella DeVille skunk stripes.

She bellows again, “God, you suck at being nice to yourself! You’re an extrovert. You come alive around people! You’re starving for human connection! Slap on some jeans and a shirt and your boots, and drive into town! You travelled around Morocco for a month last year alone. I’m pretty sure you can drive five miles of country road and walk into a micro-brewery and listen to some folk music and help a great local cause.”

I sigh and keep this to myself: I wonder if they’ll bring Diana in this season, or if they’ll stay off of her altogether. Such sensitive material. I wonder what the Royals think about The Crown. I wonder if the Queen is funny. They’re all so serious in that show. It sort of wears on me.  I’m glad she has horses and corgis. Maybe I’ll watch the new season of Mrs. Maisel instead. At least that’s funny! I could use a good laugh. I wonder why it only got four stars though. Geez, when did I get so grey? Gotta get that fixed before the holidays.Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 8.56.17 PM

Laura.

This text just in: “Hey we’re hanging out wrapping Christmas presents and listening to Christmas music. Want to come over?”

I text back: “Actually…I’m going to a fund-raiser. It’s for a good cause. I know the musician.” Whatever. There was a time in my life when I knew every member of the Grateful Dead. Just not Jerry. No one knew Jerry, really. So that makes me cool, right? How many years can you ride that cool wave? Pretty sure that wave got sucked back out to sea a long time ago.

“Well if you want to stop by, we’d love to have you.”

Huh. I smile and get a warm soup feeling in my belly. Hanging out wrapping Christmas presents feels pack-ish. Maybe I could just throw on my pjs and go to my friend’s house and blow off the fund-raiser. She lives in town. So that counts. Doesn’t it? Not really a crawl, or a good cause, but… I mean, the brewery party is going to be full of couples and families and do-gooders. And I’m not feeling very good. At all.

I swear that coyote me reaches her hand through the mirror and practically pokes my eyes out with the eyeliner stick, and concealer wand, but she’s really damn good at covering up the dark circles. “I admire your work,” I tell her. And she smiles. “Now go have some fun. You need to be around people. A lot of them. And music. You need it like oxygen. You can wrap presents with your friend another day.”

Sigh. I’m grateful for my friend, but I text her. “I’m going to go to this event. But thanks. #snowcheck for sure.” Santa Claus emoji. It occurs to me that she runs a rad non-profit too, so she gets it. Hell, I run one too, for what it’s worth. We’re all trying to do such good in this valley! We have to support one another!

I put the dogs in their beds, and say, “I’ll be back a little later. Protect the house!” And kiss them each on the nose.

And I get in my truck and put on the Charlie Brown Christmas album and take in a deep breath. Why is this so hard? And I think of the comfort and security and belonging that living in a pack brings a person. At least that it brings to me. And with the kids grown up and gone (thank GOD they’re coming home for Christmas), I know that my community is my pack now. And the people who will be at this party…are my oldest friends in my community. It would be reckless and remiss not to share this night with them, however it goes down. And for such a good cause.15401066_10154263575531406_2886694505637283739_n

So, I pull out onto the snowy country road, listening to the jazzy music that was the soundtrack for years of Christmas tree decorating and will be again in a few weeks when my little pack is home. They love it too. Us. Though they have new packs now and I’m glad for that.

The drive is deerless and easy and even cheerful, as I pass the Christmas tree lights in windows of little log houses frosted with snow, and as I spot the first garlands festooned with red bells and tinsel snowflakes, draping over the road, marking the start of town…the road feels like an umbilical cord connecting me to the worldy womb of my little mountain community.

