Opening the New Year with Compassion

If you want the world to be happy: practice compassion. If you want to be happy: practice compassion.
~ Dalai Lama

I particularly love this time of year, the silent yet stirring segue of the final week of 2015 into the fresh new pages of 2016. As I pondered what I would say here today to open this new year, I found the answer when I prepared to do my morning mindful meditation. Its theme, which resonates deeply in my wishful heart, was: May all beings be well and happy.

This metta-meditation, a very old Buddha technique to cultivate compassion, with regular practice can recondition our minds and open our hearts to both ourselves and others. Metta-meditation tells us we must not decide who deserves our compassion and who does not, but rather that compassion is something all beings deserve, even those responsible for horrendous crimes against humanity.

The guided meditation method to wish happiness and wellness for all beings is to first sit comfortably and, if helpful, close your eyes. First, see yourself in your mind, and mindfully say:

• May I be well and happy. Repeat.
• May I have no fears or sorrows. Repeat.
• May I be healthy and free from illness. Repeat.
• May I live calmly and peacefully. Repeat.

Then repeat the same affirmations for all others in this list, adjusting it to apply to you; for example you may not have a child but someone else you’d like to include. These are examples:

• Parents
May my parents be well and happy. Repeat.
May my parents have no fears or sorrows. Repeat.
May I be healthy and free from illness. Repeat.
May I live calmly and peacefully. Repeat.

Then repeat the meditation for each person on your list:

• Spouse or partner
• Child
• Teachers and mentor
• Friend
• A neutral person with whom you share the simple bond of being a fellow human being
• A person you dislike, keeping in mind the truth that “he or she is just like you—with pains and frustrations, desires and hopes.”
• All humans in the world
• All living beings everywhere, from single cell organisms to the highest form of intelligence

Professor Muesse (see below) states that “medical studies have been conducted and support the claim that prayer has a tangible, empirical effect on the health of those prayed for.” And “whether or not you believe in the effects of this practice… consider the fact that relieving a little of the hostility of just one person—yourself—will make that world a little better for everyone.”

I have found over time this practice has brought a noticeable and welcomed softening to my heart.

IMG_20160101_135251658 (2)

Source: The Great Courses Series – Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation by Professor Mark W. Muesse, PhD, Rhodes College – Lecture #17


Posted in Compassion, Gifts, Gratitude, Kindness, Mystery, Simplicity | 6 Comments

Leaving the Farm, Part II – Hilary, 21 Years Later

As I drove up the mountain to have my car serviced early this morning, I noticed some yellow walnut leaves lightly fluttering to the ground. They reminded me that in a few months there will be, instead of dying leaves, large snowflakes gently falling in a hushed early winter snowfall.

I’d been thinking about my cat, Hilary, and her more than two decades of life thus far. At my vet’s office, she’s known as the poster child for wellness chec2010-06-03 22.08.20k-ups. Why, you might wonder? Well, four years ago I took her in, expecting the usual good checkup, and learned she had breast cancer. Stunned, I didn’t even know cats got breast cancer. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she also needed surgery for stones in her urinary tract. I asked the vet my questions: what was her prognosis with and without surgery? With surgery, if the cancer didn’t re-occur in six months, chances were it wouldn’t. Without surgery, her life could last a few months more. What was her general condition aside from her current problems? Her blood work showed she appeared otherwise in good general health for a seventeen year old cat. What was the cost? Both surgeries could be done the same day and would amount to roughly $1,000.00.

I asked for some time to consider. Alone, then, with Hilary, I looked into her eyes as she watched me, almost appearing to understand we were going to have a serious talk. A tabby, she has black lines near her eyes that also give her the appearance of a perpetual frown.

“Okay, little girl, we have a choice: surgery or not,” I said in a low voice, still not knowing the decision.

“Remember when Mom’s cat got so sick and the vet did more than a thousand dollars of testing to determine what was wrong, and then Buster died two days later?”

Hilary, feet tucked under her on the gray Formica exam table, watched me, seeming to get the drift of the conversation, if her eye expression was any indicator. I stared at her quietly then, weighing our options: aged cat, costly surgery, would it give her added life or would it put her through discomfort and she might die soon after?

Was I imagining it, or was Hilary staring at me with obvious trust in her eyes? The options silently swirled around in my head until finally the vet’s words stood at the front of the line of the other choices: she’s otherwise in good general health.

I had my answer and it felt exactly right. “Okay, Hilary. Here’s what we’re going to do.”
She listened attentively, her lime-green eyes fastened on mine. “Let’s do the surgery. What I hope you can do is survive the six months cancer-free, okay? Let’s hope that will happen because we’ll do the breast cancer surgery just this once.”

So that’s what we did. She came through the surgery beautifully, passed the six-month cancer-free marker, and we got to share two more healthy years. When I took her in for a check-up last year, she’d been noticeably losing weight and I braced myself. Her new diagnosis was renal failure, quite common in older cats, I learned. “How much time does she have?” I asked the vet.

“It’s hard to tell,” she said. “She’s lost a lot of weight, but she appears to be doing okay otherwise.” She prescribed some maintenance medications which have brought us to today. Hilary’s a little over five pounds now, tips and totters a lot when she walks, yet still seems comfortable as she maintains her usual patterns. She sticks to her routine of waiting by the door each morning for me to let her out on the front deck where she spends her Virginia retirement in warmth, she begins pacing when around 6pm when it’s time for her wet food, and, otherwise, is a bit snippy with my other cat, my son’s cat when she visits there, and my daughter’s dogs who really want to be her friend.

And so, as golden leaves gently spiral to the ground, I do the one thing I can: I treasure each day, aware that the bitter-cold day will come when she and I will have to say good-bye.

Posted in Animal friends, Gifts, Gratitude, Health, Mother Nature | 7 Comments

My Amtrak Odyssey – Epilogue

My phone rings out this morning and a man says in a raspy, “Hello?”

“Is this Pete?” I ask.

“Yes, this is Pete,” he replies.

“Hi, Pete. This is Mary Jo Doig. I’ve called three times during the past ten days but hadn’t heard back yet. You probably have messages telling you I left my car parked at the Amtrak Station on March 2nd, the day of the nor’easter. I punched into the toll machine that I’d be gone five days and it charged me the weekly rate of $50.00. I’m calling because I couldn’t get to my destination and returned home the next day.”

I hear shuffling of papers. “I know the name,” he says, pronouncing name in the Southern way, nam (as in Viet Nam). “And I know what you’re going to ask,” he adds, then launches into a litany of the huge numbers of cars that use the lot, how hard it is to keep track of who comes and goes, and much more. Patiently I listen. In the climate of our present-day rudeness-and-crassness, I refuse to participate. I will be respectful of him.

He pauses to inhale. “Yes,” I say, taking advantage of the break, “I’m calling because my credit card shows charges for a week and I would ask that you kindly charge me for just two days.”

He jumps right in again. “Do you know how much work that would take to be on top of all that for every customer?”

“I can only imagine,” I replied. “But you remember that Friday of the Nor’easter, right? How we stopped and started four to five times on the way to Union Station and it took eight hours to get there with all the downed trees, and then Amtrak cancelled all trains north? The next morning I went to the train terminal to see what would be better, trying to move ahead to New York or return home. I decided to come home, and that was another eight hour, instead of three hour trip.”

He started to talk about how the nor’easter had fallen so many trees on his property he was still sawing them up. I said, “Me, too.” We launched into this common ground for a few sentences, then I said, “So, you know that when I returned, my card was billed on day three, not day five.”

“I don’t usually do refunds,” he said, but I thought I detected a tad of softening in his firm voice. “I used my credit card,” I said.

“Well, let me look it up in the system.” He snorted and grumbled as the computer worked slowly, then found me after I told him when I parked and when I left. “What’s your parking spot number?”

“Forty-one,” I said, adding that I’d remember that number for the rest of my life because I’d had to walk twice to it during that howling, frigid Friday morning.

He chuckled. “Okay, here you are.” He asked additional questions and then said, “Okay, I’m going to refund you for two days.”

“That would be very nice,” I said and thanked him.

He grumbled some more, but less crankily, at the computer as he clicked keys. “Okay, I’m doing the refund now. It’ll be done in a minute.”

I thanked him again.

Silence filled the phone line for about a minute and then I heard a sound something like a growl. I waited silently until he said, “M’am, I’m sorry you had such a tough two days on the train, and to make up for that I’ve refunded you the entire $50.00. Maybe one day you’ll come back and ride the train again.”

“Wow, that’s very nice of you, Pete. I’ve had a few really nice experiences, like this with you today, and with a ticket lady at Union Station, and, you know, I think I will ride Amtrak again,” then added, “but not until summer.”

He chuckled. “I’m glad to do this for you. Watch your email and the refund will show up there shortly.”

Once more, I thanked him.

Later, I found the below in my email:


I wrote a reply:


Thank you. Your kindness was a lovely ending to a long-anticipated journey interrupted by Mother Nature.


Mary Jo Doig

Posted in Community, Grace, Gratitude, Kindness, Mother Nature | 7 Comments

My Amtrak Odyssey

My sister Bonnie and I had planned for weeks to meet on Long Island, where our other sister, Jackie, lives in a group home in Riverhead. I was coming as a surprise for Jackie on her 73rd birthday. Bonnie, spending a few months in Treasure Island FL with her husband Bill, would fly to her Long Island home and I would take Amtrak out of Charlottesville and meet her in New York’s Penn Station, then take the Long Island Railroad 75 miles out to Center Moriches, where we would have a sister’s weekend together, something we’d never done.

Finally Friday, March 2nd arrived. I rose early to meet my train at 9am. I’d woken a few times during the night hearing heavy winds outdoors but thought little of it. Soon, I turned left out of the driveway, happy and early on my way. Less than a mile down my road a tree was down and six vehicles were stopped. Uh oh, I thought, hope we can get this cleared quickly. I got out of my car to help move small branches from the road while several men tugged the thick tree trunk to the roadside. One called out, “Anybody got a chain saw?” A tall man quietly said he did, and soon the chainsaw began to noisily whine its way through the trunk.

I asked a burly red-haired man, “Can you tell me another way to Charlottesville from Route 151?”

He looked at me. “Lady,” he said, “We’ll have this cleared by the time you’d drive that way.”

“Okay,” I said, trusting him. And, shortly, half the road was clear just as he’d said, and we moved ahead slowly, my side door scraping against broken branches.  I wondered what lay ahead, feeling happy I’d given myself good lead time, and discovered the roads open with high winds. I arrived at the train terminal in plenty of time. I hadn’t been on an Amtrak train in nearly 40 years and discovered I needed to learn how to pay for parking, where to find the train’s departure point, and had to return to the station to ask some questions over again. More, I forgot my parking spot number so had to walk from one end of the lot to the other to complete all I needed to do. It was 41! I’ll never forget it now!

With wind outside gusty and chilled, we huddled inside the station. About 10 minutes before the train was due to arrive, we walked outside to wait near the tracks, braced against the wind. Mary Poppins came to mind and I knew if I’d had an umbrella, well—you know. We waited… and waited… and waited for more than an hour until the train finally arrived.

We boarded, chatting and happy to be warm at last. I was still an innocent then, unaware that I’d already had two clear indicators about what lay ahead, not just for me, but for all of us on this day.

About twenty minutes later, the train stopped on the tracks. The conductor announced a fallen tree lay across the tracks ahead; men from VDOT would soon arrive to clear it off. Not concerned, warm and cozy, I reflected that our train would arrive in DC, stop briefly and then I would stay on it to go on to Penn Station in NY. All was well.

An hour later we started to move. Now we’re on our way, I thought, and settled in for a little reading.  Very little, as it turned out! I texted Bonnie: Very heavy winds in VA today. I heard the Federal Government is shut down. Trees are apparently down all over. We’ve stopped again near Mannasas for three down trees on the track. We’ll be here awhile. I’ll keep you posted. This may be a long trip.

