Beyond Family Conflict

family is everything

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How many dramas can you count in your family?

By dramas, I mean those petty differences that grow to full-out rancor.  You know, the kind that leave you not speaking to someone or not wanting to, dreading holidays and birthdays, possibly wanting to pull somebody’s hair (if not your own), perhaps moving across the continent.  You know, something notable.

You hear the stories all the time.  It seems that no family is immune. Everyone has someone they just cannot get along with or won’t get along with, for whatever reason.

blog nasty people

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Some people seem to thrive on creating havoc, generally for reasons that seem arbitrary and unfair. Some unfortunate families are even cursed with more than one such instigator. To everyone’s dismay, these flawed characters create flawed relationships that uncomfortably reach beyond just trying to remain civil with the perpetrator.  All too often the damage incited is irreparable, which can adversely affect family dynamics for generations.

This sort of discord is such a common phenomenon that by now you’d think there would be websites called Adopt a Family or Find a New Daughter-in-Law.  

I recently met a mother who told me about another woman who was making her daughter’s wedding planning a living hell. The troublemaker turns out to be her daughter’s future sister-in-law; so, two women marrying two brothers. Already both, the woman I just met and the mother of the future grooms, have taken up armor against the accused malcontent, while dubbing the ill-fated husband-to-be as complacent–“whipped,” in the typical way that many men who marry such vixens get labeled.  You can already see where this family is going even before it gets started (insert OMG emoji).

In the news this week, the deceased singer Whitney Houston’s only offspring, Bobbi Kristina Brown, continues comatose from rumored domestic violence by her not-quite-legal spouse, while in a nearby hotel Bobbi Kristina’s visiting relatives broke into a bloody brawl that left one family member needing stitches.

In another news story this week, Rosie O’Donnell is leaving The View again–this time amid rumors of a second divorce with teenagers and a small child needing her at home, along with reported strife between O’Donnell and co-host Whoopi Goldberg. Some people just can’t catch a break (or give one).

Beyond the obvious reasons, I am not sure why so many women consistently sabotage one another–or how they have succeeded to do so through the ages.  Yet, as a stepmother and the only daughter in a family of married and divorced siblings, I unhappily acknowledge that family drama is no stranger to me.  In one way or another, it seems we are all heirs to some measure of family turmoil.  Some families even have men creating the drama–it’s really not gender-specific.  People lash out.  People create harm.  People get hurt.

breathe blog

As one of the grown-ups now in my own family, I think of the children who know and understand little about the chasms that lurk behind and around them.  Surely someone must think of the children.  Family strife begets family strife, and usually all we are teaching our children by our own conflicts is how to argue, how to hate, how not to get along.  We all must have boundaries, of course, but we also can’t exactly ignore the scores of children who do not know a grandparent, an aunt or uncle–their own blood, because of something someone said or did at some occasion now a distant memory to all.

Why do we complicate life, when it could be so simple, so easy?

When trust is forever broken by the egregious behavior of one misguided, self-centered, out of control lunatic, everyone ends up feeling at least a little crazy.  So how do we compose ourselves and maintain normal when the cray-cray comes to call?  The answer, it seems, has to be one of focus.

focus blog

“Align your focus with the solution,” yes–but sometimes, as many of us have learned, the knot only becomes more gnarled the longer we try to untangle it.  Those of us who have tried our hearts out know that strife does not end simply because we want it to.

The focus, then, and true cause for celebration must reside in those family members capable of participating in a healthy way.  When someone in any family honors the dynamic simply by cooperating–by welcoming and even accepting new family members and personality differences; by averting trouble instead of causing it; by not being divisive and petty and small, but instead by contributing in a positive way–they become an actual hero in that family.  Note:  A family really can never have too many heroes.

Think about it.  What one does, says, contributes, and encourages makes all the difference.

Where in the great family paradigm do you fit?  Are you a lover or a hater?  A contributor or a complainer? A gossip or a supporter?

Are you misunderstood, misread, respected, or avoided like the plague?  If so, by whom–and why?

One of the important factors toward emotional well being is to know your place; another is to honor your own personal beliefs.  Are you true to yourself?  Can you be true to yourself without disrespecting others? In the following quotation by Zig Ziglar, where has your family journey left you?

family post blog  zig ziglar

If you could, what change would you bring about in your family?

What hope are you yearning for on the road ahead?


As we each endeavor toward a greater good, every family success is worth noting.  In my next post, I will share with you the grace of one of my favorite family members.


 © Debra Valentino, all rights reserved

On The Pursuit of Gratitude and Compassion

I am at my daughter’s home in Denver, Colorado. This is a significant trip, because it marks my second solo travel since my head injury: my second flight unaccompanied. Plus, I am here to help her sort, organize and pack in preparation for a move to a new house. This is significant because having a blow to the forehead meant a decrease in “executive functioning,” and these are among the very skills–sorting, organizing, packing–that to this day cause me some of the greatest fatigue. I have to take these tasks in small amounts of time, but I’m grateful to be able to do them once again, even though I am sadly not as quick or as efficient at any of them as I once was.  No more marathon cleaning sessions for me.  I actually miss that a lot, though.

The flight here was as ideal as air travel can be, save for the stale diet coke and the four-month-old who cried for one hour and forty-five minutes.  It was agitating to listen to, but I felt sorry for the baby’s mother, who seemed to be passing all her anxiety and neuroses onto her child.  I wanted to intervene, but instead of reaching and grabbing the baby to settle it, I just smiled and asked how old he was, while offering the kindness of approval.  She and the father were friendly, and seemed relieved.  They were clearly nervous, and trying everything they knew to quiet the infant–which involved a lot of jostling and shaking and shh shh shh-ing, with lighted toys and rattles and such that only seemed to agitate the baby further.  The baby seemed to want a good swaddle or holding, instead of all the stimulation they were giving him, which required more effort and concentration than he had on this crowded flight.

