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?
I took this guy to the vet on Friday. Dodger is not my dog, but I sure do love him a lot. His mom, Cecily, can’t drive anymore so I help out when I can.
While there, the vet said, “Okay, Dodgeball, let’s go.”
How had I never thought of that nickname for Dodger before? Dodger already comes with quite a few nicknames: Dodge Podge, Dodgey, Podgey, Mr. Podger*, Rodger Dodger, Didgeridodge, BossyPants*, BossyBritches*, Sassafrass*, Dirt Bag Dodger* (reserved for the summertime when he gets filthy dirty from laying in the dirt all day long), and, most recently, Pork Chop Dodger*, owing to the fact that he has gained 10 lbs since his last visit to the vet. Let the diet and exercise regime begin!
But Dodgeball certainly fits in with his personality, given the way he bounces around the woods.
Suffice it to say, I will be rotating Dodgeball into the mix.
My husband, Heath, thinks I’m terrible at coming up with nicknames for dogs. According to Heath, only one time in the history of our four-year marriage have I come up with a good nickname for a dog. Meet Mission Control on the left (her real name was Missy).
I, respectfully disagree with Heath. I think my nicknames are hilarious. For example, this is Smudge:
I think he needs a fancier name sometimes, and so I call him Smudgerton. I also gave him the middle name Peter, which is shorthand for Poop Eater (I know, gross, but … DOGS!).
Then there are times when he’s just a cuddle bunny. So in those instances, I call him Smudgey Bear.
Okay, maybe this one is embarrassing. But he’s so cute. I can’t help it.
Smudge’s sister, Faith, on the other paw, comes with a whole slew of nicknames, as well.
She has been known as Lumpy Butt, because of, well, a lump near her butt. Also, just Lumpers because we as humans like to shorten long names. Then there are times when she’s been out romping in the woods all day long and she gets kind of stinky. So then she becomes Stinky Lumper/Lumpy Butt, also shortened to Stinky Lumpers. A few times she has been THE PREDATOR because her hunting skills on poor woodland creatures are quite good. And every once in a while we call her Bulldozer because she likes to push her way past Smudge.
Coming up with these names is one of the simple things in life which brings me a lot of joy and laughter. I don’t think I’m the only one who does. Anyone else want to fess up?
And feel free to send me photos of your dogs/cats/nicknamed animals to my email genesispotentia(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com. I would love to see them!
Have a great day, everybody 🙂
* Indicates Dodger nicknames I personally created.
Happy Birthday to my blog! And Happy 42nd Birthday to me!
It feels like I just wrote my second blog birthday post a few days ago. Gretchen Rubin, author of TheHappiness Project, sure is on to something when she says, “The days are long but the years are short.”
So what have I learned this past year? Most importantly, I learned how to reincarnate.
This year, I died a metaphorical death on my Mount Everest (i.e., publishing). Nobody is more surprised about this turn of events than me. It all started back in December when I did my most recent death meditation.
During that time, I realized I was letting fear keep me from going all in with my writing.
I then decided 2019 would be my year of discipline and I would put everything I had into getting published.
So far, I’ve written a lot of new material and I’ve now submitted my manuscripts to more agents than ever before. I’ve had some requests for more material and although I receive plenty of form rejections, I’ve also gotten some really nice personalized ones. All good signs on the path to publication.
Here’s what I didn’t expect: I lost my joy for writing somewhere along the way. Talk about a kick in the pants!
Of course, there are ripple effects when you lose something you value. My sense of wonder and awe in the little things all but disappeared. My curiosity decreased. So did my sense of adventure.
I didn’t even have the heart to write on this blog for the last few months, despite some truly wonderful happenings in my life.
Since January, I have now had eight articles published in a local newspaper. Bonus: I get paid to write these!
In May, I spent time in San Antonio and Austin, celebrating graduation milestones for my nephew and niece.
In June, an actual dream of mine came true when Norfstroms, Norfolk’s first and only salvage shed opened at the town transfer station. We had a salvage shed where I lived in North Carolina and I’ve missed having one here in town. I’ve been working with a local grassroots organization called Norfolk NET (Networking Everyone Together) and town hall to get one here. And it actually happened! You can read about it here and here.
Also in June, I was invited to speak at the Norfolk UCC Congregational Church during the pastor’s sabbatical.
As I texted Heath that morning:
You can listen to the sermon here. At the age of 42, I can say with certainty that experience was one of the greatest moments in my life.
And in a few weeks, I’ll be starting a part-time job at that same church as the director of community and creativity. This is a new position designed to increase the flow of God’s love in this world through good works and relationship building. What a gift and, again — I’m going to get paid to do it!
And speaking of getting paid for fun things, I have another opportunity in the works that I can’t speak about yet. But it involves working part-time at another one of my favorite places in the world!.
