A Day With a Palm Tree: Leylah Fernandez, World-Class Fighter

“A day with a palm tree is a great day.”

Stories of personal triumph, community engagement, and environmental stewardship.

This is the first of a new series of inspirational stories I’ll be posting as I continue my path of recovery. I hope they will inspire you to appreciate each day we are given — whether you have palm trees or pine trees or buildings outside your door, it’s a great day.

Leylah Annie Fernandez had a goal

Earlier this year, when Leylah Annie Fernandez was a little-known 18-year-old Canadian tennis player living in South Florida, she said that her goal was to be in the top ten professional women players in the world. The sport writers were skeptical.

Not anymore. She turned 19 on the day before playing for the trophy in the finals of the US Open tennis tournament, having beaten top-ranked opponents on the way to Arthur Ashe stadium, beginning with Naomi Osaka. She’s zoomed into 23rd place on the roster.

In the on-court interview after her stunning victory over Osaka, she was asked if she ever believed she could best Osaka. ”Yes,” she responded with a huge smile. ”Just before the match.”

That’s confidence.

She stepped up

There’s a lot to be said for someone like Fernandez, who has lost a lot of first and second round of matches on the WTA tour this year, producing a completely different level of tennis under the bright lights of Arthur Ashe stadium, for stepping up in close matches against a series of true champions and executing better than they did. That’s what great players do.

Dan Wolken, USA Today, September 11, 2021

Inner steel

As bubbly and engaging as she is off court, the inner steel shines through.

Simon Cambers, The Guardian, September 10, 2021

It’s steel honed by hard work. The daughter of immigrants from Ecuador and the Philippines, Fernandez moved from Montreal to my neighboring town of Boynton Beach in 2018. I assumed that the move was to permit her to train at a prestigious (and expensive) tennis academy, like Chris Evert’s school. Then I read that she trains on public courts and at the beach, and that her father, a former soccer player, is her coach.

Check out this training video, and remember that it’s hot and humid — sweat dripping off your face when you go for a walk — down here.

…a world-class fighter who walks between points with the steely determination of someone on her way to break up a bar brawl.

Christopher Clarey, The New York Times, September 12, 2021

A new bar

Fernandez didn’t win the US Open championship. That went to another brown-skinned daughter of immigrants, England’s Emma Raducanu. These multicultural, multilingual teenagers have just set a new bar for grit, resilience, and joy in the game.

While Raducanu — the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam title — expressed wonderment at her unlikely win, Fernandez, whose top-100 ranking got her into the tournament, may have been tripped up by really, really being sure she would prevail. Recovering from this loss, she said during the on-court interview, would be hard. And then she added this.

I know on this day it was especially hard for New York and everyone around us. I just hope that I can be as strong and resilient as New York has been the past 20 years.

Leylah Fernandez, September 11, 2021

Class act

Leylah Fernandez, New York strong, world-class fighter, class act. You are inspiring my continuing journey of recovery.

Family Friday: How One Person Has Helped Hundreds Protect the Sea

Waves are cylinders of storm energy that displace water.

Thad Ziolkowski, The Drop: How the Most Addictive Sport Can Help Us Understand Addiction and Recovery

This quote from Tom Bissell’s New York Times book review resonated as I took in the passion of a stormy sea at our favorite South Florida beach recently. The waves smashed onto the beach, releasing some of that pent-up energy into the air and the rest onto the sand with such force that my bare feet tingled.

We are awed by the sea

We come to the sea to be awed. To take the measure of our puny selves against the enormity of nature. To understand that, as Scott Russell Sanders writes in his preface to Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World:

…human presence is only a thin film stretched over mystery.

Scott Russell Sanders

Yet we have polluted it

And yet, thin film though we are, humans are managing to meddle with nature with irrevocable results: sea level rise floods more and more of our coastal areas; warm ocean waters gin up hurricanes with wind and deluge that rend lives and livelihoods; wildfires burn out of control across the globe.

In Florida, run-off pollution is killing off seagrass and the manatees that feed on it, writes Kimberly Miller in The Palm Beach Post. Turtles and other marinelife injest plastic, and the lucky ones are brought back to health by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center.

