Coincidence

In his book, Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey talks about love. He compares it to archery. He says, “The arrow doesn’t seek the target. The target draws the arrow.” He was probably talking about romantic love.

Many of us spend much of our lives chasing romantic love like Wiley Coyote and the Roadrunner. It evades us when we force it. But if we go with the flow enjoying life and the present moment, if we stop to “smell the roses” so to speak….that love will come sit down right beside us and we don’t even have to try…much like the Roadrunner going “beep beep” to get Wiley’s attention.

Bottomline, as I get older I don’t chase love as much. For one, my knees are bad. Chasing is exhausting and makes you want to drop an anvil on someone’s head with frustration when you fail. For another reason, there’s no point in it. Policing a man or woman gets you nowhere. Love will come to us when love is ready.

Beep, beep….

But tonight, I talk of a different kind of love…the love from pets. There have been only a few times in my life that I have been drawn to something or someone like a strong magnet. One of those times is the day I first encountered my second dog.

When I saw him, I knew in my heart I wanted that dog. I didn’t go to Petsmart to get a dog. That was the last thing on my mind. I was there to get fish food. I had brought my son and one of his friend’s along to the downtown shopping district. We were just enjoying the day.

Do you believe in random occurrences or are our steps ordered in some way as if predestined? Why do I say such gibberish? I will tell you why in a moment.

This is my second dog. I took him home from the pet store that day as a spur of the moment decision. I said I’d take him the moment the volunteer said his name.

Slushy.

Such an odd name for a reddish brown border collie like this:

Slushy was his name.

Why would that name make me instantly buy him?

This picture right here:

A 1982 Slushy doll on sale.

In 1982, my grandma bought me an Avon toy called Slushy the dog. I carried Slushy everywhere. I slept beside Slushy. I ate beside Slushy. Slushy never left my side….for years. He was my favorite toy comparable to a favorite blanket. I loved Slushy with all my little girl heart.

Slushy.

How is it possible that years later I would encounter the real life look-alike to my favorite childhood toy friend? Coincidence? Random fate? Or something more…

Today, I type this by the fireplace as Slushy sits beside me napping. The fire is warm and toasty. He is resting. His eyes are closed but I know if I shift just a little, he will open them to peer at me curiously….my toy brought to life in later years, just when I would need him most. I would need his friendship once again.

I sleep beside Slushy curled up near me sometimes. I eat beside Slushy. Once again, we are inseparable. And we will probably be inseparable to the end of the road for one of us, whomever that might be.

The Unconditional Love of Dogs

Man’s best friend.

On Valentine’s Day, we celebrate romance. But what of the other types of love, including the love for our pets?

I have two dogs. One is a mix of different breeds, probably Italian Greyhound and Jack Russell. That’s what my vet said. To me, he’s just a little white dog I got at the pound.

I tore my ACL in my knee and was limping around. In a few weeks, I planned to have surgery to repair it. It was a Saturday afternoon when the kids and I drove out to the Humane Society.

I did not pick the little white dog at first. In fact, no one seemed interested in him.

He sat in a steel cage alone in the small dog room. He looked miserable. He didn’t seem excited by my arrival like some other more bouncy dogs. He didn’t bark nor make a noise. He lay with his back facing me. I bypassed him and went to a cuddly little black furball dog and a few other cute and energetic ones.

We played with the others and were set on the black furball pup. Then one of the volunteers brought the little white dog out of his cage to clean the cage.

That’s when I realized exactly why everyone bypassed him…..he limped around on three legs. There was something wrong with him. I looked down at my own busted knee.

“What happened to his leg?” I asked the volunteer curiously.

“He needs a minor surgery on the ligament. Sometimes some breeds of dogs like Chihuahuas and such can be born with a leg problem.” She said sympathetically.

His leg was messed up. So was mine. We seemed fated to be together I suppose. We took the quiet, little white dog home that day. We named him Gizmo.

He had surgery for about $170 at the vet clinic. My knee surgery cost much more in the thousands. I shoulda had the vet fix my knee.