Then there are the little moments these past few months: so many dogs to love and each and every moment with Heath.
Cutie Pie Faith
Dodger and Annie
Smudge “helping” Heath practice the guitar
All this joy, and, yet…I let the cloud of being so hyper-focused on my publishing goal touch everything that I forgot to enjoy myself along the way. As I learned in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman, this is how people actually die on Mount Everest. They get so focused on getting to the top, they lose sight of everything else. This includes how they’re going to get back down.
The funny part is, I realized I lost my joy for writing when I couldn’t write for a few weeks.
I’m currently spending the month of July in Birdsboro, PA, taking care of the ever entertaining and adorable Bonnie and Jasper.
While housesitting here, I don’t have a car. Which has been mostly fine. Until my Microsoft Surface crashed.
It’s been two weeks. At first, I tried writing using apps on my phone. This is okay for jotting ideas down and short pieces, but incredibly frustrating for anything longer that requires formatting. Case in point: this blog post has now taken me over three hours to write, format, and publish. It’s for this reason, I included so few dog photos above.
I also tried writing by hand. But as someone who wrote an entire novel with a pen on yellow legal pads and has yet to type that novel up two years later, I know the futility of this practice.
So I filled my time other ways. Every day, I dance for fun and exercise, especially since it’s too hot to walk outside for very long. I stamp and watercolor, making cards and art. I watch YouTube videos to learn how to draw dogs.
My work may not be a masterpiece in the traditional sense, but I DID THIS!!
It’s good to have the joy back in my life. I didn’t realize how hard life has been without it. And I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present!
I recently contributed to an article “18 Expert Tips on Living a Simple Life” on the UPJOURNEY website. You can read the article here.
Anyone who reads this blog won’t be surprised that my expert tips include an example of a dog licking my elbow. Fun fact: Smudge did actually lick my elbow as I was writing those tips. I think he was trying to help. Smudge likes to “help” with just about anything.
Smudge “helping” with my yoga
Smudge “helping” Heath practice the guitar
That moment brought me a lot of joy. I know not everyone will share the same positive feelings about getting licked by a dog, particularly on your elbow. For me it’s a moment of pure love.
And I am so grateful to know what brings me the most joy in this world.
This sort of information is useful for when things don’t go they way you want them to. For example, two weeks ago, I found out about a small writing contest for Valentine’s Day. The contest was for a children’s story (214-word limit) with the theme of guilt. The contest was posted on February 13th and entries were due by 11:59pm on February 14th. So, not a lot of time to write something.
I set my alarm for 5:00am on February 14th. I wanted to make sure I had enough time to work on my story before my busy Valentine’s Day, which included my regular Thursday morning volunteering at Botelle Elementary School and a Pink Tea that afternoon sponsored by the Congregational Church in town in celebration of Valentine’s Day.
As I fell asleep on the night of the 13th, an idea came to me: I’ll write a story about a kid who eats all his mom’s valentine’s day candy. It will be hilarious!
My alarm clock went off the following morning and I immediately started working on my story. A few hours later I had what I thought was a great story, A Valentine’s Gift for Daddy. I went to the contest website to upload my entry. Before I did, I thought I would take a peek at a few of the entries.
I noticed one had a similar title to mine. I clicked on the story, read it, and my heart sank. It was pretty much the same story I had written, even down to the kid hating coconut!
To demoralize me even more, I scrolled through all the entries so far posted and discovered quite a few featured a kid eating all their parents’ valentine’s candy.
Yikes! Looks like I’d written a cliché.
I wasn’t sure what to do at that point, since I had to be at Botelle soon. I decided to think about it later, and I spent the next few hours celebrating valentine’s day. Activities included delivering valentines to all the students I work with at Botelle and enjoying all manner of baked goods at the Pink Tea.
Valentine Cards for Botelle Students
Goodies at the Pink Tea, Photo courtesy of Heath Hughes
Feeling like my day wouldn’t be complete without wishing Cecily and Dodger a happy valentine’s day, I walked over to their house after the tea. I wasn’t planning on taking Dodger for a walk that day, but one look at his little face and I succumbed to his charms.
I’m so glad I did. The afternoon sunlight streamed into every nook and cranny of the Barbour Woods. It was now approaching five o’clock and although I felt a moment of panic that I still didn’t know what to do about the valentine’s writing contest, I couldn’t help but marvel at how beautiful the day had turned out.
Dodger in Botelle Woods on Valentine’s Day
As Dodger and I walked out of the woods and headed back to his home, a little idea popped into my head.
There is a place outside of town
Where trees grow up and leaves fall down ….
I immediately pulled out my phone to write this idea down in my notes app, lest I forget it by the time I walked home.
