Tag Archives: Goals

The Wild World of Wildlife Photography

I’ve never been one of those people obsessed with supermodels. Until I found out that there’s such a thing as wildlife supermodels. Meet Bruno!

And, yes, he really is this good looking in person, plus he oozes charm. I mean, what bear doesn’t?

In all seriousness, I really didn’t understand the concept of a wildlife photography model until my husband and I took part in my Christmas 2017/Valentine’s Day 2018/Anniversary 2018/Birthdays 2018/Christmas 2018 present to ourselves.

All the way back in December 2017, I was watching episode 309 of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild. In this episode, Jack and his wife visited a ranch in Montana to photograph bears. Hmm, I thought. That would be the perfect present for my husband for Christmas, et al., since he’s a photographer and I’ve wanted to visit Montana for many years now.

I immediately Googled Triple D Game Farm and discovered that they offer photography workshops for the public. There were a whole host of options to choose from, such as horses or birds of prey.

The choice was tough. I, however, couldn’t resist a workshop featuring baby wildlife. With this option, there’d be a little something for both of us: adorable animals for me to dote over and new photography skills for my husband to master.

I was determined NOT to make the same mistake I made last year in surprising my husband with his birthday present.

One of the things I love most about my husband is his curiosity and drive to learn as much as he can about anything that interests him (which is a lot). A few years ago, he made a goal to be fluent in Spanish by December 2017. I wanted to support him, so when a Norfolk friend told us about a Spanish immersion school in which she and her daughter attended in Antigua, Guatemala, I surprised my husband with a week-long program for his birthday last year (May 2017).

Unfortunately, because I wanted the trip to be before December 2017, the only time that worked for him to travel to Guatemala was at a time when I couldn’t go with him. In hindsight, I should have said to heck with the goal date, because I missed out on my husband’s first international trip. We could have hiked a volcano together!

Lesson learned! So, hello, baby wildlife!

The workshop was lead by an incredibly talented and knowledgeable photographer, Kathleen Reeder. After observing Kathleen during the workshop, I felt a renewed sense of certainty that I made the right decision to quit my teaching job two years ago. Kathleen is a natural teacher, who thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing and enthusiastically shared her gifts with others. In other words, a model teacher who embodied many of the qualities I lost (or never had) after choosing a profession by default rather than true interest and passion.

Every day the photographers would assemble at the crack of dawn to work with different animals, which included baby foxes, wolves, coyotes, otters, pine martens, Canada Lynxes, and a juvenile mountain lion.

Perhaps I’m just naïve, or, maybe the animal lover in me is too attached to the possibility that I could be wandering around the woods and happen across Canadian lynx kittens posing in a log and get to witness the adorableness of it, but I had no idea a lot of wildlife photos are staged.

Watching the animals land on their marks during photo shoots in between romping and playing is something I will marvel over for the rest of my life.

Then, I met Bruno.  

You may be thinking that Bruno is not a baby animal, and you’d be right. I think Bruno is maybe 6 years old.

As part of the workshop, participants were offered the opportunity to photograph additional species for a fee. Talk amongst the participants who had previously attended Triple D workshops was that Bruno the Bear is a ham. He’ll pose during his photo sessions and look at the photographers to make sure they’re watching. He loves laughter and applause and applesauce and wants everyone to love him loving those things.

Of course, I suggested we participate in a Bruno the Bear photoshoot. No brainer, really. Just look at him!

Since I was only attending the workshop as a “sidekick,” I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs of the animals myself, lest I be charged the full cost of attending. So, the photos in this post are some of my husband’s cast-off photos. He said he’s saving his best ones for his own social media purposes, unless I wanted to pay him. HAHA, he’s such a funny guy. He and Bruno could be BFFs, if Bruno wasn’t, you know, a wild bear who just happened to also be a supermodel.

Work it, Bruno. Work it!

An Open Letter to my Former Students

Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash

Today is the third morning in a row I’ve woken up exhausted from narcolepsy. This occurrence is nothing new.

What’s different this time is that it’s the third morning in a row I’ve woken up from a dream about teaching. It’s always the same dream, though the details are different: I’m unprepared for class and make a fool of myself in front of the students.

In the dream, I feel myself losing control of the situation, the classroom, the students. My humiliation becomes deeper and deeper. I don’t know what to do. Then I wake up.

Thank God.

These types of dreams are not unique to narcolepsy. Though because of narcolepsy, my dreams will last significantly longer and be in much more vivid detail and color than a typical person’s.

I also just happen to be house-sitting in the Chicago suburbs right now, an area where I lived for 9 years as a psychology professor, except for the year I took a sabbatical. Coincidence? I’d bet not.

After my sabbatical, I handed in my resignation for a variety of reasons. At the top of the list was because I didn’t want to teach anymore. I often did not feel comfortable as a college professor and that’s something I’m still feeling the effects of today.

