Author Archives: Kelly

Finding Wonder in a Crowd

TItle

The first time I visited New York City, my mom got us tickets to see Cats for my 11th birthday. Everything about the trip and the city appeared glamorous to me – the show’s costumes and makeup, the skyscrapers and people, the miles and miles of fancy stores with huge windows that displayed sophistication and wealth.

We returned to the city several times during the next two decades or so, usually to see a Broadway show, sometimes during the Christmas season. Every time, I felt a sense of wonder and awe and for a few years of my life I fantasized about what it would be like if I lived in the New York.

My husband, who was born and raised in the Nashville, visited New York City for the first time in October 2016. As a photographer, he found tons of inspiration in the people and architecture, and he’s been wanting to return ever since. So when an opportunity presented itself for us to housesit in an apartment in the financial district of NYC this last week, we said YES!

Nearly everyone we spoke to were so excited for us to spend Christmas in New York. We received many recommendations and we made our to-do lists. We both wanted to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and the ice skating rink, so that’s where we headed on Christmas Day.

I felt almost giddy with nostalgia of the times my family and I had walked down 5th Avenue. Then we actually got to 5th Avenue and, Dear God, what had I been thinking?

Once when I lived in the Chicago area, I headed downtown on Christmas Eve to spend the evening with a friend and her mother. The city felt peaceful and quiet, with a cold solitude enveloping the night.  Hardly anyone else was out and about and I delighted in how easy it was for me to find my way around and secure a parking space without parallel parking.

Naively, I held the same expectations for Christmas in New York. I could not have been more wrong.

THOUSANDS UPON THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE EVERYWHERE! People crammed onto every street corner, jostling for position to view the tree and ice skaters. SO. MANY. PEOPLE.

I still couldn’t resist having this picture taken:

Tree

Seriously, how cute is my husband?

Then we headed to Saks 5th Avenue. STILL. MORE. PEOPLE.

All the People 2 All the People 3

 

It was like Disney World. Literally. And I really do mean literally because this year Saks opted to have their windows display scenes from Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

As a writer, I felt a huge sense of disappointment and dismay. Not to minimize the work and production that went into creating these windows, but where was the imagination in this process? Every single scene was a snapshot from the movie and I’m pretty sure most are featured on the Disney World ride.

Equally disappointing was that every window featured sponsorship by Mastercard. Although, I suppose nothing says Merry Christmas in our 21s century consumeristic society like a credit card.

SNow White 1 Snow White 3

Just when I was on the brink of feeling totally Scrooge like at everything going on around me, two small miracles occurred. First, I got to experience this child’s wonder at seeing the windows:

Little GIrl with windows

Then, I just happened to be there when the Saks’ storefront came alive in lights and music:

For a moment, I could let go of ALL. THE. PEOPLE. and I could feel the wonder around me.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last too long. I don’t know if it’s the energy in NYC or something else, but with where I am right now in my life, NYC and I are just not that into each other.

The real highlights of my trip were the animals I got to take care of and love. Meet Clyde, a mini-Schnauzer:

Clyde

Schroeder, a Bichon Frise:

Schroeder

Sheena, a very vocal white cat:

And Heisenberg, a handsome ball of fluff and fur:

Heisenberg

The single best part of the trip is the fact that Sheena rides around in a backpack.

Sheena in Backpack

Walk

We took her for a walk the first day and I’m so glad we did because it’s been so freakin’ cold every day thereafter, and even though Sheena has a sweater, it’s just too cold outside for her little body.

Sheena in sweater

FUN FACT: The sweater Sheena has is the same sweater I bought for Cody the Boxer when I lived in Naperville, IL.

Cody in Sweater

A gang of dogs and cats wearing matching skull-and-cross-bones sweaters? Sounds like a children’s book in the making!

There are so many benefits to the housesitting lifestyle, but at the top of my list are the sources of inspiration I encounter with each new house and animal I meet.

After this recent stay in New York, I can say with certainty that any fantasy I had about living in the city in now kaput. I wouldn’t trade the week for anything, though, because now I find myself dreaming of the stories I could write about my new furry friends.

At this very moment there could be an editor thinking to themselves, what I really want in a picture book is a story about a cat who goes everywhere in a backpack or a little dog who takes on the winter world when he’s wearing his flannel cape.

Schroeder in coat

These will likely be the next stories I write. Because they’re based on my house-sitting adventures and animals I now know and love, the writing process is going to be one of joy and enthusiasm.

Nothing may ever come of these stories, although I hope that’s not the case. But in the meantime, I’m going to give myself some good laughs, stretch my creativity and imagination, and work on the art and craft of picture book writing.

Wishing everyone one a Happy New Year! May 2018 be filled with abundant joy, prosperity, love, light, and laughter.

