Even Puppies Deserve Love

Sometimes even your children surprise you.

“We got them both into the car,” our daughter said.

Her voice fills the cabin of my wife’s car.

I don’t have any scientific proof, but I swear, but I would my heart runs a smidge faster when she calls. Maybe that is a not-yet-discovered setting on the Fitbit wrapped about my wrist I should investigate.

Our daughter is a full-fledged adult and living out of state. She’s eight hundred and six miles and a different time zone to boot. But when she calls, she is right here, sitting next to us.

One of the things I’ve learned about raising kids is how they take on the tendencies or instincts of their parents. Our daughter, although tough as nails when the time calls, carry her mother’s heart, one as deep and gentle as any spring you’ll ever run across.

Our daughter is telling us about the result of her three-day campaign to rescue two abandoned dogs alongside the road.

“They were living in some bushes off the road,” she said.

The two dogs were an unusual pair. The older was a brown and black mix of a Dachshund and something brings a bit more bulk. The other was a Pit Bull-Lab mix and only a couple months old. Together the two holed up alongside the road, the Dachshund adopting and serving as the protector of the younger dog.

For a couple of days, our daughter and friend would stop by the side of the road, working to build a bond with the skittish puppies and talking softly, coaxing them out from below branches, and offering them snacks. And in the end, our daughter and friends would drive away empty-handed.

Then the puppies invested in the time and trust.

“They were hiding, being suspicious,” our daughter said. “But then the puppy recognized us and began wagging his tail.”

The dog cautiously approached the girls.

“When we finally got the puppy dog into the car, the other followed,” she said.

It is important to point out our daughter does not need a dog. Where she lives does not allow for a dog. The entire episode was purely her heart leading her feet.

“One has already is adopted, and the other is now in a foster home,” our daughter said.

The phone screen begins populating with photos of the two dogs. Pictures of the Dachshund looking up, it’s ear pinned back, initially nervous of what was happening. Another shows the younger puppy drinking clean water from a plastic cup brought by the girls.

I guess what moves me the most is this is unusual. Today’s life moves quickly and is filled with distractions – most powerfully, the phone at the end of our arm. Looking out the window of a moving car, noticing someone or something in need, demonstrates living with your heart wide open.

And because of our daughter following hers, two abandoned puppies are in the arms of someone who loves them.

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Never Forget Who Is Inside

“Today is one of my anniversaries.”

The woman behind the cash register grabs a bottle of water for a customer. The fishing pier is congested with tourists and fisherman.

“One of your anniversaries?” I ask.

“Been married three times,” she says. “Found out it is not the third time is the charm, more like three strikes and you are out.”

She laughs and turns and walks to an older man sitting on a bench, his fishing rod and walker beside him. He nods, thanking her.

I tear at the clear cellophane on a frozen watermelon Popsicle in hopes of softening the morning heat.

Love is not an easy thing. And like the beachfront, love is delicate and susceptible to disruptive storms.

I turn to my wife, the two of us now on 38 years figuring out our relationship.

With the cellophane removed from our Popsicles, we head back out the open door and down a long wooden pier to the beach. Ahead of us waves find their final destination on the sand, noisily downing beneath their own weight.

Relationships are complicated. If ever there was an understatement, this is it. No two relationships are ever the same. People change and evolve along the way. Predictable is rarely a word used to describe long-term relationships.

My wife jokes I am here second or possibly third husband. And her joke is a polite way of driving the point we have changed a lot since we first met. The truth is, we all change over time. Learning to evolve while holding on to the most essential elements that first brought you together, however, is not easy.

My aunt once shared an innocent nugget of wisdom about marriage. My wife and I newly married, we now believe my aunt intentionally dropped this knowing what lay ahead of two strong-willed people equally filled with a white-hot passion for each other.

She warned us life gets hard – but hang on.

“Never forget that person who you feel so madly in love all those years ago with is still inside – don’t let go,” she said.

Her words seemed innocent and idealistic at the time. Of course, I thought, life gets hard. And of course I’ll never forget why my wife and I first fell in love. How could I?

And then life proceeded to whack us two newlyweds around with a stiff two by four. Starting out life broke, then kids coming along, and then balancing family life, career, and each other. And the whacking continued. Honestly, it got rough requiring some serious growing up on my part.

But we followed my aunt’s advice, at times repeating it aloud to each other. A mantra for tough times, so to say.