The gentleman seated next to me on the airplane started the flight by nodding beyond my aisle seat toward his center seat, saying, “I just ruined your day.” I could only guess he was referring to his size; he was a large man.  He was very nicely dressed, and obviously on a business trip.  He said he was Boston bound, but because of the snowstorm out east had had to reroute to business in Denver (which by the way, is enjoying temperatures in the 70s, mid-winter).

Toward the end of the flight, just before landing, and once the baby had finally settled, I spoke to the businessman in the next seat.  He noticed my reading, so I inadvertently started telling him how my reading skills had changed since sustaining a head injury.  He asked how it happened, and when I told him, he seemed stunned.  I went on to explain that I had temporarily lost the ability to read and speak, and that the end result for my reading skills, which had previously grown to be rather sophisticated, was that they had reverted to a junior high or high school level–but that I was grateful to be able to read again, and especially on an airplane while in flight.  As we chatted, I learned that he currently lives in Notting Hill, a swanky area that I coincidentally had just toured in London on my first solo trip just last November.  I asked him if he was familiar with this place, and of course he was:

It’s a small and wonderful world.

My daughter is a terrific host.  She is also a consummate planner, and very thoughtful.  This morning I got to sleep in and woke up to a darling note with the day’s itinerary (hers and ours) and a full pot of freshly brewed coffee.  I am so grateful to have such a wonderful daughter, and to have this time with her, even though I feel like I am back on retreat!  Maybe especially because of that.  My proudest life’s achievement, she just warms my heart and makes it sing.

It must be serendipity that when I fired up my computer this morning, one of first things I saw was this video, called “A Very Happy Brain.” 


May all your days be blessed!


© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved

Finding Happy in the New Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can I say; happiness is contagious, right?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved



Imagine a place far from home.

Say that it’s spacious…an old stone Georgian manor with French floor to ceiling window casements. Built in the mid 1800s, and still standing stoically in the damp, often foggy English countryside.


Imagine acres of gardens and farmland, livestock grazing, stone paths with a large latched gate and not a few concrete goddesses.  A magical place of mystical worship.

Outside, a garden of fresh herbs, vegetables, and orchards of nourishing, delectable fruit.

Inside, an intriguing interior with a magnificent staircase central to all activity.  A kitchen that has a life of its own—the place of early morning greetings, musings, ready smiles and spontaneous laughter…endless cups of tea, and plates of homemade cake so varied and reliable that you simply cannot continue to say no.

Imagine a joyous embracing—being gloriously welcomed, then toasted by candlelight on a crisp autumn evening with bubbly flutes of Prosecco. The excitement of it all–adventure, friendship, spirit, wonder.

Add to this setting a chef with trained cooks waiting to serve your every meal from a country kitchen set just off the stately dining room—a place of elegant evening meals with its large, expansive table that, in addition to the kitchen table, becomes as central to community as the hearths that warm the two rooms beyond.

Imagine one room, lightly touched with delicate incense, distinctive, yet barely perceptible.  Imagine sage, cedar and juniper bound together in a wand, used in a smudging ceremony to prepare this room, to prepare the energy of the room to receive you and send you yonder.

Imagine with this no need to plan, no need to shop, no need to decide anything really. Just come to the table and state your pleasure: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free. It’s all there, prepared and waiting to nourish and satisfy a hunger you didn’t even know you had.

Imagine at this table, candlelit and clothed, raising one’s glass in unison–toasting, clinking, belonging. Moonlight lifting through the windows. A yurt waiting outside with more magic than you can hope for. Change.  Epiphanies.  Tears.  Wonder.  A fire glowing in the cold air.

Imagine conversation at every meal. Caring. Hearing. Feeling fed, feeling full. Being seen, nourished. Imagine a space of your own. Company. Time to be quiet. Time to be raucous. A universe beyond.

Here you will enjoy a library of books. Wood fires crackling–first in the parlor, then in the salon. Darkly painted plum-colored walls, deep as your memories. Bouquets of flowers, varied as your dreams. A velvet Buddah. Your heart’s delight in every room.



Imagine a circle. A sisterhood of support, loving your soul to fullness. Imagine change, breakthroughs, release. Tears that have waited an unbelievably long time. A new meaning for yes.



Imagine all of this framed in exploration—a hike in the wind, a breathless climb, a Shamanic reading near a Chalice Well.  Finally, a deep tissue massage in a converted stable that once was a cow shed.

Rain falling hard.

Imagine a woman. You.  A woman weary from the journey there.

Imagine women. Fifteen women. Six groups of two and always one group of three, where you are never sure where you will end up—but where you will always feel you belong.  A family you never expected.

A family of women also present at the inevitable sendoff.  Yet this sendoff, like their welcoming, is one that reaches beyond your wildest dreams. A veritable scene from a movie, with you playing the lead role.  After Letting Go, a celebration of Can’t-Let-Gos–revelatory, with so much love, so much knowing.  Their wisdom and your own, whirling all around and through you.  A newfound confidence.

Just imagine. Imagine having company all hours of the day, with nothing to do but connect, look within, reach beyond, process, dream.

Imagine this space for yourself, quiet, silence.

A surprising room of your own of safety and freedom.

This is bliss.  Clean sheets and a fluffy duvet.  Your own bubble bath with no interruptions. Stars on your door, circling your name.




 © Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved