I snapped this picture in the Norfolk Library on November 10, 2020. Naturally, I posted it to the Dogspotting Facebook group to which I belong. The sole purpose of the group is to post pictures of dogs we’ve never met before and share their awesomeness with others.
A few days later, over four thousand people had liked this photo.
I didn’t have much to celebrate in 2020, but I will always have Koda.
Now that it’s 2021, it’s time for my annual death meditation. This is my fifth year in a row of imagining how I would live if I knew 2021 would be my last year on Earth, and thanks to the gut-punch-then-kick-me-while-I’m-down year that was 2020, thinking about my death this year has been quite different from past death meditations.
I experienced a staggering amount of loss and grief in the last year. It started early on with learning about Faith’s liver tumor in January, followed by the loss of Oscar Meyer Weiner Dog a few weeks later.
In February, we lost the incomparable Eve Thew, one of my first (and dearest) friends in Norfolk.
In March, the whole world changed as COVID-19 spread and we, humans, made it significantly and substantially worse than it had to be. Heath and I had to temporarily leave our Norfolk housesitting job, which meant I had to say goodbye to living with my beloved Smudge and Faith for the foreseeable future.
In June, my father went into the hospital after an acute attack of his nervous system by his own immune system. The doctors diagnosed him with Guillain-Barrè syndrome. While in the hospital, he also suffered a heart attack and contracted pneumonia. When he was released a month later, it was to come home to die.
My father died in the early morning hours of July 19th. Eight people attended his funeral, and nine people attended his burial three months later on a freezing cold and wet day in late October.
Four days after my dad died, Smudge unexpectedly collapsed. The vet recommended immediate euthanasia. I said goodbye through video messenger because that was the only option I had.
Then, on November 14th, I said a final goodbye to Faith. I had moved back into our Norfolk housesitting home on November 12th. All through the summer when I visited Faith, I asked her to please hang on until I moved back. With all the loss this year, I didn’t think I could handle losing her, too, and not being there.
On November 12th, I brought an overnight bag to get me through until the weekend. That Saturday, the 14th, Faith and I woke up together. We sang our going down the stairs song, which I created one morning while walking down the stairs back when we took care of four dogs – Tobey, Smudge, Faith, and Moon – and their tippy tappy paws provided a nice accompaniment. It goes a little something like this,
We’re going down the stairs
Without any cares
Not wearing underwears
It’s time to eat some food
We hope that it is good
If not, then we’ll be rude
Faith and I had a nice morning together. I snuck her lots of extra turkey slices every time I went into the fridge, because I thought she was looking a little thin. We went for a walk about around the pond and up and down the driveway. I even snapped a picture to send to her human mom and described Faith as being “very frisky on this chilly day!”
I then went over to our apartment to pack up the rest of my belongings since I had only brought that overnight bag for the first few days.
When I got back to the house, Faith watched me make five trips back and forth from the car. I set my belongings on and around the dining room table. That’s our staging area for whenever we leave or come back to this house. Faith has watched me do this unpacking at least a dozen times in the past.
She died less than three hours later. It was like she knew I had *finally* moved back to the house and she had fulfilled my request to please hang on until I got back.
As Faith lay dying, I lay next to her. Heath sat by her head. We both put our hands on her, giving her all the love we could. I stroked her little ears, scratched her head, and petted her back. I told her my favorite stories of our time together. I told her that she would be with Tobey, Smudge, and Moon again very soon.
I thanked her for the chance to love her and to live with her these last four years. That she brought so much joy and happiness to my life. And that it was her little face, more than Tobey’s or Smudge’s or Moon’s that I fell in love with at first sight on the TrustedHousesitters.com website that made me say to Heath, “Look at how cute this dog is! Let’s apply for this job.”
Losing Faith after losing so many other people and dogs this year was right in line with how awful 2020 was. At the same time, my love for and loss of Faith has instilled in me the mantra I want to take forward into 2021. We spent a perfect last day together. We filled it with love and fun and some of our favorite activities.