I’ll skip the personal details, but we held as tightly to my aunt’s words as storms came and went. But in the end, – and fortunately – we’re still those two kids who fell madly in love all those years ago, only now we’re sharing Popsicles while walking the beach.

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I Believe In America

I am proud to be an American. Proud of our collective and individual strengths, our ability to be knocked flat and get back up again even stronger and more committed. I am proud of our compassion towards one another. I am proud American is not perfect but is a people willing to admit so and work togetherScreen Shot 2019-07-04 at 8.48.57 AM.png becoming a better nation. I am proud to be a part of a country of people, who on balance, want what is best for their families, their friends, and their neighbors – and the neighborhood regularly extending beyond borders and to around the globe. I am proud no other nation on the planet peacefully evolves as America, changing leaders in the highest of offices without revolutions, without tanks in the streets, and without shots being fired in political anger. I am proud to be a citizen of the nation who not only first put a man on the moon but also whose citizens donate more to charity and aid around the world in the history of mankind. I am proud how for me catching sight of our nation’s flag always gives me pause, my eyes lingering on the colors as it gently waves across a blue sky. I am proud while we may not all look alike, speak alike, of hail from the same ancestry, we are Americans first. I am proud to be an American – and I am in this with all my heart, all my passion, and all I can ever be. I feel God Blessed to wake up in this land and to call this nation my home. I believe in the great American Experiment and always will. I believe, even with all its warts and faults, American is great, compassionate, ever-evolving, and its finest days are still ahead.

– Leonard Woolsey, first-generation American, July 4, 2019

Shoes Walk Back Time

Getting older continually brings along unexpected challenges.

The other day I found myself waiting for a red light. Looking to my left I spotted an old friend looking back my way – a pair of black and white checkered Vans tennis shoes propped up on the truck’s dashboard. It was, as the saying goes, Deja Vue all over again.

I first owned a pair checkered Vans in 1982, the same year the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High hit theaters. One of the key characters, a fun, life-loving surfer name Jeff Spicoli, sported a pair, forever elevating the shoes into pop culture.

Fast forward 37 years and here the shoes again staring me in the face. And now for the third time around the fashion universe.

As an adult, you learn to appreciate you can – or should – only wear a fashion once in your lifetime. The theory is in life you grow and evolve into a new person over time. But on a more honest level, many of us would look ridiculous in the clothes we wore in our younger days. I’m sorry but I am not going back to the over-the-top mullet located a few feet north of my first pair of checkered Van’s.

But at what point, or how many times, can a fashion come around before you can hop back on the train? Or, maybe, more importantly, should you?

Recently the women’s fashion world welcomed back the high-waisted jean from the ’80s along with the smattering of the abrasive acid wash finish. Looking at them brings back happy memories from when my wife and I were younger and pretty much making up life day by day. More ahead of us than behind us, so to speak.

But today, looking at returning fashions is like watching reruns of my life. Florescent colors, shoulder pads, and geometric patterns seem to be escaping from the dark corners of closets and back onto streets and runways. And at this rate, I almost feel as if the fashion world if following a predictable dotted line back through time.

I loved my black and white checkered Vans. As a skater, a pair of Vans was a staple in my closet. Long wearing gum soles, tough canvas tops, and no-nonsense design made these a favorite. That and they were from a mystical land called California.

But where do we draw the line? My closet still contains four pair of Vans, two lace, one slip, and another model designed for, ahem, their older clientele featuring lavish padding an elevated and squishy sole for comfort.

But I ache for my black and white Vans. Maybe they represented my youth as tie-die did for my older cousins wore in the sixties. Maybe they remind me of a carefree time when if I carried enough change for a burger and didn’t stay out too late, life would be fine. After all, summers were all about skating, hanging with friends, and more skating.

Maybe just one more pair for old times’ sake?

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Father’s Day Never Ends

In a strange turn of events, I am learning to be a father all over again.

No, there is not an unexpected addition coming to our current empty-nesting stage of life. Rather, unexpectedly, the change is coming from inside of me. What I’m learning is once your kids bloom and leave the nest, the tools in your parenting toolbox find themselves being reshuffled.

My wife and I have two wonderful young adults. Both honest, hard-working, kind-hearted, and are genuinely concerned about those around them. And with their independence comes us searching through the parenting toolbox for assistance, using familiar tools but in different ways.

I remember Day One with each of them. While I didn’t know what to do, friends assured me my instincts would bubble up and I’d be fine. If that didn’t work, there were millions of books in print to help me become an uber-parent. I soon owned a library.

Today, however, is a new world. As suddenly as children came into our lives, they are gone from beneath the protection of riding out storms beneath the safety of our wings and nest. And the role as a parent, or my case as a father, are now noticeably different.

The rules of life have not changed – honestly, caring for others, and knowing your happiness is self-selected choice remain universal. But as a parent, migrating from instruction to coaching is increasingly important. Not every challenge in their lives requires input or action on my part. And that, if anything, is a difficult instinct to suppress as a parent.

Recently our daughter found herself on the front end of a life-changing medical condition. And while we are blessed to be able to help her on both medical and emotional support fronts, the real battle is being waged inside of her mind. And increasingly we realizing this a moment in life where the outcome of her internal struggle will be shaped by more of what is inside of her than anything we can do or say. For the best outcome, she needs to be in charge.

Now, nearly 6-months into this chapter, we’ve met a new person, one suddenly mature, able to look forward without being unsettled by fear, and genuinely interested in helping others with a similar condition. She is truly a remarkable person and one I am proud to call my daughter.

And our son, who seems to have a denizen gene sewn into his soul, is possibly one of the most caring and kind people I’ve ever met. With his mother’s heart and itch to wander and explore all the world offers, he makes me proud to know he calls me dad.

When I thought of parenting, I pictured the window from infant to teenager. What I’m learning is there is a whole different spectrum ahead, one as demanding of change on me as it was on them as children. And for that, I thank God for the opportunity to be a father and this rewarding journey.

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Magic Discovered In Small Town

Apalachicola, Florida is either in the middle of nowhere or the center of the universe depending on who is doing the talking.

“There is magic in this town,” says the man, his gravel-voice resonating inside the four walls of the 100-year old brick building.

“I don’t know why, but it keeps calling me back.”

I’m standing inside a small room filled with tools, spare bicycle parts, and a man who can’t get the tiny panhandle fishing town out of his heart. With a population of an average family short of 2,300, making a living with a bike shop could be considered a long shot. For many, their regular work transportation is rhythmically bumping up against the wooden docks a few hundred yards to the east.

Apalachicola is one of those special places in the world where you can sit in a wooden chair eating oysters confidently knowing they were recently in the water you are staring across.

My new friend’s soul is as colorful as a tie-dye t-shirt. As a wanderer, he biked across the country several times, both east to west and north to south. He also paddled a canoe along the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific coastline. One of those trips included a stop in Apalachicola.

I look around the room and ask the obvious, wondering about how he came to learn to work on bikes.

“When I was about nine or ten my dad bought me a starter set of Craftsman tools, probably more than anything else to keep me out of his.”

A smile as warm as a humid bay breeze washes through his voice.

“I’d take my bike apart trying to figure out how it worked. After I put the thing back together my dad would then take it to the local bike shop to get it running again.”

One small toolbox led to a life that included working on yachts in the Caribbean, taking mechanical jobs in Alaska, and learning to fix about anything that could break. An artist with his tools, so to say.

But in a remarkable twist, the gift led him to create art from spare bicycle parts laying around his shop in a town that captured his heart.

The ground around the storm-worn red brick building is populated with animated sculptures, some whimsical, others as curious as to the materials used to create them. A giant sphere, much like an oversized rubber band ball, sits in the sun, created with thousands of recycled bicycle tubes. Nearby a large hexagon shape, one similar to found playgrounds years ago, is built from old bicycle rims.

His modest ego, as flat as the panhandle itself, points to a framed paper certificate on the wall.

“Yeah, the city even once gave me an award for the art out there,” he says.

A room fan hums in the background as I read the proclamation.

And it is then I realize he is unknowingly a part of the magic in the small town. And he is finally home.

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Marsh Provides New Reflection

Hindsight is a remarkable thing – a moment of clarity that can only come from a different point of view.

This came to me while riding my bike along a wooded marsh trail along the east coast. But the reference was not to choices in life, but rather how differently my eyes interpreted my surroundings backtracking along the same trail. Even though I was in the same state, same town, and even the same GPS coordinates, my perceptions of my surroundings dramatically changed.

