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Holiday Greetings: Ringing in the Last Month of 2015

Ringing in the Last Month of the Year: Happy Holidays 2015

Greetings of the season, Stumbler readers! I stopped by to change the seasonal colors — naturally, I forgot how that is done, so had some fiddling around to do…not positive this is the one that will stay. I really like this one, but it comes up way too much blue:

© debra valentino

snowy tree branches

I thought while I was here I should at least wish you a happy month of crazy. How are your festivities going, if you are one who celebrates Christmas?

For starters, I decorated our mantel for our grand baby the way I used to when the kids were small.  I thought it would be a good idea because it’s so child-friendly, but then I realized the style is looking sorely out of date…even if the garland does light up. This was just a quick job to get some of the decorations out of their boxes, but still…I think it needs a little sprucing up; perhaps a new banner (which will one day become outdated as well). Still, I would love to find the time to craft one:

mantel decorations

 

I always loved those blocks that spell out “Merry Christmas.” My goodness, they are a year or two older than my oldest child! The doll on the top reminds me so much of my mother. She loved Christmasy dolls. The nutcrackers always make me think of my son–except that this year when I asked my daughter if she wanted any of my old Christmas decorations, she surprised me by saying, “Maybe just the nutcrackers.” The Bambi in the back was my son’s, and he loved the nose on that little thing. Each of those stuffed toys has memories. Of course, we move the stuffed animals before we light the fire!

I used to put the whole collection of stuffed animals in one big basket, but in all the rush to move to help with my mother before she passed away, I now have no idea whether I even still have that basket. I got a lot of use out of that Moses-style basket, but for the life of me cannot recall where its origin. I think that is one of those facts I lost with my head injury–I used to know every minor thing, it seemed. I do remember, fortunately, that before that basket (the one that’s not even pictured in the photo above) was the stuffed animal house, it was an Advent Book Basket. That is because, long before Pinterest was a glimmer in anyone’s eye, I came up with a Christmas idea for my children: I wrapped new books for them and allowed them to open one each day after school during the season of Advent. They were so young they were enchanted simply by the idea alone that each book was “a gift.” They enjoyed unwrapping the colorful papers. Then, they were anxious to explore the book of the day, and easily became enchanted by the story. It was a great way to get them reading.

To this day, one of my most favorite Christmas memories is the quiet that fell over this very family room, as both kids and the hubby sat reading silently. It was truly beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful, I took a photo today while I was walking the dog. I tried editing it with a new app on my phone, and this is what it rendered:

© debra valentino, all rights reserved

photo taken on walk, December 2, 2015

I think it’s a spectacular image. It was a really gray, dreary day today, and the branches on this tree seemed like some sort of crescendo to the wind, which seemed colder than I expected. I walked cautiously, as the news of yet another mass shooting was unfolding, this one in San Bernardino, California. It seemed the school children were dismissed early, and I started paying attention to parents pulling up in a way I never have before, thinking what I would do if someone opened fire the way they were doing in California today.  Then, when returned home and I saw the heart shape in this image centered in the clouds above, it felt like some loving spirit had been present, perhaps weeping over the tragedy of the lives lost. I guess we have to try to make meaning when so many random acts of violence go unexplained. This picture is already so special to me, and I just shot it this afternoon. I hate what happened in San Bernardino, but as art often does, this photograph brings me comfort and joy. I love in it the contours of color and the contrasts of shape and texture.

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Well, I guess after 61 days of writing here I got so used to writing that I just had to return. I’m hosting a cookie baking party next weekend, and maybe I’ll return to blog about that. There is so much to do and to document in the month of December, as you likely understand. Last year, our Christmas holiday was a somewhat quiet one. This year, our Thanksgiving holiday was quiet–but super wonderful–just hubby and me. He was recovering from hernia surgery, so we stayed home alone and listened to some great music, and just ate a small turkey meal with all the fixings by candlelight. At first we were depressed about not seeing the kids or any friends or family, but it turned out so lovely that in the end we were sort of rejoicing. We had peace and quiet, not a lot of cleanup, and we got to rest completely commotion free, which was what my husband especially needed. He’s still not 100%, but sleeping soundly as I write. I know he will be so happy in the morning when he receives the notification that I’ve posted to the blog. He is always so supportive of my writing. I love that about him.

As for you, dear readers, I hope you will be able to go with the flow as much as possible this holiday season. *It’s not about how much you do!* It’s about how it feels. I guess that is why I came back to write. Writing makes me happy. It’s only been a few days, and I already missed it and everyone here. We should never underestimate the good fortune of being able to read, or (as I know too well) of being able to write.

Happy December 2015!

**HOWEVER**: It’s not about how much you do…HOWEVER…if you would like a wee bit of help organizing your holiday tasks, here is a link to some free planning pages: FREE HOLIDAY PLANNING LINK

Enjoy!

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

 

Free From Fatigue: Breaking Free at Last

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Free From Fatigue: Breaking Free at Last

~ with endearing appreciation to those who have been following this series ~

Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 6.40.40 PMThis post completes my 31 Day Writing challenge. I have been writing in the evening before going to sleep, but last night I was so exhausted I just could not write coherently. When I signed up for this challenge, I never heard of it before and had no idea what to expect. The notification for the t-shirt caught my eye because it had feathers on it. I also liked that it said, “Challenge Accepted,” because I have had to accept many challenges in my life.