End Note: I wrote this post before I found out yesterday that a dog I love dearly had to be put to sleep. He was surrounded by his family at the time, and although I am so sad the world has lost such a funny, loyal, brave, and true companion, I am grateful for the love and laughter he brought into our lives. If everyone who has a pet could give them a special hug and kiss from me today, I would appreciate it. The world is always a better place when there’s more love in it.

Thinking About Death During the Holidays

Christmas is coming

With Christmas fast approaching and only nine days left in 2017, it’s time for my yearly reflection entitled, “Even Though It’s Christmas, People Still Die.” And yes, I totally stole this idea from the late 1990’s sitcom Friends.

Because I know many of my friends and family who read my blog sometimes worry about me based on what I write, let me clarify that thinking about death during the holidays does not mean I’m depressed. Quite the opposite.

This has been one of the happiest, most joyful years of my life.  2017 also happened to be the year I read five different books on happiness (two of them I re-read for the second time):

ANtidote

Subtle art

Happiness Project

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joy

I recently told someone about all these books and she joked, “shouldn’t you be happy by now?”  Her point is excellent, except I read these types of books as someone who has a professional interest in psychology, science, and research, more than as an I need these books to improve my life mentality.

Although, I would be lying if I said these books haven’t improved how I live. Each one of them has contributed positively to some aspect of my life, most notably The Sweet Spot because I’m now exercising on a regular basis and it’s become an actual habit.

What I find most interesting about these books is that every single one of them included a chapter on death. They all claimed that to truly experience sustained and long-term joy, you have to keep your own death a central part of your life.

Last Christmas, death ended up being forefront in my mind because one of the dogs we were caring for had been diagnosed with a mass on his spleen. He didn’t have much longer in this world and sure enough, he died within a month.

moon-cropped

I also wrote last Christmas about my 43-year-old cousin Becky, who was diagnosed with cancer in December of 2013, and succumbed to the disease in April, 2014.

Those losses are still heavy in my heart today, just like all the other people and animals I’ve lost throughout my life. But like these books suggest, I don’t allow the losses to weigh me down.

Instead, I use their heaviness as reminders which ground me to my own life; they’ve become a rock on which I can stand and look around at our wonderful and marvelous world. These losses lift me up into the here and now because all of us could be one hour, one minute, or even one second away from death and I know it.

Our time is so precious and because I still have so much of it right now (God and Kelly willing), I don’t want to waste it. This reason is why death meditations can be so useful. If I knew 2018 would be my last year on Earth, what would I do differently?

Based on what I wrote last year – spend more time with family and friends, travel with my husband and/or niece to national parks, pet as many dogs along the way as we could, finish my first novel, publish my picture books, and see a bear in the wild – I’m tearing up with happiness right now because I’ve either done what I set out to do or I took major steps towards making these dreams a reality.

In addition to spending time with my parents in Pennsylvania,

Hawk Mountain

and my husband’s parents in Tennessee,

TN Sunset

we visited with various extended family members in North Carolina,

Kelly with Choco Lab

 

 

 

 

 

 

and my husband got to meet my oldest brother who lives in San Antonio, Texas, when we all met up at my parents’ house in Harrisburg.

Hersheypark

 

 

 

 

 

We brought my niece to visit us in Connecticut for a week in May,

Jori and Smudge

and I spent a few days with her in Washington, DC, this fall. We’ve also had friends come visit us in Connecticut and we’re making plans to see some friends in Illinois again this summer.

This past August, my husband and I visited the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio on one of our house-sitting road trips,

Cuyahoga Valley

and this coming June we’ll be in Glacier National Park as part 2 of our super secret summer plans (SURPRISE! This is how my husband is finding out about our trip to Glacier. He still doesn’t know part 1).

Anyone who reads this blog, knows I’ve wholeheartedly met my goal of petting as many dogs as I could along the way, and I even managed to befriend some cats, llamas, chickens, turkeys, a goat, and a pig.

And, although I have not yet seen a bear in the wild, this past July I applied to be a volunteer at the Churchill Northern Studies Center in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada, for bear season (October and November). I had an interview a few months ago for fall 2018 and my prospects look good for being selected as a volunteer.

As for writing, not only did I finish my first novel, but I wrote another book, started two more, and outlined several more. Those don’t count the picture books I finished. I also submitted two stories to Highlights magazine (no word yet on their submission status) and I submitted a blog post to a major minimalism blog that featured the post in their weekly newsletter sent out to over 24,000 readers. Combined with getting an agent to represent my work, this has been a benchmark year for my writing.

So when I think about my life this past year, I can boil it down to one sentiment. I’m about to break a cardinal rule of writing right now (i.e., avoid clichés), but here goes: WOW! My cup runneth over.