Part of my discomfort was because I lacked confidence. My entire time in graduate school I had undiagnosed narcolepsy. While I could handle the exhaustion and sleepiness in undergrad, I fell further and further behind in graduate school.

Yet, somehow, through the Grace of God, and perseverance on my part, I graduated with a doctoral degree. And yes, I also have dreams where I am back in graduate school and I still have to defend my dissertation.

I wake up from those dreams, too. Thank God.

A good friend of mine, who is a social worker, recently suggested to me that part of the problem was that it’s hard to take seriously the concerns of someone in a top-tier doctoral program who believes they are failing in life. By the sheer fact I had excelled enough in college to be on a full-ride in grad school, including tuition remission, stipend, and health insurance, I couldn’t be too much of a failure.

Another part of my discomfort with teaching is that being a psychology professor was never my life’s dream. It became the next best option after I listened to someone who said to me, “you can’t be a high school English teacher. Those kids will walk all over you.”

High school English teacher also had not been my life’s dream, either. It became the second-best next-best option after I listened to several people say, “you can’t get a job as an English major. You’ll never make any money and you’ll end up working at a department store.”

So, psychology professor became the goal. And I achieved it. I’m really glad I did because I met some wonderful students along the way. You know who you are. Thank you for being amazing and awesome and I hope you are doing well.

I also met some not-so-wonderful students. I didn’t get to know them in any situation other than the classroom, and that is how I judged them. That was my mistake. And, again, something I am still feeling the effects of today.

Unfortunately, these students also know who they are.  How I treated them is one of my biggest regrets with teaching.

I let these students down. They are the ones I now suspect were most like me during my time in graduate school, struggling and uncertain and maybe even feeling like they were not supposed to be in school in the first place. I was often rude to these students, allowed myself to become offended by my assumptions about them, and treated them with arrogance and condescension.

To these students: I am so sorry. I wish I had been a better teacher for you, the type of person that I needed when I was in school. I didn’t see myself in you and your struggles and for that, I am sorry.

Another of my regrets is those students I met at the end of my teaching career. After 21 years of pursuing a life that never really felt like mine, I was on the verge of making my dreams come true after handing in my resignation.

I tried not to check out, but in the end I did.

To those students: I am so sorry. I never wanted to give you a bad classroom experience or an educational experience that was less than you wanted or needed. That wasn’t fair to you and the time and effort you were putting into your studies, and for that I am sorry.

To any student who may recognize themselves in this post, please know that I think about you often and hope you are living a good life. Thank you for teaching me such valuable lessons, and I am so sorry if they came at your expense.

If there are any students out there reading this who are struggling, please know you are not alone. You have my heart and prayers. I have been one of you and in some ways I still am. Please reach out to me if you need help.

Finally, to any student who has ever been told they couldn’t or shouldn’t pursue a goal, go for it anyway. No one can predict the future.

Sincerely,

Kelly Kandra Hughes, PhD

Former Associate Professor of Psychology

 

 

 

 

 

Exercise Advice That Actually Works

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BIG ANNOUNCEMENT: I actually achieved my goal of creating a cardio exercise habit!

WOOHOO!

As someone who spent fifteen years mistakenly believing I was lazy when, in fact, I had undiagnosed narcolepsy, I carry around a lot of baggage about setting goals and whether I achieve them.

Reaching my cardio goal is exciting, although I understand this news may not be as exciting as being offered a book contract (although this is a possibility that could happen any day now), planning a trip to Glacier National Park (if you have any recommendations, send them my way), or meeting a bulldog puppy at the Iron National Bank (I nicknamed her Potato, but I think the bank tellers are more spot-on that her name should be Meatball).

Meatball

If you remember, I read a book over the summer that I now consider the best book I’ve ever read on mindfulness, time management, and productivity: The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine Carter.

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Truthfully, I haven’t read that many books on time management and productivity. However, I have bought a quite a few over the years and checked some out from the library. Funnily enough, I could never find the time to read them.

Not only did I read The Sweet Spot in its entirety, I then followed through on Dr. Carter’s advice. This accomplishment is the highest possible recommendation I could ever give a self-help book.

Here’s how my cardio goal went down:

  • Week of September 15th, 2017 – formulate a 20-week plan to build an exercise habit which would result in 20 minutes of cardio every day except Sunday using the advice Dr. Christine Carter lays out in, The Sweet Spot.
  • Follow through on plan.
  • 27 weeks later write a blog post celebrating my success!

Okay, there’s a little more to it than that, which is why I highly encourage anyone who is serious about changing how they manage their time or even just thinking about it to read Dr. Carter’s book.

I would have written about my success sooner, but, you know. Life. And now I can further celebrate my success with an additional seven weeks of cardio.

Yes, I’m still jumping around for 20 minutes every day (for the most part). It feels good!

