The Dog I Never Knew I Needed

Our dog, Lucky, was diagnosed with lymphoma about the same time I started my weekly blog post. Lucky was taking steroids and other medications to reduce the size of his lymph nodes and provide him comfort. Some days he was full of energy. There would be a pep in his step. The medications extended his time with us by 3 months. Our family cherished that extra time. We showered him with love and all the treats his heart desired. He had the full run of the house and let me be perfectly honest, the rules did not apply to him. 

The week after Lucky passed, I shared how he became part of our family. He left an imprint on my heart that will last forever. Last week was the one year anniversary of his passing. I decided to share this post again in honor of my faithful and loyal friend. Well, I changed it a bit, but my love and gratitude for Lucky remain intact:

One afternoon, I got a call from Todd. He told me he was bringing a guest home for dinner. This brought on a mini panic attack. Our house was not “company ready”, and I didn’t have anything prepared to serve for dinner. Todd told me not to worry about anything. When Todd arrived home that night, he brought a Pitbull puppy along with him. Todd also unloaded a dog crate filled with all the things a puppy needs. He also handed me the receipt for a hefty vet bill. I may have lost my cool. (I did not have thought-work back in the day.) I could not believe he would bring a Pitbull to our home. Lucky, as he called him, had been hit by a car on the streets of South Los Angeles. Todd said he could not leave him there. He scooped Lucky up and took him to the vet for assessment. Lucky was very thin and had open wounds on his back. The injuries were sustained when he was hit by the car. He was lucky to be alive, get medical care, and have Todd bring him home.

My mind went straight to doom and gloom. I was already caring for a puppy, Coco. We also had a Red-tail boa constrictor. Oh, and two young children. This is crazy, I thought. I told Todd, “You have to choose between the snake and the Pitbull. I will not have two things that can eat my children in this house!” Pitbulls are not often painted in a good light, and most stories I heard were not good. Lucky had already stolen Todd’s heart in a way that the snake never would. The next day, Todd went to a pet store with the snake and got her re-homed. I was so happy. I never liked having a snake in the house. YES! I might like this dog after all.

The first year was tough. I was concerned about Emily being safe. Emily does not walk and gets around by crawling on the floor. I worried Lucky may see her as a threat and harm her. I also had concerns about Lucky hurting Coco. Both were concerns that never came to pass. Lucky, a gentle giant, quickly learned that Coco was the boss in this house. She was the Alpha, and she let him know. Over the years, she took a chunk out of each of his ears. Not once, but twice. It was a bloody mess both times, but Lucky never fought back. He was never aggressive with any of us. He was always gentle and loving.

For 14 years, Lucky added joy and love to our home. He was never a one-person dog but loved being around everyone in his pack, even Coco. Lucky enjoyed his bath and would climb into the tub for me without any resistance. He was not a fan of being alone and let everyone know. Separation from us, even if only by a door, would upset him. If none of us were home by sunset, Lucky would cry until we arrived. That boy was a big, sensitive baby. He had a gift for reading my emotions. If he thought I was down, he would stay close to me. If anyone in the house raised their voice, he would become protective. Lucky gave me comfort and support. I felt safe and secure when he was with me. He supported me emotionally during a difficult season in my life. I am full of gratitude that he was there for me. You see, it is me and not him, that was the lucky one.

In December 2020, Lucky was diagnosed with lymphoma. Lucky took his last breath on February 28, 2021. He was at home and surrounded by his pack. It has been one year since he passed, and I still miss him tremendously. I always say, “Lucky was the dog I never knew I needed.” Thankfully, God knew differently. 

Sorting the Pieces

Photo by Magda Ehlers 

Imagine a large granite table with four different puzzles on it. Each is 1,000 pieces, and every puzzle is unique. Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to complete the puzzles. There is ample time to finish the task, and you enjoy solving puzzles. You accept the challenge with excitement and enthusiasm.

As you sit down to get started, you realize something is not quite right. There are four puzzles, but there is only one box containing puzzle pieces. Ah, the catch. All the pieces to each puzzle are in the same box. There is only one box of pieces! How the heck is this going to work? You keep pulling out pieces, but you cannot figure it out. This seems impossible, and this is how I have been describing the past two weeks.

Todd and I want to camp with Emily. We want to utilize and enjoy the trailer we purchased last year. Our goal is to camp more as a family. Emily thrives when we are camping. She loves watching The Wiggles in the trailer. Her bed is cozy, comfortable, and most importantly, mom and dad are close to her at all times. The problem is we are having trouble lifting Emily into Todd’s truck. Getting her out of the truck is manageable, but loading her into the truck is a challenge. It is also something that cannot be done safely. We have been researching options to modify his truck. The best option would be to add an auto-access seat similar to the one in my Mercedes. (Shhh, we know my car is a Toyota Sienna van, but she doesn’t.)

Todd and I got an estimate to get the seat installed. This was easier to get than we thought it would be. The price, on the other hand, is a tough pill to swallow. We are working to get assistance with funding the seat. I was given a list of letters, records, and assessments that must be completed. I have spent hours working to get a denial of coverage letter from our medical insurance. I need medical records from each of Emily’s doctors and specialists. Emily must have a nurse evaluation through our regional center. The adaptation is not cheap, and due diligence must be done. I understand that. The main issue or obstacle is Emily’s new caseworker. While nice, he doesn’t seem to have a clue about what he is doing. He is new to this job and it shows. I am working on being patient, but patience doesn’t come naturally to me.

Emily will also age out of public school in June. Well, actually in August, but we have to find out if the district will allow her to attend ESY (Extended School Year), aka summer school. We must complete her EXIT IEP, and find an adult daycare program. I presumed we would just continue at AbilityFirst and did not think about the process. Her caseworker, the new and inexperienced one, gave me some options for three adult daycare programs. AbilityFirst was not on the list. My heart sank a bit. I began researching the choices provided. I made it clear to the caseworker that we wanted AbilityFirst as an option.

One of the programs is permanently closed. Shouldn’t he know this? The other two programs are for medically fragile adults. Have you seen Emily? She is a lot of things, but medically fragile is not one of them. Her teacher recently told me that Emily is the healthiest student she has encountered in her years working in special education. When Emily was in pre-school, she was the first student in Ms. Tracy’s class to ever get perfect attendance…I mean EVER. The entire process of coordinating the transition from school to an adult day program feels difficult and overwhelming. I keep thinking: it shouldn’t feel so hard. It should be easy. (Oh, the slippery slope of should.)

The remaining puzzles are a tale of insurance obstacles and authorizations for me and Emily. I had an EKG in January. Apparently, the lab results were lost, and now possibly found. EMRs (Electronic Medical Records) that the cardiologist states he sent to my PCP have not been received. My PCP doesn’t seem to have access to the EMR system. Now we wait for a fax or snail mail. I teased the nurse that I could die of a heart attack waiting for the results. I have found a keen sense of humor is a key skill to keep sharp and ready to practice.

Emily has authorizations for an ultrasound, lab work, and the geneticist. None of these appointments or labs have been done. Well, we tried the ultrasound and that was unsuccessful. A messy mix that included a squirming, non-cooperative patient, and a technician that was not experienced working with adults like Emily. Blood work has not been successful. Well, I have been too afraid to try after the epic disaster of the ultrasound visit. We are making progress on our referral to the geneticist.  I decided I would wait for this appointment and then all lab requests could be attempted at the same time. There are more obstacles to clear, steer, and jump over, but I can see success on the horizon.

I hesitated to write this post. I questioned if there was value in sharing these struggles and my inability to cope with them with grace. I experienced a moment of clarity last Tuesday in the DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) class I am taking through We Are Brave Together. The therapist, Matt Metcalf, discussed that physical pain, among other things, can impact our ability to regulate our emotions. While trying to navigate all the obstacles over the past few weeks, I have been in physical discomfort. It has been cold here and my symptoms due to Raynaud’s Syndrome have increased. My hands, but mostly my feet, have been numb and uncomfortably cold. I just can’t seem to get or keep them warm. I have also had increased pain in my right foot due to other issues. My ability to regulate my emotions and walk the middle path has been tested, and I do not think I am passing.

The overwhelm I have been experiencing is real. I am not a unicorn. Parents caring for children with complex needs are used to fighting. They are used to fighting for services, procedures, equipment, and testing, along with a host of other things. Many parents struggle with their own physical pain and medical complications, while also caring for a child with disabilities. Most of the time we don’t talk about it. We don’t share the struggles. We endure in silence and that is unfortunate. In sharing our journey, the highs and the lows, we support others on a parallel path. They can be comforted that there are others out there that get it. Parents that understand. It is also a way to create conversations for change. When we know what the obstacles are, we can remove them for those that come behind us. Their path can be made a little straighter.

I had to take a moment this weekend to pause and step back. I told my accountability group that I was going to sit down with the box of puzzle pieces and start methodically sorting them. Once I have the pieces for each puzzle sorted, I can begin to put the puzzles together one at a time. There is time for these tasks to be completed and nothing is life-threatening. Things will happen at perfect timing and all things will work out. We will find a suitable program for Emily once she ages out of school. We will get an adaptive seat in Todd’s truck and travel as a family in the future. Eventually, both of our medical tests will happen. If we are meant to get answers, we will.

I am grateful that I have the skills to make the calls. I can complete the forms. The ability to be both persistent and kind is a skill I can activate. Generally, I communicate effectively. I am not patient, but I am developing the practice. Once I get the pieces sorted, I will confidently solve each puzzle.

Unexpected JOY in a Reluctant YES

This is going to be a weird weekend, I thought. There aren’t any football games this weekend. What will Emily and I do to occupy our day? For the past twenty-plus weeks, Emily and I have watched football. Saturdays have been a sprinkling of college games (this is the first year we have watched them). On Sundays, I began to plan our day around NFL games. We usually watch football, but not with the regularity and dedication of this last season. Why was this year different? Skin in the games? Possibly. I just know that we watched and now we are a little disappointed the season if over.

In August, my dear friend (and awesome accountability partner) invited me to join a football pool. I am not sure if it is called a pool, but let’s just use the term. (Please reach out to me to enlighten me on the correct terminology. I am a novice at all of this football stuff.) Koko needed at least 30 participants willing to give her $25 to create decent payouts. I thought 30 people seemed impossible to get.

“What do I have to do?” I asked.

Koko explained the basics of the game: “Each week, I will email out a list of all NFL games that will be played. There will also be five or six random college games included. You pick the winners of each game and guess the total points on a game as a tiebreaker. The top three each week get money. The amount will depend on the number of participants.”  She added more information about the regular season and the playoffs. After she said we had to pick the winners of all NFL games and college games, I stopped listening. I had no intention of committing. This sounded overwhelming and complicated. We ended the conversation with me committed to thinking about it. Truth be told, in my mind, it was a no.

Why was I unwilling to give it a try? It wasn’t a substantial amount of money. There was a time in our lives when spending $25 on something nonessential would not even be a possibility. I can always quit if I get overwhelmed or it is too difficult to keep up. You are not a quitter anymore, remember? My inner chatter continued for a day or so, as I pondered committing to one more thing in my life.

It wasn’t long before Koko reached out to our accountability group. This time she expressed she was close to having enough people but needed a few more to commit. Just knowing she was close to reaching her goal pushed me to say yes. I, along with a couple others in our accountability group, decided to join. We invested our money and waited for instructions. By the end of that day, Koko not only met her initial number of 30 participants but exceeded it. By the time the games started, she had over 40.

