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Happy Birthday to my blog! And Happy 42nd Birthday to me!

It feels like I just wrote my second blog birthday post a few days ago. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, sure is on to something when she says, “The days are long but the years are short.”

So what have I learned this past year? Most importantly, I learned how to reincarnate.

This year, I died a metaphorical death on my Mount Everest (i.e., publishing). Nobody is more surprised about this turn of events than me. It all started back in December when I did my most recent death meditation.

During that time, I realized I was letting fear keep me from going all in with my writing.

I then decided 2019 would be my year of discipline and I would put everything I had into getting published.

So far, I’ve written a lot of new material and I’ve now submitted my manuscripts to more agents than ever before. I’ve had some requests for more material and although I receive plenty of form rejections, I’ve also gotten some really nice personalized ones. All good signs on the path to publication.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: I lost my joy for writing somewhere along the way. Talk about a kick in the pants!

Of course, there are ripple effects when you lose something you value. My sense of wonder and awe in the little things all but disappeared. My curiosity decreased. So did my sense of adventure.

I didn’t even have the heart to write on this blog for the last few months, despite some truly wonderful happenings in my life.

Since January, I have now had eight articles published in a local newspaper. Bonus: I get paid to write these!

In May, I spent time in San Antonio and Austin, celebrating graduation milestones for my nephew and niece.

In June, an actual dream of mine came true when Norfstroms, Norfolk’s first and only salvage shed opened at the town transfer station. We had a salvage shed where I lived in North Carolina and I’ve missed having one here in town. I’ve been working with a local grassroots organization called Norfolk NET (Networking Everyone Together) and town hall to get one here. And it actually happened! You can read about it here and here.

Also in June, I was invited to speak at the Norfolk UCC Congregational Church during the pastor’s sabbatical.

 

As I texted Heath that morning:

 

You can listen to the sermon here. At the age of 42, I can say with certainty that experience was one of the greatest moments in my life.

And in a few weeks, I’ll be starting a part-time job at that same church as the director of community and creativity. This is a new position designed to increase the flow of God’s love in this world through good works and relationship building. What a gift and, again — I’m going to get paid to do it!

And speaking of getting paid for fun things, I have another opportunity in the works that I can’t speak about yet. But it involves working part-time at another one of my favorite places in the world!.

Then there are the little moments these past few months: so many dogs to love and each and every moment with Heath.

Cutie Pie Faith

Smudge

Chloe

Dodger and Annie

Labrador with guitar

Smudge “helping” Heath practice the guitar

All this joy, and, yet…I let the cloud of being so hyper-focused on my publishing goal touch everything that I forgot to enjoy myself along the way. As I learned in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman, this is how people actually die on Mount Everest. They get so focused on getting to the top, they lose sight of everything else. This includes how they’re going to get back down.

The funny part is, I realized I lost my joy for writing when I couldn’t write for a few weeks.

I’m currently spending the month of July in Birdsboro, PA, taking care of the ever entertaining and adorable Bonnie and Jasper.

While housesitting here, I don’t have a car. Which has been mostly fine. Until my Microsoft Surface crashed.

It’s been two weeks. At first, I tried writing using apps on my phone. This is okay for jotting ideas down and short pieces, but incredibly frustrating for anything longer that requires formatting. Case in point: this blog post has now taken me over three hours to write, format, and publish. It’s for this reason, I included so few dog photos above.

I also tried writing by hand. But as someone who wrote an entire novel with a pen on yellow legal pads and has yet to type that novel up two years later, I know the futility of this practice.

So I filled my time other ways. Every day, I dance for fun and exercise, especially since it’s too hot to walk outside for very long. I stamp and watercolor, making cards and art. I watch YouTube videos to learn how to draw dogs.

My work may not be a masterpiece in the traditional sense, but I DID THIS!!

It’s good to have the joy back in my life. I didn’t realize how hard life has been without it. And I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present!

#TongueOutTuesday

Dog standing on a rock

Last week, I attended a New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators writer’s retreat at Whispering Pines in West Greenwich, Rhode Island. In addition to making new friends, chatting with and learning from industry professionals, and eating New Orleans French Toast for the first time in my life (YUM!), I found out about something VERY IMPORTANT:

#TongueOutTuesday

How did I NOT know that every Tuesday social media encourages us to post pictures of animals with their tongues sticking out?

Special shout-out to my new friend, Kathy Halsey, a children’s book writer, school librarian, and dog mom to one Wiley Corgi, who first told me about #TongueOutTuesday.

Since I’ve been missing out for who knows how long, I am pleased to present you The Kelly Kandra Hughes #TongueOutTuesday Catch-Up Compilation. This is not an exhaustive list. If it were, we’d be here all night.

Enjoy!

Cody, Naperville, IL

Phyllos and Rafiki, Joliet, IL

Lilu and Rafiki, Joliet, IL

Lukas, Jackson Hole, WY

Stella, St. Albert, Alberta

Sam, Murfreesboro, TN

Horse at the PA Farm Show

Annie and Dodger, Norfolk, CT

Chance Long Nose, Norfolk, CT

Moon, Norfolk, CT

Tobey, Norfolk, CT

Smudge, Norfolk, CT

Faith, Norfolk, CT

Bruno, picture courtesy of my husband Heath, Kalispell, MT

Dodger

PS – Are there any other animal-related social media hashtags I should know about? Let me know in the comments or you can email me at genesispotentia(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com.

Living a Simple Life: Valentine’s Day Edition

I recently contributed to an article “18 Expert Tips on Living a Simple Life” on the UPJOURNEY website. You can read the article here.

Anyone who reads this blog won’t be surprised that my expert tips include an example of a dog licking my elbow. Fun fact: Smudge did actually lick my elbow as I was writing those tips. I think he was trying to help. Smudge likes to “help” with just about anything.

Labrador on yoga mat

Smudge “helping” with my yoga

Labrador with guitar

Smudge “helping” Heath practice the guitar

That moment brought me a lot of joy. I know not everyone will share the same positive feelings about getting licked by a dog, particularly on your elbow. For me it’s a moment of pure love.

And I am so grateful to know what brings me the most joy in this world.

This sort of information is useful for when things don’t go they way you want them to. For example, two weeks ago, I found out about a small writing contest for Valentine’s Day. The contest was for a children’s story (214-word limit) with the theme of guilt. The contest was posted on February 13th and entries were due by 11:59pm on February 14th. So, not a lot of time to write something.

I set my alarm for 5:00am on February 14th. I wanted to make sure I had enough time to work on my story before my busy Valentine’s Day, which included my regular Thursday morning volunteering at Botelle Elementary School and a Pink Tea that afternoon sponsored by the Congregational Church in town in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

As I fell asleep on the night of the 13th, an idea came to me: I’ll write a story about a kid who eats all his mom’s valentine’s day candy. It will be hilarious!

My alarm clock went off the following morning and I immediately started working on my story. A few hours later I had what I thought was a great story, A Valentine’s Gift for Daddy. I went to the contest website to upload my entry. Before I did, I thought I would take a peek at a few of the entries.

I noticed one had a similar title to mine. I clicked on the story, read it, and my heart sank. It was pretty much the same story I had written, even down to the kid hating coconut!

To demoralize me even more, I scrolled through all the entries so far posted and discovered quite a few featured a kid eating all their parents’ valentine’s candy.

Yikes! Looks like I’d written a cliché.

I wasn’t sure what to do at that point, since I had to be at Botelle soon. I decided to think about it later, and I spent the next few hours celebrating valentine’s day.  Activities included delivering valentines to all the students I work with at Botelle and enjoying all manner of baked goods at the Pink Tea.

Children's Valentine' Cards

Valentine Cards for Botelle Students

Valentine's Day desserts

Goodies at the Pink Tea, Photo courtesy of Heath Hughes

Feeling like my day wouldn’t be complete without wishing Cecily and Dodger a happy valentine’s day, I walked over to their house after the tea. I wasn’t planning on taking Dodger for a walk that day, but one look at his little face and I succumbed to his charms.

I’m so glad I did. The afternoon sunlight streamed into every nook and cranny of the Barbour Woods. It was now approaching five o’clock and although I felt a moment of panic that I still didn’t know what to do about the valentine’s writing contest, I couldn’t help but marvel at how beautiful the day had turned out.

Dog running through the woods

Dodger in Botelle Woods on Valentine’s Day

As Dodger and I walked out of the woods and headed back to his home, a little idea popped into my head.

There is a place outside of town

Where trees grow up and leaves fall down ….

I immediately pulled out my phone to write this idea down in my notes app, lest I forget it by the time I walked home.

About an hour later, I finally sat down at my computer and started writing. Three hours after that, I finished my story.

Of course, if I had won the contest this blog post would have an even better ending. But I didn’t. I did get a shout-out for “lovely writing,” though.

What I did manage to do was spend time in my favorite place, with one of my favorite dogs, and then do one of the things that I enjoy in the most – write. And that, right there, is me living my simple life.

Just for fun, I’m going to include the first story I wrote for the contest. The second story ended up being something I’d like to work on later for a possible submission elsewhere. So, unfortunately I can’t share it here.

Enjoy!

A Valentine’s Gift for Daddy


Mommy and I went shopping today. She said Valentine’s Day is in tomorrow and we have to get Daddy a present.

Have you ever seen anything so perfect? We hid the chocolates in the laundry room so Daddy wouldn’t find it.

When I got home from school the next day, I went to check on his gift.

Maybe I’ll just take a peek inside.

Maybe I’ll just try one.

Bleah!

Coconut. I hate coconut.

Before I knew what I was doing, I ate another one.

Oh my goodness!

Peanut butter – did anything more tasty ever exist?

I went to practice the trumpet.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Daddy’s Valentine’s Day present.

Okay, fine. Just one more.

I mean two more.

How did I eat three, five?

Don’t do it, I told myself. There’s only two pieces left.

Uh-oh. I ate all of Daddy’s Valentine’s Day present.

Maybe if I put the box back no one will notice.

But Mommy noticed. “Do you know what happened to Daddy’s chocolates?”

I couldn’t look at her when I said, “I ate them.”

To my surprise, Mommy started laughing.

“You’re just like me,” she said. She pulled out a second box of chocolates. “These were for you and I ate them all!”

I wanted to be mad, but how could I?

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go make Daddy a card.”

He loved it!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

A New Kind of Smudge Prayer

Right around New Year’s, I found out there’s something called a Smudge Prayer. Theses prayers are intended to clear out negative energy and refresh your environment.

I, of course, was expecting something different because of this guy:


I thought the prayer should be along the lines of, Dear God, please help Smudge be a good dog so he doesn’t keep stealing my ginger snap cookies off the counter.

If you think the answer to my Smudge Prayer is to move the cookies, you’d be right. Except the first time Smudge ate my cookies, he somehow managed to get them out of a bowl I had them in for safe keeping. The second time, he stole the Tupperware container off the counter and then chewed off the lid.

I am dealing with no ordinary dog.


My mom once came to Norfolk to watch the pups when Heath’s brother died. She loves to tell the story how Smudge worked for what seemed like an hour, twisting and contorting his body to get a single piece of dog food that had fallen behind their plastic food bin.

If you want a role model for perseverance, look no further than Smudge.

The idea of a Smudge prayer got me thinking — I probably should be praying to be more like Smudge in my daily life.

Smudge knows what he wants and always goes for it, whether it’s a container of cookies on the counter, the spot where you’re sitting on the couch, or deciding when it’s time for bed, in which case he will immediately leave you and go jump on your bed to settle down for his nighttime snoozle.


He also sees possibility wherever he goes, which includes stealing our socks and winter gear, such as hats and gloves, understanding the value of a stick as the best toy ever, or hearing the toaster pop and thinking maybe it’s for him.

