This winter has been nothing short of wonky for Norfolk. December ended with warmer temperatures than usual, a lot of rain, and barely a dusting of snow. January also started off the same way. The second week of January changed everything – a few inches of snow and some chilly temperatures!
Just how chilly? On Tuesday, January 11th the temperature was -8°F with the wind chill. That day also happened to be one of my scheduled walks with Annie. I asked Annie’s mom how long she thought Annie could be out in the cold. Annie’s mom said she was more worried about me.
Pish posh! I replied (though not quite in those words). I believe that because my formative years were spent on an ice-skating rink, my blood carries a small percentage of ice in it.
I was not at all worried about myself being in the chilly temperatures, especially when I wear the proper attire.
In the case of Tuesday’s temperatures, appropriate wear meant hat, gator, gloves, hand warmers, fleece-lined pants, LL Bean socks, Xero winter boots, and my Columbia Omni Heat coat that is filthy dirty but I remain steadfastly committed to because I only paid 75 cents for it while volunteering in Churchill, Manitoba.
Annie and I set off with determination to complete our full loop of the Swamp Trail in the Barbour Woods. With blue skies that stretched for miles and a glorious sun for company, I felt confident we could do it.
And I was right!
By the end of our walk, my brain was awash in all the feel-good neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. When I returned Annie home, I reported that our walk was “the most invigorating thing I’ve done all year.”
Since the year was only 11 days old, I’m not sure I impressed anyone.
But I did come up with the idea that this walk with Annie will be the benchmark for my experiences in 2022. Anything notable that happens, I will compare it to how I felt on that cold winter’s day with Annie in the woods. By the end of 2022, I’ll have a list of my best moments.
A few weeks ago, I led a TED Talks discussion group using Candy Chang’s talk, Before I die, I want to…. You can watch the TED Talk here.
Two of my discussion questions were:
How would you fill in the blank — Before I die I want to __________?
How would your answer change if you knew you only had one year left to live? What about one week? One day?
A lively discussion ensued. One gem of wisdom shared by a participant was that a year was a luxurious amount of time. How grand to know you have a full year ahead of you!
Juxtapose that idea with the basic premise of Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, whereby the average human lifespan is only four thousand weeks. Four thousand does not seem nearly enough.
Since the reality is we really don’t know how much time we have left, I take time every year to reflect on my own death. This practice helps me ensure that no matter what happens, I know what’s important to me, which in turn, helps me make decisions in both the short- and long-term for living my best life. Previous death meditations inspired me to quit my tenured position as an associate professor of psychology, to volunteer for seven weeks at a science center in sub-Arctic Canada so I could see polar bears in the wild, and to recognize that my perfect day includes time for rest, self-care, being with loved ones (and a dog), some play, and some productivity.
This year, I reflected on my death while at a winter solstice sunset meditation program at Naumkeag. Naumkeag is a beautiful house in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, set on a rolling hill with the Berkshire Mountains as its backdrop.
Picture taken on Autumn Equinox in 2021.
Picture taken on Autumn Equinox in 2021.
Having been there before, I knew Naumkeag is a magical place. What made the night even more magical is the house and grounds glowed with thousands of colorful lights as part of their winter lights festival. I could not have asked for a more perfect place to reflect on my past year and find inspiration for living my best life in 2022.
2021 was a hard year for me. The grief of losing family, friends, and dogs in 2020 carried over, as did the uncertainty of the pandemic. Add to that a terrorist attack on the US capital in January, a constantly mutating virus because not enough people are vaccinated, and a debilitating sleep disorder that has been getting progressively worse for years, which, in my opinion was so stressful it reactivated a shingles infection in my body in August, and I’ve got a year that really sucked at times.
And yet, because I’ve taken time in the past to consider my time and mortality, I also experienced a pretty wonderful 2021. I have never been more in love with Heath than I am today.
He is an amazing teammate, best friend, and husband. A lot of times when I panic that I’m 44 and if I live to the same age as my dad then I only have 30 years left, the panic is because I feel like that is not enough time to love Heath. Since there is literally NOTHING I can do about my eventual death, my way forward is clear: just love Heath to the best of my ability each and every day.
