Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Return to center

It's amazing how we can go through life, accomplishing so much, filling our lives, doing more, and even more, and even more. It's amazing how from the outside our lives can appear so complete, so right, so perfect. Yes, I am talking about my life. But yes, I am also asking you to ponder your life. Gandhi said "your life is your story."

Is your life, in all aspects (mind, body, spirit and heart) all you want it to be?

For me, I'm realizing i've been feeling a little off center. I'm also realizing the importance of remaining centered with a loving heart as I continue my work in animal rescue/animal welfare. There's an incredibly rewarding and heart-warming side to the work we do. There are also harsh realities, politics, and conflicts that can be distracting and disheartening. About fifteen years ago when I lived in St. Louis, Missouri I started taking aikido classes. I loved the holistic approach and the teaching of aikido not as a martial art, but as a way of life. This morning I find myself needing to find a way back to center. This morning I am considering returning to the path of Aikido. Aikido is a Budo (a martial art) created by Morihei Ueshiba. The following is from the Aikido of Minnesota website.

A pure budo comes with the unification of technique, body and heart. The budo, which will manifest itself, does not depend upon the technique, but rather upon the heart of the practitioner. The aim of Aikido is a kindness of heart expressed through this spirit of budo.

Here are some thoughts on the spirit of Aikido from the Aikido of Minnesota website:

Aiki is love.

Budo is the path of the warrior. Combined with the spirit of heaven and earth in your heart, you can fulfill your life's destiny with unconditional love for everything.

Aiki seeks to skillfully strike down the ego and inherent insincerity in battling an enemy. Aiki is the path of forgiveness and enlightenment. The martial techniques provide discipline for the journey of uniting the spirit and the body through channeling the laws of heaven.

The goal of Aikido training is not perfection of a step or skill, but rather improving one's character according to the rules of nature. One becomes "resilient" inside yet this strength is expressed softly. Movements found in nature are efficient, rational, and soft, while the center is immovable, firm, and stable. This principal of a firm center is universally consistent -- and must be true for each person. The culmination of Aikido is expressed by aligning one's center with the center expressed throughout nature.

At the heart of Aikido is the Eastern concept of Ki --the universal creative principle. Aikido seeks to unite this universal Ki with the Ki (life force or breath) found within each person. Literally, Aikido translates as "the way of harmony with Ki".

There are many paths that can lead us to our center. There are many paths that can help ground us. It's different for each and every one of us. I'm not exactly sure which one I will take. I begin today by simply noticing that my roots need watering. If my life is my story, there is work I must to do to nurture ... mind, body, spirit, heart. All are essential.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The recent death of my good friend Elaine has shaken the ground I walk on. The ripple effects have been far-reaching as tentacles of new perspectives reach deep inside of me and branch outwards ending in questions, more questions, and even more questions. What once seemed clear is now a blur. What I once took for granted, I no longer take for granted.

I am haunted by how I postponed our last two get togethers because I had too much going on in my life. I am haunted by how I never returned her last phone call to me telling myself I would return her call as soon as this event passed, or when I got back from my business trip, and when things slowed down just a little for me. I am haunted by the ever loving, ever gentle, ever understanding voice of Elaine as she said “I miss you and I would like to see you.”

Yes, I am passionate about the work I’m doing with animal rescue, Pet Haven, and starting a coalition. That won’t change. What will change is how it fits into my life and how I balance my life and shift perspective. What will change, is taking time for me, my partner, my family, my animals, my friends.

I stand here, looking upwards at a tree in my backyard, the branches bare as they await spring. Soon leaves will fill the branches. To my right is a dead tree stump. One will come to life. The other will not. I was too busy weeks ago to even notice the difference.

We don’t know when it will be our time to go. What we do know is that we have a choice every moment of our lives. In the pursuit of ideals and the busyness of life, I lost sight of a precious friend. I “assumed” she would be around for years to come. I “assumed” she would always be there.

Death shakes us. Death wakes us up. Death has a painful, honest way of changing the lens from which we see.

I will shift perspective and honor the memory of my beloved friend Elaine who will forever be in my heart.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Honoring my friend

Last fall my partner and I went to hear Mary Oliver read at the State Theatre with Elaine and her partner. This morning I picked up one of Mary Oliver's books and read a poem "Why I wake Early" ... Elaine's love and appreciation of nature filled her days and filled her art. As I read Mary Oliver's poem this morning and notice the lilac buds outside the window of my writing room budding I can feel Elaine's presence. With Elaine's spirit in my heart, I begin my day in the same way Elaine always began her days..... with love, appreciation, gratitude, happiness and kindness.

Why I wake Early

Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and the crotchety -

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light --
good morning, good morning, good morning.

What, how, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.

Friday, April 17, 2009

At peace ....

Through Ahnung's blog posting I shared my sadness of hearing my dear friend Elaine was dying. On Monday when I arrived in San Diego for business I learned she was dying and had a week maybe two at most to live. I prayed I would have a chance to say goodbye in person. This morning as I get ready to head to the airport to catch my flight back to Minneapolis an email came through from her beloved partner:

"This morning at 5 am, our beautiful Elaine's spirit left her body and flew away. After giving us the gift of these last few days of love and goodbyes, it was the most gentle and peaceful parting

This has been a hard week for me being away from home and not having a chance to say goodbye to my dear friend. My only consolation is knowing that she is no longer in any pain and her spirit has been set free. My heart aches for all that could've been and my heart aches for her partner and her family. We have lost a beautiful, creative, loving spirit .... I know her spirit will always remain with me and in my heart and I will cherish the memory of our last meeting where I sat across from her at Black Dog Cafe and her eyes were glowing ... chemo and all that cancer brings to ravage one's body wasn't enough to keep the love and life out of Elaine.

