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Beary Good!

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there!

I’m especially grateful to the mama bear of this baby bear!

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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!

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Here’s a bear crossing in front of me while out for a walk!

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Here’s a bear looking at me as I snap their picture from the safety of my car!

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And, of course, the baby bear in the yard!

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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.

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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!

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April (Snow) Showers

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).

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

If you’re in the Norfolk area, the American Red Cross will be at the Church of Christ (UCC), Congregational, 12 Village Green, from 1:00-6:00pm. If you’re not in the Norfolk area, check out the American Red Cross website for a blood donation drive near you.

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.

Happy Sunday everyone!

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Good Thing I’m Not a Hack!

Two weeks came and went, and I stayed true to my word not to write anything these last two weeks. Some days were harder than others to keep my commitment, especially when a new story idea popped into my head and I wanted to get cracking on the outline. Nevertheless, I stuck with my plan to give my writing creativity and imagination the break it needed.

I’m glad I did because I was reminded that I can, in fact, be considered an expert in matters of wellness, including work/life balance and stress management, when I re-read a roundup that I contributed to several weeks ago. Good Thing I'm Not a Hack! 19

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Here was my answer:

Some healthy habits people can adopt to cope with stress during the pandemic are to keep a consistent schedule (the best you can) and schedule playtime. There are a lot of uncertainties during the pandemic, both in our local community and global one.

We keep waiting for “one more shoe to drop,” in what can feel like a never-ending string of negative events. There’s a feeling of helplessness that comes with these uncertainties, and the truth is the only aspect of the pandemic we can control is our response to it.

By keeping a consistent schedule, we are sending our brains a mental signal that we are still in control and this signal can reduce some of our feelings of stress and anxiety. The consistent schedule doesn’t have to be micromanaging your day down to the minute.

It can be as simple as getting up and going to bed at the same time each day, walking your dog in the woods every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon at 3pm, or sitting down for lunch every day and taking an actual break for 15-20 minutes.

These tiny rituals may not seem like much, but your brain is going to find them quite soothing. Also, because there is so much doom and gloom in our lives, it’s equally important to add planned playtime into your schedule.

Because of the pandemic, a lot of our go-to social activities are no longer available. Having planned playtime gives us something to look forward to, which boosts the amount of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, created in the brain.

So, you do not just get a dopamine boost from the playtime itself, but also the anticipation leading up to it.

Read all the answers in the expert panel here.

After reading my answer again several weeks after writing it, I felt reassured that I do take my own advice. I have no photographic evidence of me going to bed at the same time and getting up at the same time, nor do I have evidence of sitting down and taking a few minutes for a lunch break, but I do of course have ample photographic evidence of walking a dog in the woods in the afternoon.

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What? Can’t find Annie in this photo? Here’s a video that may help.

I also have evidence of scheduled play time. It’s always a treat for me to spend time on the farm with my friend Katherine, Abe R. Ham the pig, and the goats. Zorro, who is getting older and suffering from arthritis didn’t come out to see me, but I got plenty of time with the little ones, Frankie and Sheldon.

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Frankie and Me

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Sheldon

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Abe R. Ham

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Zorro in his younger years

In looking at my calendar for the coming week, I realized I don’t have any scheduled play time lined up. Hmmm. The possibilities! Maybe I’ll hula hoop. Maybe I’ll watch the salamanders swim in the pond. Maybe I’ll color. Maybe I’ll sit and stare out the window watching all the cute woodland creatures snack on the birdseed I sprinkle outside in the morning since I can no longer keep a birdfeed up thanks to the bears currently out and about.

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Watch a video of this little squirrel here!

It’s fun thinking of all the possibilities. And if you have any suggestions, let me know!

P.S. – If you didn’t have time to watch the video …

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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.

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View from the walkway outside the Norfolk Library

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And So It Begins … Again

Today marks my least favorite day of the year. For people with narcolepsy, daylight savings can wreak all kinds of havoc on our already precarious sleep-wake cycles. If my past is any indicator of my future, It will take me weeks to recover from this loss of one hour.

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Morning #1 of Daylight Savings 2021

In the meantime, I hold onto the small things in life that bring me joy. Here are two examples:

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First, meet Fergus! I had the delightful privilege of caring for this little fella for a few days recently. For such a small dog, he has taken up a big space in my heart.

Second, the artwork! The Norfolk Library is known for its rotating art shows. During the pandemic, the Library featured several shows from Norfolk Artists & Friends, a community of visual artists in Norfolk. When this piece was displayed in December/January, I told the artist, Hilary VanWright, how much I loved it — the colors, the message, the exuberance. When it came time to take the show down, Hilary gave the piece to me. Just like that! She didn’t have room for it and she knew how much I appreciated it. Every day I look at this art and I feel not only gratitude, but encouragement to keep going.

Since it’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, here’s another small thing that has brought me joy lately:

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The president of the Norfolk Library Associates brought in shamrocks for us to give to patrons. I love coming into the kitchen every morning and seeing the bright pop of green and the lean of the flowers towards the sun.

That’s what I’ll be doing these next few weeks. As I try to work within my disabled sleep to get back on schedule, I will lean into the longer days of sunlight. I know I’ll make it through these next weeks no matter what. But it’s good to have a literal beacon of light guiding me forward.

Stay rested, my friends! And may the luck o’ the Irish be with you this week.

 

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Happiness Is …

Happiness is …

the many states of Annie’s ears!

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I know it’s not much, but time with Annie is always golden (haha!). I hope you all have an Annie (or equivalent) in your lives.

Put A Lot of Love in the World

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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May we all be lucky enough to know the kind of love that Annie has for the balls in her life.

Although I do agree with the critics that Valentine’s Day is a made-up holiday, I am always an advocate for anything that adds more love to this world. Examples include my feelings for Heath, dogs, and polar bears, and, yes, that order is correct.

On Friday Heath and I celebrated five years of marriage. I know some people were quite skeptical about marrying someone after only three weeks of knowing each other, but not a day goes by that I don’t marvel about our love and how everything is working out.

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Our wedding day, Friday, February 12, 2016, at the courthouse in Nashville, TN.

To celebrate our anniversary, I asked one of my favorite Internet dogs, Casper, to film a Happy Anniversary video to Heath via Cameo. Heath is the one who first introduced me to Casper and his sister, Daisy, and their TeamCasp47 account is the only reason I have a TikTok account. They are the only account I follow, and I think it goes without saying that I am here for talking dogs being silly and mischievous.

You can watch our anniversary video here:

If you watched the video and didn’t understand the reference about the Elvis glasses, I asked if Casper could wear them in the video since the first words Heath ever said to me was to sing I’ll have a blue Christmas with you, but Casper wasn’t having it the day the video was filmed. Heath and I also like to indulge our sweet tooths with chipwiches from Dee’s One Smart Cookie in Glastonbury, and the day we got married we fell asleep watching Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in what was one of the best naps of both of our lives. It is also my dream that someday we are a family with six dogs!

Since I’ve mentioned both Heath and Dogs, it seems only fitting to also write something about polar bears and how much I love them. Well, I’m going to do one better and share with you an invitation to a program I’m giving in conjunction with our town’s annual winter festival, Winter WIN. This year the festival is virtual, and I offered to present Adventures with Polar Bears on behalf of the Norfolk Library.

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Here’s the description from the Library’s website:

Join us on Sunday, February 21, at 4:00 p.m., to find out what it’s like to live among polar bears, one of the world’s cutest, yet most dangerous animals.  In the fall of 2018, polar bear enthusiast Kelly Kandra Hughes spent seven weeks living at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre, in Churchill, Manitoba, as a polar bear season volunteer.  Known as the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill is the destination for over a thousand polar bears every migration season. This presentation provides an overview of Kelly’s time in Churchill and the surprising truths she learned about eco-tourism and life in sub-arctic Canada. Please register here to be emailed the Zoom link.

Finally, since this whole post is about love I’m sharing with you an initiative I’m working on as the Director of Community & Creativity at the congregational church in Norfolk. This year for Lent, we are adding more love to the world by offering daily loving kindness meditation.

If you’re not familiar with loving kindness meditation, it’s when you think of a specific person (whom you may or may not know, and whom you may or may not like) and send positive thoughts and love their way. Every day during Lent and Holy Week, we created a guided meditation with a specific person in mind, for example, a friend you haven’t seen in while or someone who has hurt you in the past.

