Tag Archives: Writing

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 1

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition

A few weeks ago, I led a TED Talks discussion group using Candy Chang’s talk, Before I die, I want to…. You can watch the TED Talk here.

Two of my discussion questions were:

  1. How would you fill in the blank — Before I die I want to __________?
  2. How would your answer change if you knew you only had one year left to live? What about one week? One day?

A lively discussion ensued. One gem of wisdom shared by a participant was that a year was a luxurious amount of time. How grand to know you have a full year ahead of you!

Juxtapose that idea with the basic premise of Oliver Burkeman’s Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals, whereby the average human lifespan is only four thousand weeks. Four thousand does not seem nearly enough.

Since the reality is we really don’t know how much time we have left, I take time every year to reflect on my own death. This practice helps me ensure that no matter what happens, I know what’s important to me, which in turn, helps me make decisions in both the short- and long-term for living my best life. Previous death meditations inspired me to quit my tenured position as an associate professor of psychology, to volunteer for seven weeks at a science center in sub-Arctic Canada so I could see polar bears in the wild, and to recognize that my perfect day includes time for rest, self-care, being with loved ones (and a dog), some play, and some productivity.

This year, I reflected on my death while at a winter solstice sunset meditation program at Naumkeag. Naumkeag is a beautiful house in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, set on a rolling hill with the Berkshire Mountains as its backdrop.

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 2

Picture taken on Autumn Equinox in 2021.

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Picture taken on Autumn Equinox in 2021.

Having been there before, I knew Naumkeag is a magical place. What made the night even more magical is the house and grounds glowed with thousands of colorful lights as part of their winter lights festival. I could not have asked for a more perfect place to reflect on my past year and find inspiration for living my best life in 2022.

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2021 was a hard year for me. The grief of losing family, friends, and dogs in 2020 carried over, as did the uncertainty of the pandemic. Add to that a terrorist attack on the US capital in January, a constantly mutating virus because not enough people are vaccinated, and a debilitating sleep disorder that has been getting progressively worse for years, which, in my opinion was so stressful it reactivated a shingles infection in my body in August, and I’ve got a year that really sucked at times.

And yet, because I’ve taken time in the past to consider my time and mortality, I also experienced a pretty wonderful 2021. I have never been more in love with Heath than I am today.

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He is an amazing teammate, best friend, and husband. A lot of times when I panic that I’m 44 and if I live to the same age as my dad then I only have 30 years left, the panic is because I feel like that is not enough time to love Heath. Since there is literally NOTHING I can do about my eventual death, my way forward is clear: just love Heath to the best of my ability each and every day.

Last year, I also had a dog fall asleep on my head! Best. Day. Ever.

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In those moments, as Fergus snoozed away, I thought I might explode with joy. I also thought I might never be able to move again, because I couldn’t bear to wake the little guy up.

Knowing how dogs have a special place in my heart, I mostly kept up with my twice weekly walks with Annie. Even in my darkest days of sleep and health challenges, being with Annie in the woods was a wonderful tonic which helped me keep going.

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2021 is also the year that I learned how to write a novel on my phone. In my work at the Norfolk Library, I led a program on habit formation using James Clear’s Atomic Habits book. From his insights and practices, I finally let go of wanting to be a person with a habit of jumping out of the bed first thing in the morning. That kind of habit is impossible for me when I feel severely sleep deprived and depressed due to narcolepsy. Instead I used the techniques and information to develop a habit of writing on my phone, which makes a lot of sense considering how often I use my phone and how my phone is almost always within arm’s reach. Six months and over 37,000 words later, I now have the first draft of a middle grade novel that is just waiting for revision.

I also spent a lot of time querying agents in 2021. I received several requests for full manuscripts or more work. Although I was not offered representation, I did receive personalized rejections, some with encouragement to keep going. It’s not what I hoped for, but I’m certainly not giving up now.

In reflecting on 2021, one area of my life other than sleep also seemed out of balance: my work life. When I quit teaching in 2016, I never wanted to work full-time again. The hours and stress of working full-time did not seem possible while also trying to prioritize my sleep health.

