Tag Archives: dogs

Happy Birthday to Me! And My Blog!

Photo by Delaney Dawson on Unsplash

Today I turn 41 years old, and today my blog turns 2.

These last two years have been the best of my life! That’s not a coincidence. Nor is it luck, magic, or random chance.


Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows I value mindfulness. I’m a big believer in taking stock of my life on a regular basis and checking in to see how I’m doing.

I also believe in God. When I say God, I do NOT mean I believe there is a some man with a long white beard and a gold letter G on a white robe hanging out in heaven with a score card keeping track of my every move.

Because I was made in God’s image … and I don’t look like that! Neither do approximately 7.5 billion people on this planet.

Although, my good friend, Lem, does so maybe that what’s God looks like to him.

To me, God is the Divine Source of energy or Spirit, that connects us all to each other and to the universe. The holiest Holy Spirit that resides and dwells in each one of us. Both male and female.

I can’t take credit for that idea. I learned it from Father Don McLaughlin at St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. On Mother’s Day 2013, I sat in a church pew mesmerized as Father Don discussed God as loving Father AND Mother and how the feminine is nearly forgotten in the church today.

Now that was an idea I could get behind.

In fact, when I now pray to God I pray to my Loving Father/Mother God. So my Our Father prayer begins with Our Father, Mother, Spirit Who Art in Heaven.

This realization that God is Mother and Father to us all and we are all a part of God is why I care about girls receiving an education in Burkina Faso, children being separated from their parents at the US borders, and polar bears losing their habitat in the Arctic.

Because I am them and they are me. The only difference between us is that for the Grace of the God, I ended up being born to the parents I did. 

So when I take stock of my life on a regular basis, it’s to make sure I’m on the right path. The one that God intended for me, and the one in which I am an active participant and creator.

Two years ago for my birthday, my best friend Arlene sent me a beautiful card in which she hand-wrote a prayer for me. It’s from Matthew Kelly, founder of the Dynamic Catholic movement.

Prayer by Matthew Kelly. Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I’ve been saying this prayer every day before I start my morning meditation for two years now.

Even when I added Rumi’s Prayer of the Chalice to the start of my meditation practice because I wanted to keep the practice fresh, I still found myself saying the one Arlene sent.

It’s not like you can go wrong with TWO prayers.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that these past two years have been the best of my life. My life is God AND Kelly willing, and I choose for it to be this way with love and guidance from God.

So on my 41st birthday, I say thank you to God for showing me where I need to be in my life and what I need to be doing, especially these last two years.

These last two years brought me to Norfolk and gave me more dogs to love than I could possibly imagine, friends that keep my spirit up when life gets me down, a community that makes me a better person, writing that makes me proud and takes me one step further towards my goal of published author, visits with family near and far, travels to new and wondrous places, and time with my husband to love and laugh and love and laugh some more.


There has also been loss; of course there has! This is life, after all, and that comes with being here. But through the love around me and which dwells in me through God, I am able to accept it and channel it into making me a better version of myself.

Thank you also to everyone who reads my blog and supports me on my journey. I couldn’t live this life without you either.

 

Reflections on Glacier National Park

Something monumental happened in my life during the first week of July — I lived in a tent for almost a week!

After my husband’s photography workshop in Kalispell, we arrived at Glacier National Park  intent on camping. For my husband who grew up camping and brought a tent as part of his marriage dowry, this housing situation was no big deal.

I, however, grew up in a family that considered a three-star hotel roughing it.

Nevertheless, I have changed a lot in my adult life. One of my favorite ways is that I’ve embraced the restorative and healing power of nature. Some of my greatest moments of joy in the last year have occurred simply by walking through the woods with a dog.

So, I approached camping with an open mind and an enthusiastic spirit.

My husband approached our first camping adventure together with some trepidation.


One of his biggest concerns was that sharing an air mattress would result in poor sleep for both of us. Ironically, he slept great and I slept okay. For someone with narcolepsy, okay sleep is actually quite good.

Case in point: for the first time in years, I averaged more than 8 hours of sleep a night. One night I even slept for a solid 12 hours!

Our trip to Glacier had been planned since December. But I’ve wanted to visit Glacier for years.

Overall, I found the park … meh. The Internet isn’t kidding when it says national parks get crowded in the summer time. More than a few times I had the thought that I was in a more open-air, natural version of Disney World.

