Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Truck safety earworms

The term earworm generally refers to a bit of music that’s trapped in your head, playing over and over inside your brain long after you heard the actual song. And that’s just what happened inside my brain today as I worked to weed my impossibly overgrown gardens.

With Congresswoman Norton

I keep hearing a mother’s voice as she described her young daughter’s journal, filled with life lessons, found two days after her twelve year old was killed in a school bus that was struck by a semi driven by a distracted driver. I hear another mother’s anguish as she described the crash that killed her seven year old sitting in the back seat of her stopped car when a semi slammed into the back of them. And the voices of the young adult children whose parents were killed when the semi hit them head on, going the wrong way down a mountain road. I hear the tremor in a survivor’s voice as she describes being pushed off a bridge by a semi. I hear the anguish in a husband’s voice as he talks about his wife and stepchildren gone in an instant.

Day 1 on the Hill, visiting my Representative.

I spent five days in Washington D.C. with these and many other families at the Truck Safety Coalition’s biannual conference we call Sorrow to Strength. It’s something of an emergence into grief, but it’s also a place to witness the rebuilding strength that comes from being together with others who have had similar experiences.

Before the press conference.

We spent Saturday getting to know each other, to offer comfort and hugs and empathetic tears. We laughed together too, over the silly things we miss about our loved ones lost to truck crashes, about the things we used to do but can’t any longer if we are injured survivors.

Representative Garcia, from Illinois, introduced the new bill to increase minimum insurance.

Sunday we buckled down and learned about the issues, many of which were contributing factors in our own crashes. This year we have four bills in Congress that we support, all focused on making the roads safer for everyone, truck drivers included.

Then, on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday we went to work, walking Capitol Hill and visiting offices of Senators and Representatives to educate, as well as transportation agencies to discuss the lack of rule making progress.

Things in Washington move with great deliberation.

It was hot, with temperatures in the 90s and a heat index well above that.

It was especially hot during a press conference we held on the Capitol grounds at noon on Tuesday. We were lucky to have three Congressmen introducing two new truck safety bills, and we were glad to support them by standing behind the podium holding pictures of our lost loved ones.

Kate talks about the multiple surgeries, costing millions, that her son needed after his crash.

But man, it was hot.

Regardless, our families were troopers and made it to all their assigned meetings, sometimes wringing wet, sometimes red faced, but there. People who never spoke in public before spoke to strangers in Congressional offices and spoke up at DOT meetings even while facing a row of men in suits.

And they did it all because of love.

Day 2, with one of my Senators who has cosponsored one of our bills.

Their love for those lost is bigger than any fear of the unknown. Bigger then the fear of being uncomfortable or sweaty or lost in the long marble halls of a Senate office building. Their love carried them through the telling of their stories over and over, reliving it each time, each time adding one more scar on top of the thousands of scars already lacerating their hearts.

A crash survivor being interviewed after the press conference.

And at the end of our time together there were more tears and hugs as we said goodbye to our Truck Safety Family, knowing that we’re never truly alone, even on our worst days, because these people have our hearts and our backs. Most of us will stay in touch through email and social media. And though we wish we didn’t have to, we’re ready to do it all again when D.C. calls.

Some of my Truck Safety family, ready to generate some change.

Love conquers all and our loved ones deserve to be remembered, not just for the way they died, or were injured, but for the way they lived. And that’s why I don’t mind the earworms dancing in my brain today.

We made time for ice cream.

It’s just another way of remembering them all.

Change is hard.


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In the heat of the moment – Washington DC

A press conference a couple years ago.

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We’re headed to Washington DC today, to attend over the weekend and into next week, the 8th Sorrow to Strength conference. Many of you know that I’m a volunteer for the Truck Safety Coalition, that I’ve been working with them on truck safety issues ever since my dad was killed by a tired trucker in December of 2004.

Every other year a lot of families, all whose lives have been forever changed by truck crashes, meet in DC to provide support to each other and to lobby for safer truck regulation.

Tami, a good friend now, lost multiple members of her family in a truck crash and resulting fire.

It’s hard.

But it’s good too, to reconnect with people we’ve come to know and to meet the new families, fresh in their grief.

At another press conference, fighting double 33 foot trailers.