In the beginning of 2020, I worked 12 hours at the Norfolk library and 10 hours for the Congregational Church. That combination seemed perfect for my personal and professional goals. By the end of 2020, I was working 35 hours a week — 25 for the library and 10 for the church. I needed to work 25 hours at the library so that after 1 year at those hours, I would be eligible for health insurance. During 2020, our market place health insurance monthly premium went from $60 a month with state assistance to $1,069 a month with no assistance.

Perhaps if I didn’t experience downward-spiraling narcolepsy symptoms in 2021, I may have been able to sustain a 35 hour a week work schedule. Unfortunately, my sleep health was so poor in 2021 that I knew I couldn’t continue working this way. I made the difficult decision to resign from my position at the church. I will still volunteer for various church initiatives, since they have such a wonderful presence in Norfolk and beyond. But I now have the discretion to say no when I am simply too tired.

Which brings me to 2022 — How do I want to live differently, if I knew 2022 would be my last year?

The answer to that question came almost immediately while I was at Naumkeag. On that cold dark Night, we were led through a rainbow tunnel of lights.

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During that walk the words colorful creativity popped into my head. I knew the instant I heard myself say those words that my creativity is missing an important component.  So much of my creativity goes to writing: I write for my job at the library; I write for the Norfolk Now monthly newspaper; I wrote for the church.  I also write in my free time in hopes of being a traditionally published author someday.

What I don’t do is use my creativity simply for fun. I don’t create for play. I don’t create simply to create. There is always a purpose. That stops in 2022.

This year, my year of colorful creativity, I will prioritize using color in creative ways. I never have considered myself a visually artistic person. I think that’s an important point. I am choosing to spend some of my time on artistic endeavors that have no higher goal, other than to simply create something colorful.

I find this idea both exciting and terrifying. I feel excited because it’s something new and different. It’s terrifying for a few reasons. One, I still think of myself as a minimalist and I’ve already bought some art supplies which creates cognitive dissonance with my minimalistic values. So that’s something I’m reconciling as I go down my colorful creativity path. Two, I know how precious time is. It’s terrifying to give up some of my writing time or otherwise free time to play. I don’t have to worry about giving up time with Heath because we know have art dates every Monday.

We’ll see how it goes. I decided to get a head start on my year of colorful creativity and made before the official start of 2022.

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 9I call it Polar Nights. Here’s to more colorful creativity in 2022!

Thanksgiving 2021 10

Thanksgiving 2021

I’m glad it’s Thanksgiving this week, because it gives me a ready-made topic to write about: Top 10 Things I’m Grateful for This Year.

  1. My husband, Heath. This year has been another challenging one, particularly with sleep issues. Heath is a constant source of unconditional love and support. The last time I struggled this much with my sleep, I was single. I eventually improved, so I know I have it in me to stay the course with my health as a single person. But I’m incredibly grateful I don’t have to.
  2. DOGS! Speaking of unconditional love and support, dogs are also up there at the top of my list. Dogs bring me such joy! I can’t imagine my life without them. This point leads me to …
  3. The people who let me love their dogs. This will be my first full year since 2013 that I did not live with one or more dogs. It’s been an adjustment to say the least, and I still find myself tearing up every now and again when I think of my furry friends I’ve lost along the way. So an extra special thank you to those people who ask me to take care of their dogs and love them like they’re my own.
  4. My mom. She is one of the most generous people I know. The only way my mom could get even better is if she got a dog.
  5. My best friend, Arlene. I met Arlene while on sabbatical in Chapel Hill, NC, in 2014. Arlene is almost 40 years older than me, and that doesn’t matter in the slightest. We understand each other, and every Thursday I call her. Sometimes we don’t chat, and I just leave a message. But we always know to expect a phone call on Thursdays at 11:30am.
  6. My BFF Michelle. Michelle and I have been friends for maybe 17 years now. We can’t really nail down the date of when we went from being grad school acquaintances to good friends. The pandemic, however, changed everything. We experienced a Frien-essance (the friend version of a Renaissance) this year through Zoom and that’s one of my silver linings of the pandemic. Also shoutout to Beth, who often joins us on our Zooms. I’m grateful my friendship with her has gotten deeper this year, too.
  7. My TPEP friends. These are the friends I made when working for the Tobacco, Prevention, and Evaluation Program way back in the mid 00s when I worked in the Department of Family Medicine, UNC School of Medicine as a research assistant. I doubt I will ever have such a dynamic and fun group of friends at work. We stay in touch a few times a year and I love them all SO MUCH!
  8. My imagination and creativity. These are my two greatest natural gifts. Because of my imagination and creativity, I am never at a loss when writing a story. In fact, I often have too many stories to write, and then have to choose which ones to write and which ones to let go. As a first world problem, I’ll take it!
  9. My mentors. There are some people in this world, such as Dr. Al Forsyth and his wife Peggy, and Dr. Adam O. Goldstein, who believe in me no matter. They’ve each contributed their own way to the person I am today.
  10. My improving sleep. Friends, I am cautiously optimistic in telling you that my narcolepsy medicine is working. I am no longer waking up every morning experiencing post-traumatic stress from my dreams. I no longer need a nap at 8:30am and again at 4:00pm. I am not heading straight to the couch after I wake up. I feel so different these mornings as of late, that sometimes I don’t even know what to do with myself.