If you do not get up early to secure a parking spot at any of the park’s trailheads, which we did not since we were too busy enjoying good sleep, then a good chunk of your day is spent searching for a parking space. Sometimes, you may even have to give up and go home. We heard quite a few people complaining about that in and around the park.

There are also people EVERYWHERE!

The experience reminded me of when I visited Machu Picchu in December 2015. At some points in MP, I literally stood in a line just to walk to the next observation point. That’s the first time I drew a parallel experience from Disney World to an outdoor experience.

Since most of my time prancing around nature in CT is people-less, I had gotten use to the tranquil solitude that comes with those experiences.

I had zero similar experiences in Glacier. That’s not to say there weren’t any moments of wonder or awe for me, because there were actually quite a few. Checkout these views:


At the same time, not everyone experiences awe the same way I do. Take our hike up Avalanche Trail, for example. 

The first time we tried this hike, we got rained out. We went back the next day and trekked up the mountain. The scene at the top took my breath away.


Yet my moments of delight were interrupted by a 20-something year-old, maybe even a late teenager, who stripped down to his shorts and splashed around in the lake. His friends called him crazy, snapped pictures, hooped and hollered it up, and then turned their attention elsewhere after a few moments. This guy then proceeded to yell at them, “I’m peeing in the lake!” Cue giggles and shrieks from his friends.

I can’t really get mad at a kid for acting immature. If he’s been reinforced to act this way by family and friends, he may not know any better and at this point in his life he may not want to know any better. I can only send him a silent prayer of blessing, which I did, and turn my attention to myself. Which I also did.

I sat on a rock watching this chipmunk live his best life (video).

I threw rocks in the lake contemplating the profound nature of the ripple effect (also a video).

I watched my husband take photographs.


And then it started to downpour (it rained all week), so we headed back to the trail. On our way, we met a beautiful tanager.


My Glacier trip ended up being different than I wanted it to be. And that’s okay. Some of it exceeded expectations (YAY camping) and some of it fell below (BOO peeing in a lake). Then there’s the fact that it SNOWED in July. I didn’t even know that should be an expectation! (video)

What truly matters is I had new experiences, learned a few things about myself, spent time with the person I love most in this world, and met several new dogs.


I guess that means it was perfect.

For anyone so inclined, please send love and prayers to Diane and Fred, Tana’s mom and dad. They were our neighbors at the Apgar campground and we’ve stayed in touch. Tana had to be put down last week. Love to them and anyone who is missing a loyal animal companion.

 

National Park Adventures: Grand Teton and Yellowstone Edition

After lamenting in my last blog post about how my first bear-in-the-wild experience turned out to be less thrilling than I thought it would be, Mother Nature showed up for me big time. It started with an early morning drive through Grand Teton National Park.

We saw gorgeous mountain views,

breakfasting deer,

the most majestic elk I ever did meet,

and then, on the way back through the park, a black bear had the courtesy to climb on top of a tree stump and pose for me. Don’t worry – there were two rangers there keeping the humans and bears safe, so I was not in danger while taking this picture.

Add this wildlife to the dogs I met in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and you’ve got yourself one delighted animal lover.

 

I met most of these dogs while attending the People’s Market in Jackson Hole. The People’s Market is like a farmer’s market, except it’s for people who don’t necessarily identify as farmers. What’s amazingly progressive about the People’s Market is that it’s zero waste. Everything is reused or recycled.

While at the market, I bought my first non-essential clothing purchase in over 2.5 years. All the clothes I’ve purchased since December 2015 have been to replace something that has completely worn out. This time, however, I jumped the gun on replacing a t-shirt which still has a few washes left, since I wanted to support Bear Root Bitters, a locally-based company that focuses on remixing ancient herbal remedies from locally harvested and all organic ingredients.

Although I’m a fan of supporting local in general, I am especially fond of Bear Root Bitters since two of their proprietors, Katie and Henry, let us stay with them while we were visiting Jackson Hole. My husband and I know Katie and Henry as the sister and brother-in-law of Cody and Xena, the boxers we took care of a few weeks ago. They’re two chill, generous people, and I’m so glad we got the chance to hang out with them.

After a few days in Jackson Hole, we headed north to Montana by way of Yellowstone.

We didn’t see much wildlife in Yellowstone, except for a few bison here and there.

But, WOW! The geysers here are extraordinary!

I don’t do a lot of research before I visit places, mostly because I don’t want high expectations to be unmet. So I didn’t really know what to expect at Yellowstone other than Old Faithful (which did not disappoint).

As it turns out, there’s a lot more to geysers than just bubbling, gushing water. Check out these colors:

These photos are from Biscuit Basin in Yellowstone, and the only reason we stopped there in the first place is because my husband’s brother (the one who passed away in February) was nicknamed Biscuit. We now chalk up stopping there to divine intervention.

While there, we met the loveliest couple, Ron and Carolyn from Utah, while walking around Biscuit. Carolyn was so enthusiastic about how I quit my job as a college professor to pursue writing, that she insisted Ron take our picture together, so that later when I’m a published author she would be able to say she met me at Yellowstone National Park.

I’m pretty sure Carolyn is a real-life angel. I needed that boost and unwavering belief in my goals as a writer because just a few days prior, my agent and I decided to part ways. Despite liking each other very much and being fans of each other’s professional goals, we just couldn’t seem to connect in a way where we both were on the same page with my manuscripts.

A bummer and disappointment to be sure, but as someone who once sat down next to a complete stranger at a restaurant bar and then eloped with that person three weeks later, I have no doubt that what happened is for the best. I’m already looking forward to the next part of my writing journey.

In the meantime, I have more road tripping to do. Next time I post I’ll tell you all about the supermodel I met in Kalispell, MT. His name is Bruno, and, yes, he’s a bear to work with. Literally.

What Happens When A Life Dream Comes True

 

It finally happened! After hoping and praying for, well, my whole life to see a bear in the wild, on Tuesday morning while driving through Grand Teton National Park, my husband and I saw a mama bear with her two cubs frolicking in a pasture. I couldn’t stop smiling, and yet…

Just a few days prior, this happened when my husband and I were driving through Custer State Park in the Black Hills, South Dakota.

And the day before while driving through Badlands National Park, we saw our first bison

Which was preceded by bighorn sheep,

prong horn antelope (at least I think that’s what they are),

and the cutest prairie dogs you ever did see!

Then there are ALL THE DOGS, I’ve met so far since leaving Illinois:

Plus, Oompa Loompa!

And one of the cutest kids I’ve ever met in my whole life, who seemed in awe of my husband and his feet.

In all of these situations, I felt feelings of wonder and joy. I laughed a lot and even teared up a little at some of them, especially the bison because of how close they were to us and Lucy the dog because of how much she reminds me of Smudge, one of the dogs that we care for long-term in Norfolk, CT, during the fall and winter. Also, because she carries her blankie with her everywhere and makes the cutest rumbly noises while doing so.

Something, however, felt less than joyful with my bear sighting. Don’t get me wrong – I loved every minute of it and I even put down my phone because I wanted to stay in the moment, and I couldn’t get a good picture, anyway. So, I let myself watch those bears run, and romp, and play.

Then, we drove away and I became aware of a small sense of disappointment that was gnawing at my brain. I couldn’t understand why I had these feelings.

As a psychologist, I know about the pitfalls of having expectations and how the brain can too easily adapt to surroundings so that a novelty wears off quickly, and, in fact, I’m reading a book right now called The Happy Traveler: Unpacking the Secrets of Better Vacations, which explains how our brains can be our own worst enemies on vacation (very useful reading for a three-and-a-half-month road trip.)

Yet, none of those reasons seemed to ring true for what I was experiencing in that moment.

Then, an a-ha moment came out of nowhere! Or, in my case, it poked its head out of the woods and looked right at me as my husband drove us down the road.

“WOLF!” I cried. “HEATH, THERE’S A WOLF!”

We both saw this majestic, white creature with grey trim stare at us as we drove the stretch of road between Yellowstone and Grand Teton.

By the time we turned around, the wolf had disappeared. And, then, I knew.

I knew exactly why my bear experience had felt less spectacular than seeing all the other creatures, great and small, on our road trip so far.

As we drove into Grand Teton, I asked a ranger where to see the best wildlife. “Oh, pretty much anywhere,” she replied. “The North end of the park is especially good. We already had a bear sighting this morning.”

We drove further and further North, until finally we were greeted with a flashing sign: Proceed with caution. Bear with cubs crossing road next 6 miles.

Not three miles later we saw her. Along with maybe a hundred other people and several park rangers checking in to make sure everyone stayed safe, including the bears.

All along the way, I had been told about THIS MOMENT. Then it happened. And then it was over.

There had been no element of surprise whatsoever, no random spotting of a creature in the wild or discovery of a silly characteristic from one of my domesticated friends as I spend time with them.

