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.
In some ways, losing Smudge is more difficult than losing my dad. With my dad, I had a few weeks to prepare. I saw him suffer – first in the hospital and then at home in hospice care. Even with the hourly morphine he lived in pain. Nobody should have to live or die like that. I’m grateful he’s now at peace.
With Smudge, I had no preparation. I received a message on my phone that Smudge had been taken to the vet that morning. The vet recommended he be put down as soon as possible because tumors had infiltrated several organs.
I remember sobbing words like, NO, and it’s too much. I remember the weight of the news literally knocking me to the floor. I pushed a button on my phone and talked to Smudge’s human brother. He held his phone out so I could see Smudge at the vet. It was through video messenger that I said goodbye to him. I told him he was so handsome. That he was the best good dog ever. That I loved him. Then I hung up because I was afraid my sobbing through the video was causing more stress to Smudge than he needed.
I will never be able to thank Smudge’s human brother enough for calling me. For giving me a chance to say goodbye.
One of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t see Smudge before I left for Pennsylvania when my dad took a turn for the worse. I stopped to see my friends Cecily and Dodger on my way out of town. I didn’t know how long I’d be gone, and I thought if I didn’t see them, I would regret it.
Dodger of Cecily & Dodger
The world can be cruel that way.
It didn’t occur to me to stop and see Smudge and Faith. I knew Faith might not be here when I got back. The vet found a tumor on her liver in January. Every extra moment I’ve had with her has been a gift. I already said goodbye to her, just in case, when our housesitting gig with them ended in June. I whispered in her ear all the things I love about her. I told her how much I loved taking care of her.
But Smudge … the last time I saw him he danced around the yard, splashing in the pond, and wagging his tail at the speed of light. I thought Smudge might actually live forever. Or at least to 16 or 18 years old.
The last time I said goodbye to Smudge it was more of a see you later. I fully expected to have more time with him. I would sit on the rock in the pond and we would be together. I would nuzzle his head and rub his ears. Then, I would kiss his forehead and say see you later. We would then repeat this togetherness for months or years to come.
I could not have been more wrong.
This pain and regret will be with me for months, if not years, to come. Much like the time I thought I had with Smudge.
The thing is, it’s totally worth it. Because I got to love Smudge for almost four years. I wouldn’t trade that time and those experiences for anything.
There’s been a lot of talk in our country as of late about personal freedom. This conversation is especially relevant as tomorrow marks the 152nd Memorial Day celebration in the United States. So I have a recommendation for how to celebrate memorial day 2020 given our current situation — Wear a mask!
Memorial Day began as a way to honor the 620,000 soldiers killed during the Civil War. When the United States entered World War I, Memorial Day expanded to include those killed in all wars. It was officially recognized as a national holiday in 1971, while the United States fought during the Vietnam War.
To the men, women, and animals who have died serving the United States– thank you. The freedom I enjoy every day comes from your sacrifices.
Since I will never serve in the military, I will never know this level of sacrifice. That does not mean I will not protect my country to the best of my ability.
It is for this reason, that I continue to wear a mask as the death toll from COVID-19 approaches the 100,000 mark.
It’s such a simple thing to do. At no time wearing a mask do I feel like my personal liberties or freedom are being impinged upon. On the contrary, I think about the people I am protecting and how their lives can remain free from the burden, suffering, and even death from a preventable disease.
It is not much, but it is something I can do. And I am grateful to have the opportunity to serve in this way.
I don’t think I’ll ever be brave enough to offer my life for this country. But ask me to wear a mask to protect it?
Yeah, I can do that.
Wearing a mask even sounds kind of trivial when I think about the sacrifices of our soldiers. These women and men who put their lives on the line for me and for my freedom and all I’m being asked to do is strap some material across my face when I go out in public?
Of course I can do that!
So when we discuss how to honor those who died and how to celebrate memorial day 2020, sign me up for wearing a mask.
I’ll gladly wear a mask for the people I love. I’ll wear a mask for my friends and neighbors. I’ll wear a mask for the people living in nursing homes. I’ll wear a mask for our healthcare workers. And I’ll wear a mask to protect those veterans who survived war. Because they deserve the very best I can offer.
