Archives

Trick-or-Treat: Happy Halloween 2015!

IMG_1048_Fotor monst

Trick-or-Treat: Happy Halloween 2015

Tomorrow is the last day of the Write 31 Days challenge and it is also Halloween. Or maybe I should say it like this: Tomorrow is the last day of the Write 31 Days challenge and it is also Halloween!

All occasions and holidays have their own ambiance, don’t they? Halloween is supposed to be scary and frightful. It certainly can be! I have always felt that Halloween should be these four things:

safe

simple

fun

hilarious

I haven’t been able to enjoy too many Halloweens these past several years, but I plan on enjoying this one. We are going to see our grand girls, and the baby is going to be one of my personal favorite characters, Raggedy Ann. Her mother sent me a photograph this morning of trying on the costume; she said grandbaby loves the wig! Last year, when the baby was only twelve months old, she was Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz; she cried because her dress felt itchy–it didn’t last long. She did, however, love the ruby slippers Grandma bought her. She wore those long beyond her first Halloween.

In just one year, it appears her imagination and tolerance has developed.

our granddaughter, trying on her Halloween costume

our granddaughter, trying on her Halloween costume

Seeing the photograph of our grand baby dressed as Raggedy Ann made me think of two other costumes I saw on Facebook…The Crazy Cat Woman and Cruella De Ville (sorry, I can’t credit the photographers..I just saw these as loose shares)…

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 9.28.40 PM

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 9.48.27 PM

I have never been one to have much of an elaborate costume for Halloween. It seemed I was always too busy to spend much time fussing over it. The years I tried to get elaborate, I had more trouble making the costume than it was worth. One year, I tried to make my daughter a Little Mermaid costume, and I got so busy at work that I was still hemming the skirt when trick-or-treaters were ringing the doorbell. Even though I had picked the perfect fabric, running so far behind made me feel like a failure. I vowed to myself to simplify in the future.

It’s nice to have a great costume, but the focus is really on the celebration and the fun, or it should be. Here are some of the simple costumes I created over the years for myself to wear, using what I had available in my own wardrobe:

a hippie

a go-go girl

a nun

a farmer

a pregnant woman

The pregnant woman was one of the last costumes I wore before suffering an acquired traumatic brain injury in 2007. It was the easiest costume to put together, since I had an old maternity dress and a nice, big squishy pillow that I could anchor under my pantyhose. I got the idea to go as pregnant because my daughter’s boyfriend had a costume of a pimp, which I am pretty sure he and my daughter did not know the meaning of since they were still in high school; it was just one of those inexpensive ready-made costumes that they probably knew had some forbidden meaning. We needed something for my husband to wear, so he borrowed my daughter’s boyfriend’s costume (which may have belonged to the boy’s father, possibly), and we went to the party as a pimp and his pregnant girlfriend.

Because you know, Halloween.

IMG_1044

Everyone else at the party also wore simple costumes, but they all worked well enough, and together we made a pretty ghoulish crew. We had a lot of fun that night, but we usually did whenever we got together.  One couple brought with them a plastic monster–for whatever reason–because they had it? I guess to be scary. He had a name, which I’ve forgotten now. Maybe I was even the one who named him.

IMG_1077

We were enjoying visiting with our friends, laughing and talking.  The grim reaper you see above and I started acting out a scene of an obstetrician attending the delivery of a baby: that is, ahem, me trying to birth the monster…which of course, as parents, we all thought was pretty sassy.

IMG_1081

IMG_1082

IMG_1080

IMG_1086

Believe it or not, we were not drunk! We were just having fun, being silly. I have long had a stand up comic routine I do about giving birth, which magnifies the experience as comedy does, but also illustrates how labor feels so much worse than it looks. I act out the physical pain and the voices of the doctors and the nurses, who can say some pretty funny things in their urgent ways. So that is part of what I am doing in the videos you see here (linked below), where I am both the nurse (telling the mother to PUSH) and the mother trying to deliver the baby:

MVI_1083.m4v

MVI_1084.m4v

Oh, the hilarity!

