being barkley: 17 life lessons from a new pup


As those of you who follow me on Instagram or Facebook may already know, about three weeks ago I brought home a new little puppy. Her name is Barkley and she is both delightful and devious, constantly on the hunt for trouble while remaining so sweet I almost can't help but squeal with excitement when I look at her. Living life with a new puppy has been an adjustment (to say the least!), but I'm doing what I can to make the most of it, enjoying the playtime and the naptime with my new little bundle of joy. 

In just a short time, tiny two-pound Barkley has already taught me so much about puppyhood—and about life. I've written about the wisdom of dogs before (see here and here), but there's something about a new puppy, the world still so fresh to her young eyes, that's surprisingly inspiring. Here are some of the lessons I've learned from her over the past few weeks: 


1. Be perpetually excited. The longer we live, the less exciting things often become. Watching Barkley explore the world through her less-than-three-months-old eyes has reminded me of the benefits of being excited by everything around me. The world really is an amazing place and we'd all get a lot of out seeing it the way a puppy does, with endless amounts of excitement and wonder. 


2. Respect limitations. Barkley is still struggling with this one a bit, but she's starting to get the hint that some things (my hair, my shoes, my handbag...) are off limits—no matter how tempting they are. Respect limits is something we should all do, even when we don't always understand why others have those limits. Sometimes happiness is the simple act of respecting another person's boundaries. 


3. Explore endlessly. Everything is amazingly new to Barkley and she's constantly underfoot, wondering what I'm doing and looking for any little thing that might be interesting. Exploring is such a great way to enjoy new experiences and learn new things, but it often seems harder and harder to do the older (and more set in our ways) we get. We'd all do well to take a tip from Barkley and explore the world around us. There's so much to see!


4. Greet others happily. Like most puppies, Barkley is thrilled with the arrival of a newcomer and (rudely) jumps up with licks and little puppy nips meant to show how happy she is to see a new face. What if we all acted that way? Thrilled to see someone, even if we'd seen them just a short while ago? We can probably skip the jumping and licking, but a little bit of happy enthusiasm can go a long way when it comes to greeting others. 


5. Stay in the moment. Barkley, in typical dog fashion, stays in the moment. Unless she has to go to the bathroom or is bothered by something, she's not focused on what's coming next. Instead, she's in the moment, enjoying and celebrating what's happening to her at the very second that it's happening. We all know how important staying present is, but we often struggle with it. Watching Barkley reminds me how wonderful life can be if we just stay in the now. 


6. Be always grateful. When Barkley receives a new toy, her dinner bowl, or even an ice cube from the freezer, she is thrilled. Her tail wags her whole little body and you can just tell that she is so thankful to be receiving something new. We, too, should always be thankful for what we are receiving. It's tough to remember gratitude when it comes to life's mundane matters, but we gain so much when we choose to be thankful.   


7. Embrace the time-out. Barkley's not a huge fan of the time-out (a necessary evil for a wild pup like her who can get so excited that she needs a few moments of alone time to calm down), but more often she's learning to embrace it, playing quietly by herself or giving in to a much-needed nap. Encouraging ourselves to take time-outs from our busy schedules is also tough, but we need breaks to calm down, recharge, and feel refreshed. 


8. Keep on learning. Though she hasn't quite mastered the art of "sit" (or any other command for that matter), Barkley's always up for learning—especially when there are treats involved. Even when we're no longer in school, we can keep learning—and it never hurts when we reward ourselves for mastering a new task. School or not, we should, like Barkley, never give up on learning new things. 


9. Do what you love. When Barkley finds an activity she loves (fetch being her current favorite), she goes after it with all she has, doing it over and over and over again until she tires herself out. We, too, should focus our attention on what excites us most about life. While there are some things we have to do that we might not enjoy, there's a great deal of time to spend as we wish—and we should spend that time on what makes us happiest. 


10. Brave your fears. For a new puppy the world is a big and scary place. New sights and sounds can be quite intimidating (especially if you're only a few inches high!), but Barkley cautiously tests the waters when she comes upon a scary sight or sound. It's not always easy to be brave in the face of fear, but we can be inspired just thinking of all that puppies have to overcome in a world where everything is so scary and new. 


11. Conquer comforting. My heart is still heavy with the loss of Bella, and when I found myself clutching Bella's collar with tears rolling down my face on the day she would have turned nine, I was instantly comforted by Barkley. With playful nudges and hopeful licks, she conquered the art of comforting, reminding me just how important it is to reach out to those in need. When we reach out to others, we not only offer them comfort but find an inner solace of our own. 