A good friend of mine shared with me this YouTube video her son created for the #NewYorkTough Wear A Mask PSA Contest. It makes my point far more beautifully than I ever could. You can watch the video here.
Image from Mike Schneberg #NewYorkTough PSA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L3UURdY6FQY
Here are two of the people I wear a mask for:
This is Cecily. She’s Dodger’s mom. Obviously, I love her on that fact alone. But Cecily is a hilarious, witty, talented, kind, and generous woman who has opened her heart and home to Heath and me when we needed a place to stay.
Of course, I will wear a mask to keep Cecily safe. It’s the least I can do!
This is Barbara.
Barbara and I met during my first month in Norfolk during the creative writing group at the Congregational Church. When Barbara’s husband of 60+ years died in October 2017, I imagined what it would be like if something happened to Heath and how lonely that would feel. Coming over for tea and company is what I would want someone to do for me, so I started going over to Barbara’s house for (mostly) weekly tea dates. We have such a nice time together, and Barbara has two excellent recliner chairs where we drink our tea, listen to classical music, and sometimes nap because the music is so relaxing.
I wear my mask for Barbara, too. She deserves not to have her health put at risk for circumstances she can’t control.
So on this Memorial Day, let us continue honoring those who died. We choose how to celebrate Memorial Day and the lives lost by being good citizens.
Let our soldiers’ sacrifices not be in vain.
Let us make sure that in our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness, we start with life.
If the world seemed a little darker to you this past Monday, February 3rd, it’s because a woman named Eve Thew died in the early hours of the morning. And if the world seemed to brighten in unexpected and myriad ways in the days after that, well… that was all of us celebrating her life.
I met Eve within our first month of moving to Norfolk in September, 2016. The congregational church on the Village Green offers a creative writing group on Wednesday mornings in their Battell Chapel, and since I’m a writer, I thought I’d give it a try.
Eve was outside the chapel doors that first morning I showed up. “I’m here for the writers’ group,” I told her.
“You are?” Eve’s face lit up like someone flipped a dimmer switch to it’s highest setting. “That’s wonderful.”
Eve and I have been friends ever since.
We have spent Sunday mornings together at church, Sunday evenings together at supper, Saturdays at Makerspaces, and random other times of friendship and fun throughout these last three and a half years.
Eve was sitting in the front the first time I preached at the church. “This is so exciting,” she said, “to watch you go through this.” She then gave me a truly wonderful gift: she cried tears of joy for me when I had finished my sermon.
Thanks to Heath for taking this picture!
To know Eve is to know joy. Even in Eve’s death, there is still joy. When I ran into John, Eve’s husband of nearly 69 years, in the parking lot of the post office on Wednesday, his eyes twinkled and there was a wondering smile on his face – he told me he could still feel Eve. He marveled over the different ways Eve had let him know she was okay and happy where she was, and he was excited to keep experiencing these “joy bubbles” as he called them throughout the day. He wondered when he would next encounter Eve’s love from beyond. John didn’t know, and he couldn’t wait to find out.
I love you, Eve. I know you still can’t wait to see what I do next in this life of mine. I feel the same way about you.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I don’t mean Christmas. Although, let’s be honest. I do enjoy some good Christmas spirit, ginger snap cookies, and pictures of dogs with Santa Claus.
Dodger with Santa Claus
What I’m talking about is my annual reflection on what I would do in 2019 if I knew it was my last year on Earth as Kelly Kandra Hughes. Yes, I know. At face value a death meditation is a morbid topic, particularly during a season that is known for its joy and wonder.
But that’s exactly the purpose of a death meditation – to make you mindful of your limited time on Earth so that you make better decisions in how you choose spend your time.
You don’t have to take my word for it. As I’ve written about before, thinking about death is essential for living in joy, as written about by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy, as well as happiness and productivity expert Dr. Christine Carter, PhD, in TheSweet Spot, and lay people such as Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.
During my most recent death meditation as I thought about what if 2019 is my last year alive, two thoughts bubbled to the front of my mind:
I am so blessed;
I still haven’t sold any books.
