"The Dog" Journal

Welcome to the Dog Journal, a Sunday afternoon blog, where I'll share my best finds of the week for taming those puppies that gnaw at your planner.

Could be a quick time management tip, a smell-the-flowers moment, a comment overheard on the elevator. Whatever the inspiration, I hope you'll blog right along with me by commenting and sharing your tips and stories for taming an overbooked life.

Why Sunday afternoon? That's time I call "white space," a block of time I set aside for reflecting on the week before and planning the week ahead.

What’s Your Coffee Story?

August 22nd, 2011

800px-Melange Once a week, I get together with writing friends for a free-write session. We give ourselves ten minutes or so on each chosen topic and write without stopping. Then, unless we’re so mortified by what we came up with that we pass (and this has not yet happened; we’re very brave), we read what we came up with.

Yesterday, the topic was coffee, and the stories were really percolating. Seems we love it or hate it, have childhood stories to explain it, and clothing stains to prove it. The only thing I cannot drink coffee with is pizza.

T.S. Eliot wrote, “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” What’s your relationship with coffee? And what does it say about your life?

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Biting Tale is Winner

July 22nd, 2011

00014RIn my June 2011 e-newsletter, Balancing Tips, I ran a contest in which I solicited reader stories of how humor had helped them through a time of loss. My personal favorite came from a Worthington, OH woman, Joan Nienkirchen, under the title “Stories Dying To Be Told,” which she quickly struck through and retitled “Dying Stories To Be Told.”

Among her stories, this “biting tale” in three parts from Joan is my personal favorite. It shows how her mom Peg held on to her girlhood feistiness even at the end, when she was dying of cancer. Joan will also receive a copy of Chicken Soup For The Soul: Grieving and Recovery.

Once, when Mom was just a girl, a neighbor came up to her with her crying son in tow.
“Margaret, you bit Johnny!” she accused.
“No I didn’t”.
“Oh, yes you did.”
“Let me see it.”
The angry mother held out poor Johnny’s arm.
“Oh, no,” Mom said. “When I bite it looks like this!” She chomped down, right beside the bite mark, and Johnny wailed. It was undeniable; her bite was completely different.


After oh-so-many years of setting a good example to her children, we discovered she never did like her vegetables. When the last of her children had left home, she happily stopped eating them. She also moved to a very little apartment that didn’t require too much cleaning. And ten years later, she proudly proclaimed her oven was “still a virgin.”


Toward the end, we, her children, took turns flying into St. Louis, each to spend a week tending to her needs. I was so excited to have my turn. I was relieving my sister, Cathy, who is a stickler for rules. The entire week she was there, she had insisted Mom eat all her vegetables! Didn’t she know how Mom felt about vegetables? I was outraged and was determined she would have frozen custard for dinner every night.

Well, Mom was quite ill when I arrived. They had given her a morphine pill earlier that day and would continue until the end. Mom wouldn’t be talking. Mom wouldn’t be eating any frozen custard. Still, I felt like I could save her from the difficulty of it all.

Cathy dutifully showed me the required maintenance procedures. When it came time to give Mom her medicine, Cathy turned to me and said,
“She can hear everything we say.”
I understood. We needn’t raise our voices, just talk, she’ll understand. Imagine my surprise when Cathy then turned to Mom and announced quite loudly,
“We’re going to give you your pill now, Mom.”
I stifled a laugh. Cathy dropped the tiny white pill into her mouth.

Oh, oh, a glitch. The pill landed under Mom’s tongue, and Cathy did not want it there. So, very carefully, she reached her finger into Mom’s mouth, hooked it under the pill, started to raise it out, and chomp, Mom bit down on her finger!

I could barely contain myself. This was Mom, speaking the same language as the little girl who did not like being accused of biting Johnny so long ago. I never was as bold as that little girl, but that night, I loved her.

Copyright 2011 Joan Nienkirchen

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Live Art Quilt Inspiring

June 26th, 2011

quiltUntil this afternoon, I’d never really considered the possibility of making a quilt of life stories. But a live art performance of personal monologues by a group called Howling At The Moon changed all that.

Rather than each creating yards and yards of fabric by writing a longer personal memoirs, the Howling women – all over 60 – simply brought their own patches of life to the stage and allowed the common rhythms of their stories to stitch together a picture larger than any one of them might have separately envisioned.

The fragments together created a view of female aging – varying perspectives on men and widowhood, on aloneness and busy-ness, exercise and weight-watching, and most soberly, wariness of dementia, losing control, and being “taken.”

Inspiring, this piecing together. And reflective of the way we as women collaborate and connect over the course of our lives. For those lucky enough to live right here in Columbus, OH, the Howling women will train other writers, who can occasionally appear with them as guests, at a Lifewriting Workshop July 10, details online.

If you’re a woman of a certain age, It’s bound to enrich your balancing act.

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Dad’s Fortune Read “Dependability”

June 19th, 2011

Steve Ondo I once opened a Chinese fortune cookie and cringed to see: “You are dependable.”

“Wahoo!” I thought. “Why not ‘A great fortune will come you way’? ‘Sunshine will light your path today’? ‘You will have amazing success in all you do’?

Reflecting on my dad this Father’s Day, I award the dependable cookie to him.
Without cringing.

It might be fun to share some zany dad stories like my Facebook friends are posting today. But other than insisting – for years – that “unjar” was a word in Scrabble, Stephen Ondo was not a character. He was “Even Steven,” as he liked to describe a perfectly equitable arrangement.

Shying away from flair, he was a cautionary tale who saved his warranties, changed his oil on time, and ran to the encyclopedia in the middle of dinner to settle a point that the rest of us didn’t even know was a point.

A self-described “realist,” he humored my mother by reading Norman Vincent Peale. In later years, he began to cross the line toward optimism. “Don’t get your dauber down,” he would tell us, and – though not religious – “Keep the faith.” From him, these admonitions seemed real.

In an age of fleeting Internet fame for all (he would hate this post), he has lived on as an increasingly important reminder of the value of consistency, stability and – yes – dependability.

I his honor, I have booked an oil change. (Sorry, dad. It’s slightly overdue.)

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