One of my favorite Smudge stories takes place on the first day it actually felt like spring in March or April of 2017. The sun was shining, the pond had thawed, and a warm breeze finally graced us with its presence.

That day, Smudge headed out to the pond after breakfast to splash around and chase fish. In the three years we’ve been taking care of the pups, I’ve been there when he’s caught two. They’re little tiny creatures and he drops them at my feet as a gift. Each time, I toss them back, hoping they’re still alive.

Smudge, however, thinks we’re playing fetch and dives back into the pond.

It’s adorable because he can never quite find that fish again.

On that beautiful spring day in 2017, Smudge spent ALL DAY in the pond. Seriously. He didn’t even want to come in for dinner.

When I finally did coax him in, he wolfed down his food even faster than usual, and then busted out the front door on his own to get back into the pond. Heath and I laughed ourselves silly as the door banged shut.

He didn’t come in until after dark.


Smudge also loves his humans. When Heath and I came back to Norfolk the first week of January to resume our house-sitting job, we overlapped for a morning with Smudge’s human mom and dad. As we sat at the table chatting, Smudge went from person to person, getting all the love, head rubs, and ear scratches he could before moving on to the next person. Again, he did this for hours.

So, yes, I do want to be more like Smudge. To help me on my way, I’ve written my own Smudge prayer.

It begins, Dear God, please help me be more like Smudge. 

In a previous version of this blog post, I included the entire prayer. I have since I had to take it down from my blog because I’ve gotten such wonderful feedback on the prayer that I’m now attempting to revise it to submit for publication. I apologize for now having a blog post that builds up to something that doesn’t happen. I hope you understand.

 

Just Another Winter’s Day

Animal in the snow

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

On the morning of January 20th, 2016, I stepped outside and headed to my car since I soon had to be at work. I stopped, however, to observe some animal tracks in the snow.

I was so taken with how the tracks crossed each other, I snapped a picture and posted it on Instagram.

Crossed Paths

At the time I took that picture, I had no idea on that same night, January 20th, 2016, I would cross paths with a stranger from Nashville while at a restaurant bar in Downtown Naperville.

I also had no idea that this stranger and I would elope three weeks later in Nashville on February 12th, 2016.

I had no idea that three years later, we would be living in Norfolk, CT, housesitting in a quaint New England town, and caring for two dogs that amuse and delight me nearly every moment of every day.

I had no idea Heath would study Spanish in Guatemala.

I had no idea that people would want to pay me to walk their dogs.

I had no idea that Heath would become certified as an EMT.

I had no idea that we would travel 11,500+ miles on an epic road trip to see bears and National Parks.

I had no idea I would spend seven weeks in sub-Arctic Canada in the land of polar bears.

On that morning of January 20th, 2016, I didn’t know any of the above (and more!) would happen. I was simply taken by the idea of how those tracks crossed each other.

When someone asks me if I believe in miracles, of course I say yes. Look at all that has happened in our lives because of where Heath and I were at one moment in time.

Heath and I could have missed each other.

I’m so glad we didn’t.

Heath Hughes, you are outstanding in so many ways. I couldn’t help but fall in love with you.

I look forward to seeing where this next year (and beyond) takes us.

Setting an Intention for 2019

Setting an Intention for 2019

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

I recently read a quotation attributed to Aristotle that resonated with me:

Through discipline comes freedom.

The moment I read it, I knew this idea would be my intention for 2019.

After my death meditation last month, the biggest regret I’m taking with me into 2019 are the writing goals I have yet to achieve. Because some of these goals, like being traditionally published, require circumstances beyond my control, I recognize there is only so much I can do.

At the same time, I also recognize that I did not do my best in 2018 to achieve them.

That’s where discipline as a way to freedom comes in.

I want to be free of the nagging thoughts, the procrastination, the fear that what I’m doing is not enough. So I’m taking the time now to develop a disciplined plan for my writing that, at least on my end, means that by the time we’re celebrating 2020 I will feel more at peace with the work I’ve done.

Since this is a year-long process, I’m devoting January to the planning stage. I’m deciding on my specific goals, then working backwards from December 2019 to figure out what I have to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to reach these goals.

