Category Archives: Personal

PW Superwomen Carole, Val, Ande, and Sherry on reopening day.

January 23, On This Day

On This Day. Facebook memories is perhaps the most brilliantly wicked customer retention tactic in the history of social media to date, I swear. January 23, 2016 “Mark your calendar! Pet World is reopening 1-23!”

Do I remember this date? Um, yeah… you could say that. It was the day I learned once and for all the importance of listening to your community and letting them guide you.

Fire destroys Pet World while the store is closed.

Fire destroys Pet World while the store is closed.

Our business was completely destroyed by fire and our local community made it very clear that they felt the loss and wanted it back. At first, we weren’t sure if we would rebuild. We were devastated. Lost. Another corporate pet store had just opened right before the fire. Anything we sell can be purchased somewhere else or online. It took over 25 years to build that business the first time. There are other exotic animal rescues. How many pet stores does one small town need, anyway, right? But the outpouring of letters and support, explaining what the Pet World experience has meant to so many people…the message was loud and clear. Our community needed PW back. We needed it back. They were right. So we promised to rebuild.

But I said no to a vigil thinking it would be too painful.

Community vigil to honor pets lost in the fire.

Community vigil to honor animals lost in the fire.

The PW community, however, had other thoughts. They said, “We want a vigil. We need a vigil. You need a vigil. We’re having a vigil, one way or another.” So we held a vigil. And hundreds of people came. All walks of life, filling the parking lot – some silent, some weeping, some laughing, some chatting – all sharing in the crazy, bittersweet moments created when people come together after loss. 27 minutes. 27 candles. One for each year PW had been a part of the community. It was beautiful. They were right. We all needed that vigil to let go and move on.

Next the fundraising issue arose. Well intentioned hats were passed. Both honest and not so honest GoFundMe accounts popped up. I said, “Please, no fundraising. We’re fine. We have insurance.” But it didn’t matter. The PW community knew better. Deductibles would have to be met. Uninsured expenses would show up. And then there was the cost of that new sprinkler system. Everyone knew it was a deal breaker and we refused to reopen without one. Plus, people wanted to help but there was nothing yet to do. So we set up the relief fund account at our local bank and the money started coming in.

$300.00   $75.00   $31.00   $12.30    Lemonade stands. Benefit concerts. Fundraiser nights at local restaurants. Fundraiser drinks named for us! We had never seen anything like it. They were right. When people want to help we need to let them help.

But then we had to figure out the best use of these funds. This wasn’t our money; it belonged to our community. Grief clouds our minds and knock us off course but sometimes moments arise that bring us back to our core. We are entrepreneurs, after all. So we asked our tee shirt designer to create a fundraising shirt for us. Having never let us down over the years, he came up with a new design that was perfect so we ordered a hundred of them with the relief fund money.

Pet World Rebuilding Team Shirts

Pet World Rebuilding Team Shirts

“If you rebuild it, they will come,” on the front. Inspirational. “Rebuilding Team” on the back. Perfect. After most of the first hundred shirts sold, we used that money to order more, and continued that pattern until we had sold nearly 1000 shirts at about $15.00 each. Want to know how much money we needed for the new fire sprinkler system? About $15,000.00.


I don’t believe in coincidences. Never have. I think we often call something a coincidence when we can’t or won’t acknowledge there is something much bigger happening than what we can comprehend.

The night before our grand reopening to the public, we invited everyone who owned one of those Rebuilding Team shirts to wear it to a private, sneak peek party. People shivered outside in the freezing cold to watch a 28 minute lighting ceremony, where my son turned on 24 red light bulbs, one at a time, followed by three yellow lights, and finally one green light. Closed to the public, we opened a secret side door and let in all of our invited guests. Hundreds of people filled the building – mingling, hugging, laughing, crying – wearing the same, matching shirts while they took it all in for the first time. No purchases. No money. The registers were closed. Free drinks and snacks from local places were enjoyed as stories were told and animals were held and children smiled.

Happy faces after Pet World reopened!

Happy faces after Pet World reopened!

I’ve seen a lot of beauty in my life but, to this day, I can’t think of a more beautiful scene than what I witnessed that night. The people of the Pet World community were right. I will always remember to trust them.

PW Superwomen Carole, Val, Ande, and Sherry on reopening day.

PW Superwomen Carole, Val, Ande, and Sherry on reopening day.

Sometimes I see that notification, “You’ve got memories from this day…” and I roll my eyes. I think, Way to go, Zuckerberg. Now I’ll never be able to delete my Facebook account. But then a memory like this pops up and I kinda want to send that dude a thank you card.


My Tale of Two Traffic Stops: Facing the Reality of White Privilege

sirensRecently, I was talking to my husband, Tim, about our teenage son and his reckless driving. I explained how much I worry about him. He’s a sassy kid but for all the right reasons. He constantly pushes the boundaries because he’s a free spirited, adventurous, independent thinker who is frequently misunderstood. He questions everything, including authority, but he’s not disrespectful and doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He just has issues with bureaucracy, red tape, traditional brick and mortar classrooms, and unnecessary rules that seem to serve no purpose.

My son has had his share of heartbreak and trauma and growing up in a small business family is not easy. But, for the most part, he lives a fairly charmed life. Like most moms, I simply adore my son. He is brilliant, witty, tall, handsome, physically fit, and as charismatic as he could be, possessing all the traits our society deems important. But when he starts that arguing he sometimes comes off like the worst possible version of a privileged, white, fraternity brat. Not only is he good looking and articulate, he drives his Jeep too fast, gets As on all the assignments he actually deems worthy of completing, and could not care less about the Fs from the work he considers to be a waste of time. He’s almost finished with high school so I don’t worry too much but I constantly struggle to balance my efforts reeling in his overzealousness while not squashing his initiative and inquisitive nature. I admire how he speaks his mind and thinks for himself and I don’t want to stifle his independence. One of my biggest fears regarding my amazing son is that he’ll be misjudged when in reality, even with his faults, he is a truly wonderful human being with endless potential.

While my husband and I were chatting about our son getting pulled over for speeding, I mentioned a couple of other boys who got pulled over recently. Just the other day two different young black men we know both got pulled over within days of each other. One texted me, “I just got pulled over,” and the other one posted it on his Snap story. In both cases I immediately dropped to my knees and prayed that they were stopped by legitimate good cops and not a poser-bully-with-a-badge.

