Oh the questions that arise when we learn, grow, travel, contemplate, evolve and suffer. It is said that those who question are the most alive and vibrant of us all. Their curiosity and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge keep the questioner young, interested and interesting while providing the rest of us an opportunity to think and become.

                To be or not to be?     Is there life after death?     Is anyone really free?
Will good always triumph over evil?     Is there such a thing as a selfless act?
What is the meaning of life?

And then there’s my question, posed neither from a contemplative nor thoughtful state, rather one that spewed out in a dialogue I was having with myself as I tried to determine a particular route home on my bike. It’s not thought-provoking, growth-enhancing or soul-evolving. But at that moment, it made all the sense in the world.
                                                           Is it harder or worse?

I have enjoyed riding a road bike for many years and while I am not a hard-core cyclist, I love being on my bike. Sometimes I take long rides and sometimes I don’t. At times it can be a zen-like escape and even in the toughest head winds and steepest inclines, riding is almost always a fun diversion from the hustle and bustle of life’s obligations and chaos.

But recently I’ve been introduced to ‘The Hill’. I am fortunate to live in a stunningly beautiful part of Austin. The ‘beautiful’ part is obvious: deep canyons collide with intensely steep hills that wind and cut their way through seemingly endless hillsides. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to see that the paved roads loosely resemble a roller-coaster that climbs and falls, twists and turns in every direction…which brings us to the ‘stunning’ part: trying to ride my bike up them.

As much as I loved riding the flat and often windy roads of coastal Maine they did not prepare my body or mind for these Texas-sized monsters. In their defense, the roller coaster hill country provided me with a lot of clues that, in my ignorance, I noticed only in retrospect.

Clue #1
My car has a manual shift transmission with six gears…in order for me to ascend ‘The Hill’  I have to downshift to third gear or speed up much faster than the 30 mph speed limit.

Clue #2
My ears almost always pop when I drive down ‘The Hill’.

Clue #3
A neighbor compares the area to a ski resort where he likes to vacation.

Clue #4
The people I see cycling in my area look like they could qualify for the Tour de France in their sleep.

Clue #5
While riding up a smaller hill one Saturday afternoon and struggling to gain any speed whatsoever, I was passed by a deer who was walking along the side of the road.

Clue #6
Really? Clue #1 wasn’t enough?

The determinate factor that must be acknowledged each time I ride from home is whether or not to, (1) ride a somewhat less steep route (i.e. medium grade roller coaster) which is pretty but doesn’t qualify as postcard beautiful and has more traffic (including the deer that walked passed me as I was riding) or to, (2) ride a much steeper route (i.e. big honkin’ roller coaster) with significantly more natural beauty, rivers, streams, horse farms, abundant wildlife and virtually empty of traffic. I almost always opt for the second option with the knowledge that the ride must end with a requirement to climb ‘The Hill’  in order to get home.

I find Ausinites and Texans to be friendly, accommodating and easy to be with and I love where I live. However,‘The Hill’  must have moved here from some inhospitable, undesirable place because it is none of those things. It seems to taunt me with its steepness, all but pushing me off my bike with its message to get off, you are not welcome. It is, without a doubt, the steepest hill I have ever climbed on my bike and likely one of the steepest I’ve ever driven in my car.

My quagmire with ‘The Hill’  comes at the end of the ride, which so far, has always been in the hot sun, when my body is depleted of fluids and energy and my mind has left for the day. With Option 2, ‘The Hill’ is the only way for me to get home; it is my ingress, my egress, my everything. There are two ways to access it: a straight forward shot from its base or a cut-in a few hundred feet from the base alongside a beautiful, craggy, steep creek.

So there I was, nearing the end of my ride and trying to decide whether to start from the base or the craggy creek and the question surfaced: ‘Is it harder or worse?’. The nonsensical question made all the sense in the world at that time. Rather than round my tires felt square, my compromised mind had me convinced that the brake pads were rubbing because the pedals refused to turn at my command using my energy-depleted legs and my body interpreted the slightest hint of a breeze as a gale-force wind.

On that day I chose the craggy creek route and willed myself to keep pedaling despite riding a bike with square tires, brakes frozen in the on position and a completely invented headwind. I may not be smart enough to recognize Clues 1-5, but I am smart enough to respect the fact that ‘The Hill’  will be there long after me. I will never conquer ‘The Hill’  which I graciously accept, but like an annoying neighbor I think it would be better to be friends than enemies if, for nothing else, the bond may prevent me from devolving to a place where a nonsensical question make sense.

The question: “Is it harder or worse?”
The answer: “Yes”

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven


Source: New feed

When I learned late last week my 10-year old cat Thomas likely had feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), I felt exactly like the literature the vet gave me described how pet owners typically feel. As if I’d been hit over the head with a 2-by-4. The virus virtually comes from nowhere, with the help of the kitty masking the symptoms for months, sometimes years, until Bam! everyone is hit with the proverbial board. The prognosis was dreadful from the start and I was optimistic from the start. I’ve had lots of pets…they get sick, they catch things, we treat them and they live…at least for awhile…at least in the past I had time to prepare for the loss. But not in the 2-by-4 board-wielding world of FIB.  (I have my own acronym for the virus but it’s not something I’ll share.)

In an attempt to feel “normal” after being whacked by the proverbial FIB 2-by-4, I allowed myself to go with my friend inner-tubing on a lazy river south of Austin. She did a good job of talking me into it and I’m glad she did – that’s what friends are for. The day was beautiful, the water was warm and the natural landscape was peaceful – a bit like floating in a hug with tree’s offering their canopy of branches to embrace us. Almost immediately we noticed the abundance of dragonfly’s all around and she suggested that this was exactly what I needed: “Dragonfly Therapy”.

We weren’t quite sure what it meant to have dragonfly’s stop and plop on our knees and arms and legs but we both sensed it was something special. Later I learned that dragonfly’s represent change and movement in ones life. The dragonfly symbolizes self-realization and it’s founded in a mental and emotional maturity about understanding the deeper meaning of life.  It seemed apropos as I knew that while Thomas was not going to be with me much longer I also knew that I would continue to live, grow and change and he had things to do as well…he was preparing to transition from this life. We would all continue to move, just in different ways.

As I arrived home that afternoon I was amazed at how exhausted I felt from floating in a tube down a slow-moving river and thrilled to see L’il Thomas Voeckler poking his head out of a box at me; one that I had left for them to play in (after all, boxes and paper bags make the best cat toys!).

The afternoon of Dragonfly Therapy had done me a world of good and Thomas, being Thomas, seemed happy that I was happy. He ate dinner and peered out from the balcony for a short time and then retreated to his bed.

My sweet boy was not the same the next day and as the vet had predicted the fast-moving virus had caught up to Thomas and had taken over his little body. Keeping him comfortable and pain-free were the only options as there is nothing to combat this beast of a virus. He died this morning in my arms but not before gifting me a precious hour of cuddling on our favorite blanket; it’s hard for me to believe, but as we lay there, he purred. The other cats were with him, our little family unit together to bid him goodbye all the while silent tears streamed down my face. That precious gift of cuddling with him one final time is one of the most special and generous gifts I’ve ever received because as I’ve learned, when cats are dying they tend to go off to be alone, they don’t come out to cuddle.

He died on an auspicious day, a special blessed day on the Buddhist calendar, where prayers are magnified and good intentions carry more weight. Auspicious days aren’t plentiful and are very special days. There won’t be another such day until the end of June; Thomas chose well. As he lay dying, the sky was overcast and the clouds soon opened and rained down its tears…perhaps nature’s way of honoring its grief, loss and love for one of it’s own.
           “There is a sacredness in tears. 
                            They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. 
                      They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. 
          They are the messengers of overwhelming grief and unspeakable love.”

                                                        – Washington Irving –

Thank you Betsy, Doris, Fern, Kate, Lori, Peter, Tamara, Terry, Seth and Stephanie for your words of support and wisdom this past week. You have helped me stay strong for Thomas and for Bridgette, Echo and Pine Cone who he left behind.

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven


Source: New feed


I suppose I’ll never forget when I named Thomas…I had just sold my business and within minutes of that transaction, two kittens, littermates, appeared literally in my path and I knew they were mine. They picked me and I was fortunate enough to say yes. They were tiny and homeless and one was solid black and one was solid white. I knew immediately that Echo’s name would indeed be Echo. I already had one solid black kitty and it seemed apropos that the new kitten would be her shadow so-to-speak…and the name Echo seemed fitting. But the tiny little white kitten was more difficult to name. I didn’t want to name him Snowball or Fluffy or something quite so standard. I could tell he was special, there was something about him. Because the little kitten was so small but seemed equally social, I decided to name him after my favorite cyclist, Thomas Voeckler, and it could not have been a better fit. Thomas Voeckler the cyclist was, and is, a fun cyclist. He is small, even in a sport of very small athletes, he is so small that the commentary guys typically refer to him as ‘L’ll Thomas Voeckler’. He’s 8also full of energy and bounds around with enthusiasm, he is known as the most social cyclist of all the professional riders. It’s almost impossible not to like Thomas Voeckler.

The same goes for my beloved little white cat, Thomas Voeckler. Like his namesake, he is tiny, has always had energy to spare and loves people – by far, he is the most social of my cats. I have never met anyone who didn’t fall hard for my little Thomas; he emanates love and acceptance and while I like to think I’ve only exposed him to people who have good hearts, he is particularly drawn to those who are genuine. Frankly, I’ve learned from him as to help decipher the authentic from the ‘less than’.

I knew something was wrong with him, my gut told me and I didn’t want to acknowledge it. It was as if I couldn’t bare it, not another loss, I’d had to endure so much in such a short amount of time. But I noticed…he didn’t play with the laser light like he used to and while he still came running for treats and was always there for breakfast and dinner, intuitively I knew something was wrong; it has been a subtle and slow transition.

In December the vet ran blood work but didn’t see anything abnormal but she also voiced concerned about how small he was. I watched him throughout the winter as he slept a lot but always chose to sleep where I was: reading the paper, Thomas would sleep over my shoulder and help me do the puzzles each day, writing blog articles, Thomas would sleep on his chair in my office and then at bedtime he was always there…he always chose to be around me. I continued to notice how tired he seemed, I left for a vacation and my friend and housesitter noticed it too…he slept a lot but never missed a meal. I thought perhaps he was stressed about my absence. We were going through a dreadfully cold winter, the house was cold, I was cold, he was cold…I thought perhaps we were struggling due to the cold.

But then we moved across the country to a warmer more inviting environment…a big journey that I talked to him about and explained where and how and why. He did great. His vet helped with sedatives and I did everything I knew to do to make the trip smooth, calm and stress-free. Even in the car as we drove, if I spoke on the phone it was in a calm voice, if I listened to music it was one of a few select CD’s that I thought would be soothing. My stops were quick and focused more on my cats than me. Upon the move-in, everything was set for him and the other cats to be comfortable; their familiar blankets, toys, beds and rugs in place. And they all did fabulous. I was grateful and cannot believe we did it and did it so well.

Once we were settled and they knew their new home and environment, all their things were in place, Thomas began to let me know he didn’t feel well. I knew…I had known all along that something was wrong but we just didn’t know, the tests didn’t tell us and animals and humans don’t speak the same language.

Thomas accepted our new home and immediately made the outside balcony his own. He’s always been the one who wanted to be outside, to chew on grass, to smell the air…he’d beg for me to let him outside and I did. He wanted to be outside and I’d let him spend as much time as he wanted in the safety of his large crate taking in all the outdoors had to offer.

  Unfortunately, the outdoors offered up a virus
that he ended up contracting that he won’t survive.

He probably contracted it last fall on one of those golden afternoons where he spent hours gazing in the yard, soaking in the sun and smiling at me as anyone who has met Thomas knows he can do.

As we all settled in and began making our new home ours, finding places we like to hang out, the kitties claiming places they prefer, Thomas spent many hours on the balcony gazing out, watching the deer and the hawks. He’d look at me in awe and watched and napped under the rocker. Within one day he let me know he was sick; I acted immediately. I learned today that he is fatally ill and because cats are cats, we really don’t know how long he has to live.

