I wrote a celebratory Father’s Day post in 2018. You can read it here.
This year is quite different. It’s hard to celebrate when there’s so much trauma and uncertainty in the world. It’s especially difficult for me because my dad is currently in the hospital for what appears to be normal pressure hydrocephalus. We don’t know for sure and we’re in the wait and see phase.
All the spiritual and psychological work I’ve done in the past five years suggests the following:
Allow myself to feel any and all feelings that come up
Practice gratitude, if you can, during these difficult times
Since I don’t really know what feelings I’m feeling and it’s a rickety roller coaster of an experience – and to be clear I’m talking about the 5 tickets to ride take your life in your own hands carnival type roller coaster and not the aerodynamic engineering feats at theme parks – I’m going to let that first bullet point just be.
Although, I am grateful that I recently started seeing a therapist again to help me process some of the other emotions I’ve been experiencing this last year.
Ironically, I didn’t even force myself to write that previous sentence. It just popped up in my stream of consciousness, so I guess that’s why spiritual masters often preach of the benefits of practicing gratitude.
Even when you don’t want to or don’t think you’re ready to feel grateful, it comes out anyway.
Since my heart still isn’t really into this blog post, I’m going to leave you with the best thing (so far) to happen to me today. It happened during my morning mindfulness walk. I heard some scritch scratch sounds behind me, turned around, and spotted this little critter waddling down the middle of the road.
You can watch the full 42-second video of our encounter here.
Despite having made a promise to myself that I would not whip out my phone to take pictures during my mindfulness walks in the morning, I have now epically failed two mornings in a row.
Yesterday, this little chipmunk pretty much begged me to take their picture with this stunning display of adorableness.
And, today, well … who can resist a porcupine?
Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there and all the women and men who serve as a father capacity in someone’s life. Thank you for all you do, all you are, and all you strive to be.
If you are a person of prayer, please say a prayer for my parents. For my dad for healing and for my mom for strength as his caregiver. Thank you.
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.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad, lately, and parents in general, as I see more and more news stories about immigrant children being taken from their parents while coming into the United States. These stories make me wonder how I was lucky enough to be born into my family.
My father is a retired physician; his specialty was internal medicine. When my father went to medical school, his textbooks cost more than his tuition each semester. His father, I believe, was an engineer, who traveled the world as part of his job, and his mother was a nurse.
When he was in high school, my Dad read the book Arrowhead by Sinclair Lewis. The story is about a man, Martin Arrowhead, who is from the Midwest and who becomes a doctor. This story was one of the motivating reasons my Dad wanted to go to medical school.
For many years, my Dad worked 14+ hours days, multiple days in a row. When he was on call at the hospital, our phone would ring all hours of the night. I’ve overhead phone conversations where he’s had to tell family members that a loved one has died.
Because of my Dad’s hard work, I had the privilege of attending private nursery school, private grade school, and private high school. Reading was the #1 activity of my childhood and almost any book I ever wanted at Waldenbooks was mine to be read. Stacks and stacks of books filled my bedroom and kept me company during childhood.
I spent summers going to horseback riding camp and Disney World. We traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for vacations.
Every opportunity was afforded me as a child. I wanted for nothing. I’ve never had to know what it’s like to be hungry or wear second-hand clothing or have to worry about how a bill was going to be paid or what would happen if someone in my family became sick.
When I turned 18, I then attended college without having to take on any student debt. My summers were filled with working at a bank in downtown Harrisburg auditing mortgage loans for $6.25 an hour – this was $2.00 above minimum wage at the time.
I also got to experience international travel for the first time, as I spent not just one summer studying abroad at Oxford, but two. The programs lasted three weeks each and part of me didn’t want to come home because there was so much to see and do.
In 1999, I graduated from college with a 3.93 GPA (magna cum laude), named an outstanding senior psychology major, and earned honors in the psychology program. I had already been awarded a small research grant for my psychology honors thesis and this research had been presented at the American Psychological Association’s national conference in Boston that year.
After graduating from college, I landed a full-ride at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to pursue a doctorate in psychology. Again, I graduated with zero student debt, a university award, and the opportunity to present my research at conferences and through publication.
I immediately landed a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of psychology at a suburban Chicago University.
I continued achieving milestone after milestone in my career – professional development grants, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and presentations at national conferences. These achievements lead to promotions and raises. The university had a 7% matching program for my retirement account. I took full advantage of it. That money got added into my already growing retirement accounts that my father started for me after my first job working at Hersheypark when I was 15.
Let’s not forget my paid sabbatical for the fall 2014-spring 2015 academic year. I know full well how lucky I am to have been given nine months of time to consider my career and the changes I wanted to make. It was during my sabbatical that I realized I wanted more in my life, to pursue the other dreams I’d had, the ones that started in childhood that never got fulfilled.
And that’s exactly what I’m doing now.
Everything about my life has been an absolute privilege because of who my Dad was and how hard he worked.
Because of his hard work and sacrifices, I am now able to lead a life that is centered on creativity, imagination, kindness, compassion, and generosity. I do not have to worry about basic security needs and I never will.
So when I read stories about parents wanting a better life for their child and coming into the United States, I understand. I will not judge them for doing something “illegal” because some laws are arbitrarily created and not rooted in equality and justice but are more based on fear and lack and limitation. If you want an excellent example of this, look no further than Jesus Christ, whose own family had to seek refuge in Egypt when he was born because living in Judea was not safe at the time.
My Dad raised me to believe the messages of Jesus Christ and Jesus was quite clear in what he considered his greatest commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.