12. Seize silliness. Puppies have absolutely no problem embracing silliness. They will jump and flip and flop and crack you up with their silly antics. People, on the other hand, are often resistant to silliness, worried about what others might think or just plain hesitant to let go. We should seize silliness, be puppy-like, no matter how we might look. There's little better than a completely silly moment and we should embrace them whenever we can. 


13. Forgive wholeheartedly. Being a tiny pup and constantly underfoot, Barkley's destined to a few unfriendly encounters with shoes. Even when she's been nudged by a walking foot, she doesn't hold a grudge. She's wary for a moment and then she's back to bouncing and bounding (and getting in the way!). Like Barkley, we should keep in mind the importance of forgiveness. Life's much too short to hold a grudge. 


14. Adapt to new places. Can you imagine being uprooted from your home and everyone you knew and loved, driven to a new place where you were just expected to settle in and love the new people in your life? I don't think I'd do very well in that situation—but Barkley adjusted to her new home right away and I like to think she really, really likes it here now. Learning to adopt to change is hard, but if Barkley can do it, we can too! 


15. Practice patience. Barkley hasn't quite mastered this one yet (but, hey, neither have I and it's been nearly 30 years!), but she's trying. She's learning that good things come to those who wait—even when waiting is really, really hard. And she's learning to have patience with me, a new puppy owner. We're learning from each other and, as in all relationships, we've discovered that we have to be patient with one another. 


16. Enjoy the little things. How excited do you feel when someone hands you an ice cube? If you're anything like me, you'd probably be annoyed—after all, it's cold! But not Barkley. Ice cubes, just like almost every other thing she sees, are awesome to her. She enjoys every little thing as if it's the first and last time she'll ever see it. We can help but being a bit jaded by life, but the more we pay attention to the little things, the more likely we'll be to be excited by life. 


17. Show your love. Barkley doesn't hold back when it comes to affection. Her playful licks and sweet nuzzles show how much she cares, and we could all learn a big lesson from her on how important showing love is. If you love someone, show it. Don't hold back. Instead, hold hands. Give kisses. Snuggle up. We might think our loved ones know how we feel, but it never hurts to make love obvious. Share (and show!) the love!


Glimpsing all of this Barkley-bred wisdom comes at a price, however. Puppies are a lot of work. This is my first experience with my own puppy (Bella originally lived with my parents before I claimed her as my own when she was a few years old), and it's certainly a learning experience. Every day there's a new challenge to overcome, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. Dogs are amazing, inspiring creatures and I'm eternally grateful for every single one I've known and loved. It's only been a few weeks, but already I am head-over-heels for little Barkley. I know we'll have our ups and downs (as all relationships do!), but I'm thrilled to have her as the newest member of our family and I can't wait to see her learn and grown and someday turn into the great dog (and sidekick!) I know she'll be. 

mourning sickness: 6 steps for coping with loss


For the past two weeks, I've been mourning the loss of my dog, Bella. It's been a very difficult time, attempting to stay positive when my mind has been filled with thoughts of her and my heart has been heavy with missing her. Usually I'm able to put my emotions into words—in fact, that's one of the ways I'm able to cope with loss and difficult situations—but it's been harder than usual for me to define how I feel. When I read this passage in The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, in which one of the major characters lost her best friend, I felt as if someone had taken the words right from my heart and printed them on paper:


For the first time in my life I understood the meaning of the word never. And it's really awful. You say the word a hundred times a day but you don't really know what you're saying until you're faced with a real "never again." Ultimately you always have the illusion that you've in control of what's happening; nothing seems definitive . . . And I think that even a few seconds before dying, "never again" would still just be empty words. But when someone you love dies. . . well, I can tell you that you really feel what it means and it really really hurts. It's like fireworks suddenly burning out in the sky and everything going black. I feel alone, and sick, and my heart aches and every movement seems to require a colossal effort.


Reading those words, I felt less alone—and more certain that the "never again" I was so devestated by was a pain that others had also experienced. Losing Bella was a heart-wrenching ordeal—one that left me not only feeling emotionally drained, but physically sick as well—and staying positive and present was incredibly challenging, but, surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly, I should say, being such an advocate of positivity!), it was the efforts to stay positive and present that led me to the place in which I now find myself two weeks after Bella's death: still extremely sad (I still cry at least once a day, though the all-out sobfests are becoming less frequent) but able to feel happiness and look forward to the future. 