The best thing about Halloween is that you can have so much fun, just getting wild with your friends.

That, and of course, the candy!

________

I hope you have enjoyed reading Stumbler. One more day to #31!

This is Day 30 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

When Stress Amplifies Fatigue

When Stress Amplifies Fatigue: 10 Things You Can Do 

Like many ailments that arise through no fault of the individuals who suffer them, stress is often compounded by forces outside one’s control. Every injured or disabled person knows to make accommodations to help them cope and to help them recover as much as possible, but sometimes even the best strategies cannot protect us from the agitation delivered by other people and circumstances.  So, what can a person who is already struggling with health issues do when additional stress arrives?  Here are ten things that work for me:

 1. Rest:  Many problems lessen with a level blood pressure and clear thinking.  Even a crabby mood can be indicative of being tired, so make sure that you take to the hammock if anything is causing increased stress. By checking out and calming down, you will renew and strengthen whatever cells your going to need to face whatever music is playing all around you. Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically.  Just rest, as often as possible, particularly if tough times get tougher for any reason whatsoever. You don’t have to hibernate as if rest is all there is. You just need not to forget that rest does help whenever we feel overwhelmed.

 2. Educate Yourself:  While you unwind, pick up a book or an article having to do with whatever you are facing. The more you understand about your condition and the more you learn about whatever challenges crop up, the more you will be able to make sound decisions and seek useful assistance, should you need any. Or, read something unrelated, say a poem or a short story. Try to keep the reading nourishing, not anxiety producing in any way–you are reading to return to center, not to aggravate yourself further.

 3. Eat Healthy Foods/Drink Plenty of Water:  Your body cannot repair itself if you fill it with low quality fuel.  The better the nourishment, the better you’ll feel and the stronger you’ll get.  Last year I drank warm lemon water every morning all winter. I never got a cold until May, despite my husband having a cough nearly all season long. Later this year, I added one apple a day to my diet.  I was amazed at how filling this was, how satisfying (eat fresh ones, obviously) and how it helped me cut down on snacking.  Don’t even get me started on salads–I am a salad fanatic; I like them as much as candy, and make them so that they are actually better than candy (not sweet, just yummy, fresh and healthy).  I also added to my diet red grapefruit, chilled to perfection. This is a satisfying treat whenever I’m feeling dehydrated, which is often, no matter how much water I drink. As for water, I fill a glass every time I empty one, and basically drink water all day long. Yes, this results in many potty breaks, but it also helps me think clearer and have more energy. Did you know that before an exam you should drink water to make sure your braincells are hydrated?  This was a trick I used as a student, and one I passed along to my students. It makes for clearer concentration stretched over a longer period of time.

 4. Change the Air:  When stress erupts, so does anxiety.  The best thing to do for anxiety beside rest is to vent by talking, go for a walk to get your blood flowing and muscles moving, write to release what is inside, or just open a window to let in a breeze or some sunshine. If noise bothers you, turn things off or close the windows (I even got myself earplugs, and I take them with when we travel); if silence drives you crazy, put on some soothing music or even a tv show. Small adaptations make big changes. You do not have to go stir crazy in the atmosphere that stress induces. Do whatever little thing you can to enable yourself to clear your mind. Of course, exercise, meditation, shopping, calling a friend, or a trip to the library work well, too.

 5. Give Yourself a Mantra for the Day:  To combat the negative feelings I have that have basically been imposed on me by negative people and negative situations, I try to bolster my wounded self-esteem by creating a mantra to help me focus on the sort of inspiration I feel lacking.  I might say, “I am generous, thoughtful and good,” or “I am strong, honest and true,” to combat anyone doubting my motives.  Or, “It doesn’t have to be done. Reading is doing,” or “I can rest when I need to” on a day when fatigue has me in its grasp and I cannot hardly sit up, let alone tackle the universe. If someone throws a brain injury insult my way, such as, “You’re crazy,” or “I told you, but you forgot as usual,” I tell myself, “I understand my journey better than anyone. I know where I have been,” to center myself in the fuller truth.  People like to judge one another unfairly, so write down inspirational statements to yourself and keep them at the ready for whenever you start to feel lost or unloved.

 6. “Have a Dance Party” /or/ Have a Pop-Tart Party!:  I say this in quotations because you get to decide what having a dance party entails.  It may be just you, it may be yourself and others, it may be you and your cat, dog or turtle. Thepiano music is all up to you. The only requirement is that you include music. I cannot hear upbeat music without picking up the beat in my head, body, fingers, limbs. Find a go-to song that will get you going whenever you know this will work. My pick is “Brown Eyed Girl” by Van Morrison. I just can’t hear that song without reverting back to the 16 year old I was when it was popular. It brings back memories of many dances and always gets me hopping.  Likewise, when I am grief-stricken, I have a favorite CD I always play that soothes me. I rarely share it with others because music is such a personal choice, but it’s by a pianist who writes instrumentals for movies.  His name is Dustin O’Halloran, and I first heard him playing back up for K.D. Lang in Nashville, TN. Here is my favorite album of his, which you can find online and listen to on Soundcloud or wherever.  I have enjoyed this CD so many times, usually while trying to fall asleep, or when home alone, recovering.

A note about the dance party:  Many years ago I knew a woman who had a young son with special needs. His speech was clear, but he had some emotional challenges resulting from brain damage at birth.  One day the boy became frustrated, as he frequently did. Since he was learning to try to work through his anger, he tried to calm himself down, saying to his mother through his tears, “Could we have a pop-tart party?”  The boy wasn’t a big eater, but pop-tarts made him happy.  So, whether you like pop-tarts or not, you can also think of this one as “Have a Pop-Tart Party!”

 7. Put On the Blinders, Put Up the Schmuck Shield:  Since a lot of stress comes from other people’s behavior, you have to become adept at not looking and not listening. It’s not all that easy to ignore hateful, rude, petty, or otherwise annoying and hurtful people–but the more you can, the better you’ll feel.  EVEN IF you falter and take the bait when they are with you, and EVEN IF you do or say something you regret (we know how easily provoked anyone is who isn’t feeling well in the first place) just do your best to let it all go as soon as you can. If you are embroiled in the moment–being unfairly accused or criticized–you have to do your best to follow the words to the source and let them remain there. None of us can do a thing about what others say or think about us. Even if we try to, they will just go ahead and say and think whatever they want once they are out of our influence, anyway. Some people even thrive on this sort of behavior. So, know this and let them have their opinions. Of course this behavior is likely to be hurtful, that’s partly why they may be doing or saying it in the first place–to bring you down and to elevate themselves. OR, they are doing it to release some of their own intense anger or frustration–in which case, you can begin to have compassion. Most of the time, however, you cannot help people with their anger. You are too busy trying to cope with your own. So when someone comes at you with the Schmuck Truck, do what you can to make things better if there is anything that you can do…but mostly, just practice being deaf, dumb and immune–put up the Schmuck Shield, by envisioning a thick impermeable plastic shield that nothing can cross. I’m not all that good at this myself, but I want to be. So, I’m telling you what I tell myself.  And I hope one of us listens.

 8. Extreme Self-Care:  Whenever you are stressed, it will help you to do whatever you need to treat yourself the way you wish others treated you. Create a list of go-to things for whenever you need a way to care for or comfort yourself. Include things such as: floss my teeth, clean my dresser, color, make a craft, go to a bakery, take a walk, buy flowers or plant some, watch a baby babble, sign up for a course.  Virtually any small thing or big that will make you feel taken care of.  If you have not tried this, I can practically guarantee that you will be amazed by what it does for your spirits. My favorite self-care story is about a time that I was so ill I hardly could get out of bed…but I was home alone and freezing cold. I lay in bed for what seemed like hours, shivering and so uncomfortably cold. It finally occurred to me that I could get out of bed gently and actually get myself a pair of socks. When I put on the socks I took from my dresser drawer, I felt an instant comfort like I had never quite known previously. It was as if I had finally learned to take care of myself the way I would care for others! I warmed up and finally fell asleep.  To this day, that small act is one of my happiest memories of the smallest of blessings that made things feel so much better.

