This past week, I had to cover the Circulation Desk for the afternoon hours at the library. So, I didn’t get my usual dog/nature fix with Annie on our bi-weekly afternoon romps in the woods.
Thank Dogness, I also have this guy in my life:
Just like Annie, Dodger is a spirited dog with lots of heart and personality. His sassiness level is several notches above Annie, whom I’m convinced is an actual angel in a dog costume. As such, instead of nicknames like Annie Banannie, Dodger gets nicknames like Bossy Britches and Sassafrass.
Nevertheless, I LOVE him. I’m also grateful I had an excuse to be out in the woods this last week as fall lives up to its name and our trees are starting to get a little bare.
That’s not the case everywhere here, as evidenced by this glorious tree I came upon on Saturday while driving back from Oblong Books in Millerton, New York.
When I see this kind of overwhelming beauty these days, a sense of sadness wells up in my heart and spills out as tears. It’s the same sadness that takes over me when I watch leaves swirl through the air, then tumble to the ground for their final resting place.
I can’t help but think about how last fall, my dad didn’t know that would be the last time in his life that he would get to see the leaves change to their ultimate glory. He didn’t know it would be his last Halloween. No more eating the stash of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups my mom started buying in September, just to make sure she had enough. He would never again get to wish my niece or mom a happy birthday.
He didn’t know.
Most of us don’t.
So on this cold and chilly fall day in Norfolk, I take a few moments to Thank God that I’m still here. I Thank God that I get to watch the leaves light up my drive to and from work and brighten my already delightful time in the woods with Annie and Dodger. I Thank God for my loving and supportive husband and my family and friends.
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.
Being able to celebrate the simple joys in life is a gift. Since our lives have all been upended by the pandemic, I hope you’ve been able to find a few new simple pleasures that give you this joy.
For me, I’ve discovered that I could watch salamanders playing in the water for hours on end. How cute are these little guys?
They even inspired this poem.
On this warm and sunny day
The salamanders swim and play
To my delight,
They never stop!
I’m also finding joy in removing this rock from the driveway.
Every time I walk Smudge and Faith around the yard, I stop to dig up some dirt. I use my foot, so it’s maybe not the most effective method. Still, I make progress every day, and one of these days the rock will be free.
How I’m approaching this rock could also be a metaphor for how I’m approaching the pandemic. Maybe I’m not as productive as I would like during my time of isolation, but little by little I work on projects that are important to me, and with enough small steps on a consistent basis, I’m hoping that by the end I’ll look back on this time as one of great creation.
I’m also loving my pandemic diet, which consists of eating the same meal for breakfast and lunch every day. Here’s what I eat: 4 strips of chicken bacon, an Ezekiel bread English muffin with coconut oil, and a smoothie. My breakfast smoothie uses almond milk, protein powder, one chopped up carrot, four strawberries, and a few shakes from the cinnamon, the ginger, and the turmeric spice jars. My lunch smoothie is ½ coup of tap water, ½ cup of maple water or coconut water, two handfuls of frozen greens, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and a sprig of frozen mint.
I savor these foods every meal. They are delicious and healthy, and because I enjoy the taste so much, I don’t mind that it’s the same foods twice a day every day. In fact, I look forward to it!
Also with this meal plan, I don’t have to waste any brain power deciding what to make. Cooking is not a strength of mine and the relief of being free of that stress is priceless. I also don’t procrastinate on doing my dishes because: 1) I need a clean blender for both breakfast and lunch; 2) there’s not that many dishes to do; and 3) I know how long washing the dishes will take since I’m washing the same ones over and over.
At first, I felt like eating this way was somehow “wrong.” That I should have more variety. It wasn’t until Heath said to me, “Kelly, if that’s what you want to eat, then just eat it,” that I let go of all the worrying and shoulding on myself.
Isn’t it funny how giving someone permission, even if they don’t need permission, can have such a positive effect on the way they approach something. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I suspect I’m going to keep eating this way even when the pandemic is over.
Finding these new joys is a good reminder that there are things to be grateful for even during times of uncertainty. And even when there are days when life seems so hard and I worry about what is happening to this world we live in, there is always Smudge, ready to pose for a picture for the simple price of one toss of a tennis ball. How could I not be grateful for this guy?
On July 21st, 2007, I read the above sentence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. One of the characters, Albus Dumbledore, had it inscribed on the gravestone of his sister and mother.
