Author Archives: Kelly

Vote for My Happy Place! 1

Vote for My Happy Place!

One of my happy places is being in the woods, especially if I’m with a dog.

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Barbour Woods, Fall 2021

There’s a sense of freedom and hope surrounded by all the beauty where I can’t help but feel comfortable and connected to something greater than myself.

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Barbour Woods, December 2021

For most of our time in Norfolk, the Barbour Woods was my go-to spot for being in the woods. I started walking Dodger there in 2017 and then in 2020 added Annie (and occasionally Fergus) to my walks.

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Barbour Woods, June 2020

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Barbour Woods, Winter 2023

The Barbour Woods has 10 different trails, all with their own woodland charms. For example, the Old Carriage Trail has the Kilarney Bridge, the Swamp Trail has vernal pools, and the Beechwood Loop Trail has a view of Haystack Mountain.

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Barbour Woods, October 2022

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Barbour Woods, October 2021

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Barbour Woods, Spring 2022

There are few places in this world where I’m happier than the Barbour Woods.

So it gives me great pleasure to announce that the Barbour Woods is a finalist in the 3rd Annual Readers’ Choice Awards from Rural Intelligence for Best Hiking Trail.

If you don’t mind sharing your name, email address, zip code, and gender with Rural Intelligence, you can vote for the Barbour Woods every day through November 13 by clicking here.

Yes, you can vote every day in each of the categories. No, you don’t have to vote for any other category if you don’t want to.

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I’ve had a lot of professional and personal disappointments these past few months, so I’m throwing myself into campaigning for the Barbour Woods to win. As a board member of the Norfolk Land Trust and Co-chair of their outreach committee, I have access to our social media accounts. I’m posting daily reminders to vote on our Instagram Stories. It’s fun because it gives me an excuse to go through my photos and find my favorites of being in the woods.

I know it’s not much, but when there are so many things out of my control right now, it feels good to have a plan: post every day on social media and remind people to vote.

So please vote for the Barbour Woods!

Even if you’ve never been on a trail there, you can take my word for it that these woods are AWESOME.

Vote for My Happy Place! 10

Puppy Power! 11

Puppy Power!

I’ve been waking up every morning to these sweet little faces.

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Although struggling to get out of bed in the morning is one of the effects of narcolepsy I experience on a near-daily basis, I find myself motivated by these two. I’m especially motivated because they’ve been taught to ring a jingle bell hanging on the back door when they want to go out. The last thing I want is Mookie ringing the bell with such vigor that he wakes up Heath.

Mookie is quite expressive with his bell ringing compared to Willow. There’s his “fake news” ring that Heath identified a few days ago where Mookie only wants to get outside so he can turn around on the step and then come right back inside. Then there’s his ring which we describe as “aggressive” where it’s like he’s using the bell as a punching bag. Mookie means business with that ring!

His aggressive ring is usually what I hear first thing in the morning. Even when we all go down the stairs together and I have never once let him down by not opening the door, Mookie still runs over there and jumps on it like a dog on a mission.

So, I get out of bed no matter how tired I am. That’s Puppy Power, my friends.

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Puppy Power is also responsible for a trip Heath and I took to Niwot, CO, this past week. In 2018, a tweet appeared in my feed that showed an adorable doodle puppy announcing him as someone’s new love and that she was still trying to decide on his name.

So I did what any good dog-loving person would do. I responded with a suggestion.

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That’s when Laura and I started to get to know one another. In addition to having a love of dogs, Laura also writes children’s books and she used to live in Chicago. We’ve followed each other on Twitter ever since then and she also follows this blog.

Laura is a rare breed of author in that the first children’s book she ever wrote, Aliana Reaches for the Moon, was acquired by Eifring Publishing and published in 2019. She now has another book coming out in winter 2024 entitled An Accidental Hero: A Mostly True Wombat Story.

When Laura commented on my last blog post about how close Fort Collins is to where she lived, I suggested we meet in person. Laura, in turn, suggested The Wandering Jellyfish children’s bookstore in Niwot, CO.

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We met on Tuesday and had a wonderful time, hugging in person and discussing the ups and downs of children’s publishing.

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Laura is lovely and delightful and my first friend in Colorado. All because of Puppy Power. Is there anything that our love for dogs can’t do?

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For the purposes of this blog post, puppy is not a chronological term, but a state of mind.

