Thursday, July 20, 2017

Vacation in Puerto Rico!

Florian and I just got back from Puerto Rico. It was an incredible trip!

We tried to pack in to one week all the amazing things you're supposed to do in Puerto Rico, like explore the neighborhoods, 

ruins, and scenic vistas of Old San Juan, 

hang out at our friendly little hotel with the resident cat, 

and drive around most of the island checking out the gorgeous vegetation, the cool architecture, and the little food shacks along every road.

The coast all along the island has incredible beaches, and we went to one in Luquillo where we saw some beautiful fish along the reefs that were close to shore, although the reef themselves were gray and covered with algae. 

Not vibrant, the way I remembered them from when I went SCUBA diving in Honduras 12 years ago. I wish everyone could go snorkeling in some gorgeous reefs just once, maybe everyone would realize how important it is to stop global warming before they all die. 

On a happier note, we did see this dog in Luquillo who just kept swimming around and around in circles, riding the waves. 

After a day at the beach, we decided to do some inland exploring and checked out the Rio Camuy Cave. 

We actually went on a tour through this incredible cavern, 

my favorite part of which was actually the tropical forest surrounding the cave, which was just oozing with sumptous vegetation

and the lighting was magical. 

So was the cavern.

The cavern was  a major tourist attraction, but we also explored some amazing things off the beaten path like this swimming hole and waterfall nearby, which we discovered on our way back to San Juan

Right before we discovered this dog. 

More on that later!

Before we get to that, I'll just say that El Yunque National Forest was spectacular

With a lot of stunning vistas, 

gorgeous vegetation, 

and cool waterfalls to explore

So hot and humid, as you might imagine, that it was great to have places to cool off. 

Another famed tourist attraction in Puerto Rico is the bioluminescent bays, most notably on the island of Vieques off the main island. We planned to take a ferry to explore, but after some confusing waiting around the crowded ferry terminal in Fajardo we figured out that all ferries to Vieques and Culebra were sold out until August. 

So we decided to take a water taxi to the closer, and smaller, Isla Palomino.

So glad we did! The beach we landed on was like the ones on postcards, and we had it almost to ourselves

We snorkeled for hours, got thoroughly sunburned, and saw incredible fish swimming among the reefs. 

It was so peaceful just swimming along, getting lost in all the strange and beautiful sights. The colorful angel fish and parrotfish, the spooky lionfish, 

and a barracuda! I swam fast when Florian showed me that.

That afternoon was definitely a highlight of the trip, although the evening--when we went on a nighttime kayak tour of a bioluminescent bay, which we got to after traversing a narrow canal through dark mangroves--was also incredible. 

As was the next day, when we drove around feeding stray dogs and found an amazing, cool swimming hole in the forest
It was an incredible trip, but also kind of emotionally exhausting due to the endless stray dogs. Who will be the subject of a post all their own. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 23, 2017

External landscapes, internal landscapes

Whoa! My garden is blowing me away this year. 
Early spring hyacinths and daffodils, 

Followed by an absolute explosion of everything else. 

Flowers are such a joyful expression

exuding passion 

and joy 

and creativity 

with every unfurling petal. There's this incredible knockout rose, 

the same one that was in those hopeful Fozzie profile pictures when both he and the rose were small, 

when I thought just the sight of him with all those flowers would make some lucky adopter snatch him right up, leaving me with only the flowers.

Ha! Their loss. Now both are mine. Fozzie helps me in the garden, like when he chases away the deer that eat my tomatoes. 

I'm still keeping some tomatoes in pots on the porch this year, but maybe the other ones will be safe too. 

That's in the back garden, where Princess likes to roam around and knock down the zucchini and potato plants. She is worth it. 

Works out well, this joint custody thing with my sister. 

We love having Princess here. 

When you feel this much joy and love, how could two dogs be enough?

Two dogs, or one rose bush

Or one echinacea, 

or one butterfly bush, 

or one of anything beautiful and powerful and sensual?

You can't. 

More is better, and the more things to love, the more love builds on itself and grows and blossoms in ways that are healing and medicinal. 

Like St. John's wort.

What metaphor would you use to describe YOUR internal landscape this summer?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Best Day Ever

As the title suggests, Monday was a good day. Not just a good day, but a day that was bloody life-changing.

