Tag Archives: Nature

Virginia and Back Again! 1

Virginia and Back Again!

This past weekend, Heath and I drove almost 1000 miles in less than 60 hours. We headed out of Norfolk on Friday morning in separate cars – me in our newly leased Nissan Murano, complete with heated seats, panoramic sunroof, and front, side, and rear sonar systems, and Heath in our 2005 Altima which doesn’t even have door handles anymore because they all broke off due to our freezing Norfolk winters.

The two cars were necessary because we would be giving the Altima to Heath’s dad. We don’t need it anymore, and he has the skills and knowledge to keep a 2005 car running smoothly for several more years to come.

So, we agreed to meet Heath’s parents halfway-ish between Norfolk (CT, where we live) and Murfreesboro (TN, where they live). Heath selected Harrisonburg, VA, as our meeting point.

Harrisonburg just happens to be in an extremely lush and mountainous region of the country. The Monongahela National Forest sits to the left of it and Shenandoah National Park sits to the right. We were fully prepared to make the trip down and back in just two days because I now work Sunday afternoons at the Norfolk Library.

About 30 minutes into the drive home on Saturday morning, we suspected we might need a Plan B. We had stopped so many times in those 30 minutes, that we had barely gone three miles. It’s easy to linger among the Blue Ridge Mountains. Heath wanted to stop at particularly beautiful places to take pictures with his new camera.

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We both wanted to drive for a bit on the Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. We also wanted time to stop wherever we wanted, like this free little library.

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Marvelous finds like this little library are exactly why we love road trips so much.

Heath left the Plan B decision up to me. We knew we had the option of stopping at my mom’s house in Harrisburg, PA, spending the night there, and then driving to Norfolk on Sunday morning. This option appealed to us as Harrisburg is only 3 hours from Harrisonburg, as opposed to the 7.5-hour drive to get us back to Norfolk. Plus, we would get to spend some more time with my mom since we had only stopped for a quick lunch there on Friday afternoon.

But I felt anxious about having to be at work on time on Sunday. I imagined future Kelly and Heath driving to Norfolk on Sunday morning. What would it be like if we got stuck in traffic? Or if there was an accident? That level of anxiety not knowing if I would make it to work on time would be psychologically painful for me.

My boss at the Norfolk Library then did something incredibly generous – she offered to cover my first hour or so at the Library. Just in case! I am grateful every day for my job at the library. This kindness is just one more reason why I love working there.

With a little more wiggle room with when I had to be back, we decided to have a more leisurely drive to Harrisburg, spend the night with my mom, and then hit the road around 6:30 this morning. Almost immediately after making that decision, Heath took a right and we headed towards a flea market high in the mountains.

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There were NRA and Make America Great Again hats and signs for sale at this flea market. As I walked around the market, I felt acutely uncomfortable wearing my Sandy Hook Promise pin on my fleece sweater. I wear this pin often as a commitment to do all I can to eradicate gun violence in schools. I was afraid someone would ask me about it. I once met someone who denied the Sandy Hook massacre took place and I didn’t want to end up in that situation again. I also didn’t want to take the pin off because that didn’t feel right, either. I feel sad that this is what our country has devolved into.

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This picture is not at the flea market, but it’s the only one I had from the afternoon where you can see my pin.

Thankfully, nothing happened, and Heath and I continued on our way. We ended up stopping at Arrowhead Lake a short while later. I’ll just let you marvel over this picture:

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I also spotted the weirdest looking waterfowl I’ve ever seen.

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Seriously, though, that’s a dog named Harley. His human mom and brother were kayaking, and Harley kept running around the perimeter of the lake, jumping in every so often to chase the ducks and geese, with his mom yelling at him to, “leave the baby ducks alone!” Labradors!

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We stopped one more time after Lake Arrowhead; this time in Front Royal, VA for lunch. The lunch was okay, but the town itself was great. I especially liked the artwork on the side of this building:

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After Front Royal, we drove on to Harrisburg, and then did exactly as we planned: we spent the night at my mom’s house and then headed off to Norfolk at 6:30am. Special shout out to Heath who took over driving around 9:00am since I was struggling to stay awake.

