It’s been two months since my Dad and then Smudge died.
The days are getting shorter, which screws with my narcolepsy almost as badly as jet lag.
I’m also now working 8am-1pm at the library Monday-Friday, which I love, but keeping these hours is also challenging my sleep-wake cycle.
All to say, I don’t really have much to say right now. So instead, I will regale you with some mushrooms from my recent walks in the woods with Annie.
Being with Annie in the woods is a health tonic unlike any other. She truly is a divine being living a canine existence, and I’m so grateful every chance I get to be out in the woods with her.
I usually get to walk her twice a week and we always hit the Barbour Woods. I’ve never noticed the mushrooms until now. I think I’ve been missing out.
I also posted some of these pictures on Facebook. Here’s what one of my friends said:
I guess I am old. Or at least I’m getting there. If I live as long as my Dad, God and Kelly willing, then that gives me a solid more 30 years to take more pictures of rocks and trees (and dogs, of course). Sounds like a wonderful way to spend time.
Enjoy these beautiful fall days and please be gentle with yourselves during this time of seasonal transition. If you ever start feeling that something’s not right, it could very well be the change in daylight. Just know you’re not alone.
In some ways, losing Smudge is more difficult than losing my dad. With my dad, I had a few weeks to prepare. I saw him suffer – first in the hospital and then at home in hospice care. Even with the hourly morphine he lived in pain. Nobody should have to live or die like that. I’m grateful he’s now at peace.
With Smudge, I had no preparation. I received a message on my phone that Smudge had been taken to the vet that morning. The vet recommended he be put down as soon as possible because tumors had infiltrated several organs.
I remember sobbing words like, NO, and it’s too much. I remember the weight of the news literally knocking me to the floor. I pushed a button on my phone and talked to Smudge’s human brother. He held his phone out so I could see Smudge at the vet. It was through video messenger that I said goodbye to him. I told him he was so handsome. That he was the best good dog ever. That I loved him. Then I hung up because I was afraid my sobbing through the video was causing more stress to Smudge than he needed.
I will never be able to thank Smudge’s human brother enough for calling me. For giving me a chance to say goodbye.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t see Smudge before I left for Pennsylvania when my dad took a turn for the worse. I stopped to see my friends Cecily and Dodger on my way out of town. I didn’t know how long I’d be gone, and I thought if I didn’t see them, I would regret it.
Dodger of Cecily & Dodger
The world can be cruel that way.
It didn’t occur to me to stop and see Smudge and Faith. I knew Faith might not be here when I got back. The vet found a tumor on her liver in January. Every extra moment I’ve had with her has been a gift. I already said goodbye to her, just in case, when our housesitting gig with them ended in June. I whispered in her ear all the things I love about her. I told her how much I loved taking care of her.
But Smudge … the last time I saw him he danced around the yard, splashing in the pond, and wagging his tail at the speed of light. I thought Smudge might actually live forever. Or at least to 16 or 18 years old.
The last time I said goodbye to Smudge it was more of a see you later. I fully expected to have more time with him. I would sit on the rock in the pond and we would be together. I would nuzzle his head and rub his ears. Then, I would kiss his forehead and say see you later. We would then repeat this togetherness for months or years to come.
I could not have been more wrong.
This pain and regret will be with me for months, if not years, to come. Much like the time I thought I had with Smudge.
The thing is, it’s totally worth it. Because I got to love Smudge for almost four years. I wouldn’t trade that time and those experiences for anything.
Yesterday I turned 43 and this blog turned 4. The amount of joy I feel on any given birthday can be hit or miss.
I’ve celebrated some birthdays in the most wonderful ways, surrounded by friends or family.
Four years ago, on the day this blog was born (and my first birthday married), Heath surprised me with the one thing I asked for: a birthday party with the animals wearing party hats. We were housesitting in Johnsonville, NY, for the summer and the animals included dogs, cats, and goats.
Only the dogs wore actual hats to the party. The cats and goats smiled for Heath’s camera and then Heath photoshopped the appropriate party wear onto those pictures.
Other years, particularly my first few in Illinois, I spent my birthday alone. On those birthdays, I sat alone on my couch. An occasional text or phone call would come in. Sometimes, I responded and sometimes I didn’t. Because in those times of loneliness it can be hard to accept long-distance birthday wishes when all you want is someone right there next to you.
This birthday, I am not alone. I am with my mom and brother. They made my favorite cake – butterscotch!
