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Beyond Party Planning

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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:

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

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

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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:

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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:

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

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There was a band!

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Neon cupcakes!:

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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!:

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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…

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

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

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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.

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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

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My Writing Coach, My True

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These past few days have been a struggle.  I haven’t been feeling well, and I can’t tell if it is just fatigue–which is a funny thing to say, because fatigue is generally ferocious and rarely less than debilitating…or, if perhaps it was the flu and pneumonia shots I had the other day, with headache being a possible side effect.  I’ve even had a bit of a stomach ache, which is exceptionally rare, so I’m thinking this is either a reaction to the shots, or perhaps seasonal allergies, which I am prone to in the fall.  It could even be stress, but whatever it is, it is messing with my writing, big time.  I hardly have the energy or the strength to power through these posts lately.

Perhaps I am failing at my experiment of pushing through fatigue by doing instead of surrendering?

Yesterday, feeling particularly poorly, I gave myself the day to surrender.  I love that I have learned to do this…to take time out when my body tells me it needs rest.  I mean, sometimes the body just gives out–the trick is in the acceptance; the willingness to participate in the reprieve.  The Benghazi Hearings were on yesterday, so I thought all that rest would do the trick. I woke up feeling better, at least this morning.

Today, eager to return to my routine, I walked four miles in cloudy, cool weather.  I went and picked up the Halloween costume for my granddaughter that I mentioned in this post.  It’s amazing how beautiful the colors are this fall, and how they are mostly still on the trees, so late in the season for our area.

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This has been such a beautiful autumn.  I am so glad it is not one I missed, like so many before it.  I hate missing a beautiful day outdoors.  We’ve been blessed this fall with many walks, a trip to the apple orchard, a little hiking, a trip to the botanic garden, and a few fall festivals…one which included shopping with girlfriends. That’s been a lot to accomplish while tied to this 31 Day Writing Challenge.  I’m going to miss the splendor of this glorious season, but one thing that makes me feel even more grateful on down days like these is the help, compassion and understanding I get from my writing coach…

I consider my “writing coach” to be my husband Rich.  He is so understanding of my needs, of my condition, of where I have been and how hard I have worked to regain my health.  He marvels at my progress.  Above all, he appreciates my creativity and always cheers me on no matter what form my creativity takes. When I’m not feeling well, I often bemoan not being able to be active.  I always feel guilty if I am not accomplishing something each day.  My husband never stresses what I don’t get done…he just smiles, and says, “Don’t worry about it,” and I know he means it, too…

I could sleep all day, and he would just bring me food.  He is really that helpful.  When I want to get something done, but also want to write, he always says cheerfully, “Writers write!”  He supports my writing in every way imaginable, even to the extent of saying things like, “I love your writing,” “I loved that post,” or, “You can write whatever you want to.”  I feel so blessed to have his support…and only wish I would have had it when I was younger, feeling that everything else in the universe had to come before my writing.

My husband loves how happy writing makes me.  He feels that my writing is a gift to the world.  I don’t feel this way, but his feeling it helps liberate me so that I do write, and even on occasion, share what I write. For this, I feel like the luckiest woman, so richly blessed.  I never have to hide or feel frustrated, because I am fully supported.  I wish this encouragement and support for all writers, because otherwise writing can feel a bit selfish, a bit self-indulgent.

Rich doesn’t know that this is what I decided to write about today, but I already know he will be moved.  If I were feeling better, I would put even more effort into the writing so that he could feel as amazing as he is–the way I do whenever he says enthusiastically, “You’re an amazing writer!”

You’re an amazing husband, Rich, and I am so grateful I have you to travel with me on this sometimes jagged journey.  Thank you for all you do to help me.  You are the best!

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This is Day 23 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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

Each to Each

prufrock

The Chicago Botanic Garden is a serene and wondrous place.  As a family, my husband and I spent the day before my father’s 85th birthday walking the outdoor gardens there with my father and our daughter and her boyfriend. We had a beautiful day exploring, bonding, reflecting, pondering and reminiscing.  The perfect wind down after the exhilaration of a big family party the evening before.

It was fascinating seeing the fruit and vegetable, Japanese, English and Waterfall Gardens, as well as watching each person in our party studying the various floras.  The weather was just cool enough for a light jacket; the wind consistently fierce but gentle, a wonder unto itself.  Surprising for late October, many of the leaves on the trees were still green, while the maples blared with mostly unfallen color.

I had the best time shooting photographs, a therapy and an art explored more enthusiastically since my head injury–a new and more manageable way of reading, a sort of devolution from text to image…a simple and yet complex matter of what lights up in the brain.  A way to harness my heart and imagination–an exploration of shape, pattern, color, depth and texture.  I wonder how many painters begin as photographers, or vice versa?  The connection, if any, between image and musical score?  While exploring, I read of something Japanese garden designers of the Edo period (1600-1868) referred to as “borrowed scenery,” which was said to be inspired by inkwash landscape paintings, where they created gardens of distant views that included both garden and vista incorporated into one scene, an expanse one might liken to that of a painting.

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Although we had to push my father in a wheelchair, since he’s no longer able to walk a mile on his own, everyone was happy throughout the four mile trek.  I easily reached my step goal for the day, but most importantly, we had valuable time together and even to ourselves.  I kept thinking how happy I felt after all I have been through, despite the static of so many other unhappy people.  Throughout the day I was amazed by the poignant fact that a person can feel peace and such joy after enduring seemingly insuperable losses. I remember the moments it didn’t feel I could survive, and yet I had somehow found my way back to my own core; it seemed astonishing to be right there, experiencing this at last.  I felt connected to my loved ones, yet utterly individual and separate from them, alone in my own marvel at it all, knowing the palpable reality of our own human vulnerability.

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The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

This is Day 20 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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

My Tired Heart, Filled with Song

Phew.  My father’s surprise party is now over, and as soon as I publish this blog post for the 19th day of this 31 Day Writing Challenge, I will be able to take a long-awaited sigh of relief before enjoying a nice, peaceful sleep.  The party was a huge success.  My daughter woke up early this morning in much better spirits than she (and I) retired in last evening.  She was helpful all day, and even took most of the photos at the party, which is usually something I do.

My dad did not have a clue until he was on his way to the restaurant, but even once he arrived he was surprised by all the people there.  Several people canceled last minute, but we still had a nice crowd of about 37, down from 45.  The balloon bouquets were beautiful, the food was excellent, most of the company cheerful, and the cake outstanding.

Believe it or not, the homemade carrot cake my husband and I made was even a bigger hit than the bakery cake, but there were certainly no complaints about it.

I welcomed everyone to the party, my husband said grace, and then the grandchildren and great grandchildren gave tributes that really touched my father’s and everyone else’s hearts.   I wasn’t up to giving the speech I had prepared, but instead told a few short stories about my dad and me…in particular, two stories from when I was under five years old that I still remember fondly.  Everyone seemed to enjoy my stories, and my great niece and great nephew kept coming up to me afterwards begging me to tell more stories from when I was a baby.

My dad asked for photos of himself with his brother and sister and several other people, and enjoyed visiting with everyone there.

It was a great night start to finish.  I feel like I ran a marathon, so I am going to turn in at last, with thanks to anyone reading this series of posts.  Many of the other 31 Day writers are complaining about how tired they are, and I have to say that tonight, it feels like just about everything has caught up with me.  I am so tired, I am not even going to proofread this, so please forgive the mistakes I make; I really need some rest!

As I say goodnight, I leave you with the song that most reminds me of my dad, who has a great singing voice.  In fact, I think he sings this song better than anyone I have ever heard sing it.  I was about this girl’s age (8) the first time I ever heard my father sing “Fly Me to the Moon.”

Goodnight!  And enjoy:

FLY ME TO THE MOON

This is Day 19 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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

That Strange Flower, the Sun

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Gubbinal

by Wallace Stevens

That strange flower, the sun,
Is just what you say.
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.

That tuft of jungle feathers,
That animal eye,
Is just what you say.

That savage of fire,
That seed,
Have it your way.

The world is ugly,
And the people are sad.

***

Tomorrow I am hosting a surprise birthday party for my father, and it is already 2 a.m. as I write this.  I’m exhausted and in need of some sleep, but want to write to fulfill my challenge for this 18th day.  I have so much that needs to be done, that I wanted to do but will not get to, but tonight my heart is weary with all the drama that surfaces when one just wants to create a simple celebration for a guy who’s made it through 85 years on this troubled planet of ours.

One person telephoned me last week screaming because she did not receive an invitation.  She was sure I sent the entire world one but blamed her for not RSVPing, when neither was the case.  She called me ignorant and low class and insinuated that I am a liar.  I finally had to hang up on her; there was absolutely no getting through to her.  In addition to that, my nieces aren’t speaking to each other and are worried about being in the same room with each other, then out of what seemed to me to be nowhere, my daughter started complaining about her undergraduate graduation, which was so many years ago I could scarcely recall it.  Once I did, I could not believe she was still harboring anger over something I had long forgotten about, and something that to my mind never even happened.