I love you Elaine and I will miss you. I feel you in my heart and with every bird I see I will know you are with us.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Animal Assisted Intervention and Education

Today at my studio, Stray Dog Adventures, we hosted the Animal Assisted Intervention and Education training. The training was a collaborative effort of 3 groups: Pet Haven, A Rotta Love Plus and The Lab of St. Paul Public Schools. What a beautiful morning to host an event that brought together 40+ people from our community who have a desire to learn more about how animals can help in the healing work with at-risk youth at The Lab.

We had some wonderful guest presenters including Jane Hunt of Partners for Violence Prevention who spoke about the work she has been doing for many years partnering with animals to help in the healing of wounded human spirits. Other speakers included Becky (a Delta Society therapy dog trainer) who spoke to us about the difference between animal assisted activities, animal assisted intervention and animal assisted therapy; Mary Tinucci, program coordinator, who described The Lab, its mission and the potential volunteer opportunities for CGC (Canine Good Citizens), therapy dogs and their humans, to work with at-risk youth at the Lab; Kellie Dillner (education coordinator for A Rotta Love) discussed how-to facilitate a group and commandments for handling dogs in a group; Karen (Paws for Peace) and her dog Julin shared specific stories of how she and Julin have worked with juvenile detention and have partnered with Jane Hunt of Partners for Violence Prevention; and Marilou (Pet Haven) shared how Ahnung has been volunteering and working with at-risk youth at The Lab.

I think what was most exciting about today was not only the huge turnout on a beautiful spring-like Saturday morning (when there were obviously a million other things one could do on a such a gorgeous morning!) but the bringing together of like-minded, kindred spirit, both at an individual level but also an organizational level. This was not only a tremendous opportunity for us to educate ourselves about Animal Assisted Intervention and education, but a chance for us to network with others in the community. The turnout was awesome and we hopefully will have a lot of new volunteers who will be signing up to help at-risk youth this fall at The Lab!

Ahnung was of course happy to welcome everyone into the studio. As we were setting up the space for the training this morning she did a fine job supervising us! A very special thanks to Kellie, education coordinator of A Rotta Love who did a phenomenal job in pulling so much of this together!

After everyone left, Ahnung got to hang out with her pal Riley (a foster dog with Pet Haven). Be sure to check out Ahnung's blog from today ... she posted photos of them with their bunny ears and would like to wish everyone a Happy Easter!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Anything is possible ....

I returned a few days ago from my trip to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah. My first trip out there was in June 2007 for a 10 day workshop on "How to Start an Animal Sanctuary." I left there with a feeling, that "YES" anything is possible. A group of friends (now referred to as the "founders") began with a dream .... 25 years later they have created what many of us can only imagine. I had the chance to get to know Faith Maloney (one of the founders) a couple years ago on my first trip out to Best Friends. She embodies for me what Best Friends represents ... kindness, compassion, vision, creativity and working collaboratively and sharing resources and ideas. Several of us representing four different organizations that are part of a new animal welfare coalition (Minnesota Partnership for Animal Welfare, visited Best Friends this past week. Faith was our host on this trip. I felt like I was infused with a major dose of inspiration and hope ... i think it was the combination of simply being at Best Friends (30,000+ acres of absolute magical, mystical awe!) where almost 2,000 animals are being cared for (many of whom would not have a chance elsewhere) ... and being around Faith who is inspiring, loving, compassionate and visionary.

I left Best Friends with a renewed sense that anything, yes anything is absolutely possible. I believe that our community here in Minnesota can come together to create something as magnificent and magical as what Best Friends has created in the middle of a desert. I believe Minnesota needs a place of refuge especially with the harsh winters we have. I believe we will some day have a place that will bring us together as a community, working with kindness and compassion, for both animals and humans.

Here are just a few of the photos I took from our last trip. For all my photos you can visit my flickr site.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Heading back to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary

Almost two years ago I went out to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to attend a 10-day workshop on How to start a sanctuary. Those 10 days were transforming for me as I was just getting into the world of animal rescue/animal welfare with Pet Haven. I believe anything is possible if we can stay focused on a shared vision, and we commit to working together in a positive, collaborative and respectful manner. Earlier this week we had a kick off meeting for a brand new coalition being formed in Minnesota. The initial members have already come up with a name! ... Minnesota Partnership for Animal Welfare ( Many thanks to Chuck and Don's for securing the domain for us and paying for the hosting of our brand new site! Dana of Chuck and Don's did not waste any time. We decided on a name at our first meeting and by 6 am the following morning she had secured the domain! Stay tuned as we work on designing and adding content to the site.

The initial members of the coalition consist of rescues, shelters, government agencies and business ... we ALL have to work together if we are to eliminate or reduce the need to euthanize adoptable dogs and cats due to overpopulation.

Today, five of us representing various organizations from the coalition are heading out to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for a day and a half meeting .. a working session to learn more about coalition building. This has been my dream for over a year now. There have been times I have been discouraged by the politics and attacks I have seen transpire in the animal welfare community. The truth, however, is I believe we all want the same thing. The approach the new coalition will take is one of positive collaboration and building on common ground. Our first meeting earlier this week confirmed for me that we are truly ready to set aside our own agenda and focus on working together to make our a world a better place for animals and people ...

If you live in the Minnesota area and would like to learn more about the coalition you can contact me at We will be having an informational session on Saturday, May 9th at noon. For more info visit