Bonnie replied, I can’t help but smile when the only time in ages you come to Long Island that you come in the middle of a nor’easter.” A nor’easter? That was news to me! Bonnie went on, LOL. Not to worry! We will prevail! Just relax and enjoy the ride when it starts. It’s a fast-moving storm so should pass soon.

Half an hour later, I texted Bonnie. We’re moving again.

Thirty minutes later, I texted: We’ve stopped. More downed trees.

Then we started, briefly. Then, another stop. We’re just above Manassas, I told her.

We started again. The next stop after Manassas is Burke Center, then Alexandria, then DC.

At 1:57, I texted we’d just passed Alexandria.

Bonnie said, Great! Let me know when you leave Union Station in DC.

Long story shortened, we arrived at Union Station at 2:44 pm. All trains north have been suspended, not cancelled. Suspended, we were told. We’ll update you at 4.

4pm passed, then 5. Somebody called out they’d just read on Twitter that Amtrak had cancelled all trains north. We stopped train staff to ask if this was true. No one would confirm. Why not, we wondered. Finally, an hour later, the rumor was confirmed. All trains north were cancelled.

Four of us, two women in our 70s and two in their 30s, talked and planned to stay on the train overnight. Then we were told we needed to disembark. People were everywhere, Union Station was filled with stalled trains, hotels were filling up, and newly scheduled trains for late the next day were filling up in minutes. And the wind was blowing about 75mph.

We found a room online in a nearby hotel and grabbed it. While we walked the 3 blocks over, we passed a car stopped for a light, the driver dazed because the huge wind had just blown over one of the heavy street lights and it landed on his front passenger side. Two people sat in back but no one in the passenger seat.  Other drivers honked angrily at him as they cut around him so they could hurry away into the wild night. Paper and other larger objects blew dangerously across the streets. Twice I was blown forward, feeling like Mary Poppins without an umbrella, always braced to be struck by any object, small or lethal, as I stepped forward. Would I survive this walk? I wondered? As we passed buildings, homeless people sat on the sidewalks hunkered against buildings, holding blankets that whipped in the wind over their bodies. Would they survive this night? I wondered.  Each of us was at the mercy of a nor’easter with murderous winds.

We checked in, put our baggage in our room, then went to eat across the street at the Billy Goat Tavern where we had a round of drinks and toasted one of our four on this, her 31st birthday. We ate burgers and/or sandwiches. I returned to the room first, so used to quiet days of writing in my home, so unsettled because I had no idea what the morning would bring.

I woke all through the night. Normally I use a CPAP machine for my sleep apnea but didn’t want to use it without the privacy I cherish at home. My choice had two outcomes: despite my intention to sleep on my stomach I did roll over where I began to snore until I woke up and rolled over. The other consequence was that I had less oxygen during sleep, which is tiring.

In the morning I walked back to Union Station to try to figure out if I could get to New York. Inside, a huge snake-like line of people, at least half a mile long waited to get to the ticket counter, where I waited for more than an hour watching so many people upset and angry and frustrated because they couldn’t get tickets they so wanted. I saw people behind the counter who tried hard to be patient and helpful but were close to the end of their tolerance. I began to see that I stood in a huge space filled with a gathering of humans who were transforming into the person we each become when we feel acute loss of control over our lives. I recognized myself in them, cherishing my ability to simply observe and feel calm because everything would work out. Maybe not what I’d hoped, but resolution would come.

When I became first in line a lithe woman of color beckoned me over, as she yawned. “What a day you are having,” I said to her. She smiled in acknowledgment, asked kindly how she could help me, and listened carefully as I asked for her help so I could decide whether to try to get to NY or if I should return home. She checked trains to NY first. No coach seats were available until after five pm. First class trains were moving very slowly at the present, due to flooding, power lines down, and of course downed trees; no one knew what lay ahead. The nor’easter was still going up north.

“When can I go to Charlottesville?” I asked. Her fingers raced across her keyboard, stopped and she stared. “4:30 today,” she said.

Meanwhile Bonnie sent a message saying that she and Bill felt it best for me to get safely back home. “I’d like to exchange this ticket for one to Charlottesville today,” I told her, a deep sad ache filling me because I wanted to be nowhere else in the world than with my sisters.

“Let me go change the ticket,” she said and turned to enter a room behind her. I waited several minutes. Once she peeked her head out, smiled and said, “Don’t think I’ve forgotten about you. This is taking some time.”

“No problem,” I said.

Whatever she was doing took 20 more minutes, then she returned and placed a new ticket on the counter. “I’ve changed the ticket for 4:30 today and we’ve reimbursed your credit card $130.00.” My eyes widened. Everyone I’d talked to had to contact Amtrak to request refunds.

“You have really outdone yourself for me,” I said to her, as she smiled and tried to suppress a yawn. I turned to leave.

“Oh, one more thing,” I said. “Where can I charge my phone?” I needed Google Maps to give me walking directions back to the hotel to gather my belongings.

“You need a full charge or a quick one?” she asked.

“Just a quick one,” I said.

“Oh,” she smiled, and started pushing things away from her power outlet. “I can do that for you right here.”

My eyes really widened then. “You are a kind and amazing woman. I will never forget this time at your counter.”

She smiled matter-of-factly as she plugged in my charger. I stepped aside so another customer could be served, hoping he would see a glimpse of the beauty inside this woman.

I texted Bonnie. She replied: We tried. You made a good decision. It just didn’t work out. I’m sad, but glad you’re getting home today.” Little did we know….

Fast forward to 4:00, where I stood in line talking with a dentist from Lynchburg. We remained in that line until 6pm, 1.5 hours later than scheduled, when our train arrived. I hurried to find the quiet car so I could read.

Bonnie texted. On that train yet? I told of the delays. I’m so sad you are not here but I am so happy you are on your way HOME! she replied.