I credit Dr. Carter with a big chunk of my success, because her advice really went a long way towards my self-defeating tendencies such as procrastination and excuse making. I also need to give myself some of the credit, too, because I’m the one who actually had to show up every day and exercise. If I didn’t want my health to be a top priority in my life, it would have been easy to scrap the whole cardio plan since I already had established a daily 20-minute strength training regime that is working out nicely for me.

What really helped was being mindful of the process and that’s something Dr. Carter encourages throughout her book.

I already knew what would happen on days when I just couldn’t motivate myself to exercise because of a poor night’s sleep, or a feeling of inertia that comes from winter, or lack of time because I had to be somewhere by 9:00am. For four minutes, I would do something related to cardio, such as plank and squats, jumping jacks, or dancing around. That’s what Dr. Carter refers to as a Better Than Nothing plan.

I also did everything possible ahead of time to ensure my success. This process involved thinking about why I wanted to establish a cardio routine and what would be the best way for me to exercise.

There were several whys, such as not getting out of breath while playing with dogs and losing even more of the weight that I gained in my first year of marriage, but the biggest reason is because I really believe consistent cardio is the best way for me to get a good night’s sleep.

For someone with narcolepsy, good sleep is the brass ring on the carousel of life we’re all hoping to grab. One of the most common misconceptions about narcolepsy is that you can fall asleep anytime, anywhere, such as into a bowl of soup when you’re at dinner. While in extreme cases that could happen, it’s not likely for the average narcoleptic.

What’s more likely with narcolepsy is one of the disease’s defining features– we can’t sleep at night, and when we do, we don’t get as much deep sleep as we need and we spend more time in REM having incredibly vivid, often disturbing or even terrifying dreams. So, we wake up exhausted and then have a tendency to fall asleep in a situation where we’d rather be awake.

naps-are-for-everyone

You’d think I would have wanted to make cardio a habit in my life sooner. It’s not like I hadn’t tried. In retrospect, I believe I was missing one key piece of the cardio habit puzzle – I never considered how my choice of cardio relates to my core life values. Again, thank you to Dr. Carter for helping me realize this point.

At the top of my life values list are freedom and joy. When going down a cardio path in the past, I’ve enjoyed ice skating, hula hooping, Bikram Yoga, Daily Method, Pure Barre, and dance fitness classes. Throughout my life, I have committed to several months of these activities, sometimes even years. But these options do not promote freedom. They all require you to spend time driving to somewhere, then you have to spend time in the actual class, and then drive home again. Also, a lot of these activities require equipment and/or special clothing.

Me in College

As someone who now values my time more than anything else and who also has a goal of getting all my belongings down to a single backpack, I just can’t make those types of commitments anymore.

I also have no desire to make a commitment to anything that does not bring me joy. There have been times in my life when I committed to going to a gym for 30 minutes a day to use boring (in my opinion) cardio machines such as treadmills or elliptical trainers. I hated exercising on those machines, and it’s hard to sustain a relationship rooted in hate.

Also, cardio machines cannot fit in a backpack and unless you have them in your home, you have to go somewhere else to use them. So again, that takes up more time that I don’t want to give up.

When I thought about my past failed attempts and what I wanted to achieve, it became obvious I needed to do something that I could literally do anywhere and that also would require no special equipment, including sneakers. I don’t own a pair anymore (I wore through my last pair in May, 2017) and I sure as heck am not going to buy a pair just so I can exercise. That would then make exercise dependent on an external circumstance and that’s exactly what I’m trying to avoid.

I also realized I needed a form of exercise that I could do in my jammies.

Okay, yes, this one is weird. But, when you have narcolepsy sometimes even the act of changing your clothes in the morning can seem like a lot of work. I also knew from past experiences that if I didn’t exercise first thing in the morning, I wouldn’t do it all. Add to that a drafty house in Connecticut, and you’ll understand why this became an acceptable form of exercise attire:

Lana Pants Exercise

Taken all these insights together, here were my cardio requirements:

  • Can be done anywhere
  • Requires no special equipment or clothing
  • Brings me joy
  • Works if you’re wearing jammies

Ready to know what it is?

Drumroll, please … DANCING!

Not only does dancing meet all my requirements, but you can get pretty wild with jumping around, or if you’re having a less motivated day, you can bop around, or if you’re having a narcolepsy day, you can simply sway to the music.

You can also alternate the amount of effort you put into your dance moves, thus creating a nice interval flow to the workout. And if you don’t believe me, check out the Norfolk Library’s Corner Club kids breaking it down for Black History Month last month when the library brought in a hip hop dancer.

Twenty-seven weeks ago I wasn’t doing any cardio. And now I am. Even better, that’s 20 minutes nearly every day that brings me joy – both in the process and in the sense of accomplishment. That time would have gone by no matter. I am so grateful to have found a way that works for me, and I am even more grateful to Dr. Christine Carter for sharing her wisdom.

A New Year’s Intention

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Happy New Year! Oh, wait…I said that last week. New Year’s is still fresh on my mind because of the conversations I’ve been having lately online. As a member of several communities that promote minimalism, spirituality, and a simpler way of living, there’s been a lot of discussion over how to approach the New Year.