I’m feeling spent, like there is no way to please anyone,

and that I live in a world of my own creation that no one understands.

Sometimes I have trouble understanding the millennial generation.  They are such a privileged generation, yet often it seems they have the biggest complaints of any I have ever known.  My grandparents grew up during the depression, and it seemed they never took anything for granted.  My grandmother made use of every scrap, even though she grew to be a wealthy woman.  My parents grew up during World War II, but they learned to find ways to be happy and to have fun in times of toil and trouble.  I am a baby boomer, who grew up under the fear of Soviet bomb threats, and I was taught that hard work is the key to success.

My generation had enough comfort and even wealth to spoil the next, and we did.  I saw the negative effects of this over-indulgence in my college students, and I see it sometimes in my own children and in my friends’ children.  The generation that most seemed to have everything material and idealistic turns out to be the least satisfied.  Not across the board, of course, but just generally speaking.  We see more kids than ever, it seems, abandoning their families and traditional values for a country club kind of lifestyle, drugs, alcohol, or just general dysphoria.  Not all of them, of course, but more than ever, it seems to me.  What are they in search of?  What are they forfeiting on their quest for independence (or is it happiness)?

I don’t know how to help malcontent people.  I am so used to trying to find what is good in a bad situation, I don’t know how to persuade them to see what is wrong with their thinking or feeling, or how to address their complaints.  I don’t know how to help angry people.  Take the lady who called me up insisting I never sent an invitation when I did….I told her I would be happy to send her another invitation because she was most definitely on the list and I had plenty of extras.  She would not have it.  She just wanted to be angry, and I could not help her with her anger; all I could do was send her another invitation.  I tried to convince her she was not excluded, but she wanted to believe she was.  I guess that way she could believe that I was some sort of evil person.

There is too much competition and too much projection going on in the world some days.  None of us can help what someone else is feeling, particularly if they will not listen to reason.

I had hoped to write a tribute honoring my father, but the week has gotten away from me and I am out of time. I will speak extemporaneously, and hope that by the time I do, my heart is clear again and not boggled down with the complaints of others who are dissatisfied with me.  I am never intentionally remiss as I was accused of being by both the ranting woman and the graduate.  I never deliberately tried to hurt either person, and most the time I am just doing the best that I can.

People can be very hard on one another, and as a consequence that person can become hard on oneself. Having suffered viciously uncomfortable and painful head trauma, I gained a surprising amount of self respect.  I have learned that, even when others hate and revile me, I am going to make every effort to be kind to myself.

I am sorry that sometimes people can’t move beyond their suspicions and disappointments.  I think that if they could accept me as I am, they might like me a whole lot better than they do, or than they act like they do.

One thing for certain, I am happy to be a daughter who looks on the bright side of things.  I don’t think my father would tolerate my being anything less.  And for that, I am most grateful.

***

This is Day 18 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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

I hear babies cry, I watch them grow…

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Well, I was off Facebook all of three days.  Those were helpful days, indeed, as I got to accomplish more and learn more both for and about myself.  I felt I had to return because I sensed I might be hearing from someone on the guest list for my father’s 85th Surprise Birthday Celebration, and I might miss that.  My instincts were correct.  I’m so glad I got on, because last minute, one family had to cancel unexpectedly, and had I remained off Facebook, I would have missed their message entirely.

In addition, two days ago we had a baby born into my father’s side of the family…my cousin’s daughter’s first child.  I would have missed all the Facebook hoopla, even though my cousin texted me a photo and gave me the good news right away.  As it turns out, I am hosting my father’s birthday party at the new daddy’s family’s restaurant.  It’s a casual place with excellent food that will be the perfect venue for the kind of family party I’m throwing. The new daddy, married to my second cousin (my cousin’s daughter), is the sweetest guy you can imagine. I just know he is going to be an awesome father.  When I attended their wedding in summer 2012, he looked to me to be the happiest groom I have ever seen.  He just has one of those faces that exudes joy. After meeting his parents, I can see that he comes from very happy people. My cousin’s daughter is lucky to have found such a generous and genuine man.  He wore a pink shirt to the baby shower, because they knew they were having a girl.  He helped open the gifts, just as excited as the new mom-to-be over every swaddle blanket and set of baby clothes.

They named the baby Daniela Grace, and I’m eager to hear whom she is named after–I believe there is a deceased friend or family member that was named Danny (or Dan).  I vaguely remember this being mentioned during a speech at their wedding.  Of course, the new parents won’t be coming home from the hospital until this Sunday, the day of my father’s party, but I will ask my cousin, the new grandmother, whom I believe will still be in attendance.

Seeing a newborn makes a person nostalgic.

My cousin’s daughter reminds me so much of my cousin’s mother, my Aunt Margie, who was married to my father’s older brother, who was a Chicago police officer.  My cousin always reminds me of her parents, my aunt and uncle, both now deceased.  Aunt Margie was the sweetest, most unassuming, quietest but happiest person I can think of.  She was a tremendous cook and a caring mother, but she was shattered by menopause.  I remember being too young to really understand when she said to my mother with tears in her eyes, “It’s terrible.”  I’m sure being the jovial woman she was, the hormone shifts were dreadful.  She and my mother were good friends.  They used to laugh and talk throughout the duration of their frequent visits; when one or more other aunts joined them, they played cards and talked.  Back then, family and friends visited one another casually and more often than it seems they do today, when gatherings tend to be more formal, like the party I’m having for my father.

My uncle looked a lot like my father, perhaps a tad handsomer, and like his wife, had a smile and a sparkle in his eye that was sort of his signature, at least from my point of view.  One time, however, when I was about ten years old and had just returned from a friend’s house, my uncle announced to me, “I picked up all the junk in your room.”  He had never been cross in any way, so I wasn’t sure how to take his words. At 10, I had already become a bit of a pack rat, and it seemed my dresser top was full of every knick-knack, gift, hairbrush, school paper and pencil holder I had ever received.  It was so full, that stuff used to fall behind the dresser, between the dresser and the wall.  Of course, I haven’t seen too many rooms of ten year olds that are exactly tidy.

For whatever reason, my uncle had pulled out the dresser, which was too heavy for me to move, and gathered everything that had fallen behind it.  I was embarrassed to see that the clutter filled a whole box. He never did anything like that before or after, but I never got over the embarrassment of it, either.  I suppose he was actually trying to help, perhaps prompted by some conversation the adults had, and in the end he was nice about it–but I felt ashamed nonetheless.  In the grand scheme of what uncles can do, I perceive this as minor.  I know he didn’t mean any harm.  And maybe it taught me something, as now I am a bit of a neat-nik myself.

I can’t really think of anything too much odder about my childhood, except for one time about two years later when a friend was staying the night.  I woke up around 2 or 3:00 in the morning to find her taking two shirts from that same dresser’s drawer and putting them into her suitcase.  I was so sleepy, I thought I must have been dreaming. But sure enough the next day, I noticed the shirts missing. They were new and stylish, so she must have taken them because she liked them.  I was shocked that anyone could do such a thing, but she was a lot more brazen than I.  Shortly after, her family moved away and she still called me on the phone.  I don’t think I ever mentioned to her that I knew she took my shirts, which I can still see today in my mind’s eye, a particular kind of knit that was comfortable and colorful.

It’s surprising what memories the birth of a new baby can conjure.  I wonder if any of you have had a similar experience–either of a baby reminding you of people no longer alive, or of unusual memories sprung from thinking of people and a time long ago.

Here’s the new baby, 7 lbs., 12 ozs.

baby newborn

 

This is Day 17 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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

 

Just a Little Cake Talk

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When it comes to baking cakes, I am no match for my mother.  Actually, I am no match for my grandmother, either.  Yet, I am the one who loves cake probably more than both my mother and her mother put together.  Perhaps that is because both were so good at baking them.

My grandmother made the same cake for most occasions. It was a simple homemade yellow cake with homemade chocolate icing.  She made everything homemade, including bread, including sausage…and she grew fresh vegetables in her garden.  I’ve always said that she could make a fried egg taste like filet mignon.  My grandmother was a natural, wholesome cook.  She somehow got us kids to beg for more broccoli.  That’s how good hers was, cooked to perfection, even though it was just plain broccoli.  I would give anything to have the cake recipe my grandmother followed–or probably didn’t follow; she rarely followed a recipe.  My grandmother’s yellow cake was hands down the best cake I have ever tasted.

