Tag Archives: Family

After Thanksgiving Reflections

What Comes Next Title

Thanksgiving is now behind us!  I’m delighted to report I’ve kept nearly all my daily habits, including writing, exercise, and mindful eating for the entire time we’ve been at my parents’ house.  Not only does it feel good, but the positive reinforcement motivates me to keep going.

We’ll see what happens when my family and I head to Hersheypark’s Christmas Candylane today.  I suspect there may be a peanut butter hot fudge sundae in my future.

One of the best parts of being in Harrisburg is that my 21-year-old niece is also visiting.  She’s a junior Chemistry-Economics double-major at UT-Austin, and the smarty-pants that she is, she’s participating in the Archer Fellowship in Washington DC this semester as a science policy intern.  Note: NOT scientology, which is what my Dad heard her say at the Thanksgiving table.

My niece seems to be fully embracing my anti-consumeristic, eco-justice, pacifist tendencies.  She also seems to be passing me on some levels of intelligence, which is both scary and awesome.  Although, I will never let her live down this sentence that she wrote for a class paper a few summers ago when she was feeling more than a little burnt out: War is wrong and bad.

Someday I hope to have this saying printed on a t-shirt.

But, honestly, how could I not be proud of someone who creates Snapchats like this:

IMG_0766 IMG_0826

My niece and I are going to take a bus back to Washington, DC tomorrow so we can hang out a little bit longer. On our agenda are the National Zoo and a walking tour of the National Monuments.  I can’t wait to see the pandas!  Although I appreciate our Founding Fathers (and Mothers, but you don’t see much representation of them), they aren’t quite so roly-poly:

When I was younger, I used to have a fantasy that I’d be famous enough to be a guest on a talk show that coincidentally happened to be the same day Jack Hanna was also a guest. And he just happened to have brought roly-poly baby animals with him.

Okay, maybe I still have this fantasy, but as an animal lover I just can’t help.  I think this is why my niece and I get along so well.  We both feel a kindred sense of connection with all creatures great and small.

As I get older and become more aware of my place in this world, I’m realizing just how much my love for animals is a major driving force in my life.  Before I developed a host of health issues, I was a vegetarian because I felt hypocritical for loving dogs and eating cows.

Now that I’ve regained good health, I slowly find myself returning to my vegetarian ways.  But because I did have such severe health problems, that return is limping along at a snail’s pace.  I suppose it’s partly fear – I don’t ever want to be that unhealthy again – and partly selfishness – animal meat can taste delicious.

This year I’ve stopped eating pork and next year I plan to stop eating fish.  I suspect giving up fish will be quite easy as most fish now consume so much plastic that’s been dumped in the ocean, it’s found in their bodies in significant quantities.  So gross!  Humans can ruin everything, including the ocean.

Whenever I start feeling depressed over our ravaging of the environment, I remind myself of the incredibly bright and motivated people, like my niece, who are working to protect our planet. Sometimes I’m also one of them.

Lately, I’ve been thinking I should be doing more.  I feel some sort of positive shift coming with my connection to the natural world.  I don’t know what exactly and I’m feeling excited.  I’ve had a couple of ideas that I’m slowly refining, with some forward progress. I’m not quite sure what it’s all about right now, so I can’t really share more.

In the meantime, I will keep my eyes and heart open to the natural world around me.  Perhaps something will inspire me, or I’ll receive guidance from an unexpected source.  Maybe I’ll get to hold a baby animal at the National Zoo?  Probably not, but I’ll never stop dreaming.

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving!  My love, gratitude, and appreciation for your continued support and encouragement.

Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

It's almost Turkey Time

Mid-November is apparently the time of year when things almost fall on my car.  This photo is from November 12th, 2015:

Tree bRANCH THEN

And here’s today’s photos:

Fall brnach today 3 fALL BRANCH TODAY 2 Fallen branch today 1

I could have been driving on Route 44 when that big honkin’ tree came down!  Talk about kick-in-the-pants gratitude.  I always welcome these small moments into my life that remind me how truly lucky I am.

There is a downside to this fallen tree (HAHA, downside – get it?).  It stopped me from meeting up this morning with one of my writing partners.  She was, of course, understanding and gracious about my last-minute cancellation.  I just hate wasting people’s time and she didn’t get any of my emails informing her of my blocked street.

I also don’t get the benefit of discussing writing craft with her, sharing our weekly writing updates on our projects, and commiserating over the long and arduous path to publication.  Since next week is Thanksgiving, it will be a few more weeks before we can reconnect again.  So, I’m doubly bummed about missing out on all the writing fun we have together.