Fall in Fort Collins 18

Fall in Fort Collins

Where did the summer go? It seems like just yesterday Heath and I were saying goodbye to my beloved dogs, friends, and community in Norfolk, CT, and saying hello to a new future that was yet to be determined

When we left Norfolk we knew we would spend 5 weeks in Colorado and then 8 weeks in Washington, with a side trip in between to see the Redwoods in California and a road trip up the Pacific Coast Highway.

At least that was the plan. We also managed to squeeze in a short housesit in the Portland area before heading to Northern California. Things unfortunately went awry when our car was broken into while we spent the night at a hotel in Crescent City, CA. Not having a window in the back of our car thwarted our trip up the Pacific Coast Highway. We recovered the best we could, enjoyed 9-weeks in the Seattle area, and even managed a few days touring around the Olympic Peninsula.

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Cape Flattery, Olympic Peninsula

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Hall of Mosses, Olympic National Park

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Ruby Beach, Olympic National Park

After that, our next steps depended on whether I had landed a new job or if we had found a place where we both thought, yes, this is it! We both want to live here.

Since I do not yet have a new job nor did we find a place we both wanted to call home, we opted to keep housesitting. Yesterday we started a three-week housesit in Fort Collins, CO.

You may be thinking – but Kelly, you slept terribly while in Denver because of altitude insomnia. Why would you want to go back?

Well, the truth is the couple we’re housesitting for asked us. I had favorited their housesit listing on TrustedHousesitters.com because 1) Heath really liked Colorado despite altitude insomnia; 2) The dogs looked cute in their photos; and 3) The house looked comfortable. I had also favorited several others, but this housesit was the only one to reach out and ask us to apply.

In a summer of rejection from agents, editors, and employers, it felt good to be wanted. So we applied and now here we are.

Everyone, say hello to Willow and Mookie.

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Willow, a 4-year-old sheepadoodle; photo by Heath Hughes

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Mookie, a 6-month old golden doodle; photo by Heath Hughes

It’s going to be a fun few weeks in Fort Collins!

Meet Bitsy! 24

Meet Bitsy!

When I applied for us to housesit in the Seattle area I knew what we were getting into: a cat, two goats, and a beautiful house with views of Mt. Rainier.

Meet Bitsy! 25

What I did not anticipate was a surprise guest who graces us with her presence on a regular basis:

Meet Bitsy!

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Bitsy was in fact the first one to greet us upon our arrival. We had turned down the wrong driveway and she met us on our way back up to the street. There she stood in all her floofy glory, alerting everyone in the area that we had arrived.

She held fast to her position to the point that I had to get out of the car and coax her out of the way.

We soon learned that Bitsy lives at one of the nearby houses, but that she comes to visit often. So much, that the couple whom we’re housesitting for have a box of biscuits from Costco and a dog brush in their garage.

During our first few days at the housesit, we would open the front door to find Bitsy lying in the sun. She acted hesitant at first, though her tail kept wagging the entire time. We would reach out to pet her, but she would dance away before contact.

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Except when offered a biscuit. Then we were suddenly her best friends.

After a few weeks, Bitsy learned to trust us. My interactions with Bitsy are how I know, 100%, unequivocally, that first and foremost, I am a dog person.

Not to say that I’m not loving my time with the other animals. Inky is such a delightful cat, Heath and I would like to clone her.

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JJ and Sumo are so silly and sweet that we’ve added goats to our future goals of when we finally have a home.

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But there is just something about Bitsy. Seeing her run down the driveway or the stone stairs and I know my day is about to get better.

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I reached a new milestone with her the other day when she let me brush her tail. The afternoon had turned to twilight and a cool breeze danced through the air. Bitsy and I spent some time chasing each other around the driveway until she plopped down and showed me her belly. I rubbed it for an appropriate amount of time before I started brushing her. I learned that if I kept one hand on her belly, I could tackle one or more tangles in her tail with a few brush strokes.

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We stayed that way for a long, long time. I haven’t felt quite like myself ever since our car was broken into in California in July and a lot of our stuff was stolen. In those moments with Bitsy, I felt content. I felt peaceful. I even felt joy at how such a simple act of brushing could soothe my weary soul.

When I asked Heath if we could plan to put Bitsy in our car on our way out of town, with the idea that no one would notice she’s missing because everyone would assume she’s visiting someone else, he replied that we certainly could. Then he added that once she realized she was no longer the Cul-De-Sac Queen, she may not be too happy about it. Of course, Heath is right.

And I (probably) wouldn’t steal someone’s dog, anyway.

Here’s to you, Bitsy, Queen of the Cul-De-Sac!

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Another Trip Around the Sun 34

Another Trip Around the Sun

Happy birthday to me and happy birthday to my blog! On August 1, I turned 46 and my blog turned 7.

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Birthday kisses from JJ, one of the goats we’re taking care of for the next several weeks.

This birthday was low-key for many reasons, not the least of which we’re still grieving for the stuff we had stolen a few weeks ago in Crescent City, CA. We spent the day working on a puzzle, which may not sound fun to everyone but Heath and I enjoy puzzles a lot.

This puzzle was especially challenging because the box only gives you a hint as to what the pieces should look like after you put them together.

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I wanted to give up at first because I thought the puzzle would be too difficult. Heath convinced me we should keep going. I’m so glad we did because it felt so satisfying when we finished.

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Working on the puzzle had the added benefit of keeping my mind worry-free. I’ve been feeling stressed lately as we try to figure out where we want to live and as I figure out what my next professional life should look like. Applying for jobs at the same time that I’m querying my latest middle-grade novel is especially demoralizing because I’m getting rejected on what feels like an almost daily basis.

It’s also demoralizing to find a job I would love in an area we’d be interested in living, only to do a home search on Zillow and see nothing available for less than $500,000. And I don’t mean nothing good available. Just nothing. No townhomes, condos, or houses. Who are the people that can afford these homes? What do they do for a living and will I ever be one of them?

The brightest part of my birthday was the cake. Heath found a bakery in Tacoma that makes custom cakes. He sent them some photos and this is the cake they made:

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Another Trip Around the Sun 39
I teared up hugging the cake designer after I saw that little face.

The cake is gluten-free, chocolate with a strawberry filling, and buttercream frosting. It’s absolutely delicious and upon eating our first slices Heath announced, “I always knew Fergus had strawberries in him.”

We’ll be in the Seattle area for the next month or so. Where we head next remains to be seen. If anyone has a suggestion, let me know! And keep in mind our camping stuff was stolen ….

 

Stolen 40

Stolen

A few months ago, I lamented how much stuff I’ve accumulated during our 6.5-year housesit in Norfolk, CT. I didn’t name any of the items in that post, but they included my sunrise alarm clock, weighted blanket, shakti mat, and various art supplies. I now find this concern kick-you-in-the-pants ironic because most of the items were stolen from our car last week.

Yeah, it totally sucks.

We stayed at The Lighthouse Inn in Crescent City, CA, after the most wonderful day of marveling at the redwoods in Jebediah Smith State Park and then watching the sunset from the top of Whaler Island. A perfect road trip day!

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When we headed to the inn parking lot the next morning, we noticed that one of the storage totes in our car was oddly out of place. “What happened there?” I asked Heath who had popped down to the car the night before to get something.

That’s when we saw the smashed window.

Stolen 44

At first, I was in shock. I went into the hotel to report the break-in (they were NOT helpful) and by the time I got back, Heath told me the news: they had taken our party boxes (amongst other things).

Our party boxes aren’t as celebratory as they sound – they’re just banker boxes filled with books, etc. to entertain us at our housesits. In my party box, I stored multiple books such as Big Magic and Doodling for Writers, our Woobles crochet-kits that we’ve been working on since Christmas, juggling balls, colored pencils, gel pens, and the stamping supplies needed for when I send Halloween cards this year. Oh, and my five-year journal. When I realized the journal was gone, I thought I might vomit.

I’ve been writing in this journal since May 19, 2021. That’s almost 1,000 memories recorded across 2021, 2022, and 2023. I recorded anecdotes about Annie, Fergus, Dodger, and my other canine buddies. There are even a few cats mentioned. There are memories of my community work and my time at the library. Favorite books I read. Hikes in Barbour Woods. Special moments with Heath. Mundane moments with Heath. Silly moments with Heath. All important enough that I didn’t want to forget them. This journal only gives you five lines per day each year, so I had to be judicious in what I recorded.

I’ve been carrying that journal in my backpack since we left Norfolk on May 15. I always bring my backpack into hotels with me because it holds my computer. On July 19, I made the decision to move it out of my backpack and into my party box to make my backpack a little lighter. So thoughtless. It never occurred to me that someone would break into our car because I knew all our valuables were with us inside. A thief wouldn’t know that. They looked into our car and saw potential.

I feel so stupid, I could cry. Again. I’ve been crying on and off since the morning of July 21.

At this point, we’ve done all the things we’re supposed to do. We filed a police report. We’re waiting to hear back from the insurance company. We found someone who could provide a temporary fix to the windshield so we could make it to our Seattle-area housesit on time (which we did). We’re working on replacing the stolen items that we need going forward, like our sunhats or underwear for Heath.