When I took this challenge, I had already been thinking about how I could break the neck of my fatigue, which is a bad choice of metaphors given my neck injury from whiplash and the subsequent swelling that nearly ended my life. Nevertheless, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I had the vague hope that maybe writing my way through the last vestiges of my recovery might prove helpful.

Silly me. As much as I gained from writing 31 days in a row, the last thing I did was end my fatigue. In fact, writing just agitated it, and I should have known that. The sedentary activity of writing works fairly well with my chronic exhaustion brought on by acquired traumatic brain injury (ATBI), and it is easier to tolerate than is physical exercise, but sedentary activity is not the best for my heart and lungs. Because my respiration was also affected by my injury, it is important for me to be outdoors daily. I don’t breathe deeply otherwise, so I need to work my body to force better overall blood circulation; in fact it is crucial to my overall health–I don’t get enough oxygen to my brain if I don’t. I’m caught in a bind between being weak and frail (my muscles lost tone and I tend to fall often) and needing to move to build strength, which often leads to the physical fatigue/exhaustion and pain I’m sick and tired of (going on year nine). However, writing, while sedentary, causes cognitive fatigue and that presents as head pain, lots of heat pouring out of my head, and many slurred or lost words–the basic inability to access what I was thinking or doing two seconds ago–so short-term memory lapses. These neurological challenges are not fun, but I am ever cognizant that they could be worse. I’ve made a lot of adapting, but it’s just not the lifestyle I envisioned.

The challenge began with our being told to pick a theme to write on for 31 days. I was unprepared for this requirement and had no idea what to choose. Later, I realized that this challenge was more of a blogging event than a writing event and even that the term “writing” was a little misleading, because most of the bloggers were happy to stay within the 300 word length of a typical blog post. I appreciate this, but it isn’t the best formula for working one’s writing muscles, as the more we write the better we usually become.

Since growing my blog was not my main motivation, I stayed focused on the writing aspect of the challenge. Writing also improves cognitive healing, while growing one’s blog readership does not. Writing causes fatigue, while growing my blog readership causes stress (which can lead to fatigue). I wasn’t prepared for all the technical and marketing requirements of this challenge, and instead felt overwhelmed by them to the point where I just had to try to ignore them. I chose to stay focused on the writing, but as far as I could tell from the communications exchanged, I was alone in this endeavor.

The technical matters were by far the worst part of the challenge. We had to create an electronic button of a certain format using specified dimensions with apps I’d never heard of. Then we had to use social media almost as intensely as I was writing; again, something I’m not adept at yet. Even when I tried to follow the expectations, there were glitches, and as with all technological challenges, people were working at all different levels in all different places. I began to feel that this would have been more aptly titled the Writing and Technology Challenge.

I did see my Twitter followers quadruple in membership, and this led to some notable reads and shares of some of my posts. Then I saw that my readership wasn’t growing nearly as quickly as many of the other challenge members, and again I had to wonder what I was doing wrong, or more likely not doing with some app or plug ins. I was introduced to many things I didn’t know existed. While overwhelming, I do welcome the learning. It’s not that I am opposed to increased online exposure, it’s just that I never really thought much about it before, as I am mostly interested in the writing aspect–which offers challenge enough.

As for my own writing, I feel apologetic for the length of my posts–but only where readers are concerned. The work is vital to polishing my skills, which were compromised by the brain injury. Here are some of the errors I’m making now that this challenge brought to light:

  • an increase in misspellings, sometimes inadvertent due to typing (such as “to” for “too”) but even more frequently, loss of word picture. Where before I could “see” a word instantly, now I have to search my mind for its spelling. In the past, I was 98% of the time correct; now I am about 51% of the time wrong.
  • an increase in typos–where I used to write consciously, knowing at every second where I was in a word and in a sentence, now I tend to write unconsciously in a sort of semi-sleep state…plus my hands don’t work as accurately on the keyboard. I find myself once in a while searching for a letter on the keyboard, where before my mind knew instantaneously where to go.
  • laziness or fatigue–by the time I write a post, I rarely want to proofread it, where once I was very conscientious about proofreading. Now, it’s practically torture for me to sit through a text once I’ve written it, combing it for accuracy. Where once I was diligent, now I am impatient. This is not a “personality change” so often ascribed to brain injury survivors so much as it is a cognitive change, (although it may present to onlookers as a change in personality).
  • misplaced modifiers–I do this constantly, including in simple ways such as splitting verb parts, “have frequently been given” when I mean “have been given frequently.” Misplaced modifiers are even more involved than this, but one I catch most often in my writing now, which brings my writing back to the level it was in high school, not where it was after advanced degrees and 25 years of teaching English.
  • style–my writing style has become very expository, when once it leaned more heavily toward the poetic. This comes, in part, from teaching expository writing for so long, but it also has to do with the embedding in my brain, which lost sophistication, and which is part of what I am working to regain.