I didn’t know when I woke up on Saturday morning, November 14th, that it would be the last time I woke up with little Faith asleep next to me on her dog bed.
I didn’t know it would be our last time singing down the stairs.
That it would be our last parade up and down the driveway.
That it would be the last time I said, “let’s go to bed,” and then wait for her to walk up the stairs with me.
I didn’t know that my life would change (again) forever that day.
And it didn’t matter that I didn’t know because I enjoyed every single moment of that day with her. I loved her. I appreciated her. I thanked God for letting us be together again.
So, as I think about my own death and what, if anything, I would do differently if I knew 2021 was my last year on Earth, I think about that last day with Faith. I take that day with me going forward. That day with Faith will serve as my guideposts for how I want to live in 2021 – quality time with those I love, enjoying the quiet moments of our lives, and knowing and expressing just how grateful I am to be there.
For the last 10 years, a children’s book writer named Susanna Leonard Hill has hosted a holiday writing contest. Last year I entered a story entitled Christmas Peach Pie, and out of a few hundred submissions, I was in the final twelve. Voting ensued and I won third place! I’m now querying that story to agents and editors, so we’ll see what happens.
This year the theme was “Holiday Helper.” The stories are always judged on : 1) kid appeal; 2) adherence to theme; 3) quality of story; 4) quality of writing; 5) originality and creativity; and 6) following directions, including the strict word limit of 250 words).
I hadn’t planned on entering this year. But, the prizes seemed pretty good, and a story popped into my mind. I cranked it out in one sitting, made some minor edits and submitted it to the contest.
I didn’t win. Not in the top 12 and not even an honorable mention or special shoutout.
What a holiday bummer.
I really love the story I wrote (scroll down to the bottom of the post to read it). It features my favorite children’s story elements: talking animals being silly. I especially love a good dog story, and this one features my buddy, Smudge. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss this guy.
This week was especially hard for me because we got almost 14 inches of snow and there was no moment of joy as I opened the door for the dogs to run outside and witness their snow-fall antics.
Heath and I laugh often over the time we got so much snow, there was no distinction between the porch and the sidewalk. Smudge tore out the door, promptly belly flopped off the front porch and then swam a small circle before coming back inside, very upset at how the whole situation went down.
The absence of these moments in my life is one of the hardest adjustments with losing our Norfolk family pack.
We did, however, get to romp with Annie for a bit in the snow.
Doesn’t she look cute? I think she might have part Sasquatch in her, the way the snow freezes on her in such a becoming manner.
For those of you who celebrate, I wish you all a Merry Christmas! For all of us who are missing loved ones this Christmas, I’m holding you especially tight in my heart.
Now, without further ado, I give you:
SMUDGE AND TWIGGLES SAVE CHRISTMAS
Smudge patrolled the yard for the tenth time that night.
“Anything yet?” Twiggles the squirrel hopped from branch to branch as she shadowed the black Lab.
“Noth – hold on!” Smudge sniffed the air. Reindeer! Wrapping paper! Coal!
“He’s here,” howled Smudge. “Let’s go.”
Smudge and Twiggles scampered to the house. Three years of Christmas Eve patrolling and so far, they had only spotted the backsides of nine reindeer and a bumper sticker that read I brake for elves.
In his excitement, Smudge started barking. “SANTA! HEY SANTA!”
“HO, HO, OOOOOOOOH!”
Smudge and Twiggles stared at the lump of red and white velvet in front of them.
“What do we do now?” Twiggles poked the lump. Nothing happened.
“I think we’re supposed to put on the suit. I saw it on TV once with the humans.”
Twiggles and Smudge looked at each other. “Dibs,” called Smudge.
“Nuts,” said Twiggles “How about we split it? You take the pants. I’ll take the shirt. Then we can deliver presents together!”
They burrowed their way into the mounds of velvet. A wind began to whirl, magic began to twirl and …
Smudge and Twiggles found themselves on the roof sitting in Santa’s sleigh.
“What are you supposed to be?” asked Rudolph.
“Santa’s best helpers ever!” yipped Smudge.
“Oh, boy,” said Dasher. “This is going to be some night.”
