The Paper Anniversary 

Our relationship, having started with a short note penned on a piece of paper, is now five years into its two-hearted love story being lived out between book covers. I remember when we first met how nervous I was to talk to you. So, leaving you little notes here and there was my way of getting to know you until I gained the courage to talk to you more in person. Paper is the essence of communication, and communication is key to a strong relationship. So it’s only fitting that, traditionally, the first marriage anniversary gift is paper. 

It’s without a doubt that this first year of marriage has been one of the best of my life. We continue to build each other up and our relationship’s roots have grown deep. Proof that it can withstand any storm that may come our way. 

I love nothing more than coming home to you at the end of each day and sharing everything we have to talk about. Every moment we spend together means the world to me, and I’d gladly give up all my possessions if it meant making more memories with you. 

The profound respect I have for you as my wife and as a person will never fade. Your hopes and dreams are also mine, and I know you are capable of fulfilling each and every one. I am so thankful that I get to be right beside you throughout all of it and that I can be your biggest fan. 

Thank you, from the very bottom of my heart for being all that you are. I can not express how grateful I am for having you in my life. And thank you for an amazing first year of marriage. You’ve surpassed all expectations I’d ever had, and I hope my vows to you, written in word on paper one year ago, still and always hold true in your heart. Never forget how much I love you each and every day. Happy first anniversary! With many, many more to come, you are and always will be my truest love. 

Our first date took us to the Clare County Fair where we rode a few rides, played some games, and walked through the animal barns. Although I’ll never forget any of it, what sticks out in my mind most was the funhouse. Stepping in, you could tell we were both a little nervous. Neither of us wanting to fall or get turned around looking like a fool in front of the other.

But once inside, we grew more comfortable around each other as we encountered many different obstacles ranging from uneven, moving floors and an overwhelming maze of mirrors, to a revolving barrel known in funhouses as a “barrel of love.” As we reached the end, we also came across a few of those familiar curved mirrors. And like everyone does, we stopped to admire the strange, unrecognizable shapes our bodies reflected by moving closer or farther away. The whole time we stood there, the only thing that didn’t change shape was your smile and the shine in your eyes. Right then as I watched you, I fell deeply in love, and I knew I would love you for the rest of my life. 

That day in front of the funhouse mirror, I made myself a promise. I promised that I would love you fervently, honestly, and with all the kindness you truly deserve. And today, I make the same promise to you. As we nervously, yet comfortably, go through another funhouse together called life, I will be your balance when the ground becomes shaky and uneven. If you become overwhelmed, I will be your support and motivation. And should you happen to trip in a revolving barrel, my arms will be there to catch you. Even though life can be difficult, it is meant to be fun, and I promise you that you will always be my best friend. I will be there to always make you laugh and to share and enjoy all the little moments.

And there will come a day when our children will have moved out all grown up with families of their own, and we will stand together in front of our mirror. We will stop to admire the strange, unrecognizable shapes our bodies reflect from age, the only things unchanged being your comforting smile and the same bright shine in your eyes that you’ve had since that day you first told me good morning. At that moment as we stand in front of the mirror, I will love you more than I did on our first date, and even more than I do today. I promise you as we grow old together, my love for you will also grow with us. Never changing, but always strong and always infinite.

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Remember the Good Patients

I spent two days this last week in a Dale Carnegie: The Leader in You class, led by a phenomenal lady who at one point in her life had been invited to his office and personally thanked by Lee Iacocca for training his directors. We focused on topics such as leadership goals, valuing differences, managing stress, and coaching. On the first day, we also touched upon something called an “innerview,” a way to get to know the people you work with better. After class discussion, we were then challenged to go home and innerview one person of our choice. The only person I’d end up seeing that night was Erica, and I didn’t think Ella would really be up for a longer father/daughter conversation than normal. Of course, after almost five years together, I believed it’d be pointless to have this innerview with my wife because I already knew everything about her. I’m glad that thought didn’t stop me because I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumption. 