Last year, I also had a dog fall asleep on my head! Best. Day. Ever.
In those moments, as Fergus snoozed away, I thought I might explode with joy. I also thought I might never be able to move again, because I couldn’t bear to wake the little guy up.
Knowing how dogs have a special place in my heart, I mostly kept up with my twice weekly walks with Annie. Even in my darkest days of sleep and health challenges, being with Annie in the woods was a wonderful tonic which helped me keep going.
2021 is also the year that I learned how to write a novel on my phone. In my work at the Norfolk Library, I led a program on habit formation using James Clear’s Atomic Habits book. From his insights and practices, I finally let go of wanting to be a person with a habit of jumping out of the bed first thing in the morning. That kind of habit is impossible for me when I feel severely sleep deprived and depressed due to narcolepsy. Instead I used the techniques and information to develop a habit of writing on my phone, which makes a lot of sense considering how often I use my phone and how my phone is almost always within arm’s reach. Six months and over 37,000 words later, I now have the first draft of a middle grade novel that is just waiting for revision.
I also spent a lot of time querying agents in 2021. I received several requests for full manuscripts or more work. Although I was not offered representation, I did receive personalized rejections, some with encouragement to keep going. It’s not what I hoped for, but I’m certainly not giving up now.
In reflecting on 2021, one area of my life other than sleep also seemed out of balance: my work life. When I quit teaching in 2016, I never wanted to work full-time again. The hours and stress of working full-time did not seem possible while also trying to prioritize my sleep health.
In the beginning of 2020, I worked 12 hours at the Norfolk library and 10 hours for the Congregational Church. That combination seemed perfect for my personal and professional goals. By the end of 2020, I was working 35 hours a week — 25 for the library and 10 for the church. I needed to work 25 hours at the library so that after 1 year at those hours, I would be eligible for health insurance. During 2020, our market place health insurance monthly premium went from $60 a month with state assistance to $1,069 a month with no assistance.
Perhaps if I didn’t experience downward-spiraling narcolepsy symptoms in 2021, I may have been able to sustain a 35 hour a week work schedule. Unfortunately, my sleep health was so poor in 2021 that I knew I couldn’t continue working this way. I made the difficult decision to resign from my position at the church. I will still volunteer for various church initiatives, since they have such a wonderful presence in Norfolk and beyond. But I now have the discretion to say no when I am simply too tired.
Which brings me to 2022 — How do I want to live differently, if I knew 2022 would be my last year?
The answer to that question came almost immediately while I was at Naumkeag. On that cold dark Night, we were led through a rainbow tunnel of lights.
During that walk the words colorful creativity popped into my head. I knew the instant I heard myself say those words that my creativity is missing an important component. So much of my creativity goes to writing: I write for my job at the library; I write for the Norfolk Now monthly newspaper; I wrote for the church. I also write in my free time in hopes of being a traditionally published author someday.
What I don’t do is use my creativity simply for fun. I don’t create for play. I don’t create simply to create. There is always a purpose. That stops in 2022.
This year, my year of colorful creativity, I will prioritize using color in creative ways. I never have considered myself a visually artistic person. I think that’s an important point. I am choosing to spend some of my time on artistic endeavors that have no higher goal, other than to simply create something colorful.
I find this idea both exciting and terrifying. I feel excited because it’s something new and different. It’s terrifying for a few reasons. One, I still think of myself as a minimalist and I’ve already bought some art supplies which creates cognitive dissonance with my minimalistic values. So that’s something I’m reconciling as I go down my colorful creativity path. Two, I know how precious time is. It’s terrifying to give up some of my writing time or otherwise free time to play. I don’t have to worry about giving up time with Heath because we know have art dates every Monday.
We’ll see how it goes. I decided to get a head start on my year of colorful creativity and made before the official start of 2022.
I call it Polar Nights. Here’s to more colorful creativity in 2022!