 9. Find Your Happy:  The best thing you can do when you are stressed is find a way to experience joy.  I wrote about this, for example, both here and here.  In addition, you can write a thank you note or read one you received, create a collage or just flip through photos in a magazine or even in your photo file.  The sky is the limit with this one. Facebook is full of groups with challenges that also work toward this goal, so you can do it online or just in your home. You can also do some brainstorming to unveil where your interests lie–try creating a bucket list, a vacation list, a set of goals, a series of fun to-dos, or even add to the list, “read The Artist’s Way,” because it is a book that will set habits of taking Artist Dates and other fulfilling adventures that will enrich your life in remarkable ways. The key here is to gift yourself with anything that brings you joy, the smaller the better, until it becomes second nature. No worries about over-indulgence, this is a strategy for when you are hurting and need to feel some relief from pain.

10. Show Love:  This category also takes whatever form you wish.  The purpose is to show your love or share your heart to anyone you see fit.  You can write a love note, send a text message or, one of my personal favorites, create a package. Sometimes, just finding a sticker or small package of something that reminds you of someone is all it takes. One time, my daughter said she was so busy she’d become short on makeup, so I sent her a shoebox full of new makeup–nothing too costly, just some things I knew she could use. It made her feel loved, and it got me in touch with my love (even though mean people were trying to make me feel awful.)  In one of my online groups, we’ve started sending feathers to one another. Because it is a social media group, we each have a growing bundle of feathers from across the oceans. We find the feathers outside on the ground (so, they themselves are free), save them, then send them when the spirit moves.  Remember, it doesn’t take much to show someone you have thought of them. Plus, whatever time you spend will be a gift to yourself as well.  One of my favorite things to do is to send a book or a card to our granddaughters, the baby especially. Here she is one recent morning, receiving the Halloween card discovered by her parents in the mailbox late the day before. She still has her rag baby with her as she sleepily examines the envelope. It’s one of my favorite photos, and brings me joy every time I look at it:

photo 2

Similarly, one day I sent our granddaughter a short video of myself and my husband just saying hello, telling her we love her and miss her. Thanks to the remarkable technology of cell phones, her father sent one in return, of just her trying to say the same things to us. I cannot tell you the number of times I have watched that video. She’s not quite sure what’s happening, but predictably gets the “bye bye” part down really well.  It adorable, and it’s a grandparent’s dream.

I hope this post helps you find new ways to cope with stress.

Which of these strategies will you try?  Please leave me a note in the comments and let me know if it worked for you!

Feeling sluggish or blue, frustrated or hurt?  Dance it up with me:

https://youtu.be/UfmkgQRmmeE

If you want to follow Stumbler on Facebook, you can do so HERE.

Share the Love!  You are invited to share this or any Stumbler posts.

Thank you for reading Stumbler!

__________

This is Day 27 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

Beyond Party Planning

2015-05-01 at 6_Fotor DREAM

Beyond Party Planning:  1, 16, 85

One way to fight fatigue is to distract oneself, if possible, with whatever makes your heart glow.  For some, that means making memories with family and/or friends.  One of the worst problems brain injury survivors and their families experience is the victim’s interrupted role in the family (the same could be said for friendships).  Add to that how comparatively little one’s family (or friends) understands about such changes, and you get the making of a nightmare that can continue for years to come.

As a mother, daughter, wife, aunt, sister, friend, neighbor and teacher, the pressures on me after suffering severe head trauma were various and widespread.  At times, nothing felt worse than the misunderstanding of those I knew best.  At the same time, nothing felt better than the long-awaited return to some semblance of myself…particularly after a long stretch where that seemed increasingly doubtful (never give up hope).