We made it to Norfolk by noon, where I then made a quick salad of spinach and chicken for lunch, gobbled it up, and made it to the Library right on time!

What a great weekend – adventure, mountains, family, a dog, and making it to work on time, all with my favorite person in the world. I’m already looking forward to our next road trip; although next time, I’ll make sure to request some vacation days first!

April (Snow) Showers 11

April (Snow) Showers

April in Norfolk, CT, is like experiencing all four seasons in one month. Twice I walked Annie without a coat and twice we’ve had snow showers (watch a short video of our most recent snow shower here).

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We’ve also experienced a hailstorm and for a few hours on a Wednesday afternoon we were under a tornado warning. Thankfully, the tornado never came. And all of these weather events are happening with pops of brilliant springtime colors around us.

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Although I weirdly miss winter already (I say weirdly because it clearly hasn’t gone yet) and the solitude that comes with a quiet snowfall, I’m also ready to fully embrace spring. I want continuous days of sunshine and warmer temperatures. I want the optimism of trees budding and flowers blooming to infuse my soul.

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As I wait for nature to fully catch up to my desires (our last snow shower was just this past Thursday), I continue to seek other ways to get my optimism fix. One easy way that I’m looking forward to tomorrow is donating blood at a local American Red Cross blood drive.

I’ve been donating blood for over twenty years, though not consistently. When I took Xyrem from 2008-2015, a medication prescribed for narcolepsy, one of the other unintended effects of the medicine caused me to lose so much weight I dropped below the 110 lbs. requirement to be an eligible blood donor. As the phlebotomist explained to me, I just didn’t have enough blood to give any away.

During those years, I missed donating. I have excellent veins and needles don’t bother me. I can’t think of any other volunteer activity that quite literally saves lives and requires so little effort on the part of the volunteer. You show up at the donation center, answer a bunch of questions, lie down on a table, feel a needle jab, squeeze a little ball to keep the blood flowing while you listen to some fun music, and then get up from the table to go sit at another table where you are offered all kinds of sweets and treats.

Talk about an easy way to be a hero.

In February, I reached a milestone with the American Red Cross – 24 whole blood donations for a total of 3 gallons!

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Being the minimalist that I am, I opted not to order a pin celebrating the achievement.  But I nevertheless feel a sense of pride, which when I think about it is kind of weird because all I’m doing is giving something away that I have more than enough to share.

So for any of you out there who are longing for brighter days (literally and/or figuratively), I encourage you to give blood if you’re eligible. Not everyone is, and if you’re one of those people, feel free to reach out to me and let me know. I will be happy to give blood at one of my future donations on your behalf.

If you’re in the Norfolk area, the American Red Cross will be at the Church of Christ (UCC), Congregational, 12 Village Green, from 1:00-6:00pm. If you’re not in the Norfolk area, check out the American Red Cross website for a blood donation drive near you.

For anyone who might be hesitant, I’m also happy to answer any questions about the process. I’ve donated twice during the pandemic and there are numerous safety protocols in place. I’m also happy to spiritually hold your hand during your donation time. You just have to let me know.

Happy Sunday everyone!

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Cool Winter Blues

Our daylight hours are dwindling. With the shortest day of the year only two weeks away, here in Norfolk we’re down to about 9 hours of daylight each day.

That’s a lot of darkness we’re up against.

On the other hand, it means that when I walk Dodger on Sundays, I get to see some spectacular light displays shining through the tree branches in the Barbour Woods.

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Cool Winter Blues 20

I know winter is not the favorite season for most people. I think I’m in the minority as it’s my favorite season.

At least, I’m pretty sure it’s my favorite season. I do enjoy the leaves changing in fall and the promise of new life and growth in spring. And then we have those long summer days.

Maybe my favorite season is the one I’m currently experiencing?

Anyway, I do love winter. I especially love being outside when it’s sunny and cold. With the proper equipment and clothes, the experience can be wonderful.

On my walk with Dodger this afternoon, the light cast a gentle blue tint over the woods.

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It’s magical, don’t you think?

And let’s be honest — Dodger is once handsome devil!

