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Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 1

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition

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:

  1. How would you fill in the blank — Before I die I want to __________?
  2. 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.

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Picture taken on Autumn Equinox in 2021.

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Picture taken on Autumn Equinox in 2021.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 9I call it Polar Nights. Here’s to more colorful creativity in 2022!

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And the Award Goes to …

Calling all pets in Norfolk! The Norfolk Library is hosting a pet parade this Friday, June 11th at 6:30pm on the Village Green. 

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Yes, I made this poster using my favorite Norfolk animals. Obviously, I will not be a judge. How could I ever choose between my favorite furry friends in town? 

Although I wouldn’t say Abe R. Ham the pig is necessarily furry. More like tufty and dramatic, but I supposed that’s the prerogative of a pig!

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Abe R. Ham

Hammy, as he’s affectionately known, only cares about me when I give him apples and carrots. I’ve come to accept that we have this weird relationship – I give him snacks and he gives me 1.5 seconds attention. Then he’ll go rooting around the farmyard, honking and squealing as if the length of the grass and lack of crunchy leaves is somehow a personal attack on his pig-ness. Hammy would definitely win best actor in the Academy of Barnyard Dramatics.  

Now that I’ve awarded Hammy a prize, I can’t leave out the other animals. Well, except for that cat. I used a stock photo from Canva, the graphic design platform I use for all my social media work at the Library. 

I’m not anti-cat or anything. I simply couldn’t find any outdoor photos of my favorite Norfolk cats and I thought it was silly to include an indoor cat on a poster for an outdoor pet parade. This cat kinda sorta maybe looks like my buddy, Bracken, so that makes me think I can award the Canva Cat an Elmer Award for being Bracken’s stand-in. 

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Bracken

If you’ve never heard of the Elmer Awards, please click here to read about the storied history of the one and only award for Hollywood stand-ins that were given in the 1930s and 40s. 

Chloe, who may or may not be anti-cat depending on what her feline brother Dweezle is usually doing, is paws down Miss Norfolk Canine Beauty Queen. Her trendy silver color is all natural with her border collie merle coat and those blue and brown eyes can see right to your soul … or the hotdogs on your kitchen counter. Chloe is also known as quite a counter surfer in her household, so it’s a good thing she’s so stunning. 

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Dweezle

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Chloe

Next I’ll award Dodger the Sassy Britches award because even though he may have one of the sweetest faces in the history of Butterscotch Border Collies anywhere, there’s quite a bit of spice under all that fluff. Dodger, or His Royal Highness, as his other dog walker and I call him, doesn’t let a meal go by without insisting that he somehow contribute. And by “contribute” I mean that Dodger gets to sample some or all of it. 

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Dodger

Annie wins the All Around Perfect Dog award. But I’m still not convinced Annie is a real dog. I’ve told people I’ve met in the Barbour Woods while walking her that I think she’s a divine being come to Earth in a dog costume. Just to be clear – I don’t just blurt out this assertion. I usually say it after the person interacts with Annie for approximately 3 seconds and they realize they are in the presence of someone spectacular. The Barbour Woods person is then allowed to throw Annie’s ball, if they please, and I’m pretty sure Annie does this little maneuver to give the humans extra time to fawn over how truly delightful she is until she brings the ball back and it’s time to demonstrate again how perfect she is. 

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Annie

Since Annie is a hard act to follow, I’ll move on to Sheldon next since he’s a goat. And since he’s a goat (i.e., a Nigerian Pygmy goat), I’ll just go ahead and give him a GOAT award so he can be a Greatest Of All Time goat. It might be premature since he’s a young goat, but I think Sheldon has a lot of potential for goatiness — I mean, just look at his ears. 

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That leaves us with Fergus, who wins Everything Else. This award encompasses the bite-sized perfection that is Fergus — from his scruffy, adorable face, to his adventurous attitude, and every yip, snoozle, and pensive stare out the window in between.

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Fergus

And did I mention that Fergus has been known to fall asleep on human heads? The day this happened, I texted Heath and told him I would never be able to move again. That moment was one of the most joyful in my whole life. All because of little Fergus. 

