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Archive for August 2009

Something’s wrong with this picture

p8300134  Not even two minutes after my friends and I launched our kayaks into the Chassahowitzka River on Sunday, we were approached by a manatee mama and her baby. They swam right up to us and playfully poked their heads out of the water, wanting to socialize.  I tried hard to capture the moment with my camera.

What a mistake. When I write that “Something’s wrong with this picture,” it’s that I stopped to take it at all.  I thought the manatees would hang around for a good while, but they didn’t. I lost most of that precious moment to taking a picture so I could show other people what happened to me. But, it didn’t happen to me fully — and that was my fault.

Just another reminder how most of us lose the wonder of the moment because we usually focus on something else. Instead of thinking of what is going on right here and right now, we’re thinking of the future or the past. About things that might not happen or things we can’t change. We forget that the moment we are living is spectacular and fleeting.

It’s hard to remember that when you are facing some of the hardships that exist today, but seriously, you don’t get a do-over with any of your time. If you are living and breathing, it is up to you to make sure you are finding joy in the experience.


My great friend, Vicki Smith, with two precious visitors.

The manatees didn’t come back, but I didn’t miss another gift of that gorgeous day. We paddled the first mile into the national wildlife refuge and were continually annoyed by the antics of two airboaters who seemed intent on polluting everyone’s solitude with noise. My friend Vicki spotted a creek that veered to the left and we headed that way in hopes of finding some solitude. Did we ever. We paddled up what we would later learn is called “Butt Crack Creek,”  a silent wilderness that was both stunning and intimidating. I’m game for just about anything, but this was a narrow creek where we could see the matted down areas on the banks where alligaters had been a few hours (or minutes?) earlier. At one point, the creek narrowed and the water’s surface clouded with an unfamiliar, foamy substance. It looked like we were going straight into the angriest part of the Everglades, where we’d be consumed by hungry alligators or bit by poisonous snakes. The others wanted to turn back, but I kept paddling, certain that weirdness in the water would open up into something really good, which it did about five minutes later.

Me gliding through the spring on an old rope swing.

Me gliding through the spring on an old rope swing.

As I kept paddling further into the wilderness, one of my cohorts kept insisting it was time we turn around. I ignored her, certain we were heading somewhere, where we’d find something that made it all worthwhile. Finally, the creek ended at a lush, tropical spring with deep, crystal-clear water. Our reward for braving the uncertain twists and turns of that creek was a secret piece of paradise where we could frolic like kids.

Afterwards, we paddled out to the main river and the airboat jerks were gone. It was peaceful and pristine and we headed to another spring where we free-dove to a limestone tunnel eight feet below the surface. We went down one side, swam through the tunnel, then out the other side. My first fear was that I’d get stuck in the tunnel and drown, but once I broke the surface on the other side, I felt exhilarated. The summer sun hit my face, and I was alive. What a great moment to breathe in.

Give Pits a Chance


Vincent J. Marcus, 1999 to 2008

One year ago today, I said goodbye to one of the great loves of my life: my dog Vinny, the one-in-a-million mutt I’d found who’d been hit by a car while living on the streets. He was 8 months old when he came up to me, hobbling on three legs and needing surgery for a broken hip and treatment for skin infections, a bladder infection and the millions of fleas that crawled all over him.

I miss him every single day. So much that I am crying right now as I write this because he was absolutely the coolest, sweetest, most precious little muffin in the whole world.

Right after I found him, a neighbor said, “You’re not keeping him, are you? That dog is ugly.” She knows I never forgot or forgave the remark. But, it shows how so many people are about animals. They want this breed or that breed, a beautiful, perfect dog. Well, Vinny turned out to be a pit bull/Chow mix — an amalgam of what most people assume are the most vicious dogs in the world. And yet, my little brindle dog with the “catfish whiskers” was the most giving dog that ever lived. He made me laugh all the time. He liked life better when he was shaved down, so I kept him shaved — but gave him a Mohawk. People would come up to him on the street and the first thing they’d want to touch was his hawk. He knew it was cool. Some people were actually dumb enough to ask if it grew like that naturally.

