National Love Your Pet Day

girl and dog
Image by pisauikan from Pixabay

Today is Love Your Pet Day. What an awesome holiday!

dachshund sistersBlack catsOver the years, our pets have included a golden retriever/chow mix, two long-haired dachshund sisters, an iguana and numerous cats. All of our pets have been rescues (except the iguana). Right now we have two black cats who are regularly part of my social media posts and who even take over my blog once a week.

I don’t think there has ever been a time in my life when I’ve been without at least one cat or dog. Granted, they can be a lot of work, but when they look at you with love in their eyes, it makes it all worthwhile.

Besides all the love and joy pets bring into our lives, there are also health benefits:

cats
Suki relaxing with her buddy Itsy after a tiring game of fetch
sailing
Morgan enjoying an outing on the sailboat

More exercise

Especially if the pet is a dog. Walking, running, playing frisbee or fetch keep both you and your pet in shape. We never could get our long-haired dachshunds to play fetch, but our Siamese cat Suki had a little rubber mouse she would bring to us to throw. She’d tear off after it then bring it back and drop it at our feet. This would keep up until we finally wore her out. Or maybe she wore us out.

Image by Uschi Dugulin from Pixabay

Stress relief and help with depression

What is more soothing than listening to a cat purr or having a dog lying next to you with its head in your lap? Studies have found that being around pets actually reduces cortisol levels (the stress hormone). Pets can make us smile when we’re feeling down, too. The National Institute of Mental Health recognizes animal-assisted therapy as a treatment for depression and other mood disorders.

Image by fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay

Lower blood pressure, less risk of stroke and lower risk of heart attacks

A study of hospitalized heart patients found that dogs decreased their blood pressure by about 10%. Other researchers suggest owning a cat cuts a person’s risk of having a stroke by one-third. And yet another study found that people with cats were 40% less likely to have a fatal heart attack. Scientists aren’t sure whether it’s the pets’ calming effects that make the difference or whether people who choose pets are at less risk of heart attack and more stress-free naturally. Either way, it sounds like a really good excuse to adopt a dog or cat!

Image by Westfale from Pixabay

Allergy prevention

Image by Sarah Richter from Pixabay

Worried about allergies? Having pets in your home when your children are young can decrease their risk of developing allergies later. A seven-year study of almost 500 children found that those who were exposed to pets as babies, were half as likely to develop allergies and asthma.

For 13 of the most heartwarming pet stories of the past decade, check out this post. Warning: It’ll make you cry!

In honor of this great holiday, how about giving Fido or Fluffy an extra treat? They deserve it.

It’s Zaturday – A Day for Love!

It’s Zaturday, the day we (Ziggy and Zorro) take over Mommy’s blog.

Zorro here. Mommy says yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a day for showing love. Ziggy and I don’t know anything about Valentine’s Day, but we know all about love.

I know Mommy loves me because she feeds me really good food. When she opens the cupboard, there are always lots of cans there, so I’m never afraid we’ll run out.

Weruva

 

I know Mommy loves me because when we’re in North Carolina and I look cold, she puts a blanket over me.

 

I know Mommy loves me, because she lets me sleep with her. She doesn’t even get upset when I wake her up during the night by laying on her head. If I’m really comfy in the morning and not ready to get up, she will wait to make the bed instead of disturbing me.

 

My buddy Ziggy loves me, too. I know Ziggy loves me because he likes to lick me and snuggle with me.

Cats cuddling

 

I know Ziggy loves me because if he finishes his food and is still hungry, he waits until I’ve eaten all I’ve wanted instead of chasing me away from my dish.

 

I know Ziggy loves me because he plays with me and lets me chill out on the catnip toy with him.

Cats with catnip

 

I don’t know who makes up holidays for people to celebrate, but any holiday that is all about love sounds like a really good one to me!

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Love is a Beautiful Thing

rose
Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

As romance authors, love is often forefront in our minds. Today, a lot of the rest of the world is joining us.

One part of my job that I always find fun is coming up with unique and sometimes humorous ways to bring my couples together. We refer to that first meeting as the “meet-cute,” which is defined as “an amusing or charming first encounter between two characters that leads to the development of a romantic relationship between them.” I have my own meet-cute, which, though not especially humorous, is a little unique.

When I met my husband, it was love at first sight. Well, maybe not love, but definitely a good amount of interest. My best friend had invited me to her church singles group Christmas party, and when I saw him standing across the church yard, I was hooked. I asked her to introduce us. We began to talk, and it didn’t take long for the subject of the conversation to turn to music.

musical notes
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay

I told him that I play and teach piano, and he said he had seen me play somewhere. I named a couple of places. When I mentioned performing in the Young Artists Concert with the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra a year and a half earlier, he said, “That’s it! You played Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto in G Minor!” I decided I was dealing with a man who was really passionate about music. Or a stalker. As it turned out, he played the French horn with the Lakeland Symphony Orchestra and accompanied me at that concert.

Two weeks passed before we had our first date. Two and a half months later, we were engaged, and two and a half months after that, we were married. It’s been almost 40 years, and we’re still making music together. (Except now it’s at church rather than in a concert hall.)

For several heartwarming love stories that give The Notebook a run for its money, check out this post from Good Housekeeping.

It’s Zaturday – Kitty Toys, Yay!

It’s Zaturday, the day we (Ziggy and Zorro) take over Mommy’s blog.

Ziggy here. Zorro and I love to play. He’s three and I’m four. According to the Purina Cat Chow chart, that’s 28 and 32 in people years. We’re still young enough to enjoy toys. A lot. And when the toys we have get pushed under the furniture and we can’t reach them anymore, we look for other things to play with.

Zorro is pretty weird. I don’t understand some of the things he likes to play with. Like the paper coming out of the printer. It doesn’t matter where he is in the house. When he hears it start up, I’d better get out of the way, because he’ll just about run me over getting to it.Cat playing

 

The other day, Zorro walked out of the bathroom carrying Mommy’s toothbrush. I just looked at him like he was crazy. I have more discerning tastes than that. Like a piece of paper crumpled into a ball. When Mommy throws that down the hall, I can’t resist. Mommy’s hair is fun, too. It’s long and sometimes falls into my face when she picks me up. For some reason, Mommy scolds me when I swat at it.

But one of my favorite toys is this. When I hit the ball, it goes ‘round and ‘round. What’s even cooler, though, is the cardboard stuff in the middle. It feels so good on my feet. I sharpen my claws on it, and Mommy doesn’t yell at me like she does when I tear up the furniture or the woodwork.

cats with catnipBut what really makes this toy the bomb is when Mommy or Daddy sprinkle catnip into the cardboard stuff. Aaaah, maaannn! Cats are supposed to act proud and independent. Cool and collected. Disinterested. But something about that stuff just makes us lose all dignity. I can’t resist it. Zorro can’t, either.

It’s been a while since our humans added it, so the smell is pretty much gone. We can walk over to the toy, bat the ball around a few times or sharpen our claws on the cardboard and walk away, still keeping our pride and dignity. As it should be.

Wait. Daddy just got a plastic bag out of the drawer. Is it…I think it’s…yes! It is! Outa my way, Zorro!

I-love-it-I-love-it-I-love-it!

Aaaahh… *long relaxed sigh*

It’s Zaturday – Bath Time!

It’s Zaturday, the day we (Ziggy and Zorro) take over Mommy’s blog.

Zorro here. I just finished my morning bath. One of them, anyway. I’ll be taking several. Ziggy will, too. We pride ourselves on staying really clean.

Mommy says cat saliva has a deodorizing agent in it that helps keep cats clean. That’s why when I lick Mommy’s hand, it doesn’t smell bad. Unless I just finished eating. Then she says I have catfood breath. I’m not sure why that’s a bad thing.

We get lots of benefits from grooming ourselves. Besides keeping us clean, it helps cool us down on hot days. And it feels really good. Our saliva helps heal injuries, too. But Ziggy and I haven’t had any booboos since Mommy and Daddy adopted us, because we never go outside.

Cats groomingI think I spend half my awake time licking myself. The other half I spend licking Ziggy. Cleaning Ziggy isn’t as easy as cleaning myself, because he has long hair. Sometimes I swallow too much of it and get an upset tummy.

