Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad, lately, and parents in general, as I see more and more news stories about immigrant children being taken from their parents while coming into the United States. These stories make me wonder how I was lucky enough to be born into my family.

My father is a retired physician; his specialty was internal medicine. When my father went to medical school, his textbooks cost more than his tuition each semester. His father, I believe, was an engineer, who traveled the world as part of his job, and his mother was a nurse.

When he was in high school, my Dad read the book Arrowhead by Sinclair Lewis. The story is about a man, Martin Arrowhead, who is from the Midwest and who becomes a doctor. This story was one of the motivating reasons my Dad wanted to go to medical school.

For many years, my Dad worked 14+ hours days, multiple days in a row. When he was on call at the hospital, our phone would ring all hours of the night. I’ve overhead phone conversations where he’s had to tell family members that a loved one has died.

Because of my Dad’s hard work, I had the privilege of attending private nursery school, private grade school, and private high school. Reading was the #1 activity of my childhood and almost any book I ever wanted at Waldenbooks was mine to be read. Stacks and stacks of books filled my bedroom and kept me company during childhood.

I spent summers going to horseback riding camp and Disney World. We traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for vacations.

Every opportunity was afforded me as a child. I wanted for nothing. I’ve never had to know what it’s like to be hungry or wear second-hand clothing or have to worry about how a bill was going to be paid or what would happen if someone in my family became sick.

When I turned 18, I then attended college without having to take on any student debt. My summers were filled with working at a bank in downtown Harrisburg auditing mortgage loans for $6.25 an hour – this was $2.00 above minimum wage at the time.

I also got to experience international travel for the first time, as I spent not just one summer studying abroad at Oxford, but two. The programs lasted three weeks each and part of me didn’t want to come home because there was so much to see and do.

In 1999, I graduated from college with a 3.93 GPA (magna cum laude), named an outstanding senior psychology major, and earned honors in the psychology program. I had already been awarded a small research grant for my psychology honors thesis and this research had been presented at the American Psychological Association’s national conference in Boston that year.

After graduating from college, I landed a full-ride at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to pursue a doctorate in psychology. Again, I graduated with zero student debt, a university award, and the opportunity to present my research at conferences and through publication.

I immediately landed a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of psychology at a suburban Chicago University.

I continued achieving milestone after milestone in my career – professional development grants, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and presentations at national conferences. These achievements lead to promotions and raises. The university had a 7% matching program for my retirement account. I took full advantage of it. That money got added into my already growing retirement accounts that my father started for me after my first job working at Hersheypark when I was 15.

Let’s not forget my paid sabbatical for the fall 2014-spring 2015 academic year. I know full well how lucky I am to have been given nine months of time to consider my career and the changes I wanted to make. It was during my sabbatical that I realized I wanted more in my life, to pursue the other dreams I’d had, the ones that started in childhood that never got fulfilled.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing now.

Everything about my life has been an absolute privilege because of who my Dad was and how hard he worked.

Because of his hard work and sacrifices, I am now able to lead a life that is centered on creativity, imagination, kindness, compassion, and generosity. I do not have to worry about basic security needs and I never will.

So when I read stories about parents wanting a better life for their child and coming into the United States, I understand. I will not judge them for doing something “illegal” because some laws are arbitrarily created and not rooted in equality and justice but are more based on fear and lack and limitation. If you want an excellent example of this, look no further than Jesus Christ, whose own family had to seek refuge in Egypt when he was born because living in Judea was not safe at the time.

My Dad raised me to believe the messages of Jesus Christ and Jesus was quite clear in what he considered his greatest commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.

Every child deserves the same privileges and gifts I received from my Dad’s love. My Dad gave up years of his life working so I could be taken care of. And I was.

That doesn’t make me special, though, just because of who my Dad is and how hard he worked and how much he loved me. Some Dads work just hard and love their children just as much but will never be able to achieve the same kind of security that I grew up with.

Imagine what kind of world we would have if everyone could share their gifts instead of having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. That’s the life my Dad created for me and it’s one I now want to create for others in the world.

So I’m now doing that the best way I know how, the one that brings me the most joy – taking care of animals, loving my husband, and writing stories. On face value, these choices may not seem like the most proactive in terms of working for peace and social justice. Yet, I think of Gandhi’s words of “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I’ve written about Gandhi’s words before, but today, on Father’s Day, and on a day when some fathers and mothers are being separated from their children, these words seem much more alive to me than ever before.

Thank you, Dad, so much for everything you’ve done for me. I am trying to make the world a better place because of you and be that change I want to see. I love you!

What No One Tells You About Going on Adventures

We’re three weeks into our summer road trip. The experience so far has been a mix of emotions, mostly because I’ve grown attached to Norfolk.

I suppose it’s ridiculous to think I wouldn’t become attached since Norfolk is the type of place where you can be driving to a friend’s house and sheep cross the driveway.

Norfolk is also the type of place where you might find a peacock on a roof.

Of course, I miss being there!

I miss walking to the library, chatting with the librarians, and perusing their wonderful collection of books. They’re so supportive of my writing and my ideas. On Saturdays during April and May, they let me hold my Love Letters Writing Group at the library, whereby anyone who was interested could show up and write a thank you letter, or a thinking of you letter, or a support letter to people in the military.

The program was sparsely attended, but it didn’t matter because I used that time to write my own letters to people. As an added bonus, I became friends with an incredibly talented watercolor artist in town, Leslie Watkins, who read about my Love Letters Writing Group in the Norfolk Now town newspaper and loved the idea. Not only did she donate high quality cards to use, she also attended most every week, and gave me art lessons along the way. It was because of her great teaching skills, that I was able to make these cards:

I also miss walking to the Congregational Church every Wednesday morning to attend a Creative Writers’ Group, sharing my stories, and listening to the stories, poetry, and wisdom that my fellow writers share. The oldest person in the group is a 91-year-old spitfire of a woman who inspires me in so many ways and the youngest is a mid-30s man who has a good heart and believes in the saving power of grace. Every week when I leave the group, I have the biggest smile on my face.

One of the places that I don’t usually walk to, but I still miss nevertheless, is Botelle Elementary. I started volunteering there this past winter as a literacy and math volunteer in the kindergarten/first grade and second grade classroom.s Honestly, one of my favorite parts is hanging out with the kindergarten/first grade students during their snack time. We act quite silly and laugh a lot.

