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.
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.
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!
We’re three weeks into our summer road trip. The experience so far has been a mix of emotions, mostly because I’ve grown attached to Norfolk.
I suppose it’s ridiculous to think I wouldn’t become attached since Norfolk is the type of place where you can be driving to a friend’s house and sheep cross the driveway.
Norfolk is also the type of place where you might find a peacock on a roof.
Of course, I miss being there!
I miss walking to the library, chatting with the librarians, and perusing their wonderful collection of books. They’re so supportive of my writing and my ideas. On Saturdays during April and May, they let me hold my Love Letters Writing Group at the library, whereby anyone who was interested could show up and write a thank you letter, or a thinking of you letter, or a support letter to people in the military.
The program was sparsely attended, but it didn’t matter because I used that time to write my own letters to people. As an added bonus, I became friends with an incredibly talented watercolor artist in town, Leslie Watkins, who read about my Love Letters Writing Group in the Norfolk Now town newspaper and loved the idea. Not only did she donate high quality cards to use, she also attended most every week, and gave me art lessons along the way. It was because of her great teaching skills, that I was able to make these cards:
I also miss walking to the Congregational Church every Wednesday morning to attend a Creative Writers’ Group, sharing my stories, and listening to the stories, poetry, and wisdom that my fellow writers share. The oldest person in the group is a 91-year-old spitfire of a woman who inspires me in so many ways and the youngest is a mid-30s man who has a good heart and believes in the saving power of grace. Every week when I leave the group, I have the biggest smile on my face.
One of the places that I don’t usually walk to, but I still miss nevertheless, is Botelle Elementary. I started volunteering there this past winter as a literacy and math volunteer in the kindergarten/first grade and second grade classroom.s Honestly, one of my favorite parts is hanging out with the kindergarten/first grade students during their snack time. We act quite silly and laugh a lot.
One day I happened to be sitting next to a little girl whose grandparents I know. The topic of conversation turned to fortune telling and making predictions. I announced to the table that I could read palms and I turned to the girl, picked up her palm, looked at it, and said: Your family loves you very much and you love them. Oh, and you love dogs, too.
The girl’s mouth dropped open. Before I knew it, every single student in the classroom wanted me to read their palms. This memory is one I will keep in my heart forever, and I suspect some of the students will, too, because when they threw me a surprise going away party (yes, I did tear up), several of the students made me cards that featured palms.
If you read this blog regularly, you know I’m a minimalist and it’s my goal to get all my belongings down to one backpack. But for this summer, I’m not yet ready to give up these cards and they will be making the trek with me across the country.
Since I’m already getting a little teary-eyed writing this post, I might as well go down the rabbit hole.
I miss the dogs of Norfolk SO MUCH! With humans, you can say, “I’ll see you soon,” and they understand that you’re coming back. I like to think Smudge, Faith, and Dodger could understand me the same way, but I can’t be sure.
Sometimes at night I’ll sing Somewhere Out There to Smudge. He really is the silliest, most mischievous dog I’ve ever known.
Then there’s Faith, who when I saw her standing among her three brothers in a picture posted on TrustedHousesitters.com, I told my husband she’s the cutest dog I’ve ever seen and we had to apply for that housesitting job. She really is an extra cute pupper!
I can’t forget Dodger dog. I walk him Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in the Barbour Woods, and every single time I feel profound spiritual experiences of gratitude, love, peace, and joy.
For anyone who is feeling anxious, sad, stressed, or any other emotion that hurts their bodies, minds, or spirits, I encourage you to find a dog and let them romp around the woods in wild abandon. You will feel like a new person by the end of the walk.
For all these reasons, and more, I miss Norfolk. Yet, with leaving Norfolk behind, there are new adventures to go on, new relationships to make, and new dogs to meet.
We spent last week with the adorable Gretchen and Sebastian in Manhattan, IL:
As my husband likes to say, Manhattan, IL, is the opposite of Manhattan, NY. It’s incredibly flat, sparsely populated, and rural. The house that we sat is a typical suburban house. I love it, though, because the owners love living there and take such pride and ownership in their little piece of Manhattan heaven. The house is a typical, suburban IL house, but the little things like the raised herb garden outside, the ocean-scene tiled mosaic in the bathroom, and, the brightly-colored wood-carved picture than hangs on the front porch, make it spectacular.