The pandemic ends. Everyone who can gets vaccinated and everyone masks and socially distances until there’s no more virus transmission and not enough hosts for mutations.
That’s it. That’s the list.
I am so tired of this pandemic.
Traveling in Tennessee this past week made me realize this pandemic is never truly going away. Maybe 2 out 10 people wore masks, social distancing doesn’t exist, and the number of derogatory comments I heard about masks and vaccines broke my faith in humanity.
Heath helped build my faith back up somewhat with a well-timed and well-intentioned pep talk. But still. Those were some dark days. Some of that darkness still lingers.
Thankfully, I also currently have 24-7 access to one of the best antidotes to faith-in-humanity destruction:
Fergus is, of course, the best Christmas gift ever. This tree is at my mom’s house.
That’s right! Fergus is back with me for the next two weeks. Thank goodness. I’m sure my heart will be brimming with light, love, and licks in no time.
Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! To everyone else, warm winter wishes!!
I’m glad it’s Thanksgiving this week, because it gives me a ready-made topic to write about: Top 10 Things I’m Grateful for This Year.
My husband, Heath. This year has been another challenging one, particularly with sleep issues. Heath is a constant source of unconditional love and support. The last time I struggled this much with my sleep, I was single. I eventually improved, so I know I have it in me to stay the course with my health as a single person. But I’m incredibly grateful I don’t have to.
DOGS! Speaking of unconditional love and support, dogs are also up there at the top of my list. Dogs bring me such joy! I can’t imagine my life without them. This point leads me to …
The people who let me love their dogs. This will be my first full year since 2013 that I did not live with one or more dogs. It’s been an adjustment to say the least, and I still find myself tearing up every now and again when I think of my furry friends I’ve lost along the way. So an extra special thank you to those people who ask me to take care of their dogs and love them like they’re my own.
My mom. She is one of the most generous people I know. The only way my mom could get even better is if she got a dog.
My best friend, Arlene. I met Arlene while on sabbatical in Chapel Hill, NC, in 2014. Arlene is almost 40 years older than me, and that doesn’t matter in the slightest. We understand each other, and every Thursday I call her. Sometimes we don’t chat, and I just leave a message. But we always know to expect a phone call on Thursdays at 11:30am.
My BFF Michelle. Michelle and I have been friends for maybe 17 years now. We can’t really nail down the date of when we went from being grad school acquaintances to good friends. The pandemic, however, changed everything. We experienced a Frien-essance (the friend version of a Renaissance) this year through Zoom and that’s one of my silver linings of the pandemic. Also shoutout to Beth, who often joins us on our Zooms. I’m grateful my friendship with her has gotten deeper this year, too.
My TPEP friends. These are the friends I made when working for the Tobacco, Prevention, and Evaluation Program way back in the mid 00s when I worked in the Department of Family Medicine, UNC School of Medicine as a research assistant. I doubt I will ever have such a dynamic and fun group of friends at work. We stay in touch a few times a year and I love them all SO MUCH!
My imagination and creativity. These are my two greatest natural gifts. Because of my imagination and creativity, I am never at a loss when writing a story. In fact, I often have too many stories to write, and then have to choose which ones to write and which ones to let go. As a first world problem, I’ll take it!
My mentors. There are some people in this world, such as Dr. Al Forsyth and his wife Peggy, and Dr. Adam O. Goldstein, who believe in me no matter. They’ve each contributed their own way to the person I am today.
My improving sleep. Friends, I am cautiously optimistic in telling you that my narcolepsy medicine is working. I am no longer waking up every morning experiencing post-traumatic stress from my dreams. I no longer need a nap at 8:30am and again at 4:00pm. I am not heading straight to the couch after I wake up. I feel so different these mornings as of late, that sometimes I don’t even know what to do with myself.
As I was writing this list, I realized that Top 10 is too limiting. I immediately wanted to make it a Top 20, then Top 50. For brevity’s sake, I’ll stop here. Kinda. Because now I’m going to give a few honorable mentions: My niece, who is brilliant and creative, my writing group, who is AWESOME, the Norfolk Library, who provides AMAZING health insurance even though I only work part-time, my productivity club, where we provide unconditional support to each other, Ruth, who reads my blog regularly and is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, Dottie, who gives the best hugs in Norfolk, and Jeannine and Jeff, who continue to make me laugh.