I received email instructions for our first week picks. It outlined how much money the first, second, and third place winners would get each week. It highlighted the date and time our picks were due back. The details were all there. It included the games for the first week. It was an 8 x 10 sheet of paper of requests and decisions. My brain, once again, went into freak-out mode: This is a lot of games. This is going to take forever. Why did you commit to this? Where is Clemson? What the heck is a Razorback? What the hell were you thinking? You know nothing about football. This was a stupid idea. You do not have time for this.

My thoughts naturally lean toward “freak-out mode” with any decision I make (or don’t make). I am going out on a limb here, but I bet your mind goes to all the things that can go wrong. It throws shade at your choices and tries to deter you from trying something new or engaging in the unfamiliar. We are hardwired to stay in our comfort zone. Anything we pursue outside of the normal settings gets the mental chatter flowing and my chatter was in overdrive.

I would love to say I figured that it out like a boss and won first place, but that is not how it progressed. Next to the line that said “total points”, I put 1001. (I really did.) I also added a note in the margin, “I am supposed to guess the total number of points for all these games every week? This is ridiculous!” I scanned my answer sheet and emailed it back to Koko. A few minutes later, I got a phone call from Koko. (A text was not going to get the job done.) She explained that I was only guessing the total points for the Monday night game for the tiebreaker. Well, hell-o Operator. I told you that I knew nothing about football or this pool thing, but I managed to make it more difficult. I proceeded to give Koko a reasonable, yet highly unlikely, total number of points for the Monday night game.

The interesting thing was as the week’s progressed and each game was decided, my interest increased. It was exciting to watch the games. My energy and focus on what was happening increased. I started to learn some of the names of quarterbacks. I would complain about “bad calls” by the referees. Some of the calls would make me mad. I paid attention to news blurbs about players, team injuries, and that damn COVID thing. Who invited COVID to play anyway? I could not believe that I was enjoying this. Who am I?

I continued to add my commentaries and protests on each sheet I sent to Koko. I complained about not wanting to pick a winner for certain games. I spoke of decision fatigue or that I did not like the team I chose to win. I encouraged Koko and praised her for running this. It was hard work. She got my added chatter each week on my pick sheet. She got used to my added llama drama in the margins.

A few weeks into the season, Koko had to undergo emergency surgery. Justin and I agreed to collect and record the scores for one week. It took a lot of time and energy to coordinate and collect the data each week. (Full disclosure: Justin did all the heavy lifting. I merely hounded the crew to get their picks turned into us.) My appreciation for Koko’s skills at collecting and calculating everyone’s picks increased. I even started to keep my complaints and chatter inside of my head and not include it on my sheet. Koko had enough work and didn’t need my thoughts added to the mix.

I did not win “big money”. I did manage to get last place one week! I was proud of that win. I won 33 cents of the “last place buck”. Two others had done just a poorly at guessing as me. The truth is, we all were just guessing. Some of did educated guesses and others flipped a coin. When the final payouts were made, I collected close to $27. The investment and reward were about equal, but the real payoff was the amount of fun I had. Child-like fun. I enjoyed cheering on the team I picked each game. It was great to learn more about the game and the rules. I loved that there was a little friendly competition between my accountability group. I enjoyed the text threads we shared during the Sunday games. I loved these chats. Women talking football. My father-in-law started calling me during games to ask who I picked to win. Sometimes we were cheering for the same team and sometimes we weren’t. The short talks with him were a gift I never expected, and a memory I will have forever.

Saying YES to something I knew nothing about enriched my life. I gained both knowledge and appreciation for the game. Watching TV is something Emily and I do together. Football is something we both enjoy watching. That was a huge win. I loved that my boys would sometimes get caught up in the game, and we would all gather together in the living room. Those moments certainly made me happy. Football was also a way I could connect with my father-in-law. By saying yes, I created more JOY. I also added more connections to my life. Go ahead, say yes to something outside of your comfort zone. It may bring you more than you could ever imagine.

Koko and I in Las Vegas

Added commentary: This post drops on Tuesday at 11:11 am. Tuesday is also 2/22/22, which is said to be lucky. It is also Koko’s birthday. Happy birthday Koko! May the day and year be full of joy and luck.

A Letter of Gratitude to The Wiggles

Emily mesmerized at The Wiggles Live 2012

This morning Todd and I were trying to reset Emily’s FireTV. Nothing we did seemed to restore YouTube. We worked at it for what felt like hours, but it was only ten minutes. What are we going to do if we cannot get this fixed? How will we survive without The Wiggles? Todd and I realized we said WE. You see, for the past 23 years, The Wiggles have been part of our family. Our family has weathered many seasons, and The Wiggles have been by our side. Over the years, our family has grown and transformed. The Wiggles have too. From low-budget sets and plain colored polo shirts to fancy sets and location shoots. The costumes, once generic and basic, now pop. Each displays their names boldly printed across the front. (The Short family was not too keen on the new shirts, but we rolled with it.)

The Wiggles were there from the beginning. Justin danced and sang Hot Potatoes as I nursed Emily. Each morning started with an episode of The Wiggles before we headed out on our daily adventures. Each day was normal. Each day was typical. When Emily was three months old, we knew something was off. Emily would not coo or smile. Emily could not seem to hold her head up. She was not gaining weight and threw up most of what she took in nursing. As we began our journey of a not-so-typical life, The Wiggles came along for the ride. 

Anthony, Murray, Jeff, and Greg traveled with us via a portable DVD player to countless appointments and therapies. They were there when doctors thought Emily might have Cystic Fibrosis. They were there when she had MRIs, genetic testing, CAT scans, and blood draws. They were there when we were told that Emily probably has a genetic disorder, but we may never get a diagnosis. They came to each appointment and helped soothe Emily as she was poked and prodded. They calmed her when my love and touch were not enough. When Justin was restless and tired of spending many hours at appointments with his sister, they entertained and comforted him as well. Those dudes had my back.

When Emily began preschool, she would get easily overwhelmed. She would barely last an hour before I would get a call that she was inconsolable. Each day I would go pick her up. I planned each morning around the anticipation of that phone call. I did not dare try to go home. I traveled only a few miles from the school. I took a quick walk at Signal Hill Park or a fast Target or Trader Joe’s run. I never wandered far. When the call came (and it always did), I would go sweep her up and drive her home as she continued to scream the entire way. Once I got her into her room and played a Wiggles show, she would begin to relax. The repetitive music on a worn DVD was the only thing that would comfort her. 

One day the principal asked what calmed Emily down. I told him that the only thing that seemed to work was a quiet space and The Wiggles. The next day the principal showed up with a Pack-N-Play his daughter had outgrown, a DVD player, and a Wiggles DVD. He set everything up in a small room (well closet) adjacent to the main class area. When Emily got overstimulated and overwhelmed, the teacher was instructed to take Emily to the adjacent room. She plopped Emily into the Pack-N-Play, dimmed the lights, and turned on The Wiggles DVD. Something magical happened that day. I did not get a call. I got four hours of respite. I cry just thinking about the extra effort that the principal made to comfort Emily and help her adapt to school.

Eventually, Emily would make it through the day without a quiet room and a Wiggles DVD. She still required The Wiggles when we were driving. We used a portable DVD for years. When I bought a car with a DVD player, it was easier to bring them along. Once we arrived home, The Wiggles returned. When it was time to go to bed, they were the lullaby music that lulled her sleep (and they still do). The Wiggles have always been the one thing that would calm Emily and bring her to a happier emotional state. They are the soundtrack of the Short home.

As she grew, they were her friends. Her only friends. She interacted with the characters on television like they were right there with her. She would dance and smile as Captain Feathersword would say, “blow me down”, and fall to the ground. She laughed at Jeff falling asleep and everyone calling for him to wake up. She would groove to Do the Monkey and Hot Potato again, and again, and again. When Justin was off to sleepovers and playdates with his real-life friends, Emily’s friends were the ones inside the glowing box.

In 2012, the original Wiggles planned their farewell tour. They were playing at The Wiltern in Los Angeles. I wanted to take Emily, but I was not sure she would tolerate the clapping, the lights, the noise. She does not do well indoors and is easily overstimulated. My mom encouraged me to take her and thought Emily would love it. I explained to my mom that we did not have the money to buy tickets. I told her it would be a waste of money if we purchased the tickets and Emily could not tolerate it. Mom disagreed. She proceeded to order two tickets for the show.

It was a Sunday afternoon show. I drove nervously to the venue with Emily dressed up and looking adorable in her best dress. We parked on a side street in a sketchy area because I didn’t have extra money to park in the lot close to the theater. We walked several blocks to the theater. I fed Emily along the way so she would not be hungry. We entered the ballroom and presented our tickets to the staff. The kind staff member escorted us to the front of the theater. This could not be right. We bought the cheapest seats available (with a Groupon no less). Because Emily was in a wheelchair, we could not access the assigned seats, so to the front, we went. A few minutes later, the staff returned with a fold-up chair for me. Next to us were 3 young adults in wheelchairs with their parents. The other kids were verbal and insisted each was The Wiggles’ biggest fan. I smiled in agreement, but I knew Emily was their biggest fan.

As the house lights dimmed, my anxiety increased. “What if she screams? What if she can’t handle it? This was a bad idea? She has never done anything like this? I was crazy to bring her. How are we going to leave when she freaks out?”  As I concluded my mental beat down, I looked over at Emily. She was mesmerized. The music is playing. Kids are laughing and dancing. The curtain opens. Each of Emily’s friends begins to fill the stage. It was the most incredible thing to witness. She recognized each person as they appeared on stage. Her face expressed joy and delight. She did not exhibit fear or anxiety. Emily had watched The Wiggles on television for 12 years. Today she got to see them in person. Not only did they perform and captivate her attention for the full 90 minutes, but each one made their way to our section and introduced themselves and hugged Emily. They thanked her for coming to the show. My love for The Wiggles grew 10x seeing the love and kindness they showed my daughter that day. They saw her. The reality is not everyone does.

Almost ten years later, The Wiggles are still the soundtrack of our home. After Todd and I got the TV working this morning, the first video that came up on YouTube was The Wiggles Reunion concert from 2020. Todd and I both watched for a few minutes with Emily. The entire audience was Emily’s age. They were all dressed up as their favorite Wiggle. The crowd was going crazy and singing right along to every song. Truth be told, Todd and I were singing along as well. Todd said, “Look at the fans. They are all old. We should have been there. We are fans too.” 

At that moment, I knew he was right. For all the crap I sling at The Wiggles, they have always had our backs. They have been there for Emily, but they have been there for me too. I have depended on them to always be there for Emily. They have been her friend, her comforter, her sitter. They have never let us down. They stayed up all night with me when Emily was sick. They traveled with me to difficult appointments. They have entertained Emily when I am exhausted. They have kept her company when I have chores to do around the house. In fact, she is sitting on the floor watching them as I write on the sofa.

I want to extend my gratitude to The Wiggles. I want to thank them for continuing to make music and new shows. They continue to delight children young and old with your catchy, corny songs, which I will never forget. Thank you for seeing my daughter and her diverse peers. Thank you for being a friend to my Emily. This mom is forever grateful for your support and companionship on this unexpected journey and she also might be your biggest fan.

Celebrating Consistency and Growth

Photo by Miesha Maiden 

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my feet are smoother and healthier than ever after a full year of consistent pedicures. An unusual topic, and yet I am writing about them again. Well, not my smooth, tiny feet, but about consistency and growth. This week marks the first anniversary of my blog posts. I am proud of myself for consistently showing up week after week. I have kept this commitment to myself. I used to be a woman that honored commitments I made to others, but not always herself. If someone else was depending on me, then I showed up. The old me would quit on herself with regularity.