One of the reasons I love adventure so much is the discovery of the unknown and pretty much everything about my first bear in the wild experience had been made known to me in advance.

But as I type this post, my feelings of disappointment are disappearing. Because, it’s hitting me again. I. Saw. A. Bear. In. The. Wild. That’s a fact, not a feeling. And, I know the difference. Looks like my PhD paid off after all!

Happy Travels, everyone.

What No One Tells You About Going on Adventures

We’re three weeks into our summer road trip. The experience so far has been a mix of emotions, mostly because I’ve grown attached to Norfolk.

I suppose it’s ridiculous to think I wouldn’t become attached since Norfolk is the type of place where you can be driving to a friend’s house and sheep cross the driveway.

Norfolk is also the type of place where you might find a peacock on a roof.

Of course, I miss being there!

I miss walking to the library, chatting with the librarians, and perusing their wonderful collection of books. They’re so supportive of my writing and my ideas. On Saturdays during April and May, they let me hold my Love Letters Writing Group at the library, whereby anyone who was interested could show up and write a thank you letter, or a thinking of you letter, or a support letter to people in the military.

The program was sparsely attended, but it didn’t matter because I used that time to write my own letters to people. As an added bonus, I became friends with an incredibly talented watercolor artist in town, Leslie Watkins, who read about my Love Letters Writing Group in the Norfolk Now town newspaper and loved the idea. Not only did she donate high quality cards to use, she also attended most every week, and gave me art lessons along the way. It was because of her great teaching skills, that I was able to make these cards:

I also miss walking to the Congregational Church every Wednesday morning to attend a Creative Writers’ Group, sharing my stories, and listening to the stories, poetry, and wisdom that my fellow writers share. The oldest person in the group is a 91-year-old spitfire of a woman who inspires me in so many ways and the youngest is a mid-30s man who has a good heart and believes in the saving power of grace. Every week when I leave the group, I have the biggest smile on my face.

One of the places that I don’t usually walk to, but I still miss nevertheless, is Botelle Elementary. I started volunteering there this past winter as a literacy and math volunteer in the kindergarten/first grade and second grade classroom.s Honestly, one of my favorite parts is hanging out with the kindergarten/first grade students during their snack time. We act quite silly and laugh a lot.

One day I happened to be sitting next to a little girl whose grandparents I know. The topic of conversation turned to fortune telling and making predictions. I announced to the table that I could read palms and I turned to the girl, picked up her palm, looked at it, and said: Your family loves you very much and you love them. Oh, and you love dogs, too.

The girl’s mouth dropped open. Before I knew it, every single student in the classroom wanted me to read their palms. This memory is one I will keep in my heart forever, and I suspect some of the students will, too, because when they threw me a surprise going away party (yes, I did tear up), several of the students made me cards that featured palms.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a minimalist and it’s my goal to get all my belongings down to one backpack. But for this summer, I’m not yet ready to give up these cards and they will be making the trek with me across the country.

Since I’m already getting a little teary-eyed writing this post, I might as well go down the rabbit hole.

I miss the dogs of Norfolk SO MUCH! With humans, you can say, “I’ll see you soon,” and they understand that you’re coming back. I like to think Smudge, Faith, and Dodger could understand me the same way, but I can’t be sure.

Sometimes at night I’ll sing Somewhere Out There to Smudge. He really is the silliest, most mischievous dog I’ve ever known.

Then there’s Faith, who when I saw her standing among her three brothers in a picture posted on TrustedHousesitters.com, I told my husband she’s the cutest dog I’ve ever seen and we had to apply for that housesitting job. She really is an extra cute pupper!

I can’t forget Dodger dog. I walk him Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the Barbour Woods, and every single time I feel profound spiritual experiences of gratitude, love, peace, and joy.

For anyone who is feeling anxious, sad, stressed, or any other emotion that hurts their bodies, minds, or spirits, I encourage you to find a dog and let them romp around the woods in wild abandon. You will feel like a new person by the end of the walk.

For all these reasons, and more, I miss Norfolk. Yet, with leaving Norfolk behind, there are new adventures to go on, new relationships to make, and new dogs to meet.