We then talked about how much we hate crappy competitors because they make our entire industry look bad and I said how hard it must be for young black men every time a black criminal is on the news. I said I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to work as a police officer right now. As if the on-the-job risk isn’t bad enough, a bad cop makes daily life total hell for the all the good cops. I talked about how I cringe when I hear of a mass shooting, assuming it will be a white kid with his parent’s gun, and how I sometimes let the pain from that association overshadow the real tragedy at hand. I think our conversation even detoured so far as to discuss how incorrectly trained pit bulls give all bully breeds a bad name. I clearly take issue with blanket assumptions.

After getting back on course I continued with my story, sharing how I prayed that the boys who got pulled over would be respectful and compliant and live to fight the bigger fight. I knew these boys were fine, young men and prayed they were not perceived as dangerous threats in any way. These boys were like family and I couldn’t bear the thought of their young lives – both so full of endless potential – being cut short. I hastily texted back, both hands on the wheel. Polite. Compliant. Exactly what I tell my own son but with much deeper meaning. I even scolded one of them for not posting a follow up showing he was okay, to which he replied, “Sorry Mama Emerson,” then updated his story. In both cases – as in most cases – everything went fine. Uneventful. In fact, both of them drove away with nothing more than a polite warning. But that fear… the fear of thinking, my God, is one of their names going to be the next hash tag on Twitter… that fear was debilitating. I still choke and tear up thinking about it. And these boys are not even my sons.

I went on to say how when our son gets pulled over the most we worry about is that his smart mouth will get him a ticket. Then suddenly our conversation stopped.


My eyes opened wide and I said, “Oh my God. All this time I thought I understood the concept of white privilege.”

I swallowed hard. More silence.

“I think, maybe, I didn’t truly get it until this exact moment.” Not only did I suddenly understand it, I actually felt it.

My words: I admire how my son speaks his mind and thinks for himself and I don’t want to stifle his independence.

That’s what this white mother worries about. Yet we must tell young black men to be compliant because they have more to worry about than just a ticket. We stifle their independence to avoid them getting wrongfully accused or worse. As a white mother, my concern is that my son speaks respectfully so he doesn’t seem arrogant. Black mothers are worried their sons won’t come home. I knew this before but I had never felt the pain.

My words: My biggest fear regarding my amazing son is that he’ll be misjudged.

That’s my biggest fear. He’ll be misjudged. Misjudged and then what? Given a ticket? Even if he is misjudged, he’s not likely going to be killed for it. Black mothers worry their sons will be misjudged, too, but the consequences they could face are much different.

As the words nonchalantly fell out of my mouth about how I felt when my white son got pulled over verses how the fear I felt when these two young black men got pulled over I could not breathe. Ironic, I know. It was like for one brief moment I could finally appreciate the anger that fuels movements and inspires protests. For one brief moment I could feel what I told my staff two years ago during the Ferguson riots about being careful not to fall into the blanket assumption trap or make this crisis something it’s not. Too many times I’ve explained to whites, as well as non-whites, that when you see #BlackLivesMatter it means what it says because they do. Black lives do matter. That doesn’t mean other lives don’t. It’s a reminder that black lives do. If I say #cancersucks it doesn’t mean diabetes doesn’t. When people of color are free from systematic oppression, we all shall be free. Until all are free, none are free. I’ve understood all this for a long, long time but until this moment I had never actually felt it and I was feeling it to my core. I’m talkin’ a nose-tingling-goose-bumps-raising-nausea-inducing kind of moment here.

As a successful business woman in a male dominated field, I’ve felt oppression, judgement, and discrimination. I’ve had the usual issues like customers calling me “little lady” and asking to speak with “the man,” salesmen asking to meet my boss, or bankers wanting me to come back with my husband but that’s about it. Sure, growing up in the poor part of East Topeka may have given me a little insight but I’ve spent the past 30 years in Lawrence, Kansas which is unlike any other Kansas town. We have an abundance of female entrepreneurs. What I’ve experienced here has been nothing compared to what other businesswomen face elsewhere. We also don’t have racial tension here anywhere near the levels other communities experience. My daughter’s boyfriend is a black college athlete from the Detroit area. When he moved to Kansas after high school his family worried for his safety dating a young, white girl in Kansas – the daughter of a camo-wearing hunter, no less. But we explained to them that the majority of Lawrence folks are just like us. We have good public schools, Haskell University (a Native American college) as well as the University of Kansas. Most of us stand in solidarity, teaching tolerance, supporting all people equally regardless of color, gender, or sexual orientation. Bi-racial couples and gay couples can walk downtown holding hands with no fear. Piercings, tattoos, non-traditional hair – no one cares. Many homosexual kids “come out” in middle school here.

It’s not perfect, but our community is so accepting and accommodating that our kids grow up somewhat sheltered from the extreme prejudice seen in other towns — so much so that they are often not prepared to accept the harsh realities of systematic oppression or that they could unwittingly play a role in it. And that sheltering is in some ways a privilege – much like the privilege of being white – but it’s also a curse because we assume we can understand things that we can’t possibly comprehend. When “townies” leave Lawrence they are always faced with a rude awakening that the rest of the world is still asleep. We hashtag #BlackLivesMatter and use social media to shame others into compliance then sit back as if we are actually accomplishing something great when, in reality, we’ve done nothing more than raise a little more awareness and preach an extra sermon to the choir. Not many folks around here can even begin to relate to the struggle.

So am I awake now? Maybe a little more than before. But I still won’t pretend to understand the struggle. Even after my epiphany, I certainly don’t have all the answers. But I do know a few things. I know that blanket judgement of people is wrong. Making assumptions based on appearance is a mistake. Fighting hate and unjustified violence with hate and unjustified violence won’t solve anything. All groups have an inherent culture that is to be embraced and accepted as equal, not same. We’re all different and that is a good thing. And all groups have what I call posers who don’t deserve to be in the group. Don’t be fooled. Posting a politically correct or socially popular banner doesn’t stop a company from secretly denying employment based on race or ignoring their own gender bias. Folks need to dig deeper than that. It’s better to judge by the way people live their lives, the way they conduct their business, and the way they interact with their community, or better yet, don’t judge at all. As for me, my family, and our business, we’ll let our record be the judge because ultimately we only answer to One and His judgement reigns Supreme.