One day I happened to be sitting next to a little girl whose grandparents I know. The topic of conversation turned to fortune telling and making predictions. I announced to the table that I could read palms and I turned to the girl, picked up her palm, looked at it, and said: Your family loves you very much and you love them. Oh, and you love dogs, too.

The girl’s mouth dropped open. Before I knew it, every single student in the classroom wanted me to read their palms. This memory is one I will keep in my heart forever, and I suspect some of the students will, too, because when they threw me a surprise going away party (yes, I did tear up), several of the students made me cards that featured palms.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a minimalist and it’s my goal to get all my belongings down to one backpack. But for this summer, I’m not yet ready to give up these cards and they will be making the trek with me across the country.

Since I’m already getting a little teary-eyed writing this post, I might as well go down the rabbit hole.

I miss the dogs of Norfolk SO MUCH! With humans, you can say, “I’ll see you soon,” and they understand that you’re coming back. I like to think Smudge, Faith, and Dodger could understand me the same way, but I can’t be sure.

Sometimes at night I’ll sing Somewhere Out There to Smudge. He really is the silliest, most mischievous dog I’ve ever known.

Then there’s Faith, who when I saw her standing among her three brothers in a picture posted on TrustedHousesitters.com, I told my husband she’s the cutest dog I’ve ever seen and we had to apply for that housesitting job. She really is an extra cute pupper!

I can’t forget Dodger dog. I walk him Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the Barbour Woods, and every single time I feel profound spiritual experiences of gratitude, love, peace, and joy.

For anyone who is feeling anxious, sad, stressed, or any other emotion that hurts their bodies, minds, or spirits, I encourage you to find a dog and let them romp around the woods in wild abandon. You will feel like a new person by the end of the walk.

For all these reasons, and more, I miss Norfolk. Yet, with leaving Norfolk behind, there are new adventures to go on, new relationships to make, and new dogs to meet.

We spent last week with the adorable Gretchen and Sebastian in Manhattan, IL:

As my husband likes to say, Manhattan, IL, is the opposite of Manhattan, NY. It’s incredibly flat, sparsely populated, and rural. The house that we sat is a typical suburban house. I love it, though, because the owners love living there and take such pride and ownership in their little piece of Manhattan heaven. The house is a typical, suburban IL house, but the little things like the raised herb garden outside, the ocean-scene tiled mosaic in the bathroom, and, the brightly-colored wood-carved picture than hangs on the front porch, make it spectacular.

And, let’s be serious here. Wiener dogs are as cute as you can get. Gretchen and Sebastian are also especially cute because they get tucked into a doggy bed at night and then greet the day first thing in the morning with exuberance.

While in Manhattan, we also got to visit a couple and their fur family who we housesat for last summer. When I first got the idea of pet/housesitting as a way to make a living after I quit teaching, it was motivated by my love of dogs, the lure of travel, and the desire to have a relaxed schedule so I could devote a lot more time to writing. Little did I know getting to know and becoming friends with the people we housesit for would be one of the best parts.

We spent a delightful evening at their house, catching up, and enjoying our time with their animals:

Triferos

Phyllos

Rafiki

Lilu

And the chickens

It’s experiences like these that give me the strength and motivation to leave Norfolk. When my husband and I embarked on our housesitting journey together, our plan all along was to keep moving. So I’m grateful that’s what we’re doing. I’m also equally grateful that we already know we’ll be back in Norfolk come September for another long-term housesit. We love it there and I miss ya’ll so much. See you soon!

An Open Letter to my Former Students

Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash

Today is the third morning in a row I’ve woken up exhausted from narcolepsy. This occurrence is nothing new.

What’s different this time is that it’s the third morning in a row I’ve woken up from a dream about teaching. It’s always the same dream, though the details are different: I’m unprepared for class and make a fool of myself in front of the students.

In the dream, I feel myself losing control of the situation, the classroom, the students. My humiliation becomes deeper and deeper. I don’t know what to do. Then I wake up.

Thank God.

These types of dreams are not unique to narcolepsy. Though because of narcolepsy, my dreams will last significantly longer and be in much more vivid detail and color than a typical person’s.

I also just happen to be house-sitting in the Chicago suburbs right now, an area where I lived for 9 years as a psychology professor, except for the year I took a sabbatical. Coincidence? I’d bet not.

After my sabbatical, I handed in my resignation for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list was because I didn’t want to teach anymore. I often did not feel comfortable as a college professor and that’s something I’m still feeling the effects of today.

Part of my discomfort was because I lacked confidence. My entire time in graduate school I had undiagnosed narcolepsy. While I could handle the exhaustion and sleepiness in undergrad, I fell further and further behind in graduate school.

Yet, somehow, through the Grace of God, and perseverance on my part, I graduated with a doctoral degree. And yes, I also have dreams where I am back in graduate school and I still have to defend my dissertation.

I wake up from those dreams, too. Thank God.

A good friend of mine, who is a social worker, recently suggested to me that part of the problem was that it’s hard to take seriously the concerns of someone in a top-tier doctoral program who believes they are failing in life. By the sheer fact I had excelled enough in college to be on a full-ride in grad school, including tuition remission, stipend, and health insurance, I couldn’t be too much of a failure.

Another part of my discomfort with teaching is that being a psychology professor was never my life’s dream. It became the next best option after I listened to someone who said to me, “you can’t be a high school English teacher. Those kids will walk all over you.”

High school English teacher also had not been my life’s dream, either. It became the second-best next-best option after I listened to several people say, “you can’t get a job as an English major. You’ll never make any money and you’ll end up working at a department store.”

So, psychology professor became the goal. And I achieved it. I’m really glad I did because I met some wonderful students along the way. You know who you are. Thank you for being amazing and awesome and I hope you are doing well.

I also met some not-so-wonderful students. I didn’t get to know them in any situation other than the classroom, and that is how I judged them. That was my mistake. And, again, something I am still feeling the effects of today.

Unfortunately, these students also know who they are.  How I treated them is one of my biggest regrets with teaching.