We are off-handed in our support of the status quo, blaming convenience as we buy what want, toss it out when we’re done, and turn a blind eye to the results. But look at the results, plastic that I collected on this very beach.

Enter The Beach Bucket Foundation

The Beach Bucket Foundation, an inspiration of Palm Beach County resident Andy Abbott, has a bucket station conveniently located in the parking lot, making it easy to help clean human debris from the sand and keep it out of the water. I collected a bucketful. Thank you, Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation!

One person’s initiative blossoms among many

By including local municipalities, businesses, and organizations and having them show their support and involvement through our buckets and encouraging them to hold multiple cleanups throughout the year, we will be creating even more awareness and cleanup events throughout our communities to get involved in. 

Andy Abbott, The Beach Bucket Foundation

Let sunlight flame in a blade of grass, let night come on, let thunder roar and tornado whirl, let the earth quake, let muscles twitch, let mind curl about the least pebble or blossom or bird, and the true wildness of this place, of all places, reveals itself.

Scott Russell Sanders, STAYING PUT: MAKING A HOME IN A RESTLESS WORLD

Family Friday: My Aunt, Jean Amerson Brookins, A Life Force

The Amersons are celebrating my Aunt Jeanie this weekend

My Amerson family is gathering this weekend in St. Paul, Minnesota, to celebrate the life of my Aunt Jeanie, who died on January 17, slipping away quietly in her sleep. My sister (in Colorado), and my daughter and I (in Florida) have been stayed by the pandemic from our mission to be with these people, our bedrock long before my father’s death.

Instead of traveling to their side, we will witness Saturday’s program on our computers. On Sunday, when my cousins continue the reunion in the beautiful lakeside home where Rog and Julie were married in 2018, we will have to settle for revisiting pictures of that happy occasion.

What we said when Jeanie left us

Here is some of what I wrote in January, along with other family remembrances, when we were all adrift in our sorrow.

A child of the prairie

Jeanie was a child of the South Dakota prairie, born at the family farm on a snowy day in early spring. The youngest of my father’s sisters, she was small, slender, blonde and cute, my Aunt Snooky wrote, and a positive force during “hard times.” She was also smart, absorbing everything from farming information to the lessons of the one-room schoolhouse, where she got straight As. She went on to become valedictorian of her high school class.

Left to right, Front: Snooky (holding Tiny), Jeanie, Elaine. Back: Clarice, Ma Bernice (my grandmother), Marie.

She was a beautiful life force who will be sorely missed.

My cousin Bob

A counter culture protester

Jeanie followed my father’s lead by attending Macalester College, paying for her year there by selling some sheep. She completed her studies in journalism and English at the University of Minnesota, where she met her husband Carl Brookins and became engaged in protests against the blacklisting of Pete Seeger. Her prairie liberalism led her through the Sixties counter culture movement.

I have a thousand Jeanie stories. I’m just so grateful to have experienced her wit, joy, love and pain. Everything was truth. She taught me about raw, full, truthful love. 

My cousin Laina

An exalted editor

Jeanie had a 32-year career at the Minnesota Historical Society and rose to become Director of the MHS Press, which she she drove to heights of academic excellence with her research, writing, and editing. Among the publications Jeanie oversaw was my father’s memoir of growing up in South Dakota, From the Hidewood.

A year ago, she carefully reviewed an early copy of my childhood memoir, giving me copious edits and an earful of very strong opinions about where I’d made poor choices in the draft. She (and Aunt Snooky, another wonderful wordsmith) helped it become a better book.

She was a life force, a sister who could harmonize, a friend, an intellectual wonder, a gifted individual.

My Aunt (Mavis) Snooky

A ready ear and all the time in the world

She and Carl discovered the pleasures of sailing in Lake Superior, Puget Sound, the Caribbean, and the Adriatic, and they traveled extensively after retirement. She became a devoted gardener, and her backyard was a favorite gathering spot for friends and family.