There are so many more people and things I could list. I’m really going to stop now. At least for now.
I’m on day two of a treatment for narcolepsy. As I wait and see how much the medicine helps, I continue to celebrate small wins. Figuring out how to create a video of Annie on our walk last week with a particular song playing in the background is top of my list for small wins that equal REALLY BIG FEELINGS OF ACHIEVEMENT.
I’ve noticed that lately I’ve been a glass half empty kind of person. The first night I tried this medicine, which I took before from 2008-2015, I had the following thoughts: what if I die? What if I stop breathing? What if it makes me lose my mind? What if it doesn’t work. I worked myself into such a state of anxiety, that I decided I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep without wearing my ApolloNeuro Touch Therapy Device.
From their website:
Apollo Neuro is scientifically sound, wearable touch therapy that you wear on your ankle or wrist. Apollo’s silent, soothing vibrations speak to your nervous system, telling you that you’re safe and in control. Developed by neuroscientists and physicians, it’s a safe, non-invasive stress relief tool for adults and children, without drugs or side effects.
I had invested in the Apollo Neuro to help my sleep, which I can’t say that it did. But I have found it to be soothing in certain situations. So I slapped it onto my wrist and curled into the fetal position.
I woke up a few minutes later thinking I was having a panic attack because my whole body was shaking.
Except it wasn’t really. It was just the Apollo Neuro. Unfortunately, the way I contorted myself resulted in the device vibrating directly against my chest.
The next night went much better, and I certainly had less dramatic thoughts. But these other thoughts never once crossed my mind: What if this the best thing to happen to me? What if my sleep completely improves? What if everything starts getting better?
I suppose the good news is that now I’ve realized I’ve been glass half-emptying it, I can switch my thought process. Part of me would like to understand why I became a glass half-empty kind of person and part of me doesn’t care about the why.
Then there’s the other part of me that says, isn’t it more important that the glass is refillable in the first place?
I’ll save these questions for another day. In the meantime, here’s to the best night of my life! Hopefully.
I don’t want to alarm anyone in Norfolk, but there’s some sort of creature hanging out on the Swamp Trail in the Barbour Woods.
This creature enjoys splashing and swimming. Every so often, she jumps out of the swamp and shakes off her coat all over innocent bystanders.
If you’re lucky, maybe you’ll get to see her. Be forewarned: encounters with this creature result in moments of pure joy and lots of smiling. I mean, honestly! Just look at those ears!
It moments like these that I hold onto because the narcolepsy continues. Of course I’m still sleepy.
Today, however, I am also hopeful.
When I spoke with my sleep doctor last week, we agreed to try a medicine that worked wonders for me for seven years. Overtime, its effectiveness diminished and the side effects became more pronounced. I’m hoping because I haven’t taken this medicine since 2015 that my body and brain will have completely reset itself.
Now, the challenge is getting the medicine. It’s only available at one pharmacy in the country and there’s a lot of paperwork and verification that needs to happen first. So far, I’ve had to email the pharmaceutical company a copy of my marriage certificate and license since the last time I took the medicine I had a different name ,and then on Friday I received notice I have to fill out a new enrollment application.
So, I wait.
In the meantime, Norfolk is on the brink of being a cornucopia of fall foliage. Now’s the time to get outside and enjoy it. Even better, bring a dog!
I’ve never met a dog who’s not also an excellent heart surgeon. That’s right – heart surgeon.
Every time I meet a new dog, they manage to slice and dice my heart until there’s room for them, too. Having never taken an anatomy class, I have no idea how these dogs keep doing it. Maybe they keep adding additions?
Yet somehow there is always room for another dog in my heart, and the dogs I’m already hopelessly and completely in love with (here’s looking at you Annie, Dodger, and Fergus) wag their tails and high five each other to welcome that new dog to the pack.
