With approximately ten weeks left to our time in Norfolk (we’ve been given an April/May departure from our long-term housesitting job), I’ve been savoring some of my favorite activities. At the top of my list of favorites is walking Annie.
I especially enjoy walking Annie in the wintertime. Cold feels exhilarating to me and the Barbour Woods look especially magical when covered in snow. Add in a blue sky and you’ve got a winter wonderland that’s perfect for romping.
On our usual walk this past Tuesday, I didn’t want the experience to end. Annie was having a great time zooming around and I was enjoying the extra solitude that snow brings to the woods.
But, I also had other places to be that afternoon and other things to do.
So the question became: should we take a second trail for a longer walk or should we head home after our usual romp around the Swamp Trail?
Friends, we took a second trail. Annie and I headed to the Beechwood Loop for an extra romp.
I’m so glad we did.
The number of romps we have left together is finite. Even if we came back to Norfolk in January to visit, who’s to say Annie or I would be healthy enough to take a longer walk. Or maybe the ground would be too icy. Or maybe there wouldn’t be any snow.
Should I take the longer walk with Annie?
These 10 weeks are going to go by way too quickly.
I think about death often. I’m sure many people do.
Sometimes the thoughts are with fear of the unknown. Having been raised Catholic, I’ve experienced more than enough trauma at literal interpretations of hell, and if I could change one thing about this world it would probably be not to scare children with eternal damnation. They have enough to worry about these days with gun violence, pandemic lives, climate destabilization, racism, and a dysfunctional government that includes politicians who make it clear that some of them (ie, BIPOC, queer, disabled) are worth less than others.
Occasionally I think about death with wonder. That’s usually when I’m in a good place spiritually. Those days are few and far between lately, and I suspect it’s from chronic stress due to poor sleep, capitalism that requires people to work to have quality health insurance, and lack of affordable housing in Connecticut.
Since my dad died in 2020, some thoughts of death are often linked with incredulity. He was literally alive one minute and dead the next. That’s it? I think. His life is now over?
Mostly I think about death with the fear of missing out, especially because it’s been seven years since Heath and I met, and I want as many years as possible to be with him.
My annual death meditation is different from all this kind of thinking. Its purpose is to reflect on how I spent my past year and to determine what I want to prioritize in 2023.
In 2022 I decided colorful creativity would be my theme. I would create art that was not the written word, which is usually how I express myself. I wanted to draw and paint with no purpose other than to have fun!
While I got off to a good start, my year did not go as planned.
Thanks to the pandemic and us being housesitters, we moved 8 times in 2022. From February – May, my art supplies were tucked away in a storage closet growing dusty.
Even when I had access, I didn’t have the motivation. I’ve accumulated more in these past six and a half years than I ever thought possible. The days of hoping I could get all my possessions down to one backpack is no longer realistic. With the increase of my own stuff, it’s gotten harder to live among other people’s lives. Especially when one has chronic sleep issues like I do.
I am not okay with the chronic sleep issues, and I continue to do my best to live with them.
I’m mostly okay with the stuff I’ve accumulated. We’ve been living in Norfolk for almost 6.5 years and I suppose that’s to be expected. And I’m going to have an opportunity soon to reduce and recycle some of the stuff I’ve accumulated. I will be ruthless and it will be fun!
Heath and I find ourselves at a crossroads. The couple we’ve been house-sitting for in Norfolk since September 2016 are permanently moving home. We will be living through big changes this year and we aren’t exactly sure what those changes are yet going to look like.
When I think about 2023 and imagine it’s my last year on Earth, for the first time since I’ve been death meditating, I’ve got nothing! There is nothing that I want to prioritize. No goals that I want to achieve. No places to visit. No relationships to hone. I just want to make it through this year of transition and come out still able to breathe. So that’s what I’m going to do. This year is going to be my year of breathing.
The best part is I have to do it anyway! I might as well do it with intention to help navigate all the uncertainty we’re up against.
Around 8:30am this morning, snow flakes swilred to the ground as Norfolk welcomed our first accumulating snow of the season. To add an even more wonder to the moment, we had a woodland visitor.
Because my picture from inside the house isn’t quite that compelling, I supplemented a stock photo of porcupine (as you can see in the photo’s bottom-right corner).
For reasons unknown to me, my husband decided this porcupine’s name is Mr. Peabody. You can watch a whimsical (and brief) video of Mr. Peabody here.
While today seemed like the perfect day to stay cozy inside and read books, work on puzzles, and stream shows, I went to work anyway since I normally work Sundays at the library.
Today, I made the decision to drive, because 1) I had to drop off a few large packages at the Congregational Church for Angel Tree presents; and 2) A few weeks ago we had a bear traipsing around the driveaway, which makes me less keen to walk home from work at 5pm, when it is already completely dark in Norfolk.
Thanfully, the roads weren’t covered yet, so getting to the library wasn’t a problem.
However, when I pulled in front of the library I saw a plow truck in the parking lot. I have never once parked in front of the library at times when I’m working. But today I thought, I’ll just park here until the truck is out of the lot.
About a half an hour later, I looked out the window of the second floor where my desk is located and the truck was gone. It would have been the perfect time to move the car. Not too much snow and an empty lot.
Instead, I ignored the little voice inside my head telling me to move the car. Oh, it will be okay, I told that little voice.
Maybe 10 minutes later, I noticed two cars had pulled to the side of the road just passed the library parking lot entrance. A couple of people were talking to each other and I didn’t think much of it.
Approximately 5 minutes after that, I looked out the window again and this time I saw a police officer talking to the person of the car that remained. I wondered what happened to the other car. At that moment, I felt the sudden need to look out the front window of the library from our conference room. I could see tire tracks swerving off the road.
Huh, I thought. It looks like the car ran right into the back of mine.
Then: oh, no!
I grabbed my coat and flew down the turret steps and out the front door. Sure enough, the car had hit mine.
Photo taken AFTER I had moved my car. DOH!
“I’m so sorry this happened to you,” I told the person who had been driving the car that hit mine. “I knew I should have moved my car!”
Both the person and the police officer assured me that they’re called accidents for a reason, and eventually I suppose I will accept that assessment of the situation.
In the meantime, here’s a friendly and gentle reminder to trust that little voice inside your head. They often know much more than you do!
Stay warm out there! Looks like we’re getting more than a few inches.
Heath and I are officially back in Norfolk! The return is bittersweet because we loved living at the beach in Old Lyme. Nearly every day, I watched the sunrise and sunset. Norfolk is beautiful and the woods and mountains here are outstanding, yet they also obscure the sun. I miss these moments in a way I can only describe as grief.
Rising before the sun and heading to beach became an easy morning ritual. I woke up with excitement wondering what today’s sunrise would look like. Sometimes Heath joined me and sometimes he didn’t. Either way, the moment was almost always perfect except for one morning when I missed Heath being there. I sent him this photo to let him know I was thinking about him.
He replied back that he needed glasses. So I added a pair and then a few more artistic liberties. As one of our friends said on Facebook, “I would argue Heath has never looked better.”
Here’s my last sunrise on Friday morning, November 18th:
In time, I know the grief will subside. Norfolk turning into a winter wonderland will help, especially when I’m out in the snow-covered woods with Annie.
Although she did snub me the other day after weeks apart. She jumped out of a car door and headed straight in my direction. “Annie,” I cried with my arms open wide. Then she ran right past me to say hello to everyone else standing in our group. Quite the humbling experience.
Eventually Annie did make her way to me and she howled in delight at our reunion, so she is, of course, forgiven. How could I not forgive her, since she is towards the very top of my gratitude list.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving! I’m grateful to those who read my blog and offer words of support and encouragement when they can.
This card is from my undergraduate mentor and his wife. Two people I love very much in this world.
Now that I’m on the other side of covid (even though I still have a cough), I’ve been walking the beach here in Old Lyme nearly every day. Here are some of my favorite finds:
A Wheaton Terrier named Samson
An English Cream Retriever named Hella
Geometric patterns …
especially on a perfect seashell!
A message in the sand from Heath, which I totally walked past since my head was looking down at seashells. We found out later the mystery object is a sac of skate fish eggs.
Unfortunately, I also find a lot of garbage. On one day, I found two disposable masks and some plastic. Every time I’m out on the beach I regret not bringing a trash bag. I just don’t don’t think about it until I’m already out there.
Then there was the morning I found a pair of washed up underwear!
I talked to one of the locals that morning as I strolled back to the house and she told me that she finds a lot of underwear in the summertime, as well as items like iPods, Fitbits, and wallets.
The most surprising thing of all that I found is a renewed sense of wonder and awe! I didn’t even know I needed these emotions supercharged in my life. But watch the sunrise and sunset for multiple days in a row and you realize that you may have been taking your usual walks in the woods for granted.
Here are a few of my favorite sunrises:
And here are a few sunsets:
And since it’s Halloween, here’s a creepy tree we saw while in Essex, CT, last week.
We’re here for another 2.5 weeks. Here’s hoping I find even more … including things I’m not even looking for!
I’m delighted to report that Heath and I are now living in a beach house! We’ll be in Old Lyme until November 19th. Air BnB described the house as “50 steps to the beach.” I tested that claim and it’s actually 60 steps. But, it could also be that I have shorter legs than the average person.
The view from our driveway
When my mom read my previous blog post where I said I always wanted to live at the beach, she asked me: what do you mean you always wanted to live at the beach? You hate the beach!
And that’s true — I am not a fan of south Atlantic beaches that are commercialized, hot, humid, and crowded.
Most of our family vacations in my pre-teen/teenage years were spent in North Myrtle Beach. We stayed in a high-rise hotel and I did not enjoy hours upon hours of laying on a towel surrounded by hundreds of people engaging in all sorts of loudness and tomfoolery.
Furthermore, the idea of sharks skulking about has always bothered me, so it’s not like I could find solace in the waves.
Instead, I spent most of our vacation hiding away in the hotel room, watching Bold and the Beautiful at 12:30pm EST, followed by Young & the Restless. I would then switch to the ABC soap operas at 1:30 to catch the last half of All My Children, followed by One Life to Live (my favorite) at 2pm and General Hospital (second favorite) at 3pm. An excellent way to spend the afternoon, in my opinion.
Yet ever since Heath and I visited Cape Cod the last week of August in 2019, I have felt drawn to the craggy, rough shorelines of the New England coast. Perhaps it was visiting in the off season, when the crowd consisted of a handful of people (or none at all) and the background noise sounded more like quiet laughter than amusement park shenanigans.
Falmouth, Cape Cod, late August 2019
Whatever it was, I started to fancy the peaceful solitude of a New England beach. Imagine if we lived there – the inspiration, the quiet, the atmosphere! So, I got it in my head that these weeks we’re away from Norfolk were the perfect time to live out this dream.
Why I equated three years of wanting something to always as in I always wanted to live at the beach, I don’t really know. Maybe anything before the pandemic feels like a lifetime ago. Speaking of which …
Covid finally caught up with me. It was after I managed to experience a radiant Old Lyme sunset our first night at the beach house, followed by a gentle sunrise the next morning. In between, I also befriended a chocolate lab named Otis who lives across the street.
But after that sunrise and those 12 wonderful hours, my throat started to feel scratchy and my voice turned hoarse. Then, I started coughing and my sinuses filled with congestion.
My first rapid test showed negative. What a relief, although I did feel disappointed that my streak of no colds was over. The last time I had a cold was in February, 2019. I also felt annoyed because I used three of my free different government-provided tests and they all yielded invalid results. Thankfully, Heath went out to buy ones that actually worked.
The next day, I felt worse. Fever and chills. General discomfort. A pounding headache. I took another covid test and this one lit up like a traffic signal. I didn’t even have to wait the full 15 minutes to get the positive result. As Heath said, “It’s not like it’s going to get less positive.”
Positive Covid Test #1
So now I wait to feel better. It’s been 9 days. I’m still congested. I’m still coughing. I’m still testing positive.
Positive Covid Test #2
It’s been four days without a fever. Less than 12 hours since I had a headache. Improvement, yes, but not enough where I’m comfortable being around others, especially since the rapid test still shows a positive result. And I really don’t want anyone to ever have to go through feeling this way.
I hope someday soon, I get another 12 wonderful hours, followed by another 12, and then 12 more until it’s just standard health and wellness most of the day.
Change is coming! It’s not just the change of season, although I am thrilled to finally be on the downward slope of this hot, dry summer to a (hopefully) cool, brisk autumn. Heath and I will be leaving Norfolk for approximately six weeks at the end of the month.
The owners of the house we take care of will be returning and that means we have to find a new place to stay. Since affordable, short-term, furnished rentals are few and far between in this area of Connecticut, we’ve been looking elsewhere in the state. We found this great website, FurnishedFinders.com, whose main clientele is traveling nurses, and there are a few possibilities in south/central CT. I’m hoping we find something on the coast, as I’ve always wanted to live at the beach. I’ll be working remotely at the library for most of the time, driving in once a week to work in person.
In the meantime, I’m mentally preparing for the separation.
I’ll be missing walks with Annie!
I won’t get to extol her virtues as the greatest golden retriever in the history of the world with her human mom twice a week. We’re aiming for once a week on those days I come back to work at the library. I really hope that works out! As Annie’s mom likes to remind me, Annie can’t tell time or the days of the week, so maybe she won’t notice my absence as much as I’ll notice it.
There also won’t be any possibility of chance encounters with Fergus as I walk to and from the library. He’s in this really hilarious salty skunk phase thanks to his recent escapades.
This photo is from his dig-in-the-dirt phase. Since it’s hard to evoke “salty skunk” in a picture, I opted for a visual aesthetic.
As president of his fan club, I should be there to reassure him that salty skunk spice is way better than the onslaught of pumpkin spice coming our way. I hope he knows how delicious I find him, no matter what he smells like!
Okay, yes. You caught me! I am being a bit dramatic.
Change is just hard. Mooning about dogs is my best way to cope with it.
When it comes down to it, I know we’ll all be fine. Annie and Fergus are beloved by their humans. And I’m not the only one in their respective fan clubs. They will be loved and adored, even if I’m not the one doing it.
But if you live in Norfolk, feel free to pick up the slack of dog enthusiasm while I’m gone. I’d be happy to give lessons on how to fawn over dogs as if they the greatest animals ever (which they are).
My world became darker this week with the loss of my friend, Cecily.
I met Cecily in November 2017, when we both attended a book discussion for The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. At the end of discussion, Cecily asked if I’d like to walk her dog Dodger a few times a week. She’d heard I was a dog person.
My life has never been the same since.
I’ve written about Cecily and Dodger multiple times on this blog. My relationship deepened with Cecily when Heath became one of her home companions in 2018. I often spent hours there on Sundays, chatting with Cecily and Heath, accompanying them on outings, and playing with Dodger.
Cecily had tears in her eyes the first time I preached at the Congregational Church in Norfolk. She stood in the pews and beamed at me when it was over. Cecily also accompanied me to my first Psychology of Stuff presentation I ever gave. She sat in the audience next to Heath at the Scoville Memorial Library and listened as I talked about why we have so much stuff and what we can do about it. The crowd numbered close to 100 and it was standing room only. Afterwards to celebrate, Cecily took us to the White Hart Inn for dinner.
More than anything, Cecily believed in me as a writer. She didn’t know me in my other life as a college professor with a long list of professional accomplishments including tenure and multiple peer-reviewed publications. So it was easy for Cecily not to judge that I left all that behind because I felt unhappy and wanted more out of my life. She asked me often about the stories I was writing and suggested just as often that Dodger would make an excellent character for one of them.
Of course, he would! Anyone who has ever met Dodger knows this guy has charisma and charm. That’s why he serves as the inspiration for the dog in my young adult novel called The Happiest Dog on the Internet. I never got the chance to tell Cecily that last month the manuscript was named a finalist in the Tassy Walden Awards for New Voices in Children’s Literature.
Mostly because I forgot.
When I last saw Cecily on Tuesday night, I reminded her of some of our favorite times together, like decorating her Christmas tree or dressing Dodger as a “chili” dog for Halloween. I spoke of the Norfolk Library’s pet parade last year and how poor Dodger had been shaved at the groomers because of a miscommunication. I told one of Cecily’s favorite stories about the time a cousin stopped her when she was out and about the town with Heath. “What’s with the guy?” the cousin wanted to know. Cecily loved to tell that story with a gleam in her eye because she loved to be on the arm of such a tall, handsome, and younger man.
I sat reminiscing with Cecily while she slept. I wracked my brain for more things to tell her. I knew that once I left my chair that would be my last goodbye. I wanted to prolong the moment. How silly of me not to think of this one thing that I know would have made her happy.
I suppose it doesn’t matter. Death goes on and the love I have for Cecily will stay with me in my heart until it’s my turn. Which, for the record, I hope is at least five decades away. There are many stories I have yet to write and many memories Heath and I have yet to make together. I hope we get the time.
Goodbye Cecily. I’m so glad you heard I was a dog person.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.