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It’s truly a wonderful life where I get to love so many pets! And to think that on this Friday I get to love all the pets that come to the Library’s pet parade, too! Probably for the best they’re not allowing me to judge. Every pet would get a prize and I suspect the judging would take all night. 

If you live in the area, please feel free to join our pet parade. If you want to register your pet to participate, here’s the link: http://www.norfolklibrary.org/events/pet-parade-and-fridays-on-the-green-kick-off/

Otherwise just come and have some furry fun!

 

 

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A New Credit to My Name

I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life:

  • Games Attendant, Hershey Park
  • Mortgage Loan Auditor, Harris Savings Bank
  • Tutor, Sylvan Learning Center
  • Graduate Teaching Assistant, University of North Carolina
  • Graduate Teaching Fellow, University of North Carolina
  • Research Assistant, University of North Carolina School of Medicine
  • Consultant, University of North Carolina School of Medicine
  • Assistant Professor of Psychology, Benedictine University
  • Associate Professor of Psychology, Benedictine University
  • Pet & House Sitter, TrustedHouseSitters.com; MindMyHouse.com; HousesittersAmerica.com; HousesittersCanada.com
  • Café Worker, Station Place Cafe
  • Writer, Norfolk Now
  • Online Editor, Norfolk Now
  • Liaison, Norfolk Hub
  • Executive Assistant, Norfolk Library
  • Director of Community & Creativity, Norfolk Church of Christ Congregational (UCC)
  • Community Engagement Coordinator, Norfolk Library

And, my personal favorite:

  • Dog walker!

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Now, I have one more to add to the list:

  • Producer!

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This one I did not see coming. But, yes, I am now a credited producer on a COVID-19 vaccine video.Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 24

This video is the result of a collaboration with Dr. Richard Kessin, PhD, Professor of Pathology and Cell Biology, Emeritus, Columbia University. For a little over a year, I’ve been helping Rich set up his website. Rich has been writing science columns for local newspapers in his retirement, and he wanted a website where people could access all his writing. As Rich is an expert in disease and vaccines, he was my go-to person to ask all COVID-19 virus and vaccine-related questions. The idea for a public service video came up and we just went with it!

You can check out the video here.

As someone who is three days away from being fully vaccinated, I am so proud to be a part of this video. I’ll be honest – I was scared to get the vaccine. I had concerns that it was developed too quickly and that there would be unknown effects that would only be revealed with time. As Rich explained to me, the technology to create and administer the vaccine is something that’s been in the works for over a decade. It may seem quick to us, but to the scientists it hasn’t been that quick at all.

Another point Rich made that resonated with me is that my worries were all unknown hypotheticals. What if this and what if that. COVID-19 is a very real and present danger. The risks of this virus are known. Why would I jeopardize my health and the health of those I loved for something that’s imaginary?

When I thought about the vaccine in those terms, I pushed through my fear and got the shot. There are many people in my life I would do whatever it takes to protect them and keep them safe. And if that means taking on the fear of the unknown, then I realized I would do that for them. Because I love them. Because they matter to me.

I recently got into a discussion with someone about the vaccine. I explained that I would continue to practice social distancing and masking to help keep people safe. This person explained that throughout my life I’ve already passed on many germs, getting people sick, possibly even killing them. People I would never even know. My conversation with this person then got cut off, so I’ll never really know what I would have said in the moment as my response.

But as I replayed that conversation in my head, here’s what I would have liked to say: What makes you think I’m okay with any of that? I’m someone who prioritizes the values of service to others and compassion in my life. I’m a regular blood donor. My bone marrow is in the national registry. My husband knows that if something were to happen to me, he’s to donate my organs – and my organ donor status is indicated on my license, too. I’ve learned A LOT in this pandemic about what it means to be a good citizen and a good neighbor. If there are things I can do, like stay home when I’m sick, wear a mask to prevent spreading germs, wash my hands, get a vaccine, why wouldn’t I do those things to help other people stay healthy and safe?

Why does it have to be such a big deal for us to care about others? Is there anything we can possibly say that will convince people to care about others simply because it’s the right thing to do?