I let these students down. They are the ones I now suspect were most like me during my time in graduate school, struggling and uncertain and maybe even feeling like they were not supposed to be in school in the first place. I was often rude to these students, allowed myself to become offended by my assumptions about them, and treated them with arrogance and condescension.

To these students: I am so sorry. I wish I had been a better teacher for you, the type of person that I needed when I was in school. I didn’t see myself in you and your struggles and for that, I am sorry.

Another of my regrets is those students I met at the end of my teaching career. After 21 years of pursuing a life that never really felt like mine, I was on the verge of making my dreams come true after handing in my resignation.

I tried not to check out, but in the end I did.

To those students: I am so sorry. I never wanted to give you a bad classroom experience or an educational experience that was less than you wanted or needed. That wasn’t fair to you and the time and effort you were putting into your studies, and for that I am sorry.

To any student who may recognize themselves in this post, please know that I think about you often and hope you are living a good life. Thank you for teaching me such valuable lessons, and I am so sorry if they came at your expense.

If there are any students out there reading this who are struggling, please know you are not alone. You have my heart and prayers. I have been one of you and in some ways I still am. Please reach out to me if you need help.

Finally, to any student who has ever been told they couldn’t or shouldn’t pursue a goal, go for it anyway. No one can predict the future.

Sincerely,

Kelly Kandra Hughes, PhD

Former Associate Professor of Psychology

 

 

 

 

 

Passport to Connecticut Libraries Part II

Forty-seven libraries in 30 days; what an experience!

In case you didn’t read my last blog post, my husband and I spent the month of April taking part in the Passport to Connecticut Libraries program. In this program, you visit as many participating libraries in CT as you can, gaining a stamp from each one on your “passport.” Being HUGE fans of libraries, we were game to hit as many libraries as we could.

We also wanted to do the program right and that meant spending time checking out (haha) each one. Only on a few occasions did we pop in and out, and for those instances it was because we tried to squeeze in one more library before their closing time.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t provide an exhaustive list of every library we visited and what is truly awesome about each one.* But make no mistake, every library was, in fact, awesome, and I continue to be blown away by all the different types of resources libraries have available, such as:

Fitbits and Binge Boxes at the Brookfield Library

Seeds at the Harwinton Library

Cake Pans at the Cyrenius H. Booth Library in Newtown

Rokus at the Minor Memorial Library in Roxbury

Fairies at the Thomaston Library

The librarians we met made this program even more worthwhile. If I ever have to get a “real” job again, librarian is definitely in the running. Everyone welcomed us into their libraries with smiles, enthusiastically stamped our passports, and told us what they loved most about their libraries with a strong sense of ownership and pride. Including, Stella from the Minor Memorial Library in Roxbury, whose additional librarian duties involved being cute, wagging her tail, and making me realize every library should have an animal librarian.

A special shout out goes to Jay, who is not technically a librarian, but who curates the Bristol History Room at the Bristol Public Library. If you want to meet someone who absolutely loves what they do, find Jay. He’ll regale you with his favorite stories about the history of Bristol, including the first yellow taxi cab, the great blizzard of 1888, and Lake Compounce, the oldest amusement park in the United States. And, if you tell him you’re writing a blog post about your library visits, he’ll let you try out the old-fashioned Bristol Library embosser and play around on their old-timey typewriter.

This program has been such a wonder and treat during our last few weeks of housesitting in Norfolk. This coming Tuesday, my husband and I will be heading out for four-months on the road and we won’t be back in Norfolk until the beginning of September. I am so incredibly grateful to the Connecticut Libraries who participated, every single librarian we met on the way, and The Library Hop for their Connecticut Libraries Map. Thank you for making this program so wonderful and we’ll see you soon!

*If anyone would like to chat more about my library experiences or ask for recommendations, please do not hesitate to contact me at genesispotentia(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com. I promise to do my best to control my excitement, but WOW! I love libraries!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

My Mom doesn’t like having her picture taken, so I didn’t have that many photos from which to choose. I’m also pretty sure she’s only going to be okay with having a picture posted on my blog at all, so I chose one that also features several of my family members so she can blend in better.

The above picture is maybe 18 years old and a lot has changed in that time except for one thing: My Mom continues to be a generous person.

I think my favorite example is that she took in my dogs, Limit and Jack, not once, but twice in their lifetimes.

I adopted Limit and Jack in 2002. Limit came with an age guesstimate of 7-9 years old. From the story I was told, a woman out in the country in North Carolina took in whatever stray dog wandered up to her door. When that dog turned out be Limit, he was dog #8 and so the woman said, “Enough! This dog is the limit.”

But Limit wasn’t the limit because none of the dogs were spayed or neutered. So Limit begat Jack and a sister, who unfortunately got hit by a car at some indeterminate length of time before they came to live with me (allegedly).

The woman ended up being evicted from her rental home and she abandoned her dogs; Limit and Jack had been locked in the house and were found by a kind neighbor. It looked like they had survived by drinking out of the toilets. They were both brought to me because at that time I volunteered as a foster mom for Independent Animal Rescue.

Within a few weeks I fell in love with both Limit and Jack and officially adopted them. But then, in the fall of 2006, Limit began struggling to walk up the stairs to my second-floor apartment. One day he collapsed going up the stairs and fell the whole way down.

I didn’t know what to do, so I called my Mom. She checked with my father to make sure her plan was okay and then she drove from Harrisburg, PA, to Chapel Hill, NC, to pick them up and move them to Harrisburg. Limit could live quite comfortably in their house since they had two floors.

And he did. So did Jack. They stayed with my parents until August, 2007, when I graduated from my doctoral program at UNC. We all moved together to the Chicago suburbs so I could start my tenure-track position as an assistant professor of psychology.

In 2009, we lost Limit to a tumor on his spleen. It ruptured and through the grace of God I was able to lift Limit up and put him in the back seat of my car. I got him to the vet in time so he didn’t have to suffer too much.

Jack and I stayed together until January of 2013.

He had started showing signs of dementia a few months earlier. Because I lived alone and worked long hours, Jack had become a danger to himself with the things he started eating in the house. He also started to confuse night and day and would continually wake me up in the middle of the night for walks.