We walked together a lot in the weeks that followed. I hobbled along behind him grimacing in pain every now and then while he still hopped around on three legs. My knee got stronger every day with his help. Eventually he figured out too that he could step down on that fourth leg and it would work. I remember watching him that moment. He gingerly placed the leg down as if afraid of the pain but soon found there to be none. Now he bounces around the house. He runs and plays and wrestles with our other dog.

Nothing makes me smile bigger after a long day of work than to be greeted by the dogs at the door. I do believe all dogs go to heaven. They seem to bring out our better nature. Over the years, these dogs have greeted many visitors to our home with equal measure of love. Young and old. Pretty or not so much. Thin and thick. It doesn’t matter to them. And I think that’s what I like about dogs best. How unconditional their love and support can be. They treat every person like a good friend.

Yes, cats are softer and fluffier and easier to take care of. But a dog will lay beside you when you’re feeling blue. So this Valentine’s Day, remember not just the romantic love but also the love of companionship, an unconditional love mastered by dogs.

Love amid the Lanes

This is my Valentine’s Day gift to you! I wrote a piece for a love contest. Here is the entry. It is supposed to be a heart-warming story about love in a Midwest bowling alley. Picture Kingpin meets Romeo and Juliet.

I hope you have a wonderful, romantic Valentine’s Day! Stay warm too, my friends!

Imagine Me and You

by J. Speer

In 2018, there was a little bowling alley in Hot Springs, Arkansas.  It was a popular locals’ joint and featured 12 open lanes for 12 unique teams on league night each Friday evening.  People loved going to the little bowling alley to unwind from a long week of work. 

The bowling alley manager was named Bill Casey.  He had owned the bowling alley since 1987, the year Patrick Swayze dirty danced with Jennifer Grey having the time of her life.  Bill had three great loves in his life: the game of bowling, his deceased wife Maria, and their one daughter she had named Jennifer. 

Jennifer worked the bowling alley counter.  She also was the top bowler on a league team named I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gutter.  Jennifer was a vibrant woman though still unmarried.  For years, she had looked in vain for that one true love of her life. Her team of friends was several fun colleagues from diverse occupations who shared the one commonality of being from different minority groups.  They all agreed on one thing.  They disliked the other competitive league team at Lane 1 called Split Happens

Split Happens consisted mostly of what some might call “a redneck hillbilly crowd.”  They were dang good bowlers.  The best player on the team was a handsome eligible bachelor named David Huxley.  Every Friday night, the team at lane 1 and the team at lane 2 would spar good-naturedly trading continuous barbs or pranks at each other’s expense. 

Every year, inevitably, these two teams would face off against each other in the annual Championship for the Big Balls trophy, a much-esteemed achievement.  For the past three years, Split Happens had held the title of Champion on the grandmaster board.  This was dedicated to all the great bowling league teams through the years since 1987. 

There were other teams in the league too that stood a chance at winning a prestigious spot on the leader board.  The group in Lane 3, for example, was a hardy team of independent feminists.  Their team was named Got Ya By the Balls.  In lane 4, likewise, was a team of fun-loving LGBT friends named The Sexy Strikers.  There were other lesser teams as well, such as the comic book fan team called the X-men at Lane 7.  They loved all things high tech.   

David Huxley and Jennifer Casey had grown up together, attending the same classes at the same elementary school and high school.  David had always admired Jennifer from afar.  Jennifer, for her part, held in high esteem David’s ability to hit multiple strikes.  He carried his team to victory again and again.  They, however, were adversaries on opposing teams.  For some reason, through all the years, the two had never really dated.  But that all was about to change…

It was a cold, blustery Friday night in February just before Valentine’s Day.  The league games had just ended.  Split Happens and I Can’t Believe it’s Not Gutter both defeated their opponent teams.  The sore losers for the night were taking off their bowling shoes and turning them in to Bill at the counter.  They were heading out the door. 

Jennifer wandered over to the old arcade that held the ancient Atari games and racing games.  David was already in there with a few friends.  She took some quarters out of her pocket.  She eyed the old air hockey game to the side of the room.  David looked over at her mildly with interest.  He always seemed to notice her.  She caught his glance and smiled.  Cocking her head towards the air hockey, she asked him, “You up for a game of this?  Haven’t played it in a while.”

“As I recall,” he said, “You used to be pretty good at this one.”

She laughed.  “I’m a little rusty, I’m sure.”

They put the quarters in the slot and the air hockey game commenced a humming noise indicating it had started.  The two squared off against each other on opposing sides.  Jennifer scored the first point and grinned.  David grinned back.  He quickly scored the second point.  Jennifer rolled up her sleeves to try again. 

Several minutes of aggressive play continued with David scoring three more points to Jennifer’s frustration.  She eyed him coolly at this point.  She set the hockey puck down on the table ahead of her.  She rapidly scored the next point. 

David watched her more intently.  He noticed every little detail about the way she bit her upper lip as a tell that she was getting ready to strike or the way she squinted when he would come close to scoring again.  The hockey puck went back and forth more urgently.  David noticed too that she looked quite pretty that night with her curly black hair tied back at the nape of her neck, her crew shirt, and slim jeans accentuating her appearance.  She scored another point and he let out a slow whistle. 

“Damn,” he said under his breath.  The game continued.  He ended up winning and smiled mischievously.  Although defeated, Jennifer had to admit to herself that she loved that smile.  David had always been handsome and loved to have a good time. 

“Alright, I guess you won this time.” She admitted.  They both shared a brief moment.  She figured she needed to help clean-up so she started to turn away to leave the arcade.  David frowned just a little.  He finally said the thought that had been in his head through most of the air hockey game. 

“You doing anything later tonight?”  Jennifer blinked.  She looked around at the others in the arcade for a moment. 

“No, no plans.  Why?”  She said bluntly surprised.

They agreed that night to maybe go out to the local coffeehouse after she finished work. 

Later that night, they sat together at The Bluebird coffee shop downtown and pretty soon were exchanging fun stories and engaging in entertaining banter.  Jennifer felt comfortable with David, although they both worried a little that at any moment, they might be seen sitting at the same table.  They agreed to go on a few more dates after that.  The romance started out a little slow and then quickly picked up steam.  One date was a dinner, another was a movie, and soon they were spending a lot of secret time together while still bowling as adversaries on League nights.  It soon became obvious to both parties that they might be falling in love. 

The secret rendezvous exchange continued.  It led to passionate embraces and nights spent lovingly in each other’s arms.  Neither one was sure what to say to their other team mates.  They agreed to keep things hush for the time being.    

Then, one night as fate would have it, they were discovered.  Jennifer had another secret admirer, a pretty woman from another team named Leslie Shaw.  Upon encountering the couple holding hands in the mall parking lot outside a local delicatessen, Leslie dropped her jaw in shock. 

“Holy cow,” she muttered under her breath.  This is interesting she said to herself with a slight twinge of jealousy. 

Leslie Shaw wanted her team, The Sexy Strikers, to win the leader board position too.  She devised a plan to blackmail the two lovers, threatening to expose them to everyone unless they both agreed to throw their games in the semi-final matches, allowing Leslie’s team to move forward to the Championship game.  Jennifer and David reluctantly agreed.    

Split Happens went first in the semi-finals and Jennifer watched sadly as David “accidentally” threw gutter ball after gutter ball forfeiting his team’s place and frustrating all his teammates to no end.  They shook their heads in disgust.  Some team members from Lane 2 scoffed at the losers with delight.      

As the second semi-final game commenced, a sudden fight broke out in the nearby lounge room between Team 1 and Team 2 players.  This spilled over quickly to an all-out brawl in the crowded league night bowling alley.  All the divided teams were fighting and carrying on.  David searched for Jennifer across the crowded room.  Jennifer tried to keep her sights on him too. 