My mother, ever the rebel, baked differently from her mother.  My mother not only followed recipes (at least until she made the cake a couple times), she often tried new recipes, or made up her own recipes that she rarely wrote down.  You might say she was a visual cook, a creative cook.  She could also have something in a restaurant, go home to her kitchen and duplicate it.  She seemed not only to guess the ingredients but also the correct amounts and combinations. 

If you had to pin down my mother to one cake, you might say she was mostly a master at the cake du jour.  poke cakeThat is, whatever cake was trending: dump cake, bundt cake, poke cake, angelfood cake, cheesecake, banana cake, coffee cake, chocolate eclair cake, tiramisu….She loved what she called an “easy” cake, but none of them seem all that easy if you don’t make as many cakes as she did.  She would even go beyond wild on occasion and try things such as Pumpkin Caramel Dream Cake or Tartufo –whatever she might come across– this woman who whipped up Baklava like it was omelettes. In truth, my mother was an expert in all things phyllo dough.  She used it regularly, while I am afraid to open the package. There were also the many fruit pizzas, which were cake-like with their crusty cream-cheese bottom, along with the various cookies, the millions upon millions of mint squares, the occasionally poorly shaped biscotti of her arthritic years.  All and all , you could pretty much rely on some kind of dessert whenever you had dinner at my mom’s, and more often than not, it was a cake she made while dog-tired after preparing a lavish little feast, just to let you know she was excited to see you.

Tartufo chocolate cream cake

Tartufo chocolate cream cake

So here we are, nearing my father’s 85th surprise birthday party, trying not to be too sad because Mom’s no longer with us. I’ve got her and her cakes heavy on my mind, and wish so much that she were here for the festivities.  As I prepare, I do spontaneous impressions of her, knowing what she would say and how she would say it, if only she were here to see the plans taking shape.  My mother loved joy, and nothing feels or is as joyful without her enthusiasm, without her excitement.  You know, that feeling of wanting to call your mom when you can’t.  Because nobody cares like your mother does.

So I ordered one big cake, enough to feed 50 people, at the same bakery I always got my mom’s birthday cakes.  Mom was easy…she liked strawberry whipped cream cake; that was her staple favorite.  Dad, less a cake fan, harder to predict; I guess he mostly likes cannoli cake, which is often served at weddings.  After hours with the baker, I finally settled on something called “success cake,” with a sort of autumnal look to the orange ganache on top. I liked the name. It’s supposed to have hazelnut and almond cake with praline and macadamia nut French buttercream.  I got to taste it when I was trying to decide, and it was very light and not very nutty-tasty, just delicately flavorful–probably the tastiest cake they had at this popular neighborhood European bakery.  I’m worried we might not have enough, so in addition, I want to make one of my favorite cakes, a carrot cake, just in case. In my mother’s honor, I want people who want it to have a piece of cake to take home with them.

strawberry whipped cream cake

This is Day 16 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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

The Space that Keeps Us Honest and True: Last Night and This Morning

DSC03123_Fotor john prine

John Prine fans love stories.  Beyond the American folklorist’s songwriting success is a fundamental interest in writing, as described here: “I guess I always loved to write, but I never had anything to really encourage it. I never thought I could be a journalist or novelist or anything, I just had a wild imagination and songwriting gave me enough rope to run with it.”  This doesn’t sound exactly like an authentic John Prine quote to me, maybe it’s a paraphrase, but there is no disputing that John does have a wild imagination, and no doubt John experienced an early interest in writing.  He and I certainly have that in common, even though he makes a lot more money than I do.

Indeed, John Prine generally has had greater fortune than most of us.  Like some of us, however, the famous lyricist has had his share of health scares, and like some of us, he continues to work hard to persevere.  Without any of these challenges, he would still be admirable. Yet, I might point out that his health challenges likely include the sort of debilitating fatigue that is the focus of this 31 day writing challenge for me.

Certainly it feels a bit disingenuous to be comparing myself to John Prine, but as a writer, comparisons and differences come automatically.  They are instantly recognizable, and then sometimes, well, undeniable. The fact that one of  the greatest living songwriters of our time shares interests and ailments in common with one of the most unknown bloggers on the internet seems a rather compelling synthesis–and this connection with the ordinary person explains, in part, what makes John Prine’s writing so successful.  His humility enables him to identify with his fans, and we in turn, identify with him.  He comes before us as a regular guy, albeit in his trademark black suit and carrying his guitar or guitar case, but on stage he laughs with us, he connects with us, and even shows his appreciation for us.

In all the John Prine concerts I have attended, my favorite ones have occurred since my head injury. Because of my growing adoration for him, my gratefulness to still be here able to enjoy art, and at that very moment, his music in particular…or maybe just because of the emotional lability that comes from concussion, after his finishing a song with his band (which is awesome and worthy of its own post), I have screamed to him on stage at the top of my lungs, “I LOVE YOU, JOHN! I LOVE YOU, JOHN!”  During last summer’s 2014 concert at Red Rocks near Denver, Colorado, he clearly heard me (we were in Row 11; although I am pretty sure he heard me at other concerts, too; it may have been that he even recognized me as that screaming fan again), to my surprise, he didn’t turn away or act annoyed, but instead looked right at me and said with love, “Thank you.  We appreciate that.”  The man has a heart so big that he truly appreciates his fans’ appreciation. Like all great artists, neither joy nor sorrow escapes him, and we hear this in his music, we witness it at his concerts.

One characteristic most praiseworthy about John Prine’s work is that he takes cliche’s and spins them into extended metaphors of high art.  Or to borrow a teaching metaphor, he turns “D” writing into “A” writing. I’m not sure he has to work all that hard to do this; at least he makes it appear effortless.  His Irish whimsy and sense of the absurd seem ever present, and this elevates his language from prose to poetry, as if his inner William Butler Yeats is always there having a beer with him.  His lyrics are filled with literary embellishment that employ tropes, wit, satire, sarcasm, irony, and even once in a blue moon, allusion.  The best thing is when he draws his own characters, real or imaginary, such as “the oldest baby in the world,” “Sabu,” “Mr. Peabody,” the “big old goofy man dancing with a big old goofy girl” and “some humans [that] ain’t human.”  Like a fine novel, his songs will make you laugh and they will make you cry.  He’s like a modern day Dickens contrasting the great expectations of a people, large and small–but mostly examining the life of the small.  Or, as John Prine plainly puts it in “Humidity Built the Snowman, “The scientific nature of the ordinary man / Is to go on out and do the best you can.”

That idea is certainly the philosophy behind Stumbler.  We live our lives, take a few hits and a few falls, pick ourselves up as long as we can, and keep trying.  That’s what’s happening with this piece, too, as I write spontaneously and a bit rushed to finish it a day later than hoped–hoping to have the day I hope to have today.  Yesterday, I just got to busy living and then too tired to write about it. So, because writing is what matters here, this is what I stitched together last night–after the Cubs beat the Cardinals 6-3 in the second of five games in the National League Divisional Playoff Series–Lord knows (and John surely knows) that that was rare tv worth watching.  Even though it was his birthday, John even may have been following the game himself…

________________

 

It’s just past ten o’clock on the 10th day of the tenth month of the year, October, 2015.  It also happens to be the tenth day of my 31 day writing challenge and one of the busiest Saturdays this woman has seen in a long time.  I completed Day 9 of this writing challenge at about this same time last night, however mostly with my eyes closed.  I’ve got no guesses as to what all of these tens could mean, but hopefully I will figure out something.  I’m a little slap-happy here, but let’s see what happens.  We can relax, because even though we’re on the internet and all, it’s only blogging.  And we don’t really care that much; the point is to write.  Sleepers may sleep, but we writers–we don’t sleep.

As I fight the fatigue that has plagued me for so long by forcing change in the ways I have been discussing on this blog and more particularly in this challenge–and mostly by just good old fashioned keeping busy–I find the days flying by, seemingly as quickly as the years that are already gone, including the long-suffering ones which were all but lost entirely.  The decade and the decades–gone in a whoosh!  But that’s cliche, I know.  So I hope everyone will forgive me if nothing gold comes from this keyboard tonight–because I really hate to have to be writing this on the fly.  Real writers write ahead of schedule; they make no apologies, but I’m just working a  writing challenge, trying to figure out what all to say, and mostly trying to make my deadline by midnight tonight, because…

Today is the birthday of the great American singer/songwriter John Prine.

That is 10/10/46.

He is (or was) 69 years old today!

You would think that on such a great writer’s birthday I could get it together to permit the possibility of writing earlier in the day when one hopefully suffers less fatigue…but alas, I could not.  I’ve been busy planning another birthday party; in fact, this one for my father’s 85th–a mere one week away.  I had to get the cake ordered, the balloons, the photos…and there’s been some drama.  So, stay tuned for all of that.

______________

I just figured out the significance of all of these tens…even though it’s probably passe’ to say it now,

John Prine is a 10!  /  John Prine is a 10!