Specifically, do we make resolutions, do we select a single word or theme for the year, or do we not do either and instead let go of expectations and be at peace with whatever happens.

Although I am a believer of letting go of expectations, I also believe there’s something to knowing what you want. How you get there is another matter entirely.

In the past, I’ve started off my New Year’s with resolutions. My enthusiasm and optimism usually resulted in grandiose ideas that I had no hope of following through with, such as: Get up early every day (this was a pre-Narcolepsy diagnosis perennial favorite), exercise for an hour every day (destined for failure because I would always default to the elliptical trainer which I find as boring as reading a chemistry textbook), or eat less junk food (hopelessly impossible when you believed as I did for many years that fat is the problem and strive for a low/nonfat diet; I was hungry for almost a decade).

In January, 2016, however, I had the privilege of attending a white stone ceremony. The underlying idea is that you set an intention for the coming year by holding a white stone in your hand, typically from Jerusalem, and allowing a word to come to you. You then write it on your white stone. The word that came to me in 2016 was unstoppable.

Unstoppable Stone 2

I carried my unstoppable white stone with me throughout that year; oftentimes literally, as I kept it in my pocket until the weather became too warm for a coat. Since we were living in the Chicago suburbs and then Johnsonville, NY, too warm ended up being in July.

In 2016, I ended what many would consider a dream job (i.e., a tenured position as an associate professor of psychology at a mid-level university) to pursue a life of writing, adventures, and house/pet-sitting. That stone was with me on campus every day, encouraging me when some of my colleagues thought I was nuts and guiding me when I wasn’t sure where I was going.

2016 was also the year I met and married the love of my life. And, yes, I had my white stone in my pocket on the night we met, as well as on our first date, and just three weeks later when we eloped in Nashville.

In 2017, I didn’t have the opportunity to attend a white stone ceremony. But I did just happen to find myself somewhere on New Year’s Day that offered a basket of stones, with a single word engraved on each of them. I reached into the basket and pulled out one that read luck.

Luck Stone 2

Coincidentally, I also just happened to receive a good luck dragon from my best friend in the mail in early January, 2017.

Good Luck Dragon 2

I added the dragon to my luck stone, and for good measure threw in two of my business cards which identify me not just as a writer, but a writer of kidlit. I then carried them around in my coat pocket until it became too warm (this time June – progress!). They lived in either my backpack or my purse after that.

I’d certainly say I had luck in 2017. I’m going with the very old school definition brought to you by Seneca: Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.

One of my greatest writing successes in 2017 was winning the top fiction prize in KidLit College’s annual picture book contest. As part of the prize package, I enrolled in a nonfiction picture book writing course. The class typically started according to Central Time, but one day the instructor and I both logged on accidentally at Eastern Time.

We ended up chatting for nearly an hour, where we discussed many different topics, including several of the manuscripts on which I was currently working. That Friday I received an email from the instructor, who also just happens to be an editorial assistant of a literary agency. “Jill [the president of the company] and I are more than interested in representing your body of work,” she said in the email.

SQUEEEEEEEEE! That was the sound heard round Norfolk as I celebrated this offer.

So here we are in 2018. I feel joyful, healthy, and confident that I’m on the right path for my writing. About two weeks ago, I wasn’t even thinking of resolutions or intentions when the word prosperity popped into my head at the end of my morning meditation practice.

A feeling of excitement came over me as I realized prosperity would be my word for 2018! Of course, I then tried to sabotage myself with thoughts such as, is prosperity specific enough no, and it should be abundance, that’s more inclusive!  Funny how we do these sorts of things to ourselves.

I managed to let the doubts go and embrace prosperity for what it is – a gift from God and my inner wisdom to help me thrive in 2018. As always, everything I do is God and Kelly willing, and I am grateful to blessed with such a wonderful intention for the year.

The word prosperity has now been added to my white stone.

Prosperity STone 2

I thought of ordering a new stone, but, you know, minimalist. And, just because I’m going to be prosperous doesn’t mean I should be wasteful.

With my white stone, I’m going to keep a poem that my best friend sent me for Christmas. Here it is:

Walking in the Flow

Walking in the flow

Nose over toes

Endless – no destination in sight

One of the herd

But this herd has no leader

Unless it is somewhere, somehow

Deep inside –

The thing I call myself

When I say my name – Kelly

I am Kelly-in-God

No matter where I go

And who I see

I am Myself

In the midst

Of all that is –

Walking in the flow

Nose over toes –

And I am loved.

The stone, poem, and my business cards are now in my pocket, where I will carry them with me.

Prosperity Bag 2

My heart and mind are open to the miracles of prosperity in my life, great and small. 2018 – I am ready for you! Thank you in advance for everything you have in store for me.

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

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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

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.