  • No one read my post: Quit
  • Too tired to write: Quit
  • Emily is sick: Quit
  • I was ill: Quit
  • We are going on vacation: Quit
  • Nothing to write about: Quit
  • I don’t feel motivated: Quit

You get the idea. I used to be a quitter. Especially when the only one who I was accountable to was myself. I did not see anything wrong with that. I was only letting myself down, and no one would know or care. The change happened when I realized I would know, and it mattered. I matter. Because it was important to me, I would prioritize getting it published.

When I committed to writing a blog, I told myself I would do it each week no matter what. My thought process was simple. I told myself, “Billie, you are the boss. Your boss expects you to post a piece of work every Tuesday at 11:11 am. Period.” It may sound funny, but I knew if my boss told me I had to do a post every week or would lose my job, you are damned sure I would have it done. (I hope my real boss doesn’t get any ideas.)

I have posted some content every single week. Not all of my posts have been literary masterpieces. To be very clear, none of them are. They have been a way to share tools to help others grow and learn. There have been stories of gratitude for loved ones. Some are honoring loved ones who have passed, and some are important in my life today. I have written about the struggles of isolation and caring for my disabled daughter. I have written about fading friendships, invitations that didn’t come, and managing stress. I have posted pieces on self-care and tools to reduce stress. Keys to handling the holidays without regret. The topics are wide and varied. 

When I started writing a year ago, I did not know where this adventure would lead. I was building a coaching business. I wanted to provide information to help other caregivers in the trenches. Women who may feel overwhelmed and lonely. Caregivers who are struggling. Some are barely hanging on by a thread. For many parents raising children (and adults) with disabilities, emotions vacillate between exhaustion and overwhelm. My intent was to reach these women and help show them how to care for themselves. Provide the reader with manageable, tiny action steps to add to their resource toolbox. I also wanted to share some of my experiences in the trenches. I want them to see there is light even in the darkest days. We, caregivers, are strong, valuable, capable, and tougher than our challenges and struggles.

I did not expect that a year of writing would teach me so much about myself. I discovered that I love to write. I forgot the joy that can be found in expressing my thoughts in written form. I uncovered memories of my parents and childhood that have been buried for years. I was delighted to share parts of my life. I was surprised and delighted at some of the memories that surfaced on this journey. I have overcome challenges in my marriage and raising a child with disabilities. As I recalled some things I have overcome, I realized I am a strong woman. I am sensitive, empathetic, and soft, but I am also a fighter, a fixer, and a problem solver. 

In celebration of a year of posts, I decided to create two lists. The first list is the top five blog posts of the past year. The ones that had the most views, likes, comments, and even a re-post, or two:

  1. Gratitude is a Practice
  2. The Lasso Way
  3. Golfer State of Mind
  4. Fasten Your Seatbelt
  5. Throw a Fish Some Flake

As more people find my website and my posts, I have had more interactions. Most of these posts, except for Fasten Your Seatbelt are more recent posts. Fasten Your Seatbelt was my first repost on findingcoopersvoice.com. It was such an exciting thrill to have something I wrote posted to another site.

My top five have some overlaps:

  1. You Always Have Something to Give
  2. When Gratitude Eludes You
  3. A Badass Woman I Called Mom
  4. Fasten Your Seatbelt
  5. Gratitude is a Practice

My favorites, except Fasten Your Seatbelt, are also recent posts. It is not because these posts got more views than earlier posts. My recent posts reflect my growth as a writer. When I started this blog in 2021, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just decided to write. I wanted to keep writing short and bite-sized. They conveyed a short message that did not expand and explore thoughts or concepts. By writing consistently, week after week, my skill is developing. It is reflected in my work. By consistently writing, I am getting better at it. I am not J.K. Rawlings or Jodi Picoult, but I am not measuring against anyone else but me. As I learn and grow, I am excited to see where my writing takes me in 2022.

I would love to know which post was your favorite or topics you would like me to write about in future posts. I appreciate the caregivers, readers, and friends who read my writing. I am honored and grateful that you show up each week.      

Gratitude is a Practice

According to Merriam-Webster, Gratitude is a noun. Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. Is gratitude just a noun? I have always thought about gratitude as an action. Something we do. It is something to be practiced like yoga and meditation. I am grateful I have added both of these habits into my life over the past few years. Both have enriched my life, but now back to gratitude.

Recently I was introduced to a man who is a World Ambassador for Gratitude and Gratitude Junkie, Chris Palmore. Chris is the CEO of Gratitude Space. He has devoted his life to exploring gratitude, practicing gratitude, defining gratitude, and just about any way to grow and expand gratitude practices globally. You might even say he is addicted to gratitude. He does call himself a Gratitude Junkie. Every day we hear of the devastation left in the wake of addiction to drugs, alcohol, and other harmful substances. If you are going to be hooked on something, gratitude is a healthier choice. Gratitude will positively impact your life, and the lives of those around you.

Chris recently released a new book about gratitude. My friend, mentor, and enthusiastic supporter, Bobby Kountz, encouraged me to get a copy and read it. He expressed that Chris was selling it for only .99 cents for his birthday. How cool is this? At the time, the book was released only on Kindle. I opened up Todd’s Amazon account. (I don’t have an Amazon account. I lost mine a few years ago, but that is a story for another post.) The book is titled The Mechanics of Gratitude. I decided at that moment to order 20 copies to give away. I sent them to my accountability partners, coworkers, and a few close friends that I know are readers. I was channeling my inner Oprah. You get a book, and you get a book. A book for everyone.