I walk into the party. There is my old friend finishing a song on his guitar, playing Christmas music in his enchanted folky, slightly funky way. He smiles and says my name into the mic, and offers me a hug. I get a beer and sit down to listen to him. There are other friends there too. It’s not missed on me that they’re actors. Writers. Creative, salt of the earth sorts of people that I’ve known for years. We give hugs and make light conversation. We’re here to support our friend who runs the Flathead Valley Youth Home. And after a few hours of fighting back tears, when he gets to pah rum puh pump pum…I let them spill. I need this like I need oxygen. It’s true. My inner coyote isn’t so mean after all. She just knows that it takes some prodding these days. These days of learning how to be my own pack. Coyote is the trickster, after all…IMG_5314

And it’s not lost on me that this night becomes a night sprinkled with holiday magic. Because by the end of it, I am sitting with my musician friend, and my other dear friends, in their home on the side of a mountain, eating spontaneous tamales in front of a woodstove, a towering Christmas tree lighting our conversation. Which is the conversation we’ve been having for almost thirty years: We talk of love. We talk of pain. We talk of truth. We talk about the sacred. We talk of loss. We talk of fear. And we talk some more about love.

It’s midnight. It’s time to drive home. To trace my tracks back down the mountain, back through town, back toward my part of the valley. There are deer. I honk and say what I always say, “Love love love.” And they run back into the woods. I have never hit a deer in twenty-five years of driving this road. Which means…I know very well how to fight fear with love. I just needed a reminder.

But tonight…I’m watching The Crown. In front of my own woodstove. With my dogs. My pack of three. Right where I belong.

May all of you who are fighting the loss of your pack in whatever way: empty nest, divorce, recent break up, death of a loved one, whatever it is…please know that you are not alone. And that you can get up off of your couch. And put on some clothes. And go into town. And find the kind of love you long for. Home is there for you, wherever you go.

Pre-order my new novel, “Willa’s Grove,” from your local bookseller or here. It’s a great gift for the holidays and will arrive hot-off-the-press on March 3rd! This is a book for ANYONE asking the pressing question we all ask many times in our life: So Now What?

 

Willa's Grove

Come join me in Montana and find your voice! Write your book! Court your muse…all under the big sky.  You do not have to be a writer to come to Haven.  Just a seeker…longing for community, inspiration, support, and YOUR unique form of self-expression using your love of the written word!

Haven 2020 Schedule:

February 5-9 (full with wait list)
May 6-10
June 10-17
June 17-21
September 16-20
September 23-27
October 28-November 1

Go here for more info and to set up a call with Laura! 

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Inside Out and Backwards

 

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For the last few months I have been putting on my clothes…wait for it: not just backwards, but inside out too. Backwards and inside out. Over and over again. What’s that about? Is it the disorientation of Empty Nest? Is it a mourning period after a one month high of solo travel in Morocco? Is it that I’m alone for the first time in my LIFE on a consistent basis?

Whatever it is, I finally decided that I just don’t want to be without dogs. I’ve never not had a dog or two, and after my old girl passed a few years ago, I decided to let the life drain out of this house, one creature at a time. As much as I wanted to jump back into having a dog, I wanted to see who I was without one, in preparation for my last child to leave for college. I wanted to remind myself that I’m never alone as long as there are birds and deer and bugs and frogs at play in the woods around my home. I wanted my intimacy to be with wild creatures, and I wanted to finally learn the bird songs that I’ve loved for 27 years here in Montana. I’ve known the characters in the symphony, just not what sound they make. Well not all of them. Like…I’ve never known what a sparrow sounds like. Or a junco. Or a pine sisken. Just robins and eagles and hawks and anyway…  Inside out and backwards.

So for the last few years, I’ve walked quickly past dogs, past community bulletin boards advertising puppies, past the pound and the Humane Society, past “I have a friend with a great rescue dog she’s trying to find a home for and I know your place would perfect.” No No No. As much as I longed to say yes, I said on repeat, “I cannot fall in love one more time with anything with a beating heart until I figure out how to care for my own.”

I tried to be happy without a creature in my home. Really. I did. Therapy, yoga, journaling, reading, making lovely dinners for myself, and my contemplative practices. But I like to be in a pack. That’s my truth. And so…one night, with total intention and “flow,” much the way I started Haven Writing Retreats, I put on Facebook: “Hey—anyone know of a dog that needs a home in the Flathead Valley?” I got some leads and soon I was on RezQ looking at three legged dogs that answer to the name of Lucky and I was ready to head over the Continental Divide to scoop up a pit bull/white shepherd blend and make their hearts find home in the way I need mine to. I even said to my daughter, “I’m not getting some pure bred dog. The best dogs I’ve had are rescued mutts.”