At 8:30 pm I texted her. We’ve been sitting on the track for over an hour now waiting for a freight train ahead to move. It’s broken down. This feels like deja vous.

Unbelievable. Please text me when you get home.

At 9, she texted, Are you moving yet?

Well the train ahead got fixed and then it was discovered tht staff worked far beyond their legal limit. Now we’re waiting for a new staff to arrive. It made me wonder if that would be a problem for the staff on our train. 3am, the conductor told me. “No problem.


The train ahead is on a straight track, so there’s no way to get around it. Don’t you think this story could be transformed into a comedy? I asked Bonnie.

OMG, I have no words, she texted. You are truly my hero. I cannot believe what your last two days have been like. One huge cluster f***.

I laughed out loud. Perfect description, I texted. That would make a great title for my story.

LOL, she texted. I’m chuckling now. We have to maintain our senses of humor. I can’t believe after all of this time and travel, I still don’t get to see you. There’s got to be a silver lining somewhere but I just can’t find it.

We’ll find that silver lining, I replied, over a bottle of Gruet champagne, I trust. When we do your Plan B.

OMG, champagne, yes, You’re onto something there.

At 10pm, she asked: You home yet?

No, we’re still sitting here. Word is second shift arrived but nobody’s contacted HQs yet.

I have no words, she said. Where r u?

Not quite at Culpepper.

My 10:30 update said: The new crew is at the other train and we should be starting up in half an hour.

Please, God, let this be true, Bonnie texted.

I’m reading a great mystery I may get finished…

I can’t wait until you get home.

My midnight update: We just got permission to start. Here we go. Let’s see how far we get.

1:15am update: Just pulled into Charlottesville. Talk with you tomorrow. xoxo

Thank God. Drive home safely. Love you.

2am update: I AM HOME!

PEACE. Sleep well, Sister.  😊


As I drove home, I wondered what time I would have arrived in New York.

When I read this story to my writing sisters, they said, “You might still be on a stalled train somewhere.”

Posted in Change, Family, Kindness, Mother Nature | 11 Comments

A Woman of Worth: Laura Mitchell Keene

Telling HerStories: The Broad View

Laura Mitchell Keene and I met at church many years ago. She read stories in Sunday school when my boys were small, and attended a women’s writing group there, making insightful and encouraging comments. When the group disbanded two years ago, we decided to meet together at her home.

A tiny African American woman with close cropped white hair, she would greet me at the door of the house she’d built with her husband, fine artist Paul Keene, and where she’d lived alone since his death in 2009. She showed me family photos under a glass table top, her husband’s art on the walls, and in a stairwell, a poster of her great grandfather, Pierre Burr, a descendant of Aaron Burr and his East Indian servant.

It didn’t take me long to realize that this woman was a curator of her life and times. Born in 1925, she has lived…

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Gratitude for Today and Yesterday

Two decades ago, when life tugged me away from the little Catskill Mountain town where I’d hoped to live out my days, many years passed before I realized how much of my heart remains there and how much of Bovina lives on in me to this day.

The Bovina farm women were so generous in sharing not only their skills and recipes, but their lifestyle as country women, with the newly-married, naive IMG_20171127_111524044city girl I was then. In 1974, a year after I married my dairy farmer, the Historical Society published Bovina’s Country Cupboard cookbook, a collection of recipes by then-and-former community residents. I slid it from my bookcase several days ago as I prepared my Thanksgiving shopping list, struck once again by how many Bovina recipes remain a part of our traditional menu.

This year I  signed up to make pumpkin and apple pies (with my sister, Bonnie), cranberry bread, golden onion bread, cranberry relish, corn pudding, and a pumpkin-roll cake for the feast. I leafed through the first few pages of the Country Cupboard cookbook, which contains several handwritten offerings of grace, and paused to read several. The Table of Contents followed with broad categories that directed me to the recipes I wanted: Ruth McGowan’s Cranberry Bread and Mildred Reinertsen’s Pumpkin Pie, my favorite for more than 40 years because it contains just the right amount of molasses. Jackie Gallant’s Blueberry Pancakes recipe caught my eye and I decided to make them one morning for my sister, also named Jackie, who adores blueberry pancakes.

IMG_20171128_120259054I pulled out Aunt Madeline’s antique wooden recipe box and found Gladys Doig’s (my mother-in-law) handwritten recipe for Cranberry Relish.  Bonnie and I modified it a little by increasing the cranberries, decreasing the sugar, and substituting some honey. IMG_20171128_115345331_HDRGladys had an old-fashioned, manual meat grinder that she clamped onto her counter top to grind the fruit/; Bonnie and I used my food processor, which worked wonderfully. The recipe turned out fabulously tasty.

Next, I dug into the file for Desserts and pulled out the Pumpkin-Nut Cake Roll recipe, clipped from a Farm Journal magazine decades ago. The recipes were stained and yellowed with age. Years ago I would have copied them over on clean cards and thrown these imperfect ones away, but after all these years the IMG_20171128_115432795originals become more precious each Thanksgiving, especially when I gaze at my sweet mother-in-law’s handwriting. She’s been gone for so long now. Or when I reminisce about the many  wonderful recipes like the Pumpkin-Nut Cake Roll clipped from our country magazines that still fill Aunt Madeline’s recipe box.

Making the cake roll last week was tricky, as always, for when, hot from the oven, you invert it onto a confectioner-sugar covered towel and roll it up to cool, you hope it doesn’t crack. Later I unwrapped it to fill with cream cheese frosting and re-wrapped it tightly, hoping it didn’t split as it did last year. It rolled up perfectly this year.

I think back to the gorgeous meal with many, but not all of our family members just last week and flash back to more than twenty Thanksgiving Days on the farm. I linger as I hold both places in my heart and treasure the ever-increasing gratitude I feel each year for both lives. Thanksgiving today and back then, both with the soft, precious common threads of giving thanks for all we have been graced with.

Before I close the cookbook, I return to the pages of grace and whisper the one I love the best: In gratitude we bow our heads to thank you for our daily bread. And may we use the strength it brings, for doing kind and helpful things. Amen.