I’ll let you know more about it next week, if I have time to post, or after we get home if I don’t.

Safety is no accident.


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Conflicted

I don’t want to talk about this and maybe that’s the problem. Maybe no one wants to really talk about this, to leave our own biases behind and talk and then listen without interruption to the other side of the debate.

I wasn’t exposed to guns growing up. My parents didn’t hunt, I didn’t have any friends that hunted. I have cousins that hunt but I was never actively involved. The closest I’ve been was to walk by deer hanging in the back of a pole barn, and though the first time was startling, I didn’t have an objection, knowing they used every possible part of the deer as a food supply for their family and friends.

Tree peony at it’s peak.

Still, I’m not personally comfortable with guns. And sometimes that bothers me, because I don’t know how to understand both sides of the gun debate. I’ve even considered taking a lesson or two, in order to know what it feels like to shoot a gun. Though that feels a bit intimidating.

But I do question the need for the average citizen to own automatic weapons. And yes I know I don’t even know the differences between them. But weapons that allow a shooter to pull off multiple shots a minute, kill and injure so many in the first moments of an attack, well, I just don’t think those should be in the hands of anyone but active military.

Blue thoughts this morning.

We hear the arguments against banning assault rifles every time the topic comes up. The constitution gets waved and we’re reminded it guarantees gun ownership. And besides, we’re told, these weapons are already on the streets and we’d never get them away from the bad guys anyway.

But I don’t think the writers of the constitution, when they were giving us the right to bear arms, knew anything about the devastation created by an assault rifle. I doubt they could even imagine such a thing. Moreover, banning a certain type of weapon or accessory doesn’t ban all weapons, doesn’t take away a person’s right to bear arms.

And if we don’t begin somewhere, don’t attempt to make our country safer, then what?

Geranium looking for a bit of light.

Do we just continue down the road we’re on now, where every few months people, sometimes dozens of people, lose their lives for no apparent reason? People just doing their jobs, running their errands, going to school, seeing a movie, enjoying a concert? Attending their place of worship?

Do we just continue to watch the news, see their faces through a fresh sheen of tears, while inside giving thanks that it wasn’t someone we knew, no one from our family? And do we just keep saying, sometimes out loud, that someone ought to do something? And then let it slide from our mind as we go about our daily lives?

Virginia Beach victims, photo from the internet.

What will it take for people in this country to have an honest discussion about the whole problem. Not just the guns, I realize there’s a problem with our mental health system too, but guns can not be left out of the equation.

What will it take for all of us to leave our comfort zone behind, leave our assumptions and personal histories behind, what will it take for us to face this uncomfortable place where we sit across from family and friends with opposing views and just talk.

And then come up with some viable first step.

My bleeding heart is fading among the forget-me-nots. I am not immune to the irony of that.

Sandy Hook with it’s children and teachers lost should have been everyone’s last straw. That tragedy should have been the catalyst for change, but even that loss wasn’t enough for most of us to be brave.

It’s complicated. Change is hard. But this morning, as I wandered my gardens looking for a peace I didn’t find, I grew convinced we have to try.

Can we find the light?

Because how many lost is the magic number, how many shattered families are too many, what does it take for us to grow up and do the hard work to become a responsible nation?

Can’t we be the adults here and sit down with someone we know holds opposing views and talk? I think we have to.

It would be a start.

Forget-me-nots remind us to never forget.


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Truck rant

Several lives changed or ended abruptly in Colorado Thursday, April 25th.

Photo taken from the internet.

As many of you saw on national news a semi truck came barreling down a mountainside, out of control according to witnesses, stopping only when it struck rush hour traffic. Four people were killed. Ten people, including the semi driver, were treated for injuries.

This crash brought out strong emotions in me, the daughter of a man killed by a semi driven by a sleepy driver. I know first hand how difficult the road ahead will be for the families of those killed, and have friends who know all about the hurdles facing the surviving victims.

The driver’s life has changed forever too. He’s been charged with 40 charges, including four counts of vehicular homicide. His family, of course, supports him.

He was newly hired at the Texas company who owned the truck, a company who has had previous safety violations, including those involving brakes. He was only driving a truck temporarily to earn some money. He wasn’t planning on becoming a professional driver, though he was happy to get the job.

But the story gets even worse.