Somehow in the midst of all the quarreling, David got hit by a thrown bowling ball.  Jennifer called out to him in alarm over the ruckus.  She rushed towards him.  She quickly helped him back to his feet. 

“You, ok?” she asked with concern and the two embraced.  All around them, people noticed and the room went still. 

“What?” she said defensively while looking around.  She reached hesitantly for his hand.  His fingers enclosed around hers too. 

“What the heck?!” said a few shocked onlookers.  David and Jennifer looked around awkwardly. 

“Yes, ok, we’ve been dating…” David began.  He then proceeded to explain the story of their relationship and what happened with Leslie.  Leslie looked down embarrassed.  She slinked off to the side a bit. 

 David looked around and back at Jennifer holding his hand.  He smiled at her. 

“I know we all have our differences,” he said hesitantly.  “But the truth is I love this woman.  Jennifer Casey, will you marry me?” He asked her as he started to get down on one knee.

The crowd completely stopped fighting.  Everyone waited for the reply.   When Jennifer said, “Yes!”  her teammates were among the first to clap alongside the team mates from Split Happens.             

Soon the folks that had been looking to start trouble were ashamed of their behavior.  The whole room clapped then, even Bill Casey who clapped the loudest.  It was decided that the couple would get married at the bowling alley later on that month. 

Bill Casey disbanded the league teams.  He took down the leader board which had caused so much animosity among the different groups.  There would be no more league nights, no more winners and losers.  Everyone would play as equals.    

On the wedding night, David Huxley and Jennifer Casey married at Lane 5.  He wore a tuxedo.  She wore a white wedding dress.  They kissed happily.  She tossed the bouquet.  Leslie Shaw managed to capture the bouquet too alongside a beautiful bowler named Sara.  Leslie and Sara smiled shyly at each other.  For Leslie, it seemed fated.  That’s how Leslie found her new love interest in life. 

That night, the bowlers at Bill Casey’s little bowling alley in Arkansas all bowled together as friends in a big diverse party.  Bill Casey turned the lights down low.  He set everything to Cosmic Bowling.  He turned on the music.   Happy Together by the Turtles filled the air and everyone was truly happy in that moment, especially David Huxley and Jennifer Casey. 

The Best Valentine I Ever Got: Taking a Road Trip to See Waterfalls

A few years back, my husband picked me up in his truck with our kids sitting in the back seat. It was on a Friday after a long week of work and it happened to be Valentine’s Day Weekend. There were suitcases packed in the back seat with the kids and there was a red card on the passenger seat. He said, “Hop in!” He smiled at me with a hint of mischief in his eyes as we headed mysteriously down the road to an unidentified destination point.

I settled into the passenger seat, curious to see what he was up to. I opened the Valentine card and a paper fell out. It was a small printed off map. It looked like a route with a blue line through various places in Oklahoma. I later learned from him that our family was going on a waterfall adventure trip through Oklahoma and each spot designated on the map signified a special place to visit to see gorgeous and musical sounding, calming rushing waters.

It turned out to be an awesome and fun 2 -day family trip through Oklahoma. My favorite destination on the excursion was Turner Falls. It was really pretty and a great place to wade in the waters with family or take photos together by the waters. There were hikes for exploring and other tourist spots to see.

Most states have these type of tourist routes on certain websites online. Here is one for Kansas with various routes for ghost towns, rock/geology adventures, chicken restaurant routes, and other topics. And yes, this one in Kansas has the waterfall adventure too.

So if you are planning something for Valentine’s Day……consider a weekend road trip route like these. Just Google your state and type in road trip routes. The waterfall trip is very family friendly and sorta romantic too. Or maybe your partner is more interested in things culinary or things paranormal or science related destinations.

I highly recommend these ideas as great “spontaneous” and fun Valentine gifts. Trust me, your partner will like it. I know I certainly did! It didn’t seem to cost too much either since most of the destination spots are free to visit. The only costs are gas for your vehicle and overnight stays somewhere. This would be fun to do with an RV too.