A Dog Life Remembered: Lillie Beatrice Spilman

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It was a beautiful, quiet Midwestern spring afternoon. The windows were open and the intoxicating scent of lilacs filled the house. I sat down with a turkey sandwich, tall glass of blackberry iced tea and the weekly small town newspaper. As I settled in, Dogzilla jumped on the table out of nowhere, like in a slasher movie. Iced tea flowed like a river on the table while Dogzilla savagely ate my sandwich leaving only a lonely dill pickle on the tea-soaked newspaper. That was a pretty typical day with our golden retriever, Lillie Beatrice a.k.a “The Bean,” “Lil Spil,” or “that damn dog.”

A desert dweller, Lillie was born in the foothills of Ahwatukee, Arizona as part of a “surprise” litter to a young Golden Retriever couple, Niles and Daphne named after the hit television show, “Frazier.” John my husband told the breeder, “I want a dog with some personality.” The breeder said, “How about this one? We call her Spunky.” And, Spunky she was. There wasn’t anything Lillie didn’t eat — the laundry room wall, underground sprinkler system, furniture — just to name a few of the more costlier items. Lillie’s one particular talent was devouring a roll of toilet paper in five seconds flat.

Contrary to the docile personality of most dogs of Lillie’s breed, she had a wild look in her eyes and took no prisoners when looking for a playmate. We were shocked when we took her to puppy socialization class and she hid under the chairs. The trainer did not believe we were having so many problems. Two weeks after Lillie’s arrival, we found out we were expecting a baby after several changes in our personal and professional lives that included a miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy. Lillie never napped and delighted in waking at 4 AM. In hindsight, she was training us for early morning feedings and long nights with a fussy baby.

Lillie enjoyed bye-bye rides in the cargo area of her Jeep Cherokee. Before her baby sister was born, Lillie took the bye-bye ride of a lifetime across country riding shotgun with her daddy in an “On the Road” type adventure to her new home in Union, Kentucky. She enjoyed thousands of miles of fast food cheeseburgers and listened to hours of sports talk radio which likely inspired her love of playing football in the backyard.

Lillie’s life changed dramatically upon the arrival of her new baby sister, Grace. We would now have a set of Irish Twins in our family. Only, one had two legs and strawberry blonde hair and the other had strawberry blonde hair, four legs and a tail.

“How come I only have a dog for a sister?” was the question asked on a regular basis by the two-legged child. The two were nine-months apart in age. Lillie continued to eat her way through the house the way a gopher tunnels through a bountiful garden. Despite the carnage, our four-legged child was a huge source of entertainment for the two-legged child.

“Let’s play eat the baby’s socks.”

“Let’s play take the baby’s shirt off while she giggles incessantly.”

“And, let’s play gnaw on a raw hide bone loudly every night in the nursery while we listen to mommy read, Guess How Much I Love You.”

Our two golden peas in a pod were the cat’s meow until the two-legged child squatted in the neighbor’s lawn during an evening stroll mirroring the four-legged child relieving herself as only canine’s do. The two-legged child even learned how to table surf as she crawled onto the top of the counter to snatch a piece of pizza. One of my biggest fears was that my toddler daughter would grow up thinking her name was “Damn it Lillie!”

The invisible fence repairman affectionately nicknamed Lillie, “Crazy,” this coming from a man who has a permanent smile on his face from ear-to-ear as a result of hundreds of electrical shocks over the years. Lillie’s deafening bark drove neighbors to write numerous complaint letters, even suggesting training facilities. She ate enough crayons and plastic toys to poop out a Fisher-Price village complete with a rainbow overhead.

About a year after Grace was born, out of pure desperation we took Lillie to the equivalent of a dogie Betty Ford Clinic. After two weeks as an “inpatient,” they refunded our money and diagnosed Lillie as the most severe Type A golden retriever the trainer had ever seen. We were close to giving her away, but we are dog people and we just couldn’t do it. She was part of the family and we all had to learn how to co-exist peacefully.

We had a major turning point with Lillie after we read the book, “Marley and Me” by John Grogan. Maybe she was just wired a little differently and she was only capable of controlling herself to a certain point. At this point, we were the ones being trained by Lillie.

Lillie moved to Carmel, Indiana where she began her reign as the bus stop dog when Grace entered grade school. Known for her beauty, Lillie once strutted the catwalk with Grace and her daddy in a Hamilton County Humane Society fashion show touting her football catching talent. She also holds the record for the longest butt scoot on the living room carpet. Lillie had the quickness of a Cobra and the precision of a stealth missile when grabbing food off the dinner table. She had amazing bladder control taking on the nickname, “Frank the tank.”

Lillie always ruled the roost and eventually over the years that wild look in her eyes gave way to a loving glance. Our walls remained in-tact as long as the goodie jar was filled, there was a steady supply of raw hides and she got her nightly walk with her daddy. The Barbie townhouse even remained untouched after being considered a canine Golden Corral buffet by a younger, more rebellious and quite frankly, hungrier Lillie.

In Lillie’s later years, her arthritis and an ACL injury may have severely limited her mobility, however, her demanding bark remained in-tact along with her mind. Her world was temporarily rocked when she gained an English Cream Golden Retriever for a little brother. Murphy breathed life into Lillie and in return, she gave him the space to love her and be loved by us.

Lillie lived life on her own terms for fourteen years and she showed us how to do the same. She taught us how to be better parents and patient caregivers. Her antics and companionship gave Grace immense bravery as well as a silky ear for telling secrets.

Her last day was filled with cheeseburgers, tears and love. We’d like to thank all of our friends, family, and dog sitters over the years who braved her feistiness and tolerated her vociferous nature.

She was our Underdog, our hero and we will miss her.

Did My Mother Mention David Letterman is from Indiana?

Happy “David Letterman Day!”

That’s right.  Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard proclaimed May 20, 2015 as “David Letterman Day” in honor of the city’s most famous resident who is retiring after 33 years as host of his ingenious late night talk show. As a resident of the area, I couldn’t be more pleased that Dave is getting the recognition he deserves – not only from Indiana, but from fans coast to coast.

daveIt’s been so much fun watching video clips from the past 30 years of Dave’s shows and witnessing the emotional well-wishes from comedians he influenced such as Jimmy Kimmel, Norm MacDonald and Ray Romano. Warning: Make sure you have an ample supply of tissues.

The tribute I most identify with is a commentary from CBS Sunday Morning delivered by comedian and fellow Hoosier Jim Gaffigan who claims in his brilliant essay that Dave’s retirement is “causing him to have an identity crisis and he feels like he is being abandoned because somehow Dave shaped his entire adult life.”

Here’s an excerpt:

“As an awkward teenager growing up in Indiana, Dave represented a beacon of hope…He was and still remains the Hoosier who made good.  Dave didn’t just leave Indiana and succeed – he brought Indiana with him and succeeded wildly…Dave made it OK to be funny, smart and Midwestern…”

There was a time when Indianapolis was known as “Indy No Place.” My mother who has lived in Indy her entire life, proudly makes it known when a celebrity on television is from Indiana – as if it is her/our personal connection to fame.

My mother is one of Dave’s earliest and biggest fans and was a regular viewer of his short-lived morning show in 1980, The David Letterman Show. As a double-bonus, another Hoosier, Will Shriner (son of Hoosier humorist Herb Shriner) was on Dave’s morning show. I was a Senior in high school when the show aired and remember my mother cackling while she was folding laundry and screaming, “You have to watch this – it’s hysterical…Dave is from Indiana!”  (Have I mentioned Dave is from Indiana?)

I also remember my mother being mad as hell when the network cancelled Dave’s morning show because “housewives didn’t get it.” I can assure you, if my mother and housewives like her were given a Nielsen ratings diary, Dave’s morning show would still be on television today. Check out Conan O’Brien’s essay as he describes the first time he saw Dave’s morning show.

I was lucky enough to be a college student when Dave launched Late Night. Larry “Bud” Melman was considered a super hero and hours were spent thinking of some sort of stupid human trick that would land us on Dave’s show. Dave’s brand of goof-ball and snark was just what these young humor-starved Hoosier coeds craved – along with a late night Domino’s pizza. (Did I mention that Dave is from Indiana?)

I’ll always regret not going to a Late Show taping when I lived in New York City. It was impossible to get tickets due to the popularity of the show.  Every time I walked past Rockefeller Center where the show was taped, I felt a little piece of Indiana was with me.

Over the years, as my self-diagnosed narcolepsy kicked in and it became too much of a chore to stay awake through the evening news to watch late night television, I lost touch with Dave only keeping up with the occasional prime time special or tuning in after 9/11 for reassurance from Dave that it was OK to mourn and laugh at the same time.

