Tag Archives: Love

Another Adventure, Another Goodbye

Photo by Victor Benard on Unsplash

It’s time for another adventure!

Yes, I know we just got back a few weeks ago from our 11,500 mile road trip. But remember back in December, when I did my most recent  death meditation? One of the goals on my what-if-this-is-my-last-year-alive list was to see polar bears in the wild, so I applied to be a polar bear season volunteer at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre in Manitoba.

That was back in July 2017. And guess what? My application finally came up!

I am on my way to Churchill, Manitoba as you read this post!

First flight from Hartford to Toronto.

Here are some of my goals while I’m in Churchill:

  • See polar bears!
  • Write. A lot. I’m working on a young adult novel, so I’d love to have a decent first draft by the time I head back to Norfolk on November 18th.
  • Marvel daily at how I am 60 miles south of the Arctic Circle.
  • Send postcards. ***
  • Find a sled dog to be Faith’s long-distance Internet boyfriend.

    Isn’t she just the cutest?

Of course, there’s always a downside at the commencement of any adventure in that one must leave family and friends behind.

I certainly felt a break in my heart when we drove away from Norfolk back in May. And now that break is much deeper because I’m leaving Heath for the next 50 days.

When I asked if he wanted to come with me to Churchill Heath said heck yeah! When he found out the volunteer position is to mainly wash dishes for six hours, six days a week, he said, “Have fun! I’ll miss you, but no thank you.”

So, Heath is caring for Smudge and Faith, and I’m off to Churchill. I cried quite a bit yesterday in preparing to leave.

First, there was saying goodbye to the pups. I tried not to cry because dogs can be so intuitive and I didn’t want to upset them. Smudge, especially, knew something was up when he saw me pack a duffel bag.

Then, saying goodbye to Heath had me crying all over again. There’s going to be Wi-Fi in the science center I’m staying at, so it’s not like we won’t be able to video and phone chat.

It’s just that when you say goodbye there’s no guarantee there will be another hello.

I know that’s true regardless of whether the time apart is 50 seconds, 50 minutes, 50 hours, or 50 days. But when it is 50 days that amount of time becomes a huge neon-sign reminder of how wonderful life really is. I can’t help but appreciate how much I stand to lose by leaving in that moment.

So I said the things that needed to be said and I gave one last hug and kiss and then maybe just one or two or twelve more. Then I told myself to be brave. And I left.

I walked through the airport doors not knowing for certain what this next great adventure will bring. As if I couldn’t quite leave yet, I found myself walking directly to the windows so I could see Heath one more time as he drove off.

Of course, he was looking for me, too, and then we waved to each other as he finally drove away.

This trip is a dream come true for me. And to have a partner who has been nothing but enthusiastic and supportive is one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received.

Heath, I know you’re reading this post and I know we’ve probably already talked six times this morning, but I love you so much! Thank you for loving me in the very best ways possible. Thank you for being my best friend. And thank you for everything that you’re taking on in my absence.

You are an extraordinary man. I am so grateful to have you in my life.

***END NOTE: If you know of anyone who would love a surprise postcard from subarctic Canada, please reach out to me at genesis.potentia(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com, and we’ll see what we can do 🙂

 

10,000 Miles and The Great White Whale

On August 15th, my husband and I hit 10,000 miles on our summer trip. Our car, which I’ve affectionately nicknamed The Great White Whale, is doing an outstanding job of keeping us going.

Credit also goes to my husband who understands car maintenance. He keeps impeccable service records, is capable of performing repairs, and has ears like a bat when it comes to car sounds.

Heath: Do you hear that?

Me: Hear what?

Heath: That!

Me: No.

Heath: You can’t hear that?

Me: Maybe?

The only time I did hear something on our road trip happened to be my fault. I put two Yeti water bottles on the passenger-side floorboard, which resulted in a scraping sound as if something was hanging down from the bottom of the car.

We didn’t know it was the water bottles until after we had pulled into a parking lot and Heath checked under the car, every tire, and even lifted the hood to investigate. Whoops. My mistake.