I’ve been told to watch what I say but I refuse to submit to labeling by the meme of the day or be told what to say or how to act according to a trend, a group, or business advice from a corporate suit. We were advised to post signs in our business in support of the second amendment and advised to post no-guns allowed signs, both in the same week. We posted neither. We think for ourselves. I will still stand during the national anthem but I will not condemn those who kneel. I won’t condone bullying, oppression, or the judgment of all based on the actions of a relative few. I won’t deny my faith in a group of non-believers. I will stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed as I always have regardless of whether or not it’s the popular thing to do. I will continue to stand in solidarity long after it is socially required. I will teach my kids, my employees, and everyone under my influence to hold each other up and never get sucked into mediocrity and shallow, blanket judgment. Maybe my beliefs mean I’m more awake than some but I’m comfortable admitting that even at 50 years old I still have much to learn.

As we teach in everything we do, I’ll remind anyone who’ll listen that it’s never about WHO is right; it’s about WHAT is right. Systematic racism and oppression is a problem in every culture that must be addressed. Our culture is no exception. We need to do better and denying our shortcomings won’t make them go away. Admitting failure takes courage. Exposing weakness shows strength. No, not all white people get a pass or an easy life but white privilege is real and acknowledging it is not choosing a side; it’s merely facing a truth that allows for further enlightenment. We must all work to be part of the solution or, if we can’t make things better, be supportive of those who can. People of all races must try harder to feel each other’s pain, put ourselves in others’ shoes, and do everything in our power to be better, more understanding, more supportive, and share any insight that comes our way the minute we’re enlightened.

My blog has, what, 12 readers or something? Who actually reads 2000 word blog posts? So this post may shed a little light but it won’t change the world and make things better. Although, at least, if nothing else, it won’t make things worse. I can relate to women but I can’t ever comprehend the oppression felt by Native Americans and people of color and, unlike some well-intentioned white folks, I won’t pretend to act like I can ever relate. But I will continue to listen and ask and do whatever I can to not be a part of the problem in hopes that on some level I can be part of the solution.

Nothing Special

PhotoGrid_1471973958758Last night I was watching my daughter, Rhiannon, share her day with me and I started video taping her because the moment, albeit simple and typical, nothing special at all, was especially meaningful to me.

I was looking at her lovely face, realizing her exterior beauty is exceeded by her inner beauty. She just gives off this wonderful energy. The conversation was not particularly special – just discussing a class activity at school – but that’s when I realized what’s truly special is the fact that we were able to have this conversation at all. I kept smiling and giggling but inside I was almost in a panic, not wanting to miss one word or ever forget that moment.

I don’t think I talked to my mom like that. Pretty sure I didn’t share. I don’t know why. Probably thought I was too cool or something. And even though we do this often, how many nights have I not talked like this with my kids? How many conversations like this have I forgotten? I know not all parents get these opportunities for a myriad of reasons. Some are too busy, too estranged, too ill, too disconnected… just not lucky enough for some reason. I’m a good mom but nothing special, and yet, I get this opportunity more frequently than I deserve.

How humbling.

As I replayed the video today I thought about how it wouldn’t mean much to anyone else. It’s not particularly funny or sweet or sad or triumphant. It’s not something folks would replay on YouTube. It’s not me bragging on my kid’s accomplishments or complaining about teenage antics. It’s just a mom chatting with her daughter at the end of a day. Nothing special.

Yet while writing this through my streaming tears it somehow seems the most special thing in the world.

Extinguishing Irrational Fear

Fear is a strange beast. And irrational fear is the worst. A freak accident happens that will probably never happen again yet somehow fear convinces us it will. We worry and “what if” ourselves to the point of obscurity where apprehension replaces logic. Eventually we are left with no choice but to surrender or fight. Sometimes surrender is easier. Fear wears us down, exhausts our resources, and strains our souls. Survivor guilt prevents us from feeling joy. During surrender, fear is so overwhelmingly present it grows familiar and I think we unconsciously embrace it, perhaps even feed off of it. But at some point enough is enough.SurrenderingControl

I’ll never forget how my Drivers Ed teacher told me that road rage is relinquishing control to strangers who don’t deserve to be in charge. He would ask us questions like, “Why, when people upset you in traffic, do they get to go on about their day like nothing happened yet you lose hours of your life stressed about something you can’t change?”

Good question.

We know that victims are encouraged to stop hiding, stop giving perceived power to abusers who are not actually still abusing them because that merely enlarges the extent of the abuse. Instead, victims learn to identify as survivors. Surrendering control to something in the past keeps it alive and in command – especially something irrational.

Our pet store is no longer on fire. It’s over. The flames were extinguished that very afternoon. The aftermath is a mess and we have learned valuable lessons in fire safety but the fire is not actually burning anywhere except inside our minds. We might need daily reminders that it’s over – maybe hourly – but the fire, in fact, is out. Accepting that fact does not lessen the grief but it certainly releases its death grip.

The Frog Pond obstacle seems innocent but the lily pads actually have razor sharp root systems and the clay pond floor unexpectedly sucks off shoes.

The Frog Pond obstacle seems innocent but the lily pads actually have razor sharp root systems and the clay pond floor unexpectedly sucks off shoes.

At Pet World, we begin and end our summers with our staff trail run. Memorial Day and Labor Day are two holidays we are closed while most of the staff is in town so they are perfect days for staff events. The tortoise farm at our private nature preserve is sacred ground to most of us since few are granted access. On those two holidays, our staff, family, and friends all get together to enjoy a fun event with no pressure or distraction from the outside world. This past Memorial Day, our happy occasion ended prematurely and unexpectedly because of a tragic fire, calling us back to the smoke filled nightmare that replaced what had been a vibrant, compassionate, family place full of life just hours before. All summer we mourned and grieved, struggling to find our way while trying to help the community deal with this devastating loss. Then, just when we were starting to feel normal again, Labor Day approached and it all came rushing back.

Now what? Could we do the event again? Is it appropriate? Would it bring back too many memories? Would running past the burial sites be too upsetting? Is three months long enough to mourn before celebrating life again? As always, when I don’t know what to do, I asked the people closest to us.

A few staff members asked, “Why wouldn’t we have it?” They reminded me it’s a voluntary event that people can skip if they’re not ready. But if we don’t have it, then those of us who need it will miss an opportunity to heal.  Tim reminded me how much I love this event and what it means to a lot of folks.

So the staff memo read as follows:

Staff MemoStaff: We WILL be doing the staff 5K trail run on Labor Day while PWX is closed. You’re all invited. We cannot let one, freak accident prevent us from moving forward and embracing life. Facing irrational fears takes away their power.

We will celebrate the chance to be together on this holiday and dedicate the event to the animals we lost. Hope to see you there.


Many employees signed up for the event but I wondered who would actually show up.  How could they be ready for this? Stormy weather that morning added unwanted tension as the rain threatened to make it muddy. On Memorial Day, some exits were delayed while drivers struggled with the mud, adding to the helpless feeling, so Labor Day’s rain was a cruel reminder. I spent days full of mixed emotion preparing the course with mostly love and reverence for the opportunity coupled with a small feeling of anxiety. For Tim, it’s Halloween, but my obsession of choice is the trail run. (Even if no one showed up, I enjoy every minute of preparation as much as the event itself. No regrets. I truly love everything about those trails.)

Here is a glimpse of the day unfolding:

We arrive early and set up in the rain, soaked to the skin in mere minutes. I had forgotten to set out one of the rewards so I run them out to the Yellow segment on Mile Two of the course and then, as I return, I hear the voice of Tim’s brother. He was so helpful during the fire. He stayed close to us and when we couldn’t speak for ourselves he took charge while his wife immediately handled the perimeter crowd. You really see people’s true colors during a crisis.

Next, a friend arrives and as he puts his phone in the back of my SUV I vividly remember when everyone’s phones started ringing that dreadful day. Pure joy replaced by sheer terror.

“Honey, it’s mom. I’m sorry to tell you, but the pet store is on fire.”

My God. So tragic. How will we ever get past this? My eyes well up with tears.

Next, another dear friend arrives with her daughter, a hard core PW kid who goes to all the camps and knows and loves that property and all things Pet World, and the creator of the Betta Birthday Party. This friend is there as a volunteer medic, just in case, as always. I smile when I see her but all I really think about is her voice that day saying, “Go! Just go! I’ll take care of everything here, I promise.” My kids were nowhere in sight at that moment, there were people still on the course, completely out of reach, and I was scared to death, at a total loss. She stayed until everyone returned safely, gathering volunteers and handling everything. What an angel.

IanCourseRecordAnd then I see our first employee walking up and my tears start flowing but not for long. Another walks up, then another, and another, and then a group of them. Here comes a former employee followed by my son and his friends. My heart begins to swell and I am as proud as I can be. This loss has been so hard on their young lives yet there they were, needing to push through the pain to “reclaim their event without fear,” as one would later say. As they cross the finish line – wet, tired, and dirty – each person is all smiles, glowing with accomplishment and relief. Ian, who has been with us the longest, even sets a new course record, beating Tim by one minute.

Post 5K lunch at Jefferson's.

Post 5K lunch at Jefferson’s.

After the race, several of us eat lunch together at Jefferson’s, who just recently reopened after their January fire. We all had dollar bills on those walls before their fire and, for reasons I can’t explain, it seemed perfectly fitting to gather there.


We have a great time but it isn’t until the next morning that the text messages begin. Employees tell me how odd it felt to leave the race with no sense of urgency, no panic, and experience a basically uneventful day. Many are pleased with their progress and one says she really needed the reality check that life goes on and so must she. We all learned that disaster robs us and surrendering to irrational fear only extends its reach.

Fear and Joy Cannot Occupy the Same Space

Fear and Joy Cannot Occupy the Same Space

Tragedy strikes fear in all of us and moving on is easier said than done. There’s no such thing as just “getting over it” with the flip of a mental switch. But each time we can reclaim a part of our lives that irrational fear tries to steal, we lessen that fear’s power. On Labor Day, I had the privilege to witness courage in a way we rarely get to see. Determined young adults, striving, pushing past fear, traversing treacherous new territory, reclaiming what was rightfully theirs, and – most importantly – healing. Fear and joy cannot occupy the same space. At some point we must choose to do whatever it takes to replace fear with the joy that comes from rising above the ashes and moving on.

Hope (and a Little Mascara)

2015-08-09 17.33.00Today I wore makeup for the first time since before the fire. Not a lot, but mascara and some powder foundation. That might not mean much to some people but for women like me it reveals everything you need to know about where I am in the grieving process and life in general.

Nearly three months have passed.

Three months.

Sometimes it feels more like three days; other times more like three years. The pain is often as fresh as three hours while the fog occasionally mimics the safe illusion of three lifetimes.

May was busy, as usual, with finals, proms, high school and college graduations, schedule changes, employee launches, and summer camp preparation.  Excitement about our Memorial Day trail run and five upcoming summer camps filled my days. The Kitten Pit proved a huge success with seven adoptions the very first weekend of the new program. Business was great, continuing its steady, record setting growth and our staffing was as good as it’s ever been. 27 years of hard work was paying off and many, many of us from the Lawrence area were enjoying Pet World’s success.

And then my phone rang. Two hours into the event, I was getting more PW5K tee shirts out of the back of our car when I heard Tim’s phone ring first, reverberating in the cup holder. I remember thinking, “Who would be calling right now?” It seemed like all the folks who call us had either just left or were at the tortoise farm with us and most were on the trails running or drinking post race PBRs. Service is terrible at the property, too, but I had parked in a high spot to avoid the mud, a spot that apparently has decent reception – not that I had any intention of using my phone. Nor did anyone else since many of them were tossed in my car for safekeeping. No sooner had Tim’s phone stopped ringing than my phone started, and then other phones started ringing. At that point I decided I better answer.

The rest, of course, is history.