Like Dave, I became a parent later in life and consider parenthood life-changing.  Our children are the same age.  He mentioned on his program that everyone always told him to have kids, but no one ever told him they were so funny. So true. (Do you know Dave is from Indiana?)

My sister-in-law aspired to be a housewife sideline reporter for the Late Show reporting stories of her escapades like the time she was undergoing an at-home EKG as part of a life insurance policy physical when a Jehovah Witness came to the door. That’s the kind of real-life comedy Dave loves. (Did I tell you Dave is from Indiana?)

In celebration of “David Letterman Day,” I was tempted to exchange my typical work wear that consists of a sensible cardigan and wear-ever slacks for a navy sport coat, khaki trousers, black loafers and big, fat stogie.

Instead, I decided to post my own tribute.  You can bet I’ll be watching Dave’s last show with a big box of tissues at bay.  I may even bake one of his mother’s famous pies.

Dave, thank you for all the laughs and for taking Indiana with you on your amazing journey. As I move into my golden years without you on television, I can only hope you take a gig as host of Wheel of Fortune or as publisher in chief of Reader’s Digest.  The world still needs your brand of funny. (By the way, thank you for being from Indiana.)

Under Cover

Forgive me, it’s been six months since my last post…

As for my excuse, I’ll use the same one I gave the congregation outreach volunteer from my church who called looking for me last week or as he phrased it, “We haven’t seen you in a while.  Do you need us?”

I retorted, “Don’t worry, I’m not trapped under anything heavy.  I’ve just been lazy.”

However, apparently they need me for more than filling the coffer because the next day I got an email from my church asking me for one of my kidneys.


I tried my hand at writing a novel, however, the only opening line I could muster is, “The cul-de-sac was angry that day.”

I guess I need to become a depressive or a drunk to get the creative juices flowing.

On second thought, I think I’ll just get out more.

I’ve actually been spending my leisure time channeling my inner-Lois Lane by writing human interest stories for the local paper in my city.

At first, it was very exciting to see my byline in the weekly paper that is mailed free of charge to the 180,000 residents in my community.  It’s a writer’s favorite audience – one that’s captive and getting some free stuff.

I love writing about the people in my community.  There’s only one problem.

It’s the same problem that keeps me from visiting all the cute little puppies at the Humane Society.

I want to adopt them all.

I get emotionally attached to all my subjects and I approach every article with an enormous amount of time and detail like it’s my big break writing for Vanity Fair.

It’s not quite the cover of Rolling Stone, however, my article on the 50th Anniversary of the high school radio station landed on the cover of the newspaper.  It was exhilarating – I felt like William Miller from Almost Famous documenting the rise and fall of radio.

I previewed the symphony like a classically schooled arts editor.  Little did the readers know my iPod is filled with Sponge Bob theme songs and One Direction.

Perhaps the most nerve-wracking was interviewing celebrities like comedians Caroline Rhea, Jon Dore and Tommy Davidson.  Or the most embarrassing, trying to score an interview with one of the hosts of NPR’s Morning Edition and making the mistake of writing a gushing fan letter rather than a pointed, pithy Q & A.

My latest editorial adoption came in the form of an energetic motivational marathon runner who talked me into joining her women’s marathon training group as the only walker out of a sea of runners.

Let’s just say the only way I’ll be crossing the marathon finish line is in a Cushman.

The runners were all actually very nice and supportive of the lone walker.

During practice runs, it took all of five minutes for the pack of runners to speed ahead of me out of sight leaving the wild flowers and crickets as my companions on the path.

Sure the spotters would stay in their positions until I passed, always with a supportive clap and message of support like, “there’s our shiny caboose!” and “hey, at least you’re out here.”

It’s really a blessing that my knee blew out after the last practice run.  And, as the photo finish shows, running is apparently not my only weakness, I can’t pick out a sports bra to save my life.

I’ve been in hiding ever since.

So, as it turns out…while I may not need help from my congregation, I certainly do need my blog.

Listen to Me…Listen to Your Mother Indianapolis

ILTYMGiving Motherhood a Microphone.

That’s the tagline behind a nationwide series of shows called, “Listen to Your Mother” that is playing in 32 cities across the country over the next two weeks in celebration of Mother’s Day.