It started when my phone rang and the caller said she was with Montgomery County Animal Services. Right then my heart skipped a beat, because my only recent connection with them was that day, one of the worst days in my life, when I had them come to take Marshal away. Many times since then I have wished I had done something different, and I assumed that Marshal had paid the ultimate price for my lack of calm decisionmaking--despite my last communication with the shelter, in which they said they would do everything they could for him. 

This call, like a ray of pure light into the dark, guilt-ridden recesses of my soul, relayed the information that Marshal has been at the shelter all this time!

Apparently everyone there really likes him. 

He is still a bit shy and scared, but he brightens up every time he gets to be with other dogs and he's been participating in play groups. 

They haven't been able to find a placement that they thought would be good for him, but they are now talking with a rescue that has a soft spot for pit bulls.

I told them I would do anything in my power to help, including talk to the rescue, hire a trainer, pay for boarding, camp out in his kennel to pet him all night. They said they'd give my information to the rescue and keep me posted. 

This was nothing less than redemption from a dark force that has haunted me for 10 months. I am so glad there is someone else out there who believes that a worthy dog should be given every chance, and that some of those people happen to be running shelters. What Marshal needs--a calm home with one or two very dog-friendly, non-reactive  dogs, in a non-urban area and with a yard, shouldn't be that hard to find, and I'm going to pray with everything I've got that he finds it.  

To cap off this incredible morning, the afternoon was equally extraordinary.

Over the weekend, I was invited to play mbira for a Zimbabwean embassy open house. I was nervous, but I went--and so did Mokoomba, who play amazing traditional-popular fusion music from Zimbabwe. We played a little together, and they ended up spending Monday afternoon at my house!

We jammed, talked, played with the dogs. It was absolutely joyful.

It was incredible to play this music I love so much with musicians of such caliber. 

Fozzie was anxious but happy to make some new buddies. 

Dahlia was in love. I think it's easier for a deaf dog to be around that much music.

So inspiring. 

Mokoomba is on tour now and you won't want to miss them if they come to your town! Check out their tour dates here and hear our living room jam session here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Calmness, Relaxation and Sleep

Lots of great hikes and joyful times this fall and winter, but lately I find myself busy with activist projects and building an online audience for those! If you'd like to know more you can find me on Twitter at @vegsister and find my nonprofit work at @PEERorg. 

But I do still have a few interesting thoughts on dog-related topics, and a lot of cool pictures :) So I'm going to shift the focus here and just start posting shit that feels right, and not worry too much about format. 

Here's a post I didn't get to finish up back in October. We all have our ways of processing stress. I walk the dogs, write, and then lie awake all night, while Florian runs his mouth like a fire hydrant, curses like a longshoreman, and smokes like a chimney all day only to pass into an impenetrable coma and sleep like a log all night. 

Fortunately, there is help for both conditions. You my remember that I've found help for lifelong insomnia from herbs and supplements. Turns out that some of the same compounds help Florian too! 

When he really gets going on one of his stressed out tirades, I've discovered that Kava Kava tincture dials him right down. 

Ranting Florian becomes peaceful, spaced out, slightly smiling Florian, and we can go on a nice hike and enjoy the scenery.

On a gorgeous day in October, we brought the dogs to Catoctin Mountain Park with its historic Iron Furnace

and literally wandered around, 

smiling and laughing, 

the morning's anxious rant about something absolutely inconsequential but at the time all-consuming, 

completely forgotten. 

Not sure if it was the Kava Kava, which is in tincture form so acts immediately, or the Cortisol Manager, which is more long-acting,

but taken together the results were outstanding.

I'll note here that I do think Cortisol management is key to those of us who experience anxiety and insomnia. If you've ever been told that your insomnia is "all in your mind" and that you can control it if you just make an effort, you know what it is to want to put a health care practitioner or well-meaning friend into a deep, immediate sleep with a swift punch to the temple.

Our sleep systems are a finely-tuned machinery of tissue, chemistry, and mental states. Of course there is a physical component to chronic insomnia. I'm pretty sure that my brain chemicals are out of whack and I produce too much cortisol, hence, I sleep only when I address that.

But lately, most of the time, life seems to be addressing that for me most days! For the most part I've been sleeping with no chemical assistance the past couple of months. 

I don't know why, as there's no huge difference in my habits, thoughts, or mental states between this good-sleep time and other times. I do think that relaxation and sleep feed on themselves, and a good sleep groove tends to self-perpetuate. 

That was a lot of words! Time for a bit of silence. Peace to you all.