Coping with loss—especially the definitive and irreversible loss of death—is never easy, but over the past two weeks I've learned a variety of ways to make the most of this unfortunate situation. Prior to Bella's death, I wasn't sure if I would have the strength to stay positive and present after I lost her. I pictured myself spending weeks in bed, unable to do anything but sob. And while I won't deny that there's been a significant amount of sobbing over here, it's now been two weeks and I've spent a total of zero days in bed. Here are some of the things I did to manage the loss: 


1. Spend time with friends. I cannot tell you how valuable my friends and family have been during this difficult time. Since losing Bella, I've spent hours and hours with friends, both reflecting on my little Bella and distracting myself with new topics of conversation. Initially I thought I'd want a lot of alone time to deal with my sadness, but I quickly found that spending time with friends was absolutely essential. I felt a million times better when I was surrounded by love and support. 


2. Appreciate what was. I'm not one for looking backward, but when it comes to loss, I do think it can be helpful to look back and appreciate the good times. Though it was incredibly difficult with Bella being sick for nearly a year before she died, I was fortunate to be able to work from home and spend tons of quality time with her. I'm thankful for every single moment I had with her and I wouldn't trade them for anything. Even though remembering her can be painful, it's also helpful to recall all of the positive experiences we shared. 


3. Find distractions. It's rarely a good idea to avoid emotions, but over the past few weeks I've come to realize that sometimes distraction is necessary. The more I ruminated on the loss, the sadder I became. But when I distracted myself—with movies, books, friends, work, and even a short getaway—I felt so much better. At first, I didn't want distraction, feeling it devalued the emotions that I deserved to feel, but I soon realized that focusing on the good things didn't detract from how much Bella meant to me—and it made me feel a lot better. 


4. Switch things up. One of the toughest things about losing Bella is coping with all the routines in my life that had been dictated by her. For months, I'd been caring for this sick pup and without her I almost didn't know what to do with myself—so I decided to go on a quick vacation of sorts, tagging along on my boyfriend's business trip. The change of scenery (good ol' Princeton, NJ!) did me a world of good and helped me to switch up my routines a bit when I returned. 


5. Take care of you. For days after I lost Bella, I was physically sick. I had a stomach ache that would not quit and it was awful (not to meant the swollen eyes I had from crying so much—always a cute look!). I knew that both on a emotional and physical levels, I needed a lot of self-care and I made sure to take it easy for a few days after I lost my dear sweet pup. In between visits with friends, I rested a lot. I treated myself to a lot of great magazines and comedic movies—and all that care resulted in a fairly quick physical recovery. 

6. Look forward. Though staying present (even with the hard stuff) really helps me make the most of life, in some situations I feel as though looking forward can be really beneficial. I knew a new puppy would never replace my Bella, but I couldn't hide the fact that the thought of a new dog put a smile on my face. I didn't know when it would happen, but I knew at some point I would get a new dog and fall head-over-heels again. Facing the hopelessness of loss, keeping the idea of a future puppy in mind gave me something to hope for.


Should Bella's death have occurred years ago, I don't think I would would be doing as well as I am now, a mere two weeks after the loss. As tempting as it was to give into the waves of sadness that threatened to overwhelm me, I realized that I had a lot more tools for coping than I realized. I'm back at work—working on an exciting new project, in fact!—and I'm looking forward to the future. Is it still incredibly difficult without Bella? Yes. Does my heart still feel like it's crumbling with the loss of her? Yes. But I'm making the most of what cannot be changed.

In The Elegance of the Hedgehog, the character I mentioned earlier had an interesting experience immediately following the loss of her dear friend. She was walking through her apartment building when she heard beautiful music coming from within one of the apartment units. Later, she reflects on the beautiful music she heard:  


Maybe that's what life is about: there's a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same. It's as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that had come to us, an always within never. Yes, that's it, an always within never. Because, from now on, for you, I'll be searching for those moments of always with never. 


Over the past few weeks, I've learned just how true these words are. Despite the sadness and pain, the true despair of losing a best friend, there is still beauty in life. The beauty of now doesn't override from the pain of remembering what was, but it helps. Loss will never be painless, but we have some control over how much we suffer. When you focus on the beauty, the positivity—those moments of always within never—some of the suffering is eased and every day, bit by bit, things will start to look better and brighter. 

my bella pup


To watch the video on YouTube, click here


Today I face one my greatest challenges: staying positive and present when I've lost my best friend, my loyal pup, my sweet little Bella. Though I cannot imagine life without her -- and I how I will cope with this overwhelming feeling of grief -- I know life will go on. I know every day will get a little bit easier. But for now, I'll take comfort in the memories I have of Bella (some of which you can see in the video above) and in the words of Ellen Bass, who reminds us that, even in the midst of the darkest grief, we can choose to love life... 


“To love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.” 

Ellen Bass


I have much to say on the topic of Bella and losing a loved one, today I have to embrace the silence that comes with the pain of loss. Though it's incredibly difficult to stay present when I am so filled with sadness, I am, in a way, grateful for such a deep and profound pain. The pain is a reminder of the love, of the true and lasting way that little furry pup impacted my life. She is -- and always will be -- one of the great loves of my life, and I will be forever changed for the better because I knew and loved her.  

my wish for you this christmas . . .



It's been a weird pre-Christmas week. The health of my little pup, Bella (who's been hanging in there like a trooper!), started going downhill about a week and a half ago. Since then, I've been going to the vet every other day so she can have an IV treatment of fluids and electrolytes. Every day she gets the treatment, she seems to feel a bit better and manages to eat a little bit of food. Every day she doesn't get the treatment, she seems to be in rough shape. Needless to say, the Christmas cheer around here has been in constant flux. One day it seems like a Christmas miracle ("She's getting better!"); the next feels like it's all coming to an end ("This is it..."). I don't know how long she will continue to receive the IV treatments. There's still hope that she will get a bit better, but chances are very slim. 

As sad as it's been for me, I've been trying really, really hard to make good use of all the tips and tricks I write about here on Positively Present. I've been trying to focus on the positive and appreciate every day -- every moment -- I still have with her. It's a constant struggle not to allow my mind to wander to the future and how heartbroken I will be when she's no longer with me, but I'm trying my absolute hardest to make this most positive, most present Christmas yet. 

You see, Bella loves Christmas. More specifically, she loves presents and Christmas tends to be a present-filled season. As sick as she's been, once she hears the sound of tissue paper wrinkling or wrapping paper tearing, she's on her feet and alert. This video provides a small glimpse into her gift obsession...


Bella Loves Christmas on YouTube (click link if you can't see the video)


None of those gifts have anything dog-related in them, but she's still incessent about getting her paws on them. Ever since she was a puppy, she's been that way. Which is why I'm determined to make this Christmas one of the best she's ever had. And that brings me (in a very round about way!) to the point of this post: my wish for you this Christmas.

This Christmas, I wish you a day filled with appreciation. Appreciate the people and animals in your life. Hug your dog. Kiss your cat. Tell the people you love how much they mean to you. Life is short and our Christmases are limited. Don't let this one pass you by without appreciating it -- and all those you spend it with. I wish you love. I wish you happiness. I wish you a Christmas filled with memories and gratitude. Merry Christmas! 



a dog's lessons on mindfulness (+ stay positive giveaway!)



This article is part of a series of articles to promote Stay Positive: Daily Reminders from Positively Present. For more information on the book, visit For details on how to win this week’s giveaway, scroll down to the bottom of this article.  


Lately I've been really struggling to stay present. With Bella being sick, I'm constantly worried about her eating (something that's always been a challenge but is now a vital aspect of keeping her weight up) and I'm frequently stressed about when she took her medicine and when she'll take it again next. Staying mindful and in-the-moment has become a lost art for me lately. But not for Bella. 

No matter what, Bella -- and every other dog I know -- seems to do a pretty good job of staying mindful. She's not fretting about what happened in the past and she's not worried about what will happen in the future (or at least not in the distant future -- her barking signals that she's worried that someone will come in and threaten her in some way in the immediate future). Bella manages to stay in the now, focusing only on what's happening to her in the moment. 

In this way, my tiny little pup has been an inspiration for me lately. When I find myself struggling to be mindful, I look to her and notice how present she seems to be. Here are some of the mindfulness tips I've learned from Bella . . . 