The best part of this writing challenge was the satisfaction the pure act of writing brought me. Every day I wrote I felt happy while writing and once completing a post, and this mood elevation lasted throughout the day. I hadn’t anticipated that but it was sort of a built in picker upper. The accomplishment of writing so much over such a long period of time helped my self-esteem, which took a big hit when I was injured and recovering. My husband and I had many laughs about the work as it was unfolding, and this bonded us in ways we also had lost while I was ill. It felt like his respect of my intellect returned, after feeling that after my head injury, he saw me as retarded and unfocused, which I was sometimes. Best of all, the occasional responses from readers showed me that I can write and that my writing does have merit in the world. Finally, all this writing I’ve done–sometimes as many as eight hours in a day for 31 days in a row–proves to me that I can write a book, that I can complete the book I’m writing (even though I already lost all my files, ugh technology)! This is great energy moving forward.

Yesterday, with one post left to complete the challenge, I was like a kid out of school. I ran around when I should have been at home writing or outside walking. When I returned from the store, I made some treats for our granddaughters, including a fresh banana birthday cake from scratch for the 2 year old, and some Rice Krispy treats for the 16 year old. I made a meal with a salad to take to the grandkids’ so that we don’t have to eat at a restaurant and can enjoy family time more leisurely at home. I cleaned and did laundry. When it was all over, I was exhausted–but who wouldn’t have been? For the first day since this time 2007, I was myself again–busy, productive, happy. I would say, no matter how tired I am now, that this indicates that I have indeed finally broken free from fatigue. I have accomplished my long desired goal. I am back at last to living life and to doing something I have always loved to do, writing.

Thanks for reading Stumbler.

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

This completes the challenge.

#write31days

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

Trick-or-Treat: Happy Halloween 2015!

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Trick-or-Treat: Happy Halloween 2015

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

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

safe

simple

fun

hilarious

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

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

our granddaughter, trying on her Halloween costume

our granddaughter, trying on her Halloween costume

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

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

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

a hippie

a go-go girl

a nun

a farmer

a pregnant woman

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

Because you know, Halloween.

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

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

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

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Oh, the hilarity!

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

That, and of course, the candy!

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

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

#write31days

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

Learning to Lean on Yourself

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“This the core of spiritual work. When you are comfortable with pain passing through you, you will be free. This world will never be able to bother you again because the worst the world can do is hit the pain stored within you. If you are no longer afraid of yourself, you are free. You will then be able to walk through this world more vibrant and alive than ever before….Eventually you will understand that there is an ocean of love behind all of this fear and pain…peace and love will run your life.” ~ Michael Singer

Learning to Lean on Yourself

One of the greatest gifts to come out of suffering a serious condition and severe, if not terminal, illness is that you at last become your own best friend. Perhaps this is divine intervention, or perhaps it evolves out of necessity because, as explained here, friends tend to fall away whenever a person changes, particularly in foreign ways such as these. However, brain injury also leaves survivors reevaluating all their relationships, so sometimes the survivor is the one choosing to move on from a friendship, which is another interesting evolution of the condition.

bi friends

Following are some of the changes that I experienced that allowed me to become my own best friend. My hope is that if you struggle with this issue (as I did before my injury), whether or not you are suffering a chronic condition now, you will find some wisdom in these ideas.

 1. Forgive Yourself.  You’re going to be a whole new person, radically changed by your experience.  The only way to calibrate the rate of change is to hold on for the ride. This requires vigilant forgiveness, not of others because remember–you’re trying to survive something life threatening–your focus naturally falls on yourself during this time. You have reached a point where you simply cannot take care of anyone else, but you must take care of yourself. You are going to think and feel and do some out of character things that may surprise even you, let alone leave everyone else shrieking. It’s part of the process. Embrace it, but to the best of your ability do not overindulge it. When you do feel disappointed in yourself, understand that you’ve been wounded, and that healing isn’t always pretty. This perspective shows you how beautiful a mind is, that it is adaptable and that it can improve. Forgive every foolish thing you say, do, think, have and will say, do and think. There is no tax on self-forgiveness. Practice it daily.

2. Find Your Value.  Nothing can prepare you for the feeling of worthlessness that brain injury induces. It’s like you’re on one of those carnival rides where centrifugal force makes the floor drop out from under your feet. Just as you work on this ride to feel grounded, like you aren’t falling into some vast abyss, you have to work to find your worth again. It’s likely that you will be reduced to feeling that the only thing you have accomplished is surviving…and for a long while, that’s not going to feel like a victory–more like something you didn’t have a choice in much like you may not have had a choice in being injured. Even if the only thing you can proclaim is that you are human having a human experience, that is enough. In fact, that is a lot. You have value because you are. Simply because you exist…but also because you endured. Your body and brain are among the strongest, depending on the extent of your injuries, and that in itself is remarkable. As unlucky as you may feel, you are actually quite lucky.

3. Practice Acceptance.  This is probably the toughest step on your way to becoming your own best friend, but perhaps the most essential one. You don’t have time to whine or be angry about what you’ve lost, even though it is okay to feel this and act this way (and you will). Your energy, however, is best used accepting who you’ve become and whether you have sufficient help and love or not. Chances are you won’t, so this is how you begin to become adept at providing your needs for yourself. Also, you get to give up the hope of being “perfect” and the drive toward perfection. You finally get to let your hair down and just be whatever state you’re in. No sense fighting this, because you won’t have the strength, at least for a good while. Use your time to find new ways to occupy your time. Change the way you think about what you need to be doing and what you want to be doing. I was amazed at how alive I was even just lying in my bed not speaking to anyone. You can learn to be totally isolated and still sane. And once you learn that, becoming your own best friend is relatively easy. Your thought patterns are crucial, so if those are dreadful, work on changing those, or know that they will change as your body and your brain heal…even if your circumstances remain the same.