I don’t know. But, I’m going to keep trying. This video is just one more way I can be a part of something bigger than myself. When I heard an interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci recently, he said those of us who got vaccinated are part of the solution. Those who haven’t are now part of the problem. His words resonated with me. I am thrilled and delighted to be a part of the COVID-19 solution. It’s one of the few things I can do these days that has a direct benefit on others.

If you haven’t already gotten vaccinated, I encourage you to consider your reasons why. Think about those reasons in the context of what we actually know and what are the imaginary what-ifs. Think about what you’re truly willing to do for those you love. Yes, it can be scary to face unknowns. That’s why we have professionals who devote their entire adult lives to becoming experts. So they can answer our questions for us and alleviate any of our concerns.

So if you have any questions, you can ask me and I’ll pass them right along to Richard Kessin. I maybe be a producer, but I’m no vaccine expert. Just a fan of them!

Reverse Advent Calendar where each day of Advent gives a food to donate to a food pantry

Get into the Christmas Spirit with a Reverse Advent Calendar

2020 is a year of a lot of things — many of them are not good. However, 2020 is also the year I learned about something wonderful and uplifting — a reverse Advent calendar! With Advent fast approaching, this calendar is a great way to connect with the spirit of the season and do some good for your community.

Last year, I started working for a Congregational Church as the Director of Community and Creativity. One of the best parts of this job is I get paid to think of new ideas to engage people around town with the ministries of the church. With the pandemic severely limiting community engagement while at the same time making it more difficult for some people to meet their basic needs, I felt challenged to find something new and different for Advent, yet also meaningful for the congregation. Then I came across the idea of a reverse advent calendar and lo and behold — I found my solution!

A traditional Advent calendar provides individuals with a “door” or “window” to open on the calendar, inside of which a treat or inspirational quotation is found.

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With a reverse Advent Calendar, individuals give something on each day of Advent. The reverse advent calendar I came across on social media had a theme focused around food banks. Since the Norfolk Food Pantry is housed in the church where I work, it seemed like a perfect partnership.

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Photo courtesy of Lynn Deasy

A lot of people may not know this, but there are significant wealth disparities in Norfolk, CT. Yes, we have very wealthy families in Norfolk. To their credit, I have seen some jaw dropping displays of generosity in this town. At the same time, one-third of the students at the local elementary school are on free or reduced lunch, so we clearly have more work to.

The Norfolk Food Pantry has also seen their number of requests double in the last few weeks. They suspect the increase has to do with the discontinuation of supplemental employment assistance during the pandemic.

The reverse Advent calendar is a win-win situation. Participants get to do an act of kindness every day leading up to Christmas. People in need will have access to food.

Added bonus if you live in Norfolk: You can drop off your filled food box at Battell Chapel from 5:00-8:00pm on Christmas Eve and get to experience a drive through experience with luminaries, lessons, and carols.

If you don’t live in Norfolk, then I’m confident any local food bank would be grateful to get a box filled food.

If you want to hear more about how the reverse Advent calendar works, you can watch a video of the church’s online service here. I come in at about 6:36. You can also see my decorated reverse advent calendar box. Even though I am the Director of Community and Creativity, the creativity does not necessarily translate to arts and craftsy type projects.

Here’s a link to the Advent devotional I spoke of in the video. I made the devotional book myself and I think it’s one of my greatest creations in 2020. Okay, Canva helped. A lot. I don’t know what I would do without their templates because design and color combos are not my strengths. But I did find the quotes and choose the pictures featured each day. Anyway, I hope you like it! Here’s a sneak peak to entice you to click on the link!

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And just to be thorough and accommodating, here’s an easy-to-print calendar without the daily devotional:

A reverse advent calendar listing each day of Advent along with the food item to be doanted

May you find joy and gratitude this Advent season! If you have any questions or would like to use the reverse Advent calendar daily devotional I created for UCC (Congregational), Norfolk, feel free to reach out to me at genesis.potentia(Replace this parenthesis with the @ sign)gmail.com. A few simple edits and you can use it at any church, any where.