As I was writing this list, I realized that Top 10 is too limiting. I immediately wanted to make it a Top 20, then Top 50. For brevity’s sake, I’ll stop here. Kinda. Because now I’m going to give a few honorable mentions: My niece, who is brilliant and creative, my writing group, who is AWESOME, the Norfolk Library, who provides AMAZING health insurance even though I only work part-time, my productivity club, where we provide unconditional support to each other, Ruth, who reads my blog regularly and is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet, Dottie, who gives the best hugs in Norfolk, and Jeannine and Jeff, who continue to make me laugh.

There are so many more people and things I could list. I’m really going to stop now. At least for now.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Thanksgiving 2021 11

 

Spring Has Sprung! 12

Spring Has Sprung!

Hello Spring! Now that we’re officially one full week into spring, I’m starting to see some signs of change throughout Norfolk.

First and foremost, bulbs are starting to bloom! Here’s the first little one I saw last Tuesday when I went to take Annie for a walk.

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Speaking of Annie, there is a direct, positive relationship between number of spring days elapsed and how muddy Annie gets on her walks. Here in Norfolk, spring is often referred to as mud season. These photos of Annie from our walk last week are perfect examples of why.

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I’m also feeling a sense of optimism and hope now that the days are longer and there’s more sunshine. I’m still grappling with the aftereffects of the time change, but it’s much easier to get out of bed in the morning when the sun is close to first light.

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Even with all my struggles as of late with narcolepsy, I’m delighted to report that I *finally* finished a writing project yesterday I started in November! I say *finally* because I thought I would have it finished by January. That thinking was ridiculously optimistic, considering my sleep challenges, and essentially working full-time again. Nevertheless, I am now the proud writer of the first draft of an adult fantasy novel. It’s for adults who miss the whimsical world of Harry Potter but want more romance and comedy in our fantasy stories.

I still can’t believe I wrote a manuscript that is over 96,000 words. I first started this manuscript back in July of 2016. Heath had given me a writing prompt of the word box. I then remembered one of my colleagues at Benedictine University telling me she thought there was a portal to another dimension in her apartment because her cat kept disappearing. I put those two ideas together and started writing. About 35,000 words and several weeks later, I stopped writing. I felt frustrated at how long the writing was taking, and I felt scared that I would never be able to finish a story of that nature because even at that time I knew it would be somewhere around 90,000-100,000 words.

So, I put the manuscript aside and started working on other projects. I have since written 8 books (!!!), the longest of which is 56,000 words (which, fyi, is a relatively low word count for adult books, but more on target for middle grade and young adult, which I was mostly writing). I guess that’s what I needed to do because I finally felt like I could re-commit to this project. Plus, Heath kept asking me to finish writing it because he loved the idea and some early pages I had shown him.

I re-started the project on November 1, 2020, with the kick off of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). In NaNoWriMo, you’re considered a “winner” if you write 50,000 words in 30 days. I decided to start my story from scratch, but because I already knew these characters, and where the story was going, it was relatively easy for me to get those first 50,000 words. The only day I missed writing in November was the day Faith died.

After 30 days of writing sprints, my stamina petered out a bit. I made it a goal to write at least 100 words every day, just to keep momentum going. Even though 100 words a day isn’t a lot when you’re aiming for 90,000 words, it at least kept me moving forward. And, on most days, I ended up writing a lot more than 100.

Some days, I didn’t think I’d ever make it to the finish line. But on March 27, 2021, I typed the words The End and closed my computer.

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I did a victory dance around the living room, messaged Heath, and then life very quickly went back to okay, what do I do now?

At that point, it was close to bedtime so that’s what I did. For the next two weeks, I’m taking a break from writing. This blog post will be the last thing I write until April 11th. I’m kind of excited. I’ve never consciously chosen to take a break from writing like this, and I’m both terrified and relieved to give myself that kind of time.

Enjoy these early days of spring! And to those who celebrate – Have a happy Easter next week! See you in two weeks.

Spring Has Sprung! 18

View from the walkway outside the Norfolk Library

A Bold Prediction for 2020

A Bold Prediction for 2020 19

Less than two weeks into 2020, I am ready to make a bold prediction:

I, Cosmo, will be my favorite book of the year.

One look at this cover gives you a hint why.

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Okay, probably not what you were thinking in terms of bold. Except I have made it a goal to read 104 books (including picture books) so I think this is really saying something about how much I love this book.

I came across I, Cosmo, while reading Kirkus Reviews as part of my job at the library. Yes, you read that correctly: I get paid to read book reviews and then I make recommendations for which ones the library should buy.

For the purposes of my library job, I mostly stick with the adult books for recommendations since we have a children’s librarian. But when I saw the cover of I, Cosmo, I thought I’ll just take a look at this review. Here’s the first sentence: “Cosmo has the soul of a dancer.”

A story about a golden retriever with the soul of a dancer? Say no more. I already know I’m going to love this book. It’s not like I don’t already know and love two goldens in my life.

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Phyllos!

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Annie!

I bought the book the day it released on Christmas Eve at Oblong Books in Millerton, NY (the closest indie book store to Norfolk).

I, Cosmo, didn’t disappoint. Cosmo learns he has the soul of a dancer because his family leaves the TV on for him during the day and, one day, he watches the movie Grease.

This book is everything I want my writing to be. Funny, imaginative, heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking.

Carlie Sorosiak, really gets dogs and her descriptions of how Cosmo comes to make his decisions, like eating a sheepdog ornament on the Christmas tree, or inviting a stray cat into the house, seem so plausible, I’m now looking at Smudge and Faith with a renewed sense of understanding.

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Smudge!

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Faith!

I recommend this book to anyone who loves dogs. If any of you do decide to read, let me know! I would love someone with whom I could laugh about it.

Link

Happy Birthday! 25

Happy Birthday to my blog! And Happy 42nd Birthday to me!

It feels like I just wrote my second blog birthday post a few days ago. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, sure is on to something when she says, “The days are long but the years are short.”

So what have I learned this past year? Most importantly, I learned how to reincarnate.

This year, I died a metaphorical death on my Mount Everest (i.e., publishing). Nobody is more surprised about this turn of events than me. It all started back in December when I did my most recent death meditation.

During that time, I realized I was letting fear keep me from going all in with my writing.

I then decided 2019 would be my year of discipline and I would put everything I had into getting published.

So far, I’ve written a lot of new material and I’ve now submitted my manuscripts to more agents than ever before. I’ve had some requests for more material and although I receive plenty of form rejections, I’ve also gotten some really nice personalized ones. All good signs on the path to publication.

Here’s what I didn’t expect: I lost my joy for writing somewhere along the way. Talk about a kick in the pants!

Of course, there are ripple effects when you lose something you value. My sense of wonder and awe in the little things all but disappeared. My curiosity decreased. So did my sense of adventure.

I didn’t even have the heart to write on this blog for the last few months, despite some truly wonderful happenings in my life.

Since January, I have now had eight articles published in a local newspaper. Bonus: I get paid to write these!

In May, I spent time in San Antonio and Austin, celebrating graduation milestones for my nephew and niece.