The other night, that happened while Mommy was sleeping. And since I always sleep curled up against her, guess where I was. Yep. I didn’t know Mommy could move so fast, especially coming out of a dead sleep.

One time, though, Mommy said it was a good thing that I threw up. We had just left North Carolina to come back to Florida, and I got carsick. When we got to the place with lots of cars and big trucks (Mommy calls it Atlanta), there was a bad accident. Mommy said God was watching out for us. If she wouldn’t have stopped to clean up the car, we might have been in that accident, and that’s the reason I threw up. But I think the reason was those curves. Curves always make me feel woozy.

But I feel good now. In fact, I think it’s time for another bath.

Maiden Mishap

Anyone who has read my bio knows that one of the activities I really enjoy is sailing. We’ve cruised several areas around Florida but have a couple of favorites. One is Charlotte Harbor, in the Southwest portion of Florida. This is the setting for my current work in progress, a story for Love Inspired Suspense that takes place in the aftermath of a hurricane and features a search and rescue dog. Although we weathered some pretty good thunderstorms on our little sailboat, we never faced a hurricane.

In spite of good weather, though, our first trip didn’t go at all like we’d planned. I recently came across this short piece I’d written years ago about our maiden voyage. I figured I’d share it with you.

Boat on tranquil water
Image by Mikele Designer from Pixabay

Clean air. White beaches. Blue water. Salt spray. Seagull poop. Boating takes a person away from the worries of the world better than anything I know. Anything legal, anyway. Just being on the water has a way of soothing frayed nerves and untangling the knots created by everyday life. It’s no wonder so many people hit the water every chance they get.

My husband, Chris, and I started our sailing days on a Compac 16, then moved up to a San Juan 21 and finally a MacGregor 26. We are now what some might consider “seasoned sailors.” But that hasn’t always been the case.

We purchased the Compac from Chris’s uncle, who gave us a short lesson on a local lake. Then we began planning our first overnight cruise, our maiden voyage. We packed our little boat with all the necessities—bedding, clothes, Port-a-Pot, plenty of books and games so we wouldn’t get bored, lots of extra food and water in case we got lost at sea, and the dog to protect us if we happened upon some drug smugglers.

Our point of launch was Burnt Store Marina at Punta Gorda, Florida, where we encountered our first problem. When Uncle Owen launched the boat, a gentle push had sent her floating free, but now that we were on our own, the boat seemed permanently attached to the trailer. We tugged and pushed until we almost ruptured something. Then some guy felt sorry for us (or maybe he was just waiting to use the ramp), and the three of us managed to get her launched.

Our next major task was to crank the motor, a 3.5-horsepower hunk of metal which had been resurrected from the scrap heap. After several minutes of cranking, it finally sputtered to life, and we were at last ready to begin our three-day cruise.

We motored out of the marina then set sail – and waited. It didn’t take us long to discover a basic law of sailing: Sailboats don’t work very well without wind. For the next several hours, we sailed-uh, I mean drifted slowly across Charlotte Harbor. As the sun sank low in the sky, I heated our supper, a favorite casserole I had prepared at home. I was almost finished when I had a disturbing thought.

Me: What are we having for supper?

Chris: Shipwreck. Why?

Me: Think about it.

By the time we all finished our shipwreck, it was just about dark, so we headed toward Devilfish Key, where we had decided to spend the night. Before reaching our destination, however, we experienced another basic law of sailing: A sailboat that has a fixed keel and a two-foot draft requires a water depth of two feet plus.

Our sailing lesson didn’t include the “What to do if you run aground” chapter, so we began discussing our options. Chris thought about getting out to see if he could push us free, but not knowing what lurked beneath the dark surface, preferred to keep his feet in the boat.

At last we decided that if we could heel the boat, our two-foot draft would become even shallower. So we moved the dog, toolbox, ice chest, captain, first mate and crew to the same side of the boat and started the motor. Our ploy was successful, but after running aground a second time, we abandoned our plans to reach Devilfish Key, motored about 100 yards off the shoal, and set anchor.

Our daughters, 7-year-old Kristi and 2-year-old Andrea, went promptly to sleep in a small bed in the bow under the anchor well, and I stretched out on my bunk. Chris, however, when faced with the task of unloading his bed, chose instead to sleep in the cockpit with the dog.

