Category Archives: Life

No Mow May! 1

No Mow May!

May is almost over! I’m bummed because I’m participating* in No Mow May and I’ve enjoyed not mowing the lawn this month.

If you’ve never heard of No Mow May, feel free to read this article I wrote for Norfolk Now about it. The gist is that not mowing your lawn provides spring pollinators abundant sources for food and habitat. It’s one of the easiest conservation actions a person with a yard can take!

Not only has it been awesome not having to mow the lawn, I love how wild and free the yard looks.

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It makes me want to run barefoot through the wildflowers and dandelions. Of course I won’t because TICKS and SNAKES. But still. There is beauty here that I’m happy to appreciate from the gravel driveway.

Also something to appreciate from the gravel driveway — this little snake who was sunning themself when I came home the other day.

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I have come a long way to be able to coexist with snakes. They’ll never be my favorite animal, and I certainly didn’t want to disturb this little one. I fully recognize that I am about 100 times the size of them, and I feel confident this snake is scared of me. At the same time, I also didn’t fancy stepping over them.

Because what if I do and the snake springs forward to wrap around my exposed ankle?

You never know!

Thankfully, all I had to do was take some baby steps and they slithered away under the porch.

I will try not to think of them working themselves into the basement! Laugh, if you will, but it has happened more than once at this house.

On a more positive note, in some cultures seeing a snake is a sign of good luck. Let’s see what good fortune is going to come my way….

 

* With the approval of the homeowners! If you are a housesitter like I am, please do NOT do No Mow May without the homeowners’ approval.

Help! I’ve Been Lassoed.

There’s a new man in my life and his name is Ted Lasso.

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I’m pretty sure Heath approves because he’s the one who introduced us.

I had heard of Ted Lasso before. Headlines, especially during awards seasons, gave me some indication he might be worth getting to know. But I have enough going in my life, thank you very much.

Then on Monday, May 2, Heath put on Episode 1, Season 1 for me. He left for Planet Fitness. By the time he returned, I was done with episode 3. By Friday we were on Episode 7, Season 2.  That’s approximately 500 minutes of television watching in four days. I say approximately because episodes are between 29 and 45 minutes.

Did I know at the start of last week I would be losing over 8 hours to Ted Lasso in 4 days?

No, I did not.

Do I regret what happened?

No.

But, also yes.

I’ll start with no.

This show is outstanding storytelling. From the first episode, a viewer understands the stakes – underdog coach set up for failure. Because Ted Lasso is so dang lovable, you can’t help but root for him.

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He’s also surrounded by a cast of characters that you either love or love to hate! They’re hilarious, infuriating, pathetic, and diabolical. Yet, they’re also complete characters with their own back stories that fully integrate into the world of Ted Lasso in compelling and nuanced ways.

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After we finish season 2 and I have no choice but to wait for season 3, I want to go back and watch some of the first episodes with a writer’s eye and mind to see if I can pinpoint the who/what/when/where/how/why this show hooks viewers from the get go and wins awards. In 2021, Ted Lasso was nominated for 20 Emmys and won 7.

Here’s the problem though: 8 hours of television over 4 days is too much for me. I am a person who values rest. I like long stretches of time where I simply exist, looking out a window or lounging on a couch with only my thoughts for company. I enjoy reading books and journaling. I have writing that needs revision and unpacking that needs to be done now that I’m back at my regular housesitting house.

None of that happened last week. By Saturday, I felt so off and unfocused that I had no choice but to stop everything and go back to bed for a few hours in the afternoon to simply rest. I should know better by now.

Hats off to you, Ted Lasso. You managed to crack my carefully cultivated sense of mindfulness and well-being. It’s always a good day when I realize I’m not quite there yet.

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P.S. – Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there!

