One of my happy places is being in the woods, especially if I’m with a dog.
Barbour Woods, Fall 2021
There’s a sense of freedom and hope surrounded by all the beauty where I can’t help but feel comfortable and connected to something greater than myself.
Barbour Woods, December 2021
For most of our time in Norfolk, the Barbour Woods was my go-to spot for being in the woods. I started walking Dodger there in 2017 and then in 2020 added Annie (and occasionally Fergus) to my walks.
Barbour Woods, June 2020
Barbour Woods, Winter 2023
The Barbour Woods has 10 different trails, all with their own woodland charms. For example, the Old Carriage Trail has the Kilarney Bridge, the Swamp Trail has vernal pools, and the Beechwood Loop Trail has a view of Haystack Mountain.
Barbour Woods, October 2022
Barbour Woods, October 2021
Barbour Woods, Spring 2022
There are few places in this world where I’m happier than the Barbour Woods.
So it gives me great pleasure to announce that the Barbour Woods is a finalist in the 3rd Annual Readers’ Choice Awards from Rural Intelligence for Best Hiking Trail.
If you don’t mind sharing your name, email address, zip code, and gender with Rural Intelligence, you can vote for the Barbour Woods every day through November 13 by clickinghere.
Yes, you can vote every day in each of the categories. No, you don’t have to vote for any other category if you don’t want to.
I’ve had a lot of professional and personal disappointments these past few months, so I’m throwing myself into campaigning for the Barbour Woods to win. As a board member of the Norfolk Land Trust and Co-chair of their outreach committee, I have access to our social media accounts. I’m posting daily reminders to vote on our Instagram Stories. It’s fun because it gives me an excuse to go through my photos and find my favorites of being in the woods.
I know it’s not much, but when there are so many things out of my control right now, it feels good to have a plan: post every day on social media and remind people to vote.
So please vote for the Barbour Woods!
Even if you’ve never been on a trail there, you can take my word for it that these woods are AWESOME.
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!
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!
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.
Heath and I are officially back in Norfolk! The return is bittersweet because we loved living at the beach in Old Lyme. Nearly every day, I watched the sunrise and sunset. Norfolk is beautiful and the woods and mountains here are outstanding, yet they also obscure the sun. I miss these moments in a way I can only describe as grief.
Rising before the sun and heading to beach became an easy morning ritual. I woke up with excitement wondering what today’s sunrise would look like. Sometimes Heath joined me and sometimes he didn’t. Either way, the moment was almost always perfect except for one morning when I missed Heath being there. I sent him this photo to let him know I was thinking about him.
He replied back that he needed glasses. So I added a pair and then a few more artistic liberties. As one of our friends said on Facebook, “I would argue Heath has never looked better.”
Here’s my last sunrise on Friday morning, November 18th:
In time, I know the grief will subside. Norfolk turning into a winter wonderland will help, especially when I’m out in the snow-covered woods with Annie.
Although she did snub me the other day after weeks apart. She jumped out of a car door and headed straight in my direction. “Annie,” I cried with my arms open wide. Then she ran right past me to say hello to everyone else standing in our group. Quite the humbling experience.
Eventually Annie did make her way to me and she howled in delight at our reunion, so she is, of course, forgiven. How could I not forgive her, since she is towards the very top of my gratitude list.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I’m grateful to those who read my blog and offer words of support and encouragement when they can.
This card is from my undergraduate mentor and his wife. Two people I love very much in this world.
Now that I’m on the other side of covid (even though I still have a cough), I’ve been walking the beach here in Old Lyme nearly every day. Here are some of my favorite finds:
A Wheaton Terrier named Samson
An English Cream Retriever named Hella
Geometric patterns …
especially on a perfect seashell!
A message in the sand from Heath, which I totally walked past since my head was looking down at seashells. We found out later the mystery object is a sac of skate fish eggs.
Unfortunately, I also find a lot of garbage. On one day, I found two disposable masks and some plastic. Every time I’m out on the beach I regret not bringing a trash bag. I just don’t don’t think about it until I’m already out there.
Then there was the morning I found a pair of washed up underwear!