We spent last week with the adorable Gretchen and Sebastian in Manhattan, IL:

As my husband likes to say, Manhattan, IL, is the opposite of Manhattan, NY. It’s incredibly flat, sparsely populated, and rural. The house that we sat is a typical suburban house. I love it, though, because the owners love living there and take such pride and ownership in their little piece of Manhattan heaven. The house is a typical, suburban IL house, but the little things like the raised herb garden outside, the ocean-scene tiled mosaic in the bathroom, and, the brightly-colored wood-carved picture than hangs on the front porch, make it spectacular.

And, let’s be serious here. Wiener dogs are as cute as you can get. Gretchen and Sebastian are also especially cute because they get tucked into a doggy bed at night and then greet the day first thing in the morning with exuberance.

While in Manhattan, we also got to visit a couple and their fur family who we housesat for last summer. When I first got the idea of pet/housesitting as a way to make a living after I quit teaching, it was motivated by my love of dogs, the lure of travel, and the desire to have a relaxed schedule so I could devote a lot more time to writing. Little did I know getting to know and becoming friends with the people we housesit for would be one of the best parts.

We spent a delightful evening at their house, catching up, and enjoying our time with their animals:

Triferos

Phyllos

Rafiki

Lilu

And the chickens

It’s experiences like these that give me the strength and motivation to leave Norfolk. When my husband and I embarked on our housesitting journey together, our plan all along was to keep moving. So I’m grateful that’s what we’re doing. I’m also equally grateful that we already know we’ll be back in Norfolk come September for another long-term housesit. We love it there and I miss ya’ll so much. See you soon!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

My Mom doesn’t like having her picture taken, so I didn’t have that many photos from which to choose. I’m also pretty sure she’s only going to be okay with having a picture posted on my blog at all, so I chose one that also features several of my family members so she can blend in better.

The above picture is maybe 18 years old and a lot has changed in that time except for one thing: My Mom continues to be a generous person.

I think my favorite example is that she took in my dogs, Limit and Jack, not once, but twice in their lifetimes.

I adopted Limit and Jack in 2002. Limit came with an age guesstimate of 7-9 years old. From the story I was told, a woman out in the country in North Carolina took in whatever stray dog wandered up to her door. When that dog turned out be Limit, he was dog #8 and so the woman said, “Enough! This dog is the limit.”

But Limit wasn’t the limit because none of the dogs were spayed or neutered. So Limit begat Jack and a sister, who unfortunately got hit by a car at some indeterminate length of time before they came to live with me (allegedly).

The woman ended up being evicted from her rental home and she abandoned her dogs; Limit and Jack had been locked in the house and were found by a kind neighbor. It looked like they had survived by drinking out of the toilets. They were both brought to me because at that time I volunteered as a foster mom for Independent Animal Rescue.

Within a few weeks I fell in love with both Limit and Jack and officially adopted them. But then, in the fall of 2006, Limit began struggling to walk up the stairs to my second-floor apartment. One day he collapsed going up the stairs and fell the whole way down.

I didn’t know what to do, so I called my Mom. She checked with my father to make sure her plan was okay and then she drove from Harrisburg, PA, to Chapel Hill, NC, to pick them up and move them to Harrisburg. Limit could live quite comfortably in their house since they had two floors.

And he did. So did Jack. They stayed with my parents until August, 2007, when I graduated from my doctoral program at UNC. We all moved together to the Chicago suburbs so I could start my tenure-track position as an assistant professor of psychology.

In 2009, we lost Limit to a tumor on his spleen. It ruptured and through the grace of God I was able to lift Limit up and put him in the back seat of my car. I got him to the vet in time so he didn’t have to suffer too much.

Jack and I stayed together until January of 2013.

He had started showing signs of dementia a few months earlier. Because I lived alone and worked long hours, Jack had become a danger to himself with the things he started eating in the house. He also started to confuse night and day and would continually wake me up in the middle of the night for walks.

As someone who has narcolepsy, this was dangerous for me. I once fell asleep walking him and when I woke up I had no idea where we walked to. It was after 3:00am.  I did not have a smart phone and honestly I didn’t know who to call with the regular old cell phone I had. What would I say? “I don’t know where I am. Come find me?”

I eventually found our way home.

Jack’s dementia got worse. Again, not knowing what to do, I called my Mom. The next day, she drove 10 hours from Harrisburg to Naperville, IL. She packed up Jack and his belongings and the next day drove back to Harrisburg. Of course, I missed him terribly; I still do, both of them. But with my Mom now taking care of Jack I knew he would be in good hands.