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An Unexpected Gift

Several weeks ago I received an invitation to a child’s birthday party. When I first received the invitation, I wasn’t sure I was going to attend because I suspected I would be the only one wearing a mask. The party would be indoors and crowded.
Even though I am vaccinated and boosted, I am still cautious about covid. Omicron may be predominantly mild in those vaccinated and boosted; however, of the people I know who have tested positive, quite a few speak of the fatigue they felt for weeks afterwards.
I know what it’s like to feel fatigued for weeks (years, actually) thanks to narcolepsy. The medicine I’m currently taking is kinda/sorta working, so I don’t want to chance a step backwards with covid.
As the party day approached, I decided to go and wear a mask. Case counts had been declining and I knew it would mean a lot to the birthday kid for me to attend. But now I had another concern — what to get the birthday kid as a present.
I much prefer giving experiences than things. So when I saw the Hartford Symphony had Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in Concert on their schedule for April 23 & 24, I knew this would be my gift. Not only does the birthday kid love Harry Potter (like I do!), but they also play violin.
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The plan was to pick up birthday kid at 11:00am for a 1:00pm show. I thought that would give us enough time to stop and get lunch somewhere and drive the 55 minutes to Hartford.
Around 10am, anxiety reared its ugly head. I had never been to the Bushnell Performing Arts Center. Of everything in this world that can give me anxiety, parking in unknown places is very high on the list. Especially the idea of running late and having to find a parking spot. Living in the Chicago suburbs for 8 years and driving downtown for shows will do that to you. I checked my map app and sure enough, traffic already increased the drive time by 10 minutes.
My brain whirred with mental math — if it now takes 65 minutes to drive there and we stop and eat for half an hour that only gives us 25 minutes to find a parking spot and arrive in time for the show.
ONLY 25 MINUTES FOR AN ANXIOUS PARKER IS NOT ENOUGH TIME.
I’m now texting the parent that traffic is increasing drive time. I’m going to leave now. I get in the car and go!
Except as I turn off my street onto the next crossroad, I imagine traffic getting even worse. What if traffic is so bad we don’t have time to stop for lunch?
I turn around and drive back to the apartment to get snacks.  I text the parent so birthday kid brings snacks for herself  just in case! 
 
I have now lost all the extra time I had by leaving a little bit early. I also still have to get gas.
When birthday kid and I are finally on the road, the drive time is now back to the original 55 minutes and I’m feeling much calmer because I know we have snacks.
We arrive at the Bushnell a little after noon. All my parking anxiety is quickly assuaged because the free lot that I knew about from the Hartford Symphony website is diagonal from the venue and it’s not even a third of the way full. It’s quite literally an anxious parker’s dream come true.
I’m further thrilled to learn there’s a small café inside the Bushnell. I order birthday kid the sandwich they want and I forgo the café options for my snacks because I know I’ll enjoy it more than the lunch offerings. We sit outside and people watch as all manner of Harry Potter fans stream into the area. Some are wearing wizard’s robes. All four Hogwarts houses are represented.
Thanks to the pandemic, it’s been years since I’ve done anything like this outing. I thought I would enjoy the movie and delight in the novelty of hearing the orchestra play. Both of those did, in fact, happen!
But what I enjoyed the most, the thing that ignited my soul from pandemic darkness where I hadn’t even realized just how dark it was in there because I’ve adapted to it after these two long years, was the shared experience of laughter, cheers, boos, and tears.
Over one thousand people sat in the theater with us. All wore masks. But that didn’t prevent us from cheering at Harry’s triumphs, laughing at Ron’s infatuation with the Beaubaxtons students, or gasping at the return of Voldemort.
The tears for me came when Alan Rickman’s name scrolled across the screen during the closing credits. Other people around me also expressed grief at the loss of such an iconic actor.
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I had no idea I was missing this kind of shared experienced until I was in the thick of it. It makes me wonder what else the pandemic has taken from me that I don’t even realize.
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Farm Fun and Writing!

I recently found myself in the company of my friend, two goats, and a pig.

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It’s a good place to be because I enjoy my friend’s company, Frankie and Sheldon are hilarious and adorable, and Abe R. Ham adds a certain level of drama to every situation.

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I don’t know if all pigs are dramatic or just Hammy. Regardless, he been an excellent muse as I put the finishing touches on another middle grade manuscript that I will soon be querying. Yes, it involves a pig but that’s all I’m going to say about the story.

This manuscript makes ten total (not counting picture books), or over half a million words written in my quest to be a traditionally published author. I remember when I was a child with a notebook in my bedroom and I couldn’t get past the title and the name of the main character. How do writers do this? I wondered.

As I was writing the preceding paragraph, I couldn’t remember if it was nine or ten books that I’ve written and I had to make a list to count. So now I’m laughing because look at how far I’ve come!

Me!

Kelly!

I have written ten whole books in the last six years. For the record, only four of these manuscripts are high enough quality at the moment that I could actually send them out to agents to consider.

But, still. I had a dream to be a writer and here I am six years later and that’s exactly what I’m doing. When I decided I wanted to be a writer I had ZERO books. Now I have TEN. It really is something to wake up one day and realize that you are smack dab in the middle of your dream.