For example, one of my goals is to write and submit 12 guest blog posts in 2019, like this one that got published in 2017. I only submitted two last year (one didn’t get published and the other is to be determined). I enjoy writing about minimalism, joy, dogs, libraries, traveling, etc., and I’d like to share my thoughts with a wider audience. This is easier writing for me, then say a novel, so I feel a nice sense of accomplishment when I crank out a blog post in a relatively short amount of time.

How this goal translates into activity, is that I can easily break it down into writing one a month, which means I need to schedule guest blog writing on my calendar for six hours each month, in two three-hour increments.

I was going to keep it at one three-hour increment, but then I recognized that I often underestimate how long it will take me to do something, and I made a change accordingly.

This one act of self-awareness made me feel pretty dang good, as if I really am more serious this time around about achieving my goals, and it’s not something I’m doing on a whim.

YAY for small wins!

I’m also feeling pretty good about my role in this process thanks to a comment made by one of my extended family members over the holidays as we were eating homemade cookies – “I’m awful at self-regulation,” this family member said.

Yes, me too! Although I’d never described my problem as being awful at “self-regulation,” before.

I’ve shared this story before, but I think it’s the best one I have to describe my limits at self-regulation. I was sitting in my therapist’s office, lamenting that I couldn’t keep my room neat and organized. “My clothes never make it into the hamper,” I complained.

My therapist started laughing. She said she was picturing my clothes marching around on the floor. Then she said something along the lines of “Kelly, who is the subject of that sentence?”

“My clothes.” I said this matter of fact, as if it was obvious.

My therapist gave me a look.

“Oh my God, MY CLOTHES.” My whole life came crashing to a halt as I realized I was the one not putting my clothes in my hamper.

I approach 2019 with a renewed sense of what I can do to reach my goals and how the choices I make either take me closer to reaching them or keep me from getting where I want to be.

My life is, and always will be, God and Kelly willing. I have complete confidence in God’s role in my life. Now, it’s time to act like I have confidence in my own.

Through discipline comes freedom.

Here I go!

Here I go!

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

To All The Dogs I’ve Loved This Year

To All the Dogs I’ve Loved This Year is my year-end tribute to the 80+ dogs I loved in 2018. My heart is in this video, and I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Love,
Kelly

 

A Death Meditation for 2019

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I don’t mean Christmas. Although, let’s be honest. I do enjoy some good Christmas spirit, ginger snap cookies, and pictures of dogs with Santa Claus.

Dog Photo with Santa Claus

Dodger with Santa Claus

What I’m talking about is my annual reflection on what I would do in 2019 if I knew it was my last year on Earth as Kelly Kandra Hughes. Yes, I know. At face value a death meditation is a morbid topic, particularly during a season that is known for its joy and wonder.

But that’s exactly the purpose of a death meditation – to make you mindful of your limited time on Earth so that you make better decisions in how you choose spend your time.

You don’t have to take my word for it. As I’ve written about before, thinking about death is essential for living in joy, as written about by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy, as well as happiness and productivity expert Dr. Christine Carter, PhD, in The Sweet Spot, and lay people such as Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

During my most recent death meditation as I thought about what if 2019 is my last year alive, two thoughts bubbled to the front of my mind:

  • I am so blessed;
  • I still haven’t sold any books.

These thoughts make my 2019 relatively easy. For thought #1, I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing. This includes:

Loving Heath as much as possible

Selfie at Jasper National Park

At Athabsaca Falls, Jasper

Petting as many dogs as I can

Selfie with a golden retriever

Kelly and Phyllos

Wandering around in the woods, ideally with a dog

Dogs running through the woods

We never did learn who this yellow lab is!

Spending time with my family, especially my niece

Waving Goodbye from a Bus Window

Saying Goodbye at the Harrisburg Bus Station

Absent from my list is seeing bears in the wild and visiting as many national parks as I can. It’s not so much that I’m experiencing a been there and done that feeling, as these two goals came about from recent death meditations, and they majorly contributed to how I spent my time in 2018.