I am so grateful to everyone who has supported me along the way, most notably God who gives me the courage to live life this way and my husband who is also my best friend.

The question still remains, though: if 2018 were my last year on Earth, what would I do differently?

My answer? Nothing. It is with delight and joy that I can say this and feel nothing but enthusiasm and hope for the coming year. I’m going to keep on keepin’ on! And maybe, just maybe, I’m finally going to see a bear in the wild.

119 portrait

Contemplating My Place in the World

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Saturday brought significant snow fall to Norfolk.

Snow 2

Snow 1

Since it’s still early in the season, I’m welcoming the snow with open arms and a profound sense of joy. I think part of that has to do with my new dog buddy, Dodger.

Dodger in Snow Edited

At the request of his human mom, I’ve been walking Dodger a few times a week. He’s a frisky pup who likes running and adventures, so when I arrive on their doorstep to pick him up for our walks, you can imagine his excitement. Not only do I receive lots of licks and paw offerings, but he likes to sit on my lap and lean into me like we’re hugging.

Eventually we end our love fest and get on with the walking. But first, I have to get Dodger past the electric fence in his yard. Even without his collar on, he refuses to cross the boundary line. Sometimes, he won’t even get in the car when he thinks it’s too close. But once I drive him out of the yard, we are good to go!

We then head off to a local field for some excellent romping. On the way, I’ve taken to singing Dodger songs, since he’s so happy and I can’t help but feel happy around him. Also, the name Dodger lends itself well to many holiday songs.  For example:

Dodging through the snow

In a one-dog open sleigh

O’er the fields we go

Barking all the way

Woof Woof Woof

Bells on Furry Rings

Making Spirits Bright

What fun it is to Dodge and Sing

A Dodger Dog tonight

Oh, Dodger Dog, Dodger Dog

Dodger All the Way!

Oh what fun it is to Dodge

In a one-dog open sleigh, hey!

Dodger seems to enjoy my singing despite my awful voice.  He definitely enjoys the snow more. Though if I’m being honest, I can’t imagine there are things in this world he doesn’t enjoy.

Dodger in Snow

As we walked through the woods, the snow freezing in my hair, on my hat, and on my scarf, I almost started crying for how beautiful the world looked. I said prayers of gratitude for being allowed to experience the moment; not just the quiet solitude of the snow, but also being blessed with the companionship of Dodger.

Not once when I was a college professor did I ever feel so at one with the world and my place in it than I did for those moments with Dodger in the woods.

I often joke these days that I should start replying to people when they ask that my PhD is in Professional House and Dog Sitting. I know it doesn’t quite have the same prestige as a PhD in psychology, but I didn’t truly belong in the classroom as a professor.

Yes, there are some students out there who have let me know throughout the years that I had a positive impact on their lives; similarly, there are some students who impacted me just the same. I’m not saying I don’t have some wonderful memories of teaching or that I didn’t enjoy certain aspects of my job.

But my heart was never truly in teaching, at least not teaching statistics and research methods. I knew in year 2 of my PhD program that I was in the wrong field. For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t brave enough to quit then.

Once I graduated, I picked a job I thought I would like and one that had many appealing qualities, especially a flexible schedule and summers off. In retrospect, I learned the hard way that when I lived a life I was not passionate about I was slowly poisoning myself. It’s no wonder I had so many health issues for so many years.

Since leaving teaching, I’m still asking the question where do I belong? It’s scary not to be sure, but at the same time exhilarating because I’m open to so many possibilities.  I may never end up knowing the answer for certain, but for right now I can say with enthusiasm and joy in my heart that I belong in the woods, with a dog, writing about the experience. Thank you for your willingness to read my words.  And WOOF! From Dodger.

 

Shoulds Versus Values

Zootopia Title

I spent three full days in Washington DC last week and logged nearly 37 miles of walking, which is the equivalent of 87,954 steps.  Most of those steps took me to one place – the National Zoo!

National Zoo

I know there are so many wonderful educational and cultural opportunities available in DC, yet every day I couldn’t bear not seeing the pandas (pun totally intended).  Although, I did experience some angst that first evening as I debated where I should visit the following day.

After “shoulding” on myself for about half an hour (i.e., I should go here,  I should go there), I realized I had a choice to make.  I could visit several museums or monuments that are iconic of DC and have a rich and storied history, or I could go back to the zoo, visit the pandas again and see all the other animals I didn’t get a chance to because I literally spent hours watching Bei Bei sit in a bucket that first day.

Bei Bei in bucket 2

Bei Bei Video #1

Bei Bei Video #2

The choice wasn’t really a choice at all.  I went with my heart and headed to National Zoo again on Tuesday and then Wednesday, as well.

