packing light: part II.

Most of us have heard of the geographic cure concept- the idea that changing location will magically cure our problems. It can be so appealing for so many reasons, and the reasons are not all bad- there is much to be said for having a fresh start and new surroundings.

My friend questioned me about this multiple times when I was making this move. “Is that any part of this move for you?” she would say.

All I knew was that I was certain I was running TO something rather than away. I had done the years of work, put in my time. It was time to lighten the load, which I had been doing incrementally for years, and take a step forward into the unknown and bright future that was calling me. I had cleared away the “wreckage of my past”, or at least made peace with much of it, and was ready to move on to what’s next. And sure, the thought of inspiring new surroundings was a big draw for me- I was hungry to experience more and have expanded influences that aligned with the person I was growing into.

One of my mentors, Dave, quotes Carol Dweck who says the future is “unknown and unknowable.” There are endless possibilities. Today, this thought fills me with hope and excitement about what lies ahead. When I was 22 and just out of college, it was completely crippling.

I’ve written previously about some of my “tricks” to packing light. As the years pass and the aging process marches on, the need for some things (such as the many self-help books I’d amassed) falls away. What I couldn’t grasp at 22 I now realize at 40 (hmmm, as of last week, 41...) and do not take for granted, all that life is with its magnificent gifts. With time passing, I don’t wrestle with the same thoughts that paralyzed me in my early 20’s. After graduating from the safe college cocoon I had mastered I was terrified, shielding my eyes from the big, bright, overwhelming sun of The Future. The world was my oyster...  and it was simply much too much to handle.

So I didn’t handle it. I stayed up until 4:00am watching movies and sleeping until noon. I had a box of index cards that I wrote movie reviews on for my own nerdy benefit, and I shed a lot of tears. Looking back, this was the best tool I had to process my emotions at the time. I was craving support and watching other people’s depiction of stories provided that. I made frequent pilgrimages to the movie store, my mecca, to rent VHS tapes that would offer me some insight and relief from the swirling, intense thoughts in my head.

I ate junk food and mostly avoided getting on the healthy diet wagon I was supposed to be eating for my chronic illness (I’m sorry, but who the hell wants “a nice lentil soup” for breakfast?!), pulsing with a strong undercurrent of rebellion. I laid on the floor of my Tucson house alone in what I remember to be the dramatic depths of despair and talked on the phone with my friend Corey (who was impressively "older and wiser") for hours, who had the difficult job of convincing me not to give up when I felt ready to. He was incredibly empathetic and patient with my episodes, and, thankfully, also talented at making me laugh in my sorry state.

One of my favorite quotes from Noah Baumbach’s movie Greenberg is “youth is wasted on the young.” And so it goes- I look around, all of a sudden somehow 40, no 41, wrinkly and bumpy, my fresh, easy beauty gone. My inner beauty, however, beams radiant and strong, freed of so many of the mental chains of the past that kept me stuck.

As we journey along on our paths, there are little lifelines and clues to cling to even as it seems we are stumbling around in the dark. When I was very ill and in the thick of my health struggles upon newly arriving in North Carolina, a yoga instructor told me that I had a very strong life force. This filled me with hope because I could feel that it was true. I always knew deep down that I had a lot to offer the world. My current coach would say that I just need to get out of my own way to unleash my potential, and I see now that’s what I was working to do all those years.
To get out of my own way. This gets to the emotional aspect of packing light. We will be continually faced with opportunities to challenge our old beliefs and let them go, to make room for the new, healthier present moments that await us.

Wherever you go, there you are.” This is what we encounter when we make a move, particularly geographic. We come with us, ALL of us, including our rich pasts, our unique way of viewing the world, our experiences that shape our perspective. Here's a recent personal example from this summer.

The internet had stopped working a while back for several months where I was living during a particularly busy work stint and I started staying at my partner’s place more as a result. He welcomed me with a gracious heart into his home which provided a quiet work environment, strong Wifi and espresso (three things that have come to be Very Important to me these days). I was humbled by the offer and went overboard doing my share and then some of the cleaning and procuring provisions because I wanted to “earn my keep.”

I made jokes about being Vagabond Val, traipsing in with my plethora of bags each time- laptop and work materials, food, drinks, ergonomic work desk, clothes, toiletries, and so on. We laughed about how ridiculous I looked, a colorful pack mule crossing the street, lugging in all my stuff up to his apartment.
I was the one making fun at my own expense, a classic deflection. The next time I had a call with my coach she could tell the housing stuff was really weighing on me, and before we could move on to higher level stuff we had to address it. Shelter is a basic necessity, a Maslow's bottom of the pyramid survival element. What came up for me was some very old feelings of worrying about being a burden to those I love, likely stemming from longtime childhood illness. Not only do I feel more comfortable as the giver than the receiver in general, but I was overcompensating and in fear about even the small possibility of being a burden to someone else.

What my coach helps me realize is that I am depriving others of the opportunity to support and be there for me if I buy into this line of thinking. It can be quite hard to see it from outside ourselves, but I know if the tables were turned I would want to be there for the ones I love, no question, and would feel badly if I couldn't be. She suggested I write a poem about it as I worked my way through my thoughts. It was a helpful assignment and the words flowed out of me within 15 minutes. Here it is:


He doesn’t care about the crumbs
but I do

I’ve turned into my mother it seems

That’s OK, I declare
We all have our quirks

Or warts as Mom would say
We go right on loving them anyway

Grace grace grace
Give us some grace
I give you grace but not me

Bar is set higher you see

Old voices sting

Ring in my ears whispering
You’re too much

But what are we if not safe havens for each other?
Aren’t we all a bit too much sometimes?

Breathe.
Breathe.
Feel your feet in your shoes.
Let it sink in.

You’re safe. You’re here.
You’re VALued and loved
You deserve to take up space

You’re among the trees now
The stars shine bright for you
Look up and see
Beautiful and free

New kitty reminds me I’m enough

I’ve earned her affections
Like I earn them all-
With love, generosity and a spirit of the other

A genuine desire to foster acceptance and grace

Where does that leave me?

I’m creating this story
From dusty old yarns

It isn’t true, never was
But it’s familiar, well worn
And stubbornly clings to neural pathways

Screw the eggshells
They’re to keep chicks safe not people

Lay your burdens down they say

Lay them down at your feet

Allow yourself to be held
Take a chance on this love

People love me anyway
They love me although
They love me because

Listen up girl its true
They love you for you
You’ve got nothing to prove

I’m actually doing pretty good considering, I say
And its true

I’m doing pretty darn good anyway

And that’s enough for today.


~ VAS 7.14.17



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Rainbow upon arriving in California last year after 4 days of driving across the country.
Pretty good sign!


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another trip around the sun.

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I take birthdays very seriously.

I’m feeling more reflective these days (well OK, let’s face it, that's not anything new… Winking). Birthdays tend to evoke this with the very public recognition of the aging process, time marching on. “Time flies whether we are having fun or not!” the saying goes. They can be markers that call us to reflect on the year past, the year ahead, the meaning of it all. So with that, I share a little pulse check.

What other day besides your birthday do you feel most like yourself? It is after all the day you were born! Something about the spirit of that makes me excited for my birthday, and thinking about the things that make up our essence and core as we traverse our respective journeys. What we radiate to the world.

I have been immersed in transition, relocating to a new home the past few weeks, and notice how moving never fails to illuminate things. Something about all of our stuff being shifted around physically that can trigger emotional seismic shifts. While being one of the top five most stressful experiences in life, moving can provide some real gifts once we get past the utter chaos.

With each move, distance is created between the last place, and with that comes the opportunity for fresh insights to bubble up.

My new place feels like my old place in Greensboro, NC, but different. There is an awareness of different levels of self. I wonder if that’s what the term “leveling up” means...

I can feel a little breakthrough happening in the air. It feels Sliding Doors-esque, thinking about the many different Choose Your Own Adventure decisions we activate in our lives. We make choice after choice, each one getting us to a different ending, or perhaps the same ending, with a different arrival.

Living your truth is strange. You don’t realize how long you’ve been buried. It happens slowly in stages, unfolding before us in such a way that we may not realize what is happening because we are too busy being wrapped up in the folds.

I’ve always lived my life in intense bursts with hibernation retreats in between due to various circumstances. I have a feeling I’m not at all alone in this- we do this in our own ways as we juggle all the things that happen in our busy lives. I’ve always loved life, but haven’t always
lived it, not fully at least.

My friend recently said that she is sorry that I’m not a cookie cutter person because it's hard. Well, she's not really sorry, but she's sorry for the struggle that comes with it. She's right - I’m not a cookie cutter person, “cut out” (ha, sorry) to live a cookie cutter life. Blazing new trails where there are no tracks to follow can be really lonely and confusing at times.

She said that I’m facing up to the reality of what I’m embarking on and doing and there would be something wrong if I DIDN’T feel somewhat insane right now! Feeling the feelings means I am facing it, which is important. It's also important to have grace with myself. I’m going through so much, and it's not a pretty time. Self care, self care, self care I chant.

The guiding principle of
being what you want to see in the world gives me some basic direction and focus. Even though the path is still being forged, I can look to my North stars and values that I want to embody and surround me as I walk. My doctor turned philosophy guru says: “Be it until you see it.”

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke


There are times in our lives when everyone else knows “it” but you. We always have the biggest blind spots when it comes to our own lives. I think of the old sticking our heads in the sand notion, trying to be inconspicuous. I always use the analogy of being a kid trying to sleep at our desks in class in school, head down and arms over our face. We can’t see, so we think we are hiding. For some reason we don’t realize that others can see us.
We see things as WE are, not as they are…

The hiding is dumb, to put it bluntly, and we are ultimately most definitely going to be found out. It is like me hiding around town and work wearing what is now famously called my Dumpy Khakis. I wasn’t fooling anyone! My inner peacock had given me away and I had no idea.

It’s cliche, but no one else can live our stories for us. We have to do it. Hiding will only get us so far. We will keep meeting our same selves in the mirror facing the same things until we shift, make a move, make a change, be brave and take a step to move ahead.

I’m currently living the life I was “supposed” to live at 20, at 40. It’s a bit surreal. I wore a bikini last week for the first time since age 25, and felt way more comfortable in it now than I did back then.

Yeah sure, the old crusty junk that haunts us is gonna creep up. Rilke speaks to me today with his wisdom:

“Let everything happen to you
Beauty and terror
Just keep going
No feeling is final”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke


Just keep going, keep walking.

I have seriously kick ass community. Those who know me know I only swear when I’m extra passionate. Happy We root for each other. I love that the most. They remind me who I am when I forget. I made a quick list of the people I feel most like myself around- took 15 seconds and jotted down a couple names. I encourage you to do this. Cherish those people.

Most important, perhaps, is that
I got me. I have my own back. I can meet my own needs and take really good care of myself.

Say it with me: I am a person of this world. A proud inhabit of this beautiful planet. I deserve to take up space (thanks Cat).

You are beautiful just the way you are. Be You. Tousle your hair every once in a while. Embrace the messy. Hike barefoot like my cousin Sean. Feel the