In the meantime, my husband and I will be traveling to Harrisburg, PA, to spend the holiday with my parents, brother, and niece.  I’m quite looking forward to it and this will be the first real test since September to see if my writing and exercise habits that I’ve been developing stick.

I’m at the half-way point towards my 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week interval training goal.  Using Dr. Christine Carter’s The Sweet Spot as my guide, I’m building this habit slowly, by tacking on an extra minute of cardio every week to my already established 20-minutes-a-day, 6-days-a-week strength training regime.  For example, today I lifted weights with my upper body for 20 minutes and then I alternated in 30-second increments of frenetic dancing with marching/dancing in place for a total of 10 minutes.

Confession: Today I exercised a little bit longer so I could finish dancing to Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the FeelingI dare you to try listening to it and not dancing to the entire song.

Normally, I abide by my strict time limits because I don’t want to get ahead of myself and then build the activity too quickly.  I know myself too well and that is a surefire way for me to burnout and then give up.

Adding one minute on each week seems to be the trick for me to keep up with this routine.  Although sometimes I forget that my morning exercise routine now takes longer than 20 minutes and I do occasionally feel rushed.

Anyway, it’s easy to have my morning habits in place when I follow the same pattern every day: Get up around 5:30-6:30am, feed the dogs and let them out, hand write 2 pages of my latest novel, hand write a prayer to start my day, which will also serve as a first draft prayer for a daily devotional I’m writing, meditate for 20 minutes, and then workout.

With the time I’ll be in Harrisburg and the few days after that in which I’ll be staying with my niece in Washington, DC, there’s sure to be disruption along the way.

One of the keys to disruptions that Dr. Carter writes about in The Sweet Spot is to have a plan already in place so you know how to deal with them.

I expect the biggest disruption will be that my daily wake-sleep schedule will completely fall apart.  Traveling makes me feel even more tired than usual and I tend to have very vivid dreams when my schedule is disrupted.  If I wake up feeling exhausted, then I’m less likely to get out of bed in a timely manner.  Then, when I do get up other people in the house are awake and my concentration and time is diverted.

This solution will be easy enough because I’ve had many mornings this past fall where I’ve struggled to get out of bed.  I don’t like writing in bed, but sometimes it’s the compromise I make for being productive and respecting my narcolepsy.  So, I’ll sleep with my notebook and a pen on the side of my bed.  I’ll also keep my phone and headphones nearby.  That way I can also meditate before getting up.

Note to self – un-install social media and gmail apps on my phone, lest I get distracted by those time wasters before accomplishing any of my usual morning goals.

I suppose I could also visualize exercising before getting up, which is my current fallback plan for if I am too exhausted to get out of bed.  But that hasn’t happened yet and I want to use it as a last resort.

If once I am up and about, I’m unable to exercise the way I’d like, my backup plan is to do short, mini-exercises for one-minute increments throughout the day sneaking them in whenever I can.  Ideally, I’d hit 20 increments but 10 is going to be my starting point.  Again, this is a fall back plan so hopefully the 10 versus 20 increments is a moot point.

I’m kind of excited to see how it goes; the other parts of me are worried I’ll chuck everything by the wayside and spend my days gorging on junk food and reclining on the couch.  Psychology tells us that most of what we worry about is imaginary, but having succumbed to the treats at my parents’ house and the comfortableness of the couch one to many times over the past few years, I know this a real and valid concern.

But if nothing else, I have learned by forming my new habits that just because I have behaved a certain way in the past, doesn’t mean I have to behave that way in the future.  It’s up to me to make my choices and I know I will do my best.  That’s all I can ask.

Have a safe and happy Thanksgiving next week!  I am so grateful for your love and support.

Happy 21st Birthday to My Niece!

Happy Birthday BT

HB Now

Tomorrow marks an important milestone in my family’s genealogy – my niece turns 21! I can hardly believe it.  I remember when she was a little nubbins of a human being, super sweet and quiet, barely making a sound.

Little Nubbins 2

Since then she has grown into an extraordinary adult.  And although I can no longer pick her up, some of us still can because her nubbinsy-ways have carried forth.

Jori and Heath,

To celebrate this momentous occasion, here are 21 reasons why my niece is AWESOME, in no particular order.

#1.  Her nickname is Monster because she was so quiet and good-natured as a baby that I had to somehow create excitement for her; thus, an ironic nickname.Jori Baby

#2. She loves dogs nearly as much as I do (she’d probably argue that we are on equal footing when it comes to doggo love; however, as I’m older that means I’ve had more time to love them).