As someone who has narcolepsy, this was dangerous for me. I once fell asleep walking him and when I woke up I had no idea where we walked to. It was after 3:00am.  I did not have a smart phone and honestly I didn’t know who to call with the regular old cell phone I had. What would I say? “I don’t know where I am. Come find me?”

I eventually found our way home.

Jack’s dementia got worse. Again, not knowing what to do, I called my Mom. The next day, she drove 10 hours from Harrisburg to Naperville, IL. She packed up Jack and his belongings and the next day drove back to Harrisburg. Of course, I missed him terribly; I still do, both of them. But with my Mom now taking care of Jack I knew he would be in good hands.

Jack managed to live another 14 months with my Mom, Dad, and brother in Harrisburg. He remained happy the entire time. In January, 2014, he developed Lymphoma. He lasted until March. On my spring break, I made it home just in time. We’re all pretty sure he waited for me.

Then my Mom gave me one of the greatest gifts of all. She paid to have a vet come to the house so Jack could die in my arms.

I will never be able to say thank you enough to my Mom for all she has done for me. Taking care of Limit and Jack when I couldn’t is just one example. There are hundreds more.

Thank you, Mom, for being so kind, selfless, and generous. I love you.

Passport to Connecticut Libraries

SQUEEEEEEEEEE! That sound you heard is me finding out the libraries in Connecticut have joined together for a Passport to Connecticut Libraries program for the month of April. It’s a true testament to how much my husband and I are suited for one another that he forwarded me the Norfolk Library’s Night Owl newsletter on March 23rd with a message at the top of his email that read, “Check out the passport to Connecticut Libraries.”

Here’s the description of the passport program, as printed in the Night Owl:

During the month of April, libraries all over Connecticut are participating in this exciting program to make people of all ages aware of the power of their library card.  Ask for your passport at the Norfolk Library circulation desk as well as a list of participating libraries. Then take your library card and passport to at least five libraries on the list to be eligible to win a $150 gift card for adults or a $100 gift card for children. Get your passport stamped and perhaps pick up some free gifts from libraries along the way!

This program couldn’t come at a better time because despite being April, winter in Norfolk still continues. Last Monday we had an additional six inches of snow, Friday brought 2-3 more inches, and Saturday we woke up to another dusting. At this point in April the snow pretty much melts by the end of the day, but still. It’s a little much, even for me and I love winter.

My husband and I picked up our passports from the Norfolk Library on Thursday, April 5th. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel grateful for the awesomeness of the Norfolk Library, our home base. On that Thursday we chatted with one of our favorite librarians (okay, yes, they’re all pretty much our favorite), marveled at the latest art exhibit (stunning mobiles by biologist Bradford Robinson), and checked out books and ukulele. Yes, a ukulele! How cool is that?!

On Saturday, my husband and I hit five different libraries. The sun happened to be gracing us with her presence, blue skies abounded, and even the temperatures started creeping up.

We couldn’t have asked for a better day and OH. MY. GOSH. We had fun!

We started at the Scoville Memorial Library in Salisbury, CT.

WOW! This library is stunning, inside and out. They underwent a renovation in 2016 designed by Bristow | Proffitt (formerly Poesis Design) and rightly so, they were named one of five finalists for libraries in Interior Design magazine’s international Best of Year Awards.

What I loved most about this library is their sunlit reading room, complete with comfy chairs and window seat overlooking a backyard that features a labyrinth and the Wachocastinook Creek, which happened to be babbling with excitement over the spring day, too.  I wish I had a picture to share, but my phone was acting weird at that point, and so I can only encourage you to go in person and see how wonderful the reading room is for yourself.

Next up, we hit the Douglas Library in North Canaan. Norma, the librarian we spoke with there, delighted us her enthusiasm over the program and pointed out many wonderful features of the library, such as the museum upstairs and their collection of book sale items, of which my husband and I were each allowed to select a DVD or CD as a gift for participating in the Passport Program.

Since we are heading out to Illinois and then Montana this summer (still looking for roadtrip recommendations, by the way), we opted to take CDs. My husband selected An Anthology of Big Band Swing 1930-1955 and I selected 1 2 3 con Andrés, a bilingual music cd for families, so we can practice our Spanish.

Other than Norma, the best part about the Douglas Library is learning they have Scrabble night every Monday evening from 6:15-8:00pm. If anyone is looking for me on Monday nights in the near future, you’ll know where to find me!

While at Douglas we also met Irene, a lovely woman, who already had 2.5 pages of library passport stamps! Talk about a woman on a mission. And in a fun coincidence, Irene had been to the Norfolk Library earlier on Saturday and talked with our librarian, Chaya, about starting a blog. Chaya recommended my blog to her as an example of someone who has a nice personal blog and, without knowing about this conversation, Irene and I exchanged contact information at the Douglas Library which included my blog URL.

In the afternoon, we headed south and hit four additional libraries: Goshen Public Library, Cornwall Library, Kent Memorial Library, and Torrington Library.

The Goshen Library greeted us with a gift bag of goodies, including locally produced coffee, hot chocolate, and caramels from Milk House Chocolates. We got sucked into their puzzle table, and I think we successfully places 6 pieces into the puzzle before we had to head off to the next library. But not before I discovered their children’s room where I found a service project asking for children to write letters or draw pictures for people in the army, as well as free Star Wars bookmarks promoted with a fabulous pun.

At the Cornwall Library, we found a 3-D printer, stunning artwork, and a surprise connection as we flipped through the Northwest Connecticut Community Foundation’s Community Crossroads: Northwest Connecticut report and found that the cover photo was taken by a good friend.

Also at the Cornwall Library, I discovered The Bear Who Couldn’t Sleep a picture book written by local author Caroline Nastro and illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva. Since picture books, sleeping, and bears are three of my favorite things in this world, of course I had to read the book right there in the library.

The story is adorable, surprising, and satisfying, and the illustrations charming. When you see a little bear wandering around the forest in a Statue of Liberty foam tourist hat, you know you have a fun book in your hands.

In Kent, we took a little break. Well, my husband did. I re-enacted our first date at the Harold Washington Public Library in Chicago with a mini-puppet show in the Kent Memorial Library’s children’s room.

At that point, we only had 45 minutes to drive to the Torrington Library before they closed so we couldn’t dawdle. We arrived in Torrington with only 10 minutes to spare.

