Tag Archives: Nature

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

Contemplating My Place in the World

Title 2

Saturday brought significant snow fall to Norfolk.

Snow 2

Snow 1

Since it’s still early in the season, I’m welcoming the snow with open arms and a profound sense of joy. I think part of that has to do with my new dog buddy, Dodger.

Dodger in Snow Edited

At the request of his human mom, I’ve been walking Dodger a few times a week. He’s a frisky pup who likes running and adventures, so when I arrive on their doorstep to pick him up for our walks, you can imagine his excitement. Not only do I receive lots of licks and paw offerings, but he likes to sit on my lap and lean into me like we’re hugging.

Eventually we end our love fest and get on with the walking. But first, I have to get Dodger past the electric fence in his yard. Even without his collar on, he refuses to cross the boundary line. Sometimes, he won’t even get in the car when he thinks it’s too close. But once I drive him out of the yard, we are good to go!

We then head off to a local field for some excellent romping. On the way, I’ve taken to singing Dodger songs, since he’s so happy and I can’t help but feel happy around him. Also, the name Dodger lends itself well to many holiday songs.  For example:

Dodging through the snow

In a one-dog open sleigh

O’er the fields we go

Barking all the way

Woof Woof Woof

Bells on Furry Rings

Making Spirits Bright

What fun it is to Dodge and Sing

A Dodger Dog tonight

Oh, Dodger Dog, Dodger Dog

Dodger All the Way!

Oh what fun it is to Dodge

In a one-dog open sleigh, hey!

Dodger seems to enjoy my singing despite my awful voice.  He definitely enjoys the snow more. Though if I’m being honest, I can’t imagine there are things in this world he doesn’t enjoy.

Dodger in Snow

As we walked through the woods, the snow freezing in my hair, on my hat, and on my scarf, I almost started crying for how beautiful the world looked. I said prayers of gratitude for being allowed to experience the moment; not just the quiet solitude of the snow, but also being blessed with the companionship of Dodger.

Not once when I was a college professor did I ever feel so at one with the world and my place in it than I did for those moments with Dodger in the woods.

I often joke these days that I should start replying to people when they ask that my PhD is in Professional House and Dog Sitting. I know it doesn’t quite have the same prestige as a PhD in psychology, but I didn’t truly belong in the classroom as a professor.

Yes, there are some students out there who have let me know throughout the years that I had a positive impact on their lives; similarly, there are some students who impacted me just the same. I’m not saying I don’t have some wonderful memories of teaching or that I didn’t enjoy certain aspects of my job.

But my heart was never truly in teaching, at least not teaching statistics and research methods. I knew in year 2 of my PhD program that I was in the wrong field. For a variety of reasons, I wasn’t brave enough to quit then.

Once I graduated, I picked a job I thought I would like and one that had many appealing qualities, especially a flexible schedule and summers off. In retrospect, I learned the hard way that when I lived a life I was not passionate about I was slowly poisoning myself. It’s no wonder I had so many health issues for so many years.

Since leaving teaching, I’m still asking the question where do I belong? It’s scary not to be sure, but at the same time exhilarating because I’m open to so many possibilities.  I may never end up knowing the answer for certain, but for right now I can say with enthusiasm and joy in my heart that I belong in the woods, with a dog, writing about the experience. Thank you for your willingness to read my words.  And WOOF! From Dodger.

 

Shoulds Versus Values

Zootopia Title

I spent three full days in Washington DC last week and logged nearly 37 miles of walking, which is the equivalent of 87,954 steps.  Most of those steps took me to one place – the National Zoo!

National Zoo

I know there are so many wonderful educational and cultural opportunities available in DC, yet every day I couldn’t bear not seeing the pandas (pun totally intended).  Although, I did experience some angst that first evening as I debated where I should visit the following day.

After “shoulding” on myself for about half an hour (i.e., I should go here,  I should go there), I realized I had a choice to make.  I could visit several museums or monuments that are iconic of DC and have a rich and storied history, or I could go back to the zoo, visit the pandas again and see all the other animals I didn’t get a chance to because I literally spent hours watching Bei Bei sit in a bucket that first day.

Bei Bei in bucket 2

Bei Bei Video #1

Bei Bei Video #2

The choice wasn’t really a choice at all.  I went with my heart and headed to National Zoo again on Tuesday and then Wednesday, as well.

Panda Mom

Beaver

Elephant 2

Lionesses 2

Red Panda

I know what makes me happiest, and even though I value intellectually enriching experiences, at this point learning about art and history is not a priority in my life.

As I wrote about in my blog last week, I feel some sort of shift coming in my life, especially as I relate to the natural world around me.  My few days at the zoo reaffirmed these feelings.

I know some people may think of zoos as an awful place, a jail where animals are held in captivity.  But I like to think of zoos as the proverbial Noah’s Ark of the 21 century.  Some animals will not survive without the work zoos are doing on a daily basis and many zoos are the bridge that first connects people, especially children, to these wonderful animals.  Without these connections, we stand to lose even more animals, habitat, and natural resources that are so precious and necessary for human survival.

Most zoos today are leaders in animal science and conservation. They have accrediting bodies with standards and quality of care for the animals they house and every day they devote time, money, and personnel to scientific advancement and achievement.  I celebrated these facts for three days as I marveled at the animals I observed, loving every minute of it, and smiling along with the other zoo guests.

Seriously, if you’re ever feeling depressed, head to a zoo and listen to people watching the animals.  Their laughter and joy will warm you from the inside out.  I felt nothing but gratitude and inspiration at the chance to experience such exuberant joy

Those three days in DC were a wonderful gift.  I’m so glad I know myself enough to not waste time on anything else that’s not going to fill my heart with joy.  Next time, I hope to completely skip the “shoulding” on myself and head right for those bears.  I sure do miss them.  I wonder if they miss me?

Kelly with Panda 2

Getting My Nature Fix

Title

This fall has been particularly gray and wet in Norfolk.  To give you some idea, here’s what the Norfolk Creek that runs on the property looked like recently after a few days of steady rain:

 

Here’s what the creek usually looks like:

 

 

We also had our first wintery mix of the season this past Tuesday, too:

 

Wintery MIx

 

I happen to like winter.  The peace and solitude of the season nourishes my soul.  Then there’s the fun and magic of a newly fallen snow.  Winter can be simply wonderful!

Yet, I also love the sun and I’m pretty sure I’m solar powered.  So on Thursday when we had blue skies with fluffy white clouds and a sun that peaked out every once in a while, I wanted to get out of the house and enjoy the feel of sunshine on my face.

I didn’t realize it at first that getting out of the house is what I wanted.  I sat at the kitchen table for a long time Thursday morning feeling like something wasn’t quite right.  My husband and I ate breakfast and then with a whole morning stretching in front of me I thought I would get down to writing.  But something prevented me from getting out my computer and opening up one of my writing projects.

After wasting time on Facebook for a little bit, I forced myself to get up.   I headed to the shower thinking the water would energize me.

Leaving the table ended up being the best choice I could have made, because once upstairs I realized: I needed to get out of the house! Sure, I had been several places throughout the earlier part of the week, but because of the rain I limited a lot of my activity.  I didn’t even crack 4,000 steps on Tuesday.  Monday and Wednesday were hardly any better.

I also had the great idea to take a dog with me.   What an extraordinary afternoon:

Tobey running

I reaped so many benefits from that hour and a half – I felt joyful, energized, creative, and inspired.  It was exactly what I needed and being outside served as a good reminder that for me, nature really is the best medicine.

I kept this idea forefront in my mind Friday, too.  Another gloriously sunny day, though we’re also experiencing record colds for the second week in November.  I decided not to let that stop me from walking to someone’s house approximately 1.5 miles away for some tea and conversation.

A few people expressed concern that I’d be walking in 20-ish degree weather.  But I had a hat, scarf, gloves, long underwear, and a feeling of excitement to be out in the sunshine moving around.  I left with a spring in my step and a smile on my face.