Jeanie and Carl flew in from the Twin Cities to my wedding in NYC and pulled my new husband into the family with one huge embrace. She waited for our visits to the Midwest with a warm welcome, a spare bedroom, and all the time in the world to listen to what we had to say.

Jean was a boon companion to her husband, a great mom, provider, and role model for her daughters, a home maker, a constant friend, a supporter of family and friends.

My Uncle Carl

This family is our strength.

Jeanie’s daughters, my cousins Shannon and Lissa
Jean Amerson Brookins

Wellness Wednesday: How the Fitness Habit Helped One Journalist Recover from COVID

My devotion to fitness aided in my recovery.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

I recognized the gratitude in these words. My exercise teaching experience gave me a whole lot of helping hands when I pulled myself up from post-Intensive Care syndrome following my lengthy hospitalization in 2019. Although my illness pre-dated COVID, I felt a sort of kinship with Jorge Milian’s experience. I wanted to find out more.

Here is what I learned in my research, including a telephone conversation with Jorge a few weeks ago.

Palm Beach Post reporter Jorge Milian

In his coverage of the COVID pandemic’s impact on his beat of Lake Worth Beach and Boynton Beach, Palm Beach Post reporter and journalist Jorge Milian has written tributes to fallen community leaders and other victims of the virus, stories on the verbal attacks on the city’s Central American migrants, and articles on the eviction moratorium. What he never expected to write was a story on his own hellish encounter with COVID-19 at the end of January.

Hellish month

I had a raging fever, my head felt like it was on the verge of exploding and each of the 206 bones in my body ached.

That began around 4-5 weeks of unpleasantness that, at its worst, had me wondering if I would wind up like some of the people I’ve written about since last March in the Palm Beach Post who died after getting COVID-19 (and if would I have time to alert the Post’s editors not to use the headshot that makes me look 20 pounds heavier in my obituary?)

I can joke about it now. But there’s nothing funny about running a high fever for days and feeling like you are trying to breathe under water while your doctor is wondering aloud whether you should check into a hospital – a thought that terrified me even more than the unexplainable nightmares and hallucinations that dogged me for around 10 unrelenting, miserable days and nights.

Walking from one side of the house to the other seemed like a marathon. The worst of it was at night when I would wake up gasping for air, almost as if I had forgotten to breathe.

Fatigue was another big issue. For around two weeks after getting sick, I would sleep for 10 hours then spend the rest of the day feeling like I needed a nap.

My doctor told me I should seriously consider going to the hospital if my oxygen level fell below 90. My oxygen level never dropped under 92, but still low enough for thoughts of ventilators and doctors in space suits to cram my thoughts.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

Exercise habit

In a recent conversation, Jorge told me that before being bedridden by COVID-19 for 15 days, he had not been sick in his 26 years with The Palm Beach Post. He is an active 61-year-old, a diligent gym-goer (“a little bit of a maniac”), and former runner. He credits his lifetime fitness habit with his quick comeback.

As sick as I got, I still feel kind of lucky. My devotion to fitness aided in my recovery. [Still], it’s only been in the past couple of weeks that I can go for my hour-long bike ride or complete my daily strengthtraining routine without stopping every 15 minutes to catch my breath.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021

His body struggled though what had been comfortable workouts.

When I returned to the gym, it felt like a fever would suddenly rage through my body, heating up like crazy, although my temperature would be normal. But my muscle memory was there to see me though.

Jorge Milian, reporter and journalist

Fitness advice

Jorge is happy to be on the other side of his COVID-19 illness. He is not a long hauler, having been able to resume his full activity routine. And what does he recommend to help others build up their strength?

Find something you like to do and do it. Every day. Consistently. Work up to being active for an hour a day.

Jorge Milian, reporter and journalist

Staying well

Follow the public health recommendations: get vaccinated, wear a mask, and practice social distancing.

I’ve heard a lot of people saying that contracting COVID-19 was no worse than catching the flu, but the virus put this 60-year-old through a physical and mental wringer like I haven’t experienced before.

What I had, you don’t want.