Of all the libraries we visited on Saturday, the Torrington Library looked most like a traditional library with its design and layout. The exception is their front entryway which has astounding acoustics thanks to the dome ceiling. I tried recording how it sounded, but this video does not do the acoustics justice at all.

On our drive back to Norfolk, my husband and I decided to head out for our next round of library visits on Tuesday. There are 147 libraries listed on our Passport to CT Libraries list. I suspect we’re not going to be able to visit every one in the month of April, but I am so excited to see how far we get. And, of course, I’ll keep you posted. See you at the library!

Exercise Advice That Actually Works

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BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: I actually achieved my goal of creating a cardio exercise habit!

WOOHOO!

As someone who spent fifteen years mistakenly believing I was lazy when, in fact, I had undiagnosed narcolepsy, I carry around a lot of baggage about setting goals and whether I achieve them.

Reaching my cardio goal is exciting, although I understand this news may not be as exciting as being offered a book contract (although this is a possibility that could happen any day now), planning a trip to Glacier National Park (if you have any recommendations, send them my way), or meeting a bulldog puppy at the Iron National Bank (I nicknamed her Potato, but I think the bank tellers are more spot-on that her name should be Meatball).

Meatball

If you remember, I read a book over the summer that I now consider the best book I’ve ever read on mindfulness, time management, and productivity: The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine Carter.

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Truthfully, I haven’t read that many books on time management and productivity. However, I have bought a quite a few over the years and checked some out from the library. Funnily enough, I could never find the time to read them.

Not only did I read The Sweet Spot in its entirety, I then followed through on Dr. Carter’s advice. This accomplishment is the highest possible recommendation I could ever give a self-help book.

Here’s how my cardio goal went down:

  • Week of September 15th, 2017 – formulate a 20-week plan to build an exercise habit which would result in 20 minutes of cardio every day except Sunday using the advice Dr. Christine Carter lays out in, The Sweet Spot.
  • Follow through on plan.
  • 27 weeks later write a blog post celebrating my success!

Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, which is why I highly encourage anyone who is serious about changing how they manage their time or even just thinking about it to read Dr. Carter’s book.

I would have written about my success sooner, but, you know. Life. And now I can further celebrate my success with an additional seven weeks of cardio.

Yes, I’m still jumping around for 20 minutes every day (for the most part). It feels good!

I credit Dr. Carter with a big chunk of my success, because her advice really went a long way towards my self-defeating tendencies such as procrastination and excuse making. I also need to give myself some of the credit, too, because I’m the one who actually had to show up every day and exercise. If I didn’t want my health to be a top priority in my life, it would have been easy to scrap the whole cardio plan since I already had established a daily 20-minute strength training regime that is working out nicely for me.

What really helped was being mindful of the process and that’s something Dr. Carter encourages throughout her book.

I already knew what would happen on days when I just couldn’t motivate myself to exercise because of a poor night’s sleep, or a feeling of inertia that comes from winter, or lack of time because I had to be somewhere by 9:00am. For four minutes, I would do something related to cardio, such as plank and squats, jumping jacks, or dancing around. That’s what Dr. Carter refers to as a Better Than Nothing plan.

I also did everything possible ahead of time to ensure my success. This process involved thinking about why I wanted to establish a cardio routine and what would be the best way for me to exercise.

There were several whys, such as not getting out of breath while playing with dogs and losing even more of the weight that I gained in my first year of marriage, but the biggest reason is because I really believe consistent cardio is the best way for me to get a good night’s sleep.

For someone with narcolepsy, good sleep is the brass ring on the carousel of life we’re all hoping to grab. One of the most common misconceptions about narcolepsy is that you can fall asleep anytime, anywhere, such as into a bowl of soup when you’re at dinner. While in extreme cases that could happen, it’s not likely for the average narcoleptic.

What’s more likely with narcolepsy is one of the disease’s defining features– we can’t sleep at night, and when we do, we don’t get as much deep sleep as we need and we spend more time in REM having incredibly vivid, often disturbing or even terrifying dreams. So, we wake up exhausted and then have a tendency to fall asleep in a situation where we’d rather be awake.

naps-are-for-everyone

You’d think I would have wanted to make cardio a habit in my life sooner. It’s not like I hadn’t tried. In retrospect, I believe I was missing one key piece of the cardio habit puzzle – I never considered how my choice of cardio relates to my core life values. Again, thank you to Dr. Carter for helping me realize this point.

At the top of my life values list are freedom and joy. When going down a cardio path in the past, I’ve enjoyed ice skating, hula hooping, Bikram Yoga, Daily Method, Pure Barre, and dance fitness classes. Throughout my life, I have committed to several months of these activities, sometimes even years. But these options do not promote freedom. They all require you to spend time driving to somewhere, then you have to spend time in the actual class, and then drive home again. Also, a lot of these activities require equipment and/or special clothing.

Me in College

As someone who now values my time more than anything else and who also has a goal of getting all my belongings down to a single backpack, I just can’t make those types of commitments anymore.

I also have no desire to make a commitment to anything that does not bring me joy. There have been times in my life when I committed to going to a gym for 30 minutes a day to use boring (in my opinion) cardio machines such as treadmills or elliptical trainers. I hated exercising on those machines, and it’s hard to sustain a relationship rooted in hate.

Also, cardio machines cannot fit in a backpack and unless you have them in your home, you have to go somewhere else to use them. So again, that takes up more time that I don’t want to give up.

When I thought about my past failed attempts and what I wanted to achieve, it became obvious I needed to do something that I could literally do anywhere and that also would require no special equipment, including sneakers. I don’t own a pair anymore (I wore through my last pair in May, 2017) and I sure as heck am not going to buy a pair just so I can exercise. That would then make exercise dependent on an external circumstance and that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

I also realized I needed a form of exercise that I could do in my jammies.

Okay, yes, this one is weird. But, when you have narcolepsy sometimes even the act of changing your clothes in the morning can seem like a lot of work. I also knew from past experiences that if I didn’t exercise first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t do it all. Add to that a drafty house in Connecticut, and you’ll understand why this became an acceptable form of exercise attire:

Lana Pants Exercise

Taken all these insights together, here were my cardio requirements:

  • Can be done anywhere
  • Requires no special equipment or clothing
  • Brings me joy
  • Works if you’re wearing jammies

Ready to know what it is?