I know some things for sure. Thomas knew he was sick and he knew we were moving. He held on until we got to our new home and got settled. He never missed an opportunity to sleep in front of the fire or on top of the sofa, two of his favorite things. He traveled very well and when we stopped he would get out and look around, curious and calm. He made sure everyone was ok – I watched him bathing his little sister Pine Cone, he napped with Bridgette and sat with Echo in the window and he laid on the balcony and enjoyed the awesome view looking out on the northwest hills of Austin – for the first time ever – not being contained in a crate. He smiled at me as those of you who know him knows he does as if to say, we’re here, we did it, can you believe it?

When he told me he was sick I responded immediately.

I found a vet worthy of my sweet boy who tenderly tested him and let me know that he is fatally ill and there is no cure; he’s probably been sick since at least the fall. My sweet, lovable Little Thomas Voeckler is dying and even there, with the vet, as I sat crying, Thomas looked at me as it to say, ‘we did it…we made it to Austin and I got to be outside and see the deer and it’s ok’…or at least that’s how I have begun to rationalize it.

Minutes later I was home and ran into a neighbor and new friend…he has a beautiful greyhound and as I stood holding his dog and explained about Thomas without inhibition I looked up and saw tears in his eyes. And then I remembered…we don’t sign up for this part when we bring pets into our lives. We want them to live forever but they don’t and they don’t carry the heartache that we do…they only carry the love. My friend Seth reminded me that animals don’t feel regret and that surely Thomas loved being a part of the journey to Austin as one of the family. He saw the effort I made on his behalf and he held on until he felt it was ok to let go.

As I go forward in the next couple of days or weeks or months I will strive to be present for Thomas and not focus on who I am losing but rather feel gratitude for all that he has been to me, to my friends and to my family. We are losing him and my other cats have let me know that they know; they are a bit clingy yet they stay close to Thomas too. I will do everything in my power to make sure Thomas is comfortable and content.

I’ve never met anyone who didn’t fall in love with my sweet L’ll Thomas Voeckler, but no one more than me. I used to joke that I picked him but truth be told, he picked me and I’m very fortunate that he did.

As small as he is, he will leave a huge hole in my heart.

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven


Source: New feed

Although not originally from the state of Maine, I lived there many years – specifically along the southern coast. Without a doubt Maine has a rugged, natural beauty that captures the essence of its harsh climate. Winters seem to go forever, the sun seems to take extended vacations leaving dark, temperamental clouds to carry the duties of the vast firmament and spring tends to bait and switch for weeks before finally deciding to stick around. However, like most things in life, that which is not easy oftentimes render the greatest rewards. When the sun returns and the summer weather unfolds, it is easy to understand why ‘Vacationland’ is printed on the license plates as the state all but dares you not to notice it’s stark beauty.

For those who live along the coastline, seeing boats working their way up and down the channels is a relatively common scene. Seeing a boat sitting in dry dock can be just as common.

When boats are in need of repair and/or maintenance, they are hauled up out of the water with massive rigs in order to be serviced. Once the vessel has been repaired, it is released into the watery depths to float free, to sail and to move as it was intended. Sometimes however, a boat will sit in dry dock for long periods of time…weeks, months, years…usually due to a limitation in resources to pay for repairs or a limitation in time to invest in the work required.

Seeing a boat in dry dock was always a little fascinating but seeing a boat in dry dock for extended periods was always a little sad. Many times we became quite accustomed to seeing a certain vessel in dry dock, some were never released, seemingly stuck, held up out of the water, limited and stalled. And sometimes I would wonder if the same things happen to us.

We weren’t built to be stuck, limited or stalled yet it happens. We may not be held in place by a rig, but sometimes something holds us back; something limits us to being able to float free, to sail and to move as we were intended. Just like the repairs to the boat, until we invest resources or our time and effort into getting unstuck we’re likely to remain in dry dock – limited only by our unwillingness to sail free again.