Regardless of this one instance, Heath is always taking care of The Great White Whale, whether it’s tightening hubcap rims, changing headlights, or insisting we vacuum every nook and cranny.

If it weren’t for Heath’s skills, knowledge, and attention to detail, I suspect our road trip wouldn’t have been quite so easy.

This past week our 10,000 miles had us driving east from Naperville, IL, to Harrisburg, PA.

During some of that driving, we’ve been listening to the audiobook of Moby Dick.

My husband has already read Moby Dick maybe 5 times. This fact amazes me because Moby Dick is 133 chapters, plus an epilogue. These aren’t short chapters, either. Depending on the edition and publisher, Moby Dick can be a whale of a book coming in at 585 pages.

We started listening back in May.

In 10,000 miles, we should have been able to listen to the whole book. The audiobook is only 23 hours long.

We’re still on chapter 34.

Did you know they talk about whales and sailing a lot in this book?

I’m not sure if it’s having narcolepsy or all the sea talk, but every time we listen to some chapters I doze off.

When we first started listening, I fell asleep for about twenty minutes. When I woke up, I asked my husband, “Is that guy STILL talking about sleeping next to that cannibal?”

Yes. Yes, he was.

And even after I woke up Ishmael still carried on for a bit about sharing a bed with Queegueg.

Moby Dick was published in 1851. Writing styles were different back then, as there was no television, movies, or Internet.

For that time, it made sense that Herman Melville would need to describe boarding houses, daily routines. whales, ships, knots, etc. in minute and excruciating detail. Not everyone would know this information or have seen pictures.

For my 21st century pre-existing knowledge and attention span, Melville carries on a bit much. Until he makes a point so profound and interesting all I can do is say, “Wait. Go back. I want to listen to it again.”

My favorite line so far is this little commentary Melville wrote during the aforementioned scene when Ishmael, a Presbyterian, is debating about having to share a room and bed with Queequeg, a cannibal. Ishmael comes to this conclusion:

Photo by Sergiu Vălenaș on Unsplash

How (sadly) relevant for the times in which we currently live.

While Heath and I were in Naperville, we happened upon a Stand On Every Corner rally. Karen Peck, a Naperville woman, has been standing at the Dandelion Fountain in downtown Naperville from 6-7pm every night for the last 40 days.

Photo courtesy of Karen Peck

According to the founder of this movement, Bryce Tache, this protest, “isn’t all about politics, it’s certainly not about left versus right, but it is [about] how do we all stand up about policies we believe are harmful, regardless of our political affiliations.”

Karen had several signs with her, such as:

Love Your Neighbor
Love, Kindness, Justice for All
Every Child Returned

Across the street, however, a different story was playing out.

For the first time in the 40 days that Karen had been standing in protest, a counter-protest showed up.

Photo courtesy of Karen Peck

They had very different signs:
Secure Our Borders
Build the Wall
Keep America Great

When Karen asked us to stand with her for an hour, of course we said yes.

Photo courtesy of Karen Peck

You know what’s also one of my favorite lines in Moby Dick (so far)? Remember, we’re only up to Chapter 34 and I suspect I’m going to be adding to my list of favorites.

Photo by John Peters on Unsplash

I think I’ve heard that somewhere before…

Well, what do you know? Moby Dick isn’t just about whales after all.

 

Happy Birthday to Me! And My Blog!

Photo by Delaney Dawson on Unsplash

Today I turn 41 years old, and today my blog turns 2.

These last two years have been the best of my life! That’s not a coincidence. Nor is it luck, magic, or random chance.


Anyone who reads my blog on a regular basis knows I value mindfulness. I’m a big believer in taking stock of my life on a regular basis and checking in to see how I’m doing.

I also believe in God. When I say God, I do NOT mean I believe there is a some man with a long white beard and a gold letter G on a white robe hanging out in heaven with a score card keeping track of my every move.

Because I was made in God’s image … and I don’t look like that! Neither do approximately 7.5 billion people on this planet.

Although, my good friend, Lem, does so maybe that what’s God looks like to him.