Every year, upwards of four million dogs and cats are euthanized in shelters because they don’t have homes. I get so mad at people who don’t spay or neuter their pets. We have enough animals. What we need are more homes.

I was devastated by Vinny’s quick death from lung cancer. He was only 9 and I never thought my younger dog would die before my senior citizen Golden Retriever Reggie who, by the way, was also rescued. I came home from a cruise in Alaska and the dogsitter said she thought something was the matter with Vinny. Three weeks later, I had to let him go. It was that fast.

I grieved hard and am still grieving, but it’s been a little easier since I was given Louie for my birthday in September. Louie is a 6-year-old pit bull mix. I used to assume so many things about pits

Me & My Louie

Me & My Louie

before Vinny, but now I know the truth. For every aggressive pit, there are hundreds who would never turn on anyone. I woke up this morning and Louie had crawled into my arms so he could sleep on his back, cradled like a baby. He is so different from Vinny. Louie is shy and quiet — he is vulnerable. And darling beyond words. I swear I kiss that boy at least 200 times a day. And, you can see that he returns the favor.

Louie was adopted from a pit bull rescue in Tampa from a man and his wife who would become two of the best friends I have. Art Fyvolent and Lisa Presnail gave me so much with that little guy. To thank them, I want to encourage others to learn the truth about pit bulls. Think they are scary? Nasty? Aggressive? Well, the American Canine Temperament Testing Association tests every breed of dog for aggression. Nearly 83 percent of the American Pit Bull Terriers pass the test, compared to an overall average of 77 percent for all breeds of dogs. They do the test by putting the animals in confrontational situations and chalk up a failure at the first sign of aggression. Of the 122 breeds that are tested, pit bulls rated the fourth best. Not fourth from the bottom — fourth from the top. Surprise: Golden Retrievers are worse. And Schnauzers. So, you have to ask why communities are banning pit bulls instead of Schnauzers.

I should note that when pits are raised to be vicious, they are especially vicious. So, is the problem the dog or the owner? Art saved my Louie who had only a few hours left before his scheduled euthanasia. I can’t imagine my world without him in it. Louie was lucky that Art saved him. But think of the thousands that are killed every day.

Art is a marketing wiz who came up with the slogan, Give Pits A Chance. I sure wish you would.

Nap time at Art and Lisa's house.

Nap time at Art and Lisa's house.

Go with the flow — even if it means going upstream

Dean Krakel is one of the best photojournalists in America. Period. I say that, having worked with him for eight years when I was a reporter in Denver. His images captured the West like no one else.

Dean Krakel. Friend of Fawn.

Dean Krakel

So, it was devastating to hear that he had taken a job cooking Chinese food for $8 an hour after the Rocky Mountain News went under earlier this year. Fresh out of a heartbreaking and financially ruinous divorce, he was forced to re-invent himself at age 57. He did the wisest thing he could possibly do.

He blew the rest of his severance and booked a trip to Africa, where he will spend a month traveling down the Omo River.  He wrote in a recent blog post, “In times of trouble I have always turned to moving water for comfort and answers. Rafting or kayaking always seems to put things in perspective for me. Despite the cliché, it really is true, life is like a river. You learn to go with the flow, even if that means sometimes going upstream; life’s challenges are a bit like rapids, you study the current, pick your line and then paddle or row like hell. One way or another you usually come out the other side.”

There is so much to learn from him. The biggest lesson is to stop trying to force the universe to solve anything. Live your life and it will solve itself.

It’s funny that I’d reconnect with Dean today because, just yesterday, an acquaintance told me the story of the near death experiences of the business she and her husband have built. She jokingly wrote, “When I get finished maybe I will write a book How I Survived Losing a Million for the Third Time. The only problem is that this million is our ONLY million and we have not one thing to fall back on. The last two times at least we at least had property and other things to fall back on. This time we have lost EVERYTHING!”

