With approximately ten weeks left to our time in Norfolk (we’ve been given an April/May departure from our long-term housesitting job), I’ve been savoring some of my favorite activities. At the top of my list of favorites is walking Annie.
I especially enjoy walking Annie in the wintertime. Cold feels exhilarating to me and the Barbour Woods look especially magical when covered in snow. Add in a blue sky and you’ve got a winter wonderland that’s perfect for romping.
On our usual walk this past Tuesday, I didn’t want the experience to end. Annie was having a great time zooming around and I was enjoying the extra solitude that snow brings to the woods.
But, I also had other places to be that afternoon and other things to do.
So the question became: should we take a second trail for a longer walk or should we head home after our usual romp around the Swamp Trail?
Friends, we took a second trail. Annie and I headed to the Beechwood Loop for an extra romp.
I’m so glad we did.
The number of romps we have left together is finite. Even if we came back to Norfolk in January to visit, who’s to say Annie or I would be healthy enough to take a longer walk. Or maybe the ground would be too icy. Or maybe there wouldn’t be any snow.
Should I take the longer walk with Annie?
These 10 weeks are going to go by way too quickly.
I think about death often. I’m sure many people do.
Sometimes the thoughts are with fear of the unknown. Having been raised Catholic, I’ve experienced more than enough trauma at literal interpretations of hell, and if I could change one thing about this world it would probably be not to scare children with eternal damnation. They have enough to worry about these days with gun violence, pandemic lives, climate destabilization, racism, and a dysfunctional government that includes politicians who make it clear that some of them (ie, BIPOC, queer, disabled) are worth less than others.
Occasionally I think about death with wonder. That’s usually when I’m in a good place spiritually. Those days are few and far between lately, and I suspect it’s from chronic stress due to poor sleep, capitalism that requires people to work to have quality health insurance, and lack of affordable housing in Connecticut.
Since my dad died in 2020, some thoughts of death are often linked with incredulity. He was literally alive one minute and dead the next. That’s it? I think. His life is now over?
Mostly I think about death with the fear of missing out, especially because it’s been seven years since Heath and I met, and I want as many years as possible to be with him.
My annual death meditation is different from all this kind of thinking. Its purpose is to reflect on how I spent my past year and to determine what I want to prioritize in 2023.
In 2022 I decided colorful creativity would be my theme. I would create art that was not the written word, which is usually how I express myself. I wanted to draw and paint with no purpose other than to have fun!
While I got off to a good start, my year did not go as planned.
Thanks to the pandemic and us being housesitters, we moved 8 times in 2022. From February – May, my art supplies were tucked away in a storage closet growing dusty.
Even when I had access, I didn’t have the motivation. I’ve accumulated more in these past six and a half years than I ever thought possible. The days of hoping I could get all my possessions down to one backpack is no longer realistic. With the increase of my own stuff, it’s gotten harder to live among other people’s lives. Especially when one has chronic sleep issues like I do.
I am not okay with the chronic sleep issues, and I continue to do my best to live with them.
I’m mostly okay with the stuff I’ve accumulated. We’ve been living in Norfolk for almost 6.5 years and I suppose that’s to be expected. And I’m going to have an opportunity soon to reduce and recycle some of the stuff I’ve accumulated. I will be ruthless and it will be fun!
Heath and I find ourselves at a crossroads. The couple we’ve been house-sitting for in Norfolk since September 2016 are permanently moving home. We will be living through big changes this year and we aren’t exactly sure what those changes are yet going to look like.
When I think about 2023 and imagine it’s my last year on Earth, for the first time since I’ve been death meditating, I’ve got nothing! There is nothing that I want to prioritize. No goals that I want to achieve. No places to visit. No relationships to hone. I just want to make it through this year of transition and come out still able to breathe. So that’s what I’m going to do. This year is going to be my year of breathing.
The best part is I have to do it anyway! I might as well do it with intention to help navigate all the uncertainty we’re up against.