I know the date because I bought Deathly Hallows from The Regulator Bookshop (Durham, NC) when the book went on sale at midnight. Like millions of other readers, I finished the 784 page book by that afternoon.
There was so much to process with the last Harry Potter story, that I gave zero consideration to this final epithet that Dumbledore bestowed on his family.
Then a few years later I was sitting in church and heard JK Rowing’s very words read aloud from the lectern.
Turns out those words aren’t attributed to JK Rowling at all.
This mind blown feeling reminded me of my freshman year in college when I learned that Aslan the lion from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was really a metaphor for Jesus Christ.
Sometimes I wonder what, if anything, I learned in high school. Because whatever the teachers attempted to distill into my brain did not make it very far. Of course, I did have undiagnosed narcolepsy at the time so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.
After my visit to Gettysburg National Military Park a few weeks ago, I’m now thoroughly convinced that education is wasted on the young. But I’ll save that topic for another day.
Anyway, guess who else has borrowed from Luke 12:34 and Matthew 6:21?
I’ll give you a hint: it’s a book where I fall asleep nearly every single time my husband and I start listening to the audiobook version.
That’s right – Moby Dick!
I wonder how I would have reacted if I had never realized for where your treasure is came from the Bible and instead thought JK Rowling stole it from Herman Melville.
Guess we’ll never know.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement as of late, especially because Heath and I are back in Norfolk. My reunion with Smudge and Faith had me nearly in tears of joy, as did the first time I went over to see my friend Cecily and walk her dog, Dodger.
Cutie Pie Faith
As I walked through the woods with Dodger, I felt a profound sense of gratitude come over me. I am living my dreams – traveling with my husband, taking care of dogs, wandering in the woods, and writing nearly every single day.
How did I get so lucky?
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Luck has nothing, yet everything to do with my current life. I made the choiceto give up tenure and quit teaching. I knew where my heart was and it wasn’t with being a professor. If I hadn’t made the choiceto quit, I wouldn’t have been prepared for the right place/right time opportunities that came my way.
My choice is important for me to recognize because I had an encounter on my road trip where someone showed a lot of skepticism for the life Heath and I are currently leading. When this person asked how we were doing (financially) compared to when I was a professor, I said just fine.
Sure, you are, came this person’s response.
No, really. We are.
Uh-huh. Do you know what it means to be delusional?
I then told this person that maybe I wasn’t earning anything close to what my salary was as a professor. But what I have instead is more joy, happiness, and good health than I’ve ever had. Not to mention the abundant time and freedom to take an 11,500-mile road trip or walk in the woods with a dog nearly every day of my life.
So yes. I am doing just fine. Better than fine actually.
I wish I had also mentioned during this discussion that I haven’t had rent or utility payments in three years. And the houses I’ve lived in — I never could have afforded them on my salary, even as an associate professor. But I didn’t because … you know, emotions. I don’t always have my full wits about me at times like that.
If I thought the person who argued with me would be amenable, I would recommend they read Harry Potter. Or Moby Dick. Or The Bible. But I don’t think they are, so I’m not going to waste my time.
I don’t think they’ll ever realize it’s not about the money.
Instead, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on. And that’s just how I like it.
This past week, my husband and I hit our seventh national park since June: Theodore Roosevelt in Medora, North Dakota. Unlike the other parks we’ve visited, this one wasn’t on our road-trip list of must-see places, nor was it recommended by anyone.
We didn’t even know it existed until I Googled “Map of National Parks,” to see if we could visit any on our drive back East. Our house-sitting job in Connecticut doesn’t start until after Labor Day, and I wanted to make the most of our time on the road.
My husband wasn’t sure he even wanted us to stop. We had just spent 8 very hot days in a not air-conditioned apartment in Dixon, Montana. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but trains also blew by multiple times throughout the day, blaring their horns. Every. Single. Time.
Including five in the morning.
We also knew that temperatures would be soaring close to 100 in Medora and instead of being concerned about bears infiltrating our camp site we would need to worry about rattlesnakes.
Apparently, they are everywhere in the prairies of Montana and the Dakotas.
But I had my heart set on visiting the park ever since the internet informed me that wild horses lived there.
I didn’t know wild horses lived anywhere in the United States other than the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the coast of Virginia. So, YES! I wanted to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Instead of camping, we decided to stay in a small hotel right outside the park entrance. It was worth every penny! Every morning we got up before the sun and hit the scenic loop in the south end of the park. There was wildlife everywhere.