These thoughts make my 2019 relatively easy. For thought #1, I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing. This includes:
Loving Heath as much as possible
At Athabsaca Falls, Jasper
Petting as many dogs as I can
Kelly and Phyllos
Wandering around in the woods, ideally with a dog
We never did learn who this yellow lab is!
Spending time with my family, especially my niece
Saying Goodbye at the Harrisburg Bus Station
Absent from my list is seeing bears in the wild and visiting as many national parks as I can. It’s not so much that I’m experiencing a been there and done that feeling, as these two goals came about from recent death meditations, and they majorly contributed to how I spent my time in 2018.
It’s more that in the past year I’ve learned that wonder is so much more wonderful when it’s not planned.
Instead, I will (ideally) remain open to the world around me, (try to) have zero expectations for what an experience should be like, and instead (hopefully) stay present in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.
Which brings me to thought #2: I still haven’t sold any books.
Being the optimist that I am, I am already generating BIG PLANS for all the writing I’m going to do in 2019. I’m not going to go into detail in this blog post because I’m still plotting (haha) and planning the stories that I want to write, finish, or revise next year. But I can assure you that 2019 is the year where I do my absolute best to sell one (or more) of my manuscripts to a publisher.
Let me be clear: I have made a lot of progress towards this goal. In 2018, I wrote three picture books (around 500 words each), one chapter book (16,000 words), one middle grade novel (48,000 words), one New Adult novel (57,000 words), and one adult novel that is hand-written on small yellow note pads and still needs to be typed so your guess is as good as mine for how many words it actually is. For the record, my guess is 50,000 words.
Also, for the record: I do not advise anyone to write a novel by hand. Having to type my story into Word is quickly becoming one of my least favorite writing activities of all time.
If you’re wondering why I don’t consider ALL THIS WRITING I’ve done in 2018 my absolute best is terms of getting published, it comes down to one reason.
I write books and then I don’t submit them to agents with any sort of tenacity typically required of an unpublished author. I like to tell myself it’s because God is figuring out the details and I don’t have to worry about that part of the process. That’s just a cop-out excuse.
It’s not my job to manage the universe; but it is my job to give the universe something to work with.
This time I spend on Earth is God and Kelly willing and because of my fear, Divine Providence can only do so much. If I don’t share my work with people who are in a position to publish it, then I am making it so much harder for that right-place-right-time moment to occur that God has so graciously granted me in the past.
As I thought about my death, what I realized is that I have been afraid of failing as a writer.
What if I write an amazing story and it still doesn’t get published?
What if I write a dozen amazing stories and none of them get published?
So instead I’ll watch one more YouTube video of a dog trying to sneak a tater tot or check out Instagram for pictures of polar bears or mindlessly scroll through Facebook seeing what friends/family are posting instead of researching agents or submitting my work or writing.
If I don’t do my absolute best, then I always have a reason for why I haven’t achieved my goal of being a traditionally published writer. It keeps me in my comfort zone. Giving up the fantasy that the book I’m writing is going to be my debut book and a best-seller and become beloved by millions throughout the world (all publishing goals of mine) terrifies me.
But now what terrifies me more is taking my last breath in 2019 and wishing I had done more to become a traditionally published author.
Thanks to my death meditation, I’ve now realized it’s necessary to give up my clung-to fantasies in order to make them actually come true. The only way for me to get traditionally published is to put my work out there. Agents and publishers may so no. And, if they say no, then that particular fantasy for that particular book is dead (for the time being).
That’s a scary thought and it’s one that has kept me from doing my absolute best with my writing. I have spent countless hours this past year allowing myself to procrastinate and waste time and generally do things which are counter-productive to my publishing goals.
I think I’m *finally* done with that, and I have my death meditation to thank. I am living out all my other goals and dreams and I don’t want to waste any more time on the one that I’ve wanted the longest.
So, what does my absolute best include? Not letting the fear of failure get in my way (i.e. NO MORE PROCRASTINATING), improving my writing craft, writing as many new stories as possible, submitting my work to agents, and then keep on celebrating the blessings in my life – Heath, family, and dogs.
Heath with Smudge
I look forward to the opportunity to share this journey with you in 2019. Thank you for your love and support.
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 🙂
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: You can’t hear that?
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.
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.