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Hello from Addie!

Hi Everybody,

My mom’s quite behind in life at the moment, so I thought I’d say a quick Hi until she gets back to the next chapter of my journal. She’s been especially frustrated this week because her computer crashed on Sunday and she hasn’t worked on her memoir all week. But the computer’s back home, all better for now (it’s pretty old and she needs to get a new one!) and she’s happy today.

Because she’s been running around all week on errands, we didn’t get to have our long walks for the past two days. We did the short ones, but you know there’s nothing better than a long walk. (Well, maybe chicken and snitching some cat food from Button.) But, back to the long walks, especially when there are loads of great scents for me to follow.

So today was such a great day. It was cold when we walked this morning but, boy, after lunch I spent an hour in my fenced in half-acre yard and it was just great. I started barking and sniffing as soon as I got off my leash and couldn’t keep up with myself as I followed the deer scents. You can’t believe the deer that had been in there. It was wild!

Mom went up to the house to get some computer work done, then came out and said my favorite words, “Want to go for a walk, Addie?” Well, almost my favorite words. My most favorites are when she smiles and says, “Ready to eat?” and has my filled bowl in her hand. I stand on my back legs and dance all the way to my feeding area.

I look up at her with pleading eyes and wag my tail, then stay very still as she clicks on my leash. She laughs and says, “Addie, you are the cutest little girl in the whole world!” I’m beginning to like it here more and more.


So we cut through a field to get to Castle Rock Road so we don’t walk on our road, where some drivers are really nice and slow down for us. Others never do, though, and they frighten me. I have to stop for lots of great smells on the short cut—I wag my tail faster than some of those speeders—until we step out onto Castle Rock, a very long, quiet country road. Home is quiet, but this is a different quiet.IMG_20171027_164426217

The sun is warm and the sky is blue. The air moves slowly and feels so good. The only sound is the breeze gently loosening the yellow and rust colored leaves, like a soft rainstorm. Once in awhile a leaf spins slowly down and I watch it to be sure it’s not something I want to chase, like the squirrels I see on this road all the time. The only other sound I hear are walnuts thunking to the ground once in awhile.

Then we pass the house with the big, old hound dog who used to bark for hours at a time and drive Mom crazy while she was writing. But he’s old now and hardly ever barks anymore. Today he barks at me, though, and I watch as he runs to the gate of his pen. I’m not afraid; I’m used to him now and know he won’t hurt me. I’m learning how good it feels to be safe.

We walk for a little more than a mile on the up and down hills and around S-curves. Squirrels are here and there. I always stop and watch them closely but don’t chase them. Sometimes I see five or six deer in one mowed meadow we pass and stand still as I stare at them and they do the same. I never get tired of walking and I best like the places I know. Mom took me to a park last week. There were no people or animals there when we arrived but I was so frightened when she lifted me out of the car, I sat down and wouldn’t move. She said, “Okay, Addie, I guess it’s not time yet to come here” and she lifted me back into the car where I felt safe. Later I heard one of the family say I might have been overwhelmed by the scents of so many other dogs, even though none were there. Yes, that was part of it.

But, back to today. So we both happily walk. Mom watches me and smiles, knowing how happy I am. Sometimes I stop and sniff the air. She has no idea of the wonderful scents that are here.


Other times I like to climb up a bank so I can sniff and watch what I sense is there, usually a squirrel. Often I want to climb higher than the leash will let me. Mom doesn’t usually climb the banks with me because they can be tricky and she might fall. Today, though, we both climb a bank and walk on the surface above it.

We had such a great walk today. I just had to tell you. Mom told me she’s writing my story in a journal and that many of you are interested in how I’m doing. Well, I’ve come a long way since June. I know I have more healing to do, but mostly you to know how great it is to know you care about me. Mom will tell you more when she gets back to writing my journal. Meanwhile, thank you for caring about me. Mom says that there have been angels in her life that she never got to meet, but that she loves them. I feel that way, too.

Love, Addie




Posted in Animal friends, Courage, Grace, Gratitude, Kindness, Mystery, Nurturance | 1 Comment

Glorious Autumn Harvest Muffins


Between working on my memoir, taking long and lovely autumn walks on quiet country roads with Addie, time with family, my lovely writing circle, reading, and the many other things I love to do, I realized this morning as I made my favorite Harvest Muffins, that it has been a long time since I’ve shared a recipe here.

This is a Mayo Clinic  recipe, one they tweaked in several healthful ways, then reduced fat, sugar, and cholesterol.  So, did they take away all the good taste, you wonder? Miraculously, quite the opposite is true. I love them and this morning made a small tweak of my own by substituting the 3/4 cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of honey.

Here’s the method:                                                                                                                    Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line muffin pan with liners.                                                        In a large bowl, whisk to blend:  1 cup whole wheat flour                                                                                                                      1 cup unbleached white flour                                                                                                              2 teaspoons baking soda                                                            In a small bowl, beat together:  2 teaspoons cinnamon                                                                                                                           3 large eggs or 3/4 cup egg substitute                                                                                                  1/2 cup honey                                                                                                                                          1/2 cup vegetable oil and 1/2 cup applesauce                                                                                  2 teaspoons vanilla extract                                                    Stir in: 2 cups chopped apple, unpeeled                                                                                                          1/2 cup raisins                                                                                                                                          1/2 cup grated carrots, then add this mixture to the dry ingredients                      Add to the flour mixture and stir until moistened but still slightly lumpy.                    Spoon the batter into 18 muffin cups, filling each cup about 2/3 full.                                Sprinkle with 2 Tablespoons of chopped pecans and bake until springy to the touch, about 30 minutes.                                                                                                                              Let cool for 5 minutes, then transfer muffins to a cooling rack.                                        Makes 18 muffins that freeze well.

NOTE: Recently I have changed to purchasing Bob’s Red Mill organic unbleached and whole wheat flours, and believe they make a huge taste difference. I also like the fact that the company is employee owned.