The Positive Ways Narcolepsy Has Affected My Life

Title

After writing last week about how frustrated and angry I felt with having narcolepsy, a funny thing happened.  I began to feel better about the situation.

Initially, I debated even writing that post.  Narcolepsy is a part of my life, but I didn’t want my struggles with it to define me.  I wondered if I shared my feelings, would I suddenly be “that person who can’t cope.”

Why that would bother me is a post for another day, but in retrospect, I realized it was silly to think a one-time post would become the essence of who I am as presented to the world, more so than my dozens of posts about writing, playing with dogs, procrastinating, and dreaming about seeing bears in the wild.

Instead, I felt free from the hold that my poor-quality sleep had on me.  Once I got out all my feelings, the anger and resentment stayed on the screen and allowed me head space to start moving on.  I thought to myself, well, if this is how it’s going to be for the rest of my life, does that change anything?  I realized, no, it did not.  I still have goals and dreams I’m working towards and I’m not going to stop.  I may be more tired along the way, but I didn’t come this far to quit now.

My gratitude habit also kicked in about 24 hours after I wrote that post.  For years now, I have either written prayers of gratitude for the blessings in my life or I have practiced gratitude in a meditative form.  I honestly could not help but think of all the ways narcolepsy has improved my life.  The biggest way is that I realized if I only have so much energy to expend, then it’s going to go towards things I value the most:

  • prioritizing my health

flip flops

  • writing

Writers Group

  • being an animal enthusiast

Snake

  • serving others with the best of my talents

COP

  • connecting to nature

SMudge at HayStack

  • traveling to new places (preferably with my husband and/or family)

Library

  • growing my spirituality

TObey and Erick

  • and now that I’m married, loving my husband as much as I possibly can (super easy; he’s such a good person and so cute!)

Heath edited

Not on the list of things I valued was being an associate professor of psychology, and so my narcolepsy was one of the biggest motivating factors to give me the courage to quit my job, and give up tenure, amazing benefits, and a matching retirement account.  Thank you, narcolepsy.

I also didn’t expect the amount of love and support I received from friends and family who read my post.  My phone blew up with blog comments, Facebook comments, IMs, emails, and pictures of polar bears, all from people who wanted me to know they heard what I had to say.  I received validation, empathy, and sympathy, and let me tell you it felt really good.

These responses were especially meaningful to me because there was a time when I lived a rather isolated experience.  At that time, my closest friend at work had moved on, my office had changed locations to accommodate my narcolepsy so I could have a space with natural sunlight from a window and my new suitemates didn’t have the same level of socialization as my previous ones, I wasn’t on social media, and most of my friends (the few that I made since moving to Illinois) lived more than 30 minutes away (on a good day), and the ones who lived close by were married with families.  I felt lonely for many days and then a doctor told me, “you need to spend time with people.”

It took me several months to really buy in to what the doctor said, but once I did I began to realize just how important community is.  Especially when you are dealing with chronic illness.

So, thank you to everyone for showing your love and support.  Two days after I wrote my blog post last week, I got a decent night’s sleep.  And the night after that, and another night after that.  For three days in a row, I felt like I had won the sleep lottery.  I believe it can happen.  I plan on using a natural sun light for when the Connecticut mornings are dark and dreary.  I’m going to utilize my health insurance for therapy to help me cope on sleepy days.  I’m also going to investigate acupuncture as an option.

There are so many wonderful things going on in my life.  It looks like narcolepsy just may be one of them.

Taking Stock

Taking Stock

Now that we’re settling back into our Connecticut life, I’ve been considering another goal of mine: get all my belongings down to just one backpack.  Yes, this is a lofty goal, and if I’m being honest with myself I’m not entirely sure why I want to take my minimalism to such an extreme point.  I think what it boils down to is I like the freedom and mobility that comes with being able to pick up and move at a moment’s notice.

I’ve done a decent job of whittling away at my belongings.  It was fairly easy to do, what with moving eight times in the last ten years (not counting a few short-term housesitting stints).  When you don’t unpack boxes from one move to the next, that’s a good indicator you do not need those items, whatever they are.

What I’m having the most trouble with at this point is the amount of clothes I have.  For anyone who knows me personally, this may make you laugh, because I pretty much wear the same thing every day: yoga pants/leggings (usually in a fun pattern or bright color) under a black skirt and a t-shirt of some sort.