To me, God is the Divine Source of energy or Spirit, that connects us all to each other and to the universe. The holiest Holy Spirit that resides and dwells in each one of us. Both male and female.

I can’t take credit for that idea. I learned it from Father Don McLaughlin at St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville, IL. On Mother’s Day 2013, I sat in a church pew mesmerized as Father Don discussed God as loving Father AND Mother and how the feminine is nearly forgotten in the church today.

Now that was an idea I could get behind.

In fact, when I now pray to God I pray to my Loving Father/Mother God. So my Our Father prayer begins with Our Father, Mother, Spirit Who Art in Heaven.

This realization that God is Mother and Father to us all and we are all a part of God is why I care about girls receiving an education in Burkina Faso, children being separated from their parents at the US borders, and polar bears losing their habitat in the Arctic.

Because I am them and they are me. The only difference between us is that for the Grace of the God, I ended up being born to the parents I did. 

So when I take stock of my life on a regular basis, it’s to make sure I’m on the right path. The one that God intended for me, and the one in which I am an active participant and creator.

Two years ago for my birthday, my best friend Arlene sent me a beautiful card in which she hand-wrote a prayer for me. It’s from Matthew Kelly, founder of the Dynamic Catholic movement.

Prayer by Matthew Kelly. Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

I’ve been saying this prayer every day before I start my morning meditation for two years now.

Even when I added Rumi’s Prayer of the Chalice to the start of my meditation practice because I wanted to keep the practice fresh, I still found myself saying the one Arlene sent.

It’s not like you can go wrong with TWO prayers.

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that these past two years have been the best of my life. My life is God AND Kelly willing, and I choose for it to be this way with love and guidance from God.

So on my 41st birthday, I say thank you to God for showing me where I need to be in my life and what I need to be doing, especially these last two years.

These last two years brought me to Norfolk and gave me more dogs to love than I could possibly imagine, friends that keep my spirit up when life gets me down, a community that makes me a better person, writing that makes me proud and takes me one step further towards my goal of published author, visits with family near and far, travels to new and wondrous places, and time with my husband to love and laugh and love and laugh some more.


There has also been loss; of course there has! This is life, after all, and that comes with being here. But through the love around me and which dwells in me through God, I am able to accept it and channel it into making me a better version of myself.

Thank you also to everyone who reads my blog and supports me on my journey. I couldn’t live this life without you either.

 

Happy Father’s Day

Happy Father’s Day to my Dad!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad, lately, and parents in general, as I see more and more news stories about immigrant children being taken from their parents while coming into the United States. These stories make me wonder how I was lucky enough to be born into my family.

My father is a retired physician; his specialty was internal medicine. When my father went to medical school, his textbooks cost more than his tuition each semester. His father, I believe, was an engineer, who traveled the world as part of his job, and his mother was a nurse.

When he was in high school, my Dad read the book Arrowhead by Sinclair Lewis. The story is about a man, Martin Arrowhead, who is from the Midwest and who becomes a doctor. This story was one of the motivating reasons my Dad wanted to go to medical school.

For many years, my Dad worked 14+ hours days, multiple days in a row. When he was on call at the hospital, our phone would ring all hours of the night. I’ve overhead phone conversations where he’s had to tell family members that a loved one has died.

Because of my Dad’s hard work, I had the privilege of attending private nursery school, private grade school, and private high school. Reading was the #1 activity of my childhood and almost any book I ever wanted at Waldenbooks was mine to be read. Stacks and stacks of books filled my bedroom and kept me company during childhood.

I spent summers going to horseback riding camp and Disney World. We traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for vacations.

Every opportunity was afforded me as a child. I wanted for nothing. I’ve never had to know what it’s like to be hungry or wear second-hand clothing or have to worry about how a bill was going to be paid or what would happen if someone in my family became sick.

When I turned 18, I then attended college without having to take on any student debt. My summers were filled with working at a bank in downtown Harrisburg auditing mortgage loans for $6.25 an hour – this was $2.00 above minimum wage at the time.