As Julia would say: Bon Appetit!




Posted in Animal friends, Family, Health, In the Kitchen, Nurturance | 6 Comments

Addie’s Journal, Chapter 7 – Celebrating the One Week Mark

A week has passed since Addie moved in with us. As I’ve watched her closely, her small daily changes  in adapting have given me much joy and so this day I’m taking measure of the growth I’ve seen.

  • After Flower and Ed left yesterday, Addie was very tired. She didn’t get up and follow me whenever I moved around as she always does. When she heard me move she simply opened her eyes, saw everything was okay, then closed them and returned to sleep. Another little step forward!
  • I lifted Addie onto my lap on the couch with me after dinner and gently stroked her for half an hour. Then I needed to bring Button inside for the night, so went to the basement and out that door, found him and brought him in. When I returned upstairs after turning out the lights downstairs, Button was by the gate and Addie was five feet away from him. She made no aggressive sounds or actions. I was tickled by what these actions said. Button, also, made no aggressive sounds or actions. I’m hoping we moved a little closer today to the happy co-habitation plan I envision.
  • I asked to reschedule Addie’s spay surgery for another week and the shelter agreed. It just seems too soon given all she’s endured in the last several days.
  • We’ve worked out a broad plan for attention to both Addie and Button. Button jumps on my bed each evening and we spend fun time together: talking, petting, scratching his back and behind his ears. He sleeps on my belly all night, we repeat the evening routine in the morning, and then come out to greet Addie, whose tail wags joyfully as I see her entire body emanate a little more happiness each day. She is the most beautiful wake-up moment of the day. I open her crate door, she happily hops out, then stays still as I rub under her chin and belly. When I pick up the leash without saying a word, she knows exactly what that means and wags her tail enthusiastically as I fasten the collar. Out the door we go. Today she bounded out and off the back deck, and began running alongside the perimeter of the property, as I jogged along with her.
  • Addie’s learned much about her land already, and shows me some preferential places she likes to go to: the shaded glen, then around the dog pen fence to the other side, and into the grassy entrance to the stream, where she hops right in and splashes around. Water level is awfully low right now; she has to walk out nearly two feet to get to the water that is usually right at the bank. She’ll enjoy it more when the level returns, but she’s delighted with what’s there now.
  • Half an hour later we return for breakfast, hers first, of course! I’ve been wrapping her antibiotic in delicious cat food. This morning she ate the cat food and left the capsule. I re-wrapped it again and that time she ate all the food and left the capsule again. The capsule was soft and sticky by that time, so I re-wrapped it in more cat food and let it soften about half and hour. Third time was the charm.
  • I went downstairs mid-morning to walk on the treadmill. When I returned in a little while, Addie and Button were laying on the floor about four feet apart, calm and fine as could be. It was high praise and reward time for them both!
  • She’s learning her name. Indoors, a little while ago, I called to her, “Addie.” No response. The second time I called, she looked at me.
  • Addie’s lost some of her fear of every single noise: as we walked in the glen, my neighbor across the stream mowed his lawn. She paid no heed to the noise. When I tossed some fallen branches on the burn pile, she never broke her sniffing stride.
  • Addie’s eyes were injured during her attack; last night we finished her eye drops. Her eyes look so good, as well as deeply beautiful, as beagle eyes always are.

I decided this day, since no one knows anything about Addie’s history prior to Animal Control found her on June 26th, 2017 at 1:15 in the  afternoon in a ditch, that I will decree her birthday as being July 9, the day I brought her home. I’ve seen her age estimated at anywhere from two, three, and four years old, and that will remain a mystery. Yet a birthday celebration’s a celebration. Does age matter? I think not. Life and love is what matters!


Posted in Animal friends, Change, Courage, Gifts, Health, Nurturance | 4 Comments

Addie’s Journal – Chapter 6

The next morning when I peeked around the hall corner toward Addie in her crate, I said, “Addie, Good mor-ning! I’m so glad to see you!” I couldn’t resist clapping my palms together and raising my shoulders with joy.

She lay on her side and wagged her tail, slowly, but an undeniable happy little wag.”Oh, little girl, I love seeing your tail wag. It lets me see a day when you will grow into a joyful spirit!”

She walked out the door and down the steps for our morning walk, enjoying morning coolness, sunshine, and patches of sunshine breaking through treetops to sprinkle shards of yellow spots on the mountain floor. Addie and I spent an enjoyable half hour together: she sniffed all over the yard, discovering deer scent here and there. We went into the pen where I unleashed her, watching her carefully as she occasionally looked for places to get beneath and outside the fence. She ran and I walked, smiling as I watched her tail wagging from adagio (moderately slow, in absence of a scent) to prestissimo (very, very fast in presence of a scent.) Later, back at the gate, I said, “C’mon, Addie. Time to eat.” She didn’t yet understand what that meant, and tagged along reluctantly with me to the house. One day, I knew that would change.

Inside, Addie spotted Button in the living room and immediately chased him. He jumped over the baby gate into the hallway and stayed in my room.

Flower and Ed came by later in the morning to bring a new bed for Addie that blended nicely with my living room colors, and some treats for Button. Addie didn’t want to try out the bed; rather she retreated to her crate with the thick fleece-covered pad, lay her head on it and watched us as we talked. I brought up her chasing Button, which isn’t a large concern, yet I didn’t want it to escalate.  As he had done on their last visit, Button hopped over the gate and jumped on the couch. Flower and Button observed and continue to feel Button is not afraid and will retaliate, if he needs to. He hissed and Addie paid attention. We all gave each animal lots of attention, praise, and treats; we were rewarded with  the return of peace between them.

As Flower and Ed were leaving, she placed a red, round, hard plastic something into my hand. “This is a Kong,” she said. “I have a friend who fills it with food and holds it in place with a dog biscuit. Each time she has to leave her dog home alone, she fills the Kong and puts it in the crate. It’s gotten so the dog loves to see her leave these days.”