Bella's Mindfulness Tips 

  • Do less every day. Bella doesn't overwhelm her schedule with to-do lists and appointments. Bella knows how to take it easy. She spends most of her day relaxing with some occasional playtime thrown in. Sure, we would all love to play all day long, but since that's not an option for most of us, we can at least take a tip from Bella and just do less. Make fewer appointments. Schedule fewer activities. Spend more time living in the moments you're experiencing right now.  
  • Worry less often. Bella doesn't worry too much. Sure, she gets stressed out when the FedEx delivery person comes to the door and she gets a bit of anxiety when I leave her for too long, but, generally, she's not a worrier. She doesn't worry about things that are out of her control, the way us humans usually do. We could all take a tip from Bella and try our best to worry less. After all, worrying never makes the situation we're fretting about any easier.  
  • Experience more joy. There's no joy quite like that of Bella with a new toy. It doesn't matter what it is, but if you give her something new and call it "new toy," that tail is wagging and she's all over it, pawing it and biting it and flipping it up in the air with excitement. Even when she's not feeling her best, she's thrilled with a new toy and she fully understands what it means to live with joy. When she's giving a new toy (or a treat she loves), she doesn't hold back her joy. Unlike people, she doesn't question whether or not the joyful feelings are appropriate; all she does is experience them fully, enjoying every moment of her happiness.  
  • Stop judging. To me, this is one of the most precious assets of any pup: they don't judge. Bella doesn't judge me when I make a mistake (even if it somehow effects her, like if I oversleep and don't take her out until later in the morning). And, maybe more important, Bella doesn't judge herself. She accepts everything for what it is and goes with it, something I truly aspire to do. Sure, it's easier for dogs since they probably don't have the ability to judge things the way us humans do, but even when it's hard, we should all strive to judge less and accept more.  
  • Avoid complaining. Life has some pretty dips from time to time, and sometimes it can be difficult not to complain, but look at how dogs handle most situations. They deal with whatever comes their way. If they're hot or cold or tired or hungry, they cope with it. Yes, sometimes there's a little bit of whining involved, but generally they wait patiently until things get better. It's important for us humans to keep in mind what dogs know well: complaining gets you nowhere. It only take us away from being present. 
  • Don't create drama. Whether you want to admit it or not, most people create a little bit of drama for themselves. Sometimes it's purposeful and other times it's unconscious, but, either way, it's something many people do. Dogs don't do this. They face whatever situations they're given and they deal with them directly. They don't avoid or rationalize or blame -- and we'd be a lot better off if we didn't either! Pay attention to the drama in your life and take note of how you've contributed to it (and how you can stop). Less drama equals more mindfulness. 
  • Form deep connections. Those of you who have (or have had) a pet probably know this: the bond between a pet and his/her owner is one of the strongest bonds out there. I love Bella pretty much unconditionally and I know she loves me unconditionally. It's rare to find a close connection with anyone, let alone a dog, but it's an important thing to have. Bella has taught me that close connections are one of the best ways to stay present. The more you enjoy those you're with, the more you can enjoy the moments you spend with them. 
  • Learn to be at peace. Right now, Bella's resting at my feet and she looks completely at peace with the world. Lying down, she's observing the world around her, looking as if she's contemplating life's big mysteries. But she's not. She's just in the now. She isn't worrying about what could happen in the future; she's not wondering what she could have done differently in the past. She's at peace because she's accepted what's happening right now. Staying peaceful is trickier with a human mind, but it's something we can all learn. It just takes some practice -- and consciously choosing to be mindful.  
  • Pay attention to your surroundings. Bella's always looking around her, nose in the grass or carpet, hunting for something special. Yes, she's probably looking for the scent of other animals or a crumb left behind by the vacuum, but she's inadvertently taught me to pay attention to the little things. Even the most routine things for her are exciting and, when I see that little tail wagging with joy, I can't help but be reminded that everything, even the most mundane things like taking a walk down the same sidewalk, is worth paying attention to. The more you pay attention, the more present you'll become. 

Bella has clearly mastered something that most of us never fully do: living in the now. No matter how much I want to focus on living in the now, it's always a bit of a struggle (especially when it comes to dealing with Bella's illness). And it's for that reason that I'm so thankful to have Bella in my life as a constant reminder to stay mindful. Looking down at her now, curled in a ball beneath my desk, I'm yet again reminded of the sweet serenity that comes with living in the present, in living without dwelling on the past or frantically preparing for the future. Bella, like all animals, is a constant reminder to be mindful and appreciate each moment for the fleeting miracle that it is. 




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