Jack managed to live another 14 months with my Mom, Dad, and brother in Harrisburg. He remained happy the entire time. In January, 2014, he developed Lymphoma. He lasted until March. On my spring break, I made it home just in time. We’re all pretty sure he waited for me.

Then my Mom gave me one of the greatest gifts of all. She paid to have a vet come to the house so Jack could die in my arms.

I will never be able to say thank you enough to my Mom for all she has done for me. Taking care of Limit and Jack when I couldn’t is just one example. There are hundreds more.

Thank you, Mom, for being so kind, selfless, and generous. I love you.

Minimalism as a Professional Touchstone

TItle

A few days ago, I received an email from one of my incredibly talented and insightful critique partners. She had been listening to a replay of a free webinar on How Picture Books Work and someone on the webinar named Kelly made the comment, “anything with a dog in it has me interested.” She wanted to know if it was me.

OF COURSE IT WAS!

I also made a comment when discussing personal reactions to the opening scenes of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are that I could never be too frustrated with Max because kids in wolf costumes are funny.

Where the wild things are Max in wolf costume

This How Picture Books Work webinar was offered by Kids’ Book Revisions and it was taught by Harold Underdown and moderated by Eileen Robinson.

Although I have never had the pleasure of taking a workshop or seminar with Eileen, I attended one of Harold’s presentations at the Children’s Writers of the Hudson Valley summer conference last year. In addition to learning quite a bit, he also startled the bejeezus out of me at a first pages event when he declared the first 100 words of an author’s picture book manuscript were cute and thoroughly enjoyable, but … “So, what?”

“Would someone want to pay $16.95 for this book?” is the rhetorical question he asked the audience.

I felt like a million light bulbs simultaneously went off, then shattered to pieces in my head because I realized that OH. MY. GOSH. Sometimes, my stories will be good, perhaps even great, but that doesn’t mean they are desirable by industry standards.

It’s always a good day when you have a swift kick of humility straight to your head.

I’ve used Harold’s message to help inform which of my manuscripts to submit to my agent and which should simply be exercises in creativity and imagination. His message has also helped me hone in on what types of stories bring me the most joy throughout the creation process, which ultimately lead to stronger and more engaging manuscripts because I am more passionate and invested in them.

Anyone want to guess what kind of characters I feature in those manuscripts? That’s right! Dogs and bears. I suspect anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis will not be surprised.

What was surprising to me, however, was the realization that with this awareness comes a responsibility to stay true to myself. As a minimalist, I enthusiastically proclaim that I don’t want a lot of stuff, and I embrace and even revel in how awesome I find a simple life; yet, how funny that I had ignored how minimalism could improve my approach to writing projects.

Just like the millions of light bulbs going off, then shattering with the “Would someone want to pay $16.95 for this book?” I had the same sort of moment when I realized this insight means letting go of some really great ideas I have for books simply because they don’t align with my personal values that bring me the most joy.

For example, over the winter holidays when I was catching up on my Carolina Alumni Review issues (GO TAR HEELS!),

Carolina AR

I came across a feature article about Zena Cardman ’10, who is the first microbiologist astronaut for NASA and who wants to go to Mars. HOW COOL IS THAT?!?!?

I underlined the article, made margin notes, and thought to myself: this is a story that needs to be told.

Women in Science is so relevant right now to children’s literature and quite a few editors are specifically looking for stories like Zena’s.

But as a minimalist, I’ve learned that I can’t say yes to everything. Doing so makes my life feel unbalanced and anything but simple. I now understand that Zena’s story is not mine to tell. Thinking a story is cool, relevant, and timely is not enough to devote hours and hours to research, writing, and revising, or giving away pieces of my heart, which I feel is necessary for a manuscript to be considered my best work.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to forget that I ever read Zena’s story.

I have a plan for trying to connect her with a rather successful nonfiction kidlit writer who is currently looking for scientists to interview for her e-zine. Also, if you are a kidlit writer reading this blog post, who just happened to be thinking, I wish I had a cool woman in science story to write about, please reach out to me and I’ll send you a copy of Zena’s Carolina Alumni Review article. She’s an outstanding person and a wonderful role model for our future generation of scientists, and even though I will not be writing her story, I can’t wait for it to get told through a children’s book.

In the meantime, I’m going to continue working on my animal stories because that’s where my heart is. A story about this little girl is still percolating in my mind.

Lelu

And, just yesterday while getting out of the shower, I had an idea for a mashup involving two of my favorite animals. Haha, no¸ this new mashup is not about dogs and bears – I’m already working on that story, thanks to this ball of fluff I got to know in December.