“Now that’s very cool,” I said and thanked her for yet another gift to help with Addie’s transition. Later, I put some turkey mixture inside the Kong and sealed it with a little peanut butter. The Kong held her attention and was soon empty.


After Flower and Ed left, Addie and I went for another walk. When I encouraged her toward the house, she pulled hard to go in the other direction, any other direction, so I finally picked her up and carried her inside. She napped for awhile, then I lifted her into her new bed and sat with her to scratch her chin and belly. Her body felt tense at first, yet as time passed I could feel her begin to relax. I gave her a treat.

When I got up, she did, too. Once down on the kitchen floor, she headed straight for her crate and curled up in a corner, watching me as I took the Pyrex bowl of homemade dog food and scooped some into a small bowl. I loved making dog and cat food for my pets before Addie joined us, and hoped she would like this mixture of ground turkey with a few  mixed vegetables and brown rice. I lay the bowl next to her kibble and she suspiciously approached it. She sniffed and then licked at the mixture. Soon, the bowl was empty and I was delighted. She was eating better. Such a good sign. She ignored the kibble I’d offered, so later that night I mixed several pieces of kibble into the turkey mixture. The bowl quickly emptied and I smiled broadly.

After a nap, she stepped outside her crate and followed me around as I moved between the kitchen and living room. When I was making a cup of tea, Addie jumped up to put her front paws on the bay window. She seemed to want to hop up but her legs were too short, so I placed a broad wooden step in front of the window and showed her how to step up onto the broad surface. She wanted to get down immediately, so I moved aside, praising her.

I brought my tea to my computer where I sat down to write and heard her moving by the bay window. I returned to discover Addie was standing up in the window; she’d traversed the two steps up herself. I went over to pet her and talk with her and, as I did, she sat down for awhile. I returned to my keyboard and she followed me. In awhile, she returned to the kitchen and I found her taking a little nap in the bay window. This little girl keeps me smiling throughout the day!

IMG_20170712_101428630_HDR (1)

To wrap up today’s activities, I will share that Addie yawned while Ed and Flower were here. Flower broke out into a big smile and said, “She’s breathing out butterflies.” Now that’s an image I’ll never forget whenever I see Addie yawn. Or anyone else, for that matter.

Such a good day!20-free-butterfly-clip-art-l


Posted in Animal friends, Courage, Grace, Gratitude, Mystery, Nurturance | 4 Comments

Addie’s Journal – Chapter 5

On Addie’s second day, our walks were delightful. On our first morning walk, I fastened her leash, opened the sliding door, scooped her up to take her down the three steps to the yard. As soon as she stood on terra firma, her nose dropped to the ground and sniffed as her tail began to wag. Her happiness was contagious. We went for a long walk around the back yard, the front yard and then inside the dog pen, where I kept her still leashed when she actively tried to find a way to get out beneath the wire fencing and the wooden door. I learned I could not yet let her run free in the pen, but hoped the time would come so that she could have the simple, sheer pleasure of running free. Not yet, though. If she got loose, that could be a potential disaster she or we didn’t need.

Flower and Ed came to visit, the adoption counselors from Almost Home. I described the bad start Addie and Button had gotten off to. As we talked, sitting near Addie’s crate, Button walked in at the other end of the room and hopped up on the coffee table. He faced us and watched closely. Flower observed by his actions that Button was not afraid of dogs. It was true he’d not been afraid of my recently re-homed dog, Beau, and I was pleased this would hopefully carry over. Clearly Addie was not afraid of the cat, either.

Flower and Ed had brought a dog bed, a gate, cat treats, and some shredded chicken breast, which they liberally reinforced both respective animals with for their good behavior  I enjoyed a long conversation with Flower and Ed who, retired, volunteer many hours a week, sometimes full time, to assure successful pairings between humans and animals. They gave me so many helpful tips for success, the most important on that day reinforcing that I spend lots of time with my cat, so he didn’t feel displaced and resentful, and with Addie, so she could feel warmly welcomed into and part of all that went on in our home. Before leaving, Flower decided to give the new bed to Button and said she’d bring another for Addie in a few days.


    Button in his new bed

I forgot to return the chicken yet was glad to have it to give to Addie for treats. I pulled some frozen chicken breasts from the freezer and decided chicken would be her food for the next few days as I tried introducing other foods. In a few days I’d make some of my homemade dog food, I thought. Then Addie and Button and I lay down for a long rest, all of us suddenly very tired.

After our nap, Addie and I walked along the tree line outside the dog pen, where a small (because it is so dry this year) stream trickles along. She wanted to step in and so she and I enjoyed several minutes of walking together in the clear shallow water. As she padded around, sniffing and looking at her surroundings, she stopped to take a long cool drink. In time, we stepped up about a foot onto the grassy bank and worked our way back to the house


The stream with a large dry patch in the right front corner. Normally, the water is several inches deep.

I cooked the thawed chicken and diced some for Addie’s dinner. I measured out half a cup into her food bowl and mixed ¼ cup of kibble with it, then put it inside her open-doored crate. She poked at the dish briefly and then, to my delight, cleaned the entire dish spotless. I praised her and stroked beneath her chin. She curled up for a nap as I sat nearby recording her day in her Journal. Half an hour later she looked up at me, awake, and I asked if she wanted to go for a walk. She didn’t answer, of course, but easily complied as I slipped on her leash. I carried her down the deck steps and we had another nice half-hour walk around the property. She had a bout with loose stool. So her small battered, bruised body was beginning to work the way it should, thankfully; it just needing a little tweaking.

Before we settled down for the night, I gave her a small portion of mashed sweet potatoes, a natural remedy for loose stool, with a little diced chicken. She left some sweet potato but ate all the chicken. As I praised her and scratched beneath her jaw, Addie stunned me when she rolled over to expose her belly for a rub. I softly cooed and my heart sang as she let me rub her belly.

At day’s end, I reflected that Addie had eaten lightly but well, and I felt we were moving in good directions. “I love you, Addie,” I told her as I closed the door to her crate and dimmed the living room light by the hallway. Button waited in my bedroom to hop up on the bed with me as he did each night. Addie was quiet all through the night.