And lo, ten minutes later, I’m on the phone with a local friend who tips me off to two English Cream Golden Retrievers from Ukraine who have been show dogs for two years, and now they’re here to breed and find a forever home, and they need what’s called a “Guardian.”

“Uh. I was looking for a rescue dog.”

Turns out that they are a part of a very special program which lets them carry on the excellence of their breed, but also lets them be pets. And it’s all done in Montana with an exceptional breeder who finds only the best homes for them, and always has the best interest of the dogs in mind. Nutrition, exercise, deep committed love, all of it.

Huh.

My mind went in circles: I mean, somebody’s got to be at the top of the breed with integrity, we hope, yes? To protect from over-breeding and puppy mills and the cancer and hip dysplasia and on and on that is a result of greed versus integrity. And this breeder has an undying commitment to these creatures…and these dogs need a home and I have the perfect arrangement for them. And I know my way around adopting dogs which are projects, and these most certainly need a very sensitive dog owner who can help them acclimate from the show ring to the woods of Montana and the few litters they are hoped to have in the next few years. And once they’re done breeding, they are spayed and then…they’re mine for good.

Still, I was conflicted.

Until I met them.

Gorgeous and Beluga-whale-white as they are…they don’t know what they look like, or what their pedigree is. They want what we all want, and it was woven into every fiber of their beings:  to love and be loved. Period. And I can give them that. Whether they’re expensive show dogs, or mutts. We’re all the same. I know this well after being raised in a shiny place and having lived in Montana for 27 years, which sometimes isn’t so shiny, depending on how you define that word. We’ll romp in the woods and swim in the lakes and rivers and we’ll be creatures together, in a pack. And I’m sure, that one of these days, we’ll add a rescue mutt to the mix, because that’s the way I fly.

They came home two days ago, these girls. They are scared, and they are grateful, and so willing to learn and love and be loved. Their instincts are being activated and it’s so beautiful to see! A stick? I want to grab it in my mouth and prance around with it and hope that you will throw it for me. And I’ll chase after it and bring it back to you. A pond? I want to plop my belly into its cool water and then I want to swim in it. Maybe not in that order. I don’t know. I’ve never wanted for water like this.

They are coming fully into themselves, and my instincts are too. I’m happy right now. In a way that I haven’t been happy, outside of my work and my month in Morocco, in a long while. The dark cloud has lifted. I have friends to play with and who want to be with me and who want to walk in the woods. It’s a happy little pack, we three.

So forcing yourself to be alone in order to fully love yourself? I don’t think I agree with that philosophy.  Or maybe I’m just too terrified to be by myself. Who knows and who cares. Because in the last two days, I have taken at least a 30 minute walk every two hours. I’ve spoken in calming tones and stopped my work day again and again to sit with these creatures, and as we say in Montana “love on them.” I’ve stared at trees and loving dog eyes instead of a computer screen. I feel better. I’ve re-acquainted myself with my land again. I’ve sat on a lot of stumps in the woods and listened to bird songs and taught two dogs who likely were raised in kennels what it is to learn the wisdom of the woods. And yes, how to sit, fetch, drop…but with sticks and antlers that they pick up, as they nose around in the trees in this new place called Montana, and find themselves.

Inside out and backwards? Well I bet they feel that way too. But we’re putting ourselves back together—together and making ourselves new. And I’m going to call that good. Maybe we’re all, in our own way, a three legged dog that answers to the name of Lucky.

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Now Booking our fall Haven Writing Retreats 2019! 

(My favorite time of year. Still warm during the day. Fire in the fireplace at night.)

