A gift for life

There are many heartwarming stories to share during the Holiday Season, but my recent exposure to one honorable cause touched my heart so deeply I’ve decided to dedicate my December blog to it. This is a noble purpose to match the season, one filled with giving and sharing, and hopefully, the saving of not only one life, but of many.

When I visited a local PetSmart a few months ago I met several kind individuals volunteering their time and resources to promote an organization they believed in (Greyhound Pets of America). They were also fostering many of the retired racing dogs in need of good homes. As I spoke with the volunteers I found myself hugging a fawn-colored female named Frances and petting a brindle-coated male named Joey. With wagging tails the dogs bathed my face in sloppy kisses. Their affection seemed so endless I felt a need to promote their cause. After all, who could resist sweet, doe-eyed pups brimming with so much love and trust? Sadly, their tender spirit hides the loneliness they’ve endured most, if not all, of their lives. I find it difficult to imagine these loyal animals alone for the holidays, pining in metal cages. As a pet for a happy, dog-loving family, greyhounds are the perfect choice. I can think of no gentler or more deserving animal with whom to share a home.

Photo courtesy of fastdogs.org via Google Images

In my recent research, I’ve discovered the truth about greys (greyhounds). They are not simply a logo or a caricature painted on the side of a bus, but they are the fastest—and most loving—couch potato on the planet. I also found the objective of most greyhound rescues simple and straightforward. Their primary goal: to protect the animals they serve and save as many lives as possible. Most grey shelters work hard to place ready dogs into reliable homes. Some go further to promote awareness, informing the public about the over-breeding of racing dogs and the thousands of euthanized greyhounds as a result.*  But too often, these rescue efforts go unnoticed, buried under a stampede of other charitable organizations beating a path to everyone’s doorstep, especially during the holidays. Even so, it doesn’t make the life-saving message any less urgent or the need for forever homes any less vital. Fortunately, there is a way for anyone interested to aid the greys without a great deal of time, effort, or expense.  I speak of a gift that will provide seasonal cheer and much more to numerous loving pups, and continue giving well into the New Year.

Most greyhound agencies, staffed by volunteers, exist mainly as a result of local goodwill and donations. Without community support, fewer and fewer dogs will be saved. For that reason, I volunteer my time and labor to help out, and look forward to fostering greys in the near future. Of course, not everyone is able to donate in this way, but there are other ways to aid the greys. Sometimes, a worthwhile donation can be as simple as a used blanket. Getting rid of old and unwanted items can be a huge help—one dog’s garbage is another pup’s treasure, so to speak.

Photo of Jet, courtesy of Dave Kirschner

Apart from a dire need for foster homes, monetary donations, and volunteer efforts, here are a few items listed on local greyhound rescue sites that will benefit their work and their dogs, and won’t break the bank:  
MilkBone dog biscuits, chicken & rice canned dog food, canola oil, canned pumpkin (not spiced), dog toys, old collars and leashes, new or used comforters and blankets, bed sheets, bleach, laundry detergent, scrub sponges, baby wipes, paper towel, duct tape, pens and pencils, giant plastic crates, high-grade dog food, (Adam’s) flea and tick shampoo, and if the opportunity presents itself, a full-sized vehicle in excellent working condition for transporting animals and supplies. 

Photo courtesy of fastfriends.org via Google Images

So, if you’re rummaging through pantries, closets, or the garage in preparation for the season please think of the greys. And if you own any of the items listed above and wish to donate them, know that your gifts will be well received (see links below). And know your generosity can provide happier holidays for needful pups without adding additional burden to your limited time and resources. 

Of course, if you prefer to donate funds or volunteer to aid these gentle dogs, then please do so by visiting a local greyhound rescue (also see links below). And if you are able to give the ultimate gift—your loving home—open your heart and arms and welcome a greyhound into your life for fostering or adoption, and give a loyal friend the best present of all—a forever home.   

Photo of Zoey and Jet, courtesy of Dave Kirschner

For more information please search your browser for a listing local or national greyhound rescue agencies near you, and ask how you can help. If you would like further information about greyhounds in general, feel free to visit Grey2K USA, a non-profit advocate for the breed and the largest greyhound protection organization in the world. 

Whether or not you celebrate the Holidays have a safe, healthy, and happy season. And if you’re able, please share your love with others by giving your support to a worthy cause. But if you have room in your heart and home to make a friend for life, and in the process save a life, please adopt or foster a greyhound, or simply spread the love and good will and pass on this message.  Happy Holidays!