Jorge Milian, Post reporter’s hellish month with COVID-19, The Palm Beach Post, April 10, 2021
Reporter Jorge Milian, photo Thomas Cordy, The Palm Beach Post

Family Friday: How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend

Dog is man’s best friend, and woman’s too. Our dogs are always thrilled to see us, dinner’s exactly what they were waiting for, and they’ll do the darndest things just to earn a treat. This is the current version of the pre-dinner routine that our rescue Lab Kumba performs for a crisp crunch of cucumber.

We may think that we fully reciprocate the friendship with our dogs. We have given them room and board with sofa privileges, regular exercise, and chewy toys. But are we really doing everything we can to advocate for our pups when they really need a friend?

Trainer Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training, knows that we can be better advocates when our dogs are stressed by: 1) learning their body language, 2) recognizing signs of distress, and 3) practicing defensive handling to get our dogs safely out of potential trouble.

Learn your dog’s body language.

We may be chatting on the phone or smelling the roses while we’re walking our dog, but Fido is constantly aware of his surroundings, especially someone or something approaching. Here are some signals to watch for in your pup.

Relaxed, pensive, politeAlert, concerned, tense
Ears backEars up
Head turnedHead down, or staring
Mouth openMouth closed
Body looseBody rigid

Each dog uses his tail to express himself, too. A slow wag might mean she’s relaxed and happy, or that she’s apprehensive. Carrying her tail high might convey pleasure or concern. A tail between the legs when you’re out for a walk? “Get me out of here!”

Common canine calming signals — self-soothing actions like a human’s nail biting — are lip licking and yawning.

Mimic or otherwise acknowledge distress.

Yawning or licking your lips, too, lets your dog know you’ve “heard” her.

Trainer Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training

Make distance your friend.

Put as much distance as you can between yourselves and the source of the stress.

Trainer Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training

Use the environment.

Move behind a fence or onto a porch. Lift your dog to safety onto a truck bed or into a trash can. Use a folding chair or a hose or your leash to create a space around you.

Do NOT pick up your dog. He will instantly become prey for the other dog. And you could be seriously hurt.

Trainer Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training

Use your voice.

A loud “GO HOME!” In an aggressive tone lets the enemy know he is not welcome.

Trainer Alison Chambers, owner of Complete Canine Training

So, listen to your dog’s body language, just like she listens to yours, and you’ll both get more enjoyment out of being each other’s best friends. As always, thank you to the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, for bringing this dear boy into our lives!

Kumba, our rescue black Lab
Kumba, our rescue black Lab

You can read more of Alison’s guidance in previous posts: How to introduce your pandemic pup to a new dog, How to help your unsocialized dog say hello ,How to train your pandemic pup, and Why training your dog is not about the tricks.

Family Friday: Why Small Talk is Big Time

Neighboring builds neighborhoods

In an interview years ago, the actor Ellen Burstyn told me, “When you mother a child, a relationship is formed. You become the noun by doing the verb.” The same can be said for building back supportive, strong communities. You become friends by befriending. You strengthen neighborhoods by neighboring.

Anna Sale, host of the podcast Death, Sex & Money and author of the forthcoming Let’s Talk About Hard Things

Small talk builds connections

During the 2020 lockdown phase of the coronavirus pandemic, the thing I most missed was the random opportunities for chit chat with strangers, like the fellow airplane passenger years ago whose mane of bobbed silver hair I stopped to admire as we were boarding. “Thanks,” she said, lifting the wig like doffing a hat. “I’m a cancer survivor.”

As I told my mortified daughter when we got buckled into our seats, that completely unnecessary exchange had built a deeply meaningful, though fleeting, connection.

Pandemic increases neighboring

My engagement with the outside community is still constrained by the virus. Our brief emergence (our 23-hour vacation) in July has reverted to home-based life. Florida is the American epicenter of the pandemic this summer.

So the pandemic has emphasized the importance of our neighbors, who I wrote about in Lend a Hand, Find Common Ground. I stop and chat with our neighbors outdoors every day, usually while walking our rescue Lab, Kumba.