While I have yet to enjoy a full return in terms of complexity and expediency, my enthusiasm, motivation, interest and creativity have returned.  In truth, I move and process slower, and cannot multi-task anywhere to the extent that I once could.  Where once I could do it all plus stay abreast of the housekeeping, now I can generally do one thing but not the other.  Thankfully, no one seems as disappointed by my challenges as I am; at least no one says anything about these sorts of things to me. My kids are grown, and my husband is tolerant and understanding.  Such challenges remain a work in progress for me even eight years post injury, yet I continue to grow stronger, however slowly.

Fortunately, this past year has been my best so far.  Cherished renewal arrived just in time for me to participate in some big events, as this year we celebrated in our family three milestone birthdays:  our grand baby’s first birthday, her sister–our granddaughter’s–16th birthday, and my father’s 85th.   After so much suffering and missing so many birthdays and events, I was determined and eager to do my part to make each celebration special.

It all started one year ago when our daughter-in-law decided to have a nice party for her baby, our grand baby’s 1st birthday.  At that party, we felt the 15 year old might feel neglected, so we pledged there to make it up to her by throwing a big Sweet 16 party in her honor, once her birthday rolled around.  The idea for my father’s birthday originated when he complained that he wasn’t looking forward to Christmas this year.  I thought how every holiday he is sad now that we’ve lost my mother and brother.  I wanted to find a way to create a new memory to replace the old ones that left him sad.  I know how he values family, so I decided to have a party with his remaining siblings and nieces and nephews–celebrate while he is still here and cognizant, instead of having only the sad memories of grief and sorrow.

All three parties turned out perfect.

For the grand baby’s party, I had these cookies made:

one cookies

I created this mantle garland out of photographs of her first year, and covered letters to spell out “One”:

mantle

As has become trendy for first birthday photo ops, we had a smash cake for the birthday girl:

smash cake

For our granddaughter’s Sweet 16 party, she chose a “neon” theme.                                                    

I wasn’t sure how that was going to go, but I was amazed at how well it went.  Our daughter-in-law had a friend who created this billboard welcome:

IMG_7926

They had a band, and the kids had good, clean fun…well, neon-painted fun, that is!  Everyone was so well behaved and so polite.  I kept thinking what a great contribution this party was to the entire school class–everyone knew where their children were, and there was plenty of adult supervision.

Our daughter-in-law made this ceiling piece for the center of the dance floor,                                                  using a hula hoop and surveyor’s tape :

She also provided neon paints, bracelets and necklaces, all of which the kids enjoyed:

IMG_7920IMG_8045
IMG_7984 copy

IMG_8071

IMG_7945

The high school kids came prepared with the right sort of clothing,                                                                     then got creative and had fun with the neon paints.

IMG_8026

IMG_8030

There was a band!

IMG_8129

Neon cupcakes!:

IMG_7932

And for my contribution, I brought a candy table–didn’t realize it would be set out in the dark of ultraviolet lighting, but it was still a big hit….Perhaps best of all, all gone by the end of the night!:

IMG_7873

IMG_7884

My father’s 85th party, believe it or not, was just as fun, if not a bit less raucous…

I tried to keep things simple.  Some festive balloon bouquets at a casual family restaurant with great food…I made my dad, ever the poet and never at a loss for being able to laugh at himself, a hat that said, “85 and Still Alive,” which he loved, and a button to bring out the kid in him that said, “Kiss me, I’m the Birthday Boy.”  We told stories and gave toasts; I think it was very nearly the best birthday party my dad ever had…

85

IMG_8177

hat

 

 

 

 

 

                                                                     They brought out a heart-shaped pizza with our salads, because my dad is, really, such a big-hearted guy:

heart pizza

And of course, when it came time to sing “Happy Birthday,” there was a BIG cake!:

cake 85

What blessings these occasions were, even though all three parties ended in two-to-three day bouts of fatigue for me.  I was especially ill after the girls’ parties, because we had to travel quite a distance to attend them in another state.

The important thing is that I was able to help plan them, shop for them, participate in them, be present.  