You do NOT have to be a writer to come– just a seeker who loves the written word, and longs to find your unique voice. It’s here…in the stunning wilderness of Montana! Click here for more info

Sept 18-22
Sept 25-29

***note Both June retreats are full…

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A Pilgrimage for a Dog

St. Ignatius mission-- Montana

 

A few weeks ago I had two thriving dogs—a black lab and a golden retriever.  Both around seven years old.  Both run free in my Montana land.  Both have wagging tails and healthy appetites.  Then I went away for a week to lead a few writing retreats.  When I returned, my black lab was emaciated.  She must have gotten into a gut pile, I figured. The hunters leave the guts behind in the fall and they melt this time of year, back in the woods near where I live and where my dogs play.  Maybe she’d swallowed something rotten that had messed with her system.  But she had zero appetite and that’s odd for her.  “Maybe it’s pancreatitis,” my friend the vet tech suggested.  She’s never sick.  Has the constitution of an ox.  Both of them do.  Well I’m sorry to say that you can tell where this is going.  Cancer.  “Ziggy has final stage cancer,” the vet told me with tears in his eyes.   He also doubles as my son’s baseball coach and is the father of one of his best friends.  “She’s not in a lot of pain now.  But she’s so tired.  I think the right thing to do is put her down.”

When I announced this to my kids, they both got mad before they got sad.  “How can we play with a life?”  “Who are we to decide when a creature dies?”  I couldn’t argue with them.  I agreed.  I called my vet, bawling.  He said that we could wait it out.  But with that waiting, comes quite often loss of dignity.  Urination and defecation in places she would normally be too polite to consider.  Seizures. Organ failure.  He promised that it’s painless.  Calm.  The right thing to do.

So after a few days of enthroning her in the kitchen on her dog bed, the kids lying next to her while she slept and they pretended to do their homework, crying most of the time, I kissed her, and said, “Want to go in the car?”  She came slowly, but surely, wagging her tail, skin and bones and a bloated stomach where the tumor throbbed and ruled…I put her into the car (she couldn’t jump in, though she tried), and drove her to town.  She looked out the window the whole way. I was glad for that.

Inside, we sat in a waiting room where she tried to get into it with another lab, but collapsed supine on her dog bed.  Then we went to the examination room, the same place I’d gotten wellness checks, and discussed ear infections, worms, gotten the cancer diagnosis.  My vet friend described the protocol.  I held her head in my hands.  She lay there, not moving, as if she was already half gone. He inserted the needle in her leg. I said, over and over, “May you journey well, may you journey well, may you journey well…” and suddenly I felt this sharp, nerve twinge in my left hand where it met with her head.  So intense that for a moment, I thought I’d been given the injection– not Ziggy.

It took two seconds.  “She’s gone,” the vet said.  That quick. She was that ready to leave her body.

My yogi friend says that the soul leaves the body from two places—the feet or the head.  You want the latter.  I told him the blast of energy I felt.  He said, “It was her soul.  Good.  It left through her head.”

I took a road trip after that.  Drove to a small mission church about a hundred miles from where I live in Montana, in a town called St. Ignatius.  I cried most of the way down, along the 30 mile long Flathead Lake in the sun, the water sparkling, thinking about souls.  Dog souls.  People souls.  Souls.  And I got to the church.  No one was there.  I went up the steps and opened the tall doors.  No one.  Murals all around.  Light casting across the pews.  Holy week this week, I realized.  Palms on the altar.  

I put in a quarter and lit a candle and knelt and cried.  Didn’t know what to say other than thanks.  To this beautiful vessel of love and light that lay by my feet for at least two written books and many moments of emotional life-wrestling.  Then I sat in a pew, opened the hymnal, found a few hymns that I knew, and sang.  Quiet at first, but I was alone.  So I sang louder.  Loudly. Very very loudly.  Angels and John the Baptist and Jesus and Mary looking down at me.  Dogs barking in the background.

Then I went to a bird sanctuary.  It’s spring.  Holy week even in the world of migration, and maybe especially there.  I sat on a rock in a boggy field at Ninepipes and watched blue herons fly and land.  Fly and land. Fly and land.  Long legs.  Long beak. Such trajectory and grace.  Then I drove home along the other side of Flathead Lake.  “How was it?” my children asked me.  They meant the death.

“Peaceful,” I said.  “Death does not have to be scary.”  I paused and braved the next sentence because when you’ve held an animal while it passes, you feel unafraid.  ”And souls live on.  I’m sure of it.”