Thirty minutes passed. Then the wind, which had been conspicuously absent all afternoon, suddenly made an appearance, and we discovered we were anchored on the windward side of an island. The boat began to rock violently, and I looked through the open hatch at Chris who lay with one arm and leg over the side of the boat, trying to keep from falling off the cockpit seat onto the dog.

Kristi slept peacefully while several feet of anchor line uncoiled on her head, and Andrea sat up clutching her stomach. “Mommy, I don’t feel good.”

That was all the encouragement we needed to find another anchorage. We pulled up anchor, raised the sails, and found we had a pretty decent breeze. Andrea’s shipwreck stayed where it was supposed to, and I decided sailing might be enjoyable after all.

A 4-second green marker flashed just about due east of us, and we set a course for that. Some time later, we saw a white light flashing every 2 to 2.5 seconds a good distance away on our rear starboard quarter. The chart showed only red and green beacons, no white, so we decided our mysterious light was a new channel marker. Then it sailed past us on our starboard side.

“Must be some kind of boat,” Chris said.

When we looked for the light again several minutes later, it had moved to our port side. It was circling us. At that moment I found that the presence of the dog wasn’t quite the comfort I had anticipated. Chris continued to study the chart trying to find out where in the heck we were, and I kept sailing toward our green beacon. The next time I found the mysterious light, it hovered eerily above the water directly behind us.

“Chris,” I whispered. “Look!” I closed my eyes and waited for the command-“Beam ’em up, Scotty.” Chris, though, saw a shaft extending from the light to the water and decided it had to be a submarine periscope. (When alone on the water in the middle of the night, the mind plays tricks.) We held our breaths as the threatening object loomed closer. Then Chris realized with relief that we were not being circled by an alien spaceship, nor were we going to be attacked by a Russian sub. We were in the middle of Charlotte Harbor in a shipping channel, and our roving white light was actually a stationary mid-channel marker. The closer we got to the middle of the channel, the stronger the current and the less forward motion we made. Near the center, we were actually sailing backwards. Relieved to have the mystery of the roving white light solved, but disappointed to find that we had been diligently sailing for almost two hours and hadn’t really gone anywhere, we changed course and headed for the nearest island.

The next morning, we awoke refreshed and ready to face another day on the water. After a quick trip to shore for the dog, we set sail and headed for the mouth of Charlotte Harbor. Our plans were to sail to the Gulf side of Cayo Costa and spend the day at the beach.

We had almost reached the mouth of the harbor when we saw two barges moving toward us from the Gulf. The closer they got, the bigger they looked, and we decided that it might be to our advantage to get out of their way. Since we had almost as much wind as we had the day before, a hasty retreat under sail wasn’t likely. I kept my fingers crossed, and to our surprise, the motor roared to life after only two pulls on the rope. Our relief was short-lived, however, when we realized we weren’t moving. Chris killed the motor and leaned over the back of the boat. The propeller was gone. Fortunately, both barges passed without incident, but we decided we would be pushing our luck if we didn’t turn back.

Two hours later, it was mid-afternoon, and we still sat at the mouth of the harbor. At that point, we knew we couldn’t put it off any longer – it was time to break out the paddles. When loaded with two adults, two children, one large dog, and three months of supplies, a 16-foot Compac seems incredibly small. When paddling one, it feels huge.

The next two hours, we built up our triceps and made very little progress. I won’t elaborate on what Chris had to say at this point about the wonderful sport of sailing, but I will say that he was able to think of a hundred places he would rather be – at work, at the dentist, behind the lawnmower, under the lawnmower…

At last a small breeze began to blow, so we put away the paddles and cruised along at the blinding speed of one knot. At dusk, we reached a peaceful little cove and anchored with two other sailboats, 40-footers whose dinghies were almost as big as our boat. We enjoyed a quiet dinner, then a bedtime snack of popcorn and hot chocolate.

The next morning, we paddled out of the anchorage. Once away from the protection of the island, we were hit with 20-knot winds. Several other sailboats moved about the harbor, a sight we hadn’t seen the prior two days. Perfect sailing weather. However, the sensation of suddenly tilting 25 or 30 degrees seemed more terrifying than fun. We took down the jib, stuffed the dog into the cabin next to the Port-a-Pot, and continued to sail. I began making plans in the event we should capsize.