I talked to one of the locals that morning as I strolled back to the house and she told me that she finds a lot of underwear in the summertime, as well as items like iPods, Fitbits, and wallets.
The most surprising thing of all that I found is a renewed sense of wonder and awe! I didn’t even know I needed these emotions supercharged in my life. But watch the sunrise and sunset for multiple days in a row and you realize that you may have been taking your usual walks in the woods for granted.
Here are a few of my favorite sunrises:
And here are a few sunsets:
And since it’s Halloween, here’s a creepy tree we saw while in Essex, CT, last week.
We’re here for another 2.5 weeks. Here’s hoping I find even more … including things I’m not even looking for!
I’m delighted to report that Heath and I are now living in a beach house! We’ll be in Old Lyme until November 19th. Air BnB described the house as “50 steps to the beach.” I tested that claim and it’s actually 60 steps. But, it could also be that I have shorter legs than the average person.
The view from our driveway
When my mom read my previous blog post where I said I always wanted to live at the beach, she asked me: what do you mean you always wanted to live at the beach? You hate the beach!
And that’s true — I am not a fan of south Atlantic beaches that are commercialized, hot, humid, and crowded.
Most of our family vacations in my pre-teen/teenage years were spent in North Myrtle Beach. We stayed in a high-rise hotel and I did not enjoy hours upon hours of laying on a towel surrounded by hundreds of people engaging in all sorts of loudness and tomfoolery.
Furthermore, the idea of sharks skulking about has always bothered me, so it’s not like I could find solace in the waves.
Instead, I spent most of our vacation hiding away in the hotel room, watching Bold and the Beautiful at 12:30pm EST, followed by Young & the Restless. I would then switch to the ABC soap operas at 1:30 to catch the last half of All My Children, followed by One Life to Live (my favorite) at 2pm and General Hospital (second favorite) at 3pm. An excellent way to spend the afternoon, in my opinion.
Yet ever since Heath and I visited Cape Cod the last week of August in 2019, I have felt drawn to the craggy, rough shorelines of the New England coast. Perhaps it was visiting in the off season, when the crowd consisted of a handful of people (or none at all) and the background noise sounded more like quiet laughter than amusement park shenanigans.
Falmouth, Cape Cod, late August 2019
Whatever it was, I started to fancy the peaceful solitude of a New England beach. Imagine if we lived there – the inspiration, the quiet, the atmosphere! So, I got it in my head that these weeks we’re away from Norfolk were the perfect time to live out this dream.
Why I equated three years of wanting something to always as in I always wanted to live at the beach, I don’t really know. Maybe anything before the pandemic feels like a lifetime ago. Speaking of which …
Covid finally caught up with me. It was after I managed to experience a radiant Old Lyme sunset our first night at the beach house, followed by a gentle sunrise the next morning. In between, I also befriended a chocolate lab named Otis who lives across the street.
But after that sunrise and those 12 wonderful hours, my throat started to feel scratchy and my voice turned hoarse. Then, I started coughing and my sinuses filled with congestion.
My first rapid test showed negative. What a relief, although I did feel disappointed that my streak of no colds was over. The last time I had a cold was in February, 2019. I also felt annoyed because I used three of my free different government-provided tests and they all yielded invalid results. Thankfully, Heath went out to buy ones that actually worked.
The next day, I felt worse. Fever and chills. General discomfort. A pounding headache. I took another covid test and this one lit up like a traffic signal. I didn’t even have to wait the full 15 minutes to get the positive result. As Heath said, “It’s not like it’s going to get less positive.”
Positive Covid Test #1
So now I wait to feel better. It’s been 9 days. I’m still congested. I’m still coughing. I’m still testing positive.
Positive Covid Test #2
It’s been four days without a fever. Less than 12 hours since I had a headache. Improvement, yes, but not enough where I’m comfortable being around others, especially since the rapid test still shows a positive result. And I really don’t want anyone to ever have to go through feeling this way.
I hope someday soon, I get another 12 wonderful hours, followed by another 12, and then 12 more until it’s just standard health and wellness most of the day.