Pilgrimage.  Sanctuary.  Souls.  The question is:  can we feel them?  Can we believe in what we can’t see?  Can we receive holy mystery?  I did that day.  And I’d like to keep receiving it.  Ziggy’s gift.

Ninepipes bird sanctuary-- Montana

 

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The Glamorous Life of the Author

Novel in progress

It’s been a while since I’ve joined you over in These Here Hills. I’ve missed this terrain. However, like most writers I know, time for doing our primary work, if in fact book writing is just that, becomes rare. I re-booted my priorities this summer and will probably do so into the winter, as I try to finish the novel I’m working on and lead my writing workshops and retreats. I’ll send notes from that terrain as I go.

In the mean time, just in case anyone thinks that the writing life is glamorous…here’s the current state of my novel:

On my office floor
Warped and wrinkled from bath-tub editing
And now wet and dirty from a naughty black lab
I figured I’d leave it blurry too, since that’s what it looks like to me without my reading glasses these days
And since I like to edit in the bath-tub, it’s a bit of a foggy mess. Any advice on that one?

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Breaking Point: #10

I am hosting an end-of-winter series featuring stories from the trenches of pain.  My hope is that in sharing these breaking points, we will feel less alone.  Thank you all for your bravery.  You are helping the world to heal.  

yrs. Laura

Today we have two Breaking Points.

One of desperation…

Submitted by: Victoria, in London

Sitting in the hall way of my small modern flat.  Just me.  Although the walls were bright, it was dark with no natural light.  The walls were moving in.

What were my choices, there must be choices.  Swinging my straggly hair and becoming aware of an odour I wondered when I last had a bath.  Did I need to do something?  It didn’t matter.  I could not do anything.  I would sit and wait.  And wait some more. Something would happen, it always did.

I could hear the buses in the road and was aware that life was carrying on outside.  Buses, bikes, cars, people bustling, on the way to and from the shops, the bus stop, the park, the library.  But nothing was changing.  It was still the same.  No one was coming to rescue me.  No one was going to knock on the door and solve everything.  If the phone rang I would not be able to ask for help, again.  I cannot ask.  Who would understand?

And what if I tell?  The look of pity and incredulity at my words would be the last pebble that made the earthquake begin.  And it may never stop.  Not ever and this may be the end of the world. The world which is my world which is the only world that I can know.  How am I supposed to know another person’s world, how is that possible?  Which brings me back to here.  And the walls and my bad hygiene because I have no energy to go the bathroom not 3 steps away.

Get the clothes and bury myself, pile them on myself and hide in them so that I do not exist, no one could see me if anyone was here.  Finally, I am not here I am sorted out and I am just a blouse, or a towel or a piece of fabric and no one can tell that I am in the pile of things so I can stay here forever, un noticed.

But no one is here.  And there is no one to see that I am not here.  I know that I am here and I still feel the same.

Nothing has changed, nothing is better and I cannot do this any longer.

And one of healing

Submitted by: Merris Doud

God helps us in times of need even when we want nothing more to do with Him. In my case, He used my dogs to help me through the days following the death of my daughter, Sarah.  I never blamed them, never questioned their love for Sarah or me, never felt anger towards them. They were the perfect instruments for God to use. In the split second that it took my brain to process the words “Sarah took her own life,” my world lost all meaning.  My husband, Mike, had taken the dogs to be boarded.  When I was able to move – to speak, I asked him to bring them home.  As I lay on my bed, feeling a brand of pain that I could never have imagined, the dogs ran in and excitedly jumped on the bed. They immediately sensed that something was horribly wrong and quietly settled, lightly molding their bodies against mine.   Soon they slipped into their afternoon routine, gently snoring as they napped.  They didn’t move; they didn’t speak; they didn’t cry.  They were just there, warm and alive and touching me. And it was comforting, so much more comforting than being told that Sarah’s death was God’s plan, that time would take the pain away, or that Sarah was now in a better place.

Throughout the months that followed, I moved through my days vowing never to love anyone or anything again.  The dogs were always there, either laying on the bed beside me or collapsed like speed bumps on the floor beneath my desk where I tried to work.

I begged anyone who would listen for an explanation, and it infuriated me when they shook their heads looking through me – offering nothing. I felt no such rage towards the dogs.  I asked them no questions; they gave me no answers.  I didn’t expect that from them.  They looked at me in the same way they always had – no pity in their eyes.  Nothing had changed in our relationship, no awkwardness – no impatience for me to get up and carry on.

One morning I woke up to find Maggie, the abandoned pup that Sarah had brought home, standing over me.  She cocked her head to the right then to the left. I swear she smiled as if to say, “There you are. I’ve missed you.”  And I felt something other than pain for the first time since Sarah died. Encouraged, Maggie bent over me, wagging her tailless backside with such vigor that she nearly toppled over. Then she began showering me with wonderful, wet kisses, her sweet puppy breath warm against my skin – awakening my capacity to love. Watching this action from the foot of the bed, Annie, who Sarah had rescued from an animal shelter, jumped up and joined in, happy that we were kissing again.

I believe that was when I started to heal.  Not then, but now I see that in that moment , God revealed to me that there was still joy in my world – not joy as pure as before,  for it would always be filtered through the pain of losing Sarah, but it was there, nonetheless. Both Maggie and Annie are gone now, their purpose fulfilled.  They were special dogs whose lives began as unwanted strays and ended as the esteemed channels that God used to touch me and give me a glimpse of hope.  For without hope – without love, we’re just passing time – waiting for the lights to go out.

For Annie and Maggie

I miss you guys

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Loveletter to NYC (and to Montana)

As a Chicago girl, I know I’m not supposed to say this…but I love New York City. I’ve been there ten times in two years, and this time it was for fun. Everything about it was fun. I met amazingly generous people who are doing amazingly inspiring things with their lives in the world of art and media. I left half day chunks to myself and went to the De Kooning exhibit at MOMA (which I highly recommend).  I hung out in the Madison Square Park dog park with my dear friend (a culture unto itself), poked around Chinatown and ate dumplings, walked and walked and walked until shin splints had me crying uncle and justifying a two hour sushi meal to relieve them. Ate a ridiculous four course dinner at Eleven Madison Park which my culinary genius friends/hosts think is currently the best food in NYC.  And I was so inspired by Lee and Bob Woodruff’s Stand up for Heroes gala which had me staring up-close-and-personal at people I idolize like Katie Couric (who I met!!! and gushed all over like an idiot), Bill Clinton, John Stewart, Rick Gervais, Bruce friggin Springsteen, Seth Meyer, Brian Williams… The city stuns me.

And yet, flying home into our little valley, I love that I’m limited here in Montana by the possibilities of what I can hold in my hand and pay for with a credit card. I love that the currency comes in snow plows and back hoes and chickens and horses who are easy keepers. I love that it’s going to get hairy now as the snow twirls in gusts around my office window. I love that I have a fire going and that I’ll need to keep it going most of the winter, propane prices being what they are. I love that my head will be cold in my bed at night and that I’ll see my breath when I wake. I love that it is hard here. I love who I am here. People kept asking me in New York why I have lived here so long. Why not come back to the land of the sophisticate, opportunity, options in full feast. “I trust myself in Montana. I trust the currency. I trust what it asks of me and I trust how I answer its questions.” But THANK YOU, New York, for one heck of a week. Maybe it’s because of weeks like this that I can receive Montana. yrs. Laura

Lee and Bob Woodruff raise money for wounded vets in a fabulous evening of entertainment-- Beacon Theater, NYC

Bob and Lee Woodruff with Bruce!

This is NOT with a zoom. Almost lost my lunch.

Today Show anchor, Natalie Morales at 30 Rock. This has been a dream since Jane Pauley Days-- look what she's holding...


Stone Crab and Uni at Eataly-- mecca!

Art Installation at MOMA

A dumpling walk in Chinatown

Thanks Sarah Brokaw for all your support of my book! Go buy hers: FORTYTUDE! So empowering!

A bastion of publishing-- the Hearst Building where I met with some FAB editors from Good Housekeeping!