Photo courtesy of longleggedbeauties.org via Google Images

*For information regarding this topic and how to help these animals or end greyhound racing, please visit the Grey2K website: www.grey2kusa.org

Remembering Dan

 Photo of Dan and Cate at St. Pete Indycar race in 2009

Grieving is a painful process, and tougher still when someone young and vibrant is lost. So, it is with a sorrowful heart that I, and the world with me, mourn the loss of a legend among men in Dan Wheldon. Even more than that, he was an extraordinary human being and one I’d had the honor and pleasure of meeting. 

On October 16, 2011, a loving family (spanning three countries) lost its father, husband, and son; teammates lost a friend; a racing league lost an icon; the city of St. Petersburg lost one of its own; and as a fan, I lost my reason for cheering. 

Daniel Clive Wheldon, a native of England, moved to the United States to follow his passion and fulfill his dream of racing cars. Hitting the paved track at 200 plus miles per hour, he transitioned along with a reorganizing motorsports league, and nearly overnight went from rooky status to iconic figure and leader in IndyCar.  

After years of following his career with anticipation, my husband and I sat before the television and watched the Las Vegas championship race get underway, thrilled that Dan had a chance to race in the final competition of 2011—the same year he’d celebrated the birth of his second son, and won the Indianapolis 500 for a second time. But before long we were greeted by an unbelievable sight. In disbelief, we eventually learned what the world now mourns. Since then, like so many others, I have found it difficult coming to terms with this loss and can only imagine the heartache and shock his family and friends are experiencing. I had looked forward to meeting Dan again in upcoming years, and applauding his successes in 2012 with his return to Andretti Motorsports, but now instead, I reflect back to earlier days of treasured memories.

My interest in IndyCar racing always existed but clinched in 2007 when I picked up my husband and his friend (both longtime fans of the sport) after the downtown race in St. Pete. The two were all smiles and exhilaration from a fun-filled day. Matching their enthusiasm, I joined the sporting camaraderie and followed every race thereafter. But I needed someone to root for, and so, became a dedicated fan to one driver: Dan Wheldon. He was an energetic, entertaining racer with a personable and charismatic charm—who had married a woman from my country of origin (Canada) and like myself had chosen St. Petersburg as a home—and so he became the perfect choice. To Dan I remained loyal and at every race in which he participated jumped up and down and screamed in anticipation of his success.  

On the afternoon of April 6, 2008, I attended my first race, paddock pass in hand. I took my seat in the grandstands at the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg amidst a drenched crowd, sporting rain ponchos and umbrellas as a result of an earlier downpour, and eagerly awaited the start of a delayed race.  Dan did not win that day, but I cheered him on all the same. After the race, my husband and I ventured to the paddock, and like other fans, hoped for a brief moment of the racer’s attention. Emerging from his trailer and running late for a meeting, Dan graciously took the time to sign autographs and pose for photos with his fans, one of them being me.

The following spring of 2009, my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and after spending untold hours by her side in a dismal hospital, I embraced the St. Pete race once again, this time with unrivaled enthusiasm. I needed the uplifting break it provided from a disturbing situation and the grief I knew would soon follow. After the race, and again with paddock pass in hand, I not only posed for another photograph with Dan but also had time to congratulate him on the birth of his first child and visit with his wife Susie as she introduced me to their nine week old son, Sebastian. The time spent with Dan and his family became the highlight of my year—one bright moment in a very dark and difficult time. Dan’s generosity and Susie’s kindness meant the world to me that day. I realized then that they were a truly wonderful couple, and I’d placed my support behind a remarkable man.

Now my heart breaks for Susie and the family as they endure and rebuild from devastation. Along with Dan’s family and friends who mourn him, and an entire city and world of fans who loved him, I grieve the passing of a wonderful person and bid farewell to a passionate racecar driver who will be tremendously missed.  My deepest sympathies go out to his family, hoping fond memories will comfort them along with the knowledge that, to the last, Dan lived his life passionately pursuing his dream.  Rest in peace Dan Wheldon.

 Photo of Dan and Cate at St. Pete Indycar race in 2008

Sometimes, the best way to grieve is to get involved and feel included. Locally in St. Petersburg, a funeral service for Dan will be held at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22 at First Presbyterian Church of St. Petersburg, located at 701 Beach Drive N.E. in St. Petersburg, FL. Susie Wheldon has invited the community to attend the service and share in celebrating her husband’s life.  For more information on the service, donations, condolences, or view the tribute to Dan, visit this link:  http://saintpetersburg.wtsp.com/news/news/86594-dan-wheldon-funeral-arrangements-announced

Also, a public memorial service in honor of Dan Wheldon will be held at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at 4 p.m. (ET) on Sunday, October 23, and will be broadcast on www.indycar.com, VERSUS, WRTV-6, and WTTV-4. For more information about the service or to make a donation to his family please visit the following link: http://www.danwheldonmemorial.com/  

If you wish to pay your respects, feel free to light a candle or leave your condolences with the St Pete Times guestbook or IndyCar Facebook: http://www.legacy.com/guestbook/sptimes/guestbook.aspx?n=dan-wheldon&pid=154178896&page=8        

Living, Loving, and Losing

Life is filled with hurdles but few as heartbreaking or life altering as the death of someone we love. Coming to terms with death is rarely an easy or timely process, and grief can be overwhelming. In an attempt to escape the heartache of loss, I sought solace in my work as a novelist, and some of my greatest literary motivation emerged out of the depths of sorrow. Lost in a dark cloud of despair, I cranked out a 600 page science fiction novel in less than three months, projecting my misery onto the protagonist. For anyone wrought with emotional turmoil, writing can be liberating but by no means the only outlet. And while agony may influence or inspire creativity, it’s not something I’d wish upon anyone. Yet loss is a component of life that haunts us all and we cannot escape it, so we must find ways to live with it.

For more years than I can recall, my mother fought cancer with good humor and a brave spirit, winning several battles but not the war. She fought ovarian cancer, colon cancer, and pancreatic cancer, keeping death at bay for longer than she imagined possible. But her battle with peritoneal cancer was one fight she would not win, and it claimed her in only three short months. I grieved her loss deeply for more than two years (and grieve it still) but eventually acquired some level of peace, at least enough that the bite of bereavement no longer had any real teeth. In arrogance I believed I’d come to terms with death, and then received a rude awakening when tragedy struck again.

My husband and I never had children, so a chocolate and white Border Collie mix we named Chelsea became our little one. An impressively intelligent and comical puppy, she stole our hearts along with tidbits from our dinner table. In return, our miniature almost person provided endless hours of joy and unconditional love. Filled with energetic spunk and sass uniquely her own, she imposed her vibrant personality upon us, wiggling and wagging her way into every aspect of our lives. But in the blink of an eye, thirteen years had passed and we learned all too late that Chelsea, like my mother, had inoperable cancer. With heavy hearts my husband and I said farewell to our brave pup, and were left with an empty home and another void in our lives.

As if that had not been enough, tragedy struck several more times in rapid fire. My brother’s best friend, and one of the gentlest souls I’ve ever known, passed away during a lengthy and grueling surgery. The tragedy left those who loved him devastated. On the heels of one misfortune followed another when my mother’s best friend lost her husband to cancer. It was a hammer blow and a loss she will struggle with for some time to come. Not long after, my sister-in-law’s brother suffered a fatal heart attack, leaving her agonizing in pained disbelief as well. To add insult to injury, and making this year one of the most difficult to endure, my friend and mentor, author Diane Marcou, also passed away unexpectedly. I’d spoken with Diane one day prior and she’d been full of life and spirit. Overnight she was gone, taken from family, friends, and a writing community that adored her, leaving us all stunned and grieving.

Loss such as this is a wake-up call that makes us come face to face with our own mortality, not always a pleasant experience. But it also makes us realize loss of life, no matter how seemingly immense or insignificant, is never trivial but it is painful. And recovering from it can be a lengthy, harrowing event, causing unexpected and unforeseen reactions (sometimes triggering breakdowns and mid-life crisis). Bereavement is not a matter to be taken lightly, rushed, or brushed aside dismissively. So, it’s important to remember—something I’ve heard and read repeatedly, and is true—Do not feel ashamed by what you feel or how long you feel it.

The best advice my husband and I received, believe it or not, came in the form of a small booklet provided by Pet Angel when we picked up Chelsea’s ashes. The pamphlet although simplistic and intended for pet owners was remarkably comforting. It helped us understand the significance of mourning, as well as cope with the grieving process. I only wish social workers and doctors had provided similar guidance when my mother passed away.

For anyone faced with overwhelming pain, it’s vital to find a positive means of dealing with the anguish, and if writing doesn’t work as an outlet there are plenty of other resources to draw upon. Support groups of friends and family can be effective, but comfort and guidance can also materialize from a variety of other sources: medical experts, spiritual authorities, reputable therapists, reading material, hobbies and interests to name but a few.

Sadly, death is a part of life, but no matter how desperate and painful the days become, it’s imperative to live, love, and move forward, embracing anything that makes us whole again. That said, it isn’t always easy to know which way to turn. For that reason I have provided a small sampling of resources (below) that may be useful in times of grief and stress, and hope they may assist others as they have me.