So, please allow me to trace, if you will, a summary of my affiliation with “John,” as most of his fans know him.  I first heard John’s music coming from my brother’s bedroom stereo around 1971.  Back then, I didn’t pay much attention; my brother was always listening to music; I just heard it enough to notice that it wasn’t Cream’s “White Room” or Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay.”  I remember lifting my head toward the newness, then I kept right on staying out of my big brother’s hair, the way he and I both preferred.  Most likely, I was on the phone.  The land line.  We called them house phones back then.  They plugged into the wall and they had cords that were coiled and cords that were extenders, so we could walk around the room, kind of like we walk around the mall now, phone in hand.  I had a phone that was pink.  It was called a Princess Phone, and it had a rotary dial.  I wonder whatever happened to all the phones people had.  Was there a telephone landfill?  John Prine started out as a mailman.  I don’t think he ever worked for the telephone company, though lots of people did.  Telephones have changed a lot over the years.  I don’t think John has ever written a song about telephones.  Maybe Bonnie Raitt has.  If you know, you can tell me in the comments below.

So, my brother was a senior in high school, a gymnast, and four years older than me.  John Prine was six years older than my brother; that is, the “middle” one–I had two older brothers, so one year older than my oldest brother, I would later learn, and also, whadd’ya know?, a gymnast, as both my brothers were–which was a huge deal in our family–and at a high school not twenty miles down the road from where we lived. I’m not sure what all these coincidences mean, other than it must have been meant to be that I found John Prine.  I’ve got to be one of his biggest fans, in my way; certainly much bigger than my brother who still listens to him, but has become more like one of the people John sings about…

But back to then, the 1970s and 80s–years that felt like days passed….I didn’t hear John Prine’s music again until I was with my brother during his senior year and my freshman year of college when we were driving the long distance back home from the university we both attended (because my parents, imagining he would look after me, made me go to the same school as my brother).  Of course, he didn’t look after me at all…but we did drive to and from school together whenever the occasion arose.  Actually, he drove while I endured his driving.

So, one spring day toward the end of the semester, we were driving along in my brother’s old Pontiac Catalina convertible, listening to an 8-track audio tape of one of John’s most famous songs, “Illegal Smile.” Since this time I was stuck in the front passenger’s seat of the car with nothing but time, I now listened more carefully.  My brother has always been more prone to “illegal smiles” than I, but to see us both, you would expect that even this first time listening that I was enjoying the song every bit as much as he was.

I remember how my brother and I laughed when John sang the surprise ending, which includes the words–with a big, sloppy caesura, a catastrophic pause to set the scene–

“Sonofagun /my sister / is a nun!”  

We laughed at the irony of the tale of a stoner pulled over by a cop, nervously reciting all the excuses lawbreakers do to try to persuade cops to let him off the hook…because way back then, marijuana was not even close to legal.  We laughed, too, at the wordplay of the sister being a nun, since as Catholics we always knew nuns really to be sisters…and of course there I was in the flesh, the always holier than thou, in fact biological, sister!  If neither one of us was stoned at the time, we both certainly were beginning to feel like we were.  As we laughed, we were bonded in a collision with our innocence, and I always remember this as one of my favorite memories of being with my brother.

The years went by, and we experienced tragedy in our family.  Above all, we lost our oldest brother, whom we were both closer to than each other.  It ripped the hearts out of my brother and me, and of course out of both of our parents.  We all dealt with it in the individual ways that people do, and before we knew what to think anymore, my brother and I; that is, my only living brother and I, had grown divided and stopped speaking to one another altogether.  In our disunity, we both remain John Prine fans to this day, some thirty years after the drive with Sam Stone in my brother’s convertible.

Here is a John Prine song that encapsulates some of these sorts of experiences between siblings, between me and my only two older brothers, both of them now gone from me.  It has the lines, “We lost Davey in the Korean War / We don’t know what for / Don’t matter any more,” called “Hello In There.

Hello In There

Here is another song I shared yesterday on the John Prine Facebook page, called, “All the Best.”

All the Best

Awww, shucks, this has been fun.  Yesterday, I woke up thinking of John on his birthday and then throughout the day.  What I’ve found is that I could just write and write and write about John Prine.  Maybe I will have to write about him again another time.

Fortunately, thank the heavens, I got some living to do.

Fortunately, thank everything I know, I got some gold inside me, too.

Here’s to all of you, John Prine fans old and new, remember always “You Got Gold.

You Got Gold

This is Day 10 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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

Wednesday Challenge Checkup

PROGRESS

Today is the seven day mark in the Write 31 Days writing challenge.  I thought I’d report on how it’s been going for me so far.  I am pleased to say that I have made it through one full week of blog posting, a first! This is a feat in itself, and I am grateful for the few new things I’ve learned about blogging (how to do a new page, which is different from a post, and how and why to do a landing page).  The time it takes to work the electrical end of the internet has me wondering about blogging, though.  So many uploads, so much time. Editing can be a nightmare, and photo sharing is also something I need more practice with, obviously. Everyone says to compose outside of the blog and copy/paste, but I like writing here, because it helps me stay in my blog-voice.  I think I’ve found my blog-voice!?!

With just one week in the trench, I’ve gotten more comfortable with sharing and have received some new feedback and I think maybe one more subscriber and a few twitter followers, which is all helpful in its way. I shared my landing page on Facebook for a few hours, then chickened out and removed it.  Why do I still feel that publicizing my blog is imposing on people?  Why do I hear in my head their gossip more than their praise?  I really don’t like such distractions to my writing, so I’ve decided for the time being not to worry so much about the sharing, and just to continue to focus on the writing.  I hope someone is reading this thing, but it really isn’t essential at the moment…

My own private writing has not caught up to the progress my blog posting has, and that is definitely something I want to improve.  So much so, that I am thinking about following up this challenge with my own 31 Days of Writing Privately!  Skip the blogging altogether, unless I am so moved.   I do love blogging, but I want to return to my poetry writing and my novel/book writing (I think I’ve decided to scrap the memoir at this time).  Writing is hard work.  Blogging is a little more forgiving, at least at this stage…

This Write 31 Days challenge has certainly had its share of surprises.  The first five days were the bomb in terms of good energy and success.  I had a journal contact me requesting I submit to it, an entertainment writer quote me in an online piece, and a meeting scheduled with a credible source on a line on a possible publisher for the future. It might not sound like much, but all had me doing the happy writer dance.   In addition, the few comments I have received have been positive and encouraging.  My husband and daughter have taken even more active roles in supporting my writing…so, all in all, it’s been a really healthy experience…

Did I mention that my daughter caught one of my grammatical errors, questioned it, and she was RIGHT? She was reluctant to tell me, but honestly, could I ever be prouder of that girl?  My husband even caught me writing “somedays” when I meant “some days,” and I thought I was going to marry him all over again! I like when people correct me, if I am wrong.  My brain just doesn’t see how it used to, and I make errors I am not accustomed to making.  About the only thing that is exactly the same in my writing as it was pre-injury is that my mind is ahead of my typing.  I’m so glad I still at least have thoughts I want to convey…if even they come out a bit mooshier than they once did.  See, I have never used the word “mooshier” in my life.  I know, because I mean MUSHY (er)!  Oh, the brain…

These last two days have not been so great.  I’ve been marginally disappointed by the lack of feedback on my posts, but I realize people are still reading and that that is what matters (MR, if you’re reading this, I’m missing you!).  Of course, there is so much on the internet; I’m not sure how anyone stays in any place long (as I myself sit with five windows open above my screen).  There really is an amazing amount of text flying around the internet.  What a great time to be alive.  Especially for a writer…

Somehow through this challenge I have gotten myself aligned with a christian group, which ends up meaning I have seen some hypocrisy–just a wee bit, fortunately–but that is never a pleasant experience.  I still think it’s fine because it introduces me to an audience I’ve lost touch with, and some of the women have been refreshingly supportive (not the hypocritical ones, obviously).  I also find this mildly intriguing as I lean toward rejuvenating my spiritual center within, which was all but lost to my injury…

What’s really surprised me is the number of people in the challenge wanting to post something, anything, no matter how short, just to fulfill the daily requirement.  These are the people always looking for a shortcut. They ask about posting things they’ve already written, about having guest bloggers or just doing giveaways–basically, filling the space of the day.  I suppose it is fine to use the challenge however one wishes, but…excuse me, um…I thought this challenge was supposed to be about writing?  I realize my blog isn’t like those with a few quick bullet points, but I’m not really after that sort or readership, at least not at this time…