“Merry Christmas to all,” howled Smudge as the sleigh took off.
“And to all a good night,” squeaked Twiggles. “Which way do we go?
Our daylight hours are dwindling. With the shortest day of the year only two weeks away, here in Norfolk we’re down to about 9 hours of daylight each day.
That’s a lot of darkness we’re up against.
On the other hand, it means that when I walk Dodger on Sundays, I get to see some spectacular light displays shining through the tree branches in the Barbour Woods.
I know winter is not the favorite season for most people. I think I’m in the minority as it’s my favorite season.
At least, I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite season. I do enjoy the leaves changing in fall and the promise of new life and growth in spring. And then we have those long summer days.
Maybe my favorite season is the one I’m currently experiencing?
Anyway, I do love winter. I especially love being outside when it’s sunny and cold. With the proper equipment and clothes, the experience can be wonderful.
On my walk with Dodger this afternoon, the light cast a gentle blue tint over the woods.
It’s magical, don’t you think?
And let’s be honest — Dodger is once handsome devil!
Feeling grateful to have this experience with one of my favorite dogs! At the same time, the experience is blue in other ways. Much like I wrote about when the leaves were changing color a few weeks ago, I can’t help but think of my Dad and how he didn’t know it was his last fall in 2019, just like he didn’t know it would be his last chance to see snow fall last winter. I suppose this cycle of “lasts” will continue as I work through my grief.
The only way forward is through. It’s not easy. It’s certainly not quick. But it is good. I think I’m starting to understand the expression good grief.
Thank goodness I have such a wonderful support system in place, with includes Heath, and Cecily and Dodger here in Norfolk.
Speaking of them, I managed to coax Heath and Cecily into participating in an Advent wreath lighting for UCC Norfolk’s online service this Sunday. You can catch us around the 11-minute mark. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1308360392861281
I hope you all have a wonderful week. Maybe it be blue in the very best ways!
2020 is a year of a lot of things — many of them are not good. However, 2020 is also the year I learned about something wonderful and uplifting — a reverse Advent calendar! With Advent fast approaching, this calendar is a great way to connect with the spirit of the season and do some good for your community.
Last year, I started working for a Congregational Church as the Director of Community and Creativity. One of the best parts of this job is I get paid to think of new ideas to engage people around town with the ministries of the church. With the pandemic severely limiting community engagement while at the same time making it more difficult for some people to meet their basic needs, I felt challenged to find something new and different for Advent, yet also meaningful for the congregation. Then I came across the idea of a reverse advent calendar and lo and behold — I found my solution!
A traditional Advent calendar provides individuals with a “door” or “window” to open on the calendar, inside of which a treat or inspirational quotation is found.
With a reverse Advent Calendar, individuals give something on each day of Advent. The reverse advent calendar I came across on social media had a theme focused around food banks. Since the Norfolk Food Pantry is housed in the church where I work, it seemed like a perfect partnership.
Photo courtesy of Lynn Deasy
A lot of people may not know this, but there are significant wealth disparities in Norfolk, CT. Yes, we have very wealthy families in Norfolk. To their credit, I have seen some jaw dropping displays of generosity in this town. At the same time, one-third of the students at the local elementary school are on free or reduced lunch, so we clearly have more work to.
The Norfolk Food Pantry has also seen their number of requests double in the last few weeks. They suspect the increase has to do with the discontinuation of supplemental employment assistance during the pandemic.
The reverse Advent calendar is a win-win situation. Participants get to do an act of kindness every day leading up to Christmas. People in need will have access to food.
Added bonus if you live in Norfolk: You can drop off your filled food box at Battell Chapel from 5:00-8:00pm on Christmas Eve and get to experience a drive through experience with luminaries, lessons, and carols.
If you don’t live in Norfolk, then I’m confident any local food bank would be grateful to get a box filled food.
If you want to hear more about how the reverse Advent calendar works, you can watch a video of the church’s online service here. I come in at about 6:36. You can also see my decorated reverse advent calendar box. Even though I am the Director of Community and Creativity, the creativity does not necessarily translate to arts and craftsy type projects.
