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:
Seriously, how cute is my husband?
Then we headed to Saks 5th Avenue. STILL. MORE. PEOPLE.
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.
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:
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:
Schroeder, a Bichon Frise:
Sheena, a very vocal white cat:
And Heisenberg, a handsome ball of fluff and fur:
The single best part of the trip is the fact that Sheena rides around in a backpack.
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.
FUN FACT: The sweater Sheena has is the same sweater I bought for Cody the Boxer when I lived in Naperville, IL.
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.
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.
Most of my formative adult years took place in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Thus, it should surprise no one that some of my favorite holiday specials are the Thanksgiving- and Christmas-themed episodes from Friends. At the top of the list is The One Where Ross Gets High, featuring Rachel’s traditional English trifle and Monica and Ross outing each other to their parents for all their past misdeeds.
I still laugh a lot when I see this clip from Friends, but now I’m older I can’t help but spend some time reflecting this Christmas on what the Christmas skull means to me. I don’t mean to be morbid, but Phoebe is right. At Christmas, people still die.
These thoughts might be forefront in my mind because one of the dogs we’re caring for was recently found to have a mass on his spleen. He’s ten-years old and aside from a major surgery which may or may not prolong his life at all, there’s nothing else to be done for him. After agonizing over the decision, his doggy parents decided they would let him spend his days in the comfort of his home, surrounded by the rest of his pack, and meandering around the 20 acres on their property. It’s a nice way to go if you ask me, much better than being cut open and having an internal organ removed on the small chance of surviving an extra few months.
Or I could be thinking this way because of my cousin, Becky. In December, 2013, she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 43. She passed away just four short months later.
Then there’s my friend who confided in me that it may be the last Christmas for one of their friends who has a degenerative illness. My friend wondered what to possibly get for this person and their spouse, knowing this will likely be some of the last time they have to spend together.
It’s a sobering thought to consider Christmas gifts as last ones ever. Does it make the iPad or gift card seem less relevant? Does it invoke a need to simply be with someone and let them know how much they mean to you? All thoughts to consider as we wait in line at checkout counters hoping to get the best sale of the season.
Then there’s the narcissistic, egotistical, and human side of me. What if it was my last Christmas? How would I want to spend it? What would I wish for? I spent some time reflecting on these last two questions and quite surprisingly I found a lot of comfort in the answers I came up with.
More than anything, though, I would want to spend as much time as possible with my husband. We would hit as many National Parks as we could, preferably bringing along some key family members and petting as many dogs as we could along the way.
I would also finish my first novel, which I’m delighted to report is thisclose to being done. After that, there would be only two other things on my wish list – for the children’s stories I’ve written to be published and to see a bear in the wild. The first would be easy enough, with my talented roster of friends, and the possibility of self-publishing. Plus, my husband is well aware of this wish of mine and I have no doubt he would spend whatever time necessary to get them published in my absence (just one of the MANY reasons I am so devoted to him). The second, well, if I got to cuddle with a baby polar bear at my death party, I’d be happy to let go of my desire to see one in the wild.
Here’s the best part about my wishes, though, and the reason I find so much comfort in my answers: this last year, I’ve spent most of my time working towards them on my own, without the threat of imminent death. Heath and I were blessed with a wonderful wedding reception from my NC friends.
We spent time with both my parents in Harrisburg, PA, and his parents in Smyrna, TN, and we have plans to do again soon.
My niece and I went on a spring-break-roadtrip extravaganza in the American Southwest stopping off at the Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon
and my husband and I now travel all around for the sole purpose of petting and loving other people’s dogs (and cats and homes, too).
I write almost every day and agents are currently reviewing my picture storybooks. There still hasn’t been a bear sighting, but I am constantly on the lookout.
So, as we countdown to Christmas, I’d encourage you to spend some time quietly reflecting on what you would do differently if you knew this would be your last Christmas. Then go out and do it! If not for you, then do it for Moon, my cousin Becky, and my friend’s friend, and everyone else out there who will only get one more Christmas.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! That’s what everyone likes to tell us, but I’m here to affirm it’s not necessarily true.
In December 2012, Ebenezer Scrooge was my role model.