Even More Bison!
I know I used a lot of exclamation points, but in my humble opinion six isn’t nearly enough to express how excited I got with each new animal sighting.
In addition to all the animals, another positive aspect of the park was lack of crowds. For every early morning we went out, Heath and I would be the only ones driving on the loop. We missed the sunrise the first morning by a few minutes (mostly my fault, as I wanted to stop and take pictures of horses and bison), but the second morning did not disappoint.
We also spent time learning about Theodore Roosevelt, the person, and Theodore Roosevelt, the president of the United States. His connection to Medora, ND, is tragic: At the age of 25, he went there to recover from the deaths of his wife and mother; they both died on the same day – February 14th, 1884.
The Visitor’s Center at the park features a Theodore Roosevelt museum, as well as the Maltese Cross Cabin, where Roosevelt spent his mourning period.
Historians believe that it was Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota that eventually lead him to become a great conservationist later in life. Earlier, however, he practiced the appalling hunting practices of the time, many of which were cruel and inhumane.
Considering the great work that Roosevelt did for animals and the environment later in his life, I can’t hold his earlier actions against him. I suspect he felt a significant amount of regret for the choices he made earlier, and who am I to judge?
We watched a movie on Roosevelt’s life while at the Visitor Center. Towards the end, the movie featured this Roosevelt quotation, which struck me as being relevant and profound for the world we currently live in:
“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”
Roosevelt said this on May 13, 1908, as part of his Conservation as a National Duty conference he held at the White House with governors and statemen from across the US. I find it ironic and thoroughly depressing that 100 years later many of the people in charge of our “lavish resources” don’t even seem to care about asking these questions any more, let alone trying to protect them.
Over the next week or so when you are out and about in nature or see a picture of a natural place that touches your heart or soul, please remember the above words of Theodore Roosevelt and ask yourself: What would I do if this place was gone?
Don’t give yourself a free pass by saying that would never happen. Because it could happen. It is happening to some places thanks to our current government.
Just think about the place not being there.
See how you feel.
And then take a moment to say thank you because right there and then, you are still able to appreciate the beauty of God’s green Earth while we still have it.
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.
Last week my husband and I had the opportunity to pull double-duty for housesitting and I spent a few days with Oscar, the long-haired dachshund. I suspect when he’s alone Oscar wears a top hat and monocle around his house because he’s a rather dignified sort of dog.
Except when I photoshop a beanie hat on him:
Being with Oscar is a real treat, not the least of which is because his little legs make most of what he does hysterically funny. I will never get tired of watching him bounce down the stairs:
Also, Oscar’s human mom has Netflix and so my husband and I enjoy taking advantage of it. We’re working our way through Gilmore Girls. My brilliant 21-year-old niece got us hooked. She’s a HUGE Gilmore Girls fan and when she came to visit us last May we went on a Gilmore Girls driving tour because the show is set in the hypothetical town of Star Hollows, CT, and most small towns in CT could easily be Stars Hollow, complete with gazebos and town meetings.
Oscar likes to get up rather early, and normally I do too, but my early is between 5:30 – 6:30am and Oscar’s is 4:30 – 5:30am. One of the things I like to do when Oscar gets up early is feed him, let him out, and then we immediately fall back asleep on his couch. Sometimes, he’ll even share the pillow with me.
During this most recent housesit, Oscar followed his normal pattern. I, however, changed it up a bit and decided to stay awake for the rest of the morning. Up first on my agenda was meditation, then writing. I sat on the couch, cross-legged, set my timer, and then said, “Come on, Oscar, it’s time to meditate.”
And do you know what the little guy did? He crawled right into my lap! If my heart could howl in delight, it would have.
I know the timing is probably coincidental, but I couldn’t help wonder if dogs can sense the peace of mind and stillness that comes with meditation and are, therefore, attracted to it.
During my regular morning meditation that usually takes place at a kitchen table, Faith and Smudge, if I haven’t put Smudge back to bed with my husband because he’s whining to go upstairs, will lay directly at my feet. They’ll stay there the entire time and I rather enjoy having their company. Plus, I like to stick my feet under Faith so she can keep them warm in the morning.
While pondering this dog/meditation connection, I also began wondering about my relationship with dogs: do I love dogs so much because they love me or do dogs love me so much because I love them?