I ordered the books on December 30th. I sent the link to friends, but I didn’t start reading. I was in the middle of another book that I wanted to complete first. I set a goal to read 52 books in 2022, and I wanted The Mechanics of Gratitude to be one of them. For many, finishing 52 books in a year would be a walk in the park. For others,  it would be a lofty accomplishment. As a Mom, caregiver, and employee, I fall in the latter category. I was hopeful that my friends would accept the link and read it. Having read Chris’ book Dear 2020: Letters to a Year That Changed Everything, I knew the book would open the recipients to looking at gratitude through a fresh lens.

The next day I received a call from my dear friend and accountability partner, Patti. She called to tell me she had already finished the book. Patti expressed that she loved the book. It is a book she will add to the library of books she reads again. Well, this is high praise. Patti is an avid reader and life-long learner. She also has a strong and consistent daily gratitude practice. Patti practices gratitude as a verb, not a noun. This added to my anticipation and excitement. It was New Year’s Eve, and we had family plans tonight. My reading would have to wait.

New Year’s Day was packed with plans, and no reading was happening in the Short house. Once I got Emily tucked into bed, I settled in for a read. I cracked open my iPad and got after it. The Mechanics of Gratitude is different from Chris’ last book. This one is not a collection of letters or anthologies. While it includes quotes and stories told by Chris, the book is a deep dive study of gratitude. Chris goes below surface examples and definitions. It is a reference book on gratitude. A gratitude guidebook.

Chris writes: “I’ve spent a considerable amount of time reflecting on the mechanics of gratitude, and, as I experienced and understood it, it can be categorized in terms of how it is learned, felt, and expressed.” This is where the magic in this book resides. It is an in-depth journey into five categories of gratitude.

I consider myself someone who applies gratitude in my life daily. I have a solid gratitude practice. The Mechanics of Gratitude challenged me to explore and expand my practice. I notice I am more intentional. Always looking for ways to apply gratitude and find gratitude in any event or experience. It is a great way to challenge my brain to seek opportunities for growth in my practice.

The impact of this book will continue to influence my actions. As I write this, I am delighted and grateful that the book is now in print! Once I put this post to bed, I will head over to Todd’s Amazon account to purchase a copy. I want this book in my toolbox. Consider adding it to yours.

Note:  I want to extend gratitude to those that read my blog and take the time to leave a comment. The first 20 people to leave a comment, and a clap if you enjoyed this, I will send you a digital copy of The Mechanics of Gratitude. I will need your email address (you can follow my blog or send me a DM on Instagram). I extend this offer until my next post drops on 2/8/22 at 11:11 am PST. 

“No one ever became poor by giving.”- Anne Frank

Some Days Are Like That…

When my children were young, I would read to them every night. It was a great way to connect with my kids at the end of the day. I enjoyed revisiting books of my youth and was also introduced to new book series that Justin loved. One of our favorites was Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. If you have read the story, you know it is about a day in Alexander’s life that does not go smoothly. He falls asleep with gum in his mouth and wakes with it in his hair. He trips on a skateboard getting out of bed. He accidentally drops his sweater in the sink with the water running. He wants to move to Australia because he is convinced days like this do not happen there. His day proceeds to go downhill. Alexander can’t seem to catch a break. That night his mom explained that some days are like that, even in Australia. The point is he is not a unicorn. We all have days that are more challenging than others. No one is exempt from challenges and some days are harder than others.

This past Monday was one of those days. I was feeling accomplished to have completed my blog on Sunday. I was up before the sun to edit my writing. It was exciting to be using my new laptop in the comfort of the living room while the rest of the family slumbered. Ah, the joy of a peaceful morning. I did not have a mouse set up on my laptop. I was using my finger on the pad to move the cursor around. I have no idea how I did it, but I deleted my blog. I tried to Command Z. I tried all the undoing I could think of, but nothing brought my writing back. (I probably could not do that again if I tried, nor do I plan on doing it again.) I decided to look for the positive. Monday was Martin Luther King Day and I was off work. This gave me extra time to re-write the blog. Maybe the new blog would be better. 

Feeling a bit defeated, I decided to take a break and charge my laptop. I went to my room to get the charging cable. There it is on the floor broken into pieces! My sweet Ben had decided it would be a great chew toy. I can’t figure out how he reached it. I yell at Ben, knowing he has no idea what he did. How long is a dog’s memory? Longer than a goldfish and shorter than a cat’s? I digress. Rather than sitting around dwelling on the problem, I take the advice of Elizabeth Benton and start working on a solution. I logged into the Apple store (on my cell phone) and ordered a new charger for pick up at the closest store. Yes, I am solving problems. I got a confirmation email that reminded me to bring my government ID when I pick it up. I planned to send Justin and Emily to pick it up. Now what? I call the store and make arrangements for Justin to pick up the cable. I am slaying it.

While Justin and Emily are running errands for me, I take the time to get back to writing. Off to the office to work on the desktop. The mouse won’t connect. Is this happening? I restarted the computer. Breaking out my trusted cell phone, I look for solutions on Google and YouTube. I tried a few more things that didn’t work. Well, this debunks my quote: “All things are possible with God and Google or Yoda and YouTube.” I went into my room and put on a Pause Breathe Reflect meditation on Insight Timer. I was losing my cool and needed to take a break and gain some perspective. I must have dozed off. The next thing I hear is Emily screaming. Ah, back to reality. 

I unwrap my Apple package enthusiastically (like a child on Christmas morning). I get it unpackaged and realize I ordered the wrong charger. Running out of daylight, I decided that getting the correct cable had to wait until tomorrow. I open the iPad and get to work. I have a blog to write and a deadline to meet. I set the deadline. I know I could change it, but I have not missed one yet. I am committed to getting this blog done and scheduled to publish. It was not better than my first draft, but it was finished. I did not quit and faced each obstacle.

As I was journaling at the end of the day, I was filled with gratitude. I was grateful that I managed my thoughts. There was a time when a day like this would have had me crying on the sofa with popcorn, wine, and the remote control. I was grateful that I have learned that sometimes walking away from the problem and meditating is the most productive thing. I was grateful that tomorrow would be another day. I was grateful that I recalled a children’s book that reminded me that some days are like this…even in California.


