Family Friday: Why It’s Always Time to Say Thank-You

Six months ago, we were masked into pandemic lockdown, locked in and fearful as the coronavirus stalked the world. I could not have imagined that a vaccine would reopen the world to our family this spring, but here we are, vaccinated and awaiting the visit of our vaccinated daughter and her vaccinated fiancé. Just yesterday, the CDC announced that we can move mask-free through the outside world.

Science should win all the prizes this year.

I’ve begun wondering how long it will take us to forget how grateful we must be for the rest of our lives. I’m going to try very, very hard to remember what it was like to be in quarantine as I move out into the populated landscape once again. And, as I do, I’m going to thank everyone that got us through the storm to safe harbor.

Musical (Thank-You) Notes

The enforced aloneness of the Coronavirus pandemic gave us a new appreciation for the people that make our lives possible. The apartment-dwelling residents in big cities applauded front-line workers from their balconies. Drive-by birthday parties became “a thing.” Musicians — like Yo Yo Ma, who kicked off #SongsOfComfort on Twitter — serenaded their neighbors.

Yo Yo Ma, playing Dvorak’s “Going Home”

Thank-You Notes and Holiday Cards

Last fall, we were not going anywhere, seeing anyone, doing anything. No parties. No visits. No people. And, yet, I sent out thank-you notes.

I had recently organized my stationery drawer, discovering a stash of note cards inherited from my mother’s treasure trove years ago. Thank-you notes, blank notes, Christmas cards, some with envelopes were so old that the adhesive had flaked off.

In between sewing masks and making phone calls for the Biden campaign (yes, thank you Georgia!!!!) I sent notes to some 50 aunts, uncles, cousins on the family mailing list maintained by our family scribe, Aunt Snooky.

I sent out holiday cards without a real holiday in sight and thank-you notes just because. It’s time to do it again, to the neighbor who delivered food from the grocery store, to my pool buddy who texts me when she’s going over for a swim, to the neighbors who have helped acclimate our rescue Lab Kumba to the dynamics of our community. To our daughter, whose genuine concern and interest in our lives shines through in her frequent calls, I sent an unbelievable New York Times Nutella banana bread.

Who do you know who could use a thank-you note?

Thanking Amsterdam

Two years ago this week, my husband and I were completing our two-week crossing of the Atlantic. We had no idea that my heart would stop on May 5 while we were in Amsterdam, or that a compassionate community of nurses, doctors would save my life and that the Turkish family of another ICU patient would adopt my husband into their fold.

Yesterday, finally able to safely stand in a long line at the post office, I mailed my Amsterdam doctor, nurse, and physiotherapist copies of Kaleidoscope WoJo’s anthology In My Shoes including my story, Surviving Amsterdam. And, to celebrate the new lives created since we left Holland, I also mailed my friend Julie Iribarren’s charming children’s book, Levi Journey: An Unlikely Therapy Dog, to my doctor’s baby girl and to the baby girl of our Turkish friend.

Pre-order from Amazon through Wednesday!

Random Acts of Kindness

So, as the world re-opens, let us not get so busy that we forget how much we treasure each other. I was touched by the words in a lovely obituary that ran in my newspaper in February, and will close with them.

Life is a song. Love is the music. Jayne was a blessing of light and love to all who knew her. In Jayne’s memory, please consider a random act of kindness today.

Obituary of Janice (Jayne) T. Balma, The Palm Beach Post

Family Friday: From Stray to Therapy Dog

A 2019 article in the Washington Post by reporter Karen Brulliard posits that dogs’ success is love-based. You know that gooey feeling you get when you gaze into your honey’s eyes and them eyes gaze back at you? That’s the love hormone, oxytocin, and it spikes in people and their dogs when the contact is human-canine. 

I’d like to tell you about a friend of mine, Julie, and her golden retriever, Levi. To say that they fill each other’s hearts is an understatement. How they found each other and what they are doing together make an amazing story.


Levi before he left Turkey (Contributed by Julie)

Some years back, it was fashionable in Turkey to own a golden retriever puppy. The fad faded and the puppies grew up, and soon there were dozens of grown goldens abandoned and running loose in and around Istanbul. Levi was one of these abandoned dogs, fending for himself in the forest.


Levi he was rescued by Turkish women who had taken it upon themselves to save these dogs. Partnering with Everglades Golden Retriever Rescue (EGRR) and other similar organizations, they helped Levi and 18 other “Turkey Dogs” access a new life in the United States. He was thin under his matted coat, and wary of humans.


Julie was part of the rescue effort and became Levi’s foster mother. It didn’t take long for her to realize she couldn’t part with him, so she and her husband became Levi’s permanent family. He was their fourth golden retriever.

It wasn’t an easy decision to live with. Levi had been fending for himself for so long that he did not trust humans. He was guarded and elusive, even agressive.

He was a broken dog.

Julie Iribarren

Trained and Certified for Therapy

But Julie would not give up on Levi. Working closely with her vet, Dale Porcher at Shores Animal Clinic, and her trainer, Jamie Diaz at Dynamite Dog Training, Julie helped Levi feel safe and secure. In the process, she gave her dog his life back.

The trainer had suggested that Levi would be a good therapy dog, and another volunteer with Everglades Golden Retriever Rescue had certified her dog through the national Alliance of Therapy Dogs. Julie and Levi enrolled in the Alliance training program and diligently followed the curriculum, getting Levi used to being in busy public spaces while remaining calm and well-behaved. They passed with flying colors and became a Pet Therapy Team.

Animal Reading Friends (ARF)

The retired teacher knew where she and Levi needed to be: with children. She knew that children who struggled with reading (out loud, in class) were teased by their classmates, and that the resulty anxiety made reading an even tougher challenge. If she could find a way for children to read to her dog, one-on-one, she knew that the calming effect of stroking now laid-back Levi would give these kids the security and confidence to work through the reading challenge.

A Palm Beach County Library branch manager provided the missing link: a new program, Animal Reading Friends (ARF), through which children could have weekly private reading dates with Levi and Julie.

Julie and Levi have become the ARF ambassadors.

Julie and Levi have loads of small fans and parents who see their reluctant children develop a love of reading; library patrons who politely ask to pet Levi as he makes his way to the Children’s area; and librarians, who see Julie’s love and dedication in the support, compassion, and caring spirit she shows each child.

So, yes, love abounds. We give it, we get it, we need it. It makes the world go ’round. When a shell of a dog is given a chance to live abundantly, he flowers. As does his proud new mama.