Everyone, have you met Hailey?
Hailey is the sweetie pie rescue dog who lives below our Norfolk apartment. I’ve known her for well over a year now. She can be shy at first, and I never thought I would truly make inroads with her. But then her human mom had to unexpectedly leave town for a few days. I AM IN LOVE!
I think it’s obvious why:
What a goober!
Hailey entered into a deep depression when her mom left. This separation was the first time they had been apart like this, ever. It took several days for her to warm up to me. After those few days, when Hailey began to trust me and liked all the treats I’d been giving her, she started running to the door when I unlocked it. She wiggled her butt and wagged her tail and a few times even jumped up at the door before I opened it.
I visited Hailey for eight days before her mom came back. Even though I’ve been having a lot of narcolepsy troubles lately, those were eight days with moments of doggone good love and joy. Those moments matter a lot to me when I’m struggling with sleep.
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment of my time with Hailey, but if I had to, I would pick the times when I’m getting ready to leave their house and I hide a handful of small biscuits in Hailey’s toy box. As you can imagine, Hailey is absolutely adorable rooting around in a wicker box filled with stuffed ducks, bears, and cats.
I am so grateful that people trust me with their dogs. I can’t imagine my life without them.
Also, just for fun, here are two other dogs I met recently.
Maggie is a poodle and cavalier king Charles spaniel mix. I met her in downtown Hartford when I was supporting my author friend Lynn Katz at Books on Pratt. If you’re interested in a psychological thriller with some dark and twisty turns, check out her book The Surrogate. I’ll also be chatting with Lynn on October 7 when the Norfolk Library hosts a virtual author talk with her. If interested, you can register here: http://www.norfolklibrary.org/events/virtual-author-talk-with-lynn-katz/
Then there’s Wilson. Wilson is a basset hound! I never knew a basset hound could be a solid color. I thought he was a basset mixed with a dachshund. Also, yesterday was his birthday! He’s a jolly eight years old.
I wonder how many dogs I’m going to meet this week? I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’m confident they’ll figure out what to do with my heart when the time comes.
Today my blog turns five years old and I turn 44 years old. I remember when my dad turned 40 and we gave him a pin that read 40 isn’t old if you’re a tree. Since I’m a fan of trees and upon my death I would like to be turned into a tree, I accept that I am not old. For the record, I hope my death isn’t at least for 44 more years (God and Kelly willing).
Most importantly, I don’t feel old. And I think that’s what matters most.
One of the true highlights of my day was seeing the artists’ list for the August exhibit of Norfolk Artists & Friends that’s opening at the Library today. When I arrived at work on Thursday, I was delighted to see this painting:
That looks like Annie, I thought.
Well, sure enough. The painting is titled “Annie Rose Smells a Flower,” by Susannah Anderson.
It delights me that I know Annie so well I can spot her in an acrylic paining.
It really is the little things in life that bring the most joy.
Other little things that have been bringing me joy lately:
The little chipmunk living under the front porch.
The blue heron who keeps visiting the driveway
Meeting new dogs (that’s Hobbes in the front and Legend in the back). I met them at Cornwall’s Library’s outstanding Puppies Behind Bars presentation.
Teeny tiny frogs!
Fergus visiting my office at the Norfolk Library.
Getting hugs from my friend, Dotty.
And last, but not least, is watching my kalanchoe plant grow. Heath gave me this plant for our 5-year wedding anniversary in February. It seems to be doing quite well!
My birthday wish for anyone reading this blog post is that you find little things in your day that bring you joy.
My dad’s decline started slowly a few years ago and then sped up quickly. He went into the hospital in June 2020 and died a little over a month later.
Smudge’s death happened with no warning whatsoever. I wasn’t even there to see him one last time as I was still in Pennsylvania with my family. One of the greatest regrets of my life is that I didn’t stop by to visit Smudge before I left Norfolk in July so I could be in Harrisburg with my dad. I’ve written about this regret before, and I don’t want to write about it again other than to say that almost a year has gone by and the sadness still cuts into my heart with as much pain as it did on July 23, 2021.
Deep breath … moving on. Only because I have to.
When it comes to the whole dog versus cat debate, I’m solidly Team Dog. I have nothing against cats. I like them, in general. I love some cats, specifically.
On Friday I whiled away some time scrolling through Instagram. One of the local groups I follow is Little Guild, an animal rescue organization located in Cornwell, CT. I saw Bertha’s little face with the caption that she is now the Guild’s longest resident at around 150 days. My heart broke into 150 pieces when I read that information.
Unfortunately, at that moment, I accidentally sent the Little Guild a laughing emoji in an attempt to “swipe up” so I could learn more information. Mortified, I then immediately sent them an apology direct message explaining that I wanted to read more about Bertha and I didn’t mean to laugh at their post.
As I’m in no position to adopt a cat, I thought I would share her here in case someone else is. She’s a senior cat at 10 years old. What I love most about her is how she looks like two cats in one. If you’re on Instagram, you can watch videos of her flopping around and meowing. Warning – she’ll steal your heart.
Here’s the description of her on their website:
Domestic Short Hair / Mixed (short coat)
Female (spayed), 10 yrs
Bertha is an affectionate and laid-back lady. She loves being pet and once she starts purring she doesn’t stop! She will roll from side to side to show you how happy and grateful she is to be getting your attention. Bertha is a quirky little girl who has been a total sweetheart from the minute we met her. She always seems to make us laugh, especially when she eats her dinner while still laying on her side! This pretty and sweet girl can’t wait to be somebody’s new best friend.
Approximate Weight: 11 lbs
Estimated DOB: 2/1/2011
Good with Cats: No
I have no idea if positing about Bertha on my blog will make a difference. I can only hope it does. I’d like to think my dad would be rooting for Bertha, too. Pretty sure Smudge wouldn’t, though. I’m okay with that.
Ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming. Yes, it’s true. We are officially more than halfway through 2021.
Since my brain can’t seem to wrap around how fast time is moving, I decided to distract myself by creating some patriotic pups.
This is Indie! She’s a young Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Heath and I both had the opportunity to babysit for her recently. But since Heath is 100% smitten with her, I magnanimously offered to step out of the way so the two of them could be together.
Say hello to Zelda! She’s an old-timey Bedlington terrier. I recently got to take care of her and her baby sister, Sadie. This is the second time I had the privilege of taking care of Zelda. The first time was over four years ago, well before she had a baby sister. I remember enjoying the experience, as Zelda is as sweet as 4th of July apple pie.
Sadie, however, made this time quite different as she is a HUMONGOUS goofball. She reminded me so much of my beloved Smudge, I simultaneously wanted to laugh and cry. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss him.
Next, we have Fergus. Wednesday at work I heard some jingling outside my office door. In flew Fergus! His human mom had brought him to the library and one of my colleagues/friends brought him up the stairs to visit me. Wednesday was the last day of the extremely hot temperatures we were having (think close to 100 with the heat index). Since the library is nice and cool with our abundant AC (not common in the NW corner of CT), Fergus’ mom wanted to get some work done in a cool and relaxing environment. I asked if I could take Fergus upstairs with me. For the rest of the afternoon, Fergus sat on my desk intermittently napping and watching the world go by on Rt. 44.
Annie is clearly a 4-star dog! Even when she’s muddy. I think that adds to her charm. I recently had the opportunity to babysit Annie overnight. Is anyone surprised to learn she’s a bed hog?
Last but not least, we have Yankee Doodle Dodger.
If you’re thinking that Dodger looks different, well…There was an incident at the groomers where “summer cut” meant one thing to us and something else to the person grooming him. I can’t believe how small a dog Dodger actually is. I’d been calling him “Pork Chop Dodger” all winter and it became clear I needed to apologize once I saw his true size. Dodger forgave me (mostly) and he seems to have (mostly) recovered from being shaven. The humans have yet to recover.
I hope you have a safe and happy 4th of July! And remember — we only have six months left in 2021. Let’s make them good ones!