Merry Christmas…Looking Back and Looking Ahead

On December 24th, I left my three dogs in Becky’s care and flew to the Gulf Coast of Florida to visit part of my family for the Christmas holiday. The last time I had been to Florida was March of 2007, and before that I spent about three weeks there while recovering from surgery near the end of 2006. If you have read Kate’s book, you know the story of the starfish man, who I met at the beach just before I returned to Minnesota in December of 2006. I wrote down his story shortly after that, well before the book was published. In March of 2007, when I returned to Florida for my mom’s 70th birthday bash, I took a printout of the starfish story. I returned to the beach and found the starfish man again. Now I know this may seem risky, even crazy, but this man had been very kind to me, a stranger, in a way that had made a difference to me. So often someone makes a difference in another person’s life and never knows about it. I wanted to thank him. I gave him a copy of the story and he was touched by it. He told me that his name is Brian and he and his wife Cheryl live in Illinois for about six months of the year and in Florida the rest of the time. He told me that after Katrina, Cheryl had volunteered with the Red Cross, helping out in hurricane damaged areas. I think he was taken somewhat aback by my approach with the story, but we connected and I think he appreciated knowing how much his kindness had helped me the previous December. We exchanged e-mail addresses and exchanged e-mails once or twice back in 2007. But we hadn’t corresponded since then. In November 2008, once I had plans to return to Florida, I looked way back to 2007 to find Brian’s e-mail address again. Now that I had published Kate’s book (which includes the starfish story), I wanted to give Brian and Cheryl a copy. Brian e-mailed back (interestingly) that he had just come across the story again the day before, and hadn’t seen it since 2007. He told me that they would be in town at Christmas time and that perhaps we could meet for lunch. But once I got to Florida and called, I learned that Brian was very ill with a cold. He sounded awful and didn’t feel up to going out. He spoke to me on the phone for a while and told me that the beach was very exposed during the solstice this year (December 21st), just as it had been that last day of my December 2006 visit. Low tide was much lower than usual. Brian told me that he loves to read to his grandchildren and has written some children’s stories. Awesome! He also told me about a dream that Cheryl had. Cheryl spends a lot of time at the beach and must be very tuned in to its rhythms. She had a vivid, compelling dream in which she woke up, saw a bright light in the corner of their bedroom, and saw a tiny newborn sea turtle in distress. She hummed and crooned to it, trying to reassure and comfort it, trying to keep it alive. Apparently by morning, or the end of the dream, the turtle was doing better. When Cheryl went to the beach that morning, one of the rangers told her that some sea turtles had hatched there the previous night. All the babies made it safely into the sea, except one that had been caught in the nest and couldn’t get out. When the ranger went by, the tiny turtle poked its head up, fortunately, and they saw it and were able to set it free to continue safely out to sea. This must have been the newborn turtle in Cheryl’s dream. She is very well tuned in to nature and connected to that beach.


When I’m in Florida, I don’t have dogs to care for and I get very lazy. It’s my time to rest and recharge. I love to walk the beach each day and swim in the pool. I don’t worry about going shopping or rushing around, other than scheduled family activities. My thoughts this year have gone back to how much my life and outlook have changed since Katrina. When I first returned to the beach, my thoughts were drawn back to Kate. I didn’t feel settled this time, didn’t have a full feeling of closure. I feel as though there is more to be done. I’m still trying to find a balance, with doing more for others, writing and promoting my book, spending time with my own dogs, and working full time. I’m at a point now where I need to find a new job soon. I’ve been overlapping book promotion with a full time job. The book doesn’t bring in enough to support me, but in many ways I’m ready to move beyond a 9 to 5 job. I’m compelled to write regularly and have been laid off from engineering jobs three times since 2001, due to acquisitions and shifts in the industry. So the stability of my “day job” is in question, yet I can’t afford to live without it…yet. How much more do I promote Kate’s book? I want to share the story with as many as possible. How much time do I spend working on the next book? I’ve been thinking for a while about offering a short inspirational audio story on my website each week, and eventually collecting those stories onto a cd. With all the “bad news” on the TV and radio lately, maybe the world would love to hear a short inspirational story every week.


Being here makes me think about making my life count, planning for my future, being able to be generous, yet take care of myself. How does one continue in rescue without burning out, without ending up with more animals than one can care for, without turning into a single crazy old lady? How do we show love for all of them without taking them all in?


While here in Florida, I’ve spent time with my parents. I’ve had some good talks with my mom in the pool and stayed up late with my dad, researching the online Ellis Island records of our ancestors. On Christmas Day, my uncle Karl, his caretaker Margaret, and friends Bev and Helen came over. Karl had a heart attack in October and was flown to Boston for surgery. He ended up with a “CABG-6” procedure; that means 6 Coronary Artery Bypass Grafts. Even though I work on cardiac devices, I’d never heard of six before! He worked hard to recover and it wasn’t easy. But he really wanted to get back home to Florida for Christmas. We had our doubts that he would recover enough to travel in time, but on Friday, December 19th, he returned to Florida, just in time for Christmas. My dad offered to deliver Christmas dinner to him at his house if he didn’t feel up to it, but he insisted on coming. We didn’t have any kids here for Christmas this year. In fact, I was the youngest person at dinner. But Christmas was a great motivator for my Uncle Karl and he was like a kid at Christmas this year. We’re thankful that he was here to celebrate with us.


Last night we went out to dinner with my parents’ 97 year old friend Ilse. She is still going strong, is an avid reader, with many interests. Makes me wonder if I will still be here at 97, and if I will be able to do all the things that she still does, like walk, swim, read, go out to dinner. She is an inspiration. She shows that being interested and engaged in life make a difference.


Tomorrow morning I have an early flight back to Minnesota. I’ve enjoyed the leisurely pace, the warm weather, time at the beach and with family. But I sure do miss those cow dogs! On Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ll go to work and pack up my things. Wednesday is my last day at work. Then I’ll move on to the new year, wondering what it will bring.

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