On one stretch, crossing a wooden bridge through a lush green marsh, a sun-bleached and decaying cypress tree lay fallen half in the water. As I approached, the silhouette gave the appearance of a bony skeletal hand reaching upwards out of the water. The light pouring from behind added an element of harsh starkness catapulting the image from all other surroundings. My bike wheels came to a stop to admire emotive Mother Nature-created sculpture.

Ten minutes later, backtracking the same trail, the arresting image didn’t even catch my attention. Instead this time the sculpture faded into the background of trees draping Spanish Moss down into the grass below, colorful finches darting around branches, and long reeds of grass slowing dancing in unison in the coastal breeze.

Pausing again I found myself realizing I had been there before – not the stretch of trail, but when reflecting on moments in life and seeing items and events in different ways.

Hindsight is not always about being right or wrong, but more about having the clarity to see the same objects or events from a different perspective.

I have crossed this figurative bridge many times in my life. Evolving goals, values, and behaviors become fluid as we mature. As a teenager, an attention-getting car with a big V-8 motor and loud tailpipes consumed my brain time. But today, a car that starts each day is safer than average in an accident, and I don’t need to worry about how much gas it consumes represents my current values.

In life, I have seen the same arch of life play out. My younger self thought to have the right house, in the right neighborhood, and the right clothes were the image a successful adult would project. But I was wrong. Today I realize a successful adult lives a life of loving and respectful family and friends, does not fall trap to the material game of who-dies-with-the-most-toys-when-they- die game, and can find time to read a good book now and then.

Along the way – or my trail of life – the sun moved across my shoulders and allowing me to view the world from a different point of view. Not right or wrong, but simply different. Today I see the world through a different set of eyes – as different as backtracking across the wooden bridge through the coastal marsh.

Truth is life is an evolving experiment. And while we are naturally encouraged to always be moving forward, a little backtracking can prove both rewarding and revealing.

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Giants Walk Among Us Each Day

This week the local Rotary Club held a program honoring and celebrating military services contributed by attendees.

On any other Wednesday, the person sitting next to you might be Bob or maybe Charles. In Rotary, the tradition is to only refer to attendees by their first names, wash references of occupation aside, and focus on coming together on behalf of the community. But on this day, a special brethren of the club stepped out of the shadows into the light of the moment.

Veterans come in all shapes and sizes. They also come from different branches, hometowns, and live in different neighborhoods. But the one commonality, regardless of their age, is a brother and sisterhood of having served our nation.

During the program a member stood behind the podium calling out the names attendees, asking them to rise and be recognized. As they rose, the speaker shared a brief bio of the individual’s branch, rank, theaters of service, and years of service. And with each, those in attendance offered their respect through applause.

I found a powerful humility in each as they stood. Until then I might have known each as a member having shared a table with dozens of times, casually speaking about everything from road construction to baseball scores from the night before.

But on this day, I met someone much different.

These moments are odd, almost like glancing at a well-worn book cover, recognizing the title, and telling yourself you know the story contained inside. But in reality, you don’t.

Veterans, for the most part, consider their service a contribution – a personal continuation in the line of millions who came before them – and then modestly go on in life. Some are doctors, other lawyers. Another owns a small local business, another the editor of a local newspaper. And while each leads an individual life, the one thing you won’t hear cheaply dropped in conversation like a celebrity’s name, are references to their service. To do so would be considered disrespectful to those who came before them as well as to the spirit of those who tragically did not return.

Let me tell you what I saw in that room this week.

A man who came ashore Iwo Jima in 1945 with 3,600 men, he one of only 800 to survive. Imagine what his gentle eyes witnessed.

Or another as the speaker told of how the man flew nearly 150 missions over Vietnam in the fabled F-4 Phantom II – a tremendous number over incredibly hostile skies.

Or another comparatively younger man who stood up as the speaker told of life-threatening injuries received during his service in the Middle East.

Or a woman who served as  JAG officer in the Navy, working with captured prisoners during the Iraqi War, working to ensure justice proceeded fairly.

I lost count of how many stood up, each story marking time like news clips in time.

On this Memorial Day, we owe them and those who did not return our deepest respect for their service and sacrifices.

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Manual Transmissions Shift Into Memories

“The young man outside said your car won’t start.”

I’m sitting in the lobby of a local carwash. My car, as far as I know, is on good behavior as of late.