4.  Express Yourself.  You do this for you, because most people aren’t going to be interested or tolerant. Most people do not want to hear about your trauma, your ailments, your challenges, your problems. Life is tough for everyone, even the healthiest. However, the catharsis of self-expression moves you forward in magical ways. It does not make you popular. Remember, though, to have a friend you only need one–in this case, you! If you can find an art form, play or listen to music, design or decorate anything, write…you get a bonus. Let the rough patches out to smooth them; let the fear out to overcome it, the confusion out to clarify it. Be gentle, be patient, but allow yourself to try. Even if you have to talk to yourself in your head, you are working that brain, and any working brain is an alive one. Keep expressing yourself, even if you have no audience. Especially if you have no audience.

5. Know You.  Be skeptical of anything anyone tells you about who you are. The fact is, unless the person has experienced and survived intense head trauma, they really do not know you. You know you. Your knowledge is sufficient. To bolster what you do not understand, you can read–but know that reading takes the form of actually reading text as well as watching and listening. Reading becomes a fuller, richer, more varied activity. When someone judges or scolds you, know that what they say may or may not be accurate. You get to decide. You become selfish because you don’t ever have to worry about becoming self-centered. You just have to endure. You’re trying to get your life back. People scratch their heads, but you were there whenever your injury occurred. You experience the knitting back together of your own bones. No one knows your body or mind like you do, and you are free to stop worrying about theirs. For a while, you get a PhD in who you are. So pay attention, and let this distract you from all the drudgery you have to endure.

blue spot6.  Know Your Limits.  People may tell you that you expect too much or you do too little. People will tell you all sorts of things. You just have to concentrate on what you can do and when. If you can’t do something you want to do, accept it and don’t try to force yourself. When you are ready, you will do whatever needs to be done. If you can’t cook dinner, or even if you don’t want to, you get a pass. Your family members might not give you a pass–you have to give it to yourself. When it comes to activity, who doesn’t want to be up and at it? No one would choose to check out and be a blob. Even people who might do that are fighting some sort of challenge. When you need rest, rest. When you want to run a marathon, consider whether you can. Sure, you can try anyway, but don’t beat yourself up when you run last. You are okay just where you are. When you weren’t injured, you were better. When you heal, you are not going to be the same as you were before being injured, but you will in some ways be even better!

7. Defend Yourself.  People are not going to like you for this, but you are going to have to be strong enough to stand up to them. Head injuries help with this, because you can get really good at giving someone a piece of your mind. You’ve already lost a few million brain cells and survived, so what’s a few more, right? Don’t let someone break your heart without acknowledging it at least to yourself. If you can, stand up to them while they’re doing it. If someone says, “You never come out with us,” just say, “I’m sorry, I haven’t been feeling well.” If someone says, “You are a purple people monster eater,” say, “No, I am not. I am a person. I have a heart.” People are eager to pick on brain injured survivors, don’t be bullied.  You didn’t hit yourself in the head, and your karma didn’t make you get hit in the head. Maybe it was someone’s voodoo doll that got you hit in the head. The point is, you have to take a defensive stance because you now know that there is a bulldozer and it is coming for you. You might not have been able to avoid your injury, but you don’t have to be bulldozed for the rest of your life because of it.

8. Do What You Love.  Nothing says mortality like almost losing your life. Learn the lesson that life is short, and then use your time on this earth to do what you can for yourself by doing what you want. I spent my entire life trying to help others; I still do that to a fault now. Help yourself by doing what you love to do. If you like to bowl, bowl. If you like to write, write. If you can hang curtains, do that. Do what you’re good at and what makes you smile, makes your heart beat. Be alive even if it is in a small, quiet way. You don’t have to be the provost, CEO, and leading lady. You just have to be happy…and you will be surprised at how little it takes to live happily.

 9. Be Kind to Yourself. Let the rest of the world ignore you if they choose. Practice self-kindness, self-acceptance. Focus inward instead of outward. No plans for Saturday night? What can you do on your own that will make you happy? No likes on Facebook? Be the bigger person and like someone else’s post…but try to like it only if you like it, because it is never kind to lie to yourself. Don’t worry about your image or how many followers you have. Quite frankly, that is a pain in the butt. We are not all trying to get elected. You can earn a living without a social media presence or even being part of the in group. You just need to monitor your self-talk, and to correct it when you are being harsh to yourself. Everything else will take care of itself. You will be loved again. You get there by being loving.  In the past, I mastered loving others but always put myself second or even last. Then I got hurt and no one understood me and no one could help me, not fully anyway. I had no choice but to learn to pay attention to what I needed. If I didn’t pay attention, I didn’t get what I needed. You don’t have to worry about not being hard enough on yourself. Most of us are way too hard on ourselves.

