Life Interrupted

Today was the first day I was able to wrap my arms around Louie and give him a huge bear hug. It was three weeks ago that I had an accident and our lives quickly changed. And in celebrating my ability to hug him and receive an under the neck snuggle from him, I thought it fitting to resume our blog after an unintentionally extended vacation.

December 18, 2016, was filled with great anticipation. It was one week before Christmas, and the DiStasi family was planning to gather at my house to celebrate Christmas. Everything was set; the massive amounts of food, the decorations, gifts, and music. It was to be a celebration to top all the ones we had celebrated so far as a family.

Louie and I took our usual stroll early that morning. Two days before, there had been a late evening ice storm, but this particular morning seemed okay as far as icy pavement was concerned. Still, I was cautious and walked in the grass as much as possible.

An elderly neighbor has a very long driveway, and Louie and I had been taking her daily newspaper to her so she would not have to venture out and lean over to pick it up. As soon as I stepped on the driveway, my feet flew up in the air, and I landed on my left hip. I lost control of Louie, and it took me a few moments to catch my breath. I couldn’t see Louie, and panic was about to set in. His normal reaction when something startles him is to run away. And seeing his mama flying through the air had to have been startling.

I forced myself to turn as far to the left as I could. There Louie sat, close behind my left shoulder. I reached around to draw him close to me. As he tucked his head under my arm, I felt his shaking and heard him whimper. To hear him cry broke my heart, and my tears started to flow uncontrollably. I knew I could not move—and whatever would take place from that moment forward, it would be a long journey. Louie chose to stay by me as the faithful friend that he is.

A neighbor pulled up with his phone in hand, already calling 911, and I called my friend and neighbor Cindy to pick up Louie. I called my daughter, Marisa, and the network of community, family, and friends jumped into action. Everyone’s life was interrupted on December 18, 2016.

After a jarring ambulance ride, surgery to repair a femur that was fractured in two places, a total hip replacement, five days in the hospital, and physical therapy, I was released to Marisa and Matt’s home for respite care and to celebrate Christmas with the two cutest nurses on the face of the earth. Louie had been well taken care of by my wonderful neighbors who had walked him, let him stay in their homes, taken him to daycare to play, and given him more love than he could imagine.

Life interrupted has taught Louie and me a few things:

  • We appreciate life and the little things: Although that seems so cliché, it was the small steps of accomplishment that filled me with joy. Every day, I set new goals to accomplish—goals I never would have dreamed to set before. For instance, I learned to get out of bed, to go to the bathroom, and to take my meds without having to wake my daughter to help me. And to carry a cup of coffee in the morning to enjoy my quiet time. Mea and Evi helped me do things as they watched me improve. Christmas had a deeper meaning this year with sincere thankfulness, love, and joy!
  • You really do know who your friends are: So many people dropped everything to help. It was a terrible strain on Marisa and Matt as they took care of me. So many friends offered to grocery shop, run errands, and stay with me when I finally came home. My sisters and cousin packed their clothes and took turns staying overnight. My brothers were calling, visiting, and bringing food. The neighbors who took care of Louie were such Godsends. Many people could not help because of logistics, but they checked in and prayed.
  • You have to move out of your comfort zone: This was a tough one for Louie and me. I had to let people help me. What a humbling position to be in; I was helpless. I have never stayed in a hospital other than to give birth. I don’t take any medicines, and I have never fractured a single bone. The outpouring of love and encouragement has been overwhelming. Louie had to be comfortable with people coming and going in and out of our home and driving him to and from daycare. But we both pressed on through pain, frustration, fear, and being uncomfortable. It was difficult, but I believe we made it past the hardest part of this process. There’s still much more healing to take place and there will always be a next move out of our comfort zone. I have no doubt we’ll press through that too.
  • Some things just do not matter: The superficiality of the holidays clashed with the richness of genuine, loving relationships. There can be no comparison of the things that are bought with the things that are sought, caught, and taught. The characteristics of love, joy, and peace are important for us to live and pass on to others. It takes effort, but it is worth the time and effort. I am a better person because of the love, joy, and peace that others shared with me this season.

2017 is going to be a great year of love and strength. Louie is a better dog because he chose faithfulness over running away. He trusted and allowed others into his world to help us! We are closer because of these last few weeks. Thank you to so many for being in my life and for your prayers and support!

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Pretty Little Liars

I may sound like a broken record, but if you know me or you’ve read this blog long enough, you know how strongly I believe in authentic relationships. Humans desire deep connection with others, and dogs are no different. Trust is the foundation of a strong relationship, and without it, the relationship is weakened.

When Louie and I first met, he was so full of fear that it took months to build trust. During that timLou's cribe, I quickly realized that Louie had a knack for knowing truth—he’s an amazing pup!

For example, he can tell where I’m going and what I’m doing simply by seeing what outfit I’m wearing. If I am dressed in a business suit and heels, he knows he is not going for a walk. If I put on my gym shoes, however, he knows his chances for a walk are greatly improved. If I combine my workout clothes and gym shoes, he waits to see if I grab the leash or head toward his cushy canine crib, which determines whether he goes with me, or must wait for me to return home.

I know Louie is not only greatly influenced by what I wear but also by what I say and how I say it to him. If I am dressed for business and say “I’ll be right back” while sending him to his crib before I leave, he knows that in actuality I won’t be right back, and he reacts to that. Saying “bye bye” to him has a different meaning as well. That means we BOTH go bye bye, to the park or somewhere else for fun. When he goes into his crate and I say bye bye, this does not make sense to him. If I have my flip-flops on and start to walk out the front door and he is not in his crate, when I say, “I’ll be right back,” he knows I will be right back. That action usually means I am going to the mailbox. My actions and my words align. He picks up on my cues and watches my behavior just as we do when someone is sharing information with us. If their words and their behaviors do not match, we don’t trust them.

I learned early in life not to lie. But this lesson particularly impacted me at age 18. I was studying to be a Radiology Technologist under the supervision of a wonderful radiologist, Dr. Howard Feigelson. He would carefully examine every set of X-Ray films I took to him, diagnose what was going on with the patient, and then critique my technique. If my films were not perfect, I had an excuse for everything–the patient moved, the patient breathed, that particular machine overexposes, etc. Dr. Feigelson would sit back and look at me over the rim of his glasses and just say the nickname he coined for me, “Dani.” I knew I had been busted. He was a wise man and could easily tell my words and my behavior did not line up. He then proceeded to teach me proper radiology technique as well as the dangers of habitually justifying poor performance.x-ray-skeleton-dog

As I reflected on these life lessons years later, I realized how Dr. Feigelson combined truth with love. The point wasn’t only proper technique. It was the importance of being truthful and authentic. Although my parents had certainly taught me this, it was “real world” experience that made it stick. I realized I made excuses because I never wanted to disappoint him. But when I made excuses, I disappointed him even more.

This brings us back to my original point that trust is the foundation of strong relationships, which begins with being honest and truthful. We may not outright lie, but we don’t exactly share the truth. Eventually, people can tell that our words don’t match our actions. Consequently, trust erodes and authenticity shrinks.

Learning to BE Authentic takes practice and, hopefully, this may help:

  • B: What is the belief at the core of your excuse? Is it fear of exposing a mistake? Is it fear of not being liked? Is it the fear of rejection? Is it fear of inadequacy? Take time to process these questions and understand the belief.
  • E: What emotion are you feeling because of the belief? Be very clear in naming that emotion and challenging it. Why is this causing such angst? Is it worth the price you will pay in sacrificing the relationship? How will you feel if you “get by” with this excuse versus being honest?
  • A: Authenticity is strengthened when you align your actions. To build trust, we must first align our hearts and our minds internally and then our words with our actions externally.

Louie knows that sometimes when I say, “I’ll be right back” that I will not be right back and he reacts to that. And people sense when you make excuses, and are not being honest. It is not worth the time or energy to be anything but truthful. While we do not want to hurt others feelings, being honest is the most loving gift we can give to others!

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Louie’s favorite gal pal, Kacki passed suddenly last week. During our walks, we would head up the hill toward Kacki’s home where she would be sunning herself, relaxing. Even before she was in sight, Lou would hold his head up high, trying to get a glimpse of this beauty. And there she was, just waiting and watching for her little buddy Louie! She wouldn’t blink an eye or move her head, yet her tail drummed the beat of her happy heart. She loved seeing Louie and he so loved his Kacki girl. Kacki, we hope you’re enjoying the beautiful view from the hill you adorn today! We miss you and will always look for you at the door!

Don’t Adjust To Your Dog!

Louie and I really enjoyed our training sessions at the Queen City Dog Training Club. Between the sessions we attended and the benefits of Zig’s wisdom, we’ve learned a lot. But one lesson in particular stands out.

During this lesson, the instructor would have us give several commands while walking around the ring, and would observe how quickly our dogs responded. We would walk quickly and then stop; our dog would stop and sit next to us. Louie would stop and sit but always at a 45-degree angle and while looking up at me. It looked as though he wanted to be able to see my face. Because I knew he was supposed to be right at my side, I slowly stepped closer to him until we were side by side.

“Don’t adjust to your dog,” came the command from our instructor and it was directed toward me. I looked at Louie and said, “Pay attention, Lou. You’re going to get us in trouble.”

Once again we were told to walk around the ring and were given the command to stop and have our dogs sit next to us. Lou sat at an angle again but this time I looked at him and then the instructor. She looked at me and said, “Don’t adjust to him. Scoot his bottom toward you.”

And so I did, muttering under my breath, “Why are you doing this?” He looked at me as though asking, “What did I do?”2014-06-27 21.33.41

After repeating this routine several times, I was ready to give up. Finally, Louie understood and sat perfectly still right next to me. Our training session was over but the lesson was not. The words, “Don’t adjust to your dog,” echoed in my mind for weeks.

What was wrong with adjusting to my dog? After all, it was just one step toward him. It was hardly noticeable and in the end, we achieved what we wanted to achieve—our dogs sitting right next to us. Then it dawned on me—when I moved toward him, I was adjusting to poor performance. And I let him know that the poor performance was OK, even celebrated, if I patted him on the head.

Being flexible is very important as a leader. And we discussed in our last post about the importance of clarity in communicating our expectations. But adjusting to poor performance is a different matter. Sometimes we adjust because we are tired of keeping the standards at the level they need to be. Many times we simply give up and take whatever we can get.

Have you ever walked into your garage and immediately noticed the pungent smell of garbage? If you stayed in the garage long enough, you would adjust to the smell and eventually no longer notice it. That is until someone else walks in and points it out.

While not accommodating poor performance is very important for leaders, it is also true personally. So many times in society, we make adjustments in order to fit in or accept something that is wrong because we don’t want to appear politically incorrect.

Recently, Evi and I listened to a radio drama about a monk named Telemachus. The story was set back in the days of the Roman Empire when the gladiator games were all the rage (long before the movie hit the big screen). Troubled by the sight of thousands assembling to see men fighting and killing one another at the Roman Colosseum, Telemachus tried to convince them that their conduct was wicked and cruel. He stood in front of thousands who were doing what was the socially accepted form of entertainment in that day and challenged them to stop such cruelty. He was immediately struck down and killed. However, his death was not in vain because after the day Telemachus was murdered in the Colosseum, no gladiator fight took place there again.

This may seem like a dramatic example compared to adjusting to a dog’s slight disobedience yet Telemachus recognized that if he didn’t take action, they would continue to adjust their society to a path of moral compromise. His actions contradicted everything his society said was acceptable. People made money from the events and the gladiators were considered mighty heroes. Taking a stand cost Telemachus his life but it changed the Roman society and ultimately the world.

The next time you have to make a tough choice to do the right thing, don’t adjust to your dog—even if that dog is one cute pup looking up at you with big brown eyes saying, “Did I do good, Mom? Uh? Did I? I know I did, right?”

 

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Expectations Vs. Reality

Louie and I took a long walk the other day and ran into our neighbor, Cindy, and her dog, Eve. Cindy invited us into their home to let the dogs play and expend some energy. When we walked in, Eve expected a treat because that’s what they do after she’s been on a walk. So Louie joined her in expecting a treat and both dogs sat perfectly still anticipating their reward.

When Cindy accidentally dropped a dog biscuit on the floor, Louie immediately snatched it and gulped it down. He sat back down again next to Eve and waited for his treat. Cindy knows “Louie speak” and said, “Lou, you already had your treat.”

Eve and Louie

Louie is enthralled with Eve’s beauty and strength! (He’s actually growling at her for attention).

Louie was shocked and replied back, “That wasn’t a treat! That was an accident; you dropped it on the floor and I picked it up. See me properly sitting here? I should get a treat because I’m sitting, just as I have been trained!”

“Sorry, Lou!” Cindy replied. I’m not sure, but later I think Cindy ended up giving him a treat because she can’t resist his big brown eyes. But the initial look on his face when reality set in was classic.