Panda Mom

Beaver

Elephant 2

Lionesses 2

Red Panda

I know what makes me happiest, and even though I value intellectually enriching experiences, at this point learning about art and history is not a priority in my life.

As I wrote about in my blog last week, I feel some sort of shift coming in my life, especially as I relate to the natural world around me.  My few days at the zoo reaffirmed these feelings.

I know some people may think of zoos as an awful place, a jail where animals are held in captivity.  But I like to think of zoos as the proverbial Noah’s Ark of the 21 century.  Some animals will not survive without the work zoos are doing on a daily basis and many zoos are the bridge that first connects people, especially children, to these wonderful animals.  Without these connections, we stand to lose even more animals, habitat, and natural resources that are so precious and necessary for human survival.

Most zoos today are leaders in animal science and conservation. They have accrediting bodies with standards and quality of care for the animals they house and every day they devote time, money, and personnel to scientific advancement and achievement.  I celebrated these facts for three days as I marveled at the animals I observed, loving every minute of it, and smiling along with the other zoo guests.

Seriously, if you’re ever feeling depressed, head to a zoo and listen to people watching the animals.  Their laughter and joy will warm you from the inside out.  I felt nothing but gratitude and inspiration at the chance to experience such exuberant joy

Those three days in DC were a wonderful gift.  I’m so glad I know myself enough to not waste time on anything else that’s not going to fill my heart with joy.  Next time, I hope to completely skip the “shoulding” on myself and head right for those bears.  I sure do miss them.  I wonder if they miss me?

Kelly with Panda 2

After Thanksgiving Reflections

What Comes Next Title

Thanksgiving is now behind us!  I’m delighted to report I’ve kept nearly all my daily habits, including writing, exercise, and mindful eating for the entire time we’ve been at my parents’ house.  Not only does it feel good, but the positive reinforcement motivates me to keep going.

We’ll see what happens when my family and I head to Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane today.  I suspect there may be a peanut butter hot fudge sundae in my future.

One of the best parts of being in Harrisburg is that my 21-year-old niece is also visiting.  She’s a junior Chemistry-Economics double-major at UT-Austin, and the smarty-pants that she is, she’s participating in the Archer Fellowship in Washington DC this semester as a science policy intern.  Note: NOT scientology, which is what my Dad heard her say at the Thanksgiving table.

My niece seems to be fully embracing my anti-consumeristic, eco-justice, pacifist tendencies.  She also seems to be passing me on some levels of intelligence, which is both scary and awesome.  Although, I will never let her live down this sentence that she wrote for a class paper a few summers ago when she was feeling more than a little burnt out: War is wrong and bad.

Someday I hope to have this saying printed on a t-shirt.

But, honestly, how could I not be proud of someone who creates Snapchats like this:

IMG_0766 IMG_0826

My niece and I are going to take a bus back to Washington, DC tomorrow so we can hang out a little bit longer. On our agenda are the National Zoo and a walking tour of the National Monuments.  I can’t wait to see the pandas!  Although I appreciate our Founding Fathers (and Mothers, but you don’t see much representation of them), they aren’t quite so roly-poly:

When I was younger, I used to have a fantasy that I’d be famous enough to be a guest on a talk show that coincidentally happened to be the same day Jack Hanna was also a guest. And he just happened to have brought roly-poly baby animals with him.

Okay, maybe I still have this fantasy, but as an animal lover I just can’t help.  I think this is why my niece and I get along so well.  We both feel a kindred sense of connection with all creatures great and small.

As I get older and become more aware of my place in this world, I’m realizing just how much my love for animals is a major driving force in my life.  Before I developed a host of health issues, I was a vegetarian because I felt hypocritical for loving dogs and eating cows.

Now that I’ve regained good health, I slowly find myself returning to my vegetarian ways.  But because I did have such severe health problems, that return is limping along at a snail’s pace.  I suppose it’s partly fear – I don’t ever want to be that unhealthy again – and partly selfishness – animal meat can taste delicious.

This year I’ve stopped eating pork and next year I plan to stop eating fish.  I suspect giving up fish will be quite easy as most fish now consume so much plastic that’s been dumped in the ocean, it’s found in their bodies in significant quantities.  So gross!  Humans can ruin everything, including the ocean.

Whenever I start feeling depressed over our ravaging of the environment, I remind myself of the incredibly bright and motivated people, like my niece, who are working to protect our planet. Sometimes I’m also one of them.

Lately, I’ve been thinking I should be doing more.  I feel some sort of positive shift coming with my connection to the natural world.  I don’t know what exactly and I’m feeling excited.  I’ve had a couple of ideas that I’m slowly refining, with some forward progress. I’m not quite sure what it’s all about right now, so I can’t really share more.