10. You Decide. Since it is so important to know yourself and to do for yourself, I leave this last one to you. What do you need to be your own best friend?

being honest friends

Becoming your own best friend is important because it brings you fulfillment you cannot experience without it. It enables you to provide for yourself what others cannot or will not, and thereby reduces your anger and helps your heart health. Once you learn to provide what you need, to truly care for yourself (even if that means hiring a caretaker), to like yourself just as you are, you can live through the worst calamity you’ll ever experience. Once you learn to rely on yourself, you do not have to fear death. You have walked the labyrinth in solitude, and you are now free to fall in love with life, with your own life, however little or big it is to you or to anyone else. Once you learn to lean on yourself, you’ll be a more reliable place for anyone else to fall, because you will be solid and true.

Remember it’s not how many fans you have, it’s how many smiles you can smile.

________

Thanks for reading Stumbler.

This is Day 29 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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

When Stress Amplifies Fatigue

When Stress Amplifies Fatigue: 10 Things You Can Do 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living the Wrong Dream

Living the Wrong Dream:  On Brain Injury, Thought and Dreaming

One of the most surprising things about my head injury was that as tired as I felt, I rarely slept.  In fact, I often lay for hours on end in excruciating pain, awake though exhausted.  Being unable to sleep was nearly maddening, but what I recall most vividly was how my mind never shut off.  Sometimes, the only way I knew that I was still alive was by the thinking that was non-stop in my brain.  Even when I could not so much as move my hand, my brain was firing, less in the very beginning, but often times early on, seeming to be as active as it had been before being injured. Not as happy or as focused, of course, but still active, in motion.

Experiencing the physical pain of my skull trying to fuse, my meninges trying to repair itself, the tissues and cells of my neck and spinal column fighting to regenerate–open up–unswell, my nose a constant mass of smashed to pieces, all so overwhelmingly painful that I used to try to do everything I could not to experience any or the whole of it–not to pay attention to these areas or my condition–even though the pain was so intense, so chronically grabbing me, pulling me often times into a raw panic…rushing the best I could without falling to the window for air, the bathtub for hydrotherapy…and then back to my bed, a womb or coffin of sorts, clinging to the mattress where unexpected muscle atrophy would follow, along with the fibromyalgia it caused, things I’d never experienced before…not to mention the emotional changes and the trauma, the post traumatic stress that arrived to plague me further.  No exercise, and a body growing increasingly weak, rigid.  Once this all ended years down the road, I wondered if this hadn’t been the true root of my subsequent fatigue: so many years of fighting the beast that was post-concussive syndrome, of my brain fighting to right itself and my body.

To get through those long days and nights, I would lie in bed otherwise helpless, often limp, sometimes restless, and I would try to follow my thoughts. I entertained myself, if you can call it entertaining, by paying attention to what my brain was doing, what my mind was thinking. I marveled at the fact that my brain still seemed to be working, in its way, anyway.  I didn’t know if I was going to live or die, but it felt like dying while I was not opposed to living.  A notable but sort of checked out, indifferent state. My life became an observation.

No matter how weak or how ill I felt, ideas never stopped arriving, rolling and tumbling through my swollen, bleeding, traumatized brain.  This continual thinking rather amazed me–like a lifelong battery that never lost its charge even though the radio case was broken.  Yet, at the same time the act of thinking seemed unsurprising.  After all, this was how I knew myself.  I had had such an active mind that without it I really would not recognize anything in me.  I wouldn’t have had anything to connect to, since I could scarcely see my face and rarely bothered to look in a mirror, if ever (it took me seven months to see that my teeth had been cracked and chipped).

Creative thinking was possibly the only way I knew that I was still me.  Lying in bed like a carcass, because my brain was somehow familiar, somehow kept thinking, at least I felt connected to myself.  Off work, I thought often about my children, about my parents, my husband, my dog who was always by my side and who I let up on the bed whenever my husband was at work.  All the past was on hold, as was the present and the future.  There was no time really, only love…love, confusion, and fear.

While I had seizures, the thinking subsided, seemingly stopped.  Those were scary times, but frequent and surreal.  Eventually, the seizures stopped, nearly as unnoticed as they had arrived.  I would proclaim to my husband, “HEY, I didn’t have any seizures today!  Did you notice that?  Did you see that?  WOW, no tremors! WOW, no spasms!  WOW, I’m not staring into space!”  Seizures always frightened me, but my husband took them in stride.  We rarely discussed them, just waited for them to pass.

Sleep during my head injury was rare and tortured, and it seemed that dreams had all but stopped.  I missed dreaming nearly as much as I missed sleeping.  I remember several years into my recovery (perhaps four) shrieking, “I had a dream!  I had a dream,” feeling like I was just given water after a long dehydration.  Then the doctor put me on some kind of medicine; I was never good about taking any of my prescriptions–couldn’t remember to take them, couldn’t generate the effort to swallow them or to get myself water, and I just plain didn’t like putting chemicals into my body, a little afraid to actually.  One you have been so hurt physically, you want to avoid all possibility of any further damage. It’s ironic, I know, since the medicine is meant to help.  Still, one medication (was it Lyrica for the fibromyalgia?  Was it Ambien to help me sleep?) made me dream vividly.  It was a kind of heaven–not because the dreams were necessarily idyllic, not because I could articulate them (I generally couldn’t), but just because the act of dreaming had returned when so much else had been stripped away from me.