It’s more that in the past year I’ve learned that wonder is so much more wonderful when it’s not planned.

Instead, I will (ideally) remain open to the world around me, (try to) have zero expectations for what an experience should be like, and instead (hopefully) stay present in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.

Which brings me to thought #2: I still haven’t sold any books.

Being the optimist that I am, I am already generating BIG PLANS for all the writing I’m going to do in 2019. I’m not going to go into detail in this blog post because I’m still plotting (haha) and planning the stories that I want to write, finish, or revise next year. But I can assure you that 2019 is the year where I do my absolute best to sell one (or more) of my manuscripts to a publisher.

Let me be clear: I have made a lot of progress towards this goal. In 2018, I wrote three picture books (around 500 words each), one chapter book (16,000 words), one middle grade novel (48,000 words), one New Adult novel (57,000 words), and one adult novel that is hand-written on small yellow note pads and still needs to be typed so your guess is as good as mine for how many words it actually is. For the record, my guess is 50,000 words.

Also, for the record: I do not advise anyone to write a novel by hand. Having to type my story into Word is quickly becoming one of my least favorite writing activities of all time.

If you’re wondering why I don’t consider ALL THIS WRITING I’ve done in 2018 my absolute best is terms of getting published, it comes down to one reason.

Fear.

I write books and then I don’t submit them to agents with any sort of tenacity typically required of an unpublished author. I like to tell myself it’s because God is figuring out the details and I don’t have to worry about that part of the process. That’s just a cop-out excuse.

It’s not my job to manage the universe; but it is my job to give the universe something to work with.

This time I spend on Earth is God and Kelly willing and because of my fear, Divine Providence can only do so much. If I don’t share my work with people who are in a position to publish it, then I am making it so much harder for that right-place-right-time moment to occur that God has so graciously granted me in the past.

As I thought about my death, what I realized is that I have been afraid of failing as a writer.

What if I write an amazing story and it still doesn’t get published?

What if I write a dozen amazing stories and none of them get published?

So instead I’ll watch one more YouTube video of a dog trying to sneak a tater tot or check out Instagram for pictures of polar bears or mindlessly scroll through Facebook seeing what friends/family are posting instead of researching agents or submitting my work or writing.

If I don’t do my absolute best, then I always have a reason for why I haven’t achieved my goal of being a traditionally published writer. It keeps me in my comfort zone. Giving up the fantasy that the book I’m writing is going to be my debut book and a best-seller and become beloved by millions throughout the world (all publishing goals of mine) terrifies me.

But now what terrifies me more is taking my last breath in 2019 and wishing I had done more to become a traditionally published author.

Thanks to my death meditation, I’ve now realized it’s necessary to give up my clung-to fantasies in order to make them actually come true. The only way for me to get traditionally published is to put my work out there. Agents and publishers may so no. And, if they say no, then that particular fantasy for that particular book is dead (for the time being).

That’s a scary thought and it’s one that has kept me from doing my absolute best with my writing. I have spent countless hours this past year allowing myself to procrastinate and waste time and generally do things which are counter-productive to my publishing goals.

I think I’m *finally* done with that, and I have my death meditation to thank. I am living out all my other goals and dreams and I don’t want to waste any more time on the one that I’ve wanted the longest.

So, what does my absolute best include? Not letting the fear of failure get in my way (i.e. NO MORE PROCRASTINATING), improving my writing craft, writing as many new stories as possible, submitting my work to agents, and then keep on celebrating the blessings in my life – Heath, family, and dogs.

My husband with Smudge

Heath with Smudge

I look forward to the opportunity to share this journey with you in 2019. Thank you for your love and support.

How Do I Love Thee? I Don’t Know Anymore!

Photo ©Kelly Kandra Hughes

Two weeks have gone by since I returned from Churchill. Nearly every day since then, I’ve had someone ask me how my trip was.

This is one of the hardest questions I’ve ever had to answer.

It was much easier for me to answer Heath’s question of “So when do you want to do this [get married]?” after only knowing him for 4 days than it is for me to sum up the experiences of living in Churchill for 49 days.

With Heath, I knew the answer. We came into each other’s life at the exact moment we both needed each other the most. He made sense in my life and it was like we’d known each other forever.

That answer was easy.

Turns out the answer to what it is like to live among polar bears is not so easy.

During my time in Churchill, I experienced what co-existing with my favorite wild animals is really like.

It’s not like being at a zoo where I watch a bear be silly, put a bucket on their head, and belly flop into a swimming pool.


I learned about polar bear biology and habitat. I learned about polar bear conservation and management. I also learned about polar bear tourism and hunting (still legal in Canada, by the way).

Polar Bear Tourism ©Kelly Kandra Hughes

Polar Bear Tourism ©Kelly Kandra Hughes

The thing is, once you know this information, you can’t not know it.

Add this information to the emotions of a lifelong dream of seeing polar bears in the wild coming true, and you have a perfect storm for an existential crisis in the making.

That’s what I’m experiencing now, and that’s why I’m finding it so difficult to talk (and write) about my time in Churchill.

If I ever really loved polar bears, how selfish was it for me to intrude on their lives so I could see them?

Not to mention the enormous carbon footprint for me to get to Churchill in the first place.

So when people ask me how Churchill was, I’ve started saying, “Life changing.”

It’s still not clear to me what’s on the other side of my existential crisis. That’s a question I’m currently living. We’ll see how it plays out in the death meditation I plan on doing in the next few weeks in anticipation of how I want to spend my time in 2019.

In the meantime, I am doing what I do best: loving Heath, playing with dogs, walking in the woods, writing, and living with as much joy as possible.


It’s a blessed life. I am grateful to be here.

A Churchill Surprise!

Can you believe my time in Churchill is nearly up? I’ve been here for 41 days and I only have six more days to go.

I’ve now seen 11 polar bears. Some from a Tundra Buggy and some peaking inside the Churchill Northern Studies Centre’s (CNSC) windows.

Tundra Buggy

Spotted while on a Tundra Buggy

Peaking at me through the window

As you can imagine, it’s been quite emotional for me to see my favorite animal in the wild. I’m still processing these emotions and how these experiences are changing my life (and, yes, they are). I’m not yet ready to write about them here.

Instead, let me tell you about something that happened in Churchill that took me by surprise. It wasn’t even on my radar for things that could happen here. Yet it happened and I couldn’t be happier.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am now the proud owner of a sweater. Two, in fact.

Back when I was an over-worked, stressed out college professor, I owned a bunch of sweaters. I also only weighed between 97-107 pounds at that time because I was so unhealthy. I outgrew many of those sweaters once I quit my job and returned to a healthier weight.

But as a minimalist, I’ve been rather reluctant to buy any new clothing.

I’ve written before about how one of my greatest ambitions is to have all of my belongings fit into one backpack. Sweaters are bulky and take up a lot of room.

As such, I never replaced the ones I outgrew. I managed to make it through two Connecticut winters without any.

Although let’s be honest – I spent these last two winters in Connecticut feeling rather cold. I had already made up my mind to get at least one sweater for this coming winter when I returned to Norfolk, so when I was given the opportunity to buy a sweater here in Churchill, I did so with open arms (haha, get it?).

Besides, it’s cold here, too. As I’m writing this blog post, it’s currently 10 degrees Fahrenheit, feels like -7. This is not the coldest I’ve ever been, which happened over a two-week time span in 2009 when windchills in the Chicago suburbs made it feel like -60 degrees Fahrenheit. But I do feel rather chilled.

Here’s the best part about my new sweaters – I bought them at the thrift store underneath St. Paul’s Anglican Church in town. They were each $1 Canadian, which is about 76 cents US.

You know what I also bought for $1 Canadian?

This awesome Columbia Omni Heat Winter Jacket, practically in brand new condition.

Oh, and this XRoads vest. Yes, also $1 Canadian. I get so overheated when I’m bundled up walking dogs in the wintertime, I thought this vest would be better than a coat.