I also got to experience international travel for the first time, as I spent not just one summer studying abroad at Oxford, but two. The programs lasted three weeks each and part of me didn’t want to come home because there was so much to see and do.

In 1999, I graduated from college with a 3.93 GPA (magna cum laude), named an outstanding senior psychology major, and earned honors in the psychology program. I had already been awarded a small research grant for my psychology honors thesis and this research had been presented at the American Psychological Association’s national conference in Boston that year.

After graduating from college, I landed a full-ride at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to pursue a doctorate in psychology. Again, I graduated with zero student debt, a university award, and the opportunity to present my research at conferences and through publication.

I immediately landed a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of psychology at a suburban Chicago University.

I continued achieving milestone after milestone in my career – professional development grants, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and presentations at national conferences. These achievements lead to promotions and raises. The university had a 7% matching program for my retirement account. I took full advantage of it. That money got added into my already growing retirement accounts that my father started for me after my first job working at Hersheypark when I was 15.

Let’s not forget my paid sabbatical for the fall 2014-spring 2015 academic year. I know full well how lucky I am to have been given nine months of time to consider my career and the changes I wanted to make. It was during my sabbatical that I realized I wanted more in my life, to pursue the other dreams I’d had, the ones that started in childhood that never got fulfilled.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing now.

Everything about my life has been an absolute privilege because of who my Dad was and how hard he worked.

Because of his hard work and sacrifices, I am now able to lead a life that is centered on creativity, imagination, kindness, compassion, and generosity. I do not have to worry about basic security needs and I never will.

So when I read stories about parents wanting a better life for their child and coming into the United States, I understand. I will not judge them for doing something “illegal” because some laws are arbitrarily created and not rooted in equality and justice but are more based on fear and lack and limitation. If you want an excellent example of this, look no further than Jesus Christ, whose own family had to seek refuge in Egypt when he was born because living in Judea was not safe at the time.

My Dad raised me to believe the messages of Jesus Christ and Jesus was quite clear in what he considered his greatest commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.

Every child deserves the same privileges and gifts I received from my Dad’s love. My Dad gave up years of his life working so I could be taken care of. And I was.

That doesn’t make me special, though, just because of who my Dad is and how hard he worked and how much he loved me. Some Dads work just hard and love their children just as much but will never be able to achieve the same kind of security that I grew up with.

Imagine what kind of world we would have if everyone could share their gifts instead of having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. That’s the life my Dad created for me and it’s one I now want to create for others in the world.

So I’m now doing that the best way I know how, the one that brings me the most joy – taking care of animals, loving my husband, and writing stories. On face value, these choices may not seem like the most proactive in terms of working for peace and social justice. Yet, I think of Gandhi’s words of “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I’ve written about Gandhi’s words before, but today, on Father’s Day, and on a day when some fathers and mothers are being separated from their children, these words seem much more alive to me than ever before.

Thank you, Dad, so much for everything you’ve done for me. I am trying to make the world a better place because of you and be that change I want to see. I love you!

Happy Mother’s Day!

Happy Mother’s Day!

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.

Dedicated to My Brother-in-law, Erick

In Memoriam

On February 23rd, 2018, my husband’s family lost a beloved son. Erick’s death was not surprising or unexpected; he had been born with a rare combination of two genetic illnesses – Addison’s Disease and Adrenoleukodystrophy. Doctors had been preparing my husband’s family for Erick’s death for the last 20 years. The fact that Erick made it to his 39th is astonishing. The fact that Erick’s suffering is now over is a blessing.

Erick had two memorial services: one on February 28th, in Smyrna, TN, and one on March 1st in Lawrenceburg, TN. I met my husband’s childhood friends and his extended family. I met dozens of friends and colleagues of my in-laws. Laughter was shared, and tears were shed.

I heard many stories about Erick. I didn’t get the chance to know Erick other than through his diseases. I could only imagine what he was like through the memories of his family and friends.

Erik 1

The Erick I met could not communicate in any way – he had no vocal capabilities, nor could he blink once for yes or twice for no. There was debate about what Erick could understand, if he could even understand anything at all, once the disease fully ensnared him. I know his mother and his primary nurse believed he was still in there somewhere.