And, let’s be serious here. Wiener dogs are as cute as you can get. Gretchen and Sebastian are also especially cute because they get tucked into a doggy bed at night and then greet the day first thing in the morning with exuberance.
While in Manhattan, we also got to visit a couple and their fur family who we housesat for last summer. When I first got the idea of pet/housesitting as a way to make a living after I quit teaching, it was motivated by my love of dogs, the lure of travel, and the desire to have a relaxed schedule so I could devote a lot more time to writing. Little did I know getting to know and becoming friends with the people we housesit for would be one of the best parts.
We spent a delightful evening at their house, catching up, and enjoying our time with their animals:
And the chickens
It’s experiences like these that give me the strength and motivation to leave Norfolk. When my husband and I embarked on our housesitting journey together, our plan all along was to keep moving. So I’m grateful that’s what we’re doing. I’m also equally grateful that we already know we’ll be back in Norfolk come September for another long-term housesit. We love it there and I miss ya’ll so much. See you soon!
On February 23rd, 2018, my husband’s family lost a beloved son. Erick’s death was not surprising or unexpected; he had been born with a rare combination of two genetic illnesses – Addison’s Disease and Adrenoleukodystrophy. Doctors had been preparing my husband’s family for Erick’s death for the last 20 years. The fact that Erick made it to his 39th is astonishing. The fact that Erick’s suffering is now over is a blessing.
Erick had two memorial services: one on February 28th, in Smyrna, TN, and one on March 1st in Lawrenceburg, TN. I met my husband’s childhood friends and his extended family. I met dozens of friends and colleagues of my in-laws. Laughter was shared, and tears were shed.
I heard many stories about Erick. I didn’t get the chance to know Erick other than through his diseases. I could only imagine what he was like through the memories of his family and friends.
The Erick I met could not communicate in any way – he had no vocal capabilities, nor could he blink once for yes or twice for no. There was debate about what Erick could understand, if he could even understand anything at all, once the disease fully ensnared him. I know his mother and his primary nurse believed he was still in there somewhere.
Last summer, I got to know Erick as well as I could when my husband and I stayed at his parents’ house for a week so they could take a well-deserved vacation.
During that week, I cleaned Erick’s face in the morning and emptied his urine bag. I administered medicines through his feeding tube, which connected directly to his stomach. I put a breathing device on Erick to help him clear his lungs. Every 2.5 hours I turned him, at least until my husband woke up and took over or the nurse arrived and provided far better care than I ever could.
The state of Tennessee provided Erick with 32 hours of nursing care per week. For my husband and I, that meant we could still see each other during the day and go out and about in Nashville while we were taking care of Erick that week.
My in-laws were expected to work full-time jobs and then care for Erick full-time before and after work. As Erick needed 24-hour supervision, this provision made it impossible for my in-laws to have a typical American life. They devoted nearly every hour of their lives for the last 12 years to taking care of their son. For the last 20 years, they watched him suffer and there was nothing they could do medically do about it.
When I consider Annie Dillard’s profound saying, “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives,” I think about the kind of love that my husband’s parents have for Erick to spend every day in service to their dying son.
They refused to put him in a home and they refused to give up on caring for him. They sacrificed themselves in ways I can’t even imagine. I suppose that is what you do for someone you love because what is the alternative?
I am not a caregiver. Yes, I care for people and animals and the beauty of creation that is God’s gift to all of us. But it is not my vocation.
My vocation is writing and playing with as many animals as I can. I say this because I’ve been thinking of how I can best memorialize Erick, a man I’ll only really know through the love of my husband and his family. I have no stories of my own about Erick while he was alive, yet his story means something to me.
While I was in Nashville with my husband’s family, the time came for my agent to submit one of my picture book manuscripts, Sundays with Pop-Pop, to publishing houses. The timing wasn’t ideal, but she had a fire inside her for getting the manuscript out and I am eager for my first book contract. In retrospect, I do feel regret for closeting myself in their office to perfect the draft while there was so much grieving around me. I will hopefully not make that mistake again.
But I now know how I will honor Erick and the love his family has for him. Sundays with Pop-Pop is a story of love and loss. It celebrates the special relationships we have in our lives, whether they are biological, a beloved family pet, or a concerned member of our community.
Erick is, and always will be loved. When Sundays with Pop-Pop is published – and I truly believe it is when, not if – I will dedicate the story to Erick. He deserves it.
Thank you for reading my blog. And if you are so inclined, please send thoughts and prayers of peace to my husband and his family.