Jori and Faith

#3.  In the Harry Potter Universe, she’d totally be a Ravenclaw. That girl is SMART! and I’m not saying this because I’m biased (and I’d totally be in Hufflepuff, by the way).  She graduated from high school with the highest science GPA in her class, she got accepted into the Honors College at UT-Austin, she double majors in Chemistry and Economics, and she’s living right now in Washington DC as part of a prestigious fellowship program.

Harry Potter motorcycle

#4. Her motto is, “God made the dirt and dirt don’t hurt.”  Don’t we look GOOD in our detox mud masks?

DSCN2210

#5. She totally gets my narcolepsy frustrations because she has narcolepsy, too!

SNug as a bug in a rug

#6. Even though she has narcolepsy, she was totally on board with my let’s go watch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon plan during our 2016 southwest springbreak roadtrip extravaganza.  As she said when the sun started to rise, “Narcoleptics Prevail!”

Grand Canyon

#7. Speaking of roadtrips, she’s always up for one! So far we’ve gone from San Antonio, TX to Chapel Hill, NC, by way of Hot Springs, Arkansas, with stops in Austin, Murfreesboro, and Memphis; Phoenix to Las Vegas, with stops at the Petrified Forest, Sedona, and the Grand Canyon; and a mini-tour of CT ala the television show Gilmore Girls.

Jori on bridge

with dinosaur

Gazebo

#8. Together we created only one rule for our roadtrips – if you see a stone staircase, you have to take it!

Stone stair case

#9. You should always stop at botanical gardens, too, especially when they’re on a top 10 list.  That’s not an official roadtrip rule, but I think it’s good practice.  I almost didn’t stop because I thought the admission fee was too high.  That would have been silly, but she was okay with that. This glass chapel helped me see the error my ways.

Glass Chapel

#10. She’s enthusiastic about llamas, as we all should be!

Jori and Jack the Llama

#11. If you ask her to make a face like a tiger, she quickly obliges.

Tiger Face

#12. She also quickly obliges when you ask her to play games like Memory. I will never get tired of playing games like that, especially with someone as fun as she is.

DSCN2147

#13. Her advice is excellent. When I asked her how I should tell my parents my husband and I eloped in Nashville, she suggested I spell it out during a game of Scrabble since my mom and I play every time I visit home.

Married with Jori's picture

#14. Hamburger cakes are just weird, but because she wanted to try one I now know differently.

Harburger Cake edited

#15. She believes in reduce, reuse, and recycle. See these awesome sandals?  She wore them for a few seasons then passed them on to me when I needed a pair.

Sandals

#16. Even though she’s sleepy a lot of the time, she’s always willing to be a co-pilot. Even when we have to drive to the airport at 4:00am.

Copilot

#17. We both hate Las Vegas. That right there makes her an outstanding individual.

Las Vegas

#18. She always has a book to read.  And she takes it with her everywhere!

Jori Reading

Always book

Jori with Book 2

#19. My extreme sun safety protective measures – she always supports them.

At the beach

#20. Have you seen her smile?  Beautiful, always.

IMG_1388

#21. She is a bright light in this world. Literally and figuratively.

Inner beauty

Happy 21st birthday!  These last 21 years have been a true gift.  Thanks for being one of the best parts of my life.  You are amazing and I love you.

 

Tuesday, September 5th, 2017

Title

On our way back to Connecticut, my husband and I stopped off in Pennsylvania to spend a week with my parents.  To add to the mix, my oldest brother, who lives in Texas, is also visiting.  This time he’s not in PA because of a funeral (as he was the last two times he was here) so our time is being filled with all kinds of activities.

One of the activities is eating since my Mom, like many moms out there, shows love with food.  Since we’ve been here, there’s been a cake from Costco, two dozen cookies from Costco, an apple pie from Costco, and two gallons of Turkey Hill ice cream (all of which I said NO to), lots of sweet potato tater tots (which I said YES to), and some delicious grass-fed NY Strip Steaks (also a big YES).

We’ve gone to Hersheypark a few times

Hershey Park

and even though I was tempted with lots of chocolate goodies, I managed to say NO to everything except a hand-dipped milkshake.  My oldest brother, on the other hand, said YES to everything he could, in part to reap the benefits of an all-you-can-eat meal pass, with one of the stipulations being you must wait 90 minutes between meals.  Here’s his status report throughout the day:

Cropped 1

Cropped 2

Cropped Food 3

I wasn’t at the park with them, so this way I could live vicariously through their eating.  I’d had enough Hersheypark Happy by that point and, truthfully, the park is expensive.  Since my favorite parts on my visits there were attending the Sea Lion show

Sea lion

and walking through Zoo America,

Porcupine ZA

I didn’t think it a worthwhile use of money for me to go back to the park one more time.

We had also planned to go to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire and since they offered a substantial Labor Day discount, we took advantage of it.  The Faire is expansive and there’s always a historically-based storyline that is woven throughout the entertainment, including a human chess match in the afternoon and a live-action joust at the end of the day, so it’s a pretty fancy affair.

Ren Faire

But for some reason, I just wasn’t into it this year.

I did, however, get a kick out of seeing all the dogs at the faire.  This past weekend was one of their “Royal Hound Weekends,” where dogs are encouraged to attend.  I saw this royal pupper

Royal Doggo

A fluffy unicorn

Unicorn

And a service dog who had to wear dog muffs during the Royal Chess Match so as not to become agitated by the whips used during some of the combat scenes,

Dog muffs

in addition to many other dogs that I did not manage to get a photo of because I felt a little self-conscious sneaking around trying to take pictures of people’s dogs.

These dog experiences remind of the time I was sorely disappointed with how commercialized the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios is and instead found absolute delight with a service puppy I met there.

Service Puppy

And as I’m typing this, my family is discussing visiting the Civil War Museum in Harrisburg.  In response to finding out the admission price is $22, I asked, “Will there be dogs there?”  When my mom laughed, “no,” I replied, “then I probably shouldn’t go.

We say good-bye to Pennsylvania tomorrow and then we’ll be back in Norfolk.  There, I’ll be reunited with three dogs whom I’m absolutely crazy about.

Three dogs

I haven’t seen them since July 1st and even though I sing Somewhere Out There to them at night while staring at the moon (seriously), it’s not the same as being around them.

I know some people still think it’s crazy that I quit my job as an associate professor to write children’s stories and play with dogs all day long, but as I reflect on how I’ve spent my time this past week, my only regret is that I didn’t quit sooner.

Memoir Monday, May 22nd, 2017

Friend

On Saturday, my niece and I said hasta pronto to my husband who we dropped off at the Stewart International Airport for his birthday trip to Guatemala.  One of his goals this year is to become fluent in Spanish and when a local Norfolkian recommended a Spanish immersion program in Antigua, I couldn’t resist surprising him for his 34th birthday.

Heath and Jori Fixed

My husband will be gone a total of 10 days, but on the plus side I get to spend this time with my niece.  She’ll be visiting for the next week and I’m super happy to spend this time with her. She just wrapped up her sophomore year at UT Austin and I am 100% confident that she has now surpassed me in some educational ways seeing as she is a double major in chemistry and economics.

One of the aspects I’m most enjoying about her experience is listening to the sounds she makes while reading books. She just finished Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons yesterday and she cracked me up with her gasps and shouts of shock, surprise, and frustration.

Angels and Demons Cropped

We’ve also been watching season 1 of Gilmore Girls because she is a huge fan and on our agenda this week is to go on a Gilmore Girls driving tour.  The show takes place in a fictional CT town called Star Hollows, but it is based on Washington Depot, CT, and Kent, CT.

I’m not sure how much I’m enjoying the show because I find one of the main characters to have a rather obnoxious and grating personality. She always has a wise crack for every situation and her relationship with her mother is rather tempestuous but it appears to be a lot of her own making.

However, despite the show being on television I feel like I am learning some useful writing techniques for crafting characters. One of the comments I received from two individuals about one of the dogs in my Top Dog book is that he’s bordering on obnoxious.  The other four people who read my pages found him hilarious. So the majority wins, but the former comment still gives me something to consider.

Ultimately, I think it’s a good comment because the main character in the book also thinks this dog is obnoxious, but others think of him as a lovable bloke. It’s good to know I’m reaching different perspectives with the writing of him.

Also, in a pivotal scene in the book, this character then does something thoughtful and gracious and I like how I provided insight into the true heart of the character. The main character also recognizes this and it’s why she can forgive him for his many past deeds.

Yet, I don’t want children turned off by the character so much that they put the book down.  I have yet to say to my niece, “No more Gilmore Girls,” and part of that is because I want to keep watching this character to see if I ever reach a tipping point where I’ve had enough of her and never want to watch the show again. I think that would highly instructive in my own writing and I’m feeling good about the fact that I can “multitask” while spending some quality time with my niece.

I also like that I can get my niece’s perspective on the show and hear about what plot and characters she loves or hates. It’s so useful to have this kind of feedback to then inform my writing process and she’s obviously a brilliant and insightful person. For the record, so is my husband, but the insight of a 34-year-old man is quite different from a 20-year-old woman.

All in all, I think this is going to be a wonderful visit. Lots of pups to love, lots of books to read, one show to watch, and visiting attractions all over the state of CT. So who else wants to come visit? Think of how much you can help my writing!

Smudge and Faith