My Uniform

For curiosity’s sake, I just took stock of my closest and checked my laundry.  Here’s what I own:

  • 13 pairs of yoga pants/leggings
  • 10 pairs of Be Present yoga pants (I’ll come back to why these pants are in a separate category later)
  • 3 long-sleeved t-shirts
  • 7 short-sleeved t-shirts
  • 10 tank tops
  • 3 skirts
  • 2 dresses (including the dress I wore when we eloped)
  • 3 sets of long underwear
  • 2 pair regular underwear
  • 6 bras
  • 13 pairs of socks (3 athletic; 8 wool for hiking; 2 fleece for warmth)
  • 1 pair jammy pants
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 quilted flannel shirt
  • 1 hoodie
  • 1 bathing suit, plus swim bra
  • 1 rash guard
  • 1 all-around scarf
  • 2 winter scarves
  • 2 pair fingerless gloves (including the pair I wore when we eloped)
  • 1 winter hat
  • 2 ear warmers (one handmade by my niece)
  • 1 pair heated gloves
  • 1 pair arm warmers
  • 1 pair leg warmers (a gift from friends when they went to Peru)
  • 1 winter coat
  • 1 up-cycled sweater coat (which I also wore when I eloped and I wear until I need my winter coat)
  • 1 pair sandals
  • 1 pair hiking boots
  • 1 pair “dress” boots I bought in Peru
  • 1 pair Uggs I now mostly wear around the house to keep my feet warm (but I also wore them when we eloped)

Here’s what 95% of the clothes look like all together:

all my clothes text

And in case you’re interested, here’s my full wedding ensemble:

Wedding

Yes, these are all the clothes I own in the world.  For the record, my mom still has some of my clothes from my teenage years and a few fancy dresses stored at the house I grew up in.  I have cheerfully encouraged her to PLEASE DONATE/GET RID OF all of them as I do not want any of it.  She claims she has a plan to do so.  If I didn’t question the ownership of whether those clothes really belong to me at this point, I would haul them all off to the Shining Light Thrift shop first chance I got.

But I digress.  When I looked at my list of clothes, first I felt a moment of disgust.  How can I be a minimalist and own so many t-shirts! You thought I was going to say yoga pants, didn’t you? I promise, I’m getting to that.

I let those feelings of disgust sink in and then realized that while I could cut down a few t-shirts and tank tops, I reminded myself that I only own one sweater.  I use that sweater and my three long-sleeved t-shirts to get me through the winter.  Plus, I like to layer a short-sleeved shirt or tank top over the long-sleeves, just so I have some variety to my wardrobe and then I get to use those shirts year round.

I do admit that 13 pairs of socks are excessive.  That count increased recently by three because I only brought a few pairs of socks with me the two months we were on the road housesitting.  I ended up wearing my hiking boots more than my sandals, which turned out to be not so good for walking long distances, unlike what the Zappos reviews claimed.  After wearing the same pair of socks for an entire week, I finally broke down when my Mom and I were at Costco and she offered to buy me some more.

But now on to those yoga pants. Yes, it is ridiculous for me to have so many.  There are two reasons why I do. First, yoga pants are my underwear since for the most part I treat them like tights.  And although I may wear the same socks for an entire week, that doesn’t seem nearly as gross to me as wearing the same “tights” two days in a row. So, clean yoga pants every day!

Realistically, I know I could halve the number of legging-like yoga pants I have.  At least three pairs are starting to wear out, so I’m hoping I can lessen this number simply by wearing them more.

The second reason I have so many yoga pants is one that I frankly don’t know what to do about.  The 10 pairs of Be Present yoga pants I have were made by a company that went out of business over two years ago.  I LOVE everything about these pants – they’re comfortable, loose, flexible, made-in-the-USA, and the material has a patented breath-weave technology so they dry super quick.  Plus, I have them in some really great colors.  They also are virtually indestructible, as I’ve had most of them for more than 7 years.

Yoga Pants with Smudge

Here’s the problem – they make excellent summer clothes, but during the cold, windy Connecticut winters I almost never wear them.  With my minimalist mentality, this should mean I donate them somewhere because I can wear my other clothes during the summer anyway.

Except…once the Be Present pants are gone, I can never get them back.  I have a profound sense of fear that if I give them away, I will someday regret it.

Have I ever donated/sold/trashed anything that I then regretted?  Just once.  Last summer, when a huge snake took up residence in the compost bin where we were housesitting, I wished I still had my rubber rain boots.  But I knew that once we left that house in August, I wouldn’t have a need for them.  So I sucked up my fear and instead wore my hiking boots outside in the yard.  That snake never did end up slithering across my feet (THANK GOD).

And I have lost a pair of my Be Present yoga pants – a bright and shimmery pink pair – that several times over the past year I wished I still had because I wanted to wear them.

This situation is quite the spiritual conflict for me.  If I truly believe in the spiritual law of circulation (that whatever you give, you receive back), then I should be able to let go of some of these pants.  Yet, for some reason I can’t let go of my attachment.

Thankfully, this is not a choice I have to decide RIGHT NOW.  We’ll be in Norfolk until May, 2018, and I won’t have to pack any bags until then.  Also, anything and everything could be different with our life at that point in time and there’s a good chance I will have worn through several items of clothing on my above list.  Still, I think it’s good to know how I’m holding myself back on my spiritual journey.  In the coming weeks, I will certainly reflect on what these yoga pants mean to me and try to gain some insight.  If I come up with anything, I will let you know.  Until then…peace, love, and yoga pants!