Our dog makes engagement easy

The small boy down the street,H, feels akin to our dog because they’re the same age, and almost the same height. Another neighbor boy “plays Kumba” when he pretends to be a dog, his father tells me. How lovely to have been made part of these families’ stories.

H and his pal, Kumba.
H and his pal, Kumba.

Reese, an adorable and unlikely mix of golden retriever and dachshund, was Kumba’s first neighborhood friend, proving that our dog-aggressive rescue could have a social life.

Nala the German Shepard is Kumba’s biggest friend. Cookie is one of his smallest pals. Their humans are kind neighbors, complimenting Kumba on his transformation from skinny, scared pound dog to hearty community canine.

Kumba and Cookie

B, a gentleman from Jamaica with a very formal long name, is afraid of dogs and so gives us a wide berth when he takes his daily walks. I hadn’t seen him in months and worried that he’d taken ill, or worse. But, no: his son, B, Jr., is now a father to B III, and proud grandpa spent a month with this new little person with the very big name. I get a huge smile when I ask after the baby.

Pool buddies support each other

Now and then I get more than a couple of minutes to catch up with neighbors. This morning, one of my pool buddies, E, and I chatted while doing our deep water workout, a half hour of slow jogging without touching the pool floor. While the calories burned and our shapes became sculpted (at least in the water!), we caught up on each other’s health. It was nice not to be rushed in exchanging support.

Perhaps it was more than endorphins that I felt as I drifted back home.

Building community is to the collective as spiritual practice is to the individual.

Grace Lee Boggs

Wellness Wednesday: Why I Celebrated My Two-Year “All Clear” With New Shoes

Of all the tools I used to strengthen my body over my two-year recovery from a ruptured aneurysm, my trusty Skechers were the last to go.

I had three pairs of them, all army-issue grey, in sizes 7, 7.5, and 8. My husband bought them for me in Amsterdam during my hospitalization. It wasn’t that he didn’t know that I wear a 7. It was that my lower legs and feet were puffy from lack of use.

A long period of immobility with the legs dependent (below heart level) can lead to a build up of fluid, since we rely on the movement of the muscles in the leg to move the blood and fluid up out of the legs towards the heart.

The Vascular Society of Great Britain and Ireland

From May into June, I lay immobile in the ICU, my feet flexed against a pillow at the foot of the bed to prevent them from curling into each other, pigeon toed. For four weeks, my body battled its way back from the systemic-shut down that followed the ruptured aneurysm.

When I finally emerged from the fog of illness, I noticed how thin my arms and legs were (my puffy feet came later). My immediate thought: “This is fantastic! I can fit into my wedding outfit!” My second thought: “But I can’t move.” The ICU nurses strapped my flaccid thin legs to a bed-mounted motorized bicycle, and I began to work my way back.

It took another month to regain the ability to stand. There was no question about trying to get my unresponsive feet into even the bigger Skechers — if you’ve ever tried to put a shoe on a baby, you get the idea. Instead, I slid into a pair of pink plastic Crocs a roommate had left behind. Here I am taking the Crocs for a spin with my jazzy blue Rollator about 10 days before flying back to the States, with my very proud husband narrating for our daughter. (Yeah, I was pretty exhausted by the whole process, as my flat affect shows. Easy to forget that.)

At the end of July, I left the Crocs behind in Amsterdam and wore my size 8 Skechers when we flew to Shands Hospital in Florida before continuing my recovery back home. Those sturdy gray shoes took me shuffling down the neighborhood sidewalks and through my paces in FYZICAL therapy. My feet and calves stayed puffy, even with the compression stockings the therapist recommended. (They’re basically SPANX for your calves, hard to squeeze into and a relief to roll off.)

In November, the doctor at Shands suggested that the lower legs might not recover any further. “This may be it,” he said, matter of factly. “Maybe,” I said, and walked up two flights of stairs to our daughter’s apartment.

In February, we added Kumba, rescued by Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, to our household, and he kept me company in my morning walks, the two of us slowly gaining confidence in our frail bodies. My feet unswelled. I fit into my proper size of my battle-grey Skechers. I kept going into the pandemic, past a telehealth Shands checkup that showed continued progress, aiming at the two-year, in-person checkup that I hoped would release me back into the civilian population.

That day came at the end of July, and I threw out all three pairs of my illness-weary, pandemic-worn grey Skechers and replaced them with these Akk memory foam sneakers. One day, I might even update to heels! It’s a new day, a new year, and life awaits!

Family Friday: How Public Parks Improve Wellbeing

Paris’ Luxembourg Gardens

One of our favorite days of our 2018 week in Paris was the Sunday we spent in the Luxembourg Gardens, wandering along the sandy paths with other couples, grandmothers and grandchildren, entire families, “le tout Paris.”

Amsterdam’s Vondelpark

The following week, we discovered much the same bucolic feeling in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark, where pedestrians wandered the walkways, and flowers bobbed on the banks of shady streams.

Amsterdam’s Oosterpark

During my unexpected 2019 hospitalization in Amsterdam, my husband would wheel me across the street to Oosterpark. The joy of children playing, the ease of cyclists meandering the broad roads they easily shared with strollers, the green of the glades and sunshine on the meadows, were all part of getting me well.

Tampa’s Public Parks

Kodawari Studios Yoga at Armature Works
Kodawari Studios Yoga at Armature Works

And, a few weeks ago, our daughter took my husband and me to the Armature Works, a reimagined warehouse overlooking the Hillsborough River that has become a family recreational destination at the northern end of Tampa’s Riverwalk.

The night we were there, so many cars were turning in to park that I assumed there was some type of special event. Nope. There was food, music, the river, and a beautiful evening, and loads of space within which to simply enjoy taking a leisurely stroll. It occurred to me that we’d have all been watching TV at home or lost in social media, or doing some other sedentary non-activity if public space planners had not built us a destination.

Tampa’s Riverwalk

Thank you, public parks!

Wellness Wednesday: Did I Have a Lethal Disease or Just Rotten Luck?

I am well. For the first time since May 5, 2019, I am not a hospital patient.

A healthy patient

Before our 2019 transatlantic cruise to Europe, I considered myself our doctor’s most boring patient. I was a fitness instructor. Apart from having our daughter nearly 30 years ago, I’d never been hospitalized, and I had none of the diseases that creep in as we age. My husband has not been quite as lucky, but he was cleared to travel.

Off we went on our two-week journey across the pond from Florida to Amsterdam, with one additional roundtrip week from Amsterdam to Norway tacked on. We had booked an apartment in Amsterdam’s canal district for a month to end our trip on solid ground in one of our favorite cities.

Three months in the hospital: May 5 to August 9

Saying that I was a boring patient was simply too tempting for The Fates to let lie, but they did give me a chance to make it.

In the single day we were in Amsterdam, I was felled by a ruptured arterial aneurysm, and my heart stopped as I was wheeled into the OLVG Hospital emergency room. They got me back and quickly sealed the leak, but my body struggled to keep going for nearly six weeks in the ICU, leaving me wasted and weak. It took me another six weeks to recover my ability to move and the strength to survive a flight home. I was transferred to a Florida hospital with the savvy to take over my treatment, the University of Florida’s Shands Hospital, where I was an inpatient for a week before being discharged to return home. Tomorrow is the second anniversary of that wonderful re-entry into our palm-and -lake-laden neighborhood.

But hanging over my head was Amsterdam’s diagnosis: the ruptured aneurysm had been surrounded by other aneurysms, symptoms of an extremely rare vascular disease: segmental arterial mediolysis. According to the Mayo Clinic (Jacksonville FL), SAM carries a mortality rate of 50 percent. If the SAM diagnosis was correct, I’d need to be carefully monitored by all-too-rare specialists for the rest of my life. Although Shands was five hours from home, I needed to remain their patient. Maybe forever.

One-month check up: August, 2019

On our return, Shands identified a pseudo aneurysm near my ER incision and fixed it while I tried not to hyperventilate. God bless the nurse who understood what was going on in my head. She stood right next to me chatting about children and dance lessons, keeping me distracted while the rest of the team worked away.