I hope to secure readers from the actual reading public.  Someone looking for some inspiration or some ideas to consider, perhaps.  People who like to engage in meaningful conversations, maybe.  Plus, I consider myself a writer, working on my writing skills–not on my design or layout skills.  I do admit, I like design, but prose is what I am ultimately after.  My daughter says my posts are so long that most people who aren’t readers leave right away anyway; “It’s too much, ” she says.  I have to laugh, but I know she is right.  Still I tell her, “I am writing to write, and you can’t do that by not writing!” I do, however, apologize to Stumbler readers impatient with my long(ish) posts.  I’m hoping readers know my back story and why I’m blogging, that this is cognitive therapy for me (for recovery from acquired traumatic brain injury), and that getting where we want to be isn’t always pretty.  We all need to know that, don’t we?  To newcomers, well, I guess many just click away or never return…

Speaking of head injury and breaking free, let’s talk about that really big “f” word:  FATIGUE.  A powerful word, I now know.  Unfortunately, a condition shared by so many…

Writing every day has caused me more fatigue than I hoped it would.  Of course, there was a time in my recovery when one sentence was too much, when I couldn’t even read, let alone write…but I didn’t expect this 31 day challenge to be as hard on me physically as it has.  I have had head pain every day.  Not unbearable, but worse than before I was doing this challenge.  I also missed my daily walks the first three days, and that wasn’t good, even though that doesn’t necessarily help my head pain and I walk slowly–it’s still good for me in many ways.  Fortunately, my sleep hasn’t been too disturbed by the writing, though I have recently returned to my CPAP, which always seems to help (but is embarrassing)…

The worst thing that’s happened during this writing challenge is that yesterday, on day 6, just as we were completing our daily walk, I FELL.  Unfortunately, I fell on concrete.  I thought I could catch myself, as my legs have grown stronger from the walking, but despite my nearly doing so, I ended up flat on my face–crushing my nose that had been surgically widened to help my breathing, smashing my teeth that I am in endless pursuit of trying to have repaired (from the first, most intense blow of which this writing is about), and sadly, even though I tried so hard not to let it thump–my head.  I have lost count of the falls and the head thumps, but at the time of this fall, I was still nursing my second broken toe of the year.  As my father says, I “cannot catch a break,” but he means for healing, not bones.  Broken bones, I do catch…

The silver lining, if there is one, is that I was near my home when it happened, and my husband was with me this time.  I was able to make it inside okay.  I thought I may have broken my nose (again–this would have been the fourth time, shriek!) but fortunately that does not appear to be the case now.  We iced me up from head to toe…

I did a supreme job of jarring everything, including my shoulder, wrist, neck, back, knee and ankle.  But it took my mind off the broken toe…and I’m pretty sure that I am going to be fine.  Of course, it could have been worse!  The worst part of this fall was the shock and the fear it created.  It took me several hours just to feel calm (can you say anxiety?).  I have to work on myself not to feel jinxed or cursed.  The spills have a way of adding up…

I would have to mash my face again!  I wonder if people have any idea when they look at me what my poor face has been through?  Yet, a face can be seen, a brain cannot.  There are the visible wounds, the not so visible, and the invisible ones, aren’t there?

Forgive me my self-compassion.  I do love my brain!  You should love yours, too.  Phenomenal organ.  The finest.

So, here’s how I’m feeling on this seventh day, ending week one:

a poem for mornings BLOG

Ugh, thank the beverage gods for coffee, real or metaphoric…

Soldiering on…writing on…because, really, we never know what tomorrow will bring.

Love!

This is Day 7 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

 #write31days

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

The Shame We Don’t Discuss

three in autumn

The Shame We Don’t Discuss

Fatigue is a complex condition that is sensitive to several influences, not the least of which include stress and anxiety.  A person does not have to suffer the intense level of anxiety brought on by an illness such as cancer or by conditions such as post-traumatic stress to know the distraction and sometimes debilitation anxiety can produce.  Nearly all humans experience circumstantial stress and anxiety to some degree. Stress and anxiety also worsen compromised health conditions, creating additional complications.  The problem intensifies when a person addresses such discomfort with addictive substances, which ultimately develop dependency.

Early on in my convalescence, I noticed the lack of information nearly everyone had surrounding head injuries. It also wasn’t hard to miss the high level of discrimination that matched the ignorance.  The level of processing and tolerance it takes to understand people’s biases just compounds the stress most survivors experience. While each injury is unique, closed head injuries do not typically lead to insanity. stupidity or even aggression, as is often characterized.

People with closed head injuries can still be cognizant and perceptive, despite compromised interactions with others.  Most brain injured find themselves laughed at and patronized, even though they can still distinguish many nuances of thought, and genuine concern from criticism.  With respect to the sophomoric ribbing that typically accompanies the condition, one’s illness is never a joke–unless you’re the one not suffering it.  Ironically, one might ascertain that the common misconceptions forced onto the victims might more persuasively be reflected back onto the unenlightened.

Fortunately for me, I learned at a young age the value of calmly addressing both the anxieties of myself and others.  From the beginning, this premise influenced my response toward the effects (that is, once I broke my own initial, and realized I wasn’t going back to work the next week, as I tried to do).  I never hid what had happened to me, nor did I or do I carry any shame.  I know, perhaps better than most people, that what happened to me can happen to anyone. The Center for Head Injury Services states that in the United States, a head injury occurs every 15 seconds.  According to the Brain Trauma Foundation, traumatic brain injury is the leading cause of death in children, adults and the elderly. If you have never experienced a serious concussion, you want to keep it that way, if you can.

book cover patrick kennedyWith these thoughts in mind, I recommend viewing this Sunday’s 60 Minutes interview with Patrick Kennedy about alcohol, mental illness and his family, as outlined in his new memoir entitled, “A Common Struggle:  A Personal Journey Through the Past And Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.”

Although my struggle has not been exactly the same, there are enough overlaps among the stigmas.  As Kennedy points out, the problem centers around what we all know, but are reluctant to talk about.  His coming forward has caused a rift in the Kennedy family, he says, because they “do not want to be associated with a medical illness. That should tell you something about the shame and stigma that still surrounds these issues.”

Similar to concussion or perhaps more so, all individuals and families are in some way affected by mental illness or addiction, if only secondhand through their relationships with those who share the curses.  Especially notable is what Mr. Kennedy has to say about the shame and impact that accompanies these lifestyles, and how it is time to stop hiding from what makes us uncomfortable, and start discussing what we can do to make things better for all concerned.

With so many mentally ill and addicted people unwilling to receive help, it is often up to friends and loved ones to offer support and encouragement…or to suffer the frustration of not knowing how to help.  Kennedy also emphasizes that “there is hurt to keeping this secret; if you don’t talk about it you’re in trouble” in part, because of the delusional nature of these illnesses.

What about you?  Here are some journal questions to explore:

  1. Are you open to discussing your problems with a trusted friend or family member?  If so, who would that be and why?  If not, why not?
  2. If you are not able to do #1 above, what makes it difficult?  How did this come to be, and how can you change things so that you are freer to speak authentically about your feelings, needs, and concerns?
  3. If you are not able to discuss problems, what do you to cope with the stress and anxiety?
  4. Is there anything you feel you need to help you improve and move toward better, more fulfilling health?  If so, how can you secure these things?
  5. If your health doesn’t feel compromised, what about your work, your social life, your relationships?
  6. Are you as healthy and as happy as you want to be?
  7. Write a script of what you want to say to yourself or someone else about a feeling or a need.  Include others and what you imagine their responses would be.
  8. Ponder some health goals for the coming year. Include mental, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health as well as physical fitness.

Following is some video coverage of Patrick Kennedy’s call for awareness:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/patrick-kennedy-shares-secret-family-struggles-in-a-common-struggle/

You can see the 60 Minutes interview from Sunday, October 4, here:

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/patrick-kennedy/

This is Day 6 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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

Oh, Those Sister Wives

Oh, Those Sister Wives

One remedy for breaking free of fatigue is to find a way to be amused.

Millions of women have somehow become interested in the TLC Sunday night show The Sister Wives.  If you ask these women what the show’s appeal is to them, they say they don’t know.  They’re not exactly sure why the series fascinates them; they’re not planning on joining the polygamist lifestyle, nor are they studying world religions, which is just as well because religion really isn’t the focus of the show, anyway.  Most watch the “reality-based” episodes to study and albeit be entertained by the complexity of the interpersonal relationships this peculiar dynamic engenders.

The peculiar dynamic resides between the four wives–Meri, Christine, Janelle and Robyn–as well as their occasional interactions with the 14 children among them, interesting in itself, and most especially the one husband in command, Kody Brown–the self-proclaimed “guy with the big boy panties” at My Sisterwife’s Closet, the ladies’ latest entrepreneurial endeavor.

There is a lot to be amused by in this television show.

While women viewers may get sidelined by the appeal of having girl time together daily, the price of a few laughs and a good vent with the girls gets murky for viewers when the requirement is that each woman has to be intimate with the one husband who is husband to all; that’s right, husband-sharing.  A bit of a deal breaker for most of us, but not for these sister wives, however.