Heath showered me with treats on Thursday night before I drove to Pennsylvania on Friday, including surprising me with vegan bacon cheesy fries from Arles & Boggs, my favorite restaurant, located in Wallingford, CT. Wallingford is 65-miles one way from Norfolk, so this was quite the commitment from Heath. He then made a trip to Dee’s One Smart Cookie, an allergen-free bakery in Glastonbury, to get me gluten-free chocolate chip sandwich cookies. They’re a favorite sweet indulgence of mine and I enjoyed every bite of them.
I also received multiple birthday cards in the mail. Dozens of social media birthday greetings and text messages blew up my phone. I spoke with friends and family on the phone, some for over an hour. It was a perfect birthday.
And, yet … this birthday of mine has been underscored with sadness. On July 19th, my father died of complications from Guillain-Barre syndrome. Then, on July 23rd, Smudge had to be unexpectedly put down. It is a lot of loss and grief to experience, especially during a time of pandemic when there is already so much stress and uncertainty bubbling around us.
This birthday is an excellent example of the duality of life in which my therapist has been working with me over the past few weeks. Yes, it was a perfect birthday. Yes, I feel sad. Both can be true.
I don’t really have much more to say right now.
Thank you to everyone who made this is a perfect birthday.
For the first time in a long time, I find myself living without any dogs. Long story short: our Norfolk housesit is on hiatus due to the pandemic. Smudge and Faith now have their human brother living at their house, and Heath and I moved into a small apartment in Norfolk.
The first few days upon moving here, the sadness of being without Smudge and Faith stayed with me like a shadow. I scrolled through my phone, looking at photos of them.
I watched videos of them being silly. Even mundane videos like watching them walk down the stairs, I would watch on repeat.
Confession: It’s been about a month and I’m still mooning over their photos and videos. This may or may not be the most effective coping mechanism. Of course, I still visit Smudge and Faith, and I’m still walking Annie and Dodger.
And, yes, having Heath be so supportive and loving helps quite a bit.
But with all these changes in my life, plus living through a pandemic, and witnessing the heartbreak and injustice of racism in real time, and grieving the loss of my father’s health as he remains in the ICU without a good prognosis, I find myself struggling to let go of my attachment to Smudge and Faith.
So, when I feel like I should be doing more to help deal with my sadness over not living with Smudge and Faith anymore, I turn to the wealth of dog videos that is the internet in an attempt to branch out.
Sometimes, I think the invention of the internet has done more damage to the world than its intended benefits. But if it wasn’t for the internet, I never would have “met” Stevie the Wonderdog.
This photo is from Stevie’s Instagram account.
Stevie has cerebellar hypoplasia. This means Stevie’s cerebellum is much smaller than normal or not completely developed. It’s the reason why Stevie’s balance, posture, and coordination is much different from other dogs.
Here’s the first video I ever saw of Stevie:
You can see why I love him!
When I watch videos of Stevie, my heart does a tippy dap dance of joy the same way Stevie tippy taps his paws in puddles. It’s like I can press pause on my life for just a moment. He’s the breath of fresh air I need to know I’ll be okay with all these changes in my life.
That’s why I want to share Stevie with you today. Just in case you could use some tippy tap love and joy in your heart, too.
I wrote a celebratory Father’s Day post in 2018. You can read it here.
This year is quite different. It’s hard to celebrate when there’s so much trauma and uncertainty in the world. It’s especially difficult for me because my dad is currently in the hospital for what appears to be normal pressure hydrocephalus. We don’t know for sure and we’re in the wait and see phase.
All the spiritual and psychological work I’ve done in the past five years suggests the following:
Allow myself to feel any and all feelings that come up
Practice gratitude, if you can, during these difficult times
Since I don’t really know what feelings I’m feeling and it’s a rickety roller coaster of an experience – and to be clear I’m talking about the 5 tickets to ride take your life in your own hands carnival type roller coaster and not the aerodynamic engineering feats at theme parks – I’m going to let that first bullet point just be.
Although, I am grateful that I recently started seeing a therapist again to help me process some of the other emotions I’ve been experiencing this last year.
Ironically, I didn’t even force myself to write that previous sentence. It just popped up in my stream of consciousness, so I guess that’s why spiritual masters often preach of the benefits of practicing gratitude.
Even when you don’t want to or don’t think you’re ready to feel grateful, it comes out anyway.
Since my heart still isn’t really into this blog post, I’m going to leave you with the best thing (so far) to happen to me today. It happened during my morning mindfulness walk. I heard some scritch scratch sounds behind me, turned around, and spotted this little critter waddling down the middle of the road.
