I discovered recently that Frankie is timid around men. And he doesn’t like the smell of fish. As a result, he really tries to avoid men who smell like fish. So, you’d think he’d be less than thrilled to spend a recent morning on the Jacksonville Beach pier, right? Wrong. He was beside himself.

I walked him there in my power chair to meet a couple of friends one weekday morning. He was tugging at the leash as soon as we turned south instead of north. He didn’t care where we were going. Just that we’d never been there before. When we reached the paved walkway next to the dunes, his pace quickened and he weaved back and forth, trying to take in all the strange scents simultaneously. Gulls called overhead, people whizzed by on bikes and rollerblades and the breeze carried in the smell of salt and Tropicana off the beach.

Dogs are allowed on the pier if they’re service dogs. Frankie is enrolled in classes with a trainer who can certify him as such, so technically, it wasn’t a lie. Frankie is a service dog-in-training now. But I have to admit, little Frankie looks nothing like those well-behaved helpers, particularly bounding ahead of the wheelchair with no special vest and barking at birds.

He was so excited that even being approached by smelly men with coolers full of fish didn’t faze him for long.  After our outing, his little legs carried him most of the way home, probably running on pure adrenaline.

Later that week, my writing coach gave us a suggestion that rang especially true. She said – do something new. As writers, we need to fill the creative well with new images, scents and tastes so that we can call these up in our writing, keeping things from sounding stale or cliche.

And non-writers need this mental stimulation too. Are you like me, always ordering the same thing off the menu? Mix it up! Try something different. Or better yet, go to a restaurant you’ve never been to before. Take in a museum exhibit on your lunch hour. Or just drive a different way to work. Our lives are so filled with routine that it’s easy to get stuck in a rut.

Remembering this advice, I took Frankie to the park the following week. We were rewarded when a mama duck and at least seven little ducklings crossed our path. True, Frankie was excited enough just by the Mallards waddling by, but I was happy to see the babies. We sat for a long time in the butterfly garden, Frankie attempting to dig in the mulch while I watched a Swallowtail flutter around. It was calming and it broke routine. That butterfly and those ducklings are now deep in the well of my creative subconscious just waiting to be called on. And Frankie’s happy. To him I’m just keeping it interesting.