In the meantime, I will keep my eyes and heart open to the natural world around me.  Perhaps something will inspire me, or I’ll receive guidance from an unexpected source.  Maybe I’ll get to hold a baby animal at the National Zoo?  Probably not, but I’ll never stop dreaming.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  My love, gratitude, and appreciation for your continued support and encouragement.

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

It's almost Turkey Time

Mid-November is apparently the time of year when things almost fall on my car.  This photo is from November 12th, 2015:

Tree bRANCH THEN

And here’s today’s photos:

Fall brnach today 3 fALL BRANCH TODAY 2 Fallen branch today 1

I could have been driving on Route 44 when that big honkin’ tree came down!  Talk about kick-in-the-pants gratitude.  I always welcome these small moments into my life that remind me how truly lucky I am.

There is a downside to this fallen tree (HAHA, downside – get it?).  It stopped me from meeting up this morning with one of my writing partners.  She was, of course, understanding and gracious about my last-minute cancellation.  I just hate wasting people’s time and she didn’t get any of my emails informing her of my blocked street.

I also don’t get the benefit of discussing writing craft with her, sharing our weekly writing updates on our projects, and commiserating over the long and arduous path to publication.  Since next week is Thanksgiving, it will be a few more weeks before we can reconnect again.  So, I’m doubly bummed about missing out on all the writing fun we have together.

In the meantime, my husband and I will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, to spend the holiday with my parents, brother, and niece.  I’m quite looking forward to it and this will be the first real test since September to see if my writing and exercise habits that I’ve been developing stick.

I’m at the half-way point towards my 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week interval training goal.  Using Dr. Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot as my guide, I’m building this habit slowly, by tacking on an extra minute of cardio every week to my already established 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week strength training regime.  For example, today I lifted weights with my upper body for 20 minutes and then I alternated in 30-second increments of frenetic dancing with marching/dancing in place for a total of 10 minutes.

Confession: Today I exercised a little bit longer so I could finish dancing to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the FeelingI dare you to try listening to it and not dancing to the entire song.

Normally, I abide by my strict time limits because I don’t want to get ahead of myself and then build the activity too quickly.  I know myself too well and that is a surefire way for me to burnout and then give up.

Adding one minute on each week seems to be the trick for me to keep up with this routine.  Although sometimes I forget that my morning exercise routine now takes longer than 20 minutes and I do occasionally feel rushed.

Anyway, it’s easy to have my morning habits in place when I follow the same pattern every day: Get up around 5:30-6:30am, feed the dogs and let them out, hand write 2 pages of my latest novel, hand write a prayer to start my day, which will also serve as a first draft prayer for a daily devotional I’m writing, meditate for 20 minutes, and then workout.

With the time I’ll be in Harrisburg and the few days after that in which I’ll be staying with my niece in Washington, DC, there’s sure to be disruption along the way.

One of the keys to disruptions that Dr. Carter writes about in The Sweet Spot is to have a plan already in place so you know how to deal with them.

I expect the biggest disruption will be that my daily wake-sleep schedule will completely fall apart.  Traveling makes me feel even more tired than usual and I tend to have very vivid dreams when my schedule is disrupted.  If I wake up feeling exhausted, then I’m less likely to get out of bed in a timely manner.  Then, when I do get up other people in the house are awake and my concentration and time is diverted.

This solution will be easy enough because I’ve had many mornings this past fall where I’ve struggled to get out of bed.  I don’t like writing in bed, but sometimes it’s the compromise I make for being productive and respecting my narcolepsy.  So, I’ll sleep with my notebook and a pen on the side of my bed.  I’ll also keep my phone and headphones nearby.  That way I can also meditate before getting up.

Note to self – un-install social media and gmail apps on my phone, lest I get distracted by those time wasters before accomplishing any of my usual morning goals.

I suppose I could also visualize exercising before getting up, which is my current fallback plan for if I am too exhausted to get out of bed.  But that hasn’t happened yet and I want to use it as a last resort.

If once I am up and about, I’m unable to exercise the way I’d like, my backup plan is to do short, mini-exercises for one-minute increments throughout the day sneaking them in whenever I can.  Ideally, I’d hit 20 increments but 10 is going to be my starting point.  Again, this is a fall back plan so hopefully the 10 versus 20 increments is a moot point.

I’m kind of excited to see how it goes; the other parts of me are worried I’ll chuck everything by the wayside and spend my days gorging on junk food and reclining on the couch.  Psychology tells us that most of what we worry about is imaginary, but having succumbed to the treats at my parents’ house and the comfortableness of the couch one to many times over the past few years, I know this a real and valid concern.