Yet, the true comfort level of each sister wife is really the center of the question, and probably what has us watching so closely. While they each proclaim repeatedly that they believe in the polygamist lifestyle, most Sister Wives’ viewers are pretty confident it’s doomed to fail.

As we watch, count up the failures do we do.  The women are often crying, sometimes bickering either with the kids or each other–and lately, with the master hair-tossler himself, their shared husband Kody.

Interestingly, Kody has a mop of blonde hair that rivals any of the women’s tresses in beauty.  He keeps it sun-kissed and shoulder-length, perhaps as an apparent sign of his virility, but also we see, to disguise the balding head we know is just beneath it.  This physical characteristic seems emblematic of his persona, which also carries an undeniable air of deceit.  Somehow, we get the impression that Kody’s jovial, child-like playfulness is fooling no one but himself.

Most of the sister wives at any given time seem depressed; yet, they are full of smiles and long in-his-eye gazes whenever Kody is around. Perhaps it’s the competition to look and behave like the perfect wife as defined by their own family standards, or maybe it’s just that absence does make the heart grow fonder. With various commitments to each wife and the children she bore him, Kody flits from house to house in episode after episode, which appears to viewers more the attempt at creating the impression that he is all in.  Indeed, Kody Brown’s visits give new meaning to the term “bosom buddy.”

The show can be confusing, and feminists especially can find themselves outraged by the subservience both handed to the wives by Kody, and so readily taken on by themselves.  Viewers are constantly wondering what the women could possibly be thinking.

It is nearly impossible to tell what each of the wives really thinks, because they work so hard at going along with the tenants of the polygamist lifestyle and the expectations of the husband, Kody.  In a most recent episode, for example, the #2/4 wife Christine finds herself frustrated with Kody after they share an anniversary trip away from the rest of the family.  (It is Christine and Kody’s 21st wedding anniversary, and each wife has her own wedding day and anniversary date and celebrations.)  Kody makes the mistake of saying at the start that it is his and Christine’s 22 anniversary, and when she quickly corrects him, he jokes, “Whatever; okay it’s our 100th anniversary!”  Female viewers, and apparently Christine herself, find his childish retort exasperating.  Shall we just say that Kody could use a few pointers in the art of foreplay?

To cover his slip-ups, Kody likes to pretend that he is above pedestrian concerns, such as how many years he’s been married to his first three wives or which wife he made love with last, whatever the inconsequential case may be (to him). Kody’s clearly got bigger things on his mind–which generally seem to center around himself, his beard or his hair.  Nonetheless, he seems to want us to believe that it is “the family” that is the big picture, and the decided object of his concern and passion.  Of course, we never really seem to see him go to work to provide for this ever-increasing family, as most of his time on air is taken up by trying to placate one of his tearful wives.

And, Oh, there are a lot of tears shed on the set of Sister Wives.

In some moments, one feels incredible compassion for the women, but in most one feels even greater frustration and anger that each of them seems so un-evolved for a woman of the 21st Century.  Between their denial and Kody’s audacity, we end up “hate-watching” Sister Wives, even as we yell at our television sets for somebody to wake-up and leave, or at least kick this man to the curb.

The attention from Kody never gets divided fairly among the wives or the children, but how could it.  He is, after all, human?  Interestingly, Kody addresses this problem and any complaints that come his way by demanding family unity.  When on their brief and unsuccessful anniversary trip, Kody’s and Christine’s marriage therapist (you read that right) assigns the couple the task of building a tower from rocks on the beach, Christine complains that she has to do everything Kody’s way and that he doesn’t bother to consider her thoughts or desires.  She tells Kody, who dominates the endeavor and makes the project a facsimile of the family, that she wishes he put the focus a little more on her and on their relationship because it is after all, their time together, and she would like some reassurance of his love.  Kody shames Christine for speaking up and basically for putting their marriage before the family by being quick to tell her,  “I am looking for a solid structure in our family.  Honor our ENTIRE family, and I will love you.”

You get the formula:  “Everybody has to love everybody, but I get a pass, while most of all, everybody has to love (and obey) me.”

Once one gets past the unnerving tone of Kody’s words to Christine, one can see that Kody’s agenda is to force her acceptance, bonding and cooperation of the other wives.  In other words, by “honoring the family,” she must express no protest to anything Kody has to do in the name of keeping the other three wives happy.  Naturally, because she really is human (while somewhat misguided), Christine responds nearly in tears, saying that she needs Kody to trust her, and she emphasizes the word trust.

Christine wants to assert that she is a good girl, a team player, fully on board and cooperative to his expectations (and really, demands).  Yet, the irony is not lost that she is asking the man who kisses other women right in front of her and oh, lord in her pesky imagination to trust her, even though he’s the only man she’ll be kissing until the end of time.  Still, Christine wants to underscore that she wants Kody to trust that she indeed loves her sister wives…

For her cooperation, Christine gets from Kody her first smack/peck of the filming, almost on the mouth but not quite–although it happens so fast it’s nearly missed entirely.  Viewers have to wonder, probably along with Christine who’s got to feel it deeper within, what the *#@%’s  up with that?

It’s hard not to get frustrated with Christine’s tolerance and regret, particularly when she pleads Kody’s forgiveness for “just not getting it” about the crucial intent of being tied into the family (which is really Kody’s intent).  And it’s really hard not to get frustrated, if not angry, with Kody.

One has to wonder what Kody is avoiding; what he is trying to secure.  The answer, as everyone seems to complain is the case, is that he favors #4/4 wife, Robyn, thus keeping a noticeable distance from the other three wives, both emotionally and physically.  And herein the proverbial plot, as it were, thickens.

The truth appears to be that three of the (older) wives are all at least sub-consciously aware of Kody’s disinterest in them and his undeniable favoring of the fourth (younger) wife Robyn.  As a result, there is a good deal of tension and frustration in each household and each of the wives seems increasingly depressed –including the fourth wife Robyn, but only because she’s taking a lot of flack these days for being Kody’s chosen girl.

Robyn’s perch shows us that in fact all these women are at the least psychologically and emotionally abused, because even the “winner” of Kody’s attention and affection is also naturally a “loser” when she is put in the position of being resented by the other sister wives. How are you going to get along with the family when nobody trusts you? This is to say that Robyn’s unique and also controlling personality plays right in to Kody’s mis-conceived agenda. As a result , polygamy ends up looking like a lose-lose-lose-lose, for each of the four wives and many more losses for each of their individual children. Kody is the only winner, and yet with most viewers, he is really the biggest loser of all.

 

This is Day 5 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

Day 5, #write31days

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

Artists of the Spirit

IMG_7447_Fotor Spirit2 floe

Artists of the Spirit

We are all artists.  Some of us have different talents and interests, but we all have spirits.  It is so important to have an inner life, and with that to nurture our spirits.  One way to break free from chaos, pain, confusion, and certainly fatigue is to turn toward the spirit within yourself.

There is a saying that we are always the same age inside.  For me, I also feel that constancy in my spirit. In many ways I’m still that same child who sensed the first stirrings of a sacred presence beyond the self. Sundays are good days to ponder our spiritual journey, and to break free from old disappointments.  They are like days of cleansing and renewal, when all is washed away in celebration of the week that passed and in anticipation of the week ahead.

Consider the words of the wise don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, in the quotation above, and then the advice in the Four Agreements as posted below.

the four agreements

May you each enjoy your Sunday.

May you feel the freedom to express yourself in your own particular way.

May you express your love openly.

May your life be an artful masterpiece.

______________________

This is Day 4 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

Day 4, #write31days

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

How to Call Up Your Happy: On Writing and Identity

BUGLE CORPS

What do you do when something terrible happens?  When the bottom falls out, and you just can’t imagine a worse case scenario?  How do you get through?  How do you restore yourself?  Do you have good resources available that you can count on, or do you fall prey to self-destructive habits that only make matters worse? What if there are no answers?  If it just is what it is?

I have suffered a heartbreak this summer, and along with that received some rather devastating news. Whenever things unravel in these ways for me, I think hard and fast about how I am going to hold on, how I am going to get through the necessary adjustments.  It’s never easy, but one thing that always helps me is to write.

I have been wanting to get back to journaling for forever, and when one has fallen behind, trying times are always the perfect place to start anew.  In addition, blogging helps because it requires focus and creativity, and it renders a kind of artwork that feels like an accomplishment.  It takes all sorts of courage to share a blog post.  Yet somehow all it takes is the mere completion of a post to make me feel back on track.  Like I’m going somewhere, moving forward somehow.  When I am lucky I might also get one or more kind words about something I’ve written, which is more than enough to make any writer’s day.  The exchange of writing to posting, you might say, pays dividends.  Something about the simple delight of sharing electronically–so fast and so certain.  While one creates, one provides.  That is the sort of zen of all artistry.