Every child deserves the same privileges and gifts I received from my Dad’s love. My Dad gave up years of his life working so I could be taken care of. And I was.
That doesn’t make me special, though, just because of who my Dad is and how hard he worked and how much he loved me. Some Dads work just hard and love their children just as much but will never be able to achieve the same kind of security that I grew up with.
Imagine what kind of world we would have if everyone could share their gifts instead of having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. That’s the life my Dad created for me and it’s one I now want to create for others in the world.
So I’m now doing that the best way I know how, the one that brings me the most joy – taking care of animals, loving my husband, and writing stories. On face value, these choices may not seem like the most proactive in terms of working for peace and social justice. Yet, I think of Gandhi’s words of “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
I’ve written about Gandhi’s words before, but today, on Father’s Day, and on a day when some fathers and mothers are being separated from their children, these words seem much more alive to me than ever before.
Thank you, Dad, so much for everything you’ve done for me. I am trying to make the world a better place because of you and be that change I want to see. I love you!
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.
On February 23rd, 2018, my husband’s family lost a beloved son. Erick’s death was not surprising or unexpected; he had been born with a rare combination of two genetic illnesses – Addison’s Disease and Adrenoleukodystrophy. Doctors had been preparing my husband’s family for Erick’s death for the last 20 years. The fact that Erick made it to his 39th is astonishing. The fact that Erick’s suffering is now over is a blessing.
Erick had two memorial services: one on February 28th, in Smyrna, TN, and one on March 1st in Lawrenceburg, TN. I met my husband’s childhood friends and his extended family. I met dozens of friends and colleagues of my in-laws. Laughter was shared, and tears were shed.
I heard many stories about Erick. I didn’t get the chance to know Erick other than through his diseases. I could only imagine what he was like through the memories of his family and friends.
The Erick I met could not communicate in any way – he had no vocal capabilities, nor could he blink once for yes or twice for no. There was debate about what Erick could understand, if he could even understand anything at all, once the disease fully ensnared him. I know his mother and his primary nurse believed he was still in there somewhere.
Last summer, I got to know Erick as well as I could when my husband and I stayed at his parents’ house for a week so they could take a well-deserved vacation.
During that week, I cleaned Erick’s face in the morning and emptied his urine bag. I administered medicines through his feeding tube, which connected directly to his stomach. I put a breathing device on Erick to help him clear his lungs. Every 2.5 hours I turned him, at least until my husband woke up and took over or the nurse arrived and provided far better care than I ever could.
The state of Tennessee provided Erick with 32 hours of nursing care per week. For my husband and I, that meant we could still see each other during the day and go out and about in Nashville while we were taking care of Erick that week.
My in-laws were expected to work full-time jobs and then care for Erick full-time before and after work. As Erick needed 24-hour supervision, this provision made it impossible for my in-laws to have a typical American life. They devoted nearly every hour of their lives for the last 12 years to taking care of their son. For the last 20 years, they watched him suffer and there was nothing they could do medically do about it.
When I consider Annie Dillard’s profound saying, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives,” I think about the kind of love that my husband’s parents have for Erick to spend every day in service to their dying son.
They refused to put him in a home and they refused to give up on caring for him. They sacrificed themselves in ways I can’t even imagine. I suppose that is what you do for someone you love because what is the alternative?
I am not a caregiver. Yes, I care for people and animals and the beauty of creation that is God’s gift to all of us. But it is not my vocation.
My vocation is writing and playing with as many animals as I can. I say this because I’ve been thinking of how I can best memorialize Erick, a man I’ll only really know through the love of my husband and his family. I have no stories of my own about Erick while he was alive, yet his story means something to me.
While I was in Nashville with my husband’s family, the time came for my agent to submit one of my picture book manuscripts, Sundays with Pop-Pop, to publishing houses. The timing wasn’t ideal, but she had a fire inside her for getting the manuscript out and I am eager for my first book contract. In retrospect, I do feel regret for closeting myself in their office to perfect the draft while there was so much grieving around me. I will hopefully not make that mistake again.
But I now know how I will honor Erick and the love his family has for him. Sundays with Pop-Pop is a story of love and loss. It celebrates the special relationships we have in our lives, whether they are biological, a beloved family pet, or a concerned member of our community.
Erick is, and always will be loved. When Sundays with Pop-Pop is published – and I truly believe it is when, not if – I will dedicate the story to Erick. He deserves it.
Thank you for reading my blog. And if you are so inclined, please send thoughts and prayers of peace to my husband and his family.
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:
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.
Mid-November is apparently the time of year when things almost fall on my car. This photo is from November 12th, 2015:
And here’s today’s photos:
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 Feeling. I 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.
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.
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.
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.
#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).
#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.
#4. Her motto is, “God made the dirt and dirt don’t hurt.” Don’t we look GOOD in our detox mud masks?
#5. She totally gets my narcolepsy frustrations because she has narcolepsy, too!
#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!”
#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.
#8. Together we created only one rule for our roadtrips – if you see a stone staircase, you have to take it!
#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.
#10. She’s enthusiastic about llamas, as we all should be!
#11. If you ask her to make a face like a tiger, she quickly obliges.
#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.
#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.
#14. Hamburger cakes are just weird, but because she wanted to try one I now know differently.
#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.
#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.
#17. We both hate Las Vegas. That right there makes her an outstanding individual.
#18. She always has a book to read. And she takes it with her everywhere!
#19. My extreme sun safety protective measures – she always supports them.
#20. Have you seen her smile? Beautiful, always.
#21. She is a bright light in this world. Literally and figuratively.
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.
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
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:
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
and walking through Zoo America,
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.
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
A fluffy 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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!