Poor Heath. He just bought five new pairs of Duluth Armachillo underwear and the thieves stole them all, from our dirty laundry bag no less.

Now the only thing left for me to do is continue to grieve. I’ve been wallowing in the misery of loss. Of the pain of knowing I made a foolish decision. Of the indignation that someone would steal from us. Of the cruelty of their actions. Of the disappointment that we didn’t drive up the Oregon Pacific Coast highway so we could get to our next housesit earlier rather than later.

So I will wallow. The grief is real and ongoing. It also lessens day by day. The only way out is through.

Stolen 45

A FUN Time of Year!

Last month was one of my favorite times of the year. No, not the first day of summer. It was the Animal Rescue League of Iowa’s Annual Poorly Drawn Pet Fundraiser.

Say what you want about Twitter (I both love and hate it), I find interesting content there. In 2022, a tweet came across my feed advertising the ARL’s Poorly Drawn Pet Fundraiser. The ARL put the “fun” in fundraiser with this opportunity because for $25 you submit a photo of your pet and then they send you back a poorly drawn portrait of your pet.

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Except …

Sometimes the artist drawing the portrait is quite good!

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The luck of the draw is partly why I love this fundraiser so much. Either way, you get a drawing that’s going to make you smile.

Last year, I submitted this photo of Fergus:

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Here’s what my ARL artist returned to me:

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This year I submitted this photo of Annie:

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How cute is this?

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Of course, I shared this fundraiser with friends I thought would be interested. As I was scrolling ARL’s portfolio of all the “poorly drawn pet portraits” this year (you can see all the portraits drawn in the 2023 fundraiser here.), I came across this one:

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I know that dog! Sure enough, Chloe’s human mom verified the portrait is in fact the Chloe I know and love.

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I’m missing my Norfolk dogs A LOT these days. We’re currently taking care of a sweet and silly cat named Bella while here in Vancouver, Washington, and I’m enjoying her company. I love how she meows as soon as I get out of bed to let me know now is the time to open the door onto her balcony. She’s not very cuddly, yet, but I did make progress yesterday morning (you can see my legs on the right side of the photo).A FUN Time of Year! 54

Here’s my own poorly drawn portrait of Bella:

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Heath took one look at my portrait and said, “Oh, she’s a potato.”

Perhaps I’ll volunteer with the ARL next June!

Lonely time, Colorado 56

Lonely time, Colorado

Where did June go? I can’t believe we only have a few days left in Colorado. In addition to taking naps and my usual writing and creative endeavors, I’ve been working on a Foundations in Positive Psychology specialization through the University of Pennsylvania. It’s a five-course sequence that provides knowledge of key theories and research in the field of positive psychology and application opportunities. Had I been aware of positive psychology in college, I’m pretty confident I would have gone into that field of study and been much, much happier in graduate school.

For anyone not familiar with positive psychology, it’s the scientific study of human flourishing. The coin was termed in 1998 (one year prior to my college graduation) by Dr. Martin Seligman who looked at the field of mental health and thought something along the lines of perhaps we should also look at ways humans can thrive with mental health, as opposed to the emphasis on mental illness, negative emotions, and maladaptive behaviors. His thinking is similar to the idea that prevention is worth so much more to our individual and collective health than treating a disease once we have it.

I’ve been informally studying positive psychology for years now so when I came across this opportunity I thought I might as well make myself legit.

My previous experience and knowledge mean I’m acing the courses, which feels good and feeds into my need for achievement.

The problem with having this knowledge formalized is that I really have no excuses for putting it into practice when I find myself languishing (the opposite of flourishing).

I’ve enjoyed being in Colorado for the most part. But I find myself feeling lonely. Earlier this year, I led a podcast discussion for the Norfolk Library of Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us podcast interview with former surgeon general Dr. Vivek Murthy. Brené and Vivek discussed the different dimensions of loneliness:

  • Intimate or emotional loneliness: the longing for a close confidant or intimate partner.
  • Relational or social loneliness: the yearning for quality friendships and social companionship and support.
  • Collective loneliness: the hunger for a network or a community of people who share your sense of purpose and interests.

I would argue that there’s a fourth dimension, spiritual loneliness (the desire to feel connected to something larger than yourself), but I’ll save that discussion for a different day.

One of the things I miss most about Norfolk is that I belonged to multiple communities within the town. I had my collective community of professional work at the library and the volunteer work I did for the congregational church, the Land Trust, Norfolk NET, and Botelle Elementary. Not to mention all the dog lovers I formed an informal collective community with whenever we would run into each other out and about in town.