About an hour later, I finally sat down at my computer and started writing. Three hours after that, I finished my story.
Of course, if I had won the contest this blog post would have an even better ending. But I didn’t. I did get a shout-out for “lovely writing,” though.
What I did manage to do was spend time in my favorite place, with one of my favorite dogs, and then do one of the things that I enjoy in the most – write. And that, right there, is me living my simple life.
Just for fun, I’m going to include the first story I wrote for the contest. The second story ended up being something I’d like to work on later for a possible submission elsewhere. So, unfortunately I can’t share it here.
A Valentine’s Gift for Daddy
Mommy and I went shopping today. She said Valentine’s Day is in tomorrow and we have to get Daddy a present.
Have you ever seen anything so perfect? We hid the chocolates in the laundry room so Daddy wouldn’t find it.
When I got home from school the next day, I went to check on his gift.
Maybe I’ll just take a peek inside.
Maybe I’ll just try one.
Coconut. I hate coconut.
Before I knew what I was doing, I ate another one.
Oh my goodness!
Peanut butter – did anything more tasty ever exist?
I went to practice the trumpet.
But I couldn’t stop thinking about Daddy’s Valentine’s Day present.
Okay, fine. Just one more.
I mean two more.
How did I eat three, five?
Don’t do it, I told myself. There’s only two pieces left.
Uh-oh. I ate all of Daddy’s Valentine’s Day present.
Maybe if I put the box back no one will notice.
But Mommy noticed. “Do you know what happened to Daddy’s chocolates?”
I couldn’t look at her when I said, “I ate them.”
To my surprise, Mommy started laughing.
“You’re just like me,” she said. She pulled out a second box of chocolates. “These were for you and I ate them all!”
I wanted to be mad, but how could I?
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go make Daddy a card.”
Yes, I am a children’s book author admitting to never having read one of the greatest pieces of children’s literature of all time. Okay, yes, I’ve only been a children’s book author since June 2015, when I wrote my first picture book manuscript. Yet somehow that doesn’t make me feel less chagrined about the situation.
Since I’m coming clean, the truth is there are many kidlit classic books I have never reads. Some books and authors I have never even heard of when I’m perusing kidlit writing websites.
For example, I did not know who Ursula Le Guin was when she died on January 22, 2018. Her name popped up everywhere on the writing and entertainment websites I read. I ended up checking out this article in particular, Mapping the Pop Culture Influence of Ursula K Le Guin’s Earthsea Books, and I was shocked to learn that her stories had been a precursor to Harry Potter.
As a huge Harry Potter fan, how is it I had never heard of Le Guin before? Who else haven’t I heard of that I should?
At least I’m quite familiar with EB White and Charlotte’s Web. Growing up as a child in the 80s, I’d watched the cartoon version of the story dozens of times, but somehow I never managed to read the story.
When I think about it, I have no good reason why, other than I was reading other books: SweetValley Twins, Babysitters Club, Fabulous Five, and the Taffy Sinclair books just to name a few. All of these titles are series, so perhaps because I had multiple new books to read every month, I never needed to venture out to the classics.
I can still vividly recall the moment in class when my entire life changed because of a book. Mrs. Spore, my teacher, lead us in a discussion of the allegorical representation of Aslan the Lion in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Being a nearly-straight-A student, I raised my hand and proudly announced Aslan represented the struggle of good versus evil.
Mrs. Spore shook her head. “Too simple,” she said. “Aslan is much more than that.”
The guy next to me raised his hand. “Jesus Christ,” he said.
BOOM! There goes my head in an explosion of everything I thought I knew about the world. 13 years of Catholic education (K-12), and I had made zero connection to what C.S. Lewis was really telling us in his story.
Although that Intro to Children’s Lit class was my favorite class throughout all of college, anything in children’s literature/publishing did not seem a viable career option at that point. I allowed myself to get sucked down the rabbit hole of job security, earnings potential, and societal expectations, and ended up with a PhD in quantitative psychology instead.
So now, as a psychology professor turned kidlit writer, I find myself immersed in reading as much kidlit as possible. In January, on advice from an editor at Simon & Schuster, I checked out The Incredible Journey from my library. The editor recommended this book because I write about dogs. The writing was beautiful and the pacing a touch slow for modern reading standards (in my opinion). Still, I cried tears of joy during the last few pages.
Wanting to continue with reading kidlit classics, I then picked up Charlotte’s Web from the library. This is a book that should be required reading for all children and adults. The story is extraordinary in so many ways.
E.B. White is a master of word choice and description, with sensory details, rich visuals, and emotionally engaging characters that pull you immediately into the story. Just read the first sentence:
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?” asked Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
Tell me you don’t want to read more!
