All I Want for Christmas is You … an animal shelter photography project

Louie is about one and played with Mack for a long time. This was Mack’s first experience going to an animal shelter and it was hard for him to leave Louie.

Looking for a volunteer project that involves photography is usually easy but I was looking for something different.  Something that would be fun but would also have, perhaps, a meaningful and immediate impact.

I thought about what had touched my own life this year.  My kids were getting older, leaving the nest, and my two rescue dogs had brought such joy into our house.  Saving a dog was something I had never done before and the whole experience was awesome. So the volunteer project took focus.

One by one I took my kids and my friends up to a little town called Huntley, Illinois where there is a little shelter called Animal House Shelter.  (   No one even felt like they were volunteering, it was all fun.  Driving through the countryside, eating cider donuts and drinking hot chocolate and then arriving at a pretty little red barn and playing with the dogs.

Daisy was very fun loving and gentle. This is Emma and after this experience Emma and her mom adopted two dogs from this shelter.
This is skylar and she is little and cuddly. Alley is a dog lover at heart, with 3 dogs of her own. She held Skylar for a long time.

 There were all kinds of dogs.  Purebreds as well as mutts.  Big ones and little ones.  Cute ones and funny looking ones.  Some were shy and some were outgoing.  They all had one thing in common.  They were friendly and sweet and affectionate.  It was as if they knew they had one chance to look their best so that they might become ours.

The ride home in the car was a little quieter.  We talked about which dogs we liked the most and we wondered if what we were doing would make a difference.  I’m writing this on Christmas Eve and, so far, this project has helped six dogs find homes for the holidays.

Animal House II3
My photographer friend, Julie Linnekin, came along and took this picture. Julie has two rescue dogs of her own so she and I have a lot in common.
Animal House2
Quinn volunteers at Animal House Shelter every Sunday. This dog is named Todd and he loves boxes, toys and kissing.
Animal House4
Kayden is friendly and energetic with a big tongue and big eyes. Such a nice dog.
Animal House6
Blue loves to play and is super friendly.
My friend, Julie, fell in love over and over again.
My friend, Julie, fell in love over and over again.

Animal House Shelter, located in Huntley, Illinois, is open every day of the year from 11am till 7pm.  Even on Christmas.  And even on Christmas Eve.

And if you want to volunteer with us going forward just give us a call … because this project isn’t over yet.


No Matter What Happens …


“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

— Maya Angelou


A New Order


With so much to do, I sneak into the attic, and there they are, right where I left them, the year before.  The Christmas Stockings.  All of them.  Seven.  I snatch them, leaving behind the lights and talking santas, that I decided were too much now.  Left behind in the cold quiet.

The stack feels familiar.  So bright.  So different.  Nothing matching about the ones that belong to our four kids – one has a dancing Winnie the Poo and Tigger, the other has lots of sequins hand stitched by an ambitious aunt, one is perfectly needle pointed with a name embroidered on top and one has snow men on it with real cotton.  Mine is sophisticated, because I was trying that on that year, the year that I bought it.  My husband’s has an old, comfortable santa on the front.  And my mother’s, the 7th, is blue and looks antique, with a tree surrounded by vintage toys.  She told me that it looked similar to the one she had as a child.  She loved it, and loved having such a special place in our family, with her own stocking and all.

Once to the mantle, I find 7 nails, all perfectly aligned.  If I don’t hang hers, the 7th, they’re out of order.  Out of order.  Yes, we’re out of order now.

You see, she died at Thanksgiving.  Still writing the words she died seems new to me.  She was old, so sick, with different kinds of cancer here and there and on Hospice.  It hurts, because I stand here, with 7 stockings, and 7 nails, but there are 6 of us now.

She lived down the street, when she was well.  And when she wasn’t, she lived in the little bedroom off our kitchen.  She babysat the kids.  She was passionate about them.  She hugged them and held them tight and played with their hair.  She loved that they came to us through adoption.  “Oh someone different, I can’t wait!”  She made dinner, she barked orders, she loved the dog, and she hated the dog.  She was part of our fabric.  Part of our order.

It ached moving up to it.  Her death.  I knew it was coming.  I cared for her.  In best times, I took her to doctor appointments, rode in the sunshine, ate soup at restaurants, and laughed about old stories.  Hoping for miracles.  In worst times, I fed her soup, combed her hair, kept her warm, and laughed about old stories.  Still hoping for miracles.

The hurt on the way up to her death made me cry, like a wild animal.  The hurt on the way down makes me cry, like a wounded one.

So, 7 stockings, 7 nails, 6 of us now.  I kept her nail empty, and put her stocking behind mine, filling up my nail to the brim.  Hers held mine up.  Hers made mine strong.  Even though the order had changed.

Over the summer I’ll move things around and rearrange those nails so that 6 fit perfectly over the mantle.  And her stocking will be in the attic, nestled behind mine.  And when the next all-too-soon Christmas rolls around, I’ll put hers on the nail behind mine.  And it will hold mine up.  And make mine strong.  And there will be a new order.

Written at Christmas Time 2004

He’ll Take Longer Than The Time He’s Been Given and Will Apologize Later

Doug will speak to hundreds of people from all over the world this morning in Chicago on behalf of A Long Swim and the Les Turner ALS Foundation on the formula of taking an audacious goal and using it to raise funds for a cause.  Here he is practicing on our back porch last night.  I took this photograph from outside, he didn’t know I was there.  He practiced for over an hour, until he got it right.  The day will be full of speakers, and Doug has been given 20 minutes.  He’ll take longer, I know, and will apologize later.