Thank you for a good day together, I silently said to my Creator.

Posted in Animal friends, Compassion, Gifts, Grace, Gratitude, Mother Nature, Simplicity | 1 Comment

Addie’s Journal – Chapter 4

Dear Reader,

The horrific events in neighboring Charlottesville a week ago profoundly impacted my recent writing. Today I pick up the thread where we left off awhile ago: Adelaide’s arrival at her new home.

Mary Jo


Staff at the Humane Society felt Adelaide had most likely lived in a beagle kennel, in the manner many hunters house their numerous hunting dogs. My daughter felt she’d also probably never lived in a home.

So now we were home on our first day where I leashed and guided Addie from the car around the house and toward the back deck, where she dropped to the ground near the deck steps and would not move. I gently coaxed to no avail, then reached down and slipped my arms beneath her belly and carried her up into the house. She lay limp in my arms as I talked softly while taking her on a quiet little tour of the kitchen and living room, which was the space I planned for her to live in initially. When we finished, I placed Addie on the rug by the open door of her crate and watched her hurry inside and hunker down in a far corner. She stared up into my eyes with the saddest hound dog expression I’d ever seen.

I went to the kitchen to fill a water bowl for her and another with grain-free kibble. I sat with her as I placed them inside her crate and watched as she sniffed briefly at the food and ignored the water. After offering pieces of kibble for awhile, which she turned from, I told her I was going to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. She changed her position so she could keep her eyes on me. Again I spoke calming words to her as I reached into a cabinet for honey to spoon into my tea. As I pushed the cabinet door closed after replacing the honey, it made a small clunk sound. Addie jumped, looking fearfully around for the source of the sound.  Crikey, I have to be really careful for awhile I thought, considering the vacuum cleaner and food processor sounds. I knew I wouldn’t be using them in her presence any time soon and will confess to a little smile that crossed my face as I realized Addie, at the moment was, quite possibly, my best excuse ever for getting behind in vacuuming.

Holding my steaming, fragrant tea cup, I sat on the floor by the crate and talked to Addie, as she stared at me with wary eyes that spoke chapters about her previous experiences. Following several minutes of gentle words and strokes beneath her chin, her eyes closed. When I soundlessly rose to return to the kitchen, her eyes popped wide open and followed every step I took, something she would do all day, every day for weeks, I’d soon learn.

“Everything’s okay now, sweet little girl. You are home. You are safe and, best of all, no one’s ever going to hurt you again.” She stared, not understanding my words, as far as I could tell.

My son, Chip, appeared at my back door, tapping gently. He’d come to mow the lawn. When he came inside, he talked gently to Addie, who cowered in the crate and stared fearfully at him. Chip stepped back after his greeting and I became distracted as we talked and moved into the kitchen. Thus, I didn’t notice my cat Button walk near Addie, whom I’d not yet either introduced or prepared for our new housemate. Her crate door open, Button hissed at her and swiped his paw at Addie’s face. My heart sank as I watched a scene I’d never intended to happen. Quickly I scooped up Button and removed him from the room, talking with and reassuring him that this was his home, and now Addie’s as well. He cried softly a few times as I talked and stroked his beautiful, soft black and white fur. Several minutes later, he’d calmed and quieted and I carried Button toward Addie’s crate again, telling him about his new sister. Addie barked at him and I found myself smiling at this first sound I’d heard from her. Good girl, I thought, it’s okay to give Button a healthy boundary! I petted and reassured them both and told them they were the absolute best kids.

A few hours later, I wanted to take Addie outside hopefully for a call of nature. When I approached her with a leash, she wouldn’t stand up or leave her crate. I eventually lifted her out, fastened the leash, carried her outside, and placed her in the back yard where she suddenly became very engaged in excitedly sniffing the ground as we walked through the glen. I was thrilled to see her tail way a little. Nature made no call after half an hour though and so we walked back to the house, where, as she’d done earlier, she dropped to the ground by the deck steps and refused to move forward despite my gentle urgings of, “This way, Addie.” She either didn’t want to step up to the deck, or go inside, or most likely both. I picked her up and carried her into the house to her crate, where she seemed relieved to settle back in.

Throughout the remainder of the day, she and Button saw each other several times from a distance and made no further negative advances toward each other. Also throughout the day, Addie displayed no calls to nature and I would later learn this was not unusual for animals who had been starving.

By the end of Addie’s and my first day together, I had to agree with those who felt she’d never lived in a house. This little girl was terrified by every sound in the house where my cat, Button, and I resided in solitude and in what I would have described as near complete silence. Yet the low hum of the refrigerator, a sneeze, a softly whirring fan, the burbling dishwasher, the soothing ring of my cell phone, a spoon accidentally dropped in the sink–all stopped Addie in her tracks and widened her eyes in terror.

When I turned on the six o’clock news hour on television, she cringed and pushed against the back of her crate, desperate to flee. I turned the volume to zero but her fear didn’t subside as she watched the figures moving on the screen. I didn’t watch news for a few days. When I tried softly playing classical music, she ran to the farthest corner of the kitchen, hunkered down, and shuddered.

I was concerned for her when bedtime arrived. Addie had not used our several walks outside to relieve herself in any way. Nor had she eaten any food. She’d lapped a small amount of water, though.

“Are you okay,” I asked with deep concern as I looked into her beautiful brown eyes, preparing to turn out the lights. She looked at me sadly.

“Addie, it’s going to be okay,” I promised, hoping my words spoke the truth I passionately wished for her. “I’ll see you in the morning,” I said, turned out the lights, and pushed a dimmer switch to give low illumination to the living room, where she was.

“Good night, Addie,” I called from my bedroom.

She barked.

“I love you, Addie,” I said.

She didn’t bark again for the rest of the niight.



Posted in Animal friends, Change, Compassion, Courage, Grace, Gratitude, Health, Kindness, Nurturance | 3 Comments