Erica is one of the best people I’ve ever met. As a nurse assistant working her way up to one day becoming a nurse practitioner, she has one of the biggest hearts a person can have towards all her patients. Even the ones easily irritable, making sure they all get above and beyond the proper care.

After she got home and changed out of her scrubs full of hospital smells, I asked her the typical question of how her day went. She told me it was really busy and that she didn’t get much time for breaks and rest. The usual strenuous day due to a hospital’s lack of scheduling proper patient-to-nurse ratios. 

After a few of Erica’s quick stories about her current patients, I asked her if she had a patient she’s cared for that stuck out most in her mind and why. To my surprise, even from all the wild and crazy stories she’s told me, she couldn’t think of one. I asked her the question again thinking maybe she needed a little more time to consider it. After a few seconds of silence, she simply responded, “I remember all the good patients.”

 Of the hundreds and hundreds of patients my wife has had in the three years of her working at the hospital, she remembers the good patients. Of all the incontinent, deranged, suicidal, and even murderous individuals she’s dealt with who have criticized her or have been entirely ungrateful of her care, she remembers the good patients. I was in complete awe of my wife. I knew she was a positive woman, but this took my appreciation and love of her to a whole new level. I had learned something new about the woman I spend every day with.

Later that night Erica stayed up studying for an exam she had the next day. I crawled into bed while she was out in the living room, her nose in her studies, and I started my own small homework task to read “Chapter 15: Learning Not to Worry” of The Leader In You for our second day’s training session. A few pages in I came across a quote from singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka that said, “Take each day as a gift. Try to live with the good and the bad, looking more at the good.” At this point my jaw just dropped. Again, I knew my wife was a great person, that’s one of the reasons why I married her. But, I didn’t know she was this great. Here’s a woman who works with some of the worst patients in healthcare, works under the unimaginable stress of a trauma floor, and is only looking at the good of it all. My wife is a true leader, exactly someone I want to be like.

Some characteristics of a great leader

In my two day Dale Carnegie class, we learned some of the characteristics a great leader should have. Erica embodies every single one of these. She sets the bar high in the nursing field where leadership is important. It’s hard to carry criticism with a gentle tone, to manage stress, and to help coach patients through the healing process even when they are mad at the world the way that Erica and most nurses do. So to all the nurses in the field, thank you. Thank you for taking care of us when we most need it, and for lifting us up when we may be at our lowest. You are some of the best leaders In this world. And to my wife, thank you for giving me reason to love you more each and every day and always surprising me with new things. For making me want to be a better person, and for sharing all your amazing characteristics with the many people you come into contact with. 

Be a Bean

Beans are the only cultivated plants that help to improve and enrich the soil as they grow rather than exhaust all of the nutrients. So, even the tallest stalks can grow from the tiniest of beans.

My name is Ella. I’m a full grown twenty-one-year-old. Full grown for me is a meager fifty pounds. On top of my small stature is an oversized chest and a tiny head. My neck skin sags in excess, and my mom and dad tell me that it’s because my head never grew into my skin.

My hair is black, already peppered with a few spots of white. I don’t wear makeup or paint my nails, but I sometimes wear flowers on my necklace to make me feel better about my appearance. I’m afraid of mirrors because of the reflection I see. Although, everyone tends to tell me how cute my flowers are when I walk through the mall. 

Society tells me that I should have perfect teeth, perfect posture, a feminine walk, great hair, and the ideal body to be someone great. To win awards and be somebody, I must come from a long bloodline of great athletes or money. To be educated, I must get the most expensive schooling around. To make a difference, I must be famous.

 

My name is Bean. I’m a full grown three-year-old Labrador mix. Size does not matter to me. My saggy skin flops all around as I happily run and play, and my tiny head is full of endless dreams. Not much can get me down and depressed, and I’m comfortable in my excess skin. I love who I am.

My hair is black. It covers every inch of my body with a few random spots of white thrown in. These patches make me unique. They help distinguish me from other dogs who have black hair. My mom and dad put flowers on my collar when we go to the mall because it makes people stop and smile. I do not care about my appearance because making people smile is more important. Smiling people make my tail wag faster than anything else.