But if nothing else, I have learned by forming my new habits that just because I have behaved a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean I have to behave that way in the future.  It’s up to me to make my choices and I know I will do my best.  That’s all I can ask.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving next week!  I am so grateful for your love and support.

Getting My Nature Fix

Title

This fall has been particularly gray and wet in Norfolk.  To give you some idea, here’s what the Norfolk Creek that runs on the property looked like recently after a few days of steady rain:

 

Here’s what the creek usually looks like:

 

 

We also had our first wintery mix of the season this past Tuesday, too:

 

Wintery MIx

 

I happen to like winter.  The peace and solitude of the season nourishes my soul.  Then there’s the fun and magic of a newly fallen snow.  Winter can be simply wonderful!

Yet, I also love the sun and I’m pretty sure I’m solar powered.  So on Thursday when we had blue skies with fluffy white clouds and a sun that peaked out every once in a while, I wanted to get out of the house and enjoy the feel of sunshine on my face.

I didn’t realize it at first that getting out of the house is what I wanted.  I sat at the kitchen table for a long time Thursday morning feeling like something wasn’t quite right.  My husband and I ate breakfast and then with a whole morning stretching in front of me I thought I would get down to writing.  But something prevented me from getting out my computer and opening up one of my writing projects.

After wasting time on Facebook for a little bit, I forced myself to get up.   I headed to the shower thinking the water would energize me.

Leaving the table ended up being the best choice I could have made, because once upstairs I realized: I needed to get out of the house! Sure, I had been several places throughout the earlier part of the week, but because of the rain I limited a lot of my activity.  I didn’t even crack 4,000 steps on Tuesday.  Monday and Wednesday were hardly any better.

I also had the great idea to take a dog with me.   What an extraordinary afternoon:

Tobey running

I reaped so many benefits from that hour and a half – I felt joyful, energized, creative, and inspired.  It was exactly what I needed and being outside served as a good reminder that for me, nature really is the best medicine.

I kept this idea forefront in my mind Friday, too.  Another gloriously sunny day, though we’re also experiencing record colds for the second week in November.  I decided not to let that stop me from walking to someone’s house approximately 1.5 miles away for some tea and conversation.

A few people expressed concern that I’d be walking in 20-ish degree weather.  But I had a hat, scarf, gloves, long underwear, and a feeling of excitement to be out in the sunshine moving around.  I left with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

Besides, the distance wasn’t that far.  I once headed out on the Las Vegas strip to walk four miles to a handstand yoga class a Whole Foods was offering.  The concierge, bellman, and doorman all told me NOT to walk.  I said various forms of ”pshah,” to the them – I could walk four miles no problem.  Didn’t they know I got an A in my walking class in college?

I quickly learned a four-mile walk in the desert, even in April, is right up there on the list of stupid things I’ve done, especially when you have no water, don’t wear a hat, and forget extra sunscreen.  I’d put that walk slightly below breaking my ankle while chasing after a bird on the ancient Inca trail in the Andes Mountains of Peru and then thinking I could walk the injury off.  I felt pretty confident walking 1.5 miles in the cold, on a populated path, while completely bundled up, wouldn’t even compare. And I was right!  Looks like my intuition is finally getting better.

A little over halfway on my cold-weather sojourn, I received an IM from my husband: Hey babe. Are you cold? My response: Exhilarated!

I made it to my destination no problem and even managed to snag some quality time with a dog.  His name is Max and don’t tell Tobey, Smudge, or Faith, but I LOVE HIM!

Cropped MAz

What another wonderful day.  It’s amazing what a little sunshine and time outdoors can do for the spirit.

As we head into more wet weather before the snow arrives, I’m going to be more mindful of how I can work with the season to stay connected to nature.  As long as I take proper precautions, there’s no reason I can’t be outside when it’s rainy and cold.  I shouldn’t let those conditions stop me.  The same indomitable spirit that overcomes me when it’s sunny is still there when it’s raining.  I just might have to dig a little deeper to bring that spirit forth.

Happy 21st Birthday to My Niece!

Happy Birthday BT

HB Now

Tomorrow marks an important milestone in my family’s genealogy – my niece turns 21! I can hardly believe it.  I remember when she was a little nubbins of a human being, super sweet and quiet, barely making a sound.

Little Nubbins 2

Since then she has grown into an extraordinary adult.  And although I can no longer pick her up, some of us still can because her nubbinsy-ways have carried forth.

Jori and Heath,

To celebrate this momentous occasion, here are 21 reasons why my niece is AWESOME, in no particular order.

#1.  Her nickname is Monster because she was so quiet and good-natured as a baby that I had to somehow create excitement for her; thus, an ironic nickname.Jori Baby

#2. She loves dogs nearly as much as I do (she’d probably argue that we are on equal footing when it comes to doggo love; however, as I’m older that means I’ve had more time to love them).