In 20 Weeks From Now…

Title

We are officially back in Connecticut!  One of the best parts of housesitting in a small town is how easy it is to run into people. When my husband and I went for a walk around town center our second day back, we saw a few people we know and I got to meet two new dogs. Technically, I already knew one of the dogs. But, I hadn’t formally met him, so I felt thrilled to learn the dog I had nicknamed “Giant Cocoa Puff” is really named Tucker. I now refer to him as Tucker Giant Cocoa Puff, which I think suits him.

Tucker Giant Cocoa Puff cropped

3,000 + miles are a lot to drive in two months and many of my (supposed) habits fell by the wayside by the lack of consistency in my daily routine. For the most part, I did manage to keep up with daily meditation (sometimes even twice a day!), since I’m a big believer that meditation is the single greatest action that can change one’s life (feel free to ask me for advice on how to start). I also kept up with 20-minutes of strength training every day except Sundays; again, for the most part.

I can’t remember when I started the 20-minutes of strength training. I believe it was January, but I’m not very good at keeping track of things, even when I try. Case in point: On July 10th, after I finished reading Gretchen Reuben’s The Happiness Project, I typed 13 daily tasks to promote my happiness and well being in a spreadsheet and started marking “X” when I completed the activity or “O” when I didn’t do it. The last marks I have are on August 6th.

Resolution Chart Cropped

I’m not sure why I stopped keeping track, but I have to seriously consider that somedays I am too lazy to turn on my computer and/or open a specific file. This failure on my part makes me marvel even more at one of my former students, who I caught up with while in the Chicago area. As of August 22nd, he was on DAY 127 of 50 daily push-ups. This student is currently working as an OT aide, while applying to OT schools. Even more remarkable, this student suffered a traumatic brain event in 2009. Considering everything this student has been through and what he’s accomplished since (bachelor’s degree, finding work in his desired field, being a generally upbeat and positive person), I should be able to turn on my computer to make X’s and O’s.

Except, I know that if there is an extra step that doesn’t have to be there it makes me more likely not to do something.

One of the books I read while on the road this summer is The Sweet Spot by Dr. Christine Carter, a happiness sociologist.

Sweet Spot

In her book, Dr. Carter detailed how having more productive and efficient daily habits related to your life goals can increase happiness and wellbeing. Yes, I know, this is essentially a duh finding, yet I am still not living the fully productive and efficient life I desire, so I clearly have more work to do.

Dr. Carter wrote about taking “tiny steps” to establish our habits. She states the key is to find a trigger for the habit and then start the habit with the least amount of effort possible. For example, if you want to establish a daily meditation habit, link meditation to something you do daily, like brushing your teeth in the morning (this is the trigger) and then immediately after your morning brush, go sit on a meditation cushion for 30 seconds. And that’s it. You don’t even meditate at first. You increase the time of sitting there on a weekly basis and then you start with the meditation, again which is something you would build up to (meditate for one minute and sit there for another nine minutes).

So, I took a page out of The Sweet Spot (haha, pun totally intended) and started taking tiny steps with the least amount of effort possible in establishing new habits. For me, least amount of effort means: 1) I am not going to record my daily progress because that’s extra effort I don’t really want to do (and apparently am not good at); and 2) I am only going to focus on one habitat a time.

Since every single aspect in my life is infinitely better when I get a good night’s sleep, and I know I sleep much better the more exercise I get, my new habit is to increase my amount of daily exercise. The 20-minutes of strength training is going well, and to it I’m adding 20-minutes of high-intensity interval training.

Here’s how establishing my new habit is broken down with The Sweet Spot method:

  • FIND A TRIGGER – Easy!  I’m already exercising 20-minutes every morning after I meditate.
  • LEAST AMOUNT OF EFFORT – 30 seconds of a high-intensity cardio move (this week I selected mountain climber), 30 seconds of rest, and 30 more seconds of cardio, then DONE! Seriously. No more, even if I feel good and want to keep going. Though now that I’m almost a week in, holy bananas is my butt already getting kicked and I don’t think I could continue much longer anyway.
  • REWARD – In addition to the natural high that comes from exercise, I play a fun pop song from one of the already created playlists in Amazon Music while I complete the interval. So far this week I’ve listened to Shut Up and Dance by Walk the Moon, Shake It Off by Taylor Swift, Firework by Katy Perry, Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepsen, and Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke, all which can be found in the 50 Great Songs from the Last 10 Years playlist. In case you’re interested, I usually listen to an audiobook during my strength training and right now I’m finishing up the Sookie Stackhouse series (for probably the 4th time), which the HBO show True Blood is based on.
  • PROGRESS – On Monday, I will increase another minute of exercise/rest. And that’s it for the rest of the week!  Each Monday, I will increase by only one-minute intervals.
  • HAVE A BACK-UP PLAN – In the event I cannot complete my target time for whatever reason, I will do 1.5 minutes of interval cardio. In the event I am sick, I will visualize my exercise. These options are the “better than nothing,” approach that Dr. Carter writes about and because they are so easy, I can’t imagine not being able to complete them on any given day.