You can watch the full 42-second video of our encounter here.
Despite having made a promise to myself that I would not whip out my phone to take pictures during my mindfulness walks in the morning, I have now epically failed two mornings in a row.
Yesterday, this little chipmunk pretty much begged me to take their picture with this stunning display of adorableness.
And, today, well … who can resist a porcupine?
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there and all the women and men who serve as a father capacity in someone’s life. Thank you for all you do, all you are, and all you strive to be.
If you are a person of prayer, please say a prayer for my parents. For my dad for healing and for my mom for strength as his caregiver. Thank you.
Norfolk, CT, is not a diverse town in terms of skin color. But that does not mean we cannot support our Black sisters and brothers during this time of crisis.
Last week, we came together for an impromptu peace rally on the Village Green. We wore masks, maintained social distances, and stood in solidarity with those who are protesting far and wide across the country.
There is nothing like impromptu singing to give you those good, spine-tingling chills that provide a jolt of optimism to the soul. You can listen to snippet of us singing America, the Beautiful here.
Today, we came together again to rally for peace and justice for Black Lives.
We stood in solidarity with our Black sisters and brothers. We said the names George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We professed no justice, no peace. We then marched to Town Hall and knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time that a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
If you haven’t already participated in a Black Lives Matter event, I would encourage you to set a timer for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and then kneel wherever you are.
Now imagine killing someone as you do it.
Eight minutes and 46 seconds of actual killing.
It’s a long time to torture someone to death.
To hear someone plead that they can’t breathe.
Eight minutes and 46 seconds of kneeling in silence with others broke my heart for every Black person who has to suffer this kind of collective inhumanity.
We then ended with the Reverend Erick Olsen of Norfolk Church of Christ asking us to make four commitments to supporting Black Lives Matter:
I am committed to supporting Black Lives Matter until we see systemic change. I’m not sure what that looks like in the long-term, but in the short-term I am supporting Black authors by buying their books and some of my friends and I are forming a book club to read the works of Black authors. We’re starting with Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes.
Our Norfolk event today was sobering and sad, and we remained peaceful. Being a small town of 1600+ people, it’s easy for us to maintain peace during these events. However, that’s not the case for many of the peace rallies throughout the country this past week and beyond.
For people who may be struggling with the violence that sometimes erupts during the protests, I urge you to remember three important points. The first comes from my k-12 education, the second comes from my doctoral studies in psychology, and the third comes from my life-long spiritual education.
One of the seminal events in the formation of the United States involved looting and protesting when frustrated American colonists dumped 342 chests of tea in the Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773. In today’s dollars, that’s the equivalent of $1.7 million of damage. If you enjoy the freedom that comes with our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, then you accept that there are ideals worth fighting for, and sometimes that fight becomes destructive.
We are not as in control of our thoughts as we think we are. Behavior is led by the brain. And the brain is easily influenced by the release of neurotransmitters. When we are in situations of heightened insecurity, fear, anxiety, etc., the brain releases chemicals that push us into flight or fight mode. Sometimes, we fight. Add a group mentality into the mix and you have a perfect storm for rioting.
Jesus, himself, was a rioter. In all four of the Gospels, he felt so much rage at merchants and money changers in the temple that he cast them all out, dumped out their money, and upturned their tables. Also, remember that when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus to put him to death, Simon Peter drew out his sword and cut off one of the guard’s ears. When we are angry or afraid, we do not act as we normally would.
I make these points to say that while I do not ever wish for violence to descend on our country (or anywhere for that matter), I understand why it does. If I couldn’t breathe, I would be clawing and fighting with whoever was holding me down.
I stand with Black Lives Matter. I hope you do too.
There’s been a lot of talk in our country as of late about personal freedom. This conversation is especially relevant as tomorrow marks the 152nd Memorial Day celebration in the United States. So I have a recommendation for how to celebrate memorial day 2020 given our current situation — Wear a mask!
Memorial Day began as a way to honor the 620,000 soldiers killed during the Civil War. When the United States entered World War I, Memorial Day expanded to include those killed in all wars. It was officially recognized as a national holiday in 1971, while the United States fought during the Vietnam War.
To the men, women, and animals who have died serving the United States– thank you. The freedom I enjoy every day comes from your sacrifices.
Since I will never serve in the military, I will never know this level of sacrifice. That does not mean I will not protect my country to the best of my ability.
It is for this reason, that I continue to wear a mask as the death toll from COVID-19 approaches the 100,000 mark.