Drumroll, please … DANCING!

Not only does dancing meet all my requirements, but you can get pretty wild with jumping around, or if you’re having a less motivated day, you can bop around, or if you’re having a narcolepsy day, you can simply sway to the music.

You can also alternate the amount of effort you put into your dance moves, thus creating a nice interval flow to the workout. And if you don’t believe me, check out the Norfolk Library’s Corner Club kids breaking it down for Black History Month last month when the library brought in a hip hop dancer.

Twenty-seven weeks ago I wasn’t doing any cardio. And now I am. Even better, that’s 20 minutes nearly every day that brings me joy – both in the process and in the sense of accomplishment. That time would have gone by no matter. I am so grateful to have found a way that works for me, and I am even more grateful to Dr. Christine Carter for sharing her wisdom.

Dedicated to My Brother-in-law, Erick

In Memoriam

On February 23rd, 2018, my husband’s family lost a beloved son. Erick’s death was not surprising or unexpected; he had been born with a rare combination of two genetic illnesses – Addison’s Disease and Adrenoleukodystrophy. Doctors had been preparing my husband’s family for Erick’s death for the last 20 years. The fact that Erick made it to his 39th is astonishing. The fact that Erick’s suffering is now over is a blessing.

Erick had two memorial services: one on February 28th, in Smyrna, TN, and one on March 1st in Lawrenceburg, TN. I met my husband’s childhood friends and his extended family. I met dozens of friends and colleagues of my in-laws. Laughter was shared, and tears were shed.

I heard many stories about Erick. I didn’t get the chance to know Erick other than through his diseases. I could only imagine what he was like through the memories of his family and friends.

Erik 1

The Erick I met could not communicate in any way – he had no vocal capabilities, nor could he blink once for yes or twice for no. There was debate about what Erick could understand, if he could even understand anything at all, once the disease fully ensnared him. I know his mother and his primary nurse believed he was still in there somewhere.

Erik 2

Last summer, I got to know Erick as well as I could when my husband and I stayed at his parents’ house for a week so they could take a well-deserved vacation.

During that week, I cleaned Erick’s face in the morning and emptied his urine bag. I administered medicines through his feeding tube, which connected directly to his stomach. I put a breathing device on Erick to help him clear his lungs. Every 2.5 hours I turned him, at least until my husband woke up and took over or the nurse arrived and provided far better care than I ever could.

The state of Tennessee provided Erick with 32 hours of nursing care per week. For my husband and I, that meant we could still see each other during the day and go out and about in Nashville while we were taking care of Erick that week.

My in-laws were expected to work full-time jobs and then care for Erick full-time before and after work. As Erick needed 24-hour supervision, this provision made it impossible for my in-laws to have a typical American life. They devoted nearly every hour of their lives for the last 12 years to taking care of their son. For the last 20 years, they watched him suffer and there was nothing they could do medically do about it.

Erik 3

When I consider Annie Dillard’s profound saying, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives,” I think about the kind of love that my husband’s parents have for Erick to spend every day in service to their dying son.

They refused to put him in a home and they refused to give up on caring for him.  They sacrificed themselves in ways I can’t even imagine. I suppose that is what you do for someone you love because what is the alternative?

Erik 4

I am not a caregiver. Yes, I care for people and animals and the beauty of creation that is God’s gift to all of us. But it is not my vocation.

My vocation is writing and playing with as many animals as I can. I say this because I’ve been thinking of how I can best memorialize Erick, a man I’ll only really know through the love of my husband and his family. I have no stories of my own about Erick while he was alive, yet his story means something to me.

While I was in Nashville with my husband’s family, the time came for my agent to submit one of my picture book manuscripts, Sundays with Pop-Pop, to publishing houses. The timing wasn’t ideal, but she had a fire inside her for getting the manuscript out and I am eager for my first book contract. In retrospect, I do feel regret for closeting myself in their office to perfect the draft while there was so much grieving around me. I will hopefully not make that mistake again.

But I now know how I will honor Erick and the love his family has for him. Sundays with Pop-Pop is a story of love and loss. It celebrates the special relationships we have in our lives, whether they are biological, a beloved family pet, or a concerned member of our community.

Erick is, and always will be loved. When Sundays with Pop-Pop is published – and I truly believe it is when, not if – I will dedicate the story to Erick. He deserves it.

Thank you for reading my blog. And if you are so inclined, please send thoughts and prayers of peace to my husband and his family.

How E.B. White Broke My Heart with a Single Sentence

TItle

True Confession: I have never read Charlotte’s Web before this year.

Yes, I am a children’s book author admitting to never having read one of the greatest pieces of children’s literature of all time. Okay, yes, I’ve only been a children’s book author since June 2015, when I wrote my first picture book manuscript. Yet somehow that doesn’t make me feel less chagrined about the situation.

Since I’m coming clean, the truth is there are many kidlit classic books I have never reads. Some books and authors I have never even heard of when I’m perusing kidlit writing websites.

For example, I did not know who Ursula Le Guin was when she died on January 22, 2018. Her name popped up everywhere on the writing and entertainment websites I read. I ended up checking out this article in particular, Mapping the Pop Culture Influence of Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea Booksand I was shocked to learn that her stories had been a precursor to Harry Potter.

EarthSea

As a huge Harry Potter fan, how is it I had never heard of Le Guin before? Who else haven’t I heard of that I should?

At least I’m quite familiar with EB White and Charlotte’s Web. Growing up as a child in the 80s, I’d watched the cartoon version of the story dozens of times, but somehow I never managed to read the story.

Charlotte's WEbWhen I think about it, I have no good reason why, other than I was reading other books: Sweet Valley Twins, Babysitters Club, Fabulous Five, and the Taffy Sinclair books just to name a few. All of these titles are series, so perhaps because I had multiple new books to read every month, I never needed to venture out to the classics.

That’s not to say I never read any of the classics growing up. The three that I distinctly remember are: Misty of Chincoteague and Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, both by Marguerite Henry, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Yes, like most little girls, I had a thing for horses. I suppose I still do.