This thrift store has quickly become one of my favorite places in Churchill. It’s only open every other Friday evening from 7 to 9pm.

Wow! Do they have bargains.

As a minimalist, I did experience some angst that I was adding so many “new” clothes to my wardrobe. Altogether, here’s what I bought at the thrift store:

  • two sweaters
  • one winter coat
  • one winter vest
  • one fleece top
  • one bamboo zip-up sweatshirt from the British Columbia SPCA
  • Winnipeg Jets NHL long-sleeved t-shirt
  • Irish Viking Hat to wear on Halloween (which I’ll be donating back to the thrift shop)
  • Striped sweater (for my roommate Rachel who couldn’t come to the thrift shop last time)

My grand total for everything – a whopping $6 Canadian! And I didn’t even pay for all of it myself.

The first week we went to the thrift store, Sarah, one of the cooks at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, treated me to my first sweater. Canadians really are some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet!

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m also going to admit that before I even knew about the thrift store’s existence, I had already made two clothing purchases.

First, I bought a CNSC t-shirt that was on clearance. When I packed for this trip, I only brought two short-sleeved t-shirts. Working in the kitchen is kind of messy, especially for me, and after my first week I found two t-shirts woefully inadequate. Since this shirt is Kelly green (one of my favorite colors) and features a polar bear, I thought it would be a good addition to my wardrobe.

Second, I also bought a polar Buff, which features a cool design of the Northern Lights and the CSNC’s name and logo and is much less bulky than a scarf. A scarf was always necessary at the start of all my walks with Dodger last winter, but halfway through the woods I was always unraveling it and tying it around my arm when I became overheated. It then would fall off every so often, get tangled with Dodger’s leash, or drag along the forest floor.

My new Buff will now fit in my pocket, so yay for ease and compactability.

As if I’m now on some sort of clothing bender, I’m also going to cop to buying a t-shirt at one of the souvenir shops in Churchill.

I first saw this Made in the USA polar bear t-shirt way back on Friday, October 5th. I told myself if I was still thinking about the shirt towards the end of my trip, I would buy it since one of my favorite t-shirts, a Hogwarts Alumni one that my niece gave me as a wedding present back in May 2016, is pretty much on its last threads.

I bought the t-shirt last week since I’ve thought about it every single day since.

Oh, and did I mention that the Churchill Northern Studies Centre also gave each of the volunteers their choice of CNSC sweatshirt? And my other roommate Fiona gave me another Buff-like head wrap as she no longer wanted hers?

In the last seven weeks, I’ve increased my total wardrobe by an estimated 50%. It will be interesting to see what my actual clothing counts are when I return to Norfolk and take stock of all that I have.

Not all of my clothes survived our 11,500 mile road trip this summer, like my winter coat (reminder — it was still snowing when we left Montana in July). I also know I’ve worn through some other things, like the aforementioned Hogwarts Alumni t-shirt and one of my Carolina shirts that I’ve had at least six years (I gave that shirt to Dodger so he would remember me while I’m gone).

All my acquisitions on this trip has made me question just how committed to minimalism I am.

Then this morning I read a minimalism blog post from No Side Bar on lessons learned from the death of a parent and I found these words of wisdom especially useful:

Minimalism isn’t about having nothing, it’s about finding true value in what you do have and keeping only what meets your high standards.

And you know what? I’m tired of being cold during the winter. So, hello new high standard of warmth. It’s good to welcome you back into my life again.

I am a little worried about how I’m going to get all my “new” clothes back to Norfolk. I only brought with me my backpack and one of Heath’s duffel bags.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be coming back from Churchill with half of a new wardrobe. Yet, here I am.

We’ll see how many layers I can wear at once while on the plane. I’m thinking one pair of long underwear, one pair of yoga pants, snow pants, t-shirt, long underwear long-sleeved t-shirt, sweater, vest, winter coat, scarf, and hat. I suspect I’ll look a little something like this:

At least I’ll be toasty warm!

See you when I get back.