Note: Thank you to the friends and family that suggested that I write about my mostly (because there is something GOOD in every day) terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. I appreciate your support. I am forever grateful that you take the time to read my posts and give me your thoughts. 

Apply Grace and Grit Liberally

Recently I created a short video for We Are Brave Together. The prompt was to share a piece of helpful advice for moms with children diagnosed with a disability. It was easy to talk about the two things that have helped me the most on my journey. I am talking about grit and grace. These two principles are critical in every area of my life. My marriage, personal goals, health, and raising children have all benefited from applying grit and grace liberally.

When you tell someone that grit and grace are critical, it can seem abstract or vague. What does that even mean? How do you explain it in a 60-second video? The answer is, not well. I gave an abbreviated application of these words. Today I want to explore these concepts further. I guess a good place to start is a simple definition of each term:

Grit: Courage and determination despite the difficulty of the situation. 

Navigating through obstacles with determination and perseverance is grit.

Grace: Approval or kindness shown. In Christianity, it is explained as showing kindness and favor that is undeserved (as in God’s blessings we do not deserve).

We can offer grace to others even if they may not deserve it. I am grateful for the grace others show me and I try to do the same. Life flows better with grace.

You may not know which one will fit the situation. I think it is best to have both available and ready to apply. This week I was making doctor’s appointments. I have been having some health issues and my primary doctor ordered exams. I called to set up the appointments and the receptionist told me that the earliest appointments were in March. I was not happy to hear that. My uncensored response was, “I could die of a heart attack before then.” Now, I do not think that is going to happen. Honesty, I was not proud of my response. Her response did not temper the conversation. She said, “that is what the emergency room is for.” Really? I thought preventative screening and exams were to prevent an emergency. 

I was not happy. I had two choices. 1. I could lose it and respond with anger (I really wanted to do this). 2. I could let it go and give her grace and let her response go. I chose the latter. Maybe she was having a bad day. I proceeded to be kind and request an earlier date if possible. We began to have a conversation. I was no longer the rude patient. Alice was no longer the flippant receptionist. As I softened my tone, she softened hers. We were able to get one exam done next week. The second exam is scheduled for March and I am on a call-back list for any cancellations. Waiting patiently to get these exams done, calling to check for cancellations (not waiting for a call from Alice), and pushing for a faster appointment will require a little grit. 

Most things require a bit of both grit and grace. Here are a few examples:

  • Slaying the day at work or home after a sleepless night caring for your loved one.
  • Forgiving your son for not moving the car on street sweeping and paying the ticket with gratitude. Thankfully, you have the money to pay the bill. (Recalling the days when you didn’t.)
  • Spending the day cleaning up repeated messes of bodily fluids (if you know, you know) and then having a Zoom call with your client in the evening.
  • Spending hours on the phone to get appointments made or services covered that your loved one is entitled to, but the system is not set up to make it easy.
  • Extending grace to family or friends that do not offer support. Accept that they may not know how to support so they simply retreat. 
  • Give yourself grace when you lose your patience with your loved one. This is a big one. We are not always going to show up as our best selves. We all have days and our job is tough. Give yourself grace. Apologize to your loved one. Move forward. 
  • Caregiving day after day. Showing up when you are tired, moody, frustrated, lonely, and any other emotion. The going is tough and you keep going. You don’t quit. That is grit.
  • When we advocate for our loved ones and look for ways to improve the world for them and others that follow. (You are gonna need some grit and also grace!)
  • Having grace when people say something that is offensive or rude because they just do not know any better. Finding ways to educate others takes grit.
  • Grace with your loved one that is testing your patience, your energy, your sleep. You are not always going to love how they show up, and that is okay. (This one is on here twice because it deserves repeating.)

I believe grace and grit work well together. When the going gets tough, add some grace. The grace will help you muster the grit you need to persevere. I know I can get through even my toughest days. How do I know? I have all the evidence in getting through every challenge I have faced. Grit is the courage to keep going no matter what. Grace gets me there from a place of gratitude. I will arrive much happier by activating grace than if I used only grit. I can achieve a task with grit alone but I may arrive bitchy, unforgiving, resentful.  If I utilize only grace, it will impede progress and growth. 

As you do this thing called life, I encourage you to practice using grit and grace every chance you get. The ride will be smoother and more productive. 

Consistency Over Intensity

As I write this, we are already a week into 2022. I am not someone who charges into the new year at warp speed. I like to ease into the year. I take time to reflect on the year that has gone by. I slowly assess what I accomplished in the previous year and what areas I want to develop in the future. I operate from a place of continuing at a steady and sustainable pace. I watch my social media feeds full of people slaying it. It seems like everyone is going full throttle at work, home, and with health. When I think I am behind, I remind myself that consistency is the key. I continue to work on habits that I have been building in the prior year while slowly adding new ones. I am not sending my brain into freak-out mode. I am also not going in hot, only to fizzle out by February. I tend to do things slowly and maintain consistency over intensity. You will probably not find me participating in a 75 Hard Challenge anytime soon (or ever).

I was listening to an advertisement today for guitar lessons of all things. I took guitar lessons for a few weeks when I was about seven. I do not remember anything about playing. What I do know is I was not consistent. I started taking the lessons. Then I quit. It did not come easy. The result is I gave up. The advertisement pointed out that the only people that learn to play are the ones who are consistent in practicing the skill. They practice the skill week after week. Those that start and quit never gain any traction. They have to continue to start at the beginning and fail to maintain skills that they can build on. They basically keep starting over again and again.

Consistency is essential when working towards a goal. It doesn’t matter how fast or how slow your progress is. As long as you don’t quit, you will eventually get there. It is inevitable. Consistency, not intensity, is the predictor of success. A combination of intensity and consistency will help you to your outcome faster. Intensity without consistency will not help you cross finish lines.