Web Sources:


Reading Material:
The Relaxation & Stress Reduction Workbook, by Martha Davis, Ph.D, Elizabeth Robbins Eshelman, MSW, and Matthew McKay, Ph.D   

Upcoming publication in fiction anthology

As a freelance writer and novelist I am frequently juggling my time between one writing project and another, sometimes a dizzying task. Currently I am working on the final edits of two novels: book one of a science-fiction trilogy known as the GUARDIAN series; and, a nonfiction piece BLUE MOUNTAIN that I expect to make available before the end of 2011. Besides these commitments, I spread my time even thinner working on shorter stories, several ear marked for science fiction magazines. However, my most recent project, another tale with a twist called Sightseeing, will be published and available in the fall 2011 release of the fiction book LET’S TALK. This anthology is a fascinating collection of fiction stories comprised strictly of dialogue that will make for an interesting read. The release date and places the book can be purchased will be posted in upcoming “News & Events” updates on my website http://www.catebronson.com/ as the information is made available. In the meantime, it’s back to the computer where I’ll work diligently and type madly to keep things in motion.    

Write it—live it

It might seem the exciting part of writing a novel is letting a story flow from the mind—where it bounces around, grows, and molds itself into a more elaborate creation with every thought—and getting it down onto paper where it belongs and can come to life, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Half the fun in writing a novel is doing the research behind it.  Like my story, the nuggets of truth within it are related to a subject I am passionate about, or should be, otherwise why am I writing it? Doing my homework on the subject can be just as fascinating as writing the story itself, aiding back-story and tidbit facts that make a novel realistic and engaging. For skeptics, research isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems. So often, the facts I need drop into my lap out of nowhere. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sat at a doctor’s office or similar place and tuned into interesting conversations, televised events, or magazine articles that generated instant ideas or tremendous support for a writing project. Many times the timing has been spine-chillingly eerie. Research, like writing, is an incredible journey but can be disappointing when you learn how little of that mind-boggling knowledge makes the final cut. 

For me, research makes the writing voyage a more fantastic trek, especially in the realm of the fictional world. And it can lend to some rather unusual and interesting hobbies. In the process of researching for a military thriller, I had to learn a little about guns—well, actually a lot about guns, and rifles, and military weaponry that boggled the mind—but the experience was fun all the same. I even attended a small-arms safety training course, firing my first pistol. Now, I have achieved several levels in marksmanship qualifications, and can shoot a 357 Magnum like Clint Eastwood (okay, maybe not quite as well as Dirty Harry but pretty close). Believe it or not, it is a rather relaxing and empowering hobby. And now I can write about guns and gunfire without hesitation and wondering if I’m getting it right: the smell of a gun being fired, the muzzle flash of a shot, disbursement of smoke, or recoil of the gun itself. By living what I write to some small degree, or interviewing those who have, I can give my stories that raw feeling of authenticity.

Writing nonfiction can be easier since it comes from personal experience—and the research is put directly into the story. Not so with fiction where a world is often created from nothing and grounded in the fantastic and incredulous, and where so many necessary facts rarely make it into the tale. All the same, thrillers and sci-fi stories require some link to reality because they impose such implausibility upon the reader: lavish sword fights, extraordinary battle scenes, and insane high-speed chases. To make the unbelievable real it’s important to understand how equipment and people react under pressure and in extreme situations, and then apply that knowledge to the story. It requires a higher level of study—and in some cases involvement. Of course, that doesn’t mean I become an adrenaline junky: crashing cars, jumping out of moving vehicles, or having a shootout with a villain. But it’s vital to understand how these things interact and perform to get the imagery bang on. Writing a story means diving in deep to make the characters come alive for the reader. That’s why I spend time familiarizing myself with artillery and munitions, practicing at a gun range, and talking with those who make such knowledge or skills a career. A good way to understand a soldiers mind is to interview one. I’ve spent time chatting with retired military personnel to ensure my ideas aren’t way off base—no pun intended. In this way, research brings various components of a fictional story together to compare with and even mimic real life. Unearthing all this material is like a treasure hunt, and a worthwhile undertaking, often done in depth, to simply ensure story content in no way contradicts true events or current conventions.

Getting a story down on paper is exciting and the primary goal of any writer but its’ only half the battle. Researching the facts behind the writing will make it accurate and interesting, even if it’s only for a few lines of back-story that may or may not make it into the book. The research process is important and equally rewarding—and may even lead to some interesting hobbies. Obviously, there is more to writing than pounding out pages. So, don’t be afraid—jump in and have fun. Get absorbed in the process. At some level, live the tale you tell. The more engaged and involved a writer becomes in their work, the more entertaining and lifelike the story will be for the reader.