I’ve often compared Norfolk in my mind to a college campus because no matter where you walk you often run into someone or a dog that you know. It’s those collective social interactions I miss being here in Colorado.

So what’s a lonely psychologist studying positive psychology to do?

That’s right — I found a sunrise photography hike at Roxborough State Park to attend in an effort to get out and meet people.

Heath initially said he would go with me. But when we received an email the night before the hike saying the amount of mud on a particular trail would refocus the hike on wildflowers instead of landscapes, Heath decided to stay home. I had to leave at 4:30 am to get there on time so I understood.

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I’m delighted to report that science wins again because the hike was exactly what I needed! For those 2 hours hiking among the red rocks, I had a small community. I met new people with a similar interest and I learned new skills, all the while being immersed in nature.

We even got to see some spectacular landscapes despite the mud:

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The next time I write a blog post I’ll be coming from the Portland metro area. My goal for the 10 days that we’re there is to find a community event, this time with dogs. If you see any of my canine buddies, especially Annie or Fergus, please give them some extra pats for me. I miss them all so much!

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Sleepy time, Colorado 65

Sleepy time, Colorado

A few years ago, I got the idea that I wanted to live in Colorado. Maybe not forever. Just to give it a try.

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This idea was much in the same vein as my desire to live on a New England beach. I even started looking for jobs in Colorado after a particularly bad night in Norfolk when multiple nights of narcolepsy-related sleep deprivation culminated with a nearby house having a loud, never-ending outdoor party (complete with DJ). I thought Heath might have to take me to the hospital to be sedated I was so agitated. The police were also unavailable to help. Seriously. I called them multiple times between 9pm and 12am, begging them to put a stop to the noise.

Anyway, I eventually recovered from that bout of sleep deprivation. But my desire to live in Colorado continued.

So when we found out our 6.5-year housesit in Norfolk was finally ending, I immediately began looking for a housesitting job in Colorado. We found one for five weeks in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, applied, and got it. YAY US!

We left Norfolk on May 14th and arrived in Highlands Ranch on May 24th. We were immediately blown away by the area.

For starters, this house is so well-designed! I could say that about the entire Highlands Ranch area. Everything seems new, as well as intentional. This neighborhood, in particular, has tons of walking trails. Not only among the houses, but also at the back of the neighborhood where trails take you through 8,000+ acres of wild backcountry.

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The only thing I found weird about the neighborhood was that after meeting many dogs, none of them were golden retrievers. I reported this observation to Annie’s human mom, which I called “highly suspicious.” Sure enough, a few days later I met two goldens. Annie apparently has magical powers to bring goldens to me, wherever we land. I always knew she was an extraordinary dog.

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Annie, the magical and extraordinary golden retriever

Now if only Annie had magical powers to fix my sleep. It turns out that sleep issues are a common problem when people move to high elevations. Highlands Ranch is over 5800 feet above sea level. Most people experience fractured sleep at night, with less time spent in deep sleep. Essentially, I have narcolepsy times two now. Suffice it to say, I am tired. Three-naps-a-day kind of tired.

So it’s probably for the best that we decided to test drive Colorado as a potential place to live. It may be beautiful, there may be a lot of dogs, and it may be fun. But none of that will matter if I can’t stay awake!

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Roosevelt & Watson, who I met at the Home Depot in Highlands Ranch

 

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That’s a Wrap….

We left Norfolk yesterday afternoon with no expectation for when we’ll return. Our 3-month housesit morphed into 6.5 years, and now it’s finally over. There have been lots of tears (me, not Heath) and lots of goodbyes.

I look forward to our future. We’re on our way to a housesit in Colorado by way of Harrisburg, PA, and Nashville, TN. The emotions of wrapping up our life in Norfolk are too raw right now for me to write about in full right now, so this blog post is all I can manage.

Most of these photos are from our going away “party” at the Berkshire Country Store on Saturday. I apprecaite eveyrone who showed up (and brought their dogs!), as well as those who offered well wishes if they couldn’t attend.

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Fergus and his humans did come to the party, but I was too busy holding him to take any proper pictures. This photo is from our actual goodbye at Fergus’s house on Sunday morning. Of the goodbyes I had to make, this is one of the hardest. It’s tied with saying goodbye to Annie and her human.

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That's a Wrap.... 79

I have nothing but gratitude and love for the people and dogs of Norfolk who stole my heart during these last 6.5 years. You have changed me forever. Thank you!