Yes, I realize that it will take me 20 weeks to establish just ONE of my desired habits. But I would much rather build towards one high-priority habit, then go all in right away on multiple habits, burn out, and completely stop exercising or writing or eating healthy or whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish because they all get lumped together with too high expectations. I am investing in my health and sleep for the long haul and I think this is the best way to do it. I will certainly give updates in the future, and in the meantime, if anyone has recommendations for some fun cardio exercises, please let me know.

 

 

Memoir Monday, June 5th, 2017

Fear Factor

It’s now been a full-on month that I’ve cleaned up my diet, kept up my six-day-a-week 20-minute daily exercise routine, and practiced meditation twice a day on most days. It’s probably not a coincidence that I’ve also had an upsurge of productivity with my writing.

One of my greatest accomplishments in the last week is getting the revision of my middle-grade manuscript, Top Dog of K-9 Academy, in tip top shape.  I’ve managed to edit an additional 19 chapters and I still have 6 to go, but I fully expect to have a working third draft by June 10th, the deadline I gave myself.

I’ve been debating about whether to get the manuscript professionally edited once it’s in its third draft form.  All my research suggests that having outside, qualified eyes look at your manuscript can only improve it.  My only hesitation?  Edits can cost $3 to $4 (or more) dollars a page, so it is an investment.

Having been raised in a frugal family, I sometimes have a hard time spending money on things I should.  However, as my Mom likes to say, “If money solves your problem, then it’s not really a problem.”  So the question becomes why don’t I really want to get the manuscript edited?

I think like most aspects of our lives that are beneficial in the long term (e.g., good diet, exercise, stress reduction techniques), there’s not an immediate return on investment with an editing process.  But I honestly don’t think it’s a time issue.

I’ve written before about how slow the publishing industry can be and if I take the time to get a professional edit, then, yes, that’s several more weeks before I can start submitting the manuscript to agents and editors.  But what difference would a few weeks make, especially if my manuscript is all that much stronger for it.

Other questions that pop up in my mind when I consider getting an editor are: what if I spend the money and I don’t get anything useful out of the edit?; what if the editor says my work sucks?; what if I invest all this time, effort, and money, and the manuscript doesn’t result in a book contract?

But when I really think about it, these are all just fear-based excuses that are getting in the way of achieving my dream of being a published author.  If I don’t get an editor, then I can always make an excuse that my manuscript wasn’t ready and I submitted too soon and that’s why it didn’t get published.

Good thing I’m done letting fear get in my way.  I spent over a decade and a half stuck in a career that my heart wasn’t really in because I was afraid to try something different.  That’s long enough.

I reminded a person I’m very close with the other day that, “Most of what we worry is about is imaginary.”  That’s one of the more useful pieces of advice from the intro to psych textbook I used the last time I taught that course, and quite frankly, was the best part of teaching it.

This little piece of advice came up when this person expressed concerns that no one would like them or their chronic illness would get in the way of them having a good experience when they start a new chapter of their lives in the coming months.  I then followed up my advice by providing a list of other things that could also happen to them in the coming months, including:

Being liked so much by everyone, that they want you to quit school and work for them full-time;

Meeting Leonardo DiCarpio, who falls in love you at first sight so then you have a relationship dilemma with Leonardo and your current boyfriend; and

Finding escaped pandas from the zoo and hiding them in your bathtub because they’re too precious to return.

My point with all these was that anything could happen in the coming months, so you might as well focus on the wacky and wonderful.

Advice I really need to take to heart, then, because if I allow myself to think rationally about my fears, I already know the answers to them:

1)      Of course having my manuscript edited wouldn’t be a waste of time; I know what to look for in an editor and I understand what to expect in the editing process.

2)      If I really thought my worked suck (and in retrospect I can now say that, yes, some of my past work has sucked), then I would edit and revise it myself until I felt it was good enough to send to an editor.

3)      I have no time limit in achieving my goal of being a published author.  Yes, I want this sooner rather than later, but I was also once told that, “It’s not my job to manage God’s plan for me.” Meaning, I don’t have to worry about the “how’s;” I just need to keep taking steps in the right direction and believe that everything else will work itself out.  Which, it will.  Because my mom also likes to say, “Everything always works out in the end.  And if it doesn’t, that means it’s not the end.”

So as I wait for the details to work themselves out, I will keep on with what I’ve been doing – prioritizing my health and well-being to keep my productivity flowing, writing and editing my own stories, reading and studying other stories to help improve my craft, playing with dogs because that makes me really happy, and getting my manuscript professionally revised.  I look forward to sharing more about this process in the coming weeks.

Silly Faith

Smudge Tennis Ball 2

Tobes swimming 2