Yesterday I did something I’ve never done before — I attended the Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Society Annual Show and Sale. It’s the society’s 37th year of running the show/sale — who knew?
Apparently many, many people. When my friend and I made plans to attend, we decided leaving at 8:55am would give us plenty of time to get Bristol before the doors opened at 10:00am. The Society promised a free plant to the first 50 families each day and we felt confident we would be one of the first in line.
We arrived shortly after 10am to a parking lot jam-packed with cars. A line of people spilled out the doors of the Bristol Senior Center. People exited the doors with plants already in their hands or clustered in a box.
Turns out we had NO IDEA what we were getting into. I expected maybe 10 people would be there and maybe a few tables with plants.
Wall-to-wall plants and so many people that I ended up trapped in a corner at one point and couldn’t get out for over three minutes. Thank goodness almost everyone was wearing a mask! I haven’t been in a crowd like that since before the pandemic. Add that to my high levels of introversion and I was ready to go 1.5 hours later.
Thankfully, I had Annie waiting for me when I got back to Norfolk since I’m taking care of her for the week. We played multiple rounds of fetch.
I learned the secret to fetch with Annie is to always have 2 or more balls ready to throw. I also learned that when Annie gets tired of running, she trots towards the woods with her ball and buries it in the leaves only to dig it up and bury again.
After about two hours of playing (and resting), I left Annie home while I went to the Norfolk Library to attend a Celebration of Ukrainian Song and Dance. It was again a large crowd and the dance company had 14 dancers total. All the dances were lively with clapping, stomping, twirling, and jumping.
I enjoyed myself; however, by the end of the hour I again felt all my energy had drained. Thank goodness (also again) that I had Annie waiting for me at home. The rain had finally stopped and we headed out for a walk.
The Barbour Woods served as the perfect antidote to the crowds, noise, and overwhelm from earlier in the day. I didn’t even mind when a gentle rain fell from the sky. On the contrary, I lifted my head to the tree tops and let the drops splash my face. I felt refreshed and renewed.
When the rain stopped a few minutes later I whispered, “Come back.”
The rain didn’t come back, but Annie and I kept walking. Quietness surrounded me, except for the sloshing of my boots through the mud and leaves. With every step I took, I became more at ease until finally a sense of peace and joy had replaced the overwhelm from earlier.
Being with Annie in the woods was exactly what I needed it to be.
If you remember from earlier this year, I had a walk with Annie on a very cold winter’s day that I pronounced “the most invigorating thing I’ve done this year.” I was going to use that walk as benchmark for all other notable events this year. That walk still remains my most invigorating moment, followed by the walks I took in the aftermath of the ice storm. This walk also makes the list for the way it rejuvenated my spirit after such a draining day.
Thank goodness for walks. And woods. And dogs.
I recently found myself in the company of my friend, two goats, and a pig.
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.
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!
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?
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Because of course I did. Raise your hand if you’re not surprised.
I have re-discovered a new form of exhaustion! The good news is that this re-discovery means I’m sleeping well enough to notice. The bad news is that, well, I’m exhausted. I’m calling it bone-weary tired because it’s not just mental. This tiredness has seeped into my infrastructure. It comes with the territory of being a housesitter.
After fifteen consecutive months in the same housesit (phooey to you, covid), the owners finally made it home from being abroad. Fifteen months is a long time to housesit, and the effort and diligence of packing up, moving out, and making sure the house was ready to welcome their family home took several days of nonstop work. Up early. Late to bed. Oh, and also work at the library in the meantime.
Did I mention the ice storm? Yes, because there was also an ice storm that hit Norfolk on Friday, February 4. The storm itself was nothing special. Except a few tree limbs hung so low in the driveway that for three days, I couldn’t drive it.
Packing your car is not easy when you have to walk approximately an eighth of a mile one way on solid ice. Nevertheless, I did it. It helped to have the best form of motivation — mother nature in all her icy glory!
In the days following the ice storm, Norfolk turned into a sparkling ice palace thanks to the thick coating of ice everywhere and the brilliant blue skies and sunshine. I’ve never been so happy being so exhausted.
As I walked up and down the driveway over and over, I marveled at the wonder around me.
I also had my buddy Fergus as a companion, but I’m not sure he appreciated the splendor as much as I did. He likes to run, sniff, and be as cute as possible.
So even though I’m bone-weary tired, I got to spend a lot of time outside enjoying myself. I also chuckled to myself more than once to be careful what you wish for. As you may recall, in my last blog post I was craving functional fitness. I certainly got it this past week, and then some.
I’m also keeping track this year of invigorating experiences since I had one early on. The standings so far:
Most Invigorating: My walk with Annie dog in the woods on January 11
Runner Up: Packing up my car after an ice storm, February 5-6.
Starting on Thursday, I have five days of vacation. They cannot get here soon enough. My bones and brain need it. And the best part — I’ll be with my buddy Fergus the entire time.
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;
the way the snow accents the wreath I made;
the light streaming through the trees in the Barbour Woods;
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.
And last, but not least, these mashed potatoes:
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.
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.
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.
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.
And I was right!
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?
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:
- How would you fill in the blank — Before I die I want to __________?
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I call it Polar Nights. Here’s to more colorful creativity in 2022!
My completely unrealistic Christmas wish list:
- 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: