Another Trip Around the Sun 1

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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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 ….

 

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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.

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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.

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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! 21

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!

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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

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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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!

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A Birthday Miracle

Dodger and I have been buddies since November 2017. At a book discussion of The Book of Joy by the Dali Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a woman I had not met before named Cecily said to me, I heard you were a dog person. She told me about her dog, Dodger, and wondered if I could walk him a few times a week.

Could I?

Why, yes! I’d be delighted to walk Dodger.

Thus began a wonderful friendship with Cecily and Dodger.

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Cecily left us too soon when she died last June, and the search began for a new home for Dodger. We couldn’t take him because of our perennial status as housesitters. We haven’t had a home of our own in years.

Thankfully, Dodger found a loving and devoted foster family where we expect he’ll live out his days. He even has two senior dog companions that are super agers (15 and 18). I couldn’t be happier for Dodger.

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Dodger with foster sister Shiloh (age 15)

My only sadness around this situation is that Dodger no longer lives in the center of town. The foster family has made it clear that I’m welcome at any time. Just come on over, they say. But with my busy schedule, I can’t just pop in to say hello multiple times a week.

I especially missed Dodger this past week. His 14th birthday was on Wednesday, April 19th.

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I texted his foster mom to wish him a Happy Birthday. Unfortunately, Heath and I were down to one car as the other was getting detailed, so I couldn’t see him for a birthday visit.

Instead, I spent the afternoon with Annie. Heath dropped me off at Annie’s house and we went on our usual sojourn through the Barbour Woods. We had a great time!

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Because I didn’t have a car, I walked home going through the woods. In my six and a half years living in Norfolk, I’ve never walked home that way before.

Who should I see at the end of the Carriage Trail?

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That’s right! A birthday miracle if I ever experienced one.

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Happy Birthday, Dodger! You’re a good boy.

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In Celebration of My Friends! 55

In Celebration of My Friends!

When Heath and I moved to Norfolk six-and-a-half years ago, I immediately looked to connect with local children’s book writers. I soon learned that Norfolk doesn’t always have a “local” option, and I ended up finding writers who belonged to a Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustators critique group that met at the Simsbury Library.

We read and constructively criticized each others’ work, attended conferences and retreats together, and supported each other through twists and turns on our respective paths to publication.

These last few weeks have brought some successes for my friends, and I’m so grateful to have been a part of them before we leave Norfolk in just six short weeks.

At the beginning of May, my friend Lynn celebrated the launch of her debut middle grade book, Chester and the Magic 8 Ball. I read chapters of Chester years ago. It’s about a toothless rescue dog who can predict the future with a Magic 8 ball.

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Author Lynn Katz

Of course, I loved the story and I never gave up that Chester would someday be published.

I’m not the only one who loved the story, as it got a starred Kirkus Review. Here’s a snippet from the review: An uplifting middle-grade story that meets sadness head-on and cuddles up to what’s important in life.

As a writer, a starred Kirkus Review is a big deal and I am so happy for Lynn.

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Left to Right: My handsome husband Heath, Me!, book coach Christy Yaros, Author Lynn Katz, Pam Kelly, Author Mary Munson, Rebecca Smith-Allen, and author Karin LeFranc.

This past Saturday, my friend Mary celebrated the launch of her debut picture book Love Will Turn You AroundThis bright and colorful story is about a heart who wakes up not feeling quite like himself. With the help of some well-meaning friends, all who are different shapes, Heart is able to turn himself right side up.

Mary’s book launch was a rousing success, complete with a rapt audience and lots of laughter and smiles.

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When Mary thanked me for coming (it was a 48-minute drive), I told her, Of course! You’re never going to be a debut author again. 

Six-and-a-half years ago, we were writers with dreams of being published as we sat in a conference room sharing our work and hoping that maybe this would be the manuscript that got us past the traditional publshing gate. Two of us have made it! Here’s to more successes and more books in our future!

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Left to Right: Author Lynn Katz (Chester and the Magic 8 Ball), Author Mary Munson (Love Will Turn You Around), Author Nancy Tandon (The Way I Say It; The Ghost of Spruce Point), and me!

 

A Delightful Surprise! 60

A Delightful Surprise!

Check it out:

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I’m excited about this presentation because:

  1. I’m enthusiastic about the topic.
  2. I already finished the first draft and so I have plenty of time to refine and practice it.
  3. I get paid for it! Thank you Woodbury Library.
  4. The invitation to present magically appeared in my inbox several weeks ago.

When I say magic, I don’t mean the Harry Potter type magic I wish was real. This is the kind of magic that Roman philosopher Seneca spoke about when he said, “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

In January of 2020, a friend who knew about my interest in minimalism got me an invitation to present at the Scoville Memorial Library. I presented The Psychology of Stuff: Why We Have So Much and What We Can Do About It to a standing room only crowd. I thought maybe 20 people would show up.

That presentation snowballed into several others, and then I lost steam because of the pandemic, grief over losing my Dad and Smudge within days of each other, uncertainty around life goals, and poor sleep health. I was okay with that outcome and accepted the situation as it was.

Meanwhile, someone saw an article that had been written about my Psychology of Stuff presentation. They tore it out of the newspaper and kept it. For three years! They recently contacted the Woodbury Library for my email and then scheduled me to present for their organization in April. YAY for that!

The Woodbury Library also sent me an email asking if I still presented. I said yes! I’ve been leading a personal growth group for three years that was a result of the original Scoville Memorial Library presentation. I have plenty of new knowledge to share, as well as significantly more personal experience.

I’m delighted to present Spring Cleaning Hacks: How to Get Started When You Don’t Want to this week at the Woodbury Library. It combines so many areas of life that I love: psychology, mindfulness, well-being, productivity, and time management. Even though I am exhausted because of daylight savings time and the typical sleep problems associated with having narcolepsy, I feel energized to share this knowledge with the Woodbury Library patrons.

If you’re in the Woodbury area, stop on by! And if you’re not, you are always welcome to ask your library to extend me an invitation to present.

End notes:

Shout out to the person who sent me the above newspaper clipping: THANK YOU!

Second shout out to Heath Hughes who took that great photo of me.

Also, here’s a picture of Annie because it doesn’t feel right to have zero dog pictures in my blog post. I love the fan of her tail and the swoosh of her ears!

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Every 10 Years... 63

Every 10 Years…

A few weeks ago I attended a Society for Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators Conference in New York City.

I debated for weeks if I should go. The conference itself is expensive, especially if you schedule a professional critique (which I did). I’m also not a fan of NYC because I find the people, noise, pollution, and general BIG CITY ENERGY exhausting.

This would also be my first conference since before the pandemic. I haven’t used my brain in ways this conference would require FOR YEARS. There’s been no navigating a subway system or reading train tables or walking along city blocks. Any trips I have been on always included Heath, my best and favorite co-pilot.

Heath, however, needed to stay in Norfolk because we were taking care of Fergus for the month, so I was on my own.

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The conference itself took place at the Mid-town Hilton. I, however, opted to stay at my friend’s uninhabited apartment on the upper west side, which she so generously offered me. I celebrated my economical ways at the time of planning my conference trip, as well as my good fortune for having a friend with an apartment that overlooked Central Park.

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What I did not take into account was what it would be like to be at an all-day conference and not have a hotel room an elevator ride away in which I could take a nap. My friend’s apartment was two subway lines and approximately 30 minutes away.

So by the time I found myself in NYC for the conference, grumpiness had infiltrated every nook and cranny of my attitude. I did not want to be there. I did not want to be trapped in a windowless, below ground conference room for two days. I did not want to make small talk. I did not want to have to pay attention and focus on someone speaking for hours at a time.

Yet, I did anyway. I paid for the conference, and, by golly, I would participate.

By the time I got back to my friend’s apartment that Saturday night, I wanted Heath to come pick me up. Nothing about the experience was what I wanted, and I didn’t think it would get better.

Spoiler alert: I was right. About the conference.

But something unexpected did happen. That night in my friend’s apartment, I had an AMAZING night’s sleep. I woke up on Sunday morning feeling like a new person. There was no tiredness. No reluctance in getting up. No fractured sleep to weigh me down. No traumatic dreams to work through.

How did that happen? Not only was I in a bad mood, but the apartment was hot. I had forgotten my ear plugs. I ate deviled eggs I had bought at Whole Foods and gobbled a few up right before bed. Everything about my environment and my choices suggested a poor night’s sleep.

By Sunday night, I was back to truly awful sleep. Since then, I’ve had a few nights of okay sleep. But nothing like the magical 9+ hours I had in NYC.

Back in 2007 when the final installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, At World’s End, came out in theaters, I became incensed by the ending. I had invested four years in that story only for Keira Knightley’s character, Elizabeth Swann, to be separated from Orlando Bloom’s character, Will Turner, for the rest of her life. Oh, wait. No. He could visit her EVERY 10 YEARS.

That anger is how I feel about my sleep right now. Because the last time I had sleep equivalent to what I had in NYC was in October 2013 when I was dogsitting in Naperville, IL.

Have I been cursed to only get good sleep every 10 years?

I hope not. I can’t decide if my magical NYC sleep is a good thing or not. It’s awesome to know my body is capable of that kind of sleep. But for it to be so elusive, so unpredictable, and so unattainable on a regular basis is cruel.

I started having sleep trouble when I was three years old. Enough is enough, already.

Though I can’t help but wonder – what if living in NYC has been the answer all along for a good night’s sleep?

For someone who loves the woods, the mountains, and the rugged New England coast, that would be quite the kick in the pants. I don’t think we’re going to up and move to NYC any time soon. But it will be interesting to see if I can figure out what made that night so special.

If you have any hypotheses, please let me know!