Heath and I are officially back in Norfolk! The return is bittersweet because we loved living at the beach in Old Lyme. Nearly every day, I watched the sunrise and sunset. Norfolk is beautiful and the woods and mountains here are outstanding, yet they also obscure the sun. I miss these moments in a way I can only describe as grief.
Rising before the sun and heading to beach became an easy morning ritual. I woke up with excitement wondering what today’s sunrise would look like. Sometimes Heath joined me and sometimes he didn’t. Either way, the moment was almost always perfect except for one morning when I missed Heath being there. I sent him this photo to let him know I was thinking about him.
He replied back that he needed glasses. So I added a pair and then a few more artistic liberties. As one of our friends said on Facebook, “I would argue Heath has never looked better.”
Here’s my last sunrise on Friday morning, November 18th:
In time, I know the grief will subside. Norfolk turning into a winter wonderland will help, especially when I’m out in the snow-covered woods with Annie.
Although she did snub me the other day after weeks apart. She jumped out of a car door and headed straight in my direction. “Annie,” I cried with my arms open wide. Then she ran right past me to say hello to everyone else standing in our group. Quite the humbling experience.
Eventually Annie did make her way to me and she howled in delight at our reunion, so she is, of course, forgiven. How could I not forgive her, since she is towards the very top of my gratitude list.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I’m grateful to those who read my blog and offer words of support and encouragement when they can.
This card is from my undergraduate mentor and his wife. Two people I love very much in this world.
Change is coming! It’s not just the change of season, although I am thrilled to finally be on the downward slope of this hot, dry summer to a (hopefully) cool, brisk autumn. Heath and I will be leaving Norfolk for approximately six weeks at the end of the month.
The owners of the house we take care of will be returning and that means we have to find a new place to stay. Since affordable, short-term, furnished rentals are few and far between in this area of Connecticut, we’ve been looking elsewhere in the state. We found this great website, FurnishedFinders.com, whose main clientele is traveling nurses, and there are a few possibilities in south/central CT. I’m hoping we find something on the coast, as I’ve always wanted to live at the beach. I’ll be working remotely at the library for most of the time, driving in once a week to work in person.
In the meantime, I’m mentally preparing for the separation.
I’ll be missing walks with Annie!
I won’t get to extol her virtues as the greatest golden retriever in the history of the world with her human mom twice a week. We’re aiming for once a week on those days I come back to work at the library. I really hope that works out! As Annie’s mom likes to remind me, Annie can’t tell time or the days of the week, so maybe she won’t notice my absence as much as I’ll notice it.
There also won’t be any possibility of chance encounters with Fergus as I walk to and from the library. He’s in this really hilarious salty skunk phase thanks to his recent escapades.
This photo is from his dig-in-the-dirt phase. Since it’s hard to evoke “salty skunk” in a picture, I opted for a visual aesthetic.
As president of his fan club, I should be there to reassure him that salty skunk spice is way better than the onslaught of pumpkin spice coming our way. I hope he knows how delicious I find him, no matter what he smells like!
Okay, yes. You caught me! I am being a bit dramatic.
Change is just hard. Mooning about dogs is my best way to cope with it.
When it comes down to it, I know we’ll all be fine. Annie and Fergus are beloved by their humans. And I’m not the only one in their respective fan clubs. They will be loved and adored, even if I’m not the one doing it.
But if you live in Norfolk, feel free to pick up the slack of dog enthusiasm while I’m gone. I’d be happy to give lessons on how to fawn over dogs as if they the greatest animals ever (which they are).
May is almost over! I’m bummed because I’m participating* in No Mow May and I’ve enjoyed not mowing the lawn this month.
If you’ve never heard of No Mow May, feel free to read this article I wrote for Norfolk Now about it. The gist is that not mowing your lawn provides spring pollinators abundant sources for food and habitat. It’s one of the easiest conservation actions a person with a yard can take!
Not only has it been awesome not having to mow the lawn, I love how wild and free the yard looks.
It makes me want to run barefoot through the wildflowers and dandelions. Of course I won’t because TICKS and SNAKES. But still. There is beauty here that I’m happy to appreciate from the gravel driveway.
Also something to appreciate from the gravel driveway — this little snake who was sunning themself when I came home the other day.
I have come a long way to be able to coexist with snakes. They’ll never be my favorite animal, and I certainly didn’t want to disturb this little one. I fully recognize that I am about 100 times the size of them, and I feel confident this snake is scared of me. At the same time, I also didn’t fancy stepping over them.
Because what if I do and the snake springs forward to wrap around my exposed ankle?
You never know!
Thankfully, all I had to do was take some baby steps and they slithered away under the porch.
I will try not to think of them working themselves into the basement! Laugh, if you will, but it has happened more than once at this house.
On a more positive note, in some cultures seeing a snake is a sign of good luck. Let’s see what good fortune is going to come my way….
* With the approval of the homeowners! If you are a housesitter like I am, please do NOT do No Mow May without the homeowners’ approval.
I have re-discovered a new form of exhaustion! The good news is that this re-discovery means I’m sleeping well enough to notice. The bad news is that, well, I’m exhausted. I’m calling it bone-weary tired because it’s not just mental. This tiredness has seeped into my infrastructure. It comes with the territory of being a housesitter.
After fifteen consecutive months in the same housesit (phooey to you, covid), the owners finally made it home from being abroad. Fifteen months is a long time to housesit, and the effort and diligence of packing up, moving out, and making sure the house was ready to welcome their family home took several days of nonstop work. Up early. Late to bed. Oh, and also work at the library in the meantime.
Did I mention the ice storm? Yes, because there was also an ice storm that hit Norfolk on Friday, February 4. The storm itself was nothing special. Except a few tree limbs hung so low in the driveway that for three days, I couldn’t drive it.
Packing your car is not easy when you have to walk approximately an eighth of a mile one way on solid ice. Nevertheless, I did it. It helped to have the best form of motivation — mother nature in all her icy glory!
In the days following the ice storm, Norfolk turned into a sparkling ice palace thanks to the thick coating of ice everywhere and the brilliant blue skies and sunshine. I’ve never been so happy being so exhausted.
As I walked up and down the driveway over and over, I marveled at the wonder around me.
I also had my buddy Fergus as a companion, but I’m not sure he appreciated the splendor as much as I did. He likes to run, sniff, and be as cute as possible.
So even though I’m bone-weary tired, I got to spend a lot of time outside enjoying myself. I also chuckled to myself more than once to be careful what you wish for. As you may recall, in my last blog post I was craving functional fitness. I certainly got it this past week, and then some.
I’m also keeping track this year of invigorating experiences since I had one early on. The standings so far:
The town of Norfolk has a new addition this week! Say hello to our social justice chairs.
Photo by Erick Olsen
The chairs started with an idea by one person at the Congregational Church. Then, a whole lot of goodness and generosity happened. There was also a delay. But the chairs finally made their debut on Friday, August 27th, along with the following signs: God Sees & Loves All Colors & So Do We! You can see a video of the signs here: https://www.facebook.com/1118857914/videos/pcb.10225536106045713/923143698548997
I already wrote about these chairs for the June issue of the Norfolk Now. And since I’m not feeling that well this week (thank you, Narcolepsy et al.) and I don’t think I can write it any better the second time around, the original article is below.
Norfolk resident Leslie Battis has seen Adirondack chairs outside of churches for over a year now. Often painted in vibrant rainbow colors representing LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, these chairs started popping up more frequently during the pandemic. Battis wanted to see her church, the Norfolk Church of Christ Congregational (UCC), have their own chairs, too. She thought they would be a great way to encourage conversations outdoors in a socially distant manner. But she also had a different vision for how the chairs should look – what if they were painted in all different skin colors?
For the past several years, the Norfolk UCC has promoted racial justice as one of its missions. Some of their activities, often in collaboration with the Rev. Dr. Shelley Best of The Redeemer’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Plainville, Conn., have included group discussions of books such as “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” and the documentaries “13th”and “All In: The Fight for Democracy”. Battis’s idea for these chairs would be an outward expression of the church’s mission, so that the town of Norfolk could see on the church’s front lawn their solidarity with their Black sisters and brothers.
Battis, who is also part of the church’s Fellowship & Growth team, brought her idea to the other members, who all enthusiastically and unanimously voiced their support. The next step was to price Adirondack chairs. Wanting to support a local business, if possible, Rev. Erick Olsen, pastor of Norfolk UCC, visited Olde Farms Furniture in East Canaan. Owners Ron and Ann Reich loved the idea so much they donated seven Adirondack chairs. “When Pastor Olsen spoke to me about the project,” says Ann Reich, “I thought it over and realized what a great opportunity to donate the chairs for this great cause. In these trying times, anything to bring all peoples together to live in peace and harmony is what I believe God wants us to do. I felt the Lord has been watching over us and keeping us safe through this pandemic, and this was the least I could do to give back to the community in some small way.”
With its generous donation of Adirondack chair’s, Canaan’s Olde Farms Furniture helps Norfolk UCC bring its racial justice mission comfortably front and center. Photo by Erick Olsen.
With the chairs so generously donated, the next step was to determine the colors to paint them. Recognizing the need to choose colors with sensitivity and awareness, the church knew they needed an expert and, thankfully, already knew one–the Rev. Dr. Shelley Best. In 2019, Rev. Dr. Best’s art show, “What Is Black? Prayers & Portraits,”exhibited at The 224 EcoSpace in Hartford, showcased the myriad flesh colors that constitute “Black.” “The colors of Black people can be any color of human flesh,” says Rev. Dr. Best. “White, pink, brown, mauve. But when you identify as Black, there are shifts in how you are perceived and ramifications for your life.” Educating and building awareness of these perceptions is why Rev. Dr. Best is so enthusiastic about the Congregational Church’s project. “This installation goes one step further than walking in another person’s shoes. It gives people a chance to sit in another person’s skin color and think about the differences.”
After Rev. Dr. Best made her color recommendations, the church still needed to determine the best way to paint and care for the pressure-treated wood. Rev. Olsen reached out to Matt Bannerman, a local painter and owner of Mad River Painting Co. The spirit of generosity surrounding the chairs continued to flow as Bannerman offered to paint the chairs free of charge. All the church had to do was buy the materials.
“There is clearly something good in the air and in people’s hearts when so many friends jump on board an initiative like this!” says Rev. Olsen. “This project is powerful, not only because of its clear visual representation of our desire for racial justice, but also due to the creative collaboration it has inspired in Norfolk and beyond. I am humbled and delighted to find myself in the middle of a community that works in such a grassroots manner toward such a noble goal.”
At press time, the chairs are still being painted. Once they arrive on the Congregational Church’s front lawn, all are welcome to sit in and enjoy them.
So we finally have our chairs! And do please come sit in them. Dogs are, of course, welcome, too.
I’ve never met a dog who’s not also an excellent heart surgeon. That’s right – heart surgeon.
Every time I meet a new dog, they manage to slice and dice my heart until there’s room for them, too. Having never taken an anatomy class, I have no idea how these dogs keep doing it. Maybe they keep adding additions?
Yet somehow there is always room for another dog in my heart, and the dogs I’m already hopelessly and completely in love with (here’s looking at you Annie, Dodger, and Fergus) wag their tails and high five each other to welcome that new dog to the pack.
Everyone, have you met Hailey?
Hailey is the sweetie pie rescue dog who lives below our Norfolk apartment. I’ve known her for well over a year now. She can be shy at first, and I never thought I would truly make inroads with her. But then her human mom had to unexpectedly leave town for a few days. I AM IN LOVE!
I think it’s obvious why:
What a goober!
Hailey entered into a deep depression when her mom left. This separation was the first time they had been apart like this, ever. It took several days for her to warm up to me. After those few days, when Hailey began to trust me and liked all the treats I’d been giving her, she started running to the door when I unlocked it. She wiggled her butt and wagged her tail and a few times even jumped up at the door before I opened it.
I visited Hailey for eight days before her mom came back. Even though I’ve been having a lot of narcolepsy troubles lately, those were eight days with moments of doggone good love and joy. Those moments matter a lot to me when I’m struggling with sleep.
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment of my time with Hailey, but if I had to, I would pick the times when I’m getting ready to leave their house and I hide a handful of small biscuits in Hailey’s toy box. As you can imagine, Hailey is absolutely adorable rooting around in a wicker box filled with stuffed ducks, bears, and cats.
I am so grateful that people trust me with their dogs. I can’t imagine my life without them.
Also, just for fun, here are two other dogs I met recently.
Maggie is a poodle and cavalier king Charles spaniel mix. I met her in downtown Hartford when I was supporting my author friend Lynn Katz at Books on Pratt. If you’re interested in a psychological thriller with some dark and twisty turns, check out her book The Surrogate. I’ll also be chatting with Lynn on October 7 when the Norfolk Library hosts a virtual author talk with her. If interested, you can register here: http://www.norfolklibrary.org/events/virtual-author-talk-with-lynn-katz/
Then there’s Wilson. Wilson is a basset hound! I never knew a basset hound could be a solid color. I thought he was a basset mixed with a dachshund. Also, yesterday was his birthday! He’s a jolly eight years old.
I wonder how many dogs I’m going to meet this week? I suppose it doesn’t matter. I’m confident they’ll figure out what to do with my heart when the time comes.
Calling all pets in Norfolk! The Norfolk Library is hosting a pet parade this Friday, June 11th at 6:30pm on the Village Green.
Yes, I made this poster using my favorite Norfolk animals. Obviously, I will not be a judge. How could I ever choose between my favorite furry friends in town?
Although I wouldn’t say Abe R. Ham the pig is necessarily furry. More like tufty and dramatic, but I supposed that’s the prerogative of a pig!
Abe R. Ham
Hammy, as he’s affectionately known, only cares about me when I give him apples and carrots. I’ve come to accept that we have this weird relationship – I give him snacks and he gives me 1.5 seconds attention. Then he’ll go rooting around the farmyard, honking and squealing as if the length of the grass and lack of crunchy leaves is somehow a personal attack on his pig-ness. Hammy would definitely win best actor in the Academy of Barnyard Dramatics.
Now that I’ve awarded Hammy a prize, I can’t leave out the other animals. Well, except for that cat. I used a stock photo from Canva, the graphic design platform I use for all my social media work at the Library.
I’m not anti-cat or anything. I simply couldn’t find any outdoor photos of my favorite Norfolk cats and I thought it was silly to include an indoor cat on a poster for an outdoor pet parade. This cat kinda sorta maybe looks like my buddy, Bracken, so that makes me think I can award the Canva Cat an Elmer Award for being Bracken’s stand-in.
If you’ve never heard of the Elmer Awards, please click here to read about the storied history of the one and only award for Hollywood stand-ins that were given in the 1930s and 40s.
Chloe, who may or may not be anti-cat depending on what her feline brother Dweezle is usually doing, is paws down Miss Norfolk Canine Beauty Queen. Her trendy silver color is all natural with her border collie merle coat and those blue and brown eyes can see right to your soul … or the hotdogs on your kitchen counter. Chloe is also known as quite a counter surfer in her household, so it’s a good thing she’s so stunning.
Next I’ll award Dodger the Sassy Britches award because even though he may have one of the sweetest faces in the history of Butterscotch Border Collies anywhere, there’s quite a bit of spice under all that fluff. Dodger, or His Royal Highness, as his other dog walker and I call him, doesn’t let a meal go by without insisting that he somehow contribute. And by “contribute” I mean that Dodger gets to sample some or all of it.
Annie wins the All Around Perfect Dog award. But I’m still not convinced Annie is a real dog. I’ve told people I’ve met in the Barbour Woods while walking her that I think she’s a divine being come to Earth in a dog costume. Just to be clear – I don’t just blurt out this assertion. I usually say it after the person interacts with Annie for approximately 3 seconds and they realize they are in the presence of someone spectacular. The Barbour Woods person is then allowed to throw Annie’s ball, if they please, and I’m pretty sure Annie does this little maneuver to give the humans extra time to fawn over how truly delightful she is until she brings the ball back and it’s time to demonstrate again how perfect she is.
Since Annie is a hard act to follow, I’ll move on to Sheldon next since he’s a goat. And since he’s a goat (i.e., a Nigerian Pygmy goat), I’ll just go ahead and give him a GOAT award so he can be a Greatest Of All Time goat. It might be premature since he’s a young goat, but I think Sheldon has a lot of potential for goatiness — I mean, just look at his ears.
That leaves us with Fergus, who wins Everything Else. This award encompasses the bite-sized perfection that is Fergus — from his scruffy, adorable face, to his adventurous attitude, and every yip, snoozle, and pensive stare out the window in between.
And did I mention that Fergus has been known to fall asleep on human heads? The day this happened, I texted Heath and told him I would never be able to move again. That moment was one of the most joyful in my whole life. All because of little Fergus.
It’s truly a wonderful life where I get to love so many pets! And to think that on this Friday I get to love all the pets that come to the Library’s pet parade, too! Probably for the best they’re not allowing me to judge. Every pet would get a prize and I suspect the judging would take all night.
If you live in the area, please feel free to join our pet parade. If you want to register your pet to participate, here’s the link: http://www.norfolklibrary.org/events/pet-parade-and-fridays-on-the-green-kick-off/
April in Norfolk, CT, is like experiencing all four seasons in one month. Twice I walked Annie without a coat and twice we’ve had snow showers (watch a short video of our most recent snow shower here).
We’ve also experienced a hailstorm and for a few hours on a Wednesday afternoon we were under a tornado warning. Thankfully, the tornado never came. And all of these weather events are happening with pops of brilliant springtime colors around us.
Although I weirdly miss winter already (I say weirdly because it clearly hasn’t gone yet) and the solitude that comes with a quiet snowfall, I’m also ready to fully embrace spring. I want continuous days of sunshine and warmer temperatures. I want the optimism of trees budding and flowers blooming to infuse my soul.
As I wait for nature to fully catch up to my desires (our last snow shower was just this past Thursday), I continue to seek other ways to get my optimism fix. One easy way that I’m looking forward to tomorrow is donating blood at a local American Red Cross blood drive.
I’ve been donating blood for over twenty years, though not consistently. When I took Xyrem from 2008-2015, a medication prescribed for narcolepsy, one of the other unintended effects of the medicine caused me to lose so much weight I dropped below the 110 lbs. requirement to be an eligible blood donor. As the phlebotomist explained to me, I just didn’t have enough blood to give any away.
During those years, I missed donating. I have excellent veins and needles don’t bother me. I can’t think of any other volunteer activity that quite literally saves lives and requires so little effort on the part of the volunteer. You show up at the donation center, answer a bunch of questions, lie down on a table, feel a needle jab, squeeze a little ball to keep the blood flowing while you listen to some fun music, and then get up from the table to go sit at another table where you are offered all kinds of sweets and treats.
Talk about an easy way to be a hero.
In February, I reached a milestone with the American Red Cross – 24 whole blood donations for a total of 3 gallons!
Being the minimalist that I am, I opted not to order a pin celebrating the achievement. But I nevertheless feel a sense of pride, which when I think about it is kind of weird because all I’m doing is giving something away that I have more than enough to share.
So for any of you out there who are longing for brighter days (literally and/or figuratively), I encourage you to give blood if you’re eligible. Not everyone is, and if you’re one of those people, feel free to reach out to me and let me know. I will be happy to give blood at one of my future donations on your behalf.
For anyone who might be hesitant, I’m also happy to answer any questions about the process. I’ve donated twice during the pandemic and there are numerous safety protocols in place. I’m also happy to spiritually hold your hand during your donation time. You just have to let me know.