In providing for others, we can heal ourselves.  As I enjoy journaling–which is for me alone, no one else–I also enjoy blogging.  Perhaps I just like placing words on paper, typing words on screens.  The fewer words inside, the lighter both my head and my heart feel.  I also enjoy scrapbooking.  The more design we add to images, the more they tell a story.

When we’re hurting, it is important to hold on, dig in our heels,

and try to do what we enjoy.

One of the first things I did after the horrible news came was to plant flowers.  Flowers can be therapeutic, just as mowing the yard can be.  Planting flowers always reminds me of my grandmother and other soothing memories filled with sunshine.  Planting flowers somehow feels like one of the most liberating acts we can do. Like giving life when we feel dead inside.  Cradling our creativity in an earthy collection of color.  I love yard work, so this week I mowed, picked up sticks from the storms, and planted flowers even as my throat tightened and my chest heaved heavy sighs.

Another thing I decided to do to find strength was to join an online photography group, where starting today and for the next one hundred days we share one photograph from that day that brought us joy.  The idea is that what you focus on multiplies.  So, if you’re always looking for something to delight you, you will experience more delight.

Lord knows that when a heart is broken, one needs all the balm it can find.  As today was the first day, I thought I might blog on some of my discoveries in the days ahead.  That way I will be looking for happy photos, AND blogging about them.

Ever since the Supreme Court’s ruling on June 26 to allow same sex marriage in all fifty U.S. states, my husband and I have been honoring marital privilege by trying to spend more focused quality time together each day. Because this ruling occurred before my bad news hit, some of that quality time together has been spent simply by holding each other while I cry.  My husband is a compassionate soul, but much as he tries to understand what I am feeling, it is really my burden to carry.  He aches for me, but he can’t change the circumstance any more than I can.  All he can do is be witness to my heartache and try to help distract me from it.  One of the things we started doing to help is to walk five miles per day.  That is how much I walked daily before suffering a head injury that changed everything; it has been a long anticipated goal of mine…and at this point we really need one another to stay motivated to complete the distance.

Today, we incorporated our walk with my photo sharing     group.  I started in town by taking this photo of some potted flowers by city hall.       The colorful arrangement brought instant happiness to my eyes, and I was grateful for that.  I leaned in to get a closer look.  We continued on our way in 90 degree heat, making our destination my high school alma mater, which we are near only because we moved back to town temporarily to help my aged parents.  As we approach the 40th celebration of my graduation in 1975, we were enthralled to see the construction at the local high school for installation of an underground pool.  So much so, I thought THIS might be the photo I would share with my 100 Days of Happy Photos group:

swimming pool construction

But then we came home and I checked my Fitbit dashboard.  For the eighth day in a row, we had completed a walk of three miles or greater.  My body had various aches and pains, but I had managed to lighten some of my heartache.  Reaching our step goal made me feel hopeful.  I found myself posting this rather pedestrian photo for my first day:

How can anyone not be cheered up by those lime green smiley faces with their big, happy smiles?

After I posted to the group, this meme appeared in my newsfeed:

15 Writing Ways

It reminded me that I am first and foremost a writer.

It reminded me that I am inspired.

It reminded me that I have #1 in the bag, as I have already started looking for things to smile about by participating in One Hundred Days of Happy Photographs.

It reminded me that I do, indeed, feel pain deeply–that this is what writers do.  And this slightly lifted the burden of my devastation; maybe it’s okay to feel distraught…depending on circumstances…at least for a time.  Maybe I could hold on.  And maybe this is how we write, by waiting; by knowing; by enduring.

It reminded me that I am always going below the surface of things, that I rarely live on the periphery–that my heart and my imagination drive me right smack to the middle, whether it is the desert or the garbage dump, I am all in.

Perhaps most importantly, I smiled again.  As I read #4, I had to admit that I do, indeed, study people.  It is something I always do whenever we are anywhere, particularly in restaurants.  While others are on their cell phones, I am inventing profiles, scenarios and dialogues with the people I observe either nearby or across the room.  My husband and I always laugh about it.

Sometimes I share my observations, but when I am silent and deep in thought, my husband will occasionally interrupt, saying with an emphatic smile, “Oh, you’re writing…”

“Yes, that’s what I do,” I admit proudly.

“That’s just who I am.”

 

When we feel gutted, when we feel lost, it is at least good to know who we are.

______________________________________

                                                    © Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.

 

Magical As A Fresh Snowfall: The Story of Lova

 

magical snowfall

Magic keeps us going, keeps us paying attention.

Leaving the house before daybreak always seems at least in part like an interesting adventure.  On this week’s Monday morning, I had it planned to drive with my husband through the dark of night to his meeting, so that I would have a vehicle to drive later that morning to my own.

A pre-dawn snowstorm created these two unusual occurrences, since 1) these days I rarely have cause to leave the house so early, and 2) it is, after all, spring (or, supposed to be); just last week temperatures had risen to the 70s.

Perhaps you have already seen that

variables like these are the ones that lead to chance meetings.

We traveled quietly alongside one another, observing the billowing snow.

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it,” my husband noted.

“Yes,” I replied, with a throat already tightening, eyes watering, “but it reminds me of my mom,” I answered softly.

“I know,” he said, “it takes a long time.”

“I should be good in about two more years,” I guessed.  “I still can’t talk or think about it.  But moments like this–well, they just…bring her back…”

“So palpably,” is what I was thinking in that deep barrel that can be known as grief.

As the outside visibility grew poorer, I was able to admit this mystery–the mystery of one’s presence beyond life, beyond their natural life.  This admission from me, who cannot bring myself to acknowledge or count the months that she has been gone, yet vaguely realize that it is somehow already nearing two years.

Moments later, just before 5 a.m., incredibly dark with a heavy snow accumulating, I dropped off my husband, kissed him goodbye, adjusted the car seat and mirrors, fastened my seatbelt, and proceeded into the snowy night–just me, a few streetlights, and two other cars distant on the roadway.

Not far from home, I saw in the darkened light the shadow of an old woman. She was trudging along the curb toward oncoming traffic.  Already driving slowly, I had time to look hard and long, as confusion began to flood me.  Her walking on the street seemed dangerous, though I noticed the sidewalk was fully covered while the road was not.

I looked in each of my mirrors to see no others, and came to a hesitant stop not fully knowing if I wanted to say what I was about to say; then pressed the electronic button to roll down the car window.

“Do you need a ride?” I called with a start in my heart.

The woman’s face was undecipherable, cloaked by a babushka, and she seemed as confused as I was by this unexpected greeting.

“Oh, please,” she said, her figure uncertain through the falling snow.

“Wait there,” I called, “I’ll pull in–there,” I pointed, to the driveway not fifteen feet ahead.

Then, I worried.

Could she shoot me?  Could she be mean?  Would she?  Was she a she? Might this spontaneous action end the story that was my life?  I had been warned never to pick up strangers on the road…

And then before I had any time left to fret, the car was in Park and she was opening and entering the passenger’s side door.

She entered wheezing, bungling her way into the front seat, breathing heavily from the walk.

“Where are you going,” I asked incredulously.

“I’m going to the train station,” she answered; “I need to catch the 5:20 train.”

“Oh, my gosh,” I said, “so early in the morning; it’s still so dark outside!”

“I have to work,” she asserted.

“Well, I know just where the train station is,” I added; “I live right near there,” to let her know she was not inconveniencing me.

An immediate calm filled the car for us both, it seemed.

“I live on Elm Street,” she said, seeming to let me know she felt safe, and also to indicate how far she had already walked.

“I grew up on Elm Street,” I brightened, surprised at the delight that followed, and all the energized talk about her house number, along with that of her friends’, the current neighbors of the house that was for so many years my home.

“You poor thing,” I said.  “You are walking to work on this cold day.”

“One more year!” she repeated, “One more year!”

“Ah,” I said, “retirement!  And then you will retire!”

“Yes, yes!  I am an old woman.  It will be about time!”

“How old are you” I asked, feeling the press of time as we made our turn toward the station, and with more surprise in my voice than I meant to share.  It felt like a script I had never read, a scene I had never envisioned.  More thoughts raced through my mind than I had time to moderate.

“I’m 80,” she said, seeming to know that that was awfully old to be commuting from the suburbs to the city.

Immediately, I envisioned the walk she must have ahead of her once she arrived downtown.

“EIGHTY?!” I declared.

At once, yet again unexpectedly, I flooded with pride.  I felt proud to be a woman.  Proud to be a woman helping this woman.  Knowing the work of women…the hard, hard work of women.  Knowing both how little and how much separated me from being that woman myself.  How it would have been like me not to retire before 80.  Or, 81!

“This is so nice of you,” she said smiling wide; “I am so grateful…This is so nice!”

And then she looked at me hard and long as if studying a return route.