Here are the opening pages from the devotional:

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If you’d like to access the full daily devotional, you can do so here. It’s a large file because of all the photographs, so you’ll need to download it before you can view it. Feel free to share it with whoever you think may enjoy adding more love into the world over the next few weeks.

 

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Annie Is Winning ….

Winter is upon us! A blanket of snow has covered Norfolk for many weeks now, and we’re gearing up for a winter storm tomorrow which is predicting an additional 12-18 inches of snow.

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Being the winter lover that I am, I’m still getting out a few times a week to walk Dodger or Annie.

Both Dodger and Annie run with abandon through the woods, stopping to poke their noses in snow drifts, and ever so often chomping up a mouthful of snow when the mood strikes. One of the differences between them is Annie usually brings a ball on her walk while Dodger does not. I suspect it’s the retriever in her versus Dodger who just wants to show off his border collie agility skills.

Both dogs, in my humble opinion, are super-duper smart. Sometimes when I get lost in my imagination and debate who would be valedictorian in Kelly’s World of Dogs, it’s a tough choice. For example, look at how Dodger sits and stays in the car until I tell him to go:

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I know the picture isn’t that impressive, so you can watch the video of Dodger showing off his “stay” skills here.

But in one way Annie has outshone my other beloved canine buddies simply because of how she approaches her ball on our walks.

Annie has a bazillion balls to choose from when we start. Usually, there’s already a few out in the yard, and she’ll scoop one up and bring it to me. I throw it, she chases, and then we continue our walk until the process repeats itself.

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Sometimes, I’m not fun enough for Annie and her ball. When that happens, she’ll set her ball on the ground, push it beneath a log, under an upturned tree, off the creek bank, etc., and then work like Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel trying to get it back.

You can watch Annie show off her digging skills here.

Most of the time, she’s successful. She’ll scoop up the ball again and be on her merry way.

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Every so often, though, the ball is lost. It gets taken upstream, it gets pushed into a deeper hole, or sometimes a mole absconds with it. The last one is pure speculation, but it’s the only reason I can come up with for why sometimes her ball vanishes.

I also think it’s hilarious to imagine that a gang of moles have an underground network of tunnels in the Barbour Woods waiting to steal Annie’s ball.

Nevertheless, Annie tries to get her ball back. But after a few minutes, she decides, no, that’s okay. I’ll continue on without it. And then she does! Tail wagging, happy smile, Annie takes off into the woods, leaving the lost ball behind. I don’t think she actually misses it for even one second.

Here’s the weirdest part about Annie and her ball – nine times out of ten, she’ll find another ball somewhere in the woods! We’ll be walking along, me marveling at the beauty of the Barbour Woods, Annie zooming down hills, over tree stumps, and tackling over-sized sticks, and before I know it, she returns to me with another ball in her mouth.

Is it the same ball as before? Nope! Does it matter to Annie? Not at all.

We continue our walk, she occasionally lets me throw the ball for her to chase, and eventually we return to where we started.

Annie and her ball are an excellent primer for learning how to let go: Leaving something behind can be so hard, yet Annie does it with aplomb. She never knows where that next ball is going to show up, yet she almost always finds it.

What are we unable to let go of?

What could be waiting for us up ahead when we do?

A life lesson for us all, I think.

Looks like Dodger is going to have to up his game!

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My Greatest Achievement in 2020 (Debatable)

Meet Koda!

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I snapped this picture in the Norfolk Library on November 10, 2020. Naturally, I posted it to the Dogspotting Facebook group to which I belong. The sole purpose of the group is to post pictures of dogs we’ve never met before and share their awesomeness with others.

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A few days later, over four thousand people had liked this photo.

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I didn’t have much to celebrate in 2020, but I will always have Koda.

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Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2021 Edition

Now that it’s 2021, it’s time for my annual death meditation. This is my fifth year in a row of imagining how I would live if I knew 2021 would be my last year on Earth, and thanks to the gut-punch-then-kick-me-while-I’m-down year that was 2020, thinking about my death this year has been quite different from past death meditations.