Jori and Faith

#3.  In the Harry Potter Universe, she’d totally be a Ravenclaw. That girl is SMART! and I’m not saying this because I’m biased (and I’d totally be in Hufflepuff, by the way).  She graduated from high school with the highest science GPA in her class, she got accepted into the Honors College at UT-Austin, she double majors in Chemistry and Economics, and she’s living right now in Washington DC as part of a prestigious fellowship program.

Harry Potter motorcycle

#4. Her motto is, “God made the dirt and dirt don’t hurt.”  Don’t we look GOOD in our detox mud masks?

DSCN2210

#5. She totally gets my narcolepsy frustrations because she has narcolepsy, too!

SNug as a bug in a rug

#6. Even though she has narcolepsy, she was totally on board with my let’s go watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon plan during our 2016 southwest springbreak roadtrip extravaganza.  As she said when the sun started to rise, “Narcoleptics Prevail!”

Grand Canyon

#7. Speaking of roadtrips, she’s always up for one! So far we’ve gone from San Antonio, TX to Chapel Hill, NC, by way of Hot Springs, Arkansas, with stops in Austin, Murfreesboro, and Memphis; Phoenix to Las Vegas, with stops at the Petrified Forest, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon; and a mini-tour of CT ala the television show Gilmore Girls.

Jori on bridge

with dinosaur

Gazebo

#8. Together we created only one rule for our roadtrips – if you see a stone staircase, you have to take it!

Stone stair case

#9. You should always stop at botanical gardens, too, especially when they’re on a top 10 list.  That’s not an official roadtrip rule, but I think it’s good practice.  I almost didn’t stop because I thought the admission fee was too high.  That would have been silly, but she was okay with that. This glass chapel helped me see the error my ways.

Glass Chapel

#10. She’s enthusiastic about llamas, as we all should be!

Jori and Jack the Llama

#11. If you ask her to make a face like a tiger, she quickly obliges.

Tiger Face

#12. She also quickly obliges when you ask her to play games like Memory. I will never get tired of playing games like that, especially with someone as fun as she is.

DSCN2147

#13. Her advice is excellent. When I asked her how I should tell my parents my husband and I eloped in Nashville, she suggested I spell it out during a game of Scrabble since my mom and I play every time I visit home.

Married with Jori's picture

#14. Hamburger cakes are just weird, but because she wanted to try one I now know differently.

Harburger Cake edited

#15. She believes in reduce, reuse, and recycle. See these awesome sandals?  She wore them for a few seasons then passed them on to me when I needed a pair.

Sandals

#16. Even though she’s sleepy a lot of the time, she’s always willing to be a co-pilot. Even when we have to drive to the airport at 4:00am.

Copilot

#17. We both hate Las Vegas. That right there makes her an outstanding individual.

Las Vegas

#18. She always has a book to read.  And she takes it with her everywhere!

Jori Reading

Always book

Jori with Book 2

#19. My extreme sun safety protective measures – she always supports them.

At the beach

#20. Have you seen her smile?  Beautiful, always.

IMG_1388

#21. She is a bright light in this world. Literally and figuratively.

Inner beauty

Happy 21st birthday!  These last 21 years have been a true gift.  Thanks for being one of the best parts of my life.  You are amazing and I love you.

 

The Benefits of Taking a Break

Title

We’ve been having some extraordinary weather in Norfolk this fall.  It’s been in the 70s and 80s and from what people have been saying, the fall foliage hasn’t been too spectacular.

I beg to differ.  Here’s exhibit A:

Exhibit A

And Exhibit B:

Exhibit B

The weather has cooled off a bit and it looks like we’re going into more days of rain with more decreasing temperatures.  So I’m glad I took some time off from writing this week to meet up with a new friend.

I met this friend at an artist’s opening we both happened to attend in early September.  I knew some of her local photographs, and with my husband who is also a photographer, we struck up a conversation about how much we love Norfolk, amongst other things.

We then became friends on Facebook.  One day last week, up popped in my Facebook feed a notification that this friend was attending an event at White Memorial Conservation Center.  My husband and I have driven by White Memorial many times, most notably on our way to Arethusa Dairy to get the best ice cream in CT and possibly the United States (rumor has it they wash the cows’ butts with Pantene Pro V every day to avoid tail poop contamination with their udders), but we had never stopped there.

The event looked fascinating.  A Scottish naturalist and biologist named Bernie Lundie would lecture on what it means to be wild.  Having an interest in the nature-human connection, I thought attending would be well worth my time.  Plus, I’d get to hang out a bit more with my new friend.