I have always been interested in dreams.  So much so that I once took a graduate course in the study of dreams.  After a semester of study and reading about five or six books on the subject, I concluded that the most plausible dream theories examine how dreams make us feel.  In other words, it isn’t so important what dream symbols stand for as it is to consider what we experience during the dream, what we feel in terms of emotion–the dream being expressly connected to the dreamer. The theory being that emotions that we suppress during daytime experiences emerge in dreams so that our psyches can work out what we tend to withhold.  Because we don’t want to or can’t act barbarian in daily life (with pressures to behave in dignified and controlled ways at the office, to be pleasant in the classroom, civilized on the city bus, polite at the stop sign), during the dream we experience all more vividly.  The theory is that during the dream we are free to be more authentic both in our emotions and even in our responses, because there are no real consequences, beyond those filtered through the dream.

As I was studying dreams, I experienced lucid dreaming, which I do not recall experiencing much at all since my head injury.  I was able to predict remote occurrences and events while first dreaming them, and did so with chilling accuracy. I had a few recurring dreams primarily of places, whereas now I don’t recall any…though I do sometimes dream about people from the past more recognizably than places of the past.  One thing since my head injury that I have experienced in dreaming that I do not especially recall happening before the incident is that I dream about the deceased.  Maybe that has something to do with losing a mother or someone I cherish, but since the blow to the head, I have had some expressly fulfilling dreams where I notably get back what I have lost (more specifically, whom I have lost).  Of course, this is also very telling in the emotion and symbolism department, particularly to one who has recovered from a threatening condition.  It’s also interesting to note that the dreams I have had of deceased family members have been dreams that are memorable and ultimately joyful.  I think that says a lot about the brain’s impulses–to capture and to apprehend…as well as to live a life of joy, even as we realize our mortality.

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This is Day 26 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

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

In Praise of Aging

Romans

 

In Praise of Aging

Let’s talk about aging.  One thing that really upset me about getting hit HARD in the head was that I lost nearly a decade of my life to recovery from it.  I’m trying to be grateful instead of angry because, after all, I survived.  I know that far too many people do not, or they end up even in worse shape than I, losing even more years than I did.  That fact bothers me a lot; it also liberates me somewhat.  In my time of recovery from that head injury, I went from looking (and feeling) about 15 years younger than I was (50 years old, so really more like 35) to looking (and feeling!) 15 years older than I am (now 58, so more like 73 years old).

Even at 58 (or 73), although I often look and feel old physically, inside I am, as they say, always the same age inside. I’m still the 8 year old girl sitting on the school steps at the kindergarten door in the early morning, waiting for her patrol post to begin. Isn’t this the case for most of us?  We all have some fixed elements in our personality, temperament, intentions, interests…what we call the heart and the soul, and also in our intelligence quotients (which I was told concussion does not change).  As is often said by old friends after years apart: “You haven’t changed a bit!”  We all change, but we don’t change much.  People are who they are, evolved and mature or not. Often, it isn’t the circumstances that decide who a person is, it’s something much greater.

Look around, and you will see that no matter what age they are, many of the people you know have youthful qualities to them.  My mother and grandmother are perfect examples of this, and maybe yours were, too.  Or, perhaps your father or grandfather, an aunt, uncle, mentor or friend’s parent.  The problem is that most people ignore this factor, favoring fixed attitudes about age and aging.  For example, I recently observed someone mocking an elderly parent’s “to do” list, acting as if it was going to be such a drudgery and a ridiculous waste of time to do things for their parent, such as change the vacuum’s belt, empty the gutters, check the furnace filters…laughing at the parent’s needs and content of requests.  Such strategies seem like veiled attempts at ascendancy, to make one feel superior in some way.  However we take it, we can only hope to reach such a mature age, where we need to ask for help, which is never an easy thing for anyone to do.

Even middle-age people are recipients of age-discrimination.  The one that always strikes me resides in the romantic focus, most notably in the way men approach me.  As a young woman, I received unwanted attention from men wherever I went.  It was so obsessive, it was annoying.  It often made me uncomfortable, even though I knew I should take it as flattery. The thing is, you have to want to be flattered to feel flattered.  I could not sit in a restaurant without some man’s eyes distracting me from my company, nor leave an establishment without men’s heads turning to follow me.  I don’t mean to sound unappreciative or conceited, it’s just the way men were during my youth, or were with most young women, as far as I could tell.

Now, on the other hand, I may as well be invisible for all the attention I garner.  Men practically don’t even see me in most spaces.  They almost never ogle me and rarely if ever flirt with me, unless they themselves are like 90.  I like this change though, as I am not one for public attention–but, it is incredibly obvious.  If I go to the store with my daughter, they now give my daughter the same sort of looks and attention they used to give me. Sometimes I even find myself muttering under my breath, “You men are SO transparent!” Wherever we go, if there is a man involved, my daughter will get favors and things for free.  An oil change, a flight upgrade, you name it.  On the other hand, I have morphed into the proverbial chopped liver.  All I can say is that in a way I feel sorry for my daughter…and for all young girls (well, I guess except for the free stuff).  Unless a person is narcissistic, who wants this level of attention offered by strangers?  I always found it rather intrusive and unnecessary.

Of course, age discrimination is not exclusively male to female.  In any size group of woman whether it be two or twenty, the younger ones usually clamor toward each other, which leads to excluding older woman in undeniable ways.  Young mothers, for example, will read the works of or elicit the advice of other young mothers about every topic A to Z before ever considering to solicit any advice whatsoever from older, more experienced mothers, whether it be breast-feeding or a sick baby.  If you don’t find this to be true across the board, take a look at nearly any social media forum or watch more closely at any baby shower or bridal shower or workshop anywhere. And forget about unsolicited advice. If I tell my kids anything such as what courses to consider in college , they’re likely to tell me, “Mother, I need to learn these things for myself!” I mean, I was only a life long student and professor.  What do I know of such things?  My students were more eager to follow my advice than my own children were.  Again, it probably has something to do with that age thing.

Age discrimination goes both ways.  Reticence with “the elderly” just doesn’t always make a lot of sense to me.  Somehow, I have always valued older people and been interested in what they have to say.  I am not sure how I learned to value them, or how generations x, y, (and likely z) learned not to, but sometimes this just appears to be the cold, hard truth.  It also seems as though awareness goes a long way in how one sees things.  The more distracted or self-absorbed a person, the narrower their field of vision appears to be. I feel sorry for people who exclusively favor their peer group, because both old and young miss out on a lot of valuable information and experience.  Sometimes young people amaze me with their wisdom and insight. It makes me understand why they seem oblivious to us oldsters.  Still, I would be a better woman today if I had spent more time with my grandmother in her garden, or watching her bake bread, which she did better than anyone I have ever known.

Here is The Truth

The truth beyond age discrimination is that, at least for me, I do not mind being 58 years old at all.  I wish I didn’t lose eight years of my life to a dreadful condition, but now that I am back to the business of living life, the only part that bothers me is the not having as much energy as I once had.  Of course, people always discount the real contributor and say: “Well, you ARE getting older!”  Hmm, let’s see, 35 years old plus 15 would make me 50 years old today–exactly back where I started before losing 8 years.  Even all this denial has become familiar and is not in the end so bad, because the head injury did make me a lot lazier than I was before it.  I don’t mind sitting around so much now…even though I’d rather be like the old “old me” getting most of what I wanted to get done done, setting the world on fire with passion and verve.

Mary Engelbreit, artist. Gertrude Stein:"We are always the same age inside," author.

Mary Engelbreit, artist. Gertrude Stein:”We are always the same age inside,” author.

Being “old” really is not so bad at all, and everyone just needs to realize this.  When one has an active mind, a full heart and a joy in living, age just does not matter.  Last night, for example, we attended a housewarming party where we were among some of the oldest guests–you know, the dinosaurs from another era.  Yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, the music, the dance party, the conversation, the food, the energy, even the tattoo art, surely as much as any guest present.  When my husband and I attend a concert, a fun run or walk, a hiking trail, an organized bike ride, a workout facility, a shopping mall, or even a birthday party, we are nearly always among the oldest guests.  We don’t have this problem so much at the movies, because we usually go to the matinee where all the oldsters hang out.  We notice that we are among the oldest, or often the oldest, but we always congratulate ourselves for trying, for participating, for being able to participate.

With age comes so much self-satisfaction and wisdom.  I have actually never been so comfortable with myself or who I am.  After a lifetime of having to compete, measure up, worry, fret, stew, and work until I could not see, I can finally just breathe.  No one is looking my way anyway.  Sometimes, not even me.  I rarely wear makeup now; I spend a lot less time in the mirror or getting ready for an event.  All of this is a pretty great feeling.  No one cares much what I am wearing.  No one cares about my gray hairs or wrinkles…for sure, they are all too busy worrying about their own.  Or if they are like me, too busy not worrying.

Life is About Enjoying the Ride

ride

Life is About Being You, Whoever You Are, However You Are

toes

This is Day 25 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

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

Beyond Party Planning

2015-05-01 at 6_Fotor DREAM

Beyond Party Planning:  1, 16, 85

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

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

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

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

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

All three parties turned out perfect.

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

one cookies

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

mantle

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

smash cake

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

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

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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

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© 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!

____________________

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

The Email War Of Our Time

The Email War Of Our Time:  My Take on the Benghazi Hearings

The purpose of today’s Benghazi hearings is purportedly to get to the bottom of why not enough security was in place to protect the lives of four American diplomats who were fatally attacked while on assignment at the U.S. compound in Libya in 2012.  More to the point, whether there was a failure on the part of the former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, which would leave her culpable and ultimately punishable for these tragic losses of lives.

Hillary Clinton says she takes responsibility for what happened under her watch, but qualifies that the deceased ambassador Chris Stevens did not communicate directly with her about security, but instead communicated those needs to the security professionals assigned to that detail, whose judgement she trusted and whom she expected to keep her briefed.