These were moments I missed when I was in worse condition, and they are now moments I never take for granted…no griping, no resentment whatsoever.  I sometimes wish my family understood what I was suffering during my recovery from acquired brain injury, but maybe it’s best they were focused on other things, imagining I was just in some weird and annoying funk.  As long as I can contribute something now, despite the fatigue that follows, I can continue to work toward regaining the strength and energy that once made me seem completely competent in everyone’s eyes, even my own.  I still miss those days…but I am enjoying these days to the very best of my ability.  In some ways more so.  After all, I have been to the other side.  I am a grateful survivor.

________________

This is Day 24 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

© debra valentino, all rights reserved, www.firstlightofevening.com

IMG_8039

A Return to Teaching

Happiness Jars created by workshop participants.

Happiness Jars created by workshop participants.

“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”    

—  Walt Whitman

What constitutes a really great day for you?

Are you content with a simple, unexpected kindness?

A telephone call from an old friend?

Or, do you need a grand adventure to make the day qualify as awesome?

What kind of vehicle would you require for your grand adventure:  a boat?  A motorcycle?  A hot air balloon?

What makes a great day for you?

Would a dozen roses do it?

A cup of coffee with a friend who is a good listener and a great conversationalist?

Or, a cup of hot tea while you ponder and plan, or perhaps read?

Is it a great day for you when you catch all the green lights and miss all of the red ones?

Perhaps you’d rather not think about it, but many people suffer so much that a good day to them is simply one they survive.

Recently, I experienced a day that was good beyond my wildest imagination–a really grand surprise.

I had the opportunity to lead a group of women at a nearby library in a workshop on creativity.  It was rather magical the way this experience unfolded, and even more magical how it ended.

Stumbler subscriber emailed me after reading this blog post, saying, “Always such a joy to receive your wonderful posts. The cozy musings draw me in to such an extent that when I come to the last word I am always jarred back in disbelief that I am sitting in my kitchen at my computer.”

This particular subscriber is the local chapter president of a national organization called NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), of which we are supporters.  She and I had previously discussed the possibility of doing art-related seminars of some sort, and her enthusiasm spurred my desire to facilitate a group event–or maybe it was her particular use of the word jarred.  (I know, I know:  groan.)

In no short time, we had a venue and people signed up for what I called a Creativity Workshop.  Planning the workshop was great fun, and it only got better from there.

I knew instantly I could share what I have read about Happiness Jars and the power of positivity, my own experience with phenomenally good luck after beginning the practice in January 2014, and anecdotes about the jars I’d made as gifts…but then my mind started to turn toward explanations:  “I have two ideas,” I said to my husband, “well, three; I mean four…actually, five–but there technically could be six…no, wait,”   I enumerated–prefacing how I thought I might go about expanding the subject, in case there were any skeptics.

Gratefully, my old reliable brainstorming has returned, and this activity resulted in the creation of a few sample jars, a gift-jar for another friend who’s been having an especially bad year, and the idea of individual theme kits, to be delivered at the workshop.  Each participant would select her own pre-assembled collection of embellishments to use on the empty jars that NAMI provided.

Watching the women select “their” jar was interesting…the minute one person wanted the lone blue jar, another person wanted it; some wanted small, some larger; some could not decide.  Each woman was then asked to select a kit (which included a label, a tag, some ribbon, a stack of matching pre-cut papers, sundry embellishments, and a color-coordinated pen) from the case of pre-assembled theme bags.

Part of my talk was how the concept could be adapted to meet individual needs, so I was especially glad to see this option so effortlessly put into practice.  As the kits were passed and I read the theme variations aloud, one woman knew instantly that she wanted the animal collection. Her enthusiasm was joyful to witness, and as she created her jar, she explained that she worked at placing rescue pets.  She planned on recording placements as they occurred by adding to her Happiness/Precious Pets Jar a dated, individual slip of paper for each one.  She would witness, then, how quickly the placements accumulated–a valuable physical reminder of the many pets and people she helps regularly.