It’s such a simple thing to do. At no time wearing a mask do I feel like my personal liberties or freedom are being impinged upon. On the contrary, I think about the people I am protecting and how their lives can remain free from the burden, suffering, and even death from a preventable disease.
It is not much, but it is something I can do. And I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve in this way.
I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough to offer my life for this country. But ask me to wear a mask to protect it?
Yeah, I can do that.
Wearing a mask even sounds kind of trivial when I think about the sacrifices of our soldiers. These women and men who put their lives on the line for me and for my freedom and all I’m being asked to do is strap some material across my face when I go out in public?
Of course I can do that!
So when we discuss how to honor those who died and how to celebrate memorial day 2020, sign me up for wearing a mask.
I’ll gladly wear a mask for the people I love. I’ll wear a mask for my friends and neighbors. I’ll wear a mask for the people living in nursing homes. I’ll wear a mask for our healthcare workers. And I’ll wear a mask to protect those veterans who survived war. Because they deserve the very best I can offer.
A good friend of mine shared with me this YouTube video her son created for the #NewYorkTough Wear A Mask PSA Contest. It makes my point far more beautifully than I ever could. You can watch the video here.
Image from Mike Schneberg #NewYorkTough PSA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3UURdY6FQY
Here are two of the people I wear a mask for:
This is Cecily. She’s Dodger’s mom. Obviously, I love her on that fact alone. But Cecily is a hilarious, witty, talented, kind, and generous woman who has opened her heart and home to Heath and me when we needed a place to stay.
Of course, I will wear a mask to keep Cecily safe. It’s the least I can do!
This is Barbara.
Barbara and I met during my first month in Norfolk during the creative writing group at the Congregational Church. When Barbara’s husband of 60+ years died in October 2017, I imagined what it would be like if something happened to Heath and how lonely that would feel. Coming over for tea and company is what I would want someone to do for me, so I started going over to Barbara’s house for (mostly) weekly tea dates. We have such a nice time together, and Barbara has two excellent recliner chairs where we drink our tea, listen to classical music, and sometimes nap because the music is so relaxing.
I wear my mask for Barbara, too. She deserves not to have her health put at risk for circumstances she can’t control.
So on this Memorial Day, let us continue honoring those who died. We choose how to celebrate Memorial Day and the lives lost by being good citizens.
Let our soldiers’ sacrifices not be in vain.
Let us make sure that in our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, we start with life.
I’m at a loss today for what to say to all the people celebrating Mother’s Day. As a writer, I feel compelled to make my sentiments witty and heartfelt, with a dash hilarity. Yet, I don’t have it in me today. I suspect part of it is quarantine fatigue. I miss seeing my friends and friends who are family.
I suspect it also may be because I’m just tired today. I’ve had a few especially long and emotional days in a row. On Wednesday at 4:50pm, I took Dodger to the vet and we found out he had an abscess that needed to be removed ASAP. I picked him up on Thursday morning at 8:00am and brought him back to the vet.
On our way to the vet Thursday morning. You can tell he felt poopy.
Around 3:00pm I got a call that everything had gone well, but he was still quite loopy from the anesthetia. When I picked him up at 6:00pm, Dodger stumbled out with the vet tech. I opened the car door for him and before the tech could help him up, he tried to jump into the backseat of Cecily’s car. This feat would be no problem for regular Dodger. Dopey Dodger, however, belly flopped as the tech and I gasped in horror.
As Dodger recovers (he’s doing well, btw), he can’t be a free-range dog in Cecily’s yard and always needs to be on a leash. For the past three days, I’ve been getting to Cecily’s around 8:00am to take Dodger out and give him his medicine. It’s a break in routine and I even missed meditating this morning, only the fifth time in 2020 that I’ve missed my morning meditation practice.
Like a lot of other people, I haven’t been sleeping well anyway from the stress and uncertainty about what’s going to happen with the pandemic.
We’ve also had some really weird weather as of late, what with freezing cold temperatures and snow. It’s not often you see forsythias blooming and snow on the ground. Third Winter is definitely messing with my mind just a bit.
Add in the typical sleep problems of a person with narcolepsy, and you’ve got yourself a tired person.
So words fail me on how to properly say thank you to all the Moms out there, and all the women and men who serve in some mom capacity.
The best I can do is represent my feelings in these cards I made this morning.