They say everything comes in threes. Three hours to get the fire out and determine cause. Three more hours to deem the place a total loss. Three hours for fire to destroy someone’s entire life’s work in the worst possible way. Three weeks to open a temporary location. Three days to clean out the contents of the building. Three weeks to schedule the big investigative meeting with representatives from three parties only to decide they needed three more weeks to meet again and take three days to agree the initial cause was exactly what the local experts said three hours after the fire. Three weeks of delays for nothing. Three months I aged at least three times faster with not enough optimism to even throw on a little mascara. I’ve had plenty of threes. I’m done with threes.

So after cancelling and altering three different summer travel plans we decided to take our kids on a much needed family vacation to Cozumel, one of my favorite places on Earth.  We enjoyed spending time with aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, and every day made a conscious decision to embrace life (while we thanked God we had already paid for this all inclusive stay last spring).

"I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared."

“I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared.”

At one point I remember lounging by the pool, feeling hopeful, yet fearing that perhaps I was just going through the motions and not as okay as I wanted to believe. I sucked down my third Caipirinha, looked to the sky for some sign of hope, and I swear to all things holy a rainbow appeared. I snapped a photo and started giggling uncontrollably, knowing everyone around me assumed intoxication – which may or may not have been a contributing factor. If nothing else, at least I knew in that moment I was definitely not numb and perhaps the hope was real after all. I think I actually felt happy.

On the way home, Tim and I stayed an extra day in Dallas to meet with the designer/manufacturer who helped us remodel our live fish department just one year ago. Fully rested, I popped right out of bed and grabbed that familiar, pink mascara tube. We toured the facility, shared ideas, drew sketches, made plans, and revered time spent on conception and creation as opposed to destruction and devastation, surrounded by like minded people who understand our mission and share our vision to bring the Pet World experience back to Lawrence even better than before. No insurance adjusters, no cleanup crew, no accountants, no stench from electrical smoke – just good ol’ Texas hospitality from a creative, Dutch family who runs an impressive American business.

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

Tim and Lambert deHaan at Dutch Aquarium Systems

Our temporary location has offered reprieve for many of us but it’s just not the same. Finally moving forward toward this next chapter, though… Hallelujah.  As for the rebuild, all I can say is that if folks liked the Pet World experience before the fire, they’re going to love it even more when we reopen – our staff as much as our customers.

Our employees are like our kids and laying them off ripped my heart out. My God, what they’ve been through. Customers miss seeing them and they are all still feeling lost. On the plane ride home, Tim slept while I imagined my employees’ faces as they help rebuild, knowing once again their jobs will be secure and meaningful. I pictured the smiles and hugs from our customer family and tried to inhale the inspiration that only children can provide. No matter how crazy things get, happy children always make our efforts worthwhile. Pet World kids give me hope for humanity. I accepted that rebuilding will be exhausting and we’ll have days we question everything and want to quit, but, we won’t quit. We can’t quit. And as I closed my eyes to imagine the joy and relief we’ll all feel when we reopen those doors for the first time I felt my mascara run down my cheeks, carried by tears – happy tears. For the past three months I hadn’t worried about ruining my makeup because I had been too heartbroken, too busy, too stressed, and too numb to even bother with makeup. But tonight’s streaked face served as proof that I was, in fact, feeling hopeful, and that I finally felt good enough to care at all.

Who knew enlightenment could be found in a pink tube?

God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us
 — in the dreariest and most dreaded moments —
can see a possibility of hope.
                              ~Maya Angelou



Fly Away Home – a Tribute to Fletcher

My knees don’t buckle easily. But a recent gift from artist and former employee, Erin Bratzler, touched my soul and genuinely facilitated my grieving process.

Artist: Erin Bratzler

Artist: Erin Bratzler

The first original piece of artwork I ever purchased was one of Erin’s pieces at her first big art show. I simply loved it and hung it proudly near the education room at Pet World. Sadly, smoke and water damaged it during the fire. When I saw Erin at the vigil I immediately started crying as I disclosed that her beautiful creation might have been ruined. She worked so hard on it and she knew how much I loved it. Also, the mural she and Megan poured so much time and effort into was ruined. In fact, all of Erin’s artwork, in various places inside Pet World, was ruined. So sad. Irreplaceable and now gone. I said, “Oh, Erin, all your work…I’m so, so sorry.” But she just hugged me and assured me everything would be okay.

Immediately after the vigil Erin reached out to everyone she knew, secretly requesting images of Fletcher, my bird, the store bird of 20 years, who died in the fire.

Artist: Erin Bratzler

Fletcher’s Ascent by Erin Bratzler

Using markers, my favorite medium, Erin began to recreate Fletcher’s image. She captured Fletcher’s face, transformed her into a phoenix, and embodied her ascent to the Rainbow Bridge in her feathers. She added rays of light reflecting our faith and a banner over us stating our mission. Truly incredible. When I saw it, I immediately felt weak and slowly sank to the floor. “Erin,” I said, “you turned Fletcher into a phoenix.” And then the tears started flowing as I finally let myself remember so I could let go.

I removed Fletch from her cage that dreadful day. I opened her door, looked inside, saw her lying there, and whispered, “Oh, Fletcher. Look at you.” The firefighter patiently waited while I cried in frozen silence then he offered to get her out for me but I needed to do it myself. She felt soft, sopping wet, like a hundred other times after taking her bath. Fire. It provides light and warmth yet its black smoke shrouds victims in darkness, blinding them and stealing their breath. Fascinating yet terrifying, especially since the actual fire was 25 yards away. One of the vets reminded me how sensitive birds are to smoke and assured me Fletch passed very quickly.

Created by Pet World Staff

Created by Pet World Staff

Tim buried Fletcher for me at the tortoise farm. He dug her grave himself, in a beautiful place surrounded by life breathing trees, facing south to always have sunshine.

In my mind I find peace in that, imagining that now she can once again see clearly and breathe freely in the fresh breeze.

This wasn’t our first pet loss so I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I also knew I’d be able to handle it. Did you know we had a Double Yellow Amazon parrot before Fletcher? Corky, who died in 1994 from a contagious illness he got from a boarding playmate, was our home pet in 1986 before becoming Pet World’s first store bird in 1988. He sparked my initial interest in Amazon parrots. Corky sat on the counter near the front door and greeted guests as they arrived. His “helllllllo” was distinctly recognizable because he only emphasized the first syllable so it sounded more like shouting an expletive than saying hello. One night, while I was working late and not paying Corky enough attention, two patrol officers summoned me to the door, one with gun drawn. “Ma’am, are you okay? We noticed the lights on after hours and heard you screaming for help.” I stared blankly, utterly confused. They asked, again, if that was me shouting, “Help! Help!” and didn’t seem to believe I was fine. Then Corky shouted from beside me his shrill “HELLLLLLLo.” The look of realization on their faces was priceless. Amazon parrots are so entertaining.