Facing the difference between our expectations and reality is a tough lesson for all of us. We’ve experienced this at Christmas. In our minds, we picture a Norman Rockwell image of a beautiful Christmas tree, a warm, crackling fire in the background, hot chocolate with a perfect dollop of whip cream, and presents stacked up to the ceiling. In reality, it’s rarely like that. While I wanted to believe in Santa forever—dreamer that I am—I had to face the reality that Santa did not exist when I found the box that held my beloved Thumbelina doll in our TV room later on Christmas day.

We’ve all had expectations that a new job would turn out wonderfully, but a year later we must face the reality that it’s not at all what we expected.

So are we setting ourselves up for disappointment by setting our expectations too high? And if so, does that mean we are settling for less and not even trying to reach a higher bar?

Leaders run into this issue all the time with employees, and we also deal with these issues personally. I think setting high expectations is a good thing but several things need to be in place to ensure we are not setting ourselves or anyone else up for failure:

  1. Communication is key: I can’t express enough in this blog or in any talk I give that communication is the key to genuine, authentic relationships. It is very important that we clearly communicate our expectations and in turn, listen to what barriers may get in the way of achieving those expectations. Often we have a picture in mind of what the finished product should look like but we fail to communicate that to others. Then when our expectations are not met, we blame others. In our personal lives, it is even more profound, and can be more costly.
  1. Make sure the expectations align with everyone’s values. Though this may come up while you are engaged in discussions around barriers, it may take additional questioning and going deeper. Many times our struggles are not always obvious in an initial conversation until we’ve had time to reflect on what is expected of us. When we start to feel conflicted, it may be because it doesn’t align with our values or focus. Additional conversation needs to take place, otherwise it may happen in an unproductive, damaging and explosive conversation.
  1. Be realistic: While stretching beyond ourselves is an excellent way to grow, we don’t want to stretch so much that people snap. Be realistic about expectations and setting goals. Give clear timelines and any additional assistance needed to achieve the goals.

The components above apply personally as well. How many times are we disappointed because someone did not give us what we were hoping for? I overheard Louie and his gal pal, Eve, having an interesting conversation around expectations. See if this sounds familiar:

“Happy birthday, Lou!”

“Oh thanks, Eve” he said as he looked behind her for a dog biscuit. When he didn’t see anything else, he looked forlorn.

“What’s wrong?” asked Eve.

“Oh nothing!” sighed Louie.

“Were you expecting something else?”

“No, of course not. You remembering my birthday is more than enough.” Louie feigned a smile, then sighed. “Well, okay, yes, I was hoping for a little more; a treat or something, you know.”

“Oh, no…I didn’t know. You should have said something.”

“Well, if I said something, it would ruin the surprise.”

“What surprise?”

“The surprise I was expecting,” exclaimed Louie.

“Well, how do I know what you are expecting if you don’t tell me what you’re expecting?”

“Because you should just know.”

Oh Louie! The harsh reality that others will not always meet our expectations is a tough lesson to learn. I suggest we not get so fixed on our expectations that we miss the possibility of far exceeding what our minds are capable of imagining. I believe it is good to dream, reach and imagine possibilities for ourselves—just be clear on what you expect of others.

Miracles Do Happen; The Power of K9 Karson’s Story

KArson EviIf you read our last post, Louie was on the verge of getting fired! We’re working on our issues and he is still here, but that is NOT the miracle.

For the last 60 days, Louie and I have been praying for a fellow canine. While I don’t believe there are any “ordinary” dogs, this one is quite extraordinary. K9 Karson, a Belgian Malinois, is a Police Officer for the Wilmington Ohio Police Department. He escaped a boarding kennel on December 23, 2014, where he was staying while his handler, Officer Jerry Popp, was on vacation.

I first heard about his escape on December 24 on a Cincinnati news station and have followed the story from various news sources. Karson has a Facebook page, and at the time of his escape, there were a few followers but as word spread, the followers increased. It became clear from the Facebook posts that with the extreme cold, finding Karson quickly was critical. While those of us who followed the story were somewhat emotionally invested, it was nothing like the emotional toll it took on Officer Popp, and I’m sure, Karson himself. For them, sheer determination to find each other became the driving force.

Once the story went viral, a groundswell of support grew. Followers offered support and encouragement, and many volunteers were on foot and in cars searching for Karson with his favorite toy, a tennis ball. He would be spotted here and there but would run from anyone who got close. Over the two months he was missing, hundreds of people searched, prayed for his safe return, and shed tears over his loss.