This crash was the perfect storm of all the things that can go wrong when an inexperienced driver gets into the seat of an 80,000 pound vehicle, working for a small, independent company. A company that obviously didn’t care about safety, as evidenced by their earlier safety violations and the lack of training. A small company, with only five trucks, a company that carries only the minimum liability insurance of $750,000.

That minimum insurance is required for a truck company to operate, the law requiring it was implemented in 1980 and has never been increased even though the cost of living, including medical costs, have skyrocketed since. Small companies often carry only that much, even though, as we can see, the death and destruction caused by a semi crash doesn’t correlate to the size or wealth of the company.

So those four families who’s loved ones died last week, and the families of all those injured, some still in the hospital, will have to split the available liability insurance of $750,000 between them, and share it with the state of Colorado too, if there are any needed road repairs as a result of this crash.

Seven Hundred Fifty Thousand doesn’t begin to cover the costs. It won’t begin to compensate families for their losses. It won’t cover lost wages, or pain meds, skin grafts or surgeries. And what about the company itself, the one who put that young driver in the driver’s seat and sent him off to the mountains of Colorado with faulty brakes?

They will likely file bankruptcy and start up again the next day under another name. And don’t think they’ll have learned anything from this – the likelihood of them becoming a safer truck company in their next incarnation is negligible.

Because for companies like this it’s not about safety. It’s all about the money.

And unless we raise the liability insurance minimum to something substanstial so that the insurance company will underwrite the truck company, including it’s safety record, until we require companies to cover a larger portion of any damage they cause, then there’s no incentive to put safety first.

The opposing argument is that increased insurance requirements would be too expensive, that it would put small truck companies out of business. Well. My opinion is if you can’t afford the actual cost of doing business you should find another business to be in. Don’t pass your costs on to innocents, who will then have to file bankruptcy themselves, buried under medical bills, and eventually get assistance from Medicaid, which is paid for by all taxpayers.

I don’t know about you, but to me it’s only common sense to tie the required level of liability insurance to the rise in medical expenses. But I know that’s not likely to happen all at once, if at all. I’d be happy to get it raised to $2 million, which also wouldn’t have been enough to handle all the loss and expenses from last week’s crash.

This week some of those families are likely finding out there’s little to nothing available to them to help them in their new normal. It’s going to feel like a slap in the face.

Image taken from the internet.

Those people were sitting in their cars in rush hour traffic. Doing nothing wrong. They got up to go to work or school or the grocery store and the world as they knew it imploded in a split second because of greed. Because profit trumps safety. Because people, with no thought of anyone else, made some very bad decisions.

For those involved in the April crash spring will never come again in quite the same way.

And this is why we go to Washington, over and over and over again. Because someday someone will hear, finally hear, how crazy this all is. This year it’s remotely possible that there will be another attempt to get the minimum required level raised. If that happens I’ll ask you all to call and text and email your Washington Representatives and Senators.

It takes a lot to get their attention, so we’ll need you all. Thank you for reading this far, and thank you for your support.

The regulrly scheduled blog will continue shortly. While you wait, if you’re the praying sort, send a little prayer up for the families involved in this crash, and for the victims of all the other crashes happening daily across our country.

Thank you.

Hey Dad. Hope you’re showing the new people around heaven.


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Photography makes me fat

I admit, the title of this post wormed it’s way into my brain during sleep last night. It made perfect sense then, but it’s less clear in today’s snowy morning light.

I weighed myself yesterday because my knees, hip and legs ache most of the day and night. I particularly notice my knees when I’m carrying the dog, an extra twenty pounds on top of my own extra poundage.

Snow is on the way.

In my sleep I analyzed the situation. I rarely take long walks anymore. When I do walk, even on short neighborhood strolls, I almost always have a camera, though sometimes it’s just my phone. There is always something to stop and take a picture of.

Always.

So the walk turns into a photo shoot. Very few calories are expended while leaning over a mushroom or shooting up into trees.

Let’s go for a walk before it snows more mama!

I wear my Fitbit and religiously note the dismal number of daily steps. Even knowing I’m barely moving doesn’t get me off the sofa. It’s just so warm and snugly there. And here comes winter in full force. Record breaking cold is on the way. More snow. Little sunlight. The odds or me taking more steps slips lower.