Fletcher was actually a surprise gift from Tim for Mother’s Day, 1995, before we had any children. She was tiny and all down, only the beginnings of pinfeathers – the ugliest looking gray chicken I had ever seen with the one digit band number 7 – but I loved that stinkin’ bird.

Pinfeathers emerging through the gray down feathers.

Pinfeathers emerging through the gray down feathers.

She slept with me while I fed her every two hours. I still remember the heartfelt warnings from another pet store owner about the risks of letting baby parrots sleep with humans. But she was so tiny and pathetically precious, I couldn’t resist. I always thought Fletcher was male, too, until Jackie, the Bird Department manager at the time, observed very feminine behavior and ran a blood test maybe 12 years ago. To this day I still say “he” sometimes. We never told him he was a she. We figured she wouldn’t care either way. 😉

Truth be told, Fletcher was a chubby little brat, completely spoiled rotten. She would chase down and bite the ankles of a few while showing nothing but affection to others. Her first words were Hola and Mama and she would scream at us every morning if we didn’t give her enough attention. She ate baby bird food whenever offered no matter how old she got. Fletcher would nuzzle Maria and sit on her shoulder then bite her when I walked by. What a stinker. Some found her annoying but Fletcher was loved by many and had a large following. When I was on bed rest in 1999, pregnant with the twins, we took her home but only for a week because her fans missed her too much and wanted her back at Pet World. Her cage door was usually open but she rarely bothered to wander. Typically too lazy to fly, one time, during a presentation at the Boys and Girls Club, she suddenly took off during her locally famous Stevie Wonder dance and flew right smack into a huge window. She landed hard on the floor and I thought for sure she had broken her neck. The kids were silent. Then the next thing we heard was, “Heeeeere kitty kitty kitty,” followed by an eruption of laughter.

Fletcher  April 1995 - May 2015

April 1995 – May 2015

What a bird. She was 20 years old.

Thank you, our customer family and staff, for giving Fletcher your love and attention. Thank you, Erin, for visualizing her passing in a poignantly appropriate way, something only you could do. What a beautiful tribute to a beautiful bird.

Fletcher will be missed.

Do you have your own memories of Fletcher or thoughts on pet loss? Please share in the comments.

Pet World Dilemma After the Fire

photo Lakeshore Systems, inc.

photo Lakeshore Systems, inc.

Our family business had a devastating fire on May 25, 2015. Please click below for background info leading up to this post. To expand comment potential, I’m hosting this particular post on my personal site so folks who don’t use Facebook or Twitter can participate.


June 20, 2015
Live Animals and Fire Prevention at Pet World Express

The new, temporary Pet World location (across the parking lot by Bikram Yoga) is open and running. Well, crawling is probably a better word. But we didn’t want to wait any longer to reopen. You need our staff, our feeders, our water, and you’ve made it very clear you want to spend your money at “PW Express” in order to facilitate rebuilding. We appreciate that very much and the truth is, we need you more than you need us. We need to see your smiling faces, pet your dogs, test your water, trim your bird’s wings, count your crickets, and answer those pet questions. Every time you come in, even just to pick up a pig ear for your pooch, you are helping us heal and move forward. Thank you for that.

Everyone wants to know when we’ll have pets available at PWX. The building is up to code but not currently equipped with any fire prevention system – not even a smoke detector. We have emergency lights, lighted exit signs, and fire extinguishers but that’s it. A sprinkler system is not an option in the temporary location for a variety of reasons beyond our control. But we just found out that our insurance will pay for monitored smoke detection in the temporary location. Not just landline monitoring (which we all know is worthless when the landline is destroyed), but 4G cellular, wireless monitoring! That is very expensive but it’s the latest in monitored alarm communication and goes above and beyond most professional recommendations. I hope this is not inappropriate but I must say that American Family has done an outstanding job in assisting us and guiding us since day one when our agent (Ron King since 1988) was on the scene right away.

Here is the dilemma: live animals or no live animals in the temporary location? Pet World will not reopen permanently in the former location or any other location without the latest in fire safety, including sprinklers. If we can’t do it right, we won’t do it at all and, quite frankly, a sprinkler system is a deal breaker for us. No sprinkler system? No Pet World.

But what about in the temporary location for the next 3-6 months? The system we are installing at PWX goes above and beyond what is being proposed in fire safety code revisions. We’ll have 14 smoke detectors monitored by a non-stop 4G cellular alarm communicator with battery backup. Response time will be virtually minutes because the alarm will activate in mere seconds. 14 smoke detectors in this 2400 square foot space is basically the same as one detector per 9’ x 9’ room – except there are no walls so it’s even more effective. Overkill? Maybe. But without a sprinkler system we feel like it’s the next best thing. Are we being too paranoid? Yes, but we all know why. PWX is small and we can’t house very many live animals but unnecessary risk of even one animal is too much.

So please talk to us. One reason our customers feel the loss as much as we do is because you all are an integral part of PW and you know that. You speak, we listen. We ask, you answer. Pet World is yours more than ours. So here is my question to all our tangible customers, current and former, who actually shop with us in Lawrence and understand exactly what PW means to the Lawrence community: How do you feel about us having live animals in the temporary location after the new fire prevention system is installed, even though it will not have sprinklers?

Please comment via facebook, twitter, or on this blog post. Your feedback is very important. Thank you.

Staff Memo Regarding Ferguson

As small business owners, we’re sensitive to our roles in our community. We are involved in all the local public schools and nearly all of our employees are under 25, most under 22. In our very small pond, we are decent sized fish with quite an audience watching our every move. In light of recent events in Ferguson, we knew we’d need to address our employees. My wonderful staff members were feeling the weight of all the hate and our memo sparked much needed conversation. It was received with so much gratitude and support, I felt compelled to share our message publicly. In the spirit of transparency, this is basically the essence of how we handled the subject with our employees.