Many discussions took place with some who believed he probably hadn’t survived or if he had, might have been taken by someone who didn’t realize he was not only a police officer but also a dearly loved companion. Signs were posted and a group of faithful followers prayed every single night at 10 p.m. for Karson’s protection, safety, and homecoming. Although some gave up on him, Officer Popp and many of us remained optimistic he would be found.

I’ve been asked why all the emotional upheaval over a dog when there are so many worthy causes to claim our attention. But when people say, “he’s just a dog,” Mayor Randy Riley of Wilmington responds: “He is not your typical pet. He is a member of and an officer with the Wilmington Police Department.” In a statement to the photographer whose picture of Karson in a field confirmed his final location, Mayor Riley said, “You found an officer who was missing in action and returned him.” Clearly, K9 Karson is more than “just a dog.”

Thank goodness this story has a happy ending. After missing for 61 days, Karson was found on Sunday, February 22, 2015. I wept when I read Officer Popp’s words: “Karson has been found. I have him in the truck next to me. He’s alive and healthy. It’s all over finally…” Despite his long absence during one of the coldest winters our area has experienced, Karson lost about 14 pounds, suffered from dehydration and his paws were fairly reddened by the snow. It’s a miracle those were his only ailments.

As the number of followers on Facebook increased, I saw something amazing take place. Right before the news broke that he had been found, there were just under 22,000 likes for the K9 Karson page. By 9 p.m. that night, almost 6,000 additional people viewed and liked Karson’s page.

Although it’s not about the “likes,” I wonder why there were so many so quickly. People probably heard about Karson missing but once he was found, they decided to like his page. Why? Because people like happy endings? Perhaps, or is it because people wait to see what happens, hesitant to invest themselves in a story lest they be disappointed if it ends badly. With so much depressing news happening in our world, it is tough to believe in miracles, but they happen all around us, even for our pets.

Miracles don’t happen because we wave a magic wand and “poof,” we all live happily ever after. They are called miracles because things happen that are out of our control, which result in an ending many times beyond our imagination. There are, however, things we can do to “hasten” miracles:

  1. PLANT THE SEED OF FAITH: In this case, a person made one phone call; a volunteer took one more look; a photographer hoped their camera would catch a glimpse of “the hairy kid,” and another offered one more prayer pleading for his safe return. These are seeds of faith that were planted.
  2. AN ENVIRONMENT OF HOPE: The ”germination” stage for this miracle was hope. The unfailing hope and perseverance of Officer Popp, the Wilmington Police Department, the Mayor, and all the volunteers and prayer warriors created a fertile environment. And though at times it was by a thread, hope remained strong in Officer Popp’s heart.
  3. THE DYNAMIC DUO OF LOVE AND PATIENCE: The bond between Officer Popp and Karson was evident and they quickly became our dynamic duo. After we’ve planted the seeds and created a hopeful environment for it to grow, we come to what is perhaps the hardest part and that is patiently waiting. What would drive Officer Popp to continue patiently searching every day with no promise of a fruitful outcome? LOVE!

Miracles often happen at the 11th hour as in the case of Karson. The Sunday he was found was to be the last day of the organized search. The professional tracker and K-9 trainer, Jordina Ghiggeri, was set to drive back to New Jersey and the trail cameras were being removed.

I had an opportunity to meet Officer Jerry Popp, Jordina Ghiggeri, and our beloved Karson on his first day back to the station for training. I asked Jerry if the reality has taken hold yet. “I still can’t believe it,” he said shaking his head. “It was truly a miracle. I still wake up in the middle of the night to check his bed to make sure it’s real—that he’s still there.”

I have to wonder, Officer Popp, how many times Karson looks at you with those soulful brown eyes to make sure it’s real—that you are still there. It truly is a miracle and will not be quickly forgotten.

Popp in fieldPhoto: Pam Jones

 God whispers miracles in the quietness of our hearts far from the curious onlookers and crowds.  This picture speaks volumes of God’s gentle whisper. Once Karson was safely secured in the police vehicle, Officer Popp collapsed on the ground, overcome with emotion and gratitude that Karson was alive and at first glance, very healthy. Jordina and fellow officer, Sgt. Fithen were there to offer support.

Mark 9:23 “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Karson LOU

I had the pleasure of meeting Officer Popp, Jordina Ghiggeri, and our beloved K9 Karson on his first day back to the department!  When I arrived home, Louie was curious and asked to schedule an interview with this guy named Karson. Oh Louie…you little Karson wannabe!

Send an email to: danise@di-advisors.com

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