I was unwinding in a warm bath when an example of consistency over skill became evident. I used to get pedicures every few months. Each time the technician would work hard to get my feet smooth and file off the rough skin that built up. I did not go regularly. My inconsistent pedicures made the job tough for them. I judged the quality of my pedicure by how well they restored my feet to optimal smoothness. During the height of the pandemic, nail salons were closed for close to a year in California. My feet were neglected. Inconsistent pedicures became nonexistent ones.

When nail salons began reopening in March of 2021, I set up pedicure appointments every two weeks. I started going every other Tuesday like clockwork. After each pedicure, I would come home and complain to Todd about my dissatisfaction with the result. I love my nail technician but always feel the technician that does my pedicure rushes through the process. She does not do a great job smoothing the rough patches. Todd encourages me to go somewhere else, but I stay. The staff is all wonderfully kind. I have been a regular customer here since they opened in 1986. Most of the technicians are still the same. When we had our plumbing business, the owner was a loyal customer. I settle for mediocre pedicures because I do not have the heart to go somewhere else. I pick the people over the quality of the work. 

As I was soaking my feet in the tub last week, I noticed how smooth they were. My feet have never been so healthy and soft. It was like one of those life lesson moments. I complain about the mediocre pedicures I have consistently received for almost a year, but these pedicures have improved my skin. My feet are healthier, prettier, and smoother than they have been in years. It was a tangible and visual example that consistency will get results. You don’t have to hit it hard or be perfect to get results. The key is to show up and keep taking small actions until you get there.

I tell my family, friends and clients the importance of developing consistent habits. I realize the benefits but this tangible example delighted me. My mediocre pedicures still give me amazing results after consistently doing them for almost a year. Isn’t it cool when we get evidence to support things we know to be true?

Throw a Fish Some Flake

I tell everyone I am a caregiver FIRST. Caring for others brings me joy. I am proud of my ability to care for my family. I have also realized that my ability to care for others is dependent on how well I am caring for myself. When I take care of myself FIRST, things flow. While I know this, it was challenging to accomplish in 2021. Managing my time and energy was difficult. In my opinion, it was more challenging than the prior year. I did not have sufficient support. My self-care was not always at the top of the list. When you are responsible for the care of others, sometimes it is necessary to have time where you are only responsible for yourself.

Knowing I was reaching a point of burnout, I went through my calendar to find a weekend that I could plan a short getaway. A weekend of respite. In December, I decided to take a trip to Austin for a long weekend. The caregiver I use regularly was out of the country. I had limited access to additional support. I knew making this trip happen would take some flexibility and creativity. Todd would miss work to get Emily ready for school. Justin and Todd needed to work as a team to cover my responsibilities. They would be in charge of Emily, Ben, Coco, the chickens, and the fish. Yes, we have a fish. More on this later.

I planned everything. I set up a caregiver to give the boys a break over the weekend. I saved the money to cover the cost of the flight and rental car. I used banked RCI points to book a resort near Travis Lake. For the record, there is nothing true in this sentence! It was NO resort, and it was NOWHERE near water! (That is a story for another day.) I had all the trip logistics planned. I made arrangements for connecting with friends and maximizing my time away.

I made sure the house was stocked with groceries. I prepped as many of Emily’s meals as possible. I had Emily’s outfits set out for each day, including her accessories. I checked and rechecked the weather daily. I adjusted clothing or added outerwear based on the weather. I made sure her medical cards, identification, and letter of conservatorship were accessible to Todd. I put notes in her school journal to inform staff to reach out to Todd if there was an emergency. I reached out to a few friends and asked them to be “on-call” if the guys needed support.

I left notes everywhere. I took videos of how I do Emily’s hair. She has become resistant to having her hair combed, so I recorded my tricks for Todd. I had instructions for street sweeping and days to take the trash cans to the curb. Shouldn’t the men know how to do this without a note or reminder? I left nothing to chance. I put the jar of fish food for our solo goldfish, Guacamole, right in front of his tank where it could not be missed. I put a post-it on the tank that said, “feed me.” I reminded them to water my poinsettia and feed the chickens. I was proud of myself because I left my family with tools and instructions. The toolbox was stocked.

The date came for me to travel to Austin. I had a fantastic weekend meeting friends and connecting. I enjoyed the break. I trusted things would go well while I was gone. I did not worry about anything at home. I knew I planned. The rest was out of my control. All the preparations and planning paid off. I came home with a full battery and abundant joy. I was full of gratitude.

My husband missed me. He picked me up from the airport and brought Ben with him. Ben was so excited to see me. Todd took me to lunch before we went home. It was delightful to sit outside with Todd and Ben and enjoy a meal. Justin was waiting at home. He had cleaned out the pantry and organized it for me while I was gone. The house was clean, and all the laundry was clean. I was impressed. I unpacked and got settled back into the home. 

The boys and I discussed things that happened while I was away. I found out Emily did not get a bath while I was gone. They assured me that she doesn’t smell and looks clean. Okay, I let it go. I added giving Emily a bath to my things to do that evening. I walk into the kitchen. It does not look like the fish food jar has been touched. It is in the exact spot I left it. Guacamole is at the surface telling me, “Feed me! Feed me!” There is urgency in his movements. I fed him and asked the boys if they had while I was gone. Justin’s reply, “We have a fish? I always forget about that.” I throw my hands in the air. “Come on guys, neither of you bothered to throw a fish some flake!?!”

Emily was happy to get a break from me, and full disclosure was thrilled to skip her bath. She hates her self-care routine. She protested as I washed her and cleaned her that night. I completed the task from a place of service and no obligation. When I meet my needs first, I care for others from a place of service. When I start to feel resentful about taking care of others, that is my cue that I am not fully caring for myself. In 2022, I have already planned to widen my care circle for Emily. I will also teach the men to throw the fish some flake.