Spotlight: Sandy Coffman (Wren)

By Nancy Polanski (nap) on October 10, 2011

Wren is someone who has been a presence in Cubits since the beginning. We've seen her posts on other websites as well. Yet, I have never really chatted with her in depth, so I decided it was time to get to know her better.

Many of you already know Sandy Coffman through her photography, or because of the devotion she has toward her pets.  So now let's delve deeper into the woman we know as Wren.


I am a 3rd generation Floridian, born and lived all of my 61 years in North East Florida. I am single and happy that way. I have gardened most of my life. I grow plants for butterflies and Hummingbirds. I love to birdwatch. I love animals, and right now I am owned by a Belgian Tervuren - Andre the Demon Child from H***! He is the sweetest, most loving dog, but so full of mischief and so funny at the same time, that half the time I do not know whether to beat his butt or laugh at him. Laughter usually wins out. Besides, if I pop him on the butt he thinks it is funny. Crazy dog.

I love to travel, but am only able to take day trips now. I went to Canada in a 16 foot RV with my mom and three Siamese Cats. The wildest trip was in a 27 foot RV with two Siamese cats, a Doberman, two very young nephews and both of my parents. Nearly threw my Dad out of the RV a few times.

I was a data entry operator for a car company for 27 years starting in 1970 until I was down- sized in 1997. Right after that I was injured in a car accident. Now I am retired. I did not learn to drive until shortly after I started there. The first car I had, my brother totaled after I had it only six months. The second, both my dad and my brother had wrecks in. I traded that one in for my first RV. It was 16 feet long on a Nissan truck body. I got it because I did not want to leave my three Siamese cats at home when I traveled. I did that once and the mother cat refused to eat. They were great travelers. They and mom and I went to Canada in that RV. It was a tight fit, and I mean very tight. We could not close the bathroom door when we used it, and the kitty litter box had to sit in the middle of the floor. But boy did we enjoy it.


Other than my pets, photography is my greatest love, and when Andre is being bad it is my greatest love! I love taking pictures. Mostly close up pictures. I learned back in the 80's on a 35mm manual camera with a 50mm macro lens. Had a blast taking wildflower pictures. My mother, who loves to go with me, told me that a few times cars nearly went off the road as people tried to figure out what that crazy woman was doing, down on her knees with her butt sticking skyward.


I first learned to take pictures on an Olympus 35mm camera with a 50mm macro lens. I took not only flower pictures but sunsets and fireworks with this camera. I had two really good teachers. One of the slides that I entered into a contest won an "honorary mention" which, as it was open to both professional and amateurs, was a great honor. I also put on slide shows for garden clubs with my wildflower slides, until someone borrowed them and they were stolen from her. Darn it.


Now I am learning how to use a2011-10-06/nap/8c1526 digital camera. When I got the settlement from the accident, nowhere near what we should have gotten, I bought my first laptop and a new camera. I chose the Canon and I got a 60mm macro lens. I broke that one earlier this year when it fell off a bookcase. I had been eying a more advanced camera but did not have enough money. I was able to scrape enough out of my income to get the body of a Canon EOS Rebel T3i. And boy does it have more features than I know what to do with! I have more lenses now. I have the 18-50mm lens that came with the first camera, the 60mm macro that I bought for my first Canon, though it is a little battered from the fall, a 75-300mm zoom, a 50mm macro, a 28-200mm macro and a combination zoom and macro lens.


I am getting better at taking pictures, even though I have to work around my mixed up eyesight, the weakness in my arms and the wobbles that I get. But I am enjoying myself taking pictures and sharing them with others. Just the other day, I emailed some of my bee pictures to a Doctorate student and he is going to use them in some of his lectures on native bees. I am also now one of the photographers for the writers on ATP.


I used to be able to draw; flowers and mushrooms were my favorite subjects. I did some animals but the weird thing was, I could only draw them if they were facing one way. I could not draw them if they were facing the other way.


I worked with polymer clay until sitting long hours with my feet hanging became too much for me, plus I could not sell the pieces for what they should have gotten. I did dragons, fake semi-precious stones and developed a stained-glass look that a real stained-glass artist said was good.


I also did ceramics. My specialty was to take an unfired, dried piece and carve flowers on it and cut holes in it. Most people who did this worked on wet, freshly poured pieces but I liked to work on the dried clay. I entered a couple of ceramic shows and won the  top award for one piece. The most ugly little statue you ever saw. My dad hid it somewhere, and I still have not found it, nor do I really want to.


I have been gardening almost all my life. I inherited my love of plants from one of my Grandmothers who was still gardening when she passed away at 92. I still have three heirloom bulbs growing in my yard, for more than 55 years now. I am mostly growing plants now for the butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. But I still grow a few of my favorites; A2011-10-09/nap/138017maryllis and Native Hibiscus. I pride myself on being fairly good on seed starting, and have two friends who help pot up the seedlings as they grow. I share with them and we take the extras to RU's and use them to trade



(Sandy's real first love is her pets. She has had both cats and dogs. Sandy considers them her family, but more importantly, they are her teachers. In the next segment, you will hear how their love and intuition have brought comfort and healing into her life...)


We had a Doberman that my brother had left with us and a GSD (German Shephard). I have written a post about them "LOVE THAT LASTS."


We got another Dobie and a larger RV. There 2011-10-09/nap/4080b2was no way two people, three Siamese cats and a hundred pound Doberman could all travel in my tiny RV. There was a time when even a 23 foot one was too small. Especially when you added my dad and then later two young nephews.  


The cats were great travelers. They ruled my life for a total of 18 years. Ming, the mother, lived to be 16 years old. She ruled us with an iron paw in a velvet glove. She was known as the "Dingbat." Her daughter Miss was tiny but felt like a ton when she perched on your leg, which was her favorite place to lay. She almost made it to 18. I lost Impy, Ming's son, when he was only nine. He had cancer. It showed up on a trip that was one from hell.


On one trip we had two cats, our second six year old Dobie, Sauron (one of the sweetest boys and one of my best teachers), both of my parents and my two young nephews. We went up to Williamsburg and then the plan was to come down the Blue Ridge Skyway.


My nephews were good travelers, as we took stuff for them to do. We took a TV and VCR that worked off the truck battery. The TV was on the bed above the driver's cab. I cannot tell you 2011-10-09/nap/aa6d4dhow many times they watched Lady and The Tramp and The Land Before Time, but if I ever hear either of them again I will run away screaming. Sauron was a good traveler mostly, but this trip was different. He hated the swaying in the mountains.


This trip was in the Fall, but we missed the main Fall colors and the weather turned bitterly cold. There was only a handful of times that the others got out of the RV so everyone had a case of cabin fever. Sauron and I took long walks, but one of those walks turned into a nightmare when he collapsed. Even then I had a bad back, but I had to partly carry a hundred plus pound dog half a mile back to the RV. I did not know that this was the first sign of the rapid cancer that would take my beloved obedience partner in only a couple of weeks. He came so close to the Utility title and so far in turning me from a shy girl into the woman I am now. He did so much for me, I am tearing up just thinking a2011-10-09/nap/1b9404bout what I owe him.


Before Sauron get sick, I had started looking for a second breed. I wanted to show in the Breed ring and back then there was no way an owner could get any wins without a professional handler and a lot of money. There was too much politics in that ring and many others. So one day I was sitting outside of a ring watching one of the breeds that I was interested in (Siberian Husky), when the back of my neck was licked and I looked around to see a beautiful smiling face. It was love at first sight. This was Sage, the first Tervuren that I had ever seen and who would one day be the father of my first one. I read up on the breed and I liked what I read. When I had to give the orders to let Sauron go, I know that I had to have a new friend right away. It was the only way I could survive. I was still not fully developed from the shy girl with a huge inferiority complex that I was back then.

I was lucky and unlucky enough that the breeder had a litter almost ready that she co-owned. That was when Cherokee came into my life. We do not know what happened to 2011-10-09/nap/b066b0this litter but they all had emotional problems. The breeder was horrified and took both parents out of her breeding program. I do not think the problem was in the breeding but in how the co-owner raised the puppies. When Cherokee was normal, she was a sweet and loving friend, but when the switch turned off she would attack. I still have scars from the battles we had. But we did do well in the shows; she got 11 of the 15 points needed for her Championship title and a four point major over a champion female shown by a professional handler. But she got to the point that she was not always happy about showing. If she liked the judge she showed well, but if not there was no way I could turn her "on."

The breeder more or less gave me another dog. I only had to pay $150. This was when Hilokee came into my life. My joy, my soul mate, my friend. For eleven years he loved me. When he developed a fault that meant he could not be shown, I told the breeder (she would buy back her dogs) that she could not buy him back for a million dollars.


I did not know what a wonderful friend I had until the car accident that tore my life apart. My injuries did not show, but the body pain and the horrible headaches nearly sent me to the edge. That was when Hilokee took over. My dogs had never slept with me, but on one of my blackest days, Hilokee jumped into the bed and pressed his body against mine and refused to get out of the bed. I soon found that the pain and headaches were bearable when he was beside me. He was able to tell beforehand when one of the headaches or one of the spells when half my 2011-10-09/nap/df68c2body would go numb was going to happen. Two weeks short of his 11th birthday, his kidneys failed and I lost my best friend.

The breeder that I got the first two from was not going to have a litter of puppies for six months or more and had a long waiting list, so she found another breeder with a puppy. Now, after 17 years living with Tervurens I know what to expect, but I soon found out that I did not know what I was getting into when Andre the Demon Child from Hell came to live with me. One day I told the brat that I was going to beat his butt. He trotted over and turned around so I could reach his butt, and looking over his shoulder he grinned at me. Crazy dog.


If you go here you can read more about my pets.


I am content with my life. I wish I could do more but the old body is still messed up. I am doing much better than the doctors say I should be, though. One back specialist told me I would be in a wheelchair in 10 years that was around 30 years ago. Thanks to the dogs that I have lived2011-10-09/nap/39b65b with in that time, I am still walking and the old back gives me very little trouble, to the puzzlement of the doctors.

I keep on trucking along and enjoying my life.


And so ends my chat with Sandy.  I have a lot of respect for this woman.  She's always upbeat, positive, in spite of her constant pain.  I love her talent behind the camera, too.  In fact, I have to admit to being a little jealous of her beautiful photos.  Stop by her Photography 101 forum over in the Playpen of Graphics cubit.  You can see her work, learn how to take better pictures, and show off some of your own photos, too!  And stop for a chat with Sandy in the threads below!


Thanks again, Sandy!  Love your photos!


(I can't wait to see who Zany brings us next week!)

Related articles:
Belgian Tervuren, interview, spotlight

About Nancy Polanski
I live in Western New York. I'm retired, after working for 30 years in the Microbiology Labs at our county hospital. My time now is spent mostly with the Karen refugee population in Buffalo, advocating for them, teaching, helping and enjoying them. I've twice traveled to their camps in Thailand and experienced their culture. It seems they have taught me more about life than I have taught them.

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Comments and discussion:
Subject Thread Starter Last Reply Replies
Lovely article on a lovely lady ... I think! Zanymuse Nov 3, 2011 2:18 PM 51
Very nice kaglic Oct 15, 2011 9:24 AM 9

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