We’re all troubled by the state of affairs in Ferguson and what this unrest represents, but we must not lose our heads. Are you angry? Good. Injustice should trigger anger in us all. Frustrated? Good. Problems with complicated solutions – or maybe no solutions – are nothing but frustrating. How about sad? Because unnecessary loss is very sad. Loss of property and, more importantly, loss of life. And what about shame? Are people who share your heritage acting in a way that embarrasses you, leaving you feeling disconnected? That’s what I’m hearing from you. White, black, mixed — we’re feeling uncomfortable in our own skin. That’s okay.

These feelings are all appropriate for what is happening in our world right now. You might not know exactly what to do with these feelings but I assure you they are all appropriate. Just remember you can’t control what is happening but you can control your reaction and subsequent action, or inaction, as the case may be. All I am asking is that you please be very careful before you act.

In our personal experience it seems that many folks, especially bi-racial people, and close friends and family from the very poor, predominately black neighborhoods of our childhoods, are frustrated with the social media outpouring from the white youth and the privileged people of all races who can’t possibly understand. And I don’t just mean the racists on Twitter. People who have never experienced oppression are not helping by raising fists and acting like they get it; they don’t. They can’t. And they need to stop. A privileged, mixed, suburban male can’t simply put on his flat billed cap and think he understands the thug life. Listening to gangster rap while growing up wealthy and white doesn’t mean you understand ghetto life. A person born in the 90s can’t begin to comprehend growing up in the 60s. It just doesn’t work that way. Folks mean well but they just don’t get it. More good is accomplished by simply being supportive and acknowledging that they can’t possibly relate than insulting someone’s culture by acting like they can. They simply cannot. Instead of bandwagoning with one side or the other please consider sitting back and listening to what is truly needed and doing something to help or, if nothing else, clear the path for others who are helping. But don’t make things worse.

Also, please remember that protestors are exercising their rights AS THEY SHOULD BE. We’ve fought and continue to fight so protestors can peacefully assemble and be heard. They are angry AS THEY SHOULD BE. Let them disrupt the status quo. That’s the purpose of protest – to call attention to injustice. Their message needs to be heard so let them say it. Remember, the vandals and looters you see do not represent the protestors, the black community, nor any other community. The thieves you see consist of many races and are not part of the black culture; they are opportunistic posers hiding being people with legitimate reason for their anger. Furthermore, the actions of some police officers do not represent the actions of all police officers. In fact, men who rape women don’t represent all men. Pet store employees who neglect and abuse animals don’t represent all pet store employees. All bully breeds are not dangerous. Are you with me? Blanket judgment is the very essence of racism and it’s just flat wrong. Don’t succumb to blanket judgment calls. Look beyond the obvious. Cops are not the problem. Blacks are not the problem. The fact that a dysfunctional system allows bad cops to make blanket assumptions about black men which leads to unnecessary death is the problem we’re talking about. Don’t fall into the blanket assumption trap or make this something it’s not. When you see #BlackLivesMatter it means what it says because they do. Black lives do matter. It doesn’t mean other lives don’t. If I say #cancersucks it doesn’t mean diabetes doesn’t.

My point is this: All groups have an inherent culture that is to be embraced and accepted as equal, not same. We’re all different and that is a good thing. And all groups have what I call posers who don’t deserve to be in the group. Please don’t condone the judgment of all based on the actions of a relative few. Don’t abandon your heritage in frustration and feel compelled to “flip to the other side” — whatever that means — whatever your heritage. Don’t get sucked down into mediocrity and shallow judgment. Rise above the easy, lazy, bandwagoning path and think for yourselves. Dig deep. Deeper. Remember it’s never about WHO is right, it’s about WHAT is right. Systematic racism and oppression is a problem in every culture that must be addressed. Our culture is no exception.

One thing I can promise you is that fighting hate and unjustified violence with hate and unjustified violence won’t solve anything. Please do not support or perpetuate hate and injustice. Be part of the solution or, if you can’t make things better, be silently supportive of those who can.


Typical single track technical trail on the northshore of Clinton Lake in Lawrence, Kansas.

Road Pacing for Technical Trail Running

Typical single track technical trail on the northshore of Clinton Lake in Lawrence, Kansas.

Typical single track technical trail on the northshore of Clinton Lake in Lawrence, Kansas.

I’m learning! In less than two weeks I’m running a 10K on the trails with my sister, Sharron, who will inevitably kick my butt. So yesterday I listened to my cross country star husband, Tim, and decided I better increase my normal run to start preparing. I thought I was working hard before, and I was, but this is a different kind of hard work. Intervals and bursts require strength, energy, speed, and a little bit of crazy. I’ve got all of those aplenty.

Single track, technical trails are all about balance and coordination while quickly maneuvering uphill and downhill through the rocky and root-filled paths. It’s challenging, intense, a little dangerous, and I absolutely love it. Distance, however, requires patience, control, persistence, and discipline – none of which are natural strengths of mine. Distance running is all new to me and increasingly fascinating – especially since I’m adding distance to technical trail running and learning from road runners who are new to trails.

Running hill sprints and technicals I can do. Actually, I can handle a technical hill with less effort than a long, flat run. During a mud run I fly through the obstacles to get ahead because the rest of the crowd will always catch up and pass me on the long, flat paths. Weights in the gym? Check. And I know how to blow up my calves, quads and hamstrings with inclines, declines, etc. But yesterday was the first time I’ve truly taxed my legs on a run.

When I say I’m not a runner, I mean it.
I’m just not.
The only reason I say trail runner is because it sounds better than the more accurate trail maneuver-er…or something like that.

I kept my Forerunner 620 on the heart rate/training effect screen for most of the run. Normally I don’t pace. I’m 48 and I like what I like. I run fast for fun then when my heart rate exceeds 175 I walk until it recovers to around 140 then I burst again. Yesterday I consistently adjusted my pace to keep my heart rate between 150-160. No 140-150 walking, no 165-175 bursting. Just jogging. I was actually acting my age for a change.

The run was different, to say the least.