“I’ll get the kids,” I said. They, of course, wore life jackets. “You rescue the dog. She’ll be trapped in the cabin under 30 pounds of you-know-what.”

We never did capsize and, over the next three hours, gradually gained confidence, though not enough to venture outside of Charlotte Harbor. At noon, we turned back toward Burnt Store Marina. Our “cruise” wouldn’t be over until we reached the ramp, something that was going to involve two hours of paddling, maneuvering around all the other boats.

We were just coming into the channel to the marina when a sailor with a new F-27 was motoring out. He looked over at us, working industriously, paddling our Compac 16.

“Need a tow?” he hollered.

He didn’t have to ask twice.

 

It’s Zaturday – Lizard Patrol!

It’s Zaturday, the day we (Ziggy and Zorro) take over Mommy’s blog.

green lizard
Image by GeorgeB2 from Pixabay

 

cat huntingZiggy here. Zorro and I are on lizard patrol. (I know, I’m standing in the litter box. But at least it’s clean litter. And it gets me closer to the lizard.)

The lizards around here are evil. They torment us. They sit on the windows and sliding glass doors, inches away, knowing we can see them but can’t get to them. And they watch us. They sometimes do push-ups and puff out those things on their throats. And they stick out their tongues and go, “Ha, ha, ha.” Well, they don’t say it, but I know that’s what they’re thinking.

The first time I saw a lizard on the window, I went right into attack mode. I totally forgot about the glass. Almost knocked myself out. Zorro says I’m not too bright. But it wasn’t my fault. I see a lizard and…boom! Instinct takes over. I’m a natural-born hunter. It’s what my cat ancestors have done all through the ages.

Cats at sliding glass doorOh, no! Here’s another one! Zorro and I are keeping an eye on him, making sure he doesn’t get inside. We’re determined. And we’re focused. We’re not leaving our post until the lizard does.

Give Someone a Hug!

Smiling couple
– Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Go ahead. Its all right. Today is National Hugging Day.

I love to learn about obscure, little-known holidays. Some are pretty off the wall, like National Nothing Day (January 16) and Measure Your Feet Day (January 23). Huh? Who came up with those? And more importantly, WHY?

But some of these not-so-well-known holidays are pretty cool. Like January 21, National Hugging Day. Now there’s something to celebrate!

When I was at the Romance Writers of America conference in New York City last year, I was headed to a workshop on digital marketing but changed my mind the last minute and instead sat in on a talk on handling stress and burnout. That ended up being the most helpful workshop of my conference.

(I know this sounds completely unrelated to my topic, but hold on. I’m getting there.)

Woman at computer
Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

The workshop presenters began by explaining how important it is to work our way through the entire stress cycle, even if we can’t do anything about the stressor. Some stressors we can eliminate with good planning and wise choices. But if the stressor is a boss or a loved one? Walking away isn’t always a good solution, and it’s illegal to shoot them.

The speakers provided several methods for completing the stress cycle, or moving from “stressed” all the way to “safe.” These included things like physical activity (running, tennis, working out), sleep (7-9 hours every 24 hours, however your body wants it split up), hearty laughter, a big cry, and creative self-expression. (Interestingly enough, once writing becomes a job, it no longer qualifies as creative self-expression for stress-relieving purposes.)

Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

One of the methods they talked about for completing the stress cycle was affection, things like kissing and hugging. (See? I told you I’d get there.) But a quick peck or slap on the back won’t do it. There are actually scientific studies that have determined the average number of seconds it takes to complete the stress cycle with activities involving affection. When kissing, the magic number seems to be six. (This should probably with your significant other. Otherwise, it could get really awkward. Or get you in a lot of trouble.)

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

For hugs, the ideal amount of time is a lot longer—20 seconds. That can seem like a really long time, especially if you’re counting it out. One thousand one, one thousand two…  But the exact time isn’t as important is staying in the hug until you feel the shift.

I’ve experienced this through the years on a number of occasions. After a stressful day, I have no trouble saying, “I need a hug.” And hubby is always more than willing to oblige. At a particular point, I actually do feel a shift, almost like flipping a switch.