Erik 2

Last summer, I got to know Erick as well as I could when my husband and I stayed at his parents’ house for a week so they could take a well-deserved vacation.

During that week, I cleaned Erick’s face in the morning and emptied his urine bag. I administered medicines through his feeding tube, which connected directly to his stomach. I put a breathing device on Erick to help him clear his lungs. Every 2.5 hours I turned him, at least until my husband woke up and took over or the nurse arrived and provided far better care than I ever could.

The state of Tennessee provided Erick with 32 hours of nursing care per week. For my husband and I, that meant we could still see each other during the day and go out and about in Nashville while we were taking care of Erick that week.

My in-laws were expected to work full-time jobs and then care for Erick full-time before and after work. As Erick needed 24-hour supervision, this provision made it impossible for my in-laws to have a typical American life. They devoted nearly every hour of their lives for the last 12 years to taking care of their son. For the last 20 years, they watched him suffer and there was nothing they could do medically do about it.

Erik 3

When I consider Annie Dillard’s profound saying, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives,” I think about the kind of love that my husband’s parents have for Erick to spend every day in service to their dying son.

They refused to put him in a home and they refused to give up on caring for him.  They sacrificed themselves in ways I can’t even imagine. I suppose that is what you do for someone you love because what is the alternative?

Erik 4

I am not a caregiver. Yes, I care for people and animals and the beauty of creation that is God’s gift to all of us. But it is not my vocation.

My vocation is writing and playing with as many animals as I can. I say this because I’ve been thinking of how I can best memorialize Erick, a man I’ll only really know through the love of my husband and his family. I have no stories of my own about Erick while he was alive, yet his story means something to me.

While I was in Nashville with my husband’s family, the time came for my agent to submit one of my picture book manuscripts, Sundays with Pop-Pop, to publishing houses. The timing wasn’t ideal, but she had a fire inside her for getting the manuscript out and I am eager for my first book contract. In retrospect, I do feel regret for closeting myself in their office to perfect the draft while there was so much grieving around me. I will hopefully not make that mistake again.

But I now know how I will honor Erick and the love his family has for him. Sundays with Pop-Pop is a story of love and loss. It celebrates the special relationships we have in our lives, whether they are biological, a beloved family pet, or a concerned member of our community.

Erick is, and always will be loved. When Sundays with Pop-Pop is published – and I truly believe it is when, not if – I will dedicate the story to Erick. He deserves it.

Thank you for reading my blog. And if you are so inclined, please send thoughts and prayers of peace to my husband and his family.

How E.B. White Broke My Heart with a Single Sentence

TItle

True Confession: I have never read Charlotte’s Web before this year.

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 Booksand I was shocked to learn that her stories had been a precursor to Harry Potter.

EarthSea

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.

Charlotte's WEbWhen I think about it, I have no good reason why, other than I was reading other books: Sweet Valley 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.

That’s not to say I never read any of the classics growing up. The three that I distinctly remember are: Misty of Chincoteague and Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, both by Marguerite Henry, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Yes, like most little girls, I had a thing for horses. I suppose I still do.

Horses

I also racked up quite a few more kidlit classics while in college when I took Intro to Children’s Literature my freshman year. We studied fairy tales (the gruesome original versions), Treasure Island, Peter Pan, Little Women, and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, to name a few.

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.

Lion

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.

Incredible Journey

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:

28407180_10105509158054918_1335452477_o

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.

Hammy Zorro

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 the Cowdog, 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.

Hank the cowdog

A Minimalist Approach to Love

Fiancee

Happy Valentines’ Day! And, happy two-year anniversary to me and my husband! That’s two years of being married and two years of being together. No, I didn’t get the timing wrong. We really did get married that quickly.

On Wednesday, January 20, 2016, I sat down next to an incredibly handsome stranger at a restaurant bar.  Being in the Chicago suburbs, the stranger wanted to experience deep dish pizza.  Several of his colleagues highly recommended Lou Malnatti’s.