Like Dean, Deb has stopped trying to force things to work. Her situation is made perilous by customers who owe her business a lot of money but won’t (or can’t) pay up. The bank came after her and recalled a $100,000 line of credit. “When the bank says ‘You have to give us $100,000 in 10 days,’ what can you do? Its so outside reality you can only say, ‘Okay, come on. I called the guy and said, ‘How do you feel about running a steel company? He’s in a bank in Orlando.’ I had to laugh.” When she laughed at the absurdity of her bad luck, the seas parted. Payments have been delayed until November and there is hope.

The common theme here is that you can’t force the universe. This whole saga of 2009 is going to unfold the way it is going to unfold. You just have to go with it. Especially now, go with the flow — even if it means going upstream, like Dean said. Live your life. Things do have a way of working out.


Now, to give you a moment of absolute tranquility, it is my honor to present some of Dean Krakel’s West.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

Copyright 2009 Dean Krakel. All rights reserved.

One dog. Two mothers. My heartwarming dog story of the day.


I am just going to paste several messages here so you can read about what happened when I used Facebook to connect with a woman in Wisconsin who I determined had to be my special dog’s first mother.  

I am pretty sure you are the right Heather Purdy and, if your husband is named Kevin, this story should make you smile. I adopted a dog you once loved — Reggie — in 2002 from the Golden Retriever Rescue of Mid-Florida. The story I got was that you’d given Reggie to a relative who did not properly feed or care for him. Reggie is now pushing 14 and is still one of the greatest loves of my life. You have no idea how much happiness, love and security he has brought to my world. He still swims in the pool. I love him so much. I hope you are the right Heather because I want you to know that his story had the happiest ending — the best kind. I was going through some of his medical records today and saw the name and address of Heather and Kevin Purdy in them.

If you are the right person, let me thank you from the bottom of my heart for the gift of this wonderful, loving dog. He’s given me so much more than I have given him. He lives in Clearwater, Fl with his brother (a really gentle and precious pit bull mix!) and three cats. One of the cats joined our family when she was a kitten five years ago. Somehow, she thought Reggie was her mother. All these years later, she is still nursing on him every single night — and he lets her. He is so unbelievably gentle.


Ah Fawn, You have brought tears of joy to my eyes. Yes, I am the right person. When I said we had 4 GR’s, it was Casey, Max, Reggie and Buck. Max and Reggie were litter mates (brothers). When Max and Reggie were about 3 months old, we took them to a hunting trainer (birds) for evaluation.
 Reggie had all the natural instinct; Max had heart. The trainer agreed to take them both BECAUSE of Reggie and because he knew us. They had to be 6 months old and have their hips xrayed before training would begin. ‘When we took our boys in for their xrays, Reggie had really bad dysplasia. So Max went to training and Reggie became our family pet (Hunting is too hard physically for a dog with bad hips). That first winter, Reggie suffered so bad when the weather got cold.
We asked a family member who lived if FL if they would provide him a home. So once it was warm enough to fly, she came and got him. This way we were still able to see him. We had told her what our vet said which was to keep his weight down because if he got heavy it would be harder on his hips. We think she overreacted to this. Anyway, when we came and visited them, we saw and tried to fix the situation. When she didn’t get him healthy, we told her he had to go into rescue and find a home where he would be properly cared for.
If we could have taken him back with us we would have in a minute but it would have been awful for Reggie. Max went on to become a great hunting partner for my husband and our family’s joy for years. He is in heaven now since last March so he will be there waiting for Reggie when his time comes to show him the ropes. We did get one picture shortly after you adopted him so we knew he was in a great home. I would love to see more pictures and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving Reggie a happy, safe home.
Now I know the story. Reggie hasn’t had much trouble with his hips because he swims so much and that keeps him limber. He used to (literally) swim laps for FOUR HOURS a day. Couldn’t get him out of the pool. Last year, it dropped to an hour. Now it’s 20-30 minutes, but still — if he’s almost 98 in human years, there aren’t many 98 year olds who can do that! And still go for walks!

I have a few steps in my house and he’s having a little trouble with them now — a reminder that I won’t have him forever. I can’t even imagine life without him. He hasn’t let me go to the bathroom by myself in the seven years he’s been with me. When I get out of the shower, there he is.