Book coverIf this topic sounds like something you’d like to explore further, the workshop presenters, Emily Nagoski, PhD, and Amelia Nagoski, DMA, have included the material in their book titled Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. 

 

So go ahead. Give someone a hug. If you can make it 20 seconds or longer (without getting slapped), go for it. You might find some health benefits you never knew existed.

It’s Zaturday – a New Place to Chill!

It’s Zaturday, the day we (Ziggy and Zorro) take over Mommy’s blog.

Cat toys

Zorro here. I have to admit. We have a pretty good Mommy and Daddy. They give us lots of attention, feed us really good food, and give us fun toys to play with.

A while back, they got us something we’d never had before—a kitty condo. Daddy put it all together and set it up in the living room, but Mommy moved it in front of the window. We liked Mommy’s spot better, but we did our best to ignore the new addition to the house for the appropriate amount of time. (We have to show a certain level of indifference. If we act too interested in what the humans are doing, it’s too much like dog behavior.)

After about a week, though, we couldn’t hold out any longer.

Black cats

This thing just has too many temptations—scratching posts. Soft, carpeted perches. Hidey-holes.

Cats looking out window

And when the sun shines in the window, those hidey-holes get cozy warm. That was really nice a couple of weeks ago. It was cold for a few days (cold for Florida, anyway.) I took lots of naps in my “heated” room.

Cat hiding

Unfortunately, we’re in North Carolina now, and we don’t have a kitty condo up here. So we usually just snuggle up on the couch.

Black cats

But it would be really nice if Mommy would buy us a kitty condo for up here. Maybe you can drop her a hint.

We’re keeping our paws crossed.

The Search for the Fountain of Youth

Okay, I finally did it. I broke down and bought one of those facial exercise programs. You know, the ones where you can look up to 15 years younger in as little as 15 minutes a day. It all started like this:

My older daughter, son-in-law and grandkids came down for the holidays. One morning, Kristi and I were discussing hair, specifically coloring and highlighting. Mine has gone completely gray, except for the very bottom layer, which is still brown. Kristi said my long, gray hair would look really cool with some blue or purple tint. Uh, seriously?

Long gray hair

Actually, I need to backtrack a little further. About a year ago, I noticed some sagging along my jawline. Disturbing, to say the least. I’ve been a little over-the-top on health and fitness through the years, so I guess I felt all that healthy living should have stopped the aging process, or at least slowed it down more than what it has. I look in the mirror, touch my cheeks and lift ever so slightly, and voila! My skin is smooth. Unfortunately, the moment I drop my hands, gravity takes over again, and it’s pretty cruel. That, coupled with the fact that I’m coming up on one of those decade birthdays, has me a little bit freaked out.

Okay, now back to my hair conversation with my daughter. Purple tint…

Girl with purple hair
Image by Mikayla Rivers from Pixabay

Or blue…

Girl with blue hair
Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

Or why not go all out and do purple on one side and pink on the other?

pink and purple hair
Image by Matteo Venturella from Pixabay

Hmm, sounds intriguing. For someone in their 20s or 30s. Maybe even 40s. But for a woman who’s almost *clears throat loudly*?

I said, “Wouldn’t that look weird on someone my age?” Both my daughter and son-in-law said, “Absolutely not.” My daughter furthered her cause by telling me I don’t have any wrinkles. I showed her what happens when I clench my jaw and don’t smile. Instead of acting shocked, she said, “I know what you can do for that.”

She then told me she’d purchased Carolyn’s Facial Fitness program some time back and started doing the exercises. (Apparently, it’s easier to work on prevention than try to fix what has already gone wrong.) I got online and ordered the full kit, which includes a pacing CD (it counts through each exercise with you), the final CD (same, but doesn’t have the counting), DVD video that demonstrates step by step how to do each of the 28 exercises, a workbook and flashcards. There are even bonus exercises for those of us who need a little additional help, a three-times magnifying mirror for an up-close-and-personal look for anyone brave enough to use it, and samples of the moisturizer, balancing facial cleanser and hydrating creme masque.

How to prevent wrinkles

So I’m giving it a shot. The exercises, anyway. The tint? That’s a topic for a later post. Much later.