For the first time in a long time, I find myself living without any dogs. Long story short: our Norfolk housesit is on hiatus due to the pandemic. Smudge and Faith now have their human brother living at their house, and Heath and I moved into a small apartment in Norfolk.
The first few days upon moving here, the sadness of being without Smudge and Faith stayed with me like a shadow. I scrolled through my phone, looking at photos of them.
I watched videos of them being silly. Even mundane videos like watching them walk down the stairs, I would watch on repeat.
Confession: It’s been about a month and I’m still mooning over their photos and videos. This may or may not be the most effective coping mechanism. Of course, I still visit Smudge and Faith, and I’m still walking Annie and Dodger.
And, yes, having Heath be so supportive and loving helps quite a bit.
But with all these changes in my life, plus living through a pandemic, and witnessing the heartbreak and injustice of racism in real time, and grieving the loss of my father’s health as he remains in the ICU without a good prognosis, I find myself struggling to let go of my attachment to Smudge and Faith.
So, when I feel like I should be doing more to help deal with my sadness over not living with Smudge and Faith anymore, I turn to the wealth of dog videos that is the internet in an attempt to branch out.
Sometimes, I think the invention of the internet has done more damage to the world than its intended benefits. But if it wasn’t for the internet, I never would have “met” Stevie the Wonderdog.
This photo is from Stevie’s Instagram account.
Stevie has cerebellar hypoplasia. This means Stevie’s cerebellum is much smaller than normal or not completely developed. It’s the reason why Stevie’s balance, posture, and coordination is much different from other dogs.
Here’s the first video I ever saw of Stevie:
You can see why I love him!
When I watch videos of Stevie, my heart does a tippy dap dance of joy the same way Stevie tippy taps his paws in puddles. It’s like I can press pause on my life for just a moment. He’s the breath of fresh air I need to know I’ll be okay with all these changes in my life.
That’s why I want to share Stevie with you today. Just in case you could use some tippy tap love and joy in your heart, too.
Norfolk, CT, is not a diverse town in terms of skin color. But that does not mean we cannot support our Black sisters and brothers during this time of crisis.
Last week, we came together for an impromptu peace rally on the Village Green. We wore masks, maintained social distances, and stood in solidarity with those who are protesting far and wide across the country.
There is nothing like impromptu singing to give you those good, spine-tingling chills that provide a jolt of optimism to the soul. You can listen to snippet of us singing America, the Beautiful here.
Today, we came together again to rally for peace and justice for Black Lives.
We stood in solidarity with our Black sisters and brothers. We said the names George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. We professed no justice, no peace. We then marched to Town Hall and knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time that a Minneapolis police officer kept his knee on George Floyd’s neck.
If you haven’t already participated in a Black Lives Matter event, I would encourage you to set a timer for 8 minutes and 46 seconds and then kneel wherever you are.
Now imagine killing someone as you do it.
Eight minutes and 46 seconds of actual killing.
It’s a long time to torture someone to death.
To hear someone plead that they can’t breathe.
Eight minutes and 46 seconds of kneeling in silence with others broke my heart for every Black person who has to suffer this kind of collective inhumanity.
We then ended with the Reverend Erick Olsen of Norfolk Church of Christ asking us to make four commitments to supporting Black Lives Matter:
I am committed to supporting Black Lives Matter until we see systemic change. I’m not sure what that looks like in the long-term, but in the short-term I am supporting Black authors by buying their books and some of my friends and I are forming a book club to read the works of Black authors. We’re starting with Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eyes.
Our Norfolk event today was sobering and sad, and we remained peaceful. Being a small town of 1600+ people, it’s easy for us to maintain peace during these events. However, that’s not the case for many of the peace rallies throughout the country this past week and beyond.
For people who may be struggling with the violence that sometimes erupts during the protests, I urge you to remember three important points. The first comes from my k-12 education, the second comes from my doctoral studies in psychology, and the third comes from my life-long spiritual education.
One of the seminal events in the formation of the United States involved looting and protesting when frustrated American colonists dumped 342 chests of tea in the Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773. In today’s dollars, that’s the equivalent of $1.7 million of damage. If you enjoy the freedom that comes with our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, then you accept that there are ideals worth fighting for, and sometimes that fight becomes destructive.