For example, on Sunday, my husband and I were at the Norfolk Library. He ended up taking a nap on one of the cushy leather chairs, while I sat in the center seating area editing a manuscript. Suddenly, I heard the pitter patter of little feet and I just knew a dog was in the library (it’s a very dog friendly library – they even have a water bowl up front).
A flash of white fur darted amongst the stacks and I thought, wait a minute! I know that dog!
Sure enough, it was Dodger! You would have thought I spotted a dinosaur the way I acted.
Dodger and I then rolled around on the library floor having fun and giving each other kisses before he and his mom had to head home.
Sometimes I wake up the morning and I still can’t believe this is my life – married to a man who is my best friend, playing with and taking care of dogs all day long, living in a town where dogs visit the library, and writing children’s books, mostly about dogs.
I don’t think I can ever say thank you to God enough for blessing me with these opportunities or to myself for finally listening to my heart which kept shouting at me that there was more to my life than what I had been living.
Little did I know the more would involve an incredibly handsome husband and more dogs to love than I ever thought possible.
So, thank you God. None of this would be possible without you.
And thank you to my husband who makes every week awesome.
Thank you Oscar, and thank you Dodger, for making last week so much fun, and thank you Faith and thank you Smudge for always being furry lights in my life.
And, finally, while I’m at it, thank you to the people in Norfolk who make living here so much fun.
With New Year’s upon us, it’s a time when a lot of us reflect on where we are and where we’re going, metaphorically, that is. I don’t know if it’s because of my measurement background, but this is something I do on a regular basis. However, I’m still traveling for the holidays (which is why I didn’t write a Monday post last week) and
I find it hard to think about where I am and where I’m going spiritually when a lot of my time and energy is spent on physical transitions.
Since December 26th, my husband and I have gone from Norfolk, CT, to Harrisburg, PA, to Pigeon Forge, TN, to Smyrna, TN and today we are heading out to Leoma, TN. We’ll be there until January 6th when we head back to Norfolk, CT. Because we like to be leisurely when we travel, we’re planning on making it a three-day trip. My husband likes to take many stretching breaks and sometimes a tourist attraction will catch our eye (I’m talking about you Natural Bridge). Occasionally we also get stuck in a time warp and for inexplicable reasons it takes a much longer to get somewhere than we anticipated, like the time it took us over nine hours to get from Smyrna to Cornelius, NC.
It’s therefore good that we have the luxury of time to get us where we need to go, just in case. On the other hand, I’ve been feeling a little bored with all of our time in the car, even though I consider my husband to be one of the most fun people on the planet.
Since we got married in February, my husband and I have driven over 30,000 miles on our housesitting adventures. We’ve driven all over the Midwest, the South, and the Northeast, including New England. We’ve listened to audio books, played games, and talked for hours about everything and anything.
The difference is since November, we have taken the same trips (Norfolk-Harrisburg-Smyrna and back) twice now, with some small trips of just Norfolk-Harrisburg too. I feel like I’m missing a sense of adventure. It’s always the same roads, same landscapes, same tourist destinations. My husband and I both like discovering new places and it’s one of the reasons we try to find a new place to go every week when we’re housesitting.
When we drove into Pigeon Forge last week, it was a place I’d never been before. There was so much for me to look at, I asked if we could turn off our audiobook because I had completely stopped paying attention. I was filled with a sense of wonder and awe as we drove through the Smokey Mountains. These feelings are something that’s not there when we’re on miles and miles of interstate with billboards, especially interstates and billboards I’ve seen what feels like hundreds of times over.
Funnily enough, I thought this was going to be a post about physical transitions but as I’m writing it’s clear to me this problem goes much deeper than just getting bored while driving. Have I become ungrateful for the wonderful opportunities that have been afforded to me with this wandering lifestyle? It sure sounds that way as I complain about the same-ness of it all. That’s not who I want to be and no wonder I’ve been feeling bored lately. When you simply let things go by in life,
you can end up missing everything and then you’re stuck somewhere where you have no idea how you got there and how to get out.
So I guess I will be going somewhere spiritually as I finish off these physical journeys in the next week. I am challenging myself to pay attention to what I see around me even though I think I’ve seen it before and even though I think I won’t like it. I challenge myself to watch the world go by me with a renewed sense of wonder and awe. And to not just be grateful for all I have, such as a husband who is my best friend, a car filled with safety features, time for adventures, and the financial resources to have them, but to express that gratitude every chance I get.