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Feeling grateful to have this experience with one of my favorite dogs! At the same time, the experience is blue in other ways. Much like I wrote about when the leaves were changing color a few weeks ago, I can’t help but think of my Dad and how he didn’t know it was his last fall in 2019, just like he didn’t know it would be his last chance to see snow fall last winter. I suppose this cycle of “lasts” will continue as I work through my grief.

The only way forward is through. It’s not easy. It’s certainly not quick. But it is good. I think I’m starting to understand the expression good grief. 

Thank goodness I have such a wonderful support system in place, with includes Heath, and Cecily and Dodger here in Norfolk.

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Speaking of them, I managed to coax Heath and Cecily into participating in an Advent wreath lighting for UCC Norfolk’s online service this Sunday. You can catch us around the 11-minute mark. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=1308360392861281

I hope you all have a wonderful week. Maybe it be blue in the very best ways!

 

An Unexpected WOW Moment

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I had the opportunity recently to share some of my ideas on spiritual ways to manage anxiety, stress, and depression. Of course, I spoke about the therapeutic power of dogs. Here’s a little teaser:

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If you want to read my full coping method, as well as methods from other experts you can read the full list here: https://mattbeech.com/spiritual-ways-manage-stress-anxiety-depression/

Last week, I experienced a one-two punch of spiritual therapy when we had an unexpected snowstorm. There I was sitting on the couch with Smudge, Faith snoozing on the floor next to me, and as I glanced out the window, the rain had turned into what looked like a snow squall.

It snowed that way for maybe an hour. Then the sun came out. The combination of snow and sun is one of my favorites for being wowed by nature, so I put on my boots and the dogs and I headed outdoors.

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While we were outside, the snow started melting from the tree branches at such a rapid rate, it felt and sounded like rain.

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If you’d like, you can listen to the wonder of it for yourself here.

I’ve never experienced anything like it, to feel the raindrops fall on my face, under the shining sun, while snow crunched under my feet. Then there were Smudge and Faith snooping around the yard just being dogs.

WOW, indeed!

I hold on to these little moments of joy as we continue facing the uncertainty of what’s happening in the world. It’s not much, but it reminds me that unexpected events can be beautiful and wonderful and full of magic. Thank you, God, for giving me this moment, and thank you Smudge and Faith for bearing witness to it with me.

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Finding New Joys During a Pandemic

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Photo by Irina Iriser on Unsplash

Being able to celebrate the simple joys in life is a gift. Since our lives have all been upended by the pandemic, I hope you’ve been able to find a few new simple pleasures that give you this joy.

For me, I’ve discovered that I could watch salamanders playing in the water for hours on end. How cute are these little guys?

They even inspired this poem.

On this warm and sunny day
The salamanders swim and play
They twist
They turn
They flip
They flop
To my delight,
They never stop!

I’m also finding joy in removing this rock from the driveway.

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Every time I walk Smudge and Faith around the yard, I stop to dig up some dirt. I use my foot, so it’s maybe not the most effective method. Still, I make progress every day, and one of these days the rock will be free.

How I’m approaching this rock could also be a metaphor for how I’m approaching the pandemic. Maybe I’m not as productive as I would like during my time of isolation, but little by little I work on projects that are important to me, and with enough small steps on a consistent basis, I’m hoping that by the end I’ll look back on this time as one of great creation.

I’m also loving my pandemic diet, which consists of eating the same meal for breakfast and lunch every day. Here’s what I eat: 4 strips of chicken bacon, an Ezekiel bread English muffin with coconut oil, and a smoothie. My breakfast smoothie uses almond milk, protein powder, one chopped up carrot, four strawberries, and a few shakes from the cinnamon, the ginger, and the turmeric spice jars. My lunch smoothie is ½ coup of tap water, ½ cup of maple water or coconut water, two handfuls of frozen greens, fresh-squeezed lemon juice, and a sprig of frozen mint.

I end breakfast and lunch with one Chocolate Coconut Mint Cookie from Emmy’s Organics.