I realized last week I haven’t done any just-for-fun creative endeavors since the pandemic started. Since I was too tired to write this morning, I got out my art supplies and set to work making some cards.*
If you can believe it, I painted those cards myself using a gel plate painting technique under the instruction of Norfolk artist Tom Hlas. Tom gave a gel plate painting workshop a few months ago (feels like years ago), and I ended up loving it! I also ended up with multiple gel plate paintings left over to use as I so desire for future projects.
The hearts on these cards aren’t perfect. They’re lopsided and uneven. They’re splattered, messy swirls of color that shine in some areas and fade in others. Yet, they are beautiful in their imperfections (at least I think so) and the whole of each card is greater than the sum of its parts.
Which I think pretty much sums up the way we love each other in any relationship that we have, including the relationships we have with our moms and mom-like figures.
Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!
*Shout out to Norfolk artist Leslie Watkins! Without her support, not only would I NOT have art supplies, I wouldn’t even know how to begin being creative with visual arts. You can watch her teach me how to make a card here.
Last week, I experienced a one-two punch of spiritual therapy when we had an unexpected snowstorm. There I was sitting on the couch with Smudge, Faith snoozing on the floor next to me, and as I glanced out the window, the rain had turned into what looked like a snow squall.
It snowed that way for maybe an hour. Then the sun came out. The combination of snow and sun is one of my favorites for being wowed by nature, so I put on my boots and the dogs and I headed outdoors.
While we were outside, the snow started melting from the tree branches at such a rapid rate, it felt and sounded like rain.
If you’d like, you can listen to the wonder of it for yourself here.
I’ve never experienced anything like it, to feel the raindrops fall on my face, under the shining sun, while snow crunched under my feet. Then there were Smudge and Faith snooping around the yard just being dogs.
I hold on to these little moments of joy as we continue facing the uncertainty of what’s happening in the world. It’s not much, but it reminds me that unexpected events can be beautiful and wonderful and full of magic. Thank you, God, for giving me this moment, and thank you Smudge and Faith for bearing witness to it with me.
Being able to celebrate the simple joys in life is a gift. Since our lives have all been upended by the pandemic, I hope you’ve been able to find a few new simple pleasures that give you this joy.
For me, I’ve discovered that I could watch salamanders playing in the water for hours on end. How cute are these little guys?
They even inspired this poem.
On this warm and sunny day
The salamanders swim and play
To my delight,
They never stop!
I’m also finding joy in removing this rock from the driveway.
Every time I walk Smudge and Faith around the yard, I stop to dig up some dirt. I use my foot, so it’s maybe not the most effective method. Still, I make progress every day, and one of these days the rock will be free.
How I’m approaching this rock could also be a metaphor for how I’m approaching the pandemic. Maybe I’m not as productive as I would like during my time of isolation, but little by little I work on projects that are important to me, and with enough small steps on a consistent basis, I’m hoping that by the end I’ll look back on this time as one of great creation.
I’m also loving my pandemic diet, which consists of eating the same meal for breakfast and lunch every day. Here’s what I eat: 4 strips of chicken bacon, an Ezekiel bread English muffin with coconut oil, and a smoothie. My breakfast smoothie uses almond milk, protein powder, one chopped up carrot, four strawberries, and a few shakes from the cinnamon, the ginger, and the turmeric spice jars. My lunch smoothie is ½ coup of tap water, ½ cup of maple water or coconut water, two handfuls of frozen greens, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and a sprig of frozen mint.
I savor these foods every meal. They are delicious and healthy, and because I enjoy the taste so much, I don’t mind that it’s the same foods twice a day every day. In fact, I look forward to it!
Also with this meal plan, I don’t have to waste any brain power deciding what to make. Cooking is not a strength of mine and the relief of being free of that stress is priceless. I also don’t procrastinate on doing my dishes because: 1) I need a clean blender for both breakfast and lunch; 2) there’s not that many dishes to do; and 3) I know how long washing the dishes will take since I’m washing the same ones over and over.
At first, I felt like eating this way was somehow “wrong.” That I should have more variety. It wasn’t until Heath said to me, “Kelly, if that’s what you want to eat, then just eat it,” that I let go of all the worrying and shoulding on myself.
Isn’t it funny how giving someone permission, even if they don’t need permission, can have such a positive effect on the way they approach something. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I suspect I’m going to keep eating this way even when the pandemic is over.
Finding these new joys is a good reminder that there are things to be grateful for even during times of uncertainty. And even when there are days when life seems so hard and I worry about what is happening to this world we live in, there is always Smudge, ready to pose for a picture for the simple price of one toss of a tennis ball. How could I not be grateful for this guy?