Besides, the distance wasn’t that far.  I once headed out on the Las Vegas strip to walk four miles to a handstand yoga class a Whole Foods was offering.  The concierge, bellman, and doorman all told me NOT to walk.  I said various forms of ”pshah,” to the them – I could walk four miles no problem.  Didn’t they know I got an A in my walking class in college?

I quickly learned a four-mile walk in the desert, even in April, is right up there on the list of stupid things I’ve done, especially when you have no water, don’t wear a hat, and forget extra sunscreen.  I’d put that walk slightly below breaking my ankle while chasing after a bird on the ancient Inca trail in the Andes Mountains of Peru and then thinking I could walk the injury off.  I felt pretty confident walking 1.5 miles in the cold, on a populated path, while completely bundled up, wouldn’t even compare. And I was right!  Looks like my intuition is finally getting better.

A little over halfway on my cold-weather sojourn, I received an IM from my husband: Hey babe. Are you cold? My response: Exhilarated!

I made it to my destination no problem and even managed to snag some quality time with a dog.  His name is Max and don’t tell Tobey, Smudge, or Faith, but I LOVE HIM!

Cropped MAz

What another wonderful day.  It’s amazing what a little sunshine and time outdoors can do for the spirit.

As we head into more wet weather before the snow arrives, I’m going to be more mindful of how I can work with the season to stay connected to nature.  As long as I take proper precautions, there’s no reason I can’t be outside when it’s rainy and cold.  I shouldn’t let those conditions stop me.  The same indomitable spirit that overcomes me when it’s sunny is still there when it’s raining.  I just might have to dig a little deeper to bring that spirit forth.

The Benefits of Taking a Break

Title

We’ve been having some extraordinary weather in Norfolk this fall.  It’s been in the 70s and 80s and from what people have been saying, the fall foliage hasn’t been too spectacular.

I beg to differ.  Here’s exhibit A:

Exhibit A

And Exhibit B:

Exhibit B

The weather has cooled off a bit and it looks like we’re going into more days of rain with more decreasing temperatures.  So I’m glad I took some time off from writing this week to meet up with a new friend.

I met this friend at an artist’s opening we both happened to attend in early September.  I knew some of her local photographs, and with my husband who is also a photographer, we struck up a conversation about how much we love Norfolk, amongst other things.

We then became friends on Facebook.  One day last week, up popped in my Facebook feed a notification that this friend was attending an event at White Memorial Conservation Center.  My husband and I have driven by White Memorial many times, most notably on our way to Arethusa Dairy to get the best ice cream in CT and possibly the United States (rumor has it they wash the cows’ butts with Pantene Pro V every day to avoid tail poop contamination with their udders), but we had never stopped there.

The event looked fascinating.  A Scottish naturalist and biologist named Bernie Lundie would lecture on what it means to be wild.  Having an interest in the nature-human connection, I thought attending would be well worth my time.  Plus, I’d get to hang out a bit more with my new friend.

My friend and I chatted about the event on Facebook Messenger for a bit, before she ended the conversation with a temporary farewell as she had to see to her pig.  Of course, I wanted to know more about that.  So that’s how on this past Monday I ended up at her family’s farm outside of Norfolk.

farm

OH. MY. GOSH.

Spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe scenery.  I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful fall day.  Then there are her animals.  I am delighted to introduce to you:

Abe R Ham the pig

Hammy 2

If you love him as much as I do, he has his own Facebook page.  Just search for Abe R. Ham @AbethePig

Zorro the goat

Zorro

A frisky little fellow who has a very sweet, playful personality.

And Drummy the turkey who is as majestic as he looks.

Drummy

There was also a peacock out and about but he never made his presence known.

What a wonderful way to spend the day! I sat surrounded by everything I love about nature – changing leaves, fluffy clouds, a placid lake, and ANIMALS!  Plus, I got know my new friend a little bit better and I have a feeling we’re going to be friends for a long time.

After such a wonderful day outdoors, I felt refreshed on so many levels – mentally, physically, and spiritually.  It’s a good reminder for whenever I feel myself become too time invested in my writing.  There are benefits to taking a break – friends, pigs, goats, turkeys, and fall foliage are just a few of them.

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.