Here’s a link to the Advent devotional I spoke of in the video. I made the devotional book myself and I think it’s one of my greatest creations in 2020. Okay, Canva helped. A lot. I don’t know what I would do without their templates because design and color combos are not my strengths. But I did find the quotes and choose the pictures featured each day. Anyway, I hope you like it! Here’s a sneak peak to entice you to click on the link!
And just to be thorough and accommodating, here’s an easy-to-print calendar without the daily devotional:
May you find joy and gratitude this Advent season! If you have any questions or would like to use the reverse Advent calendar daily devotional I created for UCC (Congregational), Norfolk, feel free to reach out to me at genesis.potentia(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com. A few simple edits and you can use it at any church, any where.
Last week was an emotional week for me, as it was for many Americans. I had already cried many tears in the last several weeks leading up to the election. I had hope that the current president would be defeated. But I also felt terrified he would not. I didn’t know how I could stand another four years of the heartache.
Someone once asked me why I care so much. I’m not always good at thinking of a quick response and I couldn’t come up with a coherent answer that summed up everything I was feeling about the election. I mean, I was sobbing at the time, so I’m not sure what kind of answer I could come up with in that kind of moment.
I’ve taken the time to reflect on that moment these last few weeks. Here’s what I’ve come up with about why I care so much.
In the past, I’ve served as a math and literacy volunteer at the local elementary school. Children are adorable! They’re clever and witty and they’re imaginations are delightful.
From one of the students I worked with at Botelle Elementary.
Knowing that our country purposefully chose to separate children from their parents at the border and put them in cages has destroyed pieces of my heart. I don’t understand why everyone also isn’t destroyed by this cruelty. Sometimes, I wonder if people just lack empathy that they could never imagine a situation in which they could be separated from their children in such an awful and scary way. And, perhaps, even if they couldn’t, surely they have heard the words of Jesus at some point in their lives – that which you did for the least of my brothers, you did unto me. I suppose those words don’t really mean that much to people anymore.
Or, what about knowing that these children are watching and hearing “the most powerful man in the world” berate, condemn, criticize, name call, insult, and admit to sexually assaulting women and not be held accountable? He is not a role model for children in any way, shape, or form. Yes, I cry over the idea that some children will lose their innocence because somehow this level of rudeness, incivility, and criminality is acceptable to many people. It will never be acceptable to me.
There is only one person that I stay in touch with from my grade school and high school years. She is a Black person and I love her dearly. When Heath and I eloped, I carried pictures in my pocket of all the people I would have had as a bridesmaid in my wedding party if we had married in a traditional ceremony.
How can I love her and value our friendship and not get emotional when I see people in this country targeted for something as stupid as skin color? What if she were next?
Some of my favorite students from my time as a college professor are Muslims. These students are some of my best and brightest memories from an often-depressing time in my life when I wasn’t brave enough to say I had chosen the wrong career path.
We share the same God! How is it fair that their particular beliefs are not just considered less sacred than mine, but also considered radicalized and extremist? Christianity has also had its fair share of radicalization and extremism throughout history, yet somehow, we’re better than others? How does that make sense?
One of my favorite people at the church I attend is a 90-something year old woman named Dottie. I love her! She has such a mischievous twinkle in her eyes and she is always happy to see me. Getting a hug from Dottie is one of my favorite parts about going to church on Sundays. I haven’t hugged Dottie since March due to the pandemic. It is almost painful to see her and not be able to hug her. So, yes, I cry over this loss. How many more people are out there who can’t hug each other? Who miss their family members? And for some people, there will never again be the chance to hug them. Over 238,000 people in our country died in part because of the ineptitude of our leaders. It is so bad that one of the most esteemed medical journals in the country took a stance on the election for the first time in their 200+ year history. My dad was a doctor. I took it very personally when the president claimed that doctors get more money when they put “covid” on a death certificate. Yes, of course, I am emotional!
But that’s not the case everywhere. Millions of acres of protected lands have now been opened for industrialization. God is the breath of life! When there are no more trees, how are we going to breathe?