Horses

I also racked up quite a few more kidlit classics while in college when I took Intro to Children’s Literature my freshman year. We studied fairy tales (the gruesome original versions), Treasure Island, Peter Pan, Little Women, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, to name a few.

I can still vividly recall the moment in class when my entire life changed because of a book. Mrs. Spore, my teacher, lead us in a discussion of the allegorical representation of Aslan the Lion in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Being a nearly-straight-A student, I raised my hand and proudly announced Aslan represented the struggle of good versus evil.

Mrs. Spore shook her head. “Too simple,” she said. “Aslan is much more than that.”

The guy next to me raised his hand. “Jesus Christ,” he said.

Lion

BOOM! There goes my head in an explosion of everything I thought I knew about the world. 13 years of Catholic education (K-12), and I had made zero connection to what C.S. Lewis was really telling us in his story.

Although that Intro to Children’s Lit class was my favorite class throughout all of college, anything in children’s literature/publishing did not seem a viable career option at that point. I allowed myself to get sucked down the rabbit hole of job security, earnings potential, and societal expectations, and ended up with a PhD in quantitative psychology instead.

So now, as a psychology professor turned kidlit writer, I find myself immersed in reading as much kidlit as possible. In January, on advice from an editor at Simon & Schuster, I checked out The Incredible Journey from my library. The editor recommended this book because I write about dogs. The writing was beautiful and the pacing a touch slow for modern reading standards (in my opinion). Still, I cried tears of joy during the last few pages.

Incredible Journey

Wanting to continue with reading kidlit classics, I then picked up Charlotte’s Web from the library. This is a book that should be required reading for all children and adults. The story is extraordinary in so many ways.

E.B. White is a master of word choice and description, with sensory details, rich visuals, and emotionally engaging characters that pull you immediately into the story. Just read the first sentence:

“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” asked Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

Tell me you don’t want to read more!

Charlotte’s Web is not just about the writing, either. The illustrations by Garth Williams are adorable. Look at this little pig:

28407180_10105509158054918_1335452477_o

Or “puppy pig,” as my 21-year-old niece called him when I sent her an illustration as an example of why I was loving this book so much.

If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know how much I LOVE dogs! Give me a puppy pig and write him into a story where he finds out he’s going to die and you have me hooked.

The way E.B. White connected me to Wilbur the pig is genius. Wilbur loves Fern and misses her when she’s at school. He wants a barnyard friend to play with, but the other animals shun him. He finds out he’s going to die and becomes hysterical because he loves sitting in his pile of mud and slopping around his pigpen so much. Then, Wilbur begins to believe he is someone special simply because Charlotte, his spider friend, believes in him.

There’s also this sentence in the last chapter about Fern, the little girl who initially saved Wilbur the pig from Papa’s ax:

She was growing up, and was careful to avoid childish things, like sitting on a milk stool near a pigpen.

These words of E.B. White will stay in my heart forever.

I couldn’t help but cry when I read that sentence. They were tears of both joy and sadness. Joy because the way I live my life now, embracing the things that truly matter to me, such as loving my husband and family, playing with dogs, walking in the forest, reading and writing stories, and sitting on a stool near a pigpen are things I do every single day.

Okay, well maybe not literally every day sitting on a stool near a pigpen, but thinks to one of my wonderful friends in Norfolk, I do occasionally get to sit in a barnyard and play with farm animals.

Hammy Zorro

There was also sadness for the millions of children who grow up and may never again recapture the feelings of wonder they experienced during childhood. Just like I did in college, they go down the rabbit hole of adulthood, and I don’t know if they ever find their way out. I hope they do. I pray they do. And I write stories to show how I made my way out.

Thank you for reading my blog! Your support is always appreciated. If anyone is interested in more Charlotte’s Web writings and illustrations, I’ve been posting selections on Twitter as part of my #365DaysofKidLit Challenge. You can look for me on Twitter with the handle @KellyKandra. I also included selections from The Incredibly Journey and The Original Adventures of Hank the Cowdog, plus several picture books.

As an end note, I’m looking to read as many of the Hank the Cowdog books as possible without having to buy them (you know, minimalist and all). The inter-library loan only offers a few, so if anyone out there can give me access to more copies, I would be ever grateful.

Hank the cowdog

A Minimalist Approach to Love

Fiancee

Happy Valentines’ Day! And, happy two-year anniversary to me and my husband! That’s two years of being married and two years of being together. No, I didn’t get the timing wrong. We really did get married that quickly.

On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, I sat down next to an incredibly handsome stranger at a restaurant bar.  Being in the Chicago suburbs, the stranger wanted to experience deep dish pizza.  Several of his colleagues highly recommended Lou Malnatti’s.

Lou Malnattis

Meanwhile, I had been invited to Lou Malnatti’s by a writers’ group at a local college I attended for the first time that night. They liked to socialize afterwards, starting at Lou Malnatti’s bar.

The stranger and I struck up a conversation.  Four days later he proposed.  Less than three weeks later, on February 12th, 2016, we eloped in his hometown of Nashville.

Wedding

Wedding 2

So, yes.  Four Days to Fiancée is an accurate title.  But, it’s really not as quick as it seems.  The truth is that I spent several years prior to that night figuring out what I wanted in a partner.  What gave me the insight and courage to take such a bold relationship step is the minimalist mindset I adopted over the years.

Many people will tell you minimalism is not simply removing the material clutter from your life, though that is a key component.  It’s also embracing the values that are most important in your life and then making choices to support those values.

Freedom is at the top of my list of core life values, and ironically enough, it is because I value freedom so much that I was able to agree to marry someone whom I had known less than a week.

When I met my future husband that night, I had already begun taking steps to support my personal ideas of freedom. Thanks to a sabbatical from my position as an associate professor of psychology at a suburban Chicago University, I realized that somehow, I had let my life veer off course. I felt imprisoned by my choices and I wanted out.

The first step to my freedom began with purging. By August 2014, I had given up my apartment and sold, donated, gave away, or trashed 90% of my belongings.  In doing so, I released myself from the debilitating mountain of stuff I had accumulated over the years.  When you move three times in five years and some boxes remain not just unpacked, but unopened, it’s a wake-up call you do not need that stuff anymore.

After I removed the forgotten and unnecessary items from my life, I began looking at everything I owned. Gone were clothes I never wore, but someday hoped to have a reason to wear; shoes I had purchased for special occasions and hurt my feet the one time I wore them, but I thought looked so pretty; books I bought because I wanted to learn about the history of the Olympics, the healing power of food, or the latest pop psychology research, but never seemed to have time to read; and mementos from friends, travels, and experiences that caused me to buy extra shelves and cabinets to hold these memories, and which also took away some of my precious free time because I had to dust and organize them on a regular basis.

I ended up giving away so many of my belongings, one of my colleagues jokingly asked if I had a terminal illness.

Once free from the physical clutter, I wanted even more space.  I returned from my sabbatical on August 24th, 2015 and on September 1st, 2015, I turned in my resignation, effective for the end of the academic year on May 31st, 2016.

With the knowledge of impending professional freedom, I then focused my attention on the kind of life I wanted to live and with whom I wanted to share it.  Without any physical clutter to take up my time and energy, I waded through my murky past with the help of a therapist, a disciplined meditation practice, a church that inspired me to believe there’s something more out there, and several insightful journaling exercises and self-help books.

I asked myself tough questions, such as why had I not had a successful relationship in the past, what role did I play in failed relationships, and did I even want to be in a relationship.

Once I established that, yes, I did want to be in a long-term, loving and committed relationship, and understood how I had contributed problems to my past relationships and how to be a better partner in the future, I thought about the values I desired in my husband. What sort of person would make me the very best possible version of myself? Anyone who lowered my desired caliber of life would simply not be an option.

Nearly every day for a year, I meditated on this question and what I wanted, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. What rose to the top of my list were curiosity, empathy, honesty, and playfulness. I also wanted someone who made their own physical and mental health a priority in their life since I had taken steps to become healthy again.

I didn’t have a specific “type,” in mind for a partner, but I hoped my husband would be as good-looking on the outside as his heart was on the inside. When I would see someone attractive while out and about, I would say to myself, “Wow! That man looks a lot like my husband.” I also thanked God every day for my husband, as if we were already together. I would write in my gratitude journal statements such as, “Thank you for my incredibly handsome husband, who is kind, compassionate, loves animals, and makes me laugh more than anyone else.”

It was in January, 2016, when a thought occurred to me: What I also wanted was someone who valued the life I was creating for myself and wanted in on the adventure. I wish I knew the exact date I had that thought, but I’m not very good at keeping a daily journal for an extended period. I just remember that the thought felt so real and powerful, I knew it was right for me.

It couldn’t have been more than two weeks later, I sat down at Lou Malnatti’s next to that incredibly handsome stranger. He overhead the discussion I was having with Anne, a woman in her 70s whom I had just met that night at the writers group. She was sitting on his right-hand side. I was sitting on his left.

Behind this handsome stranger’s back, because he was still eating his pizza, I told Anne all about being a professor, my imminent resignation, and writing. I explained my plans to be a professional pet and housesitter and travel all over the country. Then, for some reason we started talking about old movies and I told her I had just been to an Elvis Tribute Spectacular on January 8th with a good friend. It would have been Elvis’ 81st birthday and thanks to my Mom, I am quite a fan of Elvis’ music.

Screenshot

Despite not being a part of our conversation at all, Anne tapped the handsome man on the chest and asked, “Do you like Elvis?”

He sang his response with a southern drawl: I’ll have a blue Christmas without you. Thank you very, much.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” I asked.

“Nashville,” came his response and my immediate thought was, I am not interested in you.

But it turned out I was interested. From the first few hours of our conversation, my future husband spoke about books he was reading and asked me about books I was reading; he told me how he wanted to attend the Olympics before he was 40 and I told him I had attended the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. He spoke about some of the challenges he faced in his life and how grateful he was to his parents for their love and support. He teared up when discussing his chocolate lab, Lana, whom he had lost not that long ago, and I told him about my beloved black and yellow labs, Jack and Limit.

We continued our discussion the next night, when we went on a proper date. My future husband and I drove into Chicago so he could take some photographs. We went to the Harold Washington public library on State Street and acted out silly scenes with puppets in the children’s room, played Mad Libs at Epic Burger, and walked around Millennium Park, all the while discussing our lives, friends, and families.

The next day, Friday, my future husband came to visit me at work before he had to fly back to Nashville. The following day, we spent 14 hours on the phone, and on Sunday we spent another 12 hours. Sunday night is when he proposed.

Marry Me

If I hadn’t known what I really wanted in a partner, I don’t think I would have been able to say yes. But through the stories we told each other, the secrets we shared, and the time we spent together, I felt I had a good enough of measure of him. The values I wanted most – I knew he had them. I didn’t need any more time to tell me what I already knew – this was a man who would build me up and support me and help me become the absolute very best version of myself.

My husband and I were overjoyed to find each other, and we didn’t want to wait. We also had no reason to, other than that “society,” would deem our marriage too quick. Neither of us had debt, we were in our 30s, and neither of us had professional or educational aspirations that would limit our future choices compared to if we stayed single.

I was, however, asking my husband to give up everything he had to come be with me on this adventure. He left behind his family and friends in Tennessee and the only home he had ever known for 33 years.

Need a ride to TN

So, of course, I would give him the highest level of commitment we both wanted. It allowed us to be free of our past lives, only we would be free together as teammates and partners.

Everything else seemed secondary. The very few people that I spoke to about our decision to get married so quickly wondered why the rush? How well could I really know him? they wanted to know.

To which I replied – how well can you really know anyone? I’ve known people who dated their fiancés for several years before getting married, only to be miserable and divorced within two years. Several people I know were married for decades before their spouses divorced them just like that! And one woman, who I admire very much, married her childhood sweetheart who was her best friend, only for him to realize a few years into the marriage that he was gay.

So, I didn’t buy into their concerns, because we can never really be certain about anyone other than ourselves. And because I took the time to really get to know myself and what I wanted, I didn’t have to waste any time figuring out whether we worked together. Our values lined up and that is all that mattered to me.

To my husband: I LOVE YOU! These past two years have been the best of my life. Thank you for asking me to marry you when you did, and thank you for being the best friend and partner I could have imagined.

Heath and Kelly