Shiloh

Her name is Shiloh and I’m pretty sure she’s part bear.

This new story is inspired by Smudge and ….

Smudge!

Sorry, but that’s all I’m going to say about that. I have to leave some things left to surprise my readers.

As always, thanks for your encouragement and support. A special shout-out to my new friend Bob, UNC class of ’72, who entertained me yesterday with some fun stories about his and his wife’s life journey to minimalism. I was feeling some bloggy writer’s block earlier and as soon as I hung up the phone with him, I cranked out most of this post. YAY TAR HEELS!

More Gratitude for the Little Things

Thank you Notes

Last week my husband and I had the opportunity to pull double-duty for housesitting and I spent a few days with Oscar, the long-haired dachshund. I suspect when he’s alone Oscar wears a top hat and monocle around his house because he’s a rather dignified sort of dog.

Oscar 2

Except when I photoshop a beanie hat on him:

Oscar with Beanie cap

Being with Oscar is a real treat, not the least of which is because his little legs make most of what he does hysterically funny. I will never get tired of watching him bounce down the stairs:

Also, Oscar’s human mom has Netflix and so my husband and I enjoy taking advantage of it. We’re working our way through Gilmore Girls. My brilliant 21-year-old niece got us hooked. She’s a HUGE Gilmore Girls fan and when she came to visit us last May we went on a Gilmore Girls driving tour because the show is set in the hypothetical town of Star Hollows, CT, and most small towns in CT could easily be Stars Hollow, complete with gazebos and town meetings.

Gazebo

Town meeting edited

Oscar likes to get up rather early, and normally I do too, but my early is between 5:30 – 6:30am and Oscar’s is 4:30 – 5:30am. One of the things I like to do when Oscar gets up early is feed him, let him out, and then we immediately fall back asleep on his couch. Sometimes, he’ll even share the pillow with me.

Oscar and Kelly pillow

During this most recent housesit, Oscar followed his normal pattern. I, however, changed it up a bit and decided to stay awake for the rest of the morning. Up first on my agenda was meditation, then writing. I sat on the couch, cross-legged, set my timer, and then said, “Come on, Oscar, it’s time to meditate.”

And do you know what the little guy did? He crawled right into my lap! If my heart could howl in delight, it would have.

Oscar in Lap

I know the timing is probably coincidental, but I couldn’t help wonder if dogs can sense the peace of mind and stillness that comes with meditation and are, therefore, attracted to it.

During my regular morning meditation that usually takes place at a kitchen table, Faith and Smudge, if I haven’t put Smudge back to bed with my husband because he’s whining to go upstairs, will lay directly at my feet. They’ll stay there the entire time and I rather enjoy having their company. Plus, I like to stick my feet under Faith so she can keep them warm in the morning.

While pondering this dog/meditation connection, I also began wondering about my relationship with dogs: do I love dogs so much because they love me or do dogs love me so much because I love them?

For example, on Sunday, my husband and I were at the Norfolk Library. He ended up taking a nap on one of the cushy leather chairs, while I sat in the center seating area editing a manuscript. Suddenly, I heard the pitter patter of little feet and I just knew a dog was in the library (it’s a very dog friendly library – they even have a water bowl up front).

A flash of white fur darted amongst the stacks and I thought, wait a minute! I know that dog!

Sure enough, it was Dodger! You would have thought I spotted a dinosaur the way I acted.

Dodger Library

Dodger and I then rolled around on the library floor having fun and giving each other kisses before he and his mom had to head home.

Sometimes I wake up the morning and I still can’t believe this is my life –  married to a man who is my best friend, playing with and taking care of dogs all day long, living in a town where dogs visit the library, and writing children’s books, mostly about dogs.

I don’t think I can ever say thank you to God enough for blessing me with these opportunities or to myself for finally listening to my heart which kept shouting at me that there was more to my life than what I had been living.

Little did I know the more would involve an incredibly handsome husband and more dogs to love than I ever thought possible.

So, thank you God. None of this would be possible without you.

And thank you to my husband who makes every week awesome.

Heath and Oscar

Thank you Oscar, and thank you Dodger, for making last week so much fun, and thank you Faith and thank you Smudge for always being furry lights in my life.

SMudge and Faith 3

And, finally, while I’m at it, thank you to the people in Norfolk who make living here so much fun.

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

51XWb7K-jHL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_

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