We left Norfolk yesterday afternoon with no expectation for when we’ll return. Our 3-month housesit morphed into 6.5 years, and now it’s finally over. There have been lots of tears (me, not Heath) and lots of goodbyes.
I look forward to our future. We’re on our way to a housesit in Colorado by way of Harrisburg, PA, and Nashville, TN. The emotions of wrapping up our life in Norfolk are too raw right now for me to write about in full right now, so this blog post is all I can manage.
Most of these photos are from our going away “party” at the Berkshire Country Store on Saturday. I apprecaite eveyrone who showed up (and brought their dogs!), as well as those who offered well wishes if they couldn’t attend.
Fergus and his humans did come to the party, but I was too busy holding him to take any proper pictures. This photo is from our actual goodbye at Fergus’s house on Sunday morning. Of the goodbyes I had to make, this is one of the hardest. It’s tied with saying goodbye to Annie and her human.
I have nothing but gratitude and love for the people and dogs of Norfolk who stole my heart during these last 6.5 years. You have changed me forever. Thank you!
Dodger and I have been buddies since November 2017. At a book discussion of The Book of Joy by the Dali Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a woman I had not met before named Cecily said to me, I heard you were a dog person. She told me about her dog, Dodger, and wondered if I could walk him a few times a week.
Why, yes! I’d be delighted to walk Dodger.
Thus began a wonderful friendship with Cecily and Dodger.
Cecily left us too soon when she died last June, and the search began for a new home for Dodger. We couldn’t take him because of our perennial status as housesitters. We haven’t had a home of our own in years.
Thankfully, Dodger found a loving and devoted foster family where we expect he’ll live out his days. He even has two senior dog companions that are super agers (15 and 18). I couldn’t be happier for Dodger.
Dodger with foster sister Shiloh (age 15)
My only sadness around this situation is that Dodger no longer lives in the center of town. The foster family has made it clear that I’m welcome at any time. Just come on over, they say. But with my busy schedule, I can’t just pop in to say hello multiple times a week.
I especially missed Dodger this past week. His 14th birthday was on Wednesday, April 19th.
I texted his foster mom to wish him a Happy Birthday. Unfortunately, Heath and I were down to one car as the other was getting detailed, so I couldn’t see him for a birthday visit.
Instead, I spent the afternoon with Annie. Heath dropped me off at Annie’s house and we went on our usual sojourn through the Barbour Woods. We had a great time!
Because I didn’t have a car, I walked home going through the woods. In my six and a half years living in Norfolk, I’ve never walked home that way before.
Who should I see at the end of the Carriage Trail?
That’s right! A birthday miracle if I ever experienced one.
When Heath and I moved to Norfolk six-and-a-half years ago, I immediately looked to connect with local children’s book writers. I soon learned that Norfolk doesn’t always have a “local” option, and I ended up finding writers who belonged to a Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustators critique group that met at the Simsbury Library.
We read and constructively criticized each others’ work, attended conferences and retreats together, and supported each other through twists and turns on our respective paths to publication.
These last few weeks have brought some successes for my friends, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of them before we leave Norfolk in just six short weeks.
At the beginning of May, my friend Lynn celebrated the launch of her debut middle grade book, Chester and the Magic 8 Ball.I read chapters of Chester years ago. It’s about a toothless rescue dog who can predict the future with a Magic 8 ball.
Author Lynn Katz
Of course, I loved the story and I never gave up that Chester would someday be published.
I’m not the only one who loved the story, as it got a starred Kirkus Review. Here’s a snippet from the review: An uplifting middle-grade story that meets sadness head-on and cuddles up to what’s important in life.
As a writer, a starred Kirkus Review is a big deal and I am so happy for Lynn.
Left to Right: My handsome husband Heath, Me!, book coach Christy Yaros, Author Lynn Katz, Pam Kelly, Author Mary Munson, Rebecca Smith-Allen, and author Karin LeFranc.
This past Saturday, my friend Mary celebrated the launch of her debut picture book Love Will Turn You Around. This bright and colorful story is about a heart who wakes up not feeling quite like himself. With the help of some well-meaning friends, all who are different shapes, Heart is able to turn himself right side up.
Mary’s book launch was a rousing success, complete with a rapt audience and lots of laughter and smiles.
When Mary thanked me for coming (it was a 48-minute drive), I told her, Of course! You’re never going to be a debut author again.
Six-and-a-half years ago, we were writers with dreams of being published as we sat in a conference room sharing our work and hoping that maybe this would be the manuscript that got us past the traditional publshing gate. Two of us have made it! Here’s to more successes and more books in our future!
Left to Right: Author Lynn Katz (Chester and the Magic 8 Ball), Author Mary Munson (Love Will Turn You Around), Author Nancy Tandon (The Way I Say It; The Ghost of Spruce Point), and me!
I already finished the first draft and so I have plenty of time to refine and practice it.
I get paid for it! Thank you Woodbury Library.
The invitation to present magically appeared in my inbox several weeks ago.
When I say magic, I don’t mean the Harry Potter type magic I wish was real. This is the kind of magic that Roman philosopher Seneca spoke about when he said, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
In January of 2020, a friend who knew about my interest in minimalism got me an invitation to present at the Scoville Memorial Library. I presented The Psychology of Stuff: Why We Have So Much and What We Can Do About It to a standing room only crowd. I thought maybe 20 people would show up.
That presentation snowballed into several others, and then I lost steam because of the pandemic, grief over losing my Dad and Smudge within days of each other, uncertainty around life goals, and poor sleep health. I was okay with that outcome and accepted the situation as it was.
Meanwhile, someone saw an article that had been written about my Psychology of Stuff presentation. They tore it out of the newspaper and kept it. For three years! They recently contacted the Woodbury Library for my email and then scheduled me to present for their organization in April. YAY for that!
The Woodbury Library also sent me an email asking if I still presented. I said yes! I’ve been leading a personal growth group for three years that was a result of the original Scoville Memorial Library presentation. I have plenty of new knowledge to share, as well as significantly more personal experience.
I’m delighted to present Spring Cleaning Hacks: How to Get Started When You Don’t Want to this week at the Woodbury Library. It combines so many areas of life that I love: psychology, mindfulness, well-being, productivity, and time management. Even though I am exhausted because of daylight savings time and the typical sleep problems associated with having narcolepsy, I feel energized to share this knowledge with the Woodbury Library patrons.
If you’re in the Woodbury area, stop on by! And if you’re not, you are always welcome to ask your library to extend me an invitation to present.
Shout out to the person who sent me the above newspaper clipping: THANK YOU!
Second shout out to Heath Hughes who took that great photo of me.
Also, here’s a picture of Annie because it doesn’t feel right to have zero dog pictures in my blog post. I love the fan of her tail and the swoosh of her ears!
A few weeks ago I attended a Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Conference in New York City.
I debated for weeks if I should go. The conference itself is expensive, especially if you schedule a professional critique (which I did). I’m also not a fan of NYC because I find the people, noise, pollution, and general BIG CITY ENERGY exhausting.
This would also be my first conference since before the pandemic. I haven’t used my brain in ways this conference would require FOR YEARS. There’s been no navigating a subway system or reading train tables or walking along city blocks. Any trips I have been on always included Heath, my best and favorite co-pilot.
Heath, however, needed to stay in Norfolk because we were taking care of Fergus for the month, so I was on my own.
The conference itself took place at the Mid-town Hilton. I, however, opted to stay at my friend’s uninhabited apartment on the upper west side, which she so generously offered me. I celebrated my economical ways at the time of planning my conference trip, as well as my good fortune for having a friend with an apartment that overlooked Central Park.
What I did not take into account was what it would be like to be at an all-day conference and not have a hotel room an elevator ride away in which I could take a nap. My friend’s apartment was two subway lines and approximately 30 minutes away.
So by the time I found myself in NYC for the conference, grumpiness had infiltrated every nook and cranny of my attitude. I did not want to be there. I did not want to be trapped in a windowless, below ground conference room for two days. I did not want to make small talk. I did not want to have to pay attention and focus on someone speaking for hours at a time.
Yet, I did anyway. I paid for the conference, and, by golly, I would participate.
By the time I got back to my friend’s apartment that Saturday night, I wanted Heath to come pick me up. Nothing about the experience was what I wanted, and I didn’t think it would get better.
Spoiler alert: I was right. About the conference.
But something unexpected did happen. That night in my friend’s apartment, I had an AMAZING night’s sleep. I woke up on Sunday morning feeling like a new person. There was no tiredness. No reluctance in getting up. No fractured sleep to weigh me down. No traumatic dreams to work through.
How did that happen? Not only was I in a bad mood, but the apartment was hot. I had forgotten my ear plugs. I ate deviled eggs I had bought at Whole Foods and gobbled a few up right before bed. Everything about my environment and my choices suggested a poor night’s sleep.
By Sunday night, I was back to truly awful sleep. Since then, I’ve had a few nights of okay sleep. But nothing like the magical 9+ hours I had in NYC.
Back in 2007 when the final installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, At World’s End, came out in theaters, I became incensed by the ending. I had invested four years in that story only for Keira Knightley’s character, Elizabeth Swann, to be separated from Orlando Bloom’s character, Will Turner, for the rest of her life. Oh, wait. No. He could visit her EVERY 10 YEARS.
That anger is how I feel about my sleep right now. Because the last time I had sleep equivalent to what I had in NYC was in October 2013 when I was dogsitting in Naperville, IL.
Have I been cursed to only get good sleep every 10 years?
I hope not. I can’t decide if my magical NYC sleep is a good thing or not. It’s awesome to know my body is capable of that kind of sleep. But for it to be so elusive, so unpredictable, and so unattainable on a regular basis is cruel.
I started having sleep trouble when I was three years old. Enough is enough, already.
Though I can’t help but wonder – what if living in NYC has been the answer all along for a good night’s sleep?
For someone who loves the woods, the mountains, and the rugged New England coast, that would be quite the kick in the pants. I don’t think we’re going to up and move to NYC any time soon. But it will be interesting to see if I can figure out what made that night so special.
This past Sunday, Heath and I celebrated our 7-year wedding anniversary.
Some days I wake up and still can’t believe I’m married! The moment Heath and I met was such a surprise; the very essence of the word serendipity. I wouldn’t change anything about our love story and I’m so grateful to live it every day.
As I reflect on our seventh year, I can’t help but think of lucky number seven. I don’t know what that means exactly for a marriage, but I do know that with a lot of changes coming with this new chapter in our life as our Norfolk housesit ends after 6.5 years, I’ll take any and all luck given to us.
Happy Anniversary, Heath! In the spirit of our anniversary, here are seven specific things you do that I love:
1. Let Fergus sleep on your head.
2. Say “pay the toll,” as you pat Annie on the head while stepping over her.
I couldn’t find any pictures with Annie sitting on the steps; this is the closest one I have where she’s at least near the steps.
3. Sing silly songs you make up when playing around on the guitar.
4. Stop by the library while I’m working just to say hello.
5. Spritz and water your plants with the utmost care and concern for their growth.
6. Sit with me at the table even when you’re not eating.
7. Laugh at my daily doodles on the dry erase board.
Heath locked himself out of the house a few weeks ago. I drew this doodle that morning.
Heath does so many daily, little things to let me know how much he loves me. He also says thank you often and accepts my apologies graciously. I am grateful to know him and love him and to be loved in return.
With approximately ten weeks left to our time in Norfolk (we’ve been given an April/May departure from our long-term housesitting job), I’ve been savoring some of my favorite activities. At the top of my list of favorites is walking Annie.
I especially enjoy walking Annie in the wintertime. Cold feels exhilarating to me and the Barbour Woods look especially magical when covered in snow. Add in a blue sky and you’ve got a winter wonderland that’s perfect for romping.
On our usual walk this past Tuesday, I didn’t want the experience to end. Annie was having a great time zooming around and I was enjoying the extra solitude that snow brings to the woods.
But, I also had other places to be that afternoon and other things to do.
So the question became: should we take a second trail for a longer walk or should we head home after our usual romp around the Swamp Trail?
Friends, we took a second trail. Annie and I headed to the Beechwood Loop for an extra romp.
I’m so glad we did.
The number of romps we have left together is finite. Even if we came back to Norfolk in January to visit, who’s to say Annie or I would be healthy enough to take a longer walk. Or maybe the ground would be too icy. Or maybe there wouldn’t be any snow.
Should I take the longer walk with Annie?
These 10 weeks are going to go by way too quickly.
I think about death often. I’m sure many people do.
Sometimes the thoughts are with fear of the unknown. Having been raised Catholic, I’ve experienced more than enough trauma at literal interpretations of hell, and if I could change one thing about this world it would probably be not to scare children with eternal damnation. They have enough to worry about these days with gun violence, pandemic lives, climate destabilization, racism, and a dysfunctional government that includes politicians who make it clear that some of them (ie, BIPOC, queer, disabled) are worth less than others.
Occasionally I think about death with wonder. That’s usually when I’m in a good place spiritually. Those days are few and far between lately, and I suspect it’s from chronic stress due to poor sleep, capitalism that requires people to work to have quality health insurance, and lack of affordable housing in Connecticut.