 The society I live in does not discriminate. All breeds are my friends, and all mutts are just as equal as the purebreds. I do not need awards or money. Material things do not matter to me, unless it’s food. I do not need the most expensive schooling and do not understand the concept of social status. To make a difference in just one person’s life and to be loved by just a few people is all I need. 

My name is Ella Bean. We are all souls of multiple characters. Some of us timid, easily startled, and not the most comfortable with who we are. But, we all have a Bean growing inside of us with the ability and ambition to make an impact. We all have dreams and the desire to be our best, and to make the world a better place. Don’t be the weed that sucks the nutrients from the soil, preventing the flowers from blooming around you. Improve and enrich the lives closest to you. Make a difference. Be the Bean within you. 

Ella’s Side: An Entry in Two Parts (Part Two)

I was a lucky dog out on those rocks, but even luckier today when my dad worked from home. I love nothing more than when one or both of my parents are home with me. I understood mom had to go work at the hospital to make her patients feel better, and dad, having to focus on his work at home, was unable to spend as much time with me as I wanted, but even so, I had to try. 

After going for a walk, I came home and took a short nap. It wasn’t long after that and I was as spunky as ever. Mom thought I’d be tired today from all the weekend activities, but moms don’t always know everything. 

I made sure to scratch on the door wall every few minutes to get dad’s attention. At first it didn’t work too well, so I tried pulling a bunch of my toys out of my basket hoping that might help. When it didn’t, I went back to scratching the door wall and threw in a few cute whimpers. The more I worked up the drama queen sized act, the more I slowly caught dad’s attention. He finally decided it was nice enough outside to bring his computer out with him to sit on the patio so I could explore.

 

While dad worked, I chewed on some rocks, sniffed the bushes, and ate the occasional rabbit turd laying in the back yard. Rabbits are an obsession of mine. Almost every time I go outside, I have to stare down the bushes along the side of the neighbor’s house to see if I can see any rabbit moving inside.

On the other side of the house from the bushes, and around the corner out of sight from dad, there is an old storage box the previous owners had left. I can sometimes smell rabbits along here as well, so after no luck with the bushes, I headed towards the other side of the house. I could feel dad watching me as he and mom usually don’t let me go around the corner by myself. I had my training collar on and I waited for the slight vibration that told me I had gone far enough. It never came and I looked back at dad standing at the patio table focused on his work computer. 

I learned this game from my parents. They run down the hall and into one of the rooms where they hide behind the door. Then they proceed to call my name so I come and find them. Although they hide behind the door every single time, I never think to look there and it usually takes me a little while before I sniff them out. Today, I decided I’d try a variation of this game, except I’d be the one to hide. 

While dad wasn’t paying attention, I quietly sniffed around the air conditioning unit and flower bed. The back of our house hangs over the edge of the foundation about two feet, and there is plenty of room for me to crawl under without being seen. I did exactly that. I laid down and relaxed on the cool stones as the warm sun beat down on me. Since I was near all the mulch, the earthy smell just became too much for me to handle and I felt the urge to get some onto my tastebuds. After what seemed like forever, I saw dad walk off the patio and around to the corner of the house. I had completely forgotten the last time he had looked at me was when I was acting like I was headed over to sniff the storage box! I knew he was looking for me, thinking I had gone around the side of the house, and when he peaked around the corner only to find I wasn’t there, I giggled to myself. Dad couldn’t see me with the air conditioning unit blocking his view as he walked back over to the patio to grab the remote for my training collar. However, he stopped short, and when he came from around the unit, he laughed, looked right at me and asked “what I was doing.” I picked up another piece of mulch in my mouth and wagged my tail knowing that I had completely tricked him. 

After our fun outside, I still wasn’t ready to relax. Dad sat back down at the kitchen table to do more work on his computer while I played with my toys. I again pulled as many out of the basket as I could, but quickly became bored with this. 