Four-month check up: November, 2019

This time, there was nothing to see. Apart from the evidence of the clamped tear, my blood vessels looked healthy. No aneurysms. Not even any pseudos.

One-year check up: virtual, 2020

It was out of the question to travel to Shands as the pandemic raged. Instead, I ventured to a local facility for the scan, and Shands had a look. Still healthy. No aneurysms.

Two-year check up: July, 2021

We were fully vaccinated mid-winter, and I scheduled my next checkup at Shands before Florida became ground-zero for the delta variant of the Coronavirus. However, by the time we traveled, cases, transmissions, hospitalizations, and deaths were all soaring. We kept on our masks. We sanitized our hands. We drove.

Shands’ CT scan showed no sign of disease. I do not have the terrible, rare SAM. I had some rotten luck, is all.

Go live your life. Follow up with someone closer to home in a year or two, and we’re here if you need us.

Dr. Thomas Huber, Chief of Vascular Surgery, Shands Hospital, University of Florida Health

Discharged

I will always feel deeply grateful to the staff in Amsterdam and at Shands who carried me through the days, months, and years since May 5, 2019, but it feels darn good to be a civilian again.

This time, however, I am taking nothing for granted. I am working hard every day at being strong, well-nourished, and engaged with life.

To life!

Jane Kelly Amerson Lopez
Jane Kelly Amerson Lopez

Family Friday: Why training your dog is not about the tricks

Our rescue Lab, Kumba, can sit, lie down, stay, and come when called. He’s also a huge fan of cucumbers and will do this routine to get a piece.

I wanted some new challenges for us. So, I called dog trainer Alison Chambers of Complete Canine Training for suggestions.

I was expecting Alison to give me a list of new tricks. Instead, I learned a much better lesson.

Training is about building a relationship

Training is about building a relationship with your dog, helping him to live in the world you’ve brought him into. 

Helping your dog live in your world

The goal is to make both your lives more functional for your lifestyle. If you own a boat, you want the dog to be able to jump on and off. If you take your dog to work, you want her to lie by your side. If you’re gone all day, you want your dog to be able to be alone without destroying the house.

Learning to listen to each other

You build this relationship with your dog through communication. It’s a two-way process. He needs to learn to listen to you, and you need to learn how to listen to him.

Step one: “Watch me.”

Before a walk, have your dog sit by your side, looking up at you. Periodically during the walk, ask for that focus: “Watch me.” Work toward having your dog pay attention to you the whole time, with a goal of being able to walk through a crowd undistracted.

Step two: Be more exciting than anything else.

Be fun to be around. Toys, treats, different activities, and varied commands add variety to your time with your dog. Make it easy for her to choose you instead of anything else.

Step three: Add distraction.

Other dogs, a passing car, or a favorite toy are all opportunities to practice getting and keeping your dog’s attention. Begin with distant distractions — a dog approaching from the other end of the block — and work up to closer distractions. Ask her to “watch me” instead of her favorite toy when you are holding it overhead.

Step four: Practice, practice, practice.

Look for opportunities to train your dog to pay attention to you. Instead of avoiding the neighborhood bully — I do a u-turn when I see the dog  that Kumba really dislikes — stay the course and help your dog be successful in “watch me” even when temptation is nearby. Your goal is to replace anxiety and fear with approval-seeking: “Oh, there’s that awful dog, so now I get that wonderful treat, right?!”

Alison’s suggestions have already changed my interactions with Kumba, especially during our walks through our neighborhood. Every other dog is now an opportunity to engage our dog in paying attention, for which I reward him with a special treat, this week being tiny pieces of leftover steak. And our afternoon sit, stay, come routine has become a lot more fun now that my husband has joined the game. Nice company for me, more of a workout for Kumba, and a new habit for all three of us!

Who says human’s can’t learn new tricks?

You can read more of Alison’s guidance in previous posts: How to introduce your pandemic pup to a new dog, How to help your unsocialized dog say hello and How to train your pandemic pup.