Not only did I “celebrate” Christmas completely alone (I refused several invitations of holiday dinners and family get-togethers), I did not decorate my house or office, I did not buy anyone gifts (that I can remember), and I did not eat a single Christmas cookie. The last one wasn’t by choice, more medical necessity.
For months leading up to that holiday season, I felt overworked and utterly exhausted. My body was no longer successfully processing any food I ate, and I spent my days sick. After invasive procedures recommended by a gastroenterologist found absolutely nothing wrong, an integrative medicine doctor recommended I cut out all sugars, gluten, and dairy from my diet.
As someone who loves cupcakes, I never would have followed such ridiculous advice if I hadn’t been so desperate for something to change. Also, the doctor had excellent logic. Here’s how the conversation went:
Kelly: I’m just so tired. I feel exhausted all the time.
Doctor: Well, what have you been eating.
In my defense, they were peppermint flavored and I love all things peppermint. Seriously, though, I saw his point and something had to give because of how crappy I felt, literally and figuratively. Here was someone offering me something tangible and concrete to try.
I wasn’t sure if I could do it but I also couldn’t imagine continuing the way I had been.
A lot changed in that following year. My digestive health improved, although it was still what I would deem “poor.” There were many foods I could not eat without experiencing ill effects, including grains, soy, dairy, and most fruits and vegetables. On the positive side, I was getting ready for my sabbatical and feeling grateful I could finally take a break.
When I was in graduate school, I used to fantasize I would be in a car accident – nothing fatal, just enough so that I could lay in a hospital bed and do nothing but rest. I had started feeling that way again the past few semesters at my university job. Yes, I know this is not healthy thinking and something I discussed with my therapist(s) on several occasions. They often encouraged me to quit my job if I was so unhappy, something I didn’t think would ever be possible. What would I do? What would people say? How will I make any money? These are the questions that plagued my mind which discouraged me from making any real changes. Of course, it was also around this time I started meditating. I was looking for other ways to relieve my stress and just happened to get an email inviting me to participate in a Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey free 21-day-meditation challenge on the theme of Desire and Destiny.
Little did I know that would be the start of some truly big changes in my life.
But at the time, while I was able to appreciate some improvements in my life, I was still feeling empty and alone. Having a therapist helped me during this time and I began to understand what I was contributing to these feelings of lack in my life. And, for the first time in a long time, I put up a tiny Christmas tree.
If you had told me next year at the same time I would be in Peru, I would have said you were nuts. That’s exactly where I was though. Two years ago, in December 2014, I attended COP-20, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Lima. The invitation happened rather serendipitously but it was one I thought I would regret if I didn’t take it.
It was right around then, I began wondering why I didn’t miss teaching more and worrying that my sabbatical would be over too soon. I still classified my physical health as “poor,” but my digestion issues had improved. My biggest concern was sleep. I had stopped taking my narcolepsy medicine for a variety of reasons, including worsening drug side effects of anxiety and paranoia, as well as post-traumatic stress from an accidental overdose of my narcolepsy medicine a few weeks prior. Since I wasn’t working and I could take multiple naps throughout the day, I managed.
One year later (December 2015), I was in Paris, France, attending COP-21. I had already turned in my resignation as an associate professor so I could pursue my dream of writing. I started writing on a regular basis and I completed several children’s stories and a short story. My physical health was good due to hot yoga and Dailey Method classes several times per week. My diet became much more diverse, and I even enjoyed crepes while in Paris. High quality sleep still alluded me on most nights, but with a good diet and regular exercise I was better than okay.
Now here we are in December, 2016. I’m living in Norfolk, CT, with my amazing husband, and I’m a writer! One of my short stories was published by Outrider Press this past year and I regularly write on my blog (THANKS FOR READING!). I can now eat all the foods I eliminated from diet without too much worry of ill effects, except I’ve gone overboard having spent years not eating these foods and now I need to exercise even more. I can’t really complain, because more exercise helps my sleep which is still meh.
All this to say, as we countdown to Christmas
please remember the greatest gift we can give ourselves is time.
There is no way we can predict where we will be in our lives one year, one month, one week, or even one day from now. Life gets better; life gets worse. And if you happen to be in one of the worse stages, just know that you are not alone.