Since fear is the basis for our bias’, prejudices and self-imposed limitations, fear is the likely culprit that keeps us in our own form of dry dock. The feeling and pull of wanting more from our experiences, to be courageous and curious, to want to color outside the proverbial lines, to stay up past our bedtime, to spoil our appetite, to break from rut and routine and float free is a likely indicator that we may be in dry dock and no longer want to be there. The experience of pure joy, spontaneity and uninhibited bliss cannot come from being dry docked in a holding cell. Dry dock can offer safety, after all, a boat won’t sink if it’s not in the water…but a boat wasn’t designed to be in dry dock and neither were we.

The safety and monotony of routine may offer a measure of stability or security but if we aren’t mindful we could get too accustomed to residing in our own version of dry dock and that compromises our ability to live.                

                     Residing is one thing, but living is something altogether different.

Glen Frey sung,‘you can see the stars but still not see the light’, a line that reminds me of how susceptible we are to being deluded by our thinking and unable to recognize how we live.

You can reside in dry dock for years, but you can’t live there. 
                                                               Where are you?

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven


Source: New feed


It seems that despite the monetary value, brand or status of an item the things that hold the most meaning to us are the things that have a story. A story can give an inanimate object significance which results in that item having value. We all have things that are meaningless to some and valuable to us. The old, faded, dog collars I have draped over Tua and Alta’s picture are precious to me. Tua wore purple, Alta wore red and when each dog died I removed her collar and kept it.

We can also experience allowing a story to unfold which can result in something holding meaning for us. That happened to me with the pretty little box with the peacock on the front.

I had gone through, by any standard, a difficult few years. The young man who I loved and mentored was killed in Afghanistan at the age of 24. Tua, my beautiful Alaskan husky died not long after that and Alta, my Siberian husky, died two years later. I had also discovered that my best friend and financial advisor husband of nearly 18 years had embezzled from me and had done so on such a grand scale my life savings were gone. That resulted in losing the ability to stay enrolled in graduate school in which I had excelled. I dissolved the marriage which resulted in more loss. In that same time, my father, with whom I was not close but loved, died.

During that time I suffered and grieved and I grew and evolved. I didn’t hide from my pain and I didn’t attempt to deny or replace it with something or someone else. I wanted to heal and prosper.
I love the line from Andy Rooney the 60 Minutes curmudgeon,

                               ‘everyone wants to live on top of the mountain,
                              but happiness and growth occur while climbing it’

So I climbed and climbed and along the way I found my new hometown. It was love at first visit but I didn’t allow myself to fall so easily. I didn’t want to run away and simply cover up the previous years’ pain yet it became increasingly apparent that I was heading to a place in which I seemed destined. I researched the area, I poked around and visited during all times and weather. I sat in traffic and I sat by the lake, I went out with new friends and danced at a honky tonk. I made friends and I felt at home. I drove outside the city to explore what was beyond and that’s when I saw the little box.

I had already made the decision to move to Austin when I walked through a small shop in a quaint little town and the pretty little box caught my eye. About the size of a 5 x 7″ frame, it held no meaning. It was a little empty box. But I kept going back to it – there was something about the box decorated in bright colors with a peacock on the front. As the salesperson rang it up she asked if I would like it wrapped. I knew immediately I would take the gift-wrapped box home and open it in my new home in Austin, whenever that might be. I put the little box away and remembered it was there but had forgotten what it looked like.

Recently as I was unpacking and settling in, I discovered the gift-wrapped box. I unwrapped it with anticipation knowing it had been many months since I had seen it. I opened the box and laughed for it had a peacock on the front. Unbeknownst to me then I had purchased the little box decorated with a bird with a rich, symbolic history. Depending on the culture, country and religion there are many interpretations to the significance of the brilliantly colored bird yet they all agree the peacock represents rebirth, renewal and integrity.

While traveling just one month prior to moving, I learned about the peacock, it’s symbolism and it’s predisposition for growth and renewal. When I opened the pretty little box in my new home, it immediately became valuable, because it had a story. I had been compelled to buy and wrap something empty and insignificant yet when I opened it many months later, the little empty box was full of meaning.

Thanks for reading,
~ Haven

Source: New feed