But! We have a perfectly good elliptical in the basement. It’s been there for years and I’ve used it twice. It’s hard. It’s boring. But I have no excuse, something has to change, probably more than one something.

Darn. Change is hard.

Don’t stop visiting us lady!


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The comfort of Mahler more than 100 years after his death

Saturday evening found my husband and I in Ann Arbor with my Aunt listening to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 9 in D major performed by the Ann Arbor Symphony.

I was a bit intimidated by the prospect of listening to the long symphony, over an hour and twenty minutes, with no intermission and no chance to change gears if it wasn’t something I enjoyed. I thought longingly of the concert last month filled with Dvorak and Gershwin. But I figured this one would be good for me.

And it was – in an unexpected way.

You see Saturday morning was the horrific mass shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Throughout the day I watched updates and wondered, again, how such things continue to happen in our country.

By Saturday evening I was overwhelmingly sad.

Music Director Arie Lipsky gave his typical lecture prior the the concert, explaining bits and pieces of the four movements, giving us a better understanding of the composer’s life and this particular piece. It’s thought to be Mahler’s goodbye, perhaps a foreshadowing of his fatal heart ailment, but, Maestro Lipsky said, the final interpretation of the meaning behind the music would be up to the performers, and ultimately us, the listening audience.

And there he paused, stared down at his score, then looked up with pain in his eyes and quietly dedicated the evening’s performance to the murdered members of the Squirrel Hill Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

My own eyes filled with tears. And as we settled into our seats to hear the music I wondered what my interpretation would be. What would I hear in this long piece on this, such a sad day?

And, it turns out, for me the music was intertwined in the events of the day.

As someone who has experienced the unexpected news about a violent death of a family member, all I could hear in this music was the raw emotion of the families left behind on this horrible Saturday morning. It was as if the music was describing the road each of them will be traveling as they move through their grief in the days and years ahead.

The first movement, Andante comodo, started out innocently, peacefully, much like the lives of the parishioners themselves as they settled into the service, like those people still in traffic on their way to meet friends and family as they probably did every weekend. But about two minutes into the piece there came a foreboding feeling.

Something was wrong.

At 5:45 into the music I could hear the news being spread, tension built, shock, disbelief and confusion were all being felt. The rest of the movement took me through the roller coaster of those first moments, hours and days after the event, the music filled with layers of rage and grief followed by bits of sweet memories and longing, always overcome with the deep swells of pain and sorrow.

The second movement, Im Tempo eines, represented, for me, a time in the future when family members have given themselves permission to be happy again. It started out with a lighthearted, though clumsy, dance. The family was, rightly so, a bit rusty in their happiness. But soon enough the music began to change tempo, to speed up and become a bit manic, as the nightmare of reality interrupts even the simple joy of dance.

The third movement, Rondo-Burleske, is all about the chaos, rage, and disbelief inherent in grief with an almost nightmarish circus motif. It was loud and fast from the very first notes, allowing for no contemplation, only emotion. And the interweaving themes kept pounding at our emotions until the abrupt end which forced a collective gasp from wide-eyed audience members.

There was a longer pause, then, between the third and fourth movement, Adagio, as the musicians seemed to collect themselves, to adjust their mindset from the frenetic third to the quiet resolution of this last movement.

And here, in the fourth, was where my tears fell again. For it was here that I felt the resignation and acceptance, the finality of the loss. The soft tones were contemplative, but there was a hint of joy too, hidden between the layers of deep pain, in the pools of grief.

The joy came from finally realizing that our loved ones, lost to violence, are safe now. And though it’s hard, so very hard, not to have them here with us, it became clear, as the last distant notes faded into the night air, that they are truly and forever home.

I felt a bit silly as I surreptitiously wiped the tears from my cheeks, but I noticed a few others doing the same. And then I stood, along with the rest of the house, to applaud my appreciation

So that’s my interpretation of Mahler’s ninth, heard on this particular difficult day in the history of our country.

If you would like to hear some of this Mahler piece, but don’t have over an hour to devote, I recommend listening to a few minutes of each of the first three movements and then to the entire fourth movement.

I trust Mahler will bring you a similar feeling of hope and peace.


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We could all use a smile.

Reflecting on current events.


Trent, over at his blog trentsworldblog has decided that we could all use a smile, so he has resurrected his weekly smile post in which he invites us all to post each week about something that has made us smile, and then link back to him.

I think he’ll post a recap, but I need to go back and read the instructions (you’ll find those at his Weekly Smile blog).

There’s gold in the woods. And a bit of peace.

As I sit watching the horrific news out of Pittsburgh this morning I have to admit I was feeling guilty for feeling good after my short trip to northern Michigan.

Sometimes you just need to walk away.

For me going into the woods is like living on my own personal private island. No TV, no email, maybe a bit of blog producing, but that’s all about looking through images I’ve just taken and then letting the fingers do their thing.

No stress there. Usually no tears.

The logging museum shows life in a simpler time.

And yet the world carries on even while I’m not noticing. Pipe bombs get mailed. Mass shootings happen. Candidates snipe at each other. No one tells a complete truth.

Is there really only one way?

Who even knows what the truth is anymore.

Sometimes a person needs the welcoming woods.

As Carol says in her latest post, we’re all probably overloaded. By everything.

So I think Trent’s idea is wonderful. Let’s look for at least one thing that has made us smile this week.

No television out here.

For me, it was being in the north wandering among the last bit of fading color. I was only there for a little more than one day, and it was drizzling rain most of the time.

Still. In the last few minutes before I climbed back in the car to head home the sun burned through a layer of cloud and the woods glowed.

It was just for a moment.

Glowing in between the raindrops.

But it made me smile.

Follow the path for soul renewal.


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Still trying to veg out

I get tired of trying new recipes looking for that great vegan meal. Some weeks go by that I don’t try any. Still, I believe that a plant based diet is healthy and know I need to try harder.

The finished dish.

My poor husband has endured a couple years of experiments; I know it’s been this long because my Facebook memories show vegan attempts from at least two years ago. Sometimes Facebook is useful because I’ll see a recipe that was good from way back then that I’d forgotten all about it.

This week I was flipping through the Forks over Knives cookbook and thought the “Quick and Easy Thai Vegetable Stew” looked good. I added a few things to my grocery list for the week, notably coconut extract and Thai red curry paste. I had everything else in the house so I put it on this week’s dinner agenda.

Tonight I made it.

First of all, I don’t know what about this is quick and easy when you have to chop up the onion, the vegetables, the cilantro, mint and garlic. You also have to grate fresh ginger and zest and juice a lime.

Lots of stuff to prepare prior to making this dish.

I guess after you get all that done the actual cooking is fast and easy. But that’s the problem I have with most vegan cooking. Prep just takes awhile.

So how did it turn out? It’s supposed to be a main dish, and it’s suppose to serve four. Maybe this is why vegans are skinny. I put it over rice to make it more substantial, and it basically served three even that way.

Onion, ginger, garlic, lime and Thai red curry paste.

My husband ate leftover chicken enchiladas from the other night and used this dish as a side. It certainly looked like a side.

It tasted fine…except for that darn cilantro. I try to like cilantro but I just don’t. The recipe wanted 1/2 a cup of chopped cilantro, I (luckily) only had a little bit, and that’s all I used. Still, it was pervasive in the final taste. I need to remember that I don’t like it and not let it mess up an otherwise OK recipe. I guess I don’t know if I should just leave it out entirely or use parsley as a substitute.

And for the mixed vegetables I used what I had in the house, broccoli and carrots. Next time I’d use equally dense vegetables because the broccoli cooked through way before the carrots did and got sort of mushy. And I think I’d like it with water chestnuts, snow peas and maybe fresh green beans. Maybe some sliced fresh mushrooms thrown in near the end. Or peas. Maybe all of that.

Almost done.

So I’d say it was a sort of win. I’ll make it again some day, just differently. Guess that would make it a totally different dish!

Flexibility. Yep that’s what makes a vegan diet work. And persistence, lots and lots of persistence.

Mint and cilantro.


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De-Politicizing. Is that a word?

Sunshine captured in fall petals.


Saturday morning I went out for my second shift of door-to-door canvassing, getting the word out about my chosen candidate for Congress. She’s closing the small gap that existed a few weeks ago between her and the incumbent. According to his polls he has a 2 point lead. According to her polls she has a 4 point lead.

I think neither team can claim victory yet.

Everything’s looking good at my park mama!

And so I and my canvassing partners hit the streets again. I hoped more people would be home on a Saturday morning versus the Sunday afternoon we worked last weekend. I was disappointed.

Lots of color at Katie’s park.

We knocked on 38 doors and talked to perhaps 10 or 12 people. But this time the people were more welcoming, more ready to listen to our story. And that made it a nicer day. Still, it wasn’t fun or comfortable.

Canvassing is definitely not something I want to do on a regular basis.

This little guy must have worked hard to get up on this big rock. We didn’t disturb him.

I don’t know how far we walked because my Fitbit died earlier this week, but it felt like a long, long way. The distance between houses was greater, the lots bigger, the roads had more hills.

Will pose for treats.

But it was a beautiful day, as many of the people we talked to mentioned. Most of them seemed to appreciate that we had given up a pretty morning to walk their neighborhood. A few people told us to have a good day as we left their porches. One wished us luck.

Standing tall.

And even the guy that opened his door with the statement “if this is political I don’t want to hear it.” laughed when I told him to remember the middle aged women slogging through his neighborhood when he was making up his mind at the polls on election day.

I think he’ll remember us. I hope he remembers us in a good way.

Pretty afternoon light makes me smile.

I’m pretty sure I got my 10,000 steps in on Saturday because as soon as I got home I hugged my dog and began the process of de-poiticizing my brain and body. Working the kinks out, relaxing the shoulders, stretching the aching calf muscles.

Mostly I de-politicized by bundling Katie into the car and immediately heading out to her park where we walked along her pond and sniffed the pee-mail left by other dogs.

Peaceful.

Well. She did the sniffing. I mostly took photos. As you’ve probably guessed, all the photos here are from our Saturday afternoon together.

But the strain of doing something so outside my sense of normal required me to take Katie to two parks Saturday afternoon. After visiting her local park we drove down to Kensington, my favorite park, for a short walk among tall trees and along the lake shore.

Still posing for treats.

Katie thought she was in heaven. Two parks in one afternoon! She couldn’t stop smiling even though it did mean her supper was late. She made me pay for that later, but I was just glad to be out there so it was all good.

Red and green working together. Congress should take note.

Katie-girl is very good at de-politicizing her mama.

Balancing reflections.

The work will continue, there’s no letting up now, but whether or not I will canvass again is a question I’ll have to answer once I’m home from our impending trip to DC.

Politics. I just can’t avoid it. Wish I could.

I’m here for you mama.


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Now she’s done it.

Katie here.

Well, mama’s gone and done it this time. She’s getting forgetful and she spends a lot of time looking for stuff. Like her keys and her glasses and her book. But now I think she’s slipped over the edge into something more ominous.

Aren’t these reed things cool?

This time she’s misplaced daddy.

I’ve looked and looked and I can’t find him anywhere! I’m worried that I’ll never see him again! Other times, when mama and I are off on adventures I know that daddy is home safe and sound. Eventually we go back and there he is and I get all wiggle-butt and happy and stuff.

Which is prettier mama? The asters or me?

But now we’re already at home and I can’t find my daddy.

Mama says it’s OK, she talks to him all the time and he’s just down south helping my uncle work on a project. But that doesn’t make any sense to me. Usually if my people are down south we’re all down there together. And here mama and I are up in Michigan. So I don’t know if I believe her.

Sometimes when I come in from a walk in the park I run in the house and down the hall just to say hi to my daddy and when he’s not there I get all disappointed. Mama tries to distract me with talk about supper and stuff, but I know the truth.

Hey mama! I’m sticking to you like glue!

My daddy is lost.

So I’m putting out the word. If you find him, please send him home to me and mama, OK? Meanwhile I’m sucking up to mama. I’ve lost one parent, I’m not letting the other one out of my sight! And she’s sucking up to me too. The images in this blog post are from a lovely walk we had in one of my parks yesterday.

Today I’m campaigning for another walk at a different park. I have to keep track of so much, my parks and my parents! It’s exhausting for a little sheltie-girl.

I think I’ll go take a nap. Got to be rested up when daddy comes home!

ZZZZZZZZZ….