“Did he push in the clutch?”

A knowing look washes over the manager’s face.

We walk outside. He climbs in, pushes the clutch and a throaty rumble belches out of the exhaust.

“You know,” he says, “these have to be the best anti-theft devices. Young people don’t have a clue how to drive them.”

We both laugh knowing we are among the keepers of a lost art – those who know how to perform this mechanical task in a world managed by computers.

For most of us today the manual transmission is a throwback in time. Our memories conjure up deep memories of the first time we found ourselves sitting behind the steering wheel, terrified how we could ever tame the bucking beast of metal under our control. Ask anyone about their first experience learning to drive a manual transmission and stories will flow flooded with passions generally reserved for first loves.

Three-on-the-trees, farm roads with grandpa, or the terror they felt when a red light stopped them on a hill, sure they’d roll into the car behind them.

I feel in love with a blue 1975 Datsun 280 Z parked alongside the road while in high school. Love at first sight. Beautiful, graceful lines, an engine that purred like a sewing machine, and strange stick poking up from between the two black seats. Sexy, exotic, and mysterious all presented in one stunning package.

She was everything I ever wanted but didn’t know I ever wanted. But she was also out of reach as if she spoke a foreign language. But I was not to let the communication barrier keep us apart.

Getting back into my hunkering V8 muscle car, I drove across town at 7 miles per gallon.

I confessed my love to a friend outside his house, begging him to teach me to speak the unknown language separating me from my new love.

“It’s easy,” he said, “let’s hop in my car and I’ll teach you.”

I remember that dark night, learning how to press and depress the clutch. Flat surfaces, hills, downshifting to brake, we practiced for hours.

The next day, armed with my new language skills, I returned to the side of the road to court my new love. We married.

For the next 150,000 miles, we traveled long road trips across the country, camped on the beaches, took mountainous roads a bit too fast, and never looked back.

The day we parted was one of the most difficult days of my life. I remember standing in my driveway with a roll of cash wrapped in a rubber band in my hand and my love leaving with another man. A tear or two might or might not have been present.

But to this day, rarely do I fire up my car, depress the clutch, and not think of her.

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Moms Are Forever With Us


Odds are you never met my mother.

Since her passing when I was a teenager, time has slow-dripped my understanding of how a mother’s influence can last a lifetime – seeping into the most mundane or difficult decisions, how we view the world and those around us, and playing the role of an endless reservoir of strength when life deals us an unexpected blow.

Even in her passing, I could never have made this journey through life without her.

My mother never laughed at anyone as hard as she laughed at herself – her humility wouldn’t have it any other way. For her, laughter was the soundtrack of life. And to her, when she found herself the center of the humor, all the better.

Humility was her secret. Never was she better than anyone else, never was she mean to another, and never was she unable to laugh at herself.

One of her favorite stories was visiting an elementary school in the town where we’d recently moved. Dressed in her Sunday best, she walked the entire school, met with teachers and administrators, only to later discover she’d also worn a red plastic toy airplane propeller hanging from the seat of her yellow linen dress.

Or the time she attended her first professional football game and, looking up at the scoreboard, turned to my dad and suggested they get some of those ‘balloons for 29 cents’ advertised to take home to my brother and me. Long after my Dad explained what she was reading indicated the football team had the ‘ball on the 29’, she always laughed the hardest when the story was retold, flashing her genuine and disarming smile.

Life was too short not to learn to laugh at yourself, she’d say.

But beyond the sparks emanating from her blue-green eyes, she preached compassion, understanding, and a perspective only a difficult life can teach someone. Raised on another continent in another time, living and raising a family in the safe and comparatively comfortable environment of a modest American suburb never diluted the roots of her childhood. While she was living the American Dream she’d heard whispers of while a small child, she never forgot the lessons learned of being the rich you appreciate when you have nothing at all.

If asked, I’ll confess the good things in my heart are a result of a seed being planted by my mother. The rest, well, those are on me and me alone. I truly believe this.

Like I said, my Mom preached life was too short not to learn to laugh at yourself. Ultimately, she was right about the timeline God had for her – taking her while as my brother and I crossed into double-digits. But the reality is, she never left us – and never will. Because each day we face the world, we see it through a lens she created. And for us, that is the greatest gift anyone could ever give to us.

Happy Mothers Day, Mom.

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