At the start of the gathering, a woman entered the room in crutches; and as she hobbled in I thought what a perfect metaphor this was for our workshop.  Aren’t we all carrying some sort of injury?  Aren’t we all hobbling along in some way, meeting challenges, often running later than we hope to be, and sometimes in more pain than is visible to the eye?

I began the workshop by lecturing on the history of the practice, then explaining how to go about assembling the jars.  The rest of the second hour was reserved for the participants’ crafting with my assistance.  As the group worked, a notable hush fell over the room.  After scanning the crowd, I asked,

“So, what do you guys think?”

And out of the quiet erupted:

“I LOVE THIS!”

“I’M SO HAPPY!”

“THIS IS SO FUN!”

“IT’S AWESOME!”

“Really?”

“Oh, YES!”  And then a stream of compliments that I was not prepared to hear flooded and floored me.  The women praised everything from my delivery to my personality.  I am not used to such enthusiastic support (well, except from my beloved).  It was such a gift to see all the participants smiling and oh, so happy, and then to hear their gratitude and praise.

I was utterly amazed at the effect this activity had on the energy in that room.

In order to underscore the emotional and psychological impact of creative work, I told them how much fun I had preparing the day before–how happy I was while planning the workshop and gathering the materials.

And then I asked them,

“How was YOUR day, yesterday?

And the women responded:

“Oh, AWFUL!”

“UGH!!!”

“Yesterday was HORRI-BLE.”

“ONE OF THE WORST DAYS OF MY LIFE!”

“YESTERDAY, I WAS REALLY ABOUT AS LOW AS I HAVE EVER BEEN.”

“I HAD A TERRIBLE DAY!”

Before I knew it, women were opening up, sharing their fears and burdens in great detail.  There were even streams of tears.  I felt privileged that they confided to me in particular, though again surprised.  In every way really it was just a profound experience–seeing this joy, seeing this sadness…how crafting opens up the soul.

There is such a benefit to this simple act of community.  To the exchange of shared joys, and sorrows, too.

Watching the women work was an honor to behold.  Seeing the joy on each woman’s face…well, you realize how seldom we see this.  Watching the delight in their individual creations that were all so clever…the self-acceptance and self-approval, along with the shear happiness that creating together brought them, well…it was just about the most meaningful gift that I have received since I left the classroom.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Here is a poem I used to teach in my college English classroom:

Anecdote of the Jar by Wallace Stevens : Poetry Magazine.

                                                                                          ©Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.

Finding Happy in the New Year

“Our inner artist responds to small acts of luxury.”  — Julia Cameron

We are well into the new year of 2015, and many of us are still processing 2014. How is your year going so far? Are you off to a running start, or feeling like you’ve already fallen behind? Have you already had your share of life’s surprises, and/or do you feel confident that you are braced for whatever comes your way? What changes have you made this year, or what changes are you hoping for? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section that follows this piece.


I am a happy planner, but 2013, my first full year of retirement from teaching, didn’t turn out any way that I planned or expected–and 2014 was every bit as shocking and exhausting. Just to give you an idea, 2014 began with a hard fall on the ice, and ended with a broken toe that is still healing. Much of my year was spent in physical pain and debilitating fatigue. And there were other nightmares I’ve yet to write about. Perhaps by writing about them I’m afraid I might jinx myself further?

This bad fortune clearly has to change. But this is not the first time I’ve felt this way. How about you? What do you do to rid the negative energy from your life? …Please tell me I am not the only one who has bad things happen to her. Often.  It’s a good thing we are high-spirited people, right?!

Feeling wiped out by the trials of 2013, and before the year even ended, I decided that it was time to force a positive focus for the upcoming New Year. Desperate to shift the winds of fortune last year, at the beginning of 2014, I resorted to a sort of pagan ritual–creating one of those “Happiness Jars,” where each day you record the best thing that happened to you–something that made you feel happy–and place it in a jar. What could it hurt, right? After all, at the time they were all the rage. I’m not exactly sure where happiness jars originated, but Elizabeth Gilbert takes credit for them here, and you can find them growing like a social movement here.