We are not as in control of our thoughts as we think we are. Behavior is led by the brain. And the brain is easily influenced by the release of neurotransmitters. When we are in situations of heightened insecurity, fear, anxiety, etc., the brain releases chemicals that push us into flight or fight mode. Sometimes, we fight. Add a group mentality into the mix and you have a perfect storm for rioting.
Jesus, himself, was a rioter. In all four of the Gospels, he felt so much rage at merchants and money changers in the temple that he cast them all out, dumped out their money, and upturned their tables. Also, remember that when the soldiers came to arrest Jesus to put him to death, Simon Peter drew out his sword and cut off one of the guard’s ears. When we are angry or afraid, we do not act as we normally would.
I make these points to say that while I do not ever wish for violence to descend on our country (or anywhere for that matter), I understand why it does. If I couldn’t breathe, I would be clawing and fighting with whoever was holding me down.
I stand with Black Lives Matter. I hope you do too.
For those of you who don’t know, I work part-time at the Congregational Church in Norfolk as The Director of Community & Creativity. Essentially, the job is exactly how the title sounds. I look for creative ways to connect others throughout the Norfolk community (and beyond) in activities that celebrate compassion, generosity, love, tolerance, and spirituality. Examples of such activities are our Does It Matter Bible Study, where we debate theology for 50 minutes every week and then decide none of it matters because all we want is to not be a jerk to other people, Sunday Night Loving Kindness Meditation meetups (currently suspended due to COVID-19), and The Blessing of Less, a lesson and meditation on living with less in honor of Earth (very likely suspended due to COVID-19).
One of my job requests recently was to record a “prayer for the people” to be included in our new weekly worship service videos. You know, since we’re all trying to stay safe and healthy since congregating in groups is a bad idea.
I received the request on a Friday around noon and had a draft ready to read and record by Friday at 4:30pm. Of course, when I read it the following morning, I thought, oh, it could use some more editing, couldn’t it?
Well, too late for that! Well … too late for the video. I had to send off the recording ASAP on Friday to our outstanding video editor so he could work his magic on it. By outstanding video editor, I mean the pastor’s newly college-graduated son who is AWESOME at this sort of thing and offered to help the church with our social media content now that he’s back home.
But not too late for my blog post! So, with love in my heart and joy at the opportunity to share these words, I present to you my Prayer for the People:
If you’d like to see the online worship video, you can check it out on YouTube:
And if you’d like to see my outtakes from the recording, you can check that video out here:
Now that a full week has gone by, I wish I had spoken extemporaneously instead of reading from my computer. Being a recovering perfectionist, I sometimes try too hard to get something “right” rather than speak directly from my heart. It’s a good lesson to be reminded of should I be asked to do something like this again. A
Special thanks to Heath, my cameraman, who did an excellent job with the filming, and Smudge, a most-excellent co-star who hit his mark every single time.
This fall has been glorious in Norfolk. When Heath and I began housesitting here in September 2016, people assured me the fall we were experiencing was not up to its usual standards.
I respectfully disagreed because I thought this was pretty good:
October 10, 2016 in Norfolk, CT
October 16, 2016, in Norfolk, CT
We heard the same thing in 2017. Still good, I thought. In fact, maybe even better than last year.
October 23, 2017, Norfolk, CT
Zorro the Goat, October 23, 2017, Norfolk, CT
In 2018, I don’t know what people said because I was off to Churchill for my seven-week stint as a polar bear season volunteer. I did see what I think is a halo:
October 13, 2018, Churchill, Manitoba
October 13, 2018, Churchill, Manitoba
And polar bears!!
October 15, 2018, Churchill, Manitoba
October 20, 2018, Churchill, Manitoba
This year, however, I think I understand what everyone had been saying. The colors POPPED overnight. And they’re lingering, too. Add in multiple days of sunshine and crisp temperatures, and you have yourself a Gold Medal in Fall Foliage.
All this loveliness makes me want to skip my plans and go off for a walk in the woods with my favorite friends.
And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing!
Annie, October 12, 2019
Annie, October 12, 2019
Dodger, October 13, 2019
Dodger, October 13, 2019
Smudge and Faith, October 13, 2019
Faith, October 13, 2019
Smudge, October 13, 2019
I hope you’re enjoying your fall, wherever you are.
We’re three weeks into our summer road trip. The experience so far has been a mix of emotions, mostly because I’ve grown attached to Norfolk.
I suppose it’s ridiculous to think I wouldn’t become attached since Norfolk is the type of place where you can be driving to a friend’s house and sheep cross the driveway.
Norfolk is also the type of place where you might find a peacock on a roof.
Of course, I miss being there!
I miss walking to the library, chatting with the librarians, and perusing their wonderful collection of books. They’re so supportive of my writing and my ideas. On Saturdays during April and May, they let me hold my Love Letters Writing Group at the library, whereby anyone who was interested could show up and write a thank you letter, or a thinking of you letter, or a support letter to people in the military.
The program was sparsely attended, but it didn’t matter because I used that time to write my own letters to people. As an added bonus, I became friends with an incredibly talented watercolor artist in town, Leslie Watkins, who read about my Love Letters Writing Group in the Norfolk Now town newspaper and loved the idea. Not only did she donate high quality cards to use, she also attended most every week, and gave me art lessons along the way. It was because of her great teaching skills, that I was able to make these cards:
I also miss walking to the Congregational Church every Wednesday morning to attend a Creative Writers’ Group, sharing my stories, and listening to the stories, poetry, and wisdom that my fellow writers share. The oldest person in the group is a 91-year-old spitfire of a woman who inspires me in so many ways and the youngest is a mid-30s man who has a good heart and believes in the saving power of grace. Every week when I leave the group, I have the biggest smile on my face.
One of the places that I don’t usually walk to, but I still miss nevertheless, is Botelle Elementary. I started volunteering there this past winter as a literacy and math volunteer in the kindergarten/first grade and second grade classroom.s Honestly, one of my favorite parts is hanging out with the kindergarten/first grade students during their snack time. We act quite silly and laugh a lot.
One day I happened to be sitting next to a little girl whose grandparents I know. The topic of conversation turned to fortune telling and making predictions. I announced to the table that I could read palms and I turned to the girl, picked up her palm, looked at it, and said: Your family loves you very much and you love them. Oh, and you love dogs, too.
The girl’s mouth dropped open. Before I knew it, every single student in the classroom wanted me to read their palms. This memory is one I will keep in my heart forever, and I suspect some of the students will, too, because when they threw me a surprise going away party (yes, I did tear up), several of the students made me cards that featured palms.
If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a minimalist and it’s my goal to get all my belongings down to one backpack. But for this summer, I’m not yet ready to give up these cards and they will be making the trek with me across the country.
Since I’m already getting a little teary-eyed writing this post, I might as well go down the rabbit hole.
I miss the dogs of Norfolk SO MUCH! With humans, you can say, “I’ll see you soon,” and they understand that you’re coming back. I like to think Smudge, Faith, and Dodger could understand me the same way, but I can’t be sure.
Sometimes at night I’ll sing Somewhere Out There to Smudge. He really is the silliest, most mischievous dog I’ve ever known.
Then there’s Faith, who when I saw her standing among her three brothers in a picture posted on TrustedHousesitters.com, I told my husband she’s the cutest dog I’ve ever seen and we had to apply for that housesitting job. She really is an extra cute pupper!
I can’t forget Dodger dog. I walk him Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the Barbour Woods, and every single time I feel profound spiritual experiences of gratitude, love, peace, and joy.
For anyone who is feeling anxious, sad, stressed, or any other emotion that hurts their bodies, minds, or spirits, I encourage you to find a dog and let them romp around the woods in wild abandon. You will feel like a new person by the end of the walk.
For all these reasons, and more, I miss Norfolk. Yet, with leaving Norfolk behind, there are new adventures to go on, new relationships to make, and new dogs to meet.
We spent last week with the adorable Gretchen and Sebastian in Manhattan, IL:
As my husband likes to say, Manhattan, IL, is the opposite of Manhattan, NY. It’s incredibly flat, sparsely populated, and rural. The house that we sat is a typical suburban house. I love it, though, because the owners love living there and take such pride and ownership in their little piece of Manhattan heaven. The house is a typical, suburban IL house, but the little things like the raised herb garden outside, the ocean-scene tiled mosaic in the bathroom, and, the brightly-colored wood-carved picture than hangs on the front porch, make it spectacular.
And, let’s be serious here. Wiener dogs are as cute as you can get. Gretchen and Sebastian are also especially cute because they get tucked into a doggy bed at night and then greet the day first thing in the morning with exuberance.