Charlotte’s Web is not just about the writing, either. The illustrations by Garth Williams are adorable. Look at this little pig:
Or “puppy pig,” as my 21-year-old niece called him when I sent her an illustration as an example of why I was loving this book so much.
If you’ve ever read my blog before, you know how much I LOVE dogs! Give me a puppy pig and write him into a story where he finds out he’s going to die and you have me hooked.
The way E.B. White connected me to Wilbur the pig is genius. Wilbur loves Fern and misses her when she’s at school. He wants a barnyard friend to play with, but the other animals shun him. He finds out he’s going to die and becomes hysterical because he loves sitting in his pile of mud and slopping around his pigpen so much. Then, Wilbur begins to believe he is someone special simply because Charlotte, his spider friend, believes in him.
There’s also this sentence in the last chapter about Fern, the little girl who initially saved Wilbur the pig from Papa’s ax:
She was growing up, and was careful to avoid childish things, like sitting on a milk stool near a pigpen.
These words of E.B. White will stay in my heart forever.
I couldn’t help but cry when I read that sentence. They were tears of both joy and sadness. Joy because the way I live my life now, embracing the things that truly matter to me, such as loving my husband and family, playing with dogs, walking in the forest, reading and writing stories, and sitting on a stool near a pigpen are things I do every single day.
Okay, well maybe not literally every day sitting on a stool near a pigpen, but thinks to one of my wonderful friends in Norfolk, I do occasionally get to sit in a barnyard and play with farm animals.
There was also sadness for the millions of children who grow up and may never again recapture the feelings of wonder they experienced during childhood. Just like I did in college, they go down the rabbit hole of adulthood, and I don’t know if they ever find their way out. I hope they do. I pray they do. And I write stories to show how I made my way out.
Thank you for reading my blog! Your support is always appreciated. If anyone is interested in more Charlotte’s Web writings and illustrations, I’ve been posting selections on Twitter as part of my #365DaysofKidLit Challenge. You can look for me on Twitter with the handle @KellyKandra. I also included selections from The Incredibly Journey and The Original Adventures of Hank theCowdog, plus several picture books.
As an end note, I’m looking to read as many of the Hank the Cowdog books as possible without having to buy them (you know, minimalist and all). The inter-library loan only offers a few, so if anyone out there can give me access to more copies, I would be ever grateful.
I recently had the chance to catch up with some of my former colleagues from the University I previously taught at. The school had a peace vigil this past Friday and since I’m in town house/pet-sitting, I decided to attend. I’m pretty disgusted with the events as of late in this country of ours, and supporting peace through lovely words and prayers seemed like a wonderful idea.
While there, several people made the same comment to me: you look so happy. I consider this compliment to be one of the greatest I can receive, because, truthfully, I do feel happy, and this wasn’t always the case. This past year of living a writer’s life, spending as much time as I can with my husband, and playing with and caring for dogs in exchange for amazing houses to live in, has been such a blessing. I am so grateful at the friends I have made this past year and the opportunities that have presented themselves.
These feelings of joy and gratitude were especially salient yesterday as I walked around a forest preserve. I thought I had been driving to another community gathering of love and peace, but it turned out I had the wrong location. Although that was bad news, the good news was I ended up at Fullersburg Woods, a forest preserve of DuPage County.
For about an hour, I wandered around enjoying the beauty of Salt Creek, before settling myself on some rocks by the Rainbow Bridge to simply be at one with nature. Although I missed the community fellowship I had been anticipating, I couldn’t have asked for a more peaceful way to spend my afternoon. And I wasn’t really alone. Spirit surrounded me, as did the rocks, trees, birds, leaves, and waves from the river.
Walking along the trail on my way back from the bridge, I began marveling at the world around me. Then, it hit me! One of the reasons I think I’m so happy is I’m able to find wonder and awe in the little things. I began thinking of what brings me the most joy in life. Here’s an incomplete list:
Laughing with my husband
Playing with dogs
Talking about dogs with my Mom
Reading a good book
Finishing a draft of a story
Helping someone edit a draft of their writing
Fantasizing about future travels, especially if they can include family and/or friends
Watching funny online videos of animals, particularly bears
It’s good to know these things because right now, there’s a lot of unhappiness and turmoil in the world. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, especially when it’s hard to know what to do in response. What I liked most about the vigil I attended on Friday is that the event was not against anyone or anything. I have often heard spiritual teachers caution against what you give your energy to, such as an anti-war protest versus a rally for peace.
With these thoughts in mind, I am recommitting myself to focus on the things in my life that bring me joy. Selfish and elitist? Perhaps. But I’m going to subscribe to the words of Gandhi: Be the change you wish to see in the world. I wish to see peace and happiness. So that’s what I’m going to be. Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me…one youtube bear video at a time.