My friend and I chatted about the event on Facebook Messenger for a bit, before she ended the conversation with a temporary farewell as she had to see to her pig.  Of course, I wanted to know more about that.  So that’s how on this past Monday I ended up at her family’s farm outside of Norfolk.

farm

OH. MY. GOSH.

Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe scenery.  I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful fall day.  Then there are her animals.  I am delighted to introduce to you:

Abe R Ham the pig

Hammy 2

If you love him as much as I do, he has his own Facebook page.  Just search for Abe R. Ham @AbethePig

Zorro the goat

Zorro

A frisky little fellow who has a very sweet, playful personality.

And Drummy the turkey who is as majestic as he looks.

Drummy

There was also a peacock out and about but he never made his presence known.

What a wonderful way to spend the day! I sat surrounded by everything I love about nature – changing leaves, fluffy clouds, a placid lake, and ANIMALS!  Plus, I got know my new friend a little bit better and I have a feeling we’re going to be friends for a long time.

After such a wonderful day outdoors, I felt refreshed on so many levels – mentally, physically, and spiritually.  It’s a good reminder for whenever I feel myself become too time invested in my writing.  There are benefits to taking a break – friends, pigs, goats, turkeys, and fall foliage are just a few of them.

The Positive Ways Narcolepsy Has Affected My Life

Title

After writing last week about how frustrated and angry I felt with having narcolepsy, a funny thing happened.  I began to feel better about the situation.

Initially, I debated even writing that post.  Narcolepsy is a part of my life, but I didn’t want my struggles with it to define me.  I wondered if I shared my feelings, would I suddenly be “that person who can’t cope.”

Why that would bother me is a post for another day, but in retrospect, I realized it was silly to think a one-time post would become the essence of who I am as presented to the world, more so than my dozens of posts about writing, playing with dogs, procrastinating, and dreaming about seeing bears in the wild.

Instead, I felt free from the hold that my poor-quality sleep had on me.  Once I got out all my feelings, the anger and resentment stayed on the screen and allowed me head space to start moving on.  I thought to myself, well, if this is how it’s going to be for the rest of my life, does that change anything?  I realized, no, it did not.  I still have goals and dreams I’m working towards and I’m not going to stop.  I may be more tired along the way, but I didn’t come this far to quit now.

My gratitude habit also kicked in about 24 hours after I wrote that post.  For years now, I have either written prayers of gratitude for the blessings in my life or I have practiced gratitude in a meditative form.  I honestly could not help but think of all the ways narcolepsy has improved my life.  The biggest way is that I realized if I only have so much energy to expend, then it’s going to go towards things I value the most:

  • prioritizing my health

flip flops

  • writing

Writers Group

  • being an animal enthusiast

Snake

  • serving others with the best of my talents

COP

  • connecting to nature

SMudge at HayStack

  • traveling to new places (preferably with my husband and/or family)

Library

  • growing my spirituality

TObey and Erick

  • and now that I’m married, loving my husband as much as I possibly can (super easy; he’s such a good person and so cute!)

Heath edited

Not on the list of things I valued was being an associate professor of psychology, and so my narcolepsy was one of the biggest motivating factors to give me the courage to quit my job, and give up tenure, amazing benefits, and a matching retirement account.  Thank you, narcolepsy.

I also didn’t expect the amount of love and support I received from friends and family who read my post.  My phone blew up with blog comments, Facebook comments, IMs, emails, and pictures of polar bears, all from people who wanted me to know they heard what I had to say.  I received validation, empathy, and sympathy, and let me tell you it felt really good.

These responses were especially meaningful to me because there was a time when I lived a rather isolated experience.  At that time, my closest friend at work had moved on, my office had changed locations to accommodate my narcolepsy so I could have a space with natural sunlight from a window and my new suitemates didn’t have the same level of socialization as my previous ones, I wasn’t on social media, and most of my friends (the few that I made since moving to Illinois) lived more than 30 minutes away (on a good day), and the ones who lived close by were married with families.  I felt lonely for many days and then a doctor told me, “you need to spend time with people.”

It took me several months to really buy in to what the doctor said, but once I did I began to realize just how important community is.  Especially when you are dealing with chronic illness.

So, thank you to everyone for showing your love and support.  Two days after I wrote my blog post last week, I got a decent night’s sleep.  And the night after that, and another night after that.  For three days in a row, I felt like I had won the sleep lottery.  I believe it can happen.  I plan on using a natural sun light for when the Connecticut mornings are dark and dreary.  I’m going to utilize my health insurance for therapy to help me cope on sleepy days.  I’m also going to investigate acupuncture as an option.

There are so many wonderful things going on in my life.  It looks like narcolepsy just may be one of them.