While in Manhattan, we also got to visit a couple and their fur family who we housesat for last summer. When I first got the idea of pet/housesitting as a way to make a living after I quit teaching, it was motivated by my love of dogs, the lure of travel, and the desire to have a relaxed schedule so I could devote a lot more time to writing. Little did I know getting to know and becoming friends with the people we housesit for would be one of the best parts.
We spent a delightful evening at their house, catching up, and enjoying our time with their animals:
And the chickens
It’s experiences like these that give me the strength and motivation to leave Norfolk. When my husband and I embarked on our housesitting journey together, our plan all along was to keep moving. So I’m grateful that’s what we’re doing. I’m also equally grateful that we already know we’ll be back in Norfolk come September for another long-term housesit. We love it there and I miss ya’ll so much. See you soon!
Last week my husband and I had the opportunity to pull double-duty for housesitting and I spent a few days with Oscar, the long-haired dachshund. I suspect when he’s alone Oscar wears a top hat and monocle around his house because he’s a rather dignified sort of dog.
Except when I photoshop a beanie hat on him:
Being with Oscar is a real treat, not the least of which is because his little legs make most of what he does hysterically funny. I will never get tired of watching him bounce down the stairs:
Also, Oscar’s human mom has Netflix and so my husband and I enjoy taking advantage of it. We’re working our way through Gilmore Girls. My brilliant 21-year-old niece got us hooked. She’s a HUGE Gilmore Girls fan and when she came to visit us last May we went on a Gilmore Girls driving tour because the show is set in the hypothetical town of Star Hollows, CT, and most small towns in CT could easily be Stars Hollow, complete with gazebos and town meetings.
Oscar likes to get up rather early, and normally I do too, but my early is between 5:30 – 6:30am and Oscar’s is 4:30 – 5:30am. One of the things I like to do when Oscar gets up early is feed him, let him out, and then we immediately fall back asleep on his couch. Sometimes, he’ll even share the pillow with me.
During this most recent housesit, Oscar followed his normal pattern. I, however, changed it up a bit and decided to stay awake for the rest of the morning. Up first on my agenda was meditation, then writing. I sat on the couch, cross-legged, set my timer, and then said, “Come on, Oscar, it’s time to meditate.”
And do you know what the little guy did? He crawled right into my lap! If my heart could howl in delight, it would have.
I know the timing is probably coincidental, but I couldn’t help wonder if dogs can sense the peace of mind and stillness that comes with meditation and are, therefore, attracted to it.
During my regular morning meditation that usually takes place at a kitchen table, Faith and Smudge, if I haven’t put Smudge back to bed with my husband because he’s whining to go upstairs, will lay directly at my feet. They’ll stay there the entire time and I rather enjoy having their company. Plus, I like to stick my feet under Faith so she can keep them warm in the morning.
While pondering this dog/meditation connection, I also began wondering about my relationship with dogs: do I love dogs so much because they love me or do dogs love me so much because I love them?
For example, on Sunday, my husband and I were at the Norfolk Library. He ended up taking a nap on one of the cushy leather chairs, while I sat in the center seating area editing a manuscript. Suddenly, I heard the pitter patter of little feet and I just knew a dog was in the library (it’s a very dog friendly library – they even have a water bowl up front).
A flash of white fur darted amongst the stacks and I thought, wait a minute! I know that dog!
Sure enough, it was Dodger! You would have thought I spotted a dinosaur the way I acted.
Dodger and I then rolled around on the library floor having fun and giving each other kisses before he and his mom had to head home.
Sometimes I wake up the morning and I still can’t believe this is my life – married to a man who is my best friend, playing with and taking care of dogs all day long, living in a town where dogs visit the library, and writing children’s books, mostly about dogs.
I don’t think I can ever say thank you to God enough for blessing me with these opportunities or to myself for finally listening to my heart which kept shouting at me that there was more to my life than what I had been living.
Little did I know the more would involve an incredibly handsome husband and more dogs to love than I ever thought possible.
So, thank you God. None of this would be possible without you.
And thank you to my husband who makes every week awesome.
Thank you Oscar, and thank you Dodger, for making last week so much fun, and thank you Faith and thank you Smudge for always being furry lights in my life.
And, finally, while I’m at it, thank you to the people in Norfolk who make living here so much fun.
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:
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:
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!
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.