This was my favorite!
Such expression. Here I go back to Montana….

I'll take the M train home now...

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Filed under City Hits, Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts

NOT a Cancer Victim

As some of you may have noticed, I’ve recently welcomed advertisers onto my blog.  While it makes it possible for me to continue THESE HERE HILLS, it’s also a result of how so many of you have inspired ME with what you’ve created in your lives.  How you’ve turned your dreams into business realities.  I’d like to introduce you to Draper Therapies.  It’s a business that is particularly inspiring to me.  Their technology has created a textile which takes the body’s energy and re-oxygenates the blood,  thereby helping to alleviate pain.  I admit to being a bit of  a skeptic when it comes to heal-alls.  I’ve tried a whole range of ways to take away my back pain– acupuncture, chiropractic, magnets…and usually just end up popping the Advil in the end which seems to do the trick, although I don’t like taking pills.  The folks at Draper sent me a shirt and a pair of socks to see if I got results, and I must say…in the week that I’ve worn them…I haven’t been in pain.  I love that their products aren’t just for humans.  Horses and dogs too.  I’m honored to have them at THESE HERE HILLS, and to be speaking at their event in Wellington, Florida.

Here is Kat Wojtylak– one of Draper’s key employees, and dedicated to spreading the word about their great work in the field of  healing and wellness.  Kat knows all about healing– mind, body, soul.  Here is her story.

Getting Out of Your Own Way:  What It Means to Me. A guest post by Kat Wojtylak

The last three years of my life have been the happiest by far.  I’ve become a fundamental part of a company whose products are set to revolutionize the equine market. I’ve found an amazing man who has given me a foundation for an exciting and stable future.  And I’ve found a complete sense of happiness in myself (which borderlines on annoying to people who aren’t in a similar mindset, but oh well.)

This is not a post to share all my accomplishments at twenty-six, but to share my hardships and how they’ve become blessings.  They’ve given me the gifts I have today and made me into the woman I am by inspiring me to learn how to get out of my own way.

In 2006, my doctors started taking notice of a cyst in my neck.  I referred to it as my little Adam’s apple. Tests deducted that it was more of a blemish than anything else. I took medication to help make it shrink– but it didn’t.  It started to  grow and I got concerned. I decided to have it removed, even though my surgeon said it wasn’t necessary, given the normal test results and size.  But my nagging suspicion pushed me to take the next step.

A day before Thanksgiving, and two weeks before my twenty-third birthday, my family came to see me through the surgery. It was relatively uneventful and they left shortly after, once I was able to care for myself. A week later, everything changed.

My surgeon called.  My biopsy results had come in.  I had papillary and follicular thyroid cancer.

I had another surgery in February of 2007 to remove the rest of my thyroid and eventually went through radioactive iodine treatment just a few months later. As everything came to an end, I went into a depression and true to the saying “when it rains, it pours,” it started to pour.

The job that had secured the last year of my life was now gone, and even though I had just beat cancer, I played the poor me card.  The truth was that I just didn’t know what to do or who to turn to for help. I made the “simple” decision that I needed to be back in New England where I grew up– to be as far away from these wretched memories and start anew.  That I was in my own way, and needed to move out of it.  Emotionally, and physically.

In May of 2007, I moved to Massachusetts. It was my chance to start over.  Albeit rash, I’d finally taken a stand for myself. I needed to move outside of blame and take control of my life– to leave all the pettiness behind and start to focus on what I wanted and needed, in order to get better.  I needed to choose my health over everything else that I used to assign power.

And then I learned about Spencer Bell.  He was an artist I found in looking for a cancer support group. Spencer Bell is a phenomenal lyricist and musician that even after death brought so many people together in a place that is now a haven for many. Spencer died of adrenal cancer, a very rare and at the moment, incurable disease.  Because of the rarity of the cancer, it hardly ever shows up on the average person’s radar, but can wreak havoc on those families who sadly come into its path.   Through the efforts of his friends and family continuing his artistic legacy, I found support in a way I never thought possible.