There is one toy that can be found laying in a basket, other than my own, that is even more fun to play with. I hadn’t checked there in a few days so I was pretty sure one may have shown up since then. I headed to the guest bathroom, and sure enough, sitting on top and easy to grab, was a recently finished toilet paper roll. I quietly placed it between my teeth and began to tiptoe out of the bathroom. Peeking around the corner of the bathroom door, dad was still looking down at his laptop. He hadn’t seen me, so I casually made my way over to my bed where I laid down. Unfortunately, I was too loud when I set down the tube, and dad turned around only to catch me in the act. I hurriedly picked the roll back up hoping he wouldn’t take it from me. And of course, he pulled out his phone to snap a quick picture to send to mom. I’m sure she will lecture me about that one tonight. But, both mom and dad know it’s all in fun, and more often than not, let me tear up the toilet paper roll. 

Ella’s Side: An Entry in Two Parts (Part One)

This past weekend was full of all kinds of fun. 

Mom and dad let me ride with them to the car dealership to help buy a kayak rack for the Jeep. This specific dealership is dog friendly, so I was able to go in and say hi to everyone. When the lady at the service desk started talking to me, the excitement lifted my front legs right off the ground and onto the counter while my tail whipped back and forth to help steady my upright posture. I know I’m not supposed to jump up, but it’s hard not to when you love people that much. The nice lady decided that was my way of saying “come and play with me,” so she came around the other side of the counter and knelt down to give me a few good pats on the head. 

After we left the dealership, with my head hanging out the window to soak up every ounce of the sixty-five degree February day, we headed for the open-air mall down the street. Once we arrived, we walked straight for the Three Dog Bakery store that is always the first stop on our trip around the mall. Their collar and leash display was freshly stocked. Mom decided it was time to get me some new gear since my old collar was beginning to wear out. Another nice lady worked here as well, and she was walking around giving out tastes of their treats. Noticing her heading my way, I sat down before the command even left her mouth and gladly accepted her sample. The lady told me I was a really good girl and then continued on her way around to meet the other pups in the store. My belly content, we paid for my new stuff and then walked around the rest of the mall. 

On the ride home, we stopped at the park along the lake. Usually this time of year the water gets hard and turns slippery. But, since it has been warm, the water was flowing free and calling my name as soon as we got out of the Jeep. Mom and dad let me run along the rocks to test out the temperature of the water with my feet. After a while, I decided it was okay for them to throw in a stick that I could swim after. There is nothing more refreshing than a nice swim. After a few tosses of the stick for me to fetch, I got out of the water and climbed back up the small hill of broken concrete pieces. Once I got to the grass, I let loose like an escaped patient from the state hospital, ears flopping, eyes rolled back in my head, and tongue hanging out the side of my mouth, and ran around to dry myself off as much as I could. That’s when I noticed dad picking up the stick like he was ready to toss it out into the water again. With only the thought of getting to that chewy piece of wood as quickly as possible, I changed my running direction straight towards dad, my legs working in overdrive.

I completely forgot about the small hill of concrete leading down to the water, but there was no way of stopping now. I made eye contact with both mom and dad hoping to find some reassurance that the speed I was carrying towards the hill wouldn’t be an issue. All I found in their eyes was concern. Before I knew it, I was leaping out over the edge of the grass with nothing but broken up slabs of concrete beneath me. Thankfully, a few pieces were large and flat enough that I was able to land without losing balance, or breaking a limb, and slowed to a stop before I ended up in the water. As soon as my heart rate slowed and became regular again, I was ready to do it all over. 

 

A Letter to My Wife on Valentine’s Day

I have the privilege of turning thirty this year. I’m not excited about it by any means, but it’s inevitable. My wife turns twenty-two, however, we joke that she’s the older one of the relationship. Her knees are going bad, her eyesight turning more blurry. Even on our honeymoon, one night at dinner, I must have looked the younger one as I was carded by the waitress and she wasn’t. On the plus side, I wouldn’t rather fall apart and grow old with anyone else, and I wouldn’t rather be anywhere but with her on our first Valentine’s Day as husband and wife. We will always keep each other young at heart. 


My Wife, My Love,

          You are one in a million. More so even than that. You are one among all stories of lives written in the history of the world, and I get to be the fortunate soul married to you. Imagine that. Me, married to someone like you, getting to celebrate the most romantic day of the year. Who am I to be so blessed?

          Your vintage and mature individuality challenges me on a daily basis. Pushing me to be better, to strive for perfection in all I do, especially when it comes to loving you. Because you deserve nothing less.

          There is no one else comparable to you. From your wholehearted honesty to the quick wit that helps keep me on my toes. When I was younger, I sometimes tried to imagine the type of girl I’d marry, and tried to imagine how great of a life it’d be to share with someone. You by far surpass all I’d ever hoped for in a wife – and a friend – to share each day with. You are someone my brain did not even have the capacity of dreaming up. Your beauty on the outside rivals the same beauty found within you. It’s as if the last flash of light from each sunset as the sun sinks below the horizon was somehow bottled up and used in creating that unique shine in your personality. Or perhaps God already decided on creating you, and after seeing your alluring existence, you became the influence in His creating the sunsets we sit and watch together. At least that’s what I like to think.

          I love you, today, always. Every bit of who you are. Every smile, every laugh, every little wrinkle found in the corners of the two most beautiful eyes I’ve ever looked into. I love you because you’re you. And I hope that as the years pass, you will always know how strong that love for you is. Being in love with you will never grow old as I will only grow old loving you. 

                                           Always Yours,

                                           Dustin


The Lab Assistant 

None of us would be able to get anywhere in life without help. The help of family, of a close friend, or a stranger on the street. Help with homework, help with raising children, help getting a job, a house, or a car. When we try to do too many things on our own, especially during life’s hardest moments, we can become arrogant and selfish, pushing away those closest to us. Pushing away those who’s love and support we need most to get us through the hard times. But, no matter how self-centered we become, or how much help we reject, there’s one sort of help that can never be ignored. One kind of help that will always come back again and again. A unique kind of help that, no matter how many times we tell it no, will break us down into the humblest of beings.


I admit I get a little jealous that Ella, our almost three-year-old lab, gets more kisses from my wife than I do. She even gets more cuddles and hugs, but believe it or not, Ella assists with our relationship. She helps bring my wife and I closer together than we’ve ever been, and it’s because she teaches us how to focus on others instead of ourselves. Ella has taught us how to better put eachother’s needs ahead of our own, which is exactly what helps make a marriage so great. 

Whenever we take Ella to the open-air mall for walks, her wagging tail speeds up with every person we pass. She brings joy to all people in her path. Some stop to pet her on the head while telling her how good she is or how cute the flower on her collar is. And yes, she enjoys the attention, but you can tell by the way she looks into their eyes that all she wants is to make them smile, and make them see that the world is not so bad. For some of those people, meeting Ella just might have been the best part of the worst day of their life. Having Ella with us at the mall – or wherever else we may go – is like taking a lighted tealight candle into a large, dark room. The candle itself may be small, but the light it gives off is remarkable.


 I truly believe God created dogs for the purpose of assisting us through life. For softening our hearts and teaching us how to treat each other with the kindness and selflessness we all deserve from one another. I wish everyone in the world could meet Ella and share her passion for life. Life is short, and Ella’s life is even shorter. Although she doesn’t know that, she still lives each day to her full potential. It’s as if she really does understand the limited time she has, and the strong influence she has on those around her that can help impact and change lives during that short time. If only we could all live this way, and create the same unparalleled quality of life.

We hope to get Ella into therapy dog training soon. This way she can further help and assist those in need of a smile. She can do what she does so well on a higher level. To be so selfless, putting everyone’s feelings before hers, and make all those she comes into contact with that much happier. It’s truly an amazing thing to learn so much from a creature that cannot speak but yet can still say so much