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.
Now that I’m on the other side of covid (even though I still have a cough), I’ve been walking the beach here in Old Lyme nearly every day. Here are some of my favorite finds:
A Wheaton Terrier named Samson
An English Cream Retriever named Hella
Geometric patterns …
especially on a perfect seashell!
A message in the sand from Heath, which I totally walked past since my head was looking down at seashells. We found out later the mystery object is a sac of skate fish eggs.
Unfortunately, I also find a lot of garbage. On one day, I found two disposable masks and some plastic. Every time I’m out on the beach I regret not bringing a trash bag. I just don’t don’t think about it until I’m already out there.
Then there was the morning I found a pair of washed up underwear!
I talked to one of the locals that morning as I strolled back to the house and she told me that she finds a lot of underwear in the summertime, as well as items like iPods, Fitbits, and wallets.
The most surprising thing of all that I found is a renewed sense of wonder and awe! I didn’t even know I needed these emotions supercharged in my life. But watch the sunrise and sunset for multiple days in a row and you realize that you may have been taking your usual walks in the woods for granted.
Here are a few of my favorite sunrises:
And here are a few sunsets:
And since it’s Halloween, here’s a creepy tree we saw while in Essex, CT, last week.
We’re here for another 2.5 weeks. Here’s hoping I find even more … including things I’m not even looking for!
In October 2021, the Norfolk Land Trust put out a call to local photographers asking them to contribute to a January and February 2022 exhibit of their trails. Now, I am not a photographer; however, I do take a lot of photos.
A lot of my photos are of Annie in the Barbour Woods, which happens to be a Norfolk Land Trust Trail. Sometimes, I even take photos of the Barbour Woods without Annie in them. She’s very fast and quite curious so she’ll zoom ahead to get in some good sniffs or bury her ball to dig it up.
Meanwhile, I walk to catch up with her and marvel at the natural splendor around me.
The most marvelous of those places (in my opinion) is the Swamp Trail. During the spring and fall, vernal pools pop up and the beauty of the trail takes on a fantastical quality. I have probably taken close to 1000 photos of the Swamp Trail in the last 2-3 years. One of them was bound to be good.
So I offered my photo for the exhibit.
Imagine my delight when my photo sold for $75.00!
To know that someone saw my photo and saw value in it is validating in surprising ways. I love those woods and I love being there with Annie. And I just happened to be lucky enough to be there at the right time with my smartphone to capture the way the light danced between the trees and water. I remember that day and how I felt awe and wonder at the way the woods looked. The moment felt like magic; like a wonderful gift that Annie, the woods, and I will share forever.
I took that photo and somebody saw something in it enough to pay $75.00. Yeah, that feels good.
Here’s the best part: I know the person who bought the photo. Norfolk has an abundance of good people, and this person and their spouse are two of them. I consider both my friends.
When my friend handed me an envelope today with the check, I shook my head. I wanted them to have the photo just because. My gift to them because when we eventually move, I will miss them dearly and I will miss their in-person friendship. It makes me so happy to know that photo has a home with them.
That feeling is worth way more than $75.00!
I also contributed a photo of Annie and Dodger running on the Carriage Trail.
Because of course I did. Raise your hand if you’re not surprised.
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:
I’m especially grateful to the mama bear of this baby bear!
You can watch a short video of this baby bear snacking on clovers and dandelions here.
Thank you, mama bear, for choosing our yard! And special thanks for not being grumpy at me when I finally got out of my car and ran to the front door.
At least, I think she wasn’t grumpy at me. I don’t know as I never actually saw her! Talk about a suspenseful moment of my life. After watching the baby bear for several minutes – my stomach complaining loudly the entire time that I needed to get inside and start working on my dinner – I pulled in as close to the front door as possible, put Heath on videophone just in case, and then ran to the front door and unlocked it faster than a bear licking a pot of honey.
It’s funny to think that just a few years ago my “Norfolk Bear Story,” was that I’d never seen a bear in Norfolk. It felt like everyone else had some sort of bear story. Bears showing up in their yards. Bears splashing in their ponds. Bears crossing their paths in the woods. Bears going through their garbage.
I didn’t think I was EVER going to see a bear like that, and, in fact, the first time I did see a bear in the wild it was at the Grand Tetons National Park in Wyoming in the summer of 2018. The experience wasn’t as magical as I hoped, since we saw signs warning park guests that bears were out and about, and then park rangers stood on the side of the roads controlling the crowd of onlookers. It totally lacked the wonder and awe that I crave during those sorts of natural encounters.
But here we are in May 2021 and now my Norfolk Bear Story is, “I’VE SEEN SO MANY BEARS.”
Here’s a bear outside my bedroom window!
Here’s a bear crossing in front of me while out for a walk!
Here’s a bear looking at me as I snap their picture from the safety of my car!
And, of course, the baby bear in the yard!
When I first encountered the baby bear, I called Heath on video phone so he could see the baby bear, too. He really couldn’t see it from where I was in the car. So I took plenty of video and pictures to share with him later.
Heath, who has SO MANY MORE wildlife stories than I do thanks to his job at Great Mountain Forest, shared these photos with me a few days later.
I CAN’T BELIEVE I MISSED IT!
I have since asked Heath TO STOP HAVING WILDLIFE ENCOUNTERS WITHOUT ME!
I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of bear encounters. I always feel like the luckiest person in the world when a bear graces me with their presence. It makes me wonder what else is waiting for me in my future? And it serves as a good reminder that just because something you want isn’t happening right now doesn’t mean it never will.
The best part? When it finally does happen, it may even be better than your wildest dreams!
Last week, I experienced a one-two punch of spiritual therapy when we had an unexpected snowstorm. There I was sitting on the couch with Smudge, Faith snoozing on the floor next to me, and as I glanced out the window, the rain had turned into what looked like a snow squall.
It snowed that way for maybe an hour. Then the sun came out. The combination of snow and sun is one of my favorites for being wowed by nature, so I put on my boots and the dogs and I headed outdoors.
While we were outside, the snow started melting from the tree branches at such a rapid rate, it felt and sounded like rain.
If you’d like, you can listen to the wonder of it for yourself here.
I’ve never experienced anything like it, to feel the raindrops fall on my face, under the shining sun, while snow crunched under my feet. Then there were Smudge and Faith snooping around the yard just being dogs.
I hold on to these little moments of joy as we continue facing the uncertainty of what’s happening in the world. It’s not much, but it reminds me that unexpected events can be beautiful and wonderful and full of magic. Thank you, God, for giving me this moment, and thank you Smudge and Faith for bearing witness to it with me.
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.
This past week, my husband and I hit our seventh national park since June: Theodore Roosevelt in Medora, North Dakota. Unlike the other parks we’ve visited, this one wasn’t on our road-trip list of must-see places, nor was it recommended by anyone.
We didn’t even know it existed until I Googled “Map of National Parks,” to see if we could visit any on our drive back East. Our house-sitting job in Connecticut doesn’t start until after Labor Day, and I wanted to make the most of our time on the road.
My husband wasn’t sure he even wanted us to stop. We had just spent 8 very hot days in a not air-conditioned apartment in Dixon, Montana. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but trains also blew by multiple times throughout the day, blaring their horns. Every. Single. Time.
Including five in the morning.
We also knew that temperatures would be soaring close to 100 in Medora and instead of being concerned about bears infiltrating our camp site we would need to worry about rattlesnakes.
Apparently, they are everywhere in the prairies of Montana and the Dakotas.
But I had my heart set on visiting the park ever since the internet informed me that wild horses lived there.
I didn’t know wild horses lived anywhere in the United States other than the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the coast of Virginia. So, YES! I wanted to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Instead of camping, we decided to stay in a small hotel right outside the park entrance. It was worth every penny! Every morning we got up before the sun and hit the scenic loop in the south end of the park. There was wildlife everywhere.
Even More Bison!
I know I used a lot of exclamation points, but in my humble opinion six isn’t nearly enough to express how excited I got with each new animal sighting.
In addition to all the animals, another positive aspect of the park was lack of crowds. For every early morning we went out, Heath and I would be the only ones driving on the loop. We missed the sunrise the first morning by a few minutes (mostly my fault, as I wanted to stop and take pictures of horses and bison), but the second morning did not disappoint.
We also spent time learning about Theodore Roosevelt, the person, and Theodore Roosevelt, the president of the United States. His connection to Medora, ND, is tragic: At the age of 25, he went there to recover from the deaths of his wife and mother; they both died on the same day – February 14th, 1884.
The Visitor’s Center at the park features a Theodore Roosevelt museum, as well as the Maltese Cross Cabin, where Roosevelt spent his mourning period.
Historians believe that it was Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota that eventually lead him to become a great conservationist later in life. Earlier, however, he practiced the appalling hunting practices of the time, many of which were cruel and inhumane.
Considering the great work that Roosevelt did for animals and the environment later in his life, I can’t hold his earlier actions against him. I suspect he felt a significant amount of regret for the choices he made earlier, and who am I to judge?
We watched a movie on Roosevelt’s life while at the Visitor Center. Towards the end, the movie featured this Roosevelt quotation, which struck me as being relevant and profound for the world we currently live in:
“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”
Roosevelt said this on May 13, 1908, as part of his Conservation as a National Duty conference he held at the White House with governors and statemen from across the US. I find it ironic and thoroughly depressing that 100 years later many of the people in charge of our “lavish resources” don’t even seem to care about asking these questions any more, let alone trying to protect them.
Over the next week or so when you are out and about in nature or see a picture of a natural place that touches your heart or soul, please remember the above words of Theodore Roosevelt and ask yourself: What would I do if this place was gone?
Don’t give yourself a free pass by saying that would never happen. Because it could happen. It is happening to some places thanks to our current government.
Just think about the place not being there.
See how you feel.
And then take a moment to say thank you because right there and then, you are still able to appreciate the beauty of God’s green Earth while we still have it.
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.