I have no intention of stopping. I write because I love it! I love creating new worlds in which anything is possible. Talking dogs — yes! Dramatic pigs — of course! Magic? You bet. Happily ever after? All. Day. Long.

Now I just wait for luck and circumstance to be in my favor. In the meantime, I keep writing.

I also keep getting out there and living life to the best of my ability. Yes, I’m looking at both of you, pandemic and narcolepsy.

Because how can you look at this photogenic pig and not think he doesn’t have a story to tell?

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My Least Favorite Day of the Year

Could we please stop with daylight savings time?  Forcing me into unnecessary sleep disruptions seems cruel. I have enough sleep struggles at the moment.

I am no longer cautiously optimistic my sleep medicine is working. I know it is. I’m finally getting into deep sleep. But it’s coming at a high price in terms of other effects.

Because the medicine is a central nervous system depressant it can cause breathing issues. Not only do I now snore, but the snoring is LOUD; I have both earwitness testimony from Heath and my newly downloaded SnoreLab app. The app literally calls my snoring “epic.” I sound like an angry swarm of bees attacking an equally angry dragon.

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There have even been a few times when I stopped breathing. The medicine I take has been shown to trigger sleep apnea, so now I have a sleep study scheduled in mid-May to see how dangerous a problem I have.

I’m also back to waking up drenched in sweat every night. I had a brief reprieve when I made the switch from Xywav (the newer formula of the medicine) to Xyrem (the older formula). I had to switch because the Xywav includes an artificial sweetener as an added ingredient and I was having all kinds of GI issues as a result. I then had a few wonderful nights of absolutely no sweat. It felt glorious to wake up warm and dry! Now I wake up feeling cold, clammy, and uncomfortable. Sometimes I even have to change my shirt in the middle of the night when I take my second dose because I’m soaked with sweat.

These effects are not what I signed up for to treat narcolepsy. All I want is a good night’s sleep. And then we had to throw out a perfectly good hour this morning. I was a shaky, anxious mess this morning.

Here’s what’s keeping me going:

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Thank goodness for this little guy. I’ve had the privilege of taking care of Fergus since Tuesday. We sit on the couch together for hours. He watches out the window; I read a book. He chases his ball and I laugh. These moments are pure joy. How lucky I am to be with Fergus. He reminds me that there are still good things in life. I know because he’s one of them.

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So is Heath. He’s been super supportive. He knows the snoring and the challenges with taking Xyrem aren’t my fault. Still. I love Heath more than any other person in this world. I hate that my quest for good sleep is negatively affecting his.

Thankfully, Heath has travel plans taking him to Illinois in about a week and a half. He’ll be gone over a month. Even though I’ll miss him terribly, there’s relief in knowing that I won’t be affecting his sleep.

I don’t know if I’m going to be able to continue taking this medicine. I feel terror and relief at the thought. There has got to be a better way. I just wish I knew what it was.

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A New Achievement

In October 2021, the Norfolk Land Trust put out a call to local photographers asking them to contribute to a January and February 2022 exhibit of their trails. Now, I am not a photographer; however, I do take a lot of photos.

A lot of my photos are of Annie in the Barbour Woods, which happens to be a Norfolk Land Trust Trail. Sometimes, I even take photos of the Barbour Woods without Annie in them. She’s very fast and quite curious so she’ll zoom ahead to get in some good sniffs or bury her ball to dig it up.

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Meanwhile, I walk to catch up with her and marvel at the natural splendor around me.

The most marvelous of those places (in my opinion) is the Swamp Trail. During the spring and fall, vernal pools pop up and the beauty of the trail takes on a fantastical quality. I have probably taken close to 1000 photos of the Swamp Trail in the last 2-3 years. One of them was bound to be good.

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So I offered my photo for the exhibit.

Imagine my delight when my photo sold for $75.00!

To know that someone saw my photo and saw value in it is validating in surprising ways. I love those woods and I love being there with Annie. And I just happened to be lucky enough to be there at the right time with my smartphone to capture the way the light danced between the trees and water. I remember that day and how I felt awe and wonder at the way the woods looked. The moment felt like magic; like a wonderful gift that Annie, the woods, and I will share forever.

I took that photo and somebody saw something in it enough to pay $75.00. Yeah, that feels good.

Here’s the best part: I know the person who bought the photo. Norfolk has an abundance of good people, and this person and their spouse are two of them. I consider both my friends.

When my friend handed me an envelope today with the check, I shook my head. I wanted them to have the photo just because. My gift to them because when we eventually move, I will miss them dearly and I will miss their in-person friendship. It makes me so happy to know that photo has a home with them.