Benghazi Committee Chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R) complains that some emails were answered by Clinton while others were not, and he wants to know why.  He argues that former political aid to Bill Clinton and longtime confidant to Hillary Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, was the Secretary of State’s primary advisor, while she refutes that.  Gowdy’s impression that Blumenthal enjoyed a privileged connection to Hillary Clinton comes solely from the number of unveiled emails sent to Clinton from Blumenthal.

As such, Democratic presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails have become the basis of the Republican charge, as the Republican panel claims they found hundreds of email requests for additional security in Libya that received no apparent response.  Citing a book written by former CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, “The Great War of Our Time” that purportedly claims some 20 attacks on Libya were made before the fatal attack, Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R) wants to know “how many” attacks would have had to happen before Secretary of State Hillary Clinton took action and provided protection.

The complaint by opposing Republicans further centers around the content of Hillary Clinton’s personal email during the time of this incident. At the root of their complaint is that Hillary Clinton is a full on liar…by listening to today’s hearings, it becomes clear that that is what they are trying with all their might and evidence to prove.  Or, to disparage Clinton, as she is currently the front-running Democratic presidential candidate for 2016.   Or, both–that she is a liar that should not become President.  Your basic mud-slinging convention convened at the high cost of everyone’s time and money.

Halfway into the hearings, Mrs. Clinton is holding her own, and the Republicans have not yet proven their case.  In fact, Rep. Adam Smith (D) states at this halfway point that “what we have learned here is nothing, frankly.”  While “everyone agrees this is a serious matter and that there is no question that mistakes were made, spending 17 months and 4.7 million” plus dollars to continue this mission to “rip apart every email” to continue to try to prove that Hillary Clinton somehow did not do her job just shows, as Rep. Adam Smith points out, “the difficulty of [Clinton’s] job,” and that she, in fact, should be commended, not condemned.

Regardless of anyone’s political affiliation, whether you believe Hillary Clinton is honest or dishonest, the focus on email exchanges is unique to our times of changing technology, particularly because before such communication, few people were as readily or successfully scrutinized–we didn’t even have hearings after the terrorist attack of 9/11/01.  Such controversy tells us something of our times as it applies to our leaders and also to ourselves.

Are we to be afraid of using email as a means of communication?  Or are we, like Hillary Clinton, to use it as we see fit, necessary, and expedient?  Are non-threatening emails ever a full representation of our thoughts, actions, needs or ideas?  I don’t think anyone would ever say it is.  What email reveals is or ever revealed was only a piece or pieces of a puzzle, but it was never meant to be the whole puzzle.  If you receive an invitation to an event, it is not the event itself.  This blog encapsulates a few essays, thoughts and experiences of one writer, yet it is in no way meant to be fully representative of a life, a philosophy, or even the writer’s comprehensive experiences or ideals.

Could it be possible that the same diligence that Hillary Clinton exhibits during today’s hearings is the same sort of diligence she led the country with as Secretary of State?  Could it be that she did do what was in her power to do, and maybe that our country learned by the possible mistakes of this event or of her position or of her regrets?  Do we have to segregate everything into good and bad, right and wrong, truth and dishonesty just because it fits our need to know, to understand, to act and to react?  Does this sort of interrogation have anything to do with Hillary personally?

Life is complicated, our jobs are complicated, and even the discourse of email itself is complicated.  What is the first thing everybody always says about email and electronic text–that it does not carry tone; that we cannot read emotion or intention from it; that it is fragmented, pieced together like dialogue, with too much information missing.  No one uses email as the definitive transcription of any event in its entirety, do they? Would you want to be held accountable not only for every email you ever sent, but more to the point for every arbitrary interpretation of your email, sent and received?  Since it began, the use, purpose and value of email communication has had tentative designations.

In truth, as more and more technological forums evolve, email has become even less significant.  We reserve email for certain communications–but these days, we are so overwhelmed by modes of communication and by information that none of us has time to micromanage any of it.  We simply take our fill and use it all to our ability and discretion, hoping to accomplish our daily work.  Does anyone really have time to drum up schemes like the Republicans accuse Hillary of?  She’s a pretty busy and pretty accomplished person.  The whole premise seems a little far-fetched, but somehow some people are adamantly convinced of her masterminded evil.  Evil that has yet to reveal itself to me, who tries to watch carefully.  Evil, which at least at this point, seems as elusive as a ghost.

During a political season, it’s especially important to follow the rhetoric of candidates, political parties, and events such as these Benghazi Hearings so that the most informed decision can be made once election day arrives.  Since I am feeling a bit under the weather today, it has given me a golden opportunity to watch the Benghazi Hearings, which you can follow live, here. You can read more about the controversy here and here.

So far, with just a few hours of today’s hearings left to go, I have not been convinced by this Republican panel that Secretary Clinton was in any way remiss.  We have wasted nearly a year on this, trying to demonize a woman who appears to be committed to serving the United States with dignity.  Let’s quit reliving the Salem Witch Trials and return to 2015, which sorely needs our attention.

 

This is Day 22 in the 31 Day Writing Challenge, 31 Days of Breaking Free from Fatigue

#write31days

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

Writing and Fatigue

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Today the New York Times announced its #WhyIWrite campaign, and here are a few examples from writers across the internet on

#WhyIWrite

More on this soon, but for now, I have a date with my CPAP machine…

 

 

This is Day 21 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

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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

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© 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

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© 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

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