Lou Malnattis

Meanwhile, I had been invited to Lou Malnatti’s by a writers’ group at a local college I attended for the first time that night. They liked to socialize afterwards, starting at Lou Malnatti’s bar.

The stranger and I struck up a conversation.  Four days later he proposed.  Less than three weeks later, on February 12th, 2016, we eloped in his hometown of Nashville.

Wedding

Wedding 2

So, yes.  Four Days to Fiancée is an accurate title.  But, it’s really not as quick as it seems.  The truth is that I spent several years prior to that night figuring out what I wanted in a partner.  What gave me the insight and courage to take such a bold relationship step is the minimalist mindset I adopted over the years.

Many people will tell you minimalism is not simply removing the material clutter from your life, though that is a key component.  It’s also embracing the values that are most important in your life and then making choices to support those values.

Freedom is at the top of my list of core life values, and ironically enough, it is because I value freedom so much that I was able to agree to marry someone whom I had known less than a week.

When I met my future husband that night, I had already begun taking steps to support my personal ideas of freedom. Thanks to a sabbatical from my position as an associate professor of psychology at a suburban Chicago University, I realized that somehow, I had let my life veer off course. I felt imprisoned by my choices and I wanted out.

The first step to my freedom began with purging. By August 2014, I had given up my apartment and sold, donated, gave away, or trashed 90% of my belongings.  In doing so, I released myself from the debilitating mountain of stuff I had accumulated over the years.  When you move three times in five years and some boxes remain not just unpacked, but unopened, it’s a wake-up call you do not need that stuff anymore.

After I removed the forgotten and unnecessary items from my life, I began looking at everything I owned. Gone were clothes I never wore, but someday hoped to have a reason to wear; shoes I had purchased for special occasions and hurt my feet the one time I wore them, but I thought looked so pretty; books I bought because I wanted to learn about the history of the Olympics, the healing power of food, or the latest pop psychology research, but never seemed to have time to read; and mementos from friends, travels, and experiences that caused me to buy extra shelves and cabinets to hold these memories, and which also took away some of my precious free time because I had to dust and organize them on a regular basis.

I ended up giving away so many of my belongings, one of my colleagues jokingly asked if I had a terminal illness.

Once free from the physical clutter, I wanted even more space.  I returned from my sabbatical on August 24th, 2015 and on September 1st, 2015, I turned in my resignation, effective for the end of the academic year on May 31st, 2016.

With the knowledge of impending professional freedom, I then focused my attention on the kind of life I wanted to live and with whom I wanted to share it.  Without any physical clutter to take up my time and energy, I waded through my murky past with the help of a therapist, a disciplined meditation practice, a church that inspired me to believe there’s something more out there, and several insightful journaling exercises and self-help books.

I asked myself tough questions, such as why had I not had a successful relationship in the past, what role did I play in failed relationships, and did I even want to be in a relationship.

Once I established that, yes, I did want to be in a long-term, loving and committed relationship, and understood how I had contributed problems to my past relationships and how to be a better partner in the future, I thought about the values I desired in my husband. What sort of person would make me the very best possible version of myself? Anyone who lowered my desired caliber of life would simply not be an option.

Nearly every day for a year, I meditated on this question and what I wanted, asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. What rose to the top of my list were curiosity, empathy, honesty, and playfulness. I also wanted someone who made their own physical and mental health a priority in their life since I had taken steps to become healthy again.

I didn’t have a specific “type,” in mind for a partner, but I hoped my husband would be as good-looking on the outside as his heart was on the inside. When I would see someone attractive while out and about, I would say to myself, “Wow! That man looks a lot like my husband.” I also thanked God every day for my husband, as if we were already together. I would write in my gratitude journal statements such as, “Thank you for my incredibly handsome husband, who is kind, compassionate, loves animals, and makes me laugh more than anyone else.”

It was in January, 2016, when a thought occurred to me: What I also wanted was someone who valued the life I was creating for myself and wanted in on the adventure. I wish I knew the exact date I had that thought, but I’m not very good at keeping a daily journal for an extended period. I just remember that the thought felt so real and powerful, I knew it was right for me.

It couldn’t have been more than two weeks later, I sat down at Lou Malnatti’s next to that incredibly handsome stranger. He overhead the discussion I was having with Anne, a woman in her 70s whom I had just met that night at the writers group. She was sitting on his right-hand side. I was sitting on his left.

Behind this handsome stranger’s back, because he was still eating his pizza, I told Anne all about being a professor, my imminent resignation, and writing. I explained my plans to be a professional pet and housesitter and travel all over the country. Then, for some reason we started talking about old movies and I told her I had just been to an Elvis Tribute Spectacular on January 8th with a good friend. It would have been Elvis’ 81st birthday and thanks to my Mom, I am quite a fan of Elvis’ music.

Screenshot

Despite not being a part of our conversation at all, Anne tapped the handsome man on the chest and asked, “Do you like Elvis?”

He sang his response with a southern drawl: I’ll have a blue Christmas without you. Thank you very, much.

“You’re not from around here, are you?” I asked.

“Nashville,” came his response and my immediate thought was, I am not interested in you.

But it turned out I was interested. From the first few hours of our conversation, my future husband spoke about books he was reading and asked me about books I was reading; he told me how he wanted to attend the Olympics before he was 40 and I told him I had attended the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. He spoke about some of the challenges he faced in his life and how grateful he was to his parents for their love and support. He teared up when discussing his chocolate lab, Lana, whom he had lost not that long ago, and I told him about my beloved black and yellow labs, Jack and Limit.

We continued our discussion the next night, when we went on a proper date. My future husband and I drove into Chicago so he could take some photographs. We went to the Harold Washington public library on State Street and acted out silly scenes with puppets in the children’s room, played Mad Libs at Epic Burger, and walked around Millennium Park, all the while discussing our lives, friends, and families.

The next day, Friday, my future husband came to visit me at work before he had to fly back to Nashville. The following day, we spent 14 hours on the phone, and on Sunday we spent another 12 hours. Sunday night is when he proposed.

Marry Me

If I hadn’t known what I really wanted in a partner, I don’t think I would have been able to say yes. But through the stories we told each other, the secrets we shared, and the time we spent together, I felt I had a good enough of measure of him. The values I wanted most – I knew he had them. I didn’t need any more time to tell me what I already knew – this was a man who would build me up and support me and help me become the absolute very best version of myself.

My husband and I were overjoyed to find each other, and we didn’t want to wait. We also had no reason to, other than that “society,” would deem our marriage too quick. Neither of us had debt, we were in our 30s, and neither of us had professional or educational aspirations that would limit our future choices compared to if we stayed single.

I was, however, asking my husband to give up everything he had to come be with me on this adventure. He left behind his family and friends in Tennessee and the only home he had ever known for 33 years.

Need a ride to TN

So, of course, I would give him the highest level of commitment we both wanted. It allowed us to be free of our past lives, only we would be free together as teammates and partners.

Everything else seemed secondary. The very few people that I spoke to about our decision to get married so quickly wondered why the rush? How well could I really know him? they wanted to know.

To which I replied – how well can you really know anyone? I’ve known people who dated their fiancés for several years before getting married, only to be miserable and divorced within two years. Several people I know were married for decades before their spouses divorced them just like that! And one woman, who I admire very much, married her childhood sweetheart who was her best friend, only for him to realize a few years into the marriage that he was gay.

So, I didn’t buy into their concerns, because we can never really be certain about anyone other than ourselves. And because I took the time to really get to know myself and what I wanted, I didn’t have to waste any time figuring out whether we worked together. Our values lined up and that is all that mattered to me.

To my husband: I LOVE YOU! These past two years have been the best of my life. Thank you for asking me to marry you when you did, and thank you for being the best friend and partner I could have imagined.

Heath and Kelly

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

51XWb7K-jHL._SX334_BO1,204,203,200_

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

Monday, August 21st, 2017

Title

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.

Peace

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.

Waterfall

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.

Rainbow bridge

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.