I savor these foods every meal. They are delicious and healthy, and because I enjoy the taste so much, I don’t mind that it’s the same foods twice a day every day. In fact, I look forward to it!

Also with this meal plan, I don’t have to waste any brain power deciding what to make. Cooking is not a strength of mine and the relief of being free of that stress is priceless. I also don’t procrastinate on doing my dishes because: 1) I need a clean blender for both breakfast and lunch; 2) there’s not that many dishes to do; and 3) I know how long washing the dishes will take since I’m washing the same ones over and over.

At first, I felt like eating this way was somehow “wrong.” That I should have more variety. It wasn’t until Heath said to me, “Kelly, if that’s what you want to eat, then just eat it,” that I let go of all the worrying and shoulding on myself.

Isn’t it funny how giving someone permission, even if they don’t need permission, can have such a positive effect on the way they approach something. Since then, I haven’t looked back. I suspect I’m going to keep eating this way even when the pandemic is over.

Finding these new joys is a good reminder that there are things to be grateful for even during times of uncertainty. And even when there are days when life seems so hard and I worry about what is happening to this world we live in, there is always Smudge, ready to pose for a picture for the simple price of one toss of a tennis ball. How could I not be grateful for this guy?

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Happy Fall Ya’ll!

This fall has been glorious in Norfolk. When Heath and I began housesitting here in September 2016, people assured me the fall we were experiencing was not up to its usual standards.

I respectfully disagreed because I thought this was pretty good:

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October 10, 2016 in Norfolk, CT

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October 16, 2016, in Norfolk, CT

We heard the same thing in 2017. Still good, I thought. In fact, maybe even better than last year.

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October 23, 2017, Norfolk, CT

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Zorro the Goat, October 23, 2017, Norfolk, CT

In 2018, I don’t know what people said because I was off to Churchill for my seven-week stint as a polar bear season volunteer. I did see what I think is a halo:

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October 13, 2018, Churchill, Manitoba

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October 13, 2018, Churchill, Manitoba

And polar bears!!

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October 15, 2018, Churchill, Manitoba

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October 20, 2018, Churchill, Manitoba

This year, however, I think I understand what everyone had been saying. The colors POPPED overnight. And they’re lingering, too. Add in multiple days of sunshine and crisp temperatures, and you have yourself a Gold Medal in Fall Foliage.

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All this loveliness makes me want to skip my plans and go off for a walk in the woods with my favorite friends.

And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing!

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Annie, October 12, 2019

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Annie, October 12, 2019

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Dodger, October 13, 2019

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Dodger, October 13, 2019

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Smudge and Faith, October 13, 2019

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Faith, October 13, 2019

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Smudge, October 13, 2019

I hope you’re enjoying your fall, wherever you are.

Living a Simple Life: Valentine’s Day Edition

I recently contributed to an article “18 Expert Tips on Living a Simple Life” on the UPJOURNEY website. You can read the article here.

Anyone who reads this blog won’t be surprised that my expert tips include an example of a dog licking my elbow. Fun fact: Smudge did actually lick my elbow as I was writing those tips. I think he was trying to help. Smudge likes to “help” with just about anything.

Labrador on yoga mat

Smudge “helping” with my yoga

Labrador with guitar

Smudge “helping” Heath practice the guitar

That moment brought me a lot of joy. I know not everyone will share the same positive feelings about getting licked by a dog, particularly on your elbow. For me it’s a moment of pure love.

And I am so grateful to know what brings me the most joy in this world.

This sort of information is useful for when things don’t go they way you want them to. For example, two weeks ago, I found out about a small writing contest for Valentine’s Day. The contest was for a children’s story (214-word limit) with the theme of guilt. The contest was posted on February 13th and entries were due by 11:59pm on February 14th. So, not a lot of time to write something.

I set my alarm for 5:00am on February 14th. I wanted to make sure I had enough time to work on my story before my busy Valentine’s Day, which included my regular Thursday morning volunteering at Botelle Elementary School and a Pink Tea that afternoon sponsored by the Congregational Church in town in celebration of Valentine’s Day.

As I fell asleep on the night of the 13th, an idea came to me: I’ll write a story about a kid who eats all his mom’s valentine’s day candy. It will be hilarious!

My alarm clock went off the following morning and I immediately started working on my story. A few hours later I had what I thought was a great story, A Valentine’s Gift for Daddy. I went to the contest website to upload my entry. Before I did, I thought I would take a peek at a few of the entries.

I noticed one had a similar title to mine. I clicked on the story, read it, and my heart sank. It was pretty much the same story I had written, even down to the kid hating coconut!

To demoralize me even more, I scrolled through all the entries so far posted and discovered quite a few featured a kid eating all their parents’ valentine’s candy.

Yikes! Looks like I’d written a cliché.

I wasn’t sure what to do at that point, since I had to be at Botelle soon. I decided to think about it later, and I spent the next few hours celebrating valentine’s day.  Activities included delivering valentines to all the students I work with at Botelle and enjoying all manner of baked goods at the Pink Tea.

Children's Valentine' Cards

Valentine Cards for Botelle Students

Valentine's Day desserts

Goodies at the Pink Tea, Photo courtesy of Heath Hughes

Feeling like my day wouldn’t be complete without wishing Cecily and Dodger a happy valentine’s day, I walked over to their house after the tea. I wasn’t planning on taking Dodger for a walk that day, but one look at his little face and I succumbed to his charms.

I’m so glad I did. The afternoon sunlight streamed into every nook and cranny of the Barbour Woods. It was now approaching five o’clock and although I felt a moment of panic that I still didn’t know what to do about the valentine’s writing contest, I couldn’t help but marvel at how beautiful the day had turned out.

Dog running through the woods

Dodger in Botelle Woods on Valentine’s Day

As Dodger and I walked out of the woods and headed back to his home, a little idea popped into my head.

There is a place outside of town

Where trees grow up and leaves fall down ….

I immediately pulled out my phone to write this idea down in my notes app, lest I forget it by the time I walked home.

About an hour later, I finally sat down at my computer and started writing. Three hours after that, I finished my story.

Of course, if I had won the contest this blog post would have an even better ending. But I didn’t. I did get a shout-out for “lovely writing,” though.

What I did manage to do was spend time in my favorite place, with one of my favorite dogs, and then do one of the things that I enjoy in the most – write. And that, right there, is me living my simple life.

Just for fun, I’m going to include the first story I wrote for the contest. The second story ended up being something I’d like to work on later for a possible submission elsewhere. So, unfortunately I can’t share it here.

Enjoy!

A Valentine’s Gift for Daddy


Mommy and I went shopping today. She said Valentine’s Day is in tomorrow and we have to get Daddy a present.

Have you ever seen anything so perfect? We hid the chocolates in the laundry room so Daddy wouldn’t find it.

When I got home from school the next day, I went to check on his gift.

Maybe I’ll just take a peek inside.

Maybe I’ll just try one.

Bleah!

Coconut. I hate coconut.

Before I knew what I was doing, I ate another one.

Oh my goodness!

Peanut butter – did anything more tasty ever exist?

I went to practice the trumpet.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Daddy’s Valentine’s Day present.

Okay, fine. Just one more.

I mean two more.

How did I eat three, five?

Don’t do it, I told myself. There’s only two pieces left.

Uh-oh. I ate all of Daddy’s Valentine’s Day present.

Maybe if I put the box back no one will notice.

But Mommy noticed. “Do you know what happened to Daddy’s chocolates?”

I couldn’t look at her when I said, “I ate them.”

To my surprise, Mommy started laughing.

“You’re just like me,” she said. She pulled out a second box of chocolates. “These were for you and I ate them all!”

I wanted to be mad, but how could I?

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go make Daddy a card.”

He loved it!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

A Death Meditation for 2019

A Death Meditation for 2019 49

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I don’t mean Christmas. Although, let’s be honest. I do enjoy some good Christmas spirit, ginger snap cookies, and pictures of dogs with Santa Claus.

Dog Photo with Santa Claus

Dodger with Santa Claus

What I’m talking about is my annual reflection on what I would do in 2019 if I knew it was my last year on Earth as Kelly Kandra Hughes. Yes, I know. At face value a death meditation is a morbid topic, particularly during a season that is known for its joy and wonder.

But that’s exactly the purpose of a death meditation – to make you mindful of your limited time on Earth so that you make better decisions in how you choose spend your time.

You don’t have to take my word for it. As I’ve written about before, thinking about death is essential for living in joy, as written about by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy, as well as happiness and productivity expert Dr. Christine Carter, PhD, in The Sweet Spot, and lay people such as Mark Manson in The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck and Oliver Burkeman in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

During my most recent death meditation as I thought about what if 2019 is my last year alive, two thoughts bubbled to the front of my mind:

  • I am so blessed;
  • I still haven’t sold any books.

These thoughts make my 2019 relatively easy. For thought #1, I’m going to keep on doing what I’m doing. This includes:

Loving Heath as much as possible

Selfie at Jasper National Park

At Athabsaca Falls, Jasper

Petting as many dogs as I can

Selfie with a golden retriever

Kelly and Phyllos

Wandering around in the woods, ideally with a dog

Dogs running through the woods

We never did learn who this yellow lab is!

Spending time with my family, especially my niece

Waving Goodbye from a Bus Window

Saying Goodbye at the Harrisburg Bus Station

Absent from my list is seeing bears in the wild and visiting as many national parks as I can. It’s not so much that I’m experiencing a been there and done that feeling, as these two goals came about from recent death meditations, and they majorly contributed to how I spent my time in 2018.

It’s more that in the past year I’ve learned that wonder is so much more wonderful when it’s not planned.

Instead, I will (ideally) remain open to the world around me, (try to) have zero expectations for what an experience should be like, and instead (hopefully) stay present in the moment and enjoy it for what it is.

Which brings me to thought #2: I still haven’t sold any books.

Being the optimist that I am, I am already generating BIG PLANS for all the writing I’m going to do in 2019. I’m not going to go into detail in this blog post because I’m still plotting (haha) and planning the stories that I want to write, finish, or revise next year. But I can assure you that 2019 is the year where I do my absolute best to sell one (or more) of my manuscripts to a publisher.

Let me be clear: I have made a lot of progress towards this goal. In 2018, I wrote three picture books (around 500 words each), one chapter book (16,000 words), one middle grade novel (48,000 words), one New Adult novel (57,000 words), and one adult novel that is hand-written on small yellow note pads and still needs to be typed so your guess is as good as mine for how many words it actually is. For the record, my guess is 50,000 words.

Also, for the record: I do not advise anyone to write a novel by hand. Having to type my story into Word is quickly becoming one of my least favorite writing activities of all time.

If you’re wondering why I don’t consider ALL THIS WRITING I’ve done in 2018 my absolute best is terms of getting published, it comes down to one reason.

Fear.

I write books and then I don’t submit them to agents with any sort of tenacity typically required of an unpublished author. I like to tell myself it’s because God is figuring out the details and I don’t have to worry about that part of the process. That’s just a cop-out excuse.

It’s not my job to manage the universe; but it is my job to give the universe something to work with.

This time I spend on Earth is God and Kelly willing and because of my fear, Divine Providence can only do so much. If I don’t share my work with people who are in a position to publish it, then I am making it so much harder for that right-place-right-time moment to occur that God has so graciously granted me in the past.

As I thought about my death, what I realized is that I have been afraid of failing as a writer.

What if I write an amazing story and it still doesn’t get published?

What if I write a dozen amazing stories and none of them get published?

So instead I’ll watch one more YouTube video of a dog trying to sneak a tater tot or check out Instagram for pictures of polar bears or mindlessly scroll through Facebook seeing what friends/family are posting instead of researching agents or submitting my work or writing.

If I don’t do my absolute best, then I always have a reason for why I haven’t achieved my goal of being a traditionally published writer. It keeps me in my comfort zone. Giving up the fantasy that the book I’m writing is going to be my debut book and a best-seller and become beloved by millions throughout the world (all publishing goals of mine) terrifies me.

But now what terrifies me more is taking my last breath in 2019 and wishing I had done more to become a traditionally published author.

Thanks to my death meditation, I’ve now realized it’s necessary to give up my clung-to fantasies in order to make them actually come true. The only way for me to get traditionally published is to put my work out there. Agents and publishers may so no. And, if they say no, then that particular fantasy for that particular book is dead (for the time being).

That’s a scary thought and it’s one that has kept me from doing my absolute best with my writing. I have spent countless hours this past year allowing myself to procrastinate and waste time and generally do things which are counter-productive to my publishing goals.

I think I’m *finally* done with that, and I have my death meditation to thank. I am living out all my other goals and dreams and I don’t want to waste any more time on the one that I’ve wanted the longest.

So, what does my absolute best include? Not letting the fear of failure get in my way (i.e. NO MORE PROCRASTINATING), improving my writing craft, writing as many new stories as possible, submitting my work to agents, and then keep on celebrating the blessings in my life – Heath, family, and dogs.

My husband with Smudge

Heath with Smudge

I look forward to the opportunity to share this journey with you in 2019. Thank you for your love and support.

Greetings from Churchill: The Life (So Far) of a Bear Season Volunteer

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My first three weeks at Churchill have been exhausting and exhilarating! The exhausting includes the 6-hour shifts a day, 6 days a week. Shifts can start at 6:30am and some don’t end until 8:30pm. For someone with narcolepsy, the constant schedule changes can be a bit daunting and since I’m usually in bed by 9:00pm, a late night shift also has challenges.

Thankfully, the work itself isn’t hard. For example, the other day I washed dishes for about two hours and then dusted and mopped several rooms in the science center. The dusting also included the Aurora Dome, which seems to be one of the greatest challenges for us volunteers to clean. Although there are still streaks on the dome, at least it’s not dusty.

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I followed up the housekeeping with 90 full minutes of peeling red potatoes. When in doubt of what to do, volunteers are always welcome to peel carrots and potatoes to help out the kitchen staff. There are currently three cooks who prepare three meals a day for all staff, volunteers, and visitors.

Peeling potatoes was a rather enjoyable experience, especially since the aroma of Oriental Glazed Chicken filled the air. The science center’s kitchen has some of the best smells on a daily basis, including, but not limited to: French Toast, Chocolate Chip Cookies, Pumpkin Pie Tarts, Cinnamon Rolls, Chocolate Cake, Banana Bread, and Berry Crumble.

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The orientation packet wasn’t kidding when it stated, ”You will not lose weight while you are here.”

Another part of the exhausting is something I wasn’t prepared for at all: The Northern Lights.

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Here in Churchill, the Northern Lights fill the night sky on a regular basis. They are stunning and awesome and I find myself in a constant fear of missing out when the Lights are doing. Thank goodness for cloudy days because then there’s no expectation whatsoever about seeing the lights in their full glory and I can get to bed at a decent time.

Also interesting to note, the Northern Lights are one of the greatest PR campaigns of the travel industry.

The colors that you see popping out in photographs, may or may not be visible to the naked eye. A lot of times, the greens, blues, and pinks can only be captured through a camera lens. These pictures look nothing like what we were actually viewing in the sky, which were shades of wispy white and grey, with just a light tinge of green every so often.

I have yet been able to capture any of the Northern Lights on my camera phone since a Pixel 2 doesn’t have a professional setting mode. Shout out to my fabulous roommate Rachael for sharing the above photos with me. Just for comparison purposes, here’s two of my Northern Lights photos:

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Now, on to the exhilarating! Check out this sunrise.

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And how about this sunset?

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The town of Churchill is interesting in and of itself, and I am fascinated with how this town of about 900 people coexists with polar bears. For example, there is the 675-BEAR alert system that you call if you see a polar bear.

There are also places, like this boat, designed as safehouses for you to hide whenever you encounter a wandering bear in town.

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If you’re wondering if I’ve seen any polar bears yet, the answer is YES! I’m saving that experience for my next blog post, but here’s a sneak peak in the meantime:

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Now, it’s back to peeling more potatoes and dusting and mopping. Totally worth it!

End Note: Extra special shout-out of gratitude to all the people who have reached out to me in support, excitement, and encouragement over my subarctic travels. I’d especially like to thank Heath for taking on extra work with the pups and house while I’m gone. I miss everyone so much, but thank goodness for the Internet. Heath and I talk every day and he indulges me every time I ask to see what Smudge and/or Faith is doing. I love you all!Greetings from Churchill: The Life (So Far) of a Bear Season Volunteer 63

 

 

 

 

 

Wild Times at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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This past week, my husband and I hit our seventh national park since June: Theodore Roosevelt in Medora, North Dakota. Unlike the other parks we’ve visited, this one wasn’t on our road-trip list of must-see places, nor was it recommended by anyone.

We didn’t even know it existed until I Googled “Map of National Parks,” to see if we could visit any on our drive back East. Our house-sitting job in Connecticut doesn’t start until after Labor Day, and I wanted to make the most of our time on the road.

My husband wasn’t sure he even wanted us to stop. We had just spent 8 very hot days in a not air-conditioned apartment in Dixon, Montana. That wouldn’t have been so bad, but trains also blew by multiple times throughout the day, blaring their horns. Every. Single. Time.

Including five in the morning.

We also knew that temperatures would be soaring close to 100 in Medora and instead of being concerned about bears infiltrating our camp site we would need to worry about rattlesnakes.

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Apparently, they are everywhere in the prairies of Montana and the Dakotas.

But I had my heart set on visiting the park ever since the internet informed me that wild horses lived there.

I didn’t know wild horses lived anywhere in the United States other than the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague off the coast of Virginia. So, YES! I wanted to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Instead of camping, we decided to stay in a small hotel right outside the park entrance. It was worth every penny! Every morning we got up before the sun and hit the scenic loop in the south end of the park. There was wildlife everywhere.

Bison!

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More Bison!

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Even More Bison!

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Horses!

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Bunny!

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Prairie Dogs!

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I know I used a lot of exclamation points, but in my humble opinion six isn’t nearly enough to express how excited I got with each new animal sighting.

In addition to all the animals, another positive aspect of the park was lack of crowds. For every early morning we went out, Heath and I would be the only ones driving on the loop. We missed the sunrise the first morning by a few minutes (mostly my fault, as I wanted to stop and take pictures of horses and bison), but the second morning did not disappoint.

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We also spent time learning about Theodore Roosevelt, the person, and Theodore Roosevelt, the president of the United States. His connection to Medora, ND, is tragic: At the age of 25, he went there to recover from the deaths of his wife and mother; they both died on the same day – February 14th, 1884.

The Visitor’s Center at the park features a Theodore Roosevelt museum, as well as the Maltese Cross Cabin, where Roosevelt spent his mourning period.

Historians believe that it was Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota that eventually lead him to become a great conservationist later in life. Earlier, however, he practiced the appalling hunting practices of the time, many of which were cruel and inhumane.

Considering the great work that Roosevelt did for animals and the environment later in his life, I can’t hold his earlier actions against him. I suspect he felt a significant amount of regret for the choices he made earlier, and who am I to judge?

We watched a movie on Roosevelt’s life while at the Visitor Center. Towards the end, the movie featured this Roosevelt quotation, which struck me as being relevant and profound for the world we currently live in:

“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources. But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil, and the gas are exhausted, when the soils have still further impoverished and washed into the streams, polluting the rivers, denuding the fields and obstructing navigation.”

Roosevelt said this on May 13, 1908, as part of his Conservation as a National Duty conference he held at the White House with governors and statemen from across the US. I find it ironic and thoroughly depressing that 100 years later many of the people in charge of our “lavish resources” don’t even seem to care about asking these questions any more, let alone trying to protect them.

Over the next week or so when you are out and about in nature or see a picture of a natural place that touches your heart or soul, please remember the above words of Theodore Roosevelt and ask yourself: What would I do if this place was gone?

Don’t give yourself a free pass by saying that would never happen. Because it could happen. It is happening to some places thanks to our current government.

Just think about the place not being there.

See how you feel.

And then take a moment to say thank you because right there and then, you are still able to appreciate the beauty of God’s green Earth while we still have it.

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