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In June, an actual dream of mine came true when Norfstroms, Norfolk’s first and only salvage shed opened at the town transfer station. We had a salvage shed where I lived in North Carolina and I’ve missed having one here in town. I’ve been working with a local grassroots organization called Norfolk NET (Networking Everyone Together) and town hall to get one here. And it actually happened! You can read about it here and here.

Happy Birthday! 27

Also in June, I was invited to speak at the Norfolk UCC Congregational Church during the pastor’s sabbatical.

Happy Birthday! 28

 

As I texted Heath that morning:

 

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You can listen to the sermon here. At the age of 42, I can say with certainty that experience was one of the greatest moments in my life.

And in a few weeks, I’ll be starting a part-time job at that same church as the director of community and creativity. This is a new position designed to increase the flow of God’s love in this world through good works and relationship building. What a gift and, again — I’m going to get paid to do it!

And speaking of getting paid for fun things, I have another opportunity in the works that I can’t speak about yet. But it involves working part-time at another one of my favorite places in the world!.

Then there are the little moments these past few months: so many dogs to love and each and every moment with Heath.

Happy Birthday! 30

Cutie Pie Faith

Happy Birthday! 31

Smudge

Happy Birthday! 32

Chloe

Happy Birthday! 33

Dodger and Annie

Happy Birthday! 34

Labrador with guitar

Smudge “helping” Heath practice the guitar

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All this joy, and, yet…I let the cloud of being so hyper-focused on my publishing goal touch everything that I forgot to enjoy myself along the way. As I learned in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman, this is how people actually die on Mount Everest. They get so focused on getting to the top, they lose sight of everything else. This includes how they’re going to get back down.

The funny part is, I realized I lost my joy for writing when I couldn’t write for a few weeks.

I’m currently spending the month of July in Birdsboro, PA, taking care of the ever entertaining and adorable Bonnie and Jasper.

Happy Birthday! 36 Happy Birthday! 37

While housesitting here, I don’t have a car. Which has been mostly fine. Until my Microsoft Surface crashed.

It’s been two weeks. At first, I tried writing using apps on my phone. This is okay for jotting ideas down and short pieces, but incredibly frustrating for anything longer that requires formatting. Case in point: this blog post has now taken me over three hours to write, format, and publish. It’s for this reason, I included so few dog photos above.

I also tried writing by hand. But as someone who wrote an entire novel with a pen on yellow legal pads and has yet to type that novel up two years later, I know the futility of this practice.

So I filled my time other ways. Every day, I dance for fun and exercise, especially since it’s too hot to walk outside for very long. I stamp and watercolor, making cards and art. I watch YouTube videos to learn how to draw dogs.

My work may not be a masterpiece in the traditional sense, but I DID THIS!!

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It’s good to have the joy back in my life. I didn’t realize how hard life has been without it. And I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present!

#TongueOutTuesday

Dog standing on a rock

Last week, I attended a New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators writer’s retreat at Whispering Pines in West Greenwich, Rhode Island. In addition to making new friends, chatting with and learning from industry professionals, and eating New Orleans French Toast for the first time in my life (YUM!), I found out about something VERY IMPORTANT:

#TongueOutTuesday

How did I NOT know that every Tuesday social media encourages us to post pictures of animals with their tongues sticking out?

Special shout-out to my new friend, Kathy Halsey, a children’s book writer, school librarian, and dog mom to one Wiley Corgi, who first told me about #TongueOutTuesday.

Since I’ve been missing out for who knows how long, I am pleased to present you The Kelly Kandra Hughes #TongueOutTuesday Catch-Up Compilation. This is not an exhaustive list. If it were, we’d be here all night.

Enjoy!

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Cody, Naperville, IL

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Phyllos and Rafiki, Joliet, IL

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Lilu and Rafiki, Joliet, IL

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Lukas, Jackson Hole, WY

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Stella, St. Albert, Alberta

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Sam, Murfreesboro, TN

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Horse at the PA Farm Show

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Annie and Dodger, Norfolk, CT

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Chance Long Nose, Norfolk, CT

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Moon, Norfolk, CT

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Tobey, Norfolk, CT

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Smudge, Norfolk, CT

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Faith, Norfolk, CT

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Bruno, picture courtesy of my husband Heath, Kalispell, MT

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Dodger

PS – Are there any other animal-related social media hashtags I should know about? Let me know in the comments or you can email me at genesispotentia(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com.

Living a Simple Life: Valentine’s Day Edition

I recently contributed to an article “18 Expert Tips on Living a Simple Life” on the UPJOURNEY website. You can read the article here.

Anyone who reads this blog won’t be surprised that my expert tips include an example of a dog licking my elbow. Fun fact: Smudge did actually lick my elbow as I was writing those tips. I think he was trying to help. Smudge likes to “help” with just about anything.

Labrador on yoga mat

Smudge “helping” with my yoga

Labrador with guitar

Smudge “helping” Heath practice the guitar

That moment brought me a lot of joy. I know not everyone will share the same positive feelings about getting licked by a dog, particularly on your elbow. For me it’s a moment of pure love.

And I am so grateful to know what brings me the most joy in this world.

This sort of information is useful for when things don’t go they way you want them to. For example, two weeks ago, I found out about a small writing contest for Valentine’s Day. The contest was for a children’s story (214-word limit) with the theme of guilt. The contest was posted on February 13th and entries were due by 11:59pm on February 14th. So, not a lot of time to write something.

I set my alarm for 5:00am on February 14th. I wanted to make sure I had enough time to work on my story before my busy Valentine’s Day, which included my regular Thursday morning volunteering at Botelle Elementary School and a Pink Tea that afternoon sponsored by the Congregational Church in town in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

As I fell asleep on the night of the 13th, an idea came to me: I’ll write a story about a kid who eats all his mom’s valentine’s day candy. It will be hilarious!

My alarm clock went off the following morning and I immediately started working on my story. A few hours later I had what I thought was a great story, A Valentine’s Gift for Daddy. I went to the contest website to upload my entry. Before I did, I thought I would take a peek at a few of the entries.

I noticed one had a similar title to mine. I clicked on the story, read it, and my heart sank. It was pretty much the same story I had written, even down to the kid hating coconut!

To demoralize me even more, I scrolled through all the entries so far posted and discovered quite a few featured a kid eating all their parents’ valentine’s candy.

Yikes! Looks like I’d written a cliché.

I wasn’t sure what to do at that point, since I had to be at Botelle soon. I decided to think about it later, and I spent the next few hours celebrating valentine’s day.  Activities included delivering valentines to all the students I work with at Botelle and enjoying all manner of baked goods at the Pink Tea.

Children's Valentine' Cards

Valentine Cards for Botelle Students

Valentine's Day desserts

Goodies at the Pink Tea, Photo courtesy of Heath Hughes

Feeling like my day wouldn’t be complete without wishing Cecily and Dodger a happy valentine’s day, I walked over to their house after the tea. I wasn’t planning on taking Dodger for a walk that day, but one look at his little face and I succumbed to his charms.

I’m so glad I did. The afternoon sunlight streamed into every nook and cranny of the Barbour Woods. It was now approaching five o’clock and although I felt a moment of panic that I still didn’t know what to do about the valentine’s writing contest, I couldn’t help but marvel at how beautiful the day had turned out.

Dog running through the woods

Dodger in Botelle Woods on Valentine’s Day

As Dodger and I walked out of the woods and headed back to his home, a little idea popped into my head.

There is a place outside of town

Where trees grow up and leaves fall down ….

I immediately pulled out my phone to write this idea down in my notes app, lest I forget it by the time I walked home.

About an hour later, I finally sat down at my computer and started writing. Three hours after that, I finished my story.

Of course, if I had won the contest this blog post would have an even better ending. But I didn’t. I did get a shout-out for “lovely writing,” though.

What I did manage to do was spend time in my favorite place, with one of my favorite dogs, and then do one of the things that I enjoy in the most – write. And that, right there, is me living my simple life.

Just for fun, I’m going to include the first story I wrote for the contest. The second story ended up being something I’d like to work on later for a possible submission elsewhere. So, unfortunately I can’t share it here.

Enjoy!

A Valentine’s Gift for Daddy


Mommy and I went shopping today. She said Valentine’s Day is in tomorrow and we have to get Daddy a present.

Have you ever seen anything so perfect? We hid the chocolates in the laundry room so Daddy wouldn’t find it.

When I got home from school the next day, I went to check on his gift.

Maybe I’ll just take a peek inside.

Maybe I’ll just try one.

Bleah!

Coconut. I hate coconut.

Before I knew what I was doing, I ate another one.

Oh my goodness!

Peanut butter – did anything more tasty ever exist?

I went to practice the trumpet.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Daddy’s Valentine’s Day present.

Okay, fine. Just one more.

I mean two more.

How did I eat three, five?

Don’t do it, I told myself. There’s only two pieces left.

Uh-oh. I ate all of Daddy’s Valentine’s Day present.

Maybe if I put the box back no one will notice.

But Mommy noticed. “Do you know what happened to Daddy’s chocolates?”

I couldn’t look at her when I said, “I ate them.”

To my surprise, Mommy started laughing.

“You’re just like me,” she said. She pulled out a second box of chocolates. “These were for you and I ate them all!”

I wanted to be mad, but how could I?

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go make Daddy a card.”

He loved it!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Setting an Intention for 2019

Setting an Intention for 2019

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

I recently read a quotation attributed to Aristotle that resonated with me:

Through discipline comes freedom.

The moment I read it, I knew this idea would be my intention for 2019.

After my death meditation last month, the biggest regret I’m taking with me into 2019 are the writing goals I have yet to achieve. Because some of these goals, like being traditionally published, require circumstances beyond my control, I recognize there is only so much I can do.

At the same time, I also recognize that I did not do my best in 2018 to achieve them.

That’s where discipline as a way to freedom comes in.

I want to be free of the nagging thoughts, the procrastination, the fear that what I’m doing is not enough. So I’m taking the time now to develop a disciplined plan for my writing that, at least on my end, means that by the time we’re celebrating 2020 I will feel more at peace with the work I’ve done.

Since this is a year-long process, I’m devoting January to the planning stage. I’m deciding on my specific goals, then working backwards from December 2019 to figure out what I have to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to reach these goals.

For example, one of my goals is to write and submit 12 guest blog posts in 2019, like this one that got published in 2017. I only submitted two last year (one didn’t get published and the other is to be determined). I enjoy writing about minimalism, joy, dogs, libraries, traveling, etc., and I’d like to share my thoughts with a wider audience. This is easier writing for me, then say a novel, so I feel a nice sense of accomplishment when I crank out a blog post in a relatively short amount of time.

How this goal translates into activity, is that I can easily break it down into writing one a month, which means I need to schedule guest blog writing on my calendar for six hours each month, in two three-hour increments.

I was going to keep it at one three-hour increment, but then I recognized that I often underestimate how long it will take me to do something, and I made a change accordingly.

This one act of self-awareness made me feel pretty dang good, as if I really am more serious this time around about achieving my goals, and it’s not something I’m doing on a whim.

YAY for small wins!

I’m also feeling pretty good about my role in this process thanks to a comment made by one of my extended family members over the holidays as we were eating homemade cookies – “I’m awful at self-regulation,” this family member said.

Yes, me too! Although I’d never described my problem as being awful at “self-regulation,” before.

I’ve shared this story before, but I think it’s the best one I have to describe my limits at self-regulation. I was sitting in my therapist’s office, lamenting that I couldn’t keep my room neat and organized. “My clothes never make it into the hamper,” I complained.

My therapist started laughing. She said she was picturing my clothes marching around on the floor. Then she said something along the lines of “Kelly, who is the subject of that sentence?”

“My clothes.” I said this matter of fact, as if it was obvious.

My therapist gave me a look.

“Oh my God, MY CLOTHES.” My whole life came crashing to a halt as I realized I was the one not putting my clothes in my hamper.

I approach 2019 with a renewed sense of what I can do to reach my goals and how the choices I make either take me closer to reaching them or keep me from getting where I want to be.

My life is, and always will be, God and Kelly willing. I have complete confidence in God’s role in my life. Now, it’s time to act like I have confidence in my own.

Through discipline comes freedom.

Here I go!