One of my favorite memories happened a few years ago when I took Vinny and Reggie to the Mardi Paws Parade. They drew names for the prince and princess of the parade and Reggie was called up. This was great because Vinny had a way of attracting all the attention. Anyhow, Reggie got to lead the parade and hundreds of people were calling out, “Prince Reggie! Prince Reggie!” He was so proud.

I am going to send some photos to the address on your profile page. If you don’t get them, let me know.


I spent the morning going through my “disorganized” pictures and found some pictures from when Reggie and Max were puppies. Unfortunately these are from the days before digital cameras. I was able to scan them and am emailing copies to you.

“Reg” was what I always called Reggie. I was touched by your reference to him as Reg. He probably recognized that name immediately as his loving nickname! I don’t know how you feel about God but I will tell you that I see his hand in this. Reg being in a home with a loving “Mom” and a swimming pool is the best place he could be. If we had put him into the GR rescue at a different time, he probably would not have found you.

Max was also the ultimate friend. Our home has always been the type of place where our friends come and bring their dogs along. Max always greeted everyone with 2 or 4 legs like they were long lost cousins. His heart was so big. One of our favorite stories about Max is when he and Kevin went hunting and Kevin shot a turkey. Max retrieved that turkey. He looked pretty funny with his neck arched to get that turkey up off the ground so he could carry him but he sure was proud!



 Reggie’s puppy photo. This is too cool for words!

The Patriarch.


My Uncle Chuck is my touchstone. He has been there for me since the day I was born, and now we are having conversations about his Hospice care and what the future holds. Facing this goodbye is one of the saddest experiences of my life. He means so much to me.

I grew up in Michigan, surrounded by the coolest set of aunts, uncles and cousins a kid could want. We saw each other all the time. My grandfather died when I was in grade school and Uncle Chuck took over as patriarch of the Himelhoch clan. He was there for band concerts and bat mitzvahs, family gatherings and quick stopovers. When my pharmacist father was shot and wounded in a holdup, Uncle Chuck was already waiting for us at the hospital when we arrived.

He has always been a remarkable man. His wife died when he had three small boys, but they were his most important priority. He raised them to be good, honorable men. My uncle has always been a compassionate, understanding role model for all of us, telling us that nothing matters more than integrity and truth.

Mom and Dad moved my family to Florida when I was 15. As I graduated high school, then college, I built a life that didn’t intersect with my Michigan family very often. I moved to Jacksonville, then the Miami area, then to Colorado, then back to Florida. My relatives meant a lot to me, but I didn’t see them or call much.

That changed a year ago when a painful situation arose with my sibling. When my aunts, uncles and cousins found out about it, they circled around me and wrapped me in support and love. I used to fear that I’d be alone once my parents passed away. I now know that I will never be alone. I have a huge family that is there for me now and always.  And I will be there for them.

I wanted to send Uncle Chuck something that would tell him how much it meant to me that he’d come to my rescue in such a dark moment. “Just call him more often,” my friend Pam suggested. I said, “Yeah, but I haven’t been doing that all along. Wouldn’t that seem odd?” “It’ll mean everything to him,” she said.

It has meant everything to me. I started calling every week or so, and he called me, too. Now it is almost every day because he is so homebound and I want as much time with him as I can have. He’ll hear my voice and say, “Hello, Sweetheart? Fawn?” Our relationship has deepened and grown so much that I feel like I truly know him now. He gives me unconditional love and is a big part of my life. We’ve talked about ethics and politics and family history and the Hereafter. We’ve shared so much that we never discussed before.

Why didn’t I have conversations like these with my dear Uncle Bob and Uncle Hank before it was too late? They were such great men, and I know I had a lot to learn from them, too. The lesson for me has been that family matters. Grab it while you can. And grab it where you can.

Every time we talk, he says, “I’m going to give you an assignment. You know what it is, don’t you?” It’s to give my sweet mother and father hugs and kisses from him. Now that he is feeling so ill and speculating that time may be short, I am giving him an assignment: to tell all my loved ones who have passed on to the other side how much I miss and love them. And to give them hugs and kisses from me.

This world is better because he’s been in it, and heaven will be brighter when he goes. I will miss him so much. My sweet, sweet uncle.