I have the honor of being a member of the 2014 cast of the show in Indianapolis on Sunday April 27 at the Indiana Historical Society.

Much to my own mother’s dismay, I will not be singing and dancing like Doris Day because it’s a spoken word show.

Kind of a pour out your soul, essay/poetry slam of ordinary mothers and daughters of all ages, shapes and sizes reading their own stories.

Stories that define them.

The stories will make you laugh, think, cringe, wonder and cry – not just dab a tear cry – roll in the aisles cry.

Why come?

Because, these women are amazing and you will find joy in every single one of their stories.

Because, if you put your problems out on a table, you’d probably gladly take them back after hearing some of these stories.

Because, you never know what someone else is going through until you’ve walked in her shoes, or in this case, listened to her story.

Because, she needs you to listen to her story.

Because, she needs to heal.

Because, you need to know how to help whether it’s babysitting, cooking a meal or just giving her a hug.

Because, you need to laugh and they need to laugh.

We all need to laugh, even during the toughest times of mothering and being mothered.

Mother’s carry a heavy load.

And, we need to persevere because even more than our own brood, the world needs us.

Listen to me.

Listen to Your Mother.



The Power of Humor

crowdI have a confession to make.  I lost my funny.

Losing my funny has much more significance than losing a shoe, losing a championship game or even losing one’s virginity.

It was a gradual thing.

Never-ending stories of bad things happening to good people can muffle the soul.

Add career changes, a non-ending Polar Vortex and life goes on autopilot.

Go to Work.  Go to the grocery store.  Cook dinner.  Work some more.  Go to bed. Do it all again the next day.

Where was the funny?

Sure, there was always a chortle here, a chuckle there all dwarfed in much too much seriousness.

Until I attended the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop with one of my best friends, and writing buddies, Anne.

Anne is the silver-lining girl who blogs at Funnysister about her mother’s dementia and other slice of life stories.  She also happens to be one of my roommates from college.

We had dinner the night before we left for the conference with another dear friend, Jeanette, who is one of the funniest people on the planet and has the most infectious laugh of anyone I know.

It’s amazing how just being in the company of people who have known you since you were 18 years-old – who haven’t likely been exposed to the best of you due to geography and time, but have certainly seen the worst of you prior to maturity and motherhood – can reinvigorate the funny just by being in their presence.

Forgetting to pack your underwear for the conference can also reinvigorate the funny.  There’s nothing more invigorating than triggering the shoplifting alarm at Kohl’s when the sales clerk forgets to take the sensor off of your giant granny panties you’ve just purchased.  The ten people standing in line waiting to redeem their Kohl’s cash got a little extra bonus indeed.

It’s such a treat to be among the Bombeck family, on the beautiful campus of the University of Dayton honing the craft of writing under the tutelage of the humor industry’s finest authorities and experts.  It’s a throwback to another time when every newspaper across the country carried Erma’s humor column At Wit’s End and we all started the day with the same laugh.  Eating cake was still cool, which we get to do plenty of at the conference meals.

philWe even got to meet television icon Phil Donahue, who was the keynote speaker.  The man who made his living taking questions from an audience full of women for decades, still has the patience of a saint as a roomful of 350 women lined up for photos after the perfect tribute to his former neighbor and good friend, Erma.

While the workshop was fantastic and it was completely energizing to see all my writing friends, the best part of the trip was a visit to see Anne’s mom Lois.

Anne wrote about her mom inviting herself to the conference in her post The Gift of the Moment.

Anne also prepared me that the visit may be a little depressing.

What I was not prepared for, was Anne’s mother’s incredible sense of humor.  While her dementia inhibits her ability to communicate and remember, she was still cracking jokes at warp speed, even complaining about a fellow resident who didn’t laugh at any of her jokes that morning.

That’s the power of humor.

So thanks to Erma, Lois, Jeanette and Anne, I rediscovered my funny.

And thanks to my daughter who thinks I should have performed a stand-up comedy routine during the open-mic session at the conference because in her words, “You would have won for sure.”





Seriously, Leave Barbie Alone

Barbie explores Mars and she's not afraid of helmet head.

Barbie explores Mars and she’s not afraid of helmet head.

Lean In…come closer…closer…Pssst…Leave Barbie alone.