Here I go!

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

A Death Meditation for 2019

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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.

Dog Photo 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 The Sweet 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

Selfie at Jasper National Park

At Athabsaca Falls, Jasper

Petting as many dogs as I can

Selfie with a golden retriever

Kelly and Phyllos

Wandering around in the woods, ideally with a dog

Dogs running through the woods

We never did learn who this yellow lab is!

Spending time with my family, especially my niece

Waving Goodbye from a Bus Window

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.

Fear.

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.

My husband with Smudge

Heath with Smudge

I look forward to the opportunity to share this journey with you in 2019. Thank you for your love and support.

For Where Your Treasure Is, There Will Your Heart Be Also

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Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

On July 21st, 2007, I read the above sentence in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. One of the characters, Albus Dumbledore, had it inscribed on the gravestone of his sister and mother.

I know the date because I bought Deathly Hallows from The Regulator Bookshop (Durham, NC) when the book went on sale at midnight. Like millions of other readers, I finished the 784 page book by that afternoon.

There was so much to process with the last Harry Potter story, that I gave zero consideration to this final epithet that Dumbledore bestowed on his family.

Then a few years later I was sitting in church and heard JK Rowing’s very words read aloud from the lectern.

Wait. WHAT?!?!?

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Turns out those words aren’t attributed to JK Rowling at all.

This mind blown feeling reminded me of my freshman year in college when I learned that Aslan the lion from C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was really a metaphor for Jesus Christ.

Sometimes I wonder what, if anything, I learned in high school. Because whatever the teachers attempted to distill into my brain did not make it very far. Of course, I did have undiagnosed narcolepsy at the time so maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself.

Maybe.

After my visit to Gettysburg National Military Park a few weeks ago, I’m now thoroughly convinced that education is wasted on the young. But I’ll save that topic for another day.

Anyway, guess who else has borrowed from Luke 12:34 and Matthew 6:21?

I’ll give you a hint: it’s a book where I fall asleep nearly every single time my husband and I start listening to the audiobook version.

That’s right – Moby Dick!

I wonder how I would have reacted if I had never realized for where your treasure is came from the Bible and instead thought JK Rowling stole it from Herman Melville.

Guess we’ll never know.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this statement as of late, especially because Heath and I are back in Norfolk. My reunion with Smudge and Faith had me nearly in tears of joy, as did the first time I went over to see my friend Cecily and walk her dog, Dodger.

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Smudge

For Where Your Treasure Is, There Will Your Heart Be Also 58

Cutie Pie Faith

As I walked through the woods with Dodger, I felt a profound sense of gratitude come over me. I am living my dreams – traveling with my husband, taking care of dogs, wandering in the woods, and writing nearly every single day.

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Dodger

How did I get so lucky?

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Luck has nothing, yet everything to do with my current life. I made the choice to give up tenure and quit teaching. I knew where my heart was and it wasn’t with being a professor. If I hadn’t made the choice to quit, I wouldn’t have been prepared for the right place/right time opportunities that came my way.

My choice is important for me to recognize because I had an encounter on my road trip where someone showed a lot of skepticism for the life Heath and I are currently leading. When this person asked how we were doing (financially) compared to when I was a professor, I said just fine.

Sure, you are, came this person’s response.

No, really. We are.

Uh-huh. Do you know what it means to be delusional?

I then told this person that maybe I wasn’t earning anything close to what my salary was as a professor. But what I have instead is more joy, happiness, and good health than I’ve ever had. Not to mention the abundant time and freedom to take an 11,500-mile road trip or walk in the woods with a dog nearly every day of my life.

So yes. I am doing just fine. Better than fine actually.

I wish I had also mentioned during this discussion that I haven’t had rent or utility payments in three years. And the houses I’ve lived in — I never could have afforded them on my salary, even as an associate professor. But I didn’t because … you know, emotions. I don’t always have my full wits about me at times like that.

If I thought the person who argued with me would be amenable, I would recommend they read Harry Potter. Or Moby Dick. Or The Bible. But I don’t think they are, so I’m not going to waste my time.

I don’t think they’ll ever realize it’s not about the money.

Instead, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on. And that’s just how I like it.

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