 

Moments of Quiet Happiness

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Part of my job at the Norfolk Library is to research what other libraries are offering in terms of programming. I then make recommendations to the Executive Director and Events Coordinator.

Since nearly every library event is a virtual library event, I’ve also taken the liberty to sign up for events at libraries across the state.

On September 14th, I participated in a country line dancing class through the Bloomfield Library. The next class is on October 19th, if anyone else would like to sign up.

Two weeks ago, Heath and I participated in an online calligraphy class. In just 90 minutes, I learned some good calligraphy skills, as well as tips as how to spiff up the letters with color. We first practiced writing the alphabet, then we moved on to the most famous pangram in the English language:

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For my final project of the night, we were asked to select a single word or a phrase to write. Here’s what I chose, in honor of this dog that I love so very much.

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Another class I signed up for is a 5-week workshop on grief journaling. This workshop is through the Greenwich Library and is taught by a certified grief counselor. The theme of the workshop is processing grief during the time of Covid. I thought I’d make a good candidate for the class since this past summer has been especially filled with loss and sadness, in addition to the grief and loss of the pandemic, as well as the fall of our country.

One of the insights I’ve already gained from the workshop is that I’m not as aware of the quiet moments of happiness in my life anymore since this summer. I consider quiet moments of happiness to be the ordinary moments in my day that despite their mundanity, still bring about a feeling of wonder, awe, or delight. Upon reflection, the sadness from my losses or the exhaustion from having narcolepsy has consumed much of my mental bandwidth. The quiet moments are still there, I’m just not present enough to always recognize them.

Now that I’m actively trying to pay more attention, I’ve been moderately successful.

A friend recently sent me a prism so I could brighten up my day with rainbows. I often carry the prism with me to work so I can take the rainbows with me. We had a brilliant day of sunshine recently and I was treated to this quiet moment of happiness.

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Then there’s the book donation chute at the library. I do NOT have a mechanical mind and understanding mechanics and engineering do not really interest me at all. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the outcome. Watching boxes of books travel down this chute takes me back to Museum of Scientific Discovery in Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, that I loved so much as a kid. Every time I put a box of books on this chute, I feel delighted!

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Watch the video of the book chute here.

Then there’s my most recent walk with Annie.

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The leaves have started to change here in Norfolk, and the woods have a nice coating of crunchy leaves to walk through.

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You can listen to the crunchiness here.

Okay, not necessarily a quiet moment, but walking through these leaves sure did bring me happiness.

For anyone else grieving, I hope you find some quiet moments of happiness this coming week.

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A Prayer for the People During COVID-19

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For those of you who don’t know, I work part-time at the Congregational Church in Norfolk as The Director of Community & Creativity. Essentially, the job is exactly how the title sounds. I look for creative ways to connect others throughout the Norfolk community (and beyond) in activities that celebrate compassion, generosity, love, tolerance, and spirituality. Examples of such activities are our Does It Matter Bible Study, where we debate theology for 50 minutes every week and then decide none of it matters because all we want is to not be a jerk to other people, Sunday Night Loving Kindness Meditation meetups (currently suspended due to COVID-19), and The Blessing of Less, a lesson and meditation on living with less in honor of Earth (very likely suspended due to COVID-19).

One of my job requests recently was to record a “prayer for the people” to be included in our new weekly worship service videos. You know, since we’re all trying to stay safe and healthy since congregating in groups is a bad idea.

I received the request on a Friday around noon and had a draft ready to read and record by Friday at 4:30pm. Of course, when I read it the following morning, I thought, oh, it could use some more editing, couldn’t it?

Well, too late for that! Well … too late for the video. I had to send off the recording ASAP on Friday to our outstanding video editor so he could work his magic on it. By outstanding video editor, I mean the pastor’s newly college-graduated son who is AWESOME at this sort of thing and offered to help the church with our social media content now that he’s back home.