Seeing polar bears lose their habitat and the rippling effects that loss of arctic ice has on the rest of the world devastates me. I can’t imagine a world without these bumbling, lovable, playful, and yes, powerful creatures, and I can’t imagine a world where we can survive the coming climate catastrophe from climate change. Why wouldn’t I cry over more loss of life?
As I think over this list, frankly, it is amazing that I wasn’t crying nonstop these last four years! But you grieve when you need to and then you live the best you can other times. Hopefully, there’s a good balance between the two. For the last month or so, I have been so out of balance I cried many, many days.
This morning as I stood by our sliding glass door and stared out the window, I realized a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Everything that broke my heart these last four years, those problems are still there. Yet, I now have hope.
In fact, today when I walked Dodger in the woods, I sang to God about my blessings. I do not have a singing voice. And then, I cried. But this time, they were tears of joy.
This past week, I had to cover the Circulation Desk for the afternoon hours at the library. So, I didn’t get my usual dog/nature fix with Annie on our bi-weekly afternoon romps in the woods.
Thank Dogness, I also have this guy in my life:
Just like Annie, Dodger is a spirited dog with lots of heart and personality. His sassiness level is several notches above Annie, whom I’m convinced is an actual angel in a dog costume. As such, instead of nicknames like Annie Banannie, Dodger gets nicknames like Bossy Britches and Sassafrass.
Nevertheless, I LOVE him. I’m also grateful I had an excuse to be out in the woods this last week as fall lives up to its name and our trees are starting to get a little bare.
That’s not the case everywhere here, as evidenced by this glorious tree I came upon on Saturday while driving back from Oblong Books in Millerton, New York.
When I see this kind of overwhelming beauty these days, a sense of sadness wells up in my heart and spills out as tears. It’s the same sadness that takes over me when I watch leaves swirl through the air, then tumble to the ground for their final resting place.
I can’t help but think about how last fall, my dad didn’t know that would be the last time in his life that he would get to see the leaves change to their ultimate glory. He didn’t know it would be his last Halloween. No more eating the stash of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups my mom started buying in September, just to make sure she had enough. He would never again get to wish my niece or mom a happy birthday.
He didn’t know.
Most of us don’t.
So on this cold and chilly fall day in Norfolk, I take a few moments to Thank God that I’m still here. I Thank God that I get to watch the leaves light up my drive to and from work and brighten my already delightful time in the woods with Annie and Dodger. I Thank God for my loving and supportive husband and my family and friends.
Part of my job at the Norfolk Library is to research what other libraries are offering in terms of programming. I then make recommendations to the Executive Director and Events Coordinator.
Since nearly every library event is a virtual library event, I’ve also taken the liberty to sign up for events at libraries across the state.
On September 14th, I participated in a country line dancing class through the Bloomfield Library. The next class is on October 19th, if anyone else would like to sign up.
Two weeks ago, Heath and I participated in an online calligraphy class. In just 90 minutes, I learned some good calligraphy skills, as well as tips as how to spiff up the letters with color. We first practiced writing the alphabet, then we moved on to the most famous pangram in the English language:
For my final project of the night, we were asked to select a single word or a phrase to write. Here’s what I chose, in honor of this dog that I love so very much.
Another class I signed up for is a 5-week workshop on grief journaling. This workshop is through the Greenwich Library and is taught by a certified grief counselor. The theme of the workshop is processing grief during the time of Covid. I thought I’d make a good candidate for the class since this past summer has been especially filled with loss and sadness, in addition to the grief and loss of the pandemic, as well as the fall of our country.
One of the insights I’ve already gained from the workshop is that I’m not as aware of the quiet moments of happiness in my life anymore since this summer. I consider quiet moments of happiness to be the ordinary moments in my day that despite their mundanity, still bring about a feeling of wonder, awe, or delight. Upon reflection, the sadness from my losses or the exhaustion from having narcolepsy has consumed much of my mental bandwidth. The quiet moments are still there, I’m just not present enough to always recognize them.
Now that I’m actively trying to pay more attention, I’ve been moderately successful.
A friend recently sent me a prism so I could brighten up my day with rainbows. I often carry the prism with me to work so I can take the rainbows with me. We had a brilliant day of sunshine recently and I was treated to this quiet moment of happiness.
Then there’s the book donation chute at the library. I do NOT have a mechanical mind and understanding mechanics and engineering do not really interest me at all. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the outcome. Watching boxes of books travel down this chute takes me back to Museum of Scientific Discovery in Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, that I loved so much as a kid. Every time I put a box of books on this chute, I feel delighted!
It’s been two months since my Dad and then Smudge died.
The days are getting shorter, which screws with my narcolepsy almost as badly as jet lag.
I’m also now working 8am-1pm at the library Monday-Friday, which I love, but keeping these hours is also challenging my sleep-wake cycle.
All to say, I don’t really have much to say right now. So instead, I will regale you with some mushrooms from my recent walks in the woods with Annie.
Being with Annie in the woods is a health tonic unlike any other. She truly is a divine being living a canine existence, and I’m so grateful every chance I get to be out in the woods with her.
I usually get to walk her twice a week and we always hit the Barbour Woods. I’ve never noticed the mushrooms until now. I think I’ve been missing out.
I also posted some of these pictures on Facebook. Here’s what one of my friends said:
I guess I am old. Or at least I’m getting there. If I live as long as my Dad, God and Kelly willing, then that gives me a solid more 30 years to take more pictures of rocks and trees (and dogs, of course). Sounds like a wonderful way to spend time.
Enjoy these beautiful fall days and please be gentle with yourselves during this time of seasonal transition. If you ever start feeling that something’s not right, it could very well be the change in daylight. Just know you’re not alone.
In some ways, losing Smudge is more difficult than losing my dad. With my dad, I had a few weeks to prepare. I saw him suffer – first in the hospital and then at home in hospice care. Even with the hourly morphine he lived in pain. Nobody should have to live or die like that. I’m grateful he’s now at peace.
With Smudge, I had no preparation. I received a message on my phone that Smudge had been taken to the vet that morning. The vet recommended he be put down as soon as possible because tumors had infiltrated several organs.
I remember sobbing words like, NO, and it’s too much. I remember the weight of the news literally knocking me to the floor. I pushed a button on my phone and talked to Smudge’s human brother. He held his phone out so I could see Smudge at the vet. It was through video messenger that I said goodbye to him. I told him he was so handsome. That he was the best good dog ever. That I loved him. Then I hung up because I was afraid my sobbing through the video was causing more stress to Smudge than he needed.
I will never be able to thank Smudge’s human brother enough for calling me. For giving me a chance to say goodbye.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t see Smudge before I left for Pennsylvania when my dad took a turn for the worse. I stopped to see my friends Cecily and Dodger on my way out of town. I didn’t know how long I’d be gone, and I thought if I didn’t see them, I would regret it.
Dodger of Cecily & Dodger
The world can be cruel that way.
It didn’t occur to me to stop and see Smudge and Faith. I knew Faith might not be here when I got back. The vet found a tumor on her liver in January. Every extra moment I’ve had with her has been a gift. I already said goodbye to her, just in case, when our housesitting gig with them ended in June. I whispered in her ear all the things I love about her. I told her how much I loved taking care of her.
But Smudge … the last time I saw him he danced around the yard, splashing in the pond, and wagging his tail at the speed of light. I thought Smudge might actually live forever. Or at least to 16 or 18 years old.
The last time I said goodbye to Smudge it was more of a see you later. I fully expected to have more time with him. I would sit on the rock in the pond and we would be together. I would nuzzle his head and rub his ears. Then, I would kiss his forehead and say see you later. We would then repeat this togetherness for months or years to come.
I could not have been more wrong.
This pain and regret will be with me for months, if not years, to come. Much like the time I thought I had with Smudge.
The thing is, it’s totally worth it. Because I got to love Smudge for almost four years. I wouldn’t trade that time and those experiences for anything.