The slower pace was not boring, per se, but a little less exciting, to be honest. I’ll admit, though, that this run was more peaceful than normal. I was able to take my eyes off the trail just a little more than usual which is wonderful now that the cold weather has thinned the underbrush and, unlike summertime, it’s easy to see deep into the woods. I was also able to run much, much longer distances between walking breaks. When I did need to walk, the duration was considerably shorter than normal and the quantity of walking breaks was literally half as many as usual. My overall trail mile times – get this – were about the same.

But here’s the best part: my distance doubled.
Yeah. Doubled!

My Snapchat story update after this run.

My Snapchat story update after this run.

Usually I only “feel it” in my legs the next morning, if at all. For the first time, my legs were unstable and my feet were tingly toast by the end of the run. I actually had to ask Tim and Sharron if that was normal! This morning I woke up as stiff and sore as I’ve ever been. I always stop between 3 and 4 miles because I am so, so winded but yesterday I didn’t stop until 6.2 miles. And it’s a good thing I did because my legs were wearing out so badly I tripped at 5.2 then again at 6.1 miles. That sixth mile was a killer. Usually I dance up the technicals but by that last mile I could barely lift my feet high enough to clear the rocks and roots.

So now, of course, all I want to do is continue this type of running until I master it (and try to stop wishing I had cared more about my fitness when I was much younger). I will never abandon the trails for the roads; concrete’s just not my style. And I’ll always interval train because I believe in it and, quite frankly, that is my style. But I am surprisingly excited about how much I’m learning from road runners and I can’t wait to see how much I can enhance my trail running experience by adding distance.

Voting With Declining Faith in the System

Perhaps my young employees are correct and our political system is, well, kinda sketch. The voting irony where I live, in Lawrence, Kansas, is endlessly symbolic of an inevitable fail. All the Lawrence Democrats cancel out the local Republican votes, then the state’s Republican votes cancel out the city’s Democrat votes. It’s equally pointless yet critical to vote. Today I realized that I truly have no use for the party system. At all.

So why do I vote? I love my state and I love our country and I believe we should all participate in life to the best of our abilities. I live by Luke 12:48 – From he whom much is given, much is expected. I vote because I still believe in the original intent of our system.

I also still like music on 33 rpm LPs but, let’s face it, vinyl just won’t play in my car. So what do we do – stop listening to music? No. We find a more efficient way to listen.

Here’s my thought: If no one’s ever again going to win with much more than half of the vote, is it obvious we’re at a stalemate and the party system should once and for all be laid to rest? Is that not already happening with the rise of independents and the increasing number of voters who forfeit their say in the primaries in order to preserve the right to NOT declare a party? When is the last time a president had a vast majority of the vote? Clinton with 70% in 1996? Reagan with 90% in 1980? Are we not consistently splitting hairs at 49/51? We blame the leaders but when nearly half the people dislike them, surely they don’t stand a chance of success.

The party affiliation is becoming little more than labeling now and seems to cause more harm than good. Campaigns are more noise than info. We might agree with some candidates for the most part but because they’re with the other party we can’t abandon our party and give them our votes. Or we just choose sides & vote straight ticket because it’s easier and quicker. Most of us hate being labeled from either party based on one aspect of our ideologies. Yet does it not seem that candidates are pandering more to the extremes of each side effectively leaving those of us in the middle feeling disenfranchised? And are there not more of us in the middle than the loudest ones on the extreme right or left?

And look at the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate! We have Christians, who are personally pro-life, too afraid of conservative backlash to admit that they vote pro-choice for the overall safety of women. I know one very outspoken liberal who told me she is pro-life but would never admit it for fear of disgracing her party. Nearly everyone I know believes life is sacred and should try to be preserved but that abortion should be legal for the safety of those women who choose it. That’s the middle, folks. That’s most of us. So why do people think the noisy extremes represent the majority?

Seriously. We have a friend who once said he’s tired of people assuming he’s a Democrat just because he’s black. People can’t believe I hate weapons and refuse to touch a gun yet I support the second amendment. They’re confused about how I don’t want to redefine the word marriage but I believe all couples should have the same rights and privileges, gay or straight. Folks are shocked that my brilliant, scientifically gifted, nature freak husband is an animal loving, tree hugging conservationist…who bow hunts. Yep. Freezer full of venison. And guess what? Even though he’s white and wears camo he’s not an uneducated, redneck racist. Hard to believe, I know.

I’ve learned that stereotypes form for a reason and perception trumps intention. We should not be judged base on appearance yet we judge candidates by affiliation and are expected to remain loyal to a party. I refuse. Everyone knows labels are blinding. People see the label & look no further; they’ve got to go.

And, while I’m ranting, what’s with these political ads? All this hate! Shut up already. News flash: You had my vote ’til I saw your stupid ad and now I’m so lost in all your crap I’m tempted to vote against you even though I know nothing about your opponent. Why is so much money being wasted on these ads? That’s not okay. Valuable info can’t even be heard because we tune out the ads automatically, with good reason. All that campaign money might get folks into office but it doesn’t help them succeed because half the people still hate them and want them to fail.

Today, once again, I approached my voting poll with more frustration than hope. Something needs to change. It’s been ten years since I’ve known how I’d vote before I actually completed the ballot. Ten years. I need a better way.

So here is my wish, naïve and impossible as it may be. Before I die I’d like to see an end to all campaign ads, signs, and party affiliations. Primaries after primaries where everyone can vote ‘til we narrow it down to two candidates. Equal air time to each candidate with identical sets of yes or no questions, written by the candidates themselves. That’s all. No party declaration. No assumptions. No contributions and favors to repay. No mud. No spin.

Just facts. Apples to apples.

And while we’re at it, how about identical web sites for each with their resumes, voting records, and their yes or no questions answered? Same design, same layout, same facts, no ads, no sponsors. What if we could just remove the party affiliations and all aspects of money and strip this onion down to its core? All this nonsense is such a waste of resources.

Okay. 1000 word rant over.

So, yes, I voted today. Again. As usual. With a heavy heart and a ridiculous lack of clarity and at least one vote each for an independent, a democrat, and a republican. But in my mind, I’ll keep hoping for a better way. This system is no longer producing the kind of leadership we need. When your vote is increasingly the lesser of two evils, you gotta know something is seriously wrong. This is the United States of America – the best country in the world – yet we are anything but united. Surely we can do better.