That feeling is worth way more than $75.00!

I also contributed a photo of Annie and Dodger running on the Carriage Trail.

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Because of course I did. Raise your hand if you’re not surprised.

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Life Is Good

I can always tell when my sleep is better — the number of simple joys I experience throughout my day increase exponentially.

Lately, I’ve been delighted by:

all the animal tracks in the snow;

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the way the snow accents the wreath I made;

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the light streaming through the trees in the Barbour Woods;

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shoveling snow;

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Okay, I know this one is a little weird. But lately my body and mind have been craving functional forms of fitness and shoveling snow will give me that fix every single time.

I’ve also been thoroughly enjoying walking Annie through the snow-covered woods for the same reason. It’s such a great, blood-pumping, muscle-engaging workout to walk through the ankle-deep snow.

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And last, but not least, these mashed potatoes:

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I made a low fodmap vegetable stock recipe the other day. You throw a bunch of vegetables like leeks, the green parts of scallions, carrots, parsnips, parsley, and potatoes in a big pot with water and let it simmer for an hour. Then the recipe says to strain the liquid and discard the vegetables. Heath questioned the part about discarding the vegetables. I told him, “that’s what the recipe says.”

Yet, when the time came to actually discard them I looked at the wonderfully soft potatoes and thought, surely I should mash these instead of throw them out. Which is exactly what I did. And, oh, my, potatoes! They are the most delicious mashed potatoes I’ve ever eaten, a sentiment also shared by Heath.

So that’s where I am these days. My sleep is improved enough that I find mashed potatoes marvelous. Life is good.

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A New Challenge in 2022!

This winter has been nothing short of wonky for Norfolk. December ended with warmer temperatures than usual, a lot of rain, and barely a dusting of snow. January also started off the same way. The second week of January changed everything – a few inches of snow and some chilly temperatures!

Just how chilly? On Tuesday, January 11th the temperature was -8°F with the wind chill. That day also happened to be one of my scheduled walks with Annie. I asked Annie’s mom how long she thought Annie could be out in the cold. Annie’s mom said she was more worried about me.

Pish posh! I replied (though not quite in those words). I believe that because my formative years were spent on an ice-skating rink, my blood carries a small percentage of ice in it.

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I was not at all worried about myself being in the chilly temperatures, especially when I wear the proper attire.

In the case of Tuesday’s temperatures, appropriate wear meant hat, gator, gloves, hand warmers, fleece-lined pants, LL Bean socks, Xero winter boots, and my Columbia Omni Heat coat that is filthy dirty but I remain steadfastly committed to because I only paid 75 cents for it while volunteering in Churchill, Manitoba.

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Annie and I set off with determination to complete our full loop of the Swamp Trail in the Barbour Woods. With blue skies that stretched for miles and a glorious sun for company, I felt confident we could do it.

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And I was right!

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By the end of our walk, my brain was awash in all the feel-good neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. When I returned Annie home, I reported that our walk was “the most invigorating thing I’ve done all year.”

Since the year was only 11 days old, I’m not sure I impressed anyone.

But I did come up with the idea that this walk with Annie will be the benchmark for my experiences in 2022. Anything notable that happens, I will compare it to how I felt on that cold winter’s day with Annie in the woods. By the end of 2022, I’ll have a list of my best moments.

Anyone want to guess how many will involve dogs?

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 38

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.

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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 46I call it Polar Nights. Here’s to more colorful creativity in 2022!

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Christmas Wish List 2021

My completely unrealistic Christmas wish list:

  1. The pandemic ends. Everyone who can gets vaccinated and everyone masks and socially distances until there’s no more virus transmission and not enough hosts for mutations.

That’s it. That’s the list.

I am so tired of this pandemic.

Traveling in Tennessee this past week made me realize this pandemic is never truly going away. Maybe 2 out 10 people wore masks, social distancing doesn’t exist, and the number of derogatory comments I heard about masks and vaccines broke my faith in humanity.

Heath helped build my faith back up somewhat with a well-timed and well-intentioned pep talk. But still. Those were some dark days. Some of that darkness still lingers.

Thankfully, I also currently have 24-7 access to one of the best antidotes to faith-in-humanity destruction:

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Fergus is, of course, the best Christmas gift ever. This tree is at my mom’s house.

That’s right! Fergus is back with me for the next two weeks. Thank goodness. I’m sure my heart will be brimming with light, love, and licks in no time.
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Merry Christmas to those who celebrate! To everyone else, warm winter wishes!!