But not too late for my blog post! So, with love in my heart and joy at the opportunity to share these words, I present to you my Prayer for the People:

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If you’d like to see the online worship video, you can check it out  on YouTube:

And if you’d like to see my outtakes from the recording, you can check that video out here:

Now that a full week has gone by, I wish I had spoken extemporaneously instead of reading from my computer. Being a recovering perfectionist, I sometimes try too hard to get something “right” rather than speak directly from my heart. It’s a good lesson to be reminded of should I be asked to do something like this again. A

Special thanks to Heath, my cameraman, who did an excellent job with the filming, and Smudge, a most-excellent co-star who hit his mark every single time.

Labrador standing at edge of pond

Stay safe everyone. Sending love and prayers.

Setting an Intention for 2019

Setting an Intention for 2019

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

I recently read a quotation attributed to Aristotle that resonated with me:

Through discipline comes freedom.

The moment I read it, I knew this idea would be my intention for 2019.

After my death meditation last month, the biggest regret I’m taking with me into 2019 are the writing goals I have yet to achieve. Because some of these goals, like being traditionally published, require circumstances beyond my control, I recognize there is only so much I can do.

At the same time, I also recognize that I did not do my best in 2018 to achieve them.

That’s where discipline as a way to freedom comes in.

I want to be free of the nagging thoughts, the procrastination, the fear that what I’m doing is not enough. So I’m taking the time now to develop a disciplined plan for my writing that, at least on my end, means that by the time we’re celebrating 2020 I will feel more at peace with the work I’ve done.

Since this is a year-long process, I’m devoting January to the planning stage. I’m deciding on my specific goals, then working backwards from December 2019 to figure out what I have to do on a daily, weekly, monthly basis to reach these goals.

For example, one of my goals is to write and submit 12 guest blog posts in 2019, like this one that got published in 2017. I only submitted two last year (one didn’t get published and the other is to be determined). I enjoy writing about minimalism, joy, dogs, libraries, traveling, etc., and I’d like to share my thoughts with a wider audience. This is easier writing for me, then say a novel, so I feel a nice sense of accomplishment when I crank out a blog post in a relatively short amount of time.

How this goal translates into activity, is that I can easily break it down into writing one a month, which means I need to schedule guest blog writing on my calendar for six hours each month, in two three-hour increments.

I was going to keep it at one three-hour increment, but then I recognized that I often underestimate how long it will take me to do something, and I made a change accordingly.

This one act of self-awareness made me feel pretty dang good, as if I really am more serious this time around about achieving my goals, and it’s not something I’m doing on a whim.

YAY for small wins!

I’m also feeling pretty good about my role in this process thanks to a comment made by one of my extended family members over the holidays as we were eating homemade cookies – “I’m awful at self-regulation,” this family member said.

Yes, me too! Although I’d never described my problem as being awful at “self-regulation,” before.

I’ve shared this story before, but I think it’s the best one I have to describe my limits at self-regulation. I was sitting in my therapist’s office, lamenting that I couldn’t keep my room neat and organized. “My clothes never make it into the hamper,” I complained.

My therapist started laughing. She said she was picturing my clothes marching around on the floor. Then she said something along the lines of “Kelly, who is the subject of that sentence?”

“My clothes.” I said this matter of fact, as if it was obvious.

My therapist gave me a look.

“Oh my God, MY CLOTHES.” My whole life came crashing to a halt as I realized I was the one not putting my clothes in my hamper.

I approach 2019 with a renewed sense of what I can do to reach my goals and how the choices I make either take me closer to reaching them or keep me from getting where I want to be.

My life is, and always will be, God and Kelly willing. I have complete confidence in God’s role in my life. Now, it’s time to act like I have confidence in my own.

Through discipline comes freedom.

Here I go!

Here I go!

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

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!Thinking about Death in the New Year, 2022 edition 52

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild World of Wildlife Photography

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I’ve never been one of those people obsessed with supermodels. Until I found out that there’s such a thing as wildlife supermodels. Meet Bruno!

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And, yes, he really is this good looking in person, plus he oozes charm. I mean, what bear doesn’t?

In all seriousness, I really didn’t understand the concept of a wildlife photography model until my husband and I took part in my Christmas 2017/Valentine’s Day 2018/Anniversary 2018/Birthdays 2018/Christmas 2018 present to ourselves.

All the way back in December 2017, I was watching episode 309 of Jack Hanna’s Into the Wild. In this episode, Jack and his wife visited a ranch in Montana to photograph bears. Hmm, I thought. That would be the perfect present for my husband for Christmas, et al., since he’s a photographer and I’ve wanted to visit Montana for many years now.

I immediately Googled Triple D Game Farm and discovered that they offer photography workshops for the public. There were a whole host of options to choose from, such as horses or birds of prey.

The choice was tough. I, however, couldn’t resist a workshop featuring baby wildlife. With this option, there’d be a little something for both of us: adorable animals for me to dote over and new photography skills for my husband to master.

I was determined NOT to make the same mistake I made last year in surprising my husband with his birthday present.

One of the things I love most about my husband is his curiosity and drive to learn as much as he can about anything that interests him (which is a lot). A few years ago, he made a goal to be fluent in Spanish by December 2017. I wanted to support him, so when a Norfolk friend told us about a Spanish immersion school in which she and her daughter attended in Antigua, Guatemala, I surprised my husband with a week-long program for his birthday last year (May 2017).

Unfortunately, because I wanted the trip to be before December 2017, the only time that worked for him to travel to Guatemala was at a time when I couldn’t go with him. In hindsight, I should have said to heck with the goal date, because I missed out on my husband’s first international trip. We could have hiked a volcano together!

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Lesson learned! So, hello, baby wildlife!

The workshop was lead by an incredibly talented and knowledgeable photographer, Kathleen Reeder. After observing Kathleen during the workshop, I felt a renewed sense of certainty that I made the right decision to quit my teaching job two years ago. Kathleen is a natural teacher, who thoroughly enjoyed what she was doing and enthusiastically shared her gifts with others. In other words, a model teacher who embodied many of the qualities I lost (or never had) after choosing a profession by default rather than true interest and passion.

Every day the photographers would assemble at the crack of dawn to work with different animals, which included baby foxes, wolves, coyotes, otters, pine martens, Canada Lynxes, and a juvenile mountain lion.

Perhaps I’m just naïve, or, maybe the animal lover in me is too attached to the possibility that I could be wandering around the woods and happen across Canadian lynx kittens posing in a log and get to witness the adorableness of it, but I had no idea a lot of wildlife photos are staged.

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Watching the animals land on their marks during photo shoots in between romping and playing is something I will marvel over for the rest of my life.

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You may be thinking that Bruno is not a baby animal, and you’d be right. I think Bruno is maybe 6 years old.

As part of the workshop, participants were offered the opportunity to photograph additional species for a fee. Talk amongst the participants who had previously attended Triple D workshops was that Bruno the Bear is a ham. He’ll pose during his photo sessions and look at the photographers to make sure they’re watching. He loves laughter and applause and applesauce and wants everyone to love him loving those things.

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Of course, I suggested we participate in a Bruno the Bear photoshoot. No brainer, really. Just look at him!

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Since I was only attending the workshop as a “sidekick,” I wasn’t allowed to take any photographs of the animals myself, lest I be charged the full cost of attending. So, the photos in this post are some of my husband’s cast-off photos. He said he’s saving his best ones for his own social media purposes, unless I wanted to pay him. HAHA, he’s such a funny guy. He and Bruno could be BFFs, if Bruno wasn’t, you know, a wild bear who just happened to also be a supermodel.

Work it, Bruno. Work it!

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Happy Father’s Day

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Happy Father’s Day to my Dad!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Dad, lately, and parents in general, as I see more and more news stories about immigrant children being taken from their parents while coming into the United States. These stories make me wonder how I was lucky enough to be born into my family.

My father is a retired physician; his specialty was internal medicine. When my father went to medical school, his textbooks cost more than his tuition each semester. His father, I believe, was an engineer, who traveled the world as part of his job, and his mother was a nurse.

When he was in high school, my Dad read the book Arrowhead by Sinclair Lewis. The story is about a man, Martin Arrowhead, who is from the Midwest and who becomes a doctor. This story was one of the motivating reasons my Dad wanted to go to medical school.

For many years, my Dad worked 14+ hours days, multiple days in a row. When he was on call at the hospital, our phone would ring all hours of the night. I’ve overhead phone conversations where he’s had to tell family members that a loved one has died.

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Because of my Dad’s hard work, I had the privilege of attending private nursery school, private grade school, and private high school. Reading was the #1 activity of my childhood and almost any book I ever wanted at Waldenbooks was mine to be read. Stacks and stacks of books filled my bedroom and kept me company during childhood.

I spent summers going to horseback riding camp and Disney World. We traveled to Bar Harbor, Maine, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for vacations.

Every opportunity was afforded me as a child. I wanted for nothing. I’ve never had to know what it’s like to be hungry or wear second-hand clothing or have to worry about how a bill was going to be paid or what would happen if someone in my family became sick.

When I turned 18, I then attended college without having to take on any student debt. My summers were filled with working at a bank in downtown Harrisburg auditing mortgage loans for $6.25 an hour – this was $2.00 above minimum wage at the time.

I also got to experience international travel for the first time, as I spent not just one summer studying abroad at Oxford, but two. The programs lasted three weeks each and part of me didn’t want to come home because there was so much to see and do.

In 1999, I graduated from college with a 3.93 GPA (magna cum laude), named an outstanding senior psychology major, and earned honors in the psychology program. I had already been awarded a small research grant for my psychology honors thesis and this research had been presented at the American Psychological Association’s national conference in Boston that year.

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After graduating from college, I landed a full-ride at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to pursue a doctorate in psychology. Again, I graduated with zero student debt, a university award, and the opportunity to present my research at conferences and through publication.

I immediately landed a tenure-track position as an assistant professor of psychology at a suburban Chicago University.

I continued achieving milestone after milestone in my career – professional development grants, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and presentations at national conferences. These achievements lead to promotions and raises. The university had a 7% matching program for my retirement account. I took full advantage of it. That money got added into my already growing retirement accounts that my father started for me after my first job working at Hersheypark when I was 15.

Let’s not forget my paid sabbatical for the fall 2014-spring 2015 academic year. I know full well how lucky I am to have been given nine months of time to consider my career and the changes I wanted to make. It was during my sabbatical that I realized I wanted more in my life, to pursue the other dreams I’d had, the ones that started in childhood that never got fulfilled.

And that’s exactly what I’m doing now.

Everything about my life has been an absolute privilege because of who my Dad was and how hard he worked.

Because of his hard work and sacrifices, I am now able to lead a life that is centered on creativity, imagination, kindness, compassion, and generosity. I do not have to worry about basic security needs and I never will.

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So when I read stories about parents wanting a better life for their child and coming into the United States, I understand. I will not judge them for doing something “illegal” because some laws are arbitrarily created and not rooted in equality and justice but are more based on fear and lack and limitation. If you want an excellent example of this, look no further than Jesus Christ, whose own family had to seek refuge in Egypt when he was born because living in Judea was not safe at the time.

My Dad raised me to believe the messages of Jesus Christ and Jesus was quite clear in what he considered his greatest commandment: Love one another as I have loved you.

Every child deserves the same privileges and gifts I received from my Dad’s love. My Dad gave up years of his life working so I could be taken care of. And I was.

That doesn’t make me special, though, just because of who my Dad is and how hard he worked and how much he loved me. Some Dads work just hard and love their children just as much but will never be able to achieve the same kind of security that I grew up with.

Imagine what kind of world we would have if everyone could share their gifts instead of having to worry about where their next meal is coming from. That’s the life my Dad created for me and it’s one I now want to create for others in the world.

So I’m now doing that the best way I know how, the one that brings me the most joy – taking care of animals, loving my husband, and writing stories. On face value, these choices may not seem like the most proactive in terms of working for peace and social justice. Yet, I think of Gandhi’s words of “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”

I’ve written about Gandhi’s words before, but today, on Father’s Day, and on a day when some fathers and mothers are being separated from their children, these words seem much more alive to me than ever before.

Thank you, Dad, so much for everything you’ve done for me. I am trying to make the world a better place because of you and be that change I want to see. I love you!