It seems as though lately everyone is out to get this American toy treasure charging her with diminishing young girls self esteem in the form of a proposal to ban Girl Scout Barbie badges to creating a doll the more accurately mimics a female figure. It is absolutely ridiculous to blame an eleven inch plastic doll as being the root cause of poor self body image among girls.

Barbie is fun.

It is fun to pick out a different colorful, hip outfit – accessorized to the hilt – complete with a matching belt, fashionable plastic jewelry, a cute little purse.  Not to mention the honing of fine motor skills for little fingers gained from trying to cram Barbie’s petite feet into those teeny-tiny plastic pumps.

When the quintessential child clothing company Carter comes out with a marble-blue vinyl knee-length overcoat lined with blue faux fur and matching stiletto boots to emulate Barbie clothes, then there may be cause for concern.

Wonder woman Barbie

Wonder Woman enjoying a delicious Barbie prepared meal of roast Turkey leg and pasta. The girl needs her carbs – she’s saving the world.

Barbie has healthy eating habits.  She doesn’t stand in her Dream House kitchen pantry eating potato chips by the handful out of the bag.

She drinks orange juice, milk and serves healthy entrees like roasted turkey to guests – cool guests, like the Collector’s Edition Wonder Woman Barbie.

Ken has never worn a suit or carried a brief case.  He probably has his Speedo in his shoulder bag.

Ken has never worn a suit or carried a brief case. He probably has his Speedo in his shoulder bag.

Barbie is a career woman.  She’s been an Astronaut, Teacher, Doctor, Veterinarian, Dentist, Babysitter, Surfer and Chef to name a few of her occupations.  Yes, she is gainfully employed.

She not only wants to work, she really has no choice with a boyfriend like Ken.  The only suit the man has ever worn is his bathing suit.  Though, Barbie’s loveable surfer dude does get props for always bringing flowers.

So what if she has big boobs and a tiny waist?  It’s fun!

Lammily, shammily.  Have you ever heard of Skipper?  The less voluptuous, not so flashy dresser, younger sister of Barbie?  She didn’t sell so well, though successful crowdfunding will surely send this little Lam to the factory production line.

Barbie's new competition, Lammily.

Barbie’s new competition, Lammily.

We’ll see how long it takes Lam to hit the Bonnie Bell counter for a lip smacker or Justice for some mustache earrings.

It is doubtful that Barbie is having an influence on the trend in provocative teen selfies flooding the pages on Instagram.  Barbie has long been packed up and put into the attic by those teen years.

Let’s stop blaming Barbie.

Battle of the Sexes – The Quest for the Perfect Gingerbread Man

gingerbreadThe allure of the Gingerbread Man…this adorable, rich guy is sweet, yet spicy and always has a smile on his face.

Every Christmas, I channel my inner Martha Stewart in the quest of creating the absolutely perfect Gingerbread Man.

Only, every year I fail miserably and instead channel my inner Mary Shelley in the creation of a hideous cookie monster made of sugar and spice that is systematically trying to kill me.

I’m not really sure what makes operation Gingerbread Man fail.

The no-fail ingredients of sugar, molasses, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, honey, butter, flour, eggs and just a hint of sea salt blend together beautifully to make the most delicious tasting dough.

At this point I have my Gingerbread Man where I want him.

A mere putty in my hands.

That is…until the dough starts to turn on me.

Despite leaving the dough in the refrigerator for an hour followed by three rounds of carefully rolling the ultra-sticky dough between sheets of plastic wrap then freezing the dough for 15 minute intervals, it never completely hardens.

Ultimately, I end up throwing half of the dough in the garbage.

Maybe I’m not patient enough to wait for the dough to harden completely, or maybe it’s just shrinkage from the freezer.

I ask you, is one man worth all this work?

I’m not even that big of a gingerbread fan, yet I am compelled to win the battle of the sexes.

Maybe it’s determination gained from growing up during the women’s rights movement in the 1970’s.

If tennis professional Billie Jean King could defeat Bobby Riggs on national television, surely I can conquer a four inch spice cookie in my own kitchen.

gingerbread perfectWhy are women always attracted to men who play hard to get?

Gingerbread men are no exception.

As God is my witness, I will never attempt to bake Gingerbread Men again.

Though we all know, all it will take is for that spicy little man to flash his perfect royal icing smile and I’ll throw on my sexiest apron and have my heart stomped again.

Then I’ll bite his head off and drown my sorrows in a tall glass of milk.