Since my dad died in 2020, some thoughts of death are often linked with incredulity. He was literally alive one minute and dead the next. That’s it? I think. His life is now over?
Mostly I think about death with the fear of missing out, especially because it’s been seven years since Heath and I met, and I want as many years as possible to be with him.
My annual death meditation is different from all this kind of thinking. Its purpose is to reflect on how I spent my past year and to determine what I want to prioritize in 2023.
In 2022 I decided colorful creativity would be my theme. I would create art that was not the written word, which is usually how I express myself. I wanted to draw and paint with no purpose other than to have fun!
While I got off to a good start, my year did not go as planned.
Thanks to the pandemic and us being housesitters, we moved 8 times in 2022. From February – May, my art supplies were tucked away in a storage closet growing dusty.
Even when I had access, I didn’t have the motivation. I’ve accumulated more in these past six and a half years than I ever thought possible. The days of hoping I could get all my possessions down to one backpack is no longer realistic. With the increase of my own stuff, it’s gotten harder to live among other people’s lives. Especially when one has chronic sleep issues like I do.
I am not okay with the chronic sleep issues, and I continue to do my best to live with them.
I’m mostly okay with the stuff I’ve accumulated. We’ve been living in Norfolk for almost 6.5 years and I suppose that’s to be expected. And I’m going to have an opportunity soon to reduce and recycle some of the stuff I’ve accumulated. I will be ruthless and it will be fun!
Heath and I find ourselves at a crossroads. The couple we’ve been house-sitting for in Norfolk since September 2016 are permanently moving home. We will be living through big changes this year and we aren’t exactly sure what those changes are yet going to look like.
When I think about 2023 and imagine it’s my last year on Earth, for the first time since I’ve been death meditating, I’ve got nothing! There is nothing that I want to prioritize. No goals that I want to achieve. No places to visit. No relationships to hone. I just want to make it through this year of transition and come out still able to breathe. So that’s what I’m going to do. This year is going to be my year of breathing.
The best part is I have to do it anyway! I might as well do it with intention to help navigate all the uncertainty we’re up against.
Around 8:30am this morning, snow flakes swilred to the ground as Norfolk welcomed our first accumulating snow of the season. To add an even more wonder to the moment, we had a woodland visitor.
Because my picture from inside the house isn’t quite that compelling, I supplemented a stock photo of porcupine (as you can see in the photo’s bottom-right corner).
For reasons unknown to me, my husband decided this porcupine’s name is Mr. Peabody. You can watch a whimsical (and brief) video of Mr. Peabody here.
While today seemed like the perfect day to stay cozy inside and read books, work on puzzles, and stream shows, I went to work anyway since I normally work Sundays at the library.
Today, I made the decision to drive, because 1) I had to drop off a few large packages at the Congregational Church for Angel Tree presents; and 2) A few weeks ago we had a bear traipsing around the driveaway, which makes me less keen to walk home from work at 5pm, when it is already completely dark in Norfolk.
Thanfully, the roads weren’t covered yet, so getting to the library wasn’t a problem.
However, when I pulled in front of the library I saw a plow truck in the parking lot. I have never once parked in front of the library at times when I’m working. But today I thought, I’ll just park here until the truck is out of the lot.
About a half an hour later, I looked out the window of the second floor where my desk is located and the truck was gone. It would have been the perfect time to move the car. Not too much snow and an empty lot.
Instead, I ignored the little voice inside my head telling me to move the car. Oh, it will be okay, I told that little voice.
Maybe 10 minutes later, I noticed two cars had pulled to the side of the road just passed the library parking lot entrance. A couple of people were talking to each other and I didn’t think much of it.
Approximately 5 minutes after that, I looked out the window again and this time I saw a police officer talking to the person of the car that remained. I wondered what happened to the other car. At that moment, I felt the sudden need to look out the front window of the library from our conference room. I could see tire tracks swerving off the road.
Huh, I thought. It looks like the car ran right into the back of mine.
Then: oh, no!
I grabbed my coat and flew down the turret steps and out the front door. Sure enough, the car had hit mine.
Photo taken AFTER I had moved my car. DOH!
“I’m so sorry this happened to you,” I told the person who had been driving the car that hit mine. “I knew I should have moved my car!”
Both the person and the police officer assured me that they’re called accidents for a reason, and eventually I suppose I will accept that assessment of the situation.
In the meantime, here’s a friendly and gentle reminder to trust that little voice inside your head. They often know much more than you do!
Stay warm out there! Looks like we’re getting more than a few inches.