I experienced a staggering amount of loss and grief in the last year. It started early on with learning about Faith’s liver tumor in January, followed by the loss of Oscar Meyer Weiner Dog a few weeks later.

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In February, we lost the incomparable Eve Thew, one of my first (and dearest) friends in Norfolk.

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In March, the whole world changed as COVID-19 spread and we, humans, made it significantly and substantially worse than it had to be. Heath and I had to temporarily leave our Norfolk housesitting job, which meant I had to say goodbye to living with my beloved Smudge and Faith for the foreseeable future.

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In June, my father went into the hospital after an acute attack of his nervous system by his own immune system. The doctors diagnosed him with Guillain-Barrè syndrome. While in the hospital, he also suffered a heart attack and contracted pneumonia. When he was released a month later, it was to come home to die.

My father died in the early morning hours of July 19th. Eight people attended his funeral, and nine people attended his burial three months later on a freezing cold and wet day in late October.

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Four days after my dad died, Smudge unexpectedly collapsed. The vet recommended immediate euthanasia. I said goodbye through video messenger because that was the only option I had.

Then, on November 14th, I said a final goodbye to Faith. I had moved back into our Norfolk housesitting home on November 12th. All through the summer when I visited Faith, I asked her to please hang on until I moved back. With all the loss this year, I didn’t think I could handle losing her, too, and not being there.

On November 12th, I brought an overnight bag to get me through until the weekend. That Saturday, the 14th, Faith and I woke up together. We sang our going down the stairs song, which I created one morning while walking down the stairs back when we took care of four dogs – Tobey, Smudge, Faith, and Moon – and their tippy tappy paws provided a nice accompaniment. It goes a little something like this,

We’re going down the stairs

Without any cares

Not wearing underwears

It’s time to eat some food

We hope that it is good

If not, then we’ll be rude

Faith and I had a nice morning together. I snuck her lots of extra turkey slices every time I went into the fridge, because I thought she was looking a little thin. We went for a walk about around the pond and up and down the driveway. I even snapped a picture to send to her human mom and described Faith as being “very frisky on this chilly day!”

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I then went over to our apartment to pack up the rest of my belongings since I had only brought that overnight bag for the first few days.

When I got back to the house, Faith watched me make five trips back and forth from the car. I set my belongings on and around the dining room table. That’s our staging area for whenever we leave or come back to this house. Faith has watched me do this unpacking at least a dozen times in the past.

She died less than three hours later. It was like she knew I had *finally* moved back to the house and she had fulfilled my request to please hang on until I got back.

As Faith lay dying, I lay next to her. Heath sat by her head. We both put our hands on her, giving her all the love we could. I stroked her little ears, scratched her head, and petted her back. I told her my favorite stories of our time together. I told her that she would be with Tobey, Smudge, and Moon again very soon.

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I thanked her for the chance to love her and to live with her these last four years. That she brought so much joy and happiness to my life. And that it was her little face, more than Tobey’s or Smudge’s or Moon’s that I fell in love with at first sight on the TrustedHousesitters.com website that made me say to Heath, “Look at how cute this dog is! Let’s apply for this job.”

Losing Faith after losing so many other people and dogs this year was right in line with how awful 2020 was. At the same time, my love for and loss of Faith has instilled in me the mantra I want to take forward into 2021. We spent a perfect last day together. We filled it with love and fun and some of our favorite activities.

I didn’t know when I woke up on Saturday morning, November 14th, that it would be the last time I woke up with little Faith asleep next to me on her dog bed.

I didn’t know it would be our last time singing down the stairs.

That it would be our last parade up and down the driveway.

That it would be the last time I said, “let’s go to bed,” and then wait for her to walk up the stairs with me.

I didn’t know that my life would change (again) forever that day.

And it didn’t matter that I didn’t know because I enjoyed every single moment of that day with her. I loved her. I appreciated her. I thanked God for letting us be together again.

So, as I think about my own death and what, if anything, I would do differently if I knew 2021 was my last year on Earth, I think about that last day with Faith. I take that day with me going forward. That day with Faith will serve as my guideposts for how I want to live in 2021 – quality time with those I love, enjoying the quiet moments of our lives, and knowing and expressing just how grateful I am to be there.

Hello, 2021. Welcome to my year of Faith.

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