These ties eventually brought me into the path of Dr. Gary Hammer who is the head of the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center Endocrine Oncology Program. Dr. Hammer is not only a wonderfully humble man, but his passion, combined with those in the Spencer Bell Memorial community, drove me to push past my inhibitions and make the conscious choice to give back. His enthusiasm for opportunities also introduced me to Laura Munson, whose sister-in-law died of adrenal cancer and had participated in his clinical trial.  Laura and I made an instant connection in our shared love for horses and our commitment to creating happiness in our lives…and forged yet another bond in an ever growing adventure of self responsibility.

Draper Therapies, the company I work for and love, recently launched a philanthropic project to give back to adrenal cancer research in the Spencer Bell Endowment Fund. The philanthropic efforts at our company, combined with a push for further education and our philosophy of health and wellness, stretches into giving everyone the tools to a better life, starting from the inside out.

My transformation came from the bottom up, and inside out. It all started from taking myself out of the toxic environment that had become my home and allowing myself the opportunity to really look at the person I had become. I slowly began to chip away at all the things I was unhappy with and eventually came to a point where I was content and accepting of the woman inside me. I learned that I  could face any situation with patience and love, even if I was smack dab in the middle of chaos.  It was a simple mind trick.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned is that we need to take care of ourselves, whether it’s our health, our mental status, or our souls. And if the going gets tough, don’t give your power away– gain control over who is in charge, so that you can combat even the greatest hardships in life with the greatest of ease. Practice makes perfect, but you’re definitely not human if you don’t make a few mistakes along the way.  Be kind to yourself.  Ask for help.  Find what inspires you.

Kat Wojtylak is Product Manager for Draper Therapies®, a growing therapeutic company using the technology Celliant®. Celliant is a revolutionary technology that harnesses the body’s natural energy through the use of minerals and fibers. The proprietary blend of microscopic optically responsive particles works with the energy released from the body and is designed to recycle energy back to the body to improve health and overall well-being of the wearer. Products containing Celliant have been clinically proven to increase blood flow and blood oxygen levels in the body and help balance body temperature. Increased blood oxygen levels have been clinically proven to relieve pain, promote quicker healing, improve sleep quality, heighten athletic performance and improve overall wellness. To learn more, visit http://www.drapertherapies.com or http://www.celliant.com .

Here is information on how to make a donation to Laura’s sister-in-law’s foundation:

The Sandra Kobelt Hau Memorial Foundation: Committed to enhancing the lives of others in the spirit of Sandy’s passion for youth sports, the arts and healthy living.

Contact: Timothy Gilmore tgilmore@bhfs.com

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Filed under My Posts

Dog Fog

Check out my essay DOG FOG in the Huffington Post. It’s about how I’ve become a junkie for open space, cities, and what gets us to take a walk in the park. It makes me look like a big jerk at first, so here’s an example of allowing yourself to be misunderstood. Of “outing” yourself on the page in hopes of learning something and inspiring others to learn too. See what you think.

When you travel across the country, city-to-city, in my case on a recent book tour, you notice trends. Menus boasting beet/goat cheese/ citrus salad, for instance; a prevalence of duck confit, charcuterie, and mushroom gruyere tarts. The Flashdance look is back, which if you ask me, was a hideosity the first time around. Shoulder pads, which hopefully will last approximately two seconds, women in uncomfortable footwear sporting 1930s Hollywood-plucked eyebrows. Men in pink. Lots of grey. I like to call it the prison warden look, which I’ve spent a lot of money achieving quite by accident.
The truth is, food and fashion trends don’t interest me all that much. Word trends, more so (currently running rampant: authentic, sustainable, relatable, organic, and correct.) But at-the-end-of-the-day (another one) it’s lifestyle trends that get my undivided attention. This one in particular struck me sideways on this recent country crossing: city people are obsessed with their dogs. Scarily so. Either it’s always existed and I just haven’t been paying attention, or there is something amuck in urban America that begs a bit of low brow noodling.

Why dog? Why now?” …..Click here for more

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Filed under City Hits, Huffington Post Blog Pieces, Little Hymns to Montana, My Posts