With what seemed her brightest smile, she exclaimed:

“YOU ARE MY GUARDIAN ANGEL!”

And then, ducking and lowering her head closer, she repeated, “You are my guardian angel!”

The words hit large.  The confusion returned while, as if wanting to offer her more than just one ride one day in the snowy dark of night, I found myself saying, “My name is Debbie.”

“My name is Lova!” she proclaimed, smiling cheerfully.  And then repeating, seemingly for emphasis and separating the syllables:

“Loo-va!”

Her accent was thick.  Beautiful.  Her country eluded me.  Was she Czech?  I couldn’t be sure.

I felt I heard her clearly, “Loo-va.”  “Lova.”  Like a song I heard once but would never forget.

Back home in dark warmth and the light of my computer screen, I googled, “the woman’s name Loova.” And this is what I found:

http://www.nordicnames.de/wiki/Lova

Lova

And then it hit me…a completely unanticipated connection.

The neighborhood snow had me thinking of my mother.  Hurting over the loss of her.  And here was this woman of thick, stocking-ed calves, bundled up like a grandmother, heavy with time, going to work.  A woman I could help.  A woman who undoubtedly had given so much help herself to so many others in so many ways.  A woman still helping.  A woman named “Love.”

I tried to stem the wonder.  Could this on some level have been my mother, greeting me from the beyond?

Could the great gratitude this woman had, on this day that she said I made for her, this day that happens to fall on the 26th anniversary of the birth of my son–the day that he and I nearly both died in a complex labor–could any or all of that be in any way connected to any day I might have “made” for my own mother…or to the day the birth of my only son made for me?

Probably not.

But maybe.

We never know.

We just never know where a day will take us.

Because life is hard, but life is magical.

It is pretty much up to us to find the meaning in our days.  To add the joy to our own Happiness Jars.

I will just say that I am grateful that on this day–this day that echoes a time when I once labored so hard, this day when I was missing my mother but trying not to, on this snow-covered spring morning in 2015– that I was able to be open to the moment, and because of this able, in some small way, to be of use.

Here is a poem that also speaks to this experience:

 “To be of use” by Marge Piercy

                                                                                         © Debra Valentino, all rights reserved.

After Grief and Loss: Princess Mommy and the Grandbaby

mast

2013 was a horrible year for me as a case of pneumonia ended up leading my mother to require a medical ventilator that she did not authorize, even though afterward doctors said she could recover.  Her removal from life support and subsequent death was one of the most unsettling experiences of my life, and something I’m still processing.

2014 was not much better.  Although I took a memorial trip with my daughter in my mother’s honor, the minute I returned, I had to break down my parents’ home and move my father to a new environment in order to help him adjust to being a widower.  The work was extensive, exhausting, and disruptive to whatever serenity might be available to those in deep grief.

We all have similar trials of one kind or another.  The trick is how to hold on–how to endure during the hard times, how to move forward and when.

In much of life, if we can just get through the storm, somehow a rainbow appears.

One day, somewhere in the mix of so much upheaval, my step daughter-in-law invited my husband (her father-in-law) and me to be present at the birth of her (second) child.  Since their first daughter had been born to her and her husband (my adult stepson) years before (long before I entered the family), I felt especially surprised and honored to be included. At the time, we weren’t at all anticipating any new grandchildren.  Also, until now we hadn’t grown very close to my husband’s children, primarily because there had been some unwarranted distance in the family.  At last, this was an opportunity to improve our relationships.

This baby is my husband’s fourth grandchild, following a second grandson born several years before–the same month that my husband’s first wife passed away after an extended illness.  When I entered the scene, there was plenty of ongoing grief still happening in my husband’s family, which I accepted with compassion. Even before losing my own mother, I understood that sorrow doesn’t always make for the easiest transitions.  But then there was the break down of my husband’s family homestead, a few moves, and mounting anger by family members who were not ready for all the changes.  I, of all people, got it.

Through it all, I was not exactly welcomed by all of my husband’s family members.  This was obviously an additional source of heartache for my husband, who also found himself caught in one unanticipated storm after another.  It seemed at the time that no one was being empathetic to anyone’s plight.  We felt we finally had little choice but to let everyone adjust on their own timetable.  At least we hoped that everyone would adjust.  Even without the challenges of being blended, families can be complicated.

With family tension still thriving, my husband and I were nevertheless excited to join his son and family.  We prepared for the big day and left in the dark of night to drive hundreds of miles for the birth of this first grandchild born to our marriage.  In the end, we would be utterly amazed by the healing delivered with this baby, a granddaughter–the baby sister to my husband’s firstborn granddaughter, now a teenager (in pre-school at the time of her paternal grandmother’s passing).

If we can just get through the storm, somehow a rainbow appears.

The thing that intrigues me about the rift in my husband’s family is both how unnecessary it is and also how the mother of this first grandchild of mine (my own children are not parents yet) has risen to the occasion to create a solid and nurturing environment for her child.

t-shirtIt is as if she did some hard thinking, made some tough choices (hopefully with the aid of her husband, my husband’s firstborn son) and emerged from it all with good sense, like the regal queen that she is. “Princess Mommy,” I call her affectionately.  “Glamma,” she refers to me, as I joyfully accept the task of bringing the glamour…the sprinkles and the sparkles (both literal and metaphoric).  It is fun, because together we make it that way.  We share so many joys now.

This is an amazing shift that my step daughter-in-law created in our family–accomplished simply by making the choice to include me.  A shift I alone could not secure.  By including me, she provides both of her daughters an additional set of grandparents, her husband a renewed relationship with his beloved father, and endless opportunity for the family to grow healthier.  “Family is Everything” the graphic on her family wall displays.  These are words she has chosen both to display AND to honor.  Clearly, she recognizes that “family” often extends beyond blood, beyond DNA–and not just to in-laws, but to in-laws through re-marriage.  Surely this could not have been any less an adjustment for she who loved her mother-in-law, who honors her husband’s grief, than it would be for anyone else in the family.  Yet somehow, she decidedly made this leap.  In so doing, she also created a new relationship for herself, a new support system for her parenting.  She includes me, and in turn, I am her biggest cheerleader.  This is also remarkable because we have different talents, some differing interests, and almost completely different politics. We overlook any and all differences seemingly with ease,  find common ground, and have even become good friends.  In fact, we both make all of this work profoundly well.  It’s amazing what a cooperative spirit can bring about.

orange chair

I have one sister-in-law like this, and if you have one, too, you know what a blessing it is of which I speak. Our daughter-in-law’s inclusion has fostered a friendship between herself and me that feels ideal.  She stays connected and texts me frequently.  She sends pictures of the baby, which make me burst with glee.  In fact, it feels like I go into some sort of withdrawal without them.  I am crazy about this kid!  I am always thinking about her and her sister; I have become quite attached to both.

We visit now as often as possible, spend holidays and birthdays together–and when we can’t do so, I send gifts, cards and letters to the girls who look forward to receiving them.  We’ve got a sort of rhythm going, and together we had the best time sharing the baby’s first Christmas and first birthday–for which I designed the decorations (shown partly in these photos).  We have genuinely developed a rapport that is a gift to us all — one where we can talk comfortably, laugh readily, plan and execute, and where we treat each other with sincere love and respect.

IMG_6470

Above all else, I am amazed at how connected I feel to this new grandbaby.  It truly feels as if she is my own.  And she represents to me not only that rainbow, but indeed the sunshine that comes after so much stormy darkness. She is like the mythical phoenix bird rising from the ashes, helping to revive my fallen spirit–and for that she will always hold a special place.

Indeed, I feel privileged to be one of the adult stewards of her well being.  I want her to thrive and be joyous…to know beyond question that she is loved and valued by many, including myself.  I want to encourage her to read and think, to love literature, and maybe even to write.  Why not?

o n e
Perhaps this happy turn of events gives us all something to consider.

Some people like to defy definitions and/or fight their role in a family.  Some people insist on rebelling, on forging a new way, on walking their own path.  There is certainly a lot to be said for individuality…

Yet, it seems that when it comes to family, if everyone would just do his or her part, the family would thrive.

Unfortunately (and probably far too often), some people work to create harmony, while others feel compelled to cause disharmony.

If you feel you cannot create family, perhaps at least you can understand why.

Here are some questions to consider about family relationships:

  •    Where do you fit in your family?
  •    Are you a harmonizer, a peacemaker–or are you trouble-maker, a divider?
  •    Who are you rejecting (and why)?
  •    Who are you including (and why)?
  •    What action can you take to improve your family dynamic?
  •    What is beyond your control?
  •    How much time will it take for you to embrace a fully functioning, nurturing family?

IMG_6569

“We do not heal the past by dwelling there;

we heal the past by living fully in the present.”

— Marianne Williamson

© Debra Valentino, all rights reserved