Anyway, the immediate shift in energy amazed me so much that I started making Happiness Jars for friends and family, even the receptionist at the doctor’s office who was having a hard year herself. And of course, my generally exuberant daughter, who maybe still has it displayed on some shelf somewhere.

What can I say; happiness is contagious, right?

I am certainly okay with anyone who has an abundance of positivity going on, and therefore no immediate need for such measures. That’s just not me, or wasn’t me the past two (to eight) years (ha!). Based on their reactions, my recipients clearly did not infuse as much hope or honor into their Happiness Jar as I did into my own–and that, too, is okay by me.  After all, such an abundance of positivity is the aim of all Happiness Jars, Gratitude JournalsBucket Lists, you name it. I realize that some people have better luck and less time for such frivolity. I once had less time and better luck, too. These tools are meant as guides and game changers for those of us who find ourselves somehow stuck, mired, or otherwise buried—all in the metaphorical sense, of course.

IMG_6668

Fortunately, however, I was able to see this reticence toward the promise of joy as delivered through my self-crafted mason and pickle jars eclipsed by one notable exception.

I made a jar and gave it to a favorite physical therapist, who was having some trouble that winter with her young daughter. And yes, since 2013 and 2014 seemed to be the years of physical therapy for me, all of this is somehow circular, if not labyrinthine, right?

Well, to my *surprise* (the good mojo was obviously already appearing), my physical therapist told me that her daughter was so delighted to discover this Happiness Jar that she immediately took ownership, locating then placing it in her own special spot, and that the minute she arrived home from school the daughter would not only look forward to recording her own daily joys on the included pre-cut papers, but also encouraged her mother to do the same right along with her.

The mother said her daughter’s enthusiasm led to increased communication and a magical connection between herself and the daughter, who notably brightened by the practice. It seems the Happiness Jar gave this child some hope, too, and these success stories generously shared by the mother in several physical therapy sessions also doubled both her joy and my own.  One time the daughter even reportedly took the mother, who was herself out of sorts from a bad day, to the jar to select one of the recorded papers, instantly brightening her day.  And when the mother generously prepared the daughter’s favorite entree, the daughter declared it was the Happiness Jar that brought her such fortune.  Happy anecdotes like these warmed my heart, and set the tone for many a cheerful afternoon.

You know how it is, though; things come up; we get distracted; the idea gets set. Eventually I myself abandoned the practice and simply allowed this newfound energy to lead me. Perhaps that is the point of the Happiness Jar—although it is said that the point is to read the slips at the end of the year to reflect on all the awesome that has accumulated. A crucial step, I suppose, that I have yet to get around to doing. Something to look forward to!

So now it is 2015—the year preceded by the popular Happiness Jar technique.

Starting the year off with a forced shift appears to have been successful overall.

After all, I ventured across the Atlantic Ocean all on my own to attend a retreat for creative types like myself. Though I have attended retreats in the past, and even added the activity to my lists of things to do in upcoming years, this retreat was an unanticipated excursion. What made this a landmark experience was that it was the first retreat I traveled to alone since my head injury–something that had become dangerous and ill-advised. And yet this year, albeit after many years of recovery, I was not only willing, but apparently ready. It wasn’t easy because I was rather anxious about it, as I still have some residual deficits that I knew would throw some curve balls, and did. But I survived and that makes it a victory in my book, despite and maybe in spite of the debilitating fatigue that plagued the trip, both leading up to and following it.

Above all, the accomplishment left me desiring further internal shifts into 2015.  So far—perhaps magically and in part thanks to the initial practice of the Happiness Jar–these have been delivered.

In my next posts, I’d like to reflect on the best thing that happened to me in 2014, and reveal to you my “Word of the Year” for 2015.

Happy New Year, and I hope you are off to an exhilarating start!

If not, send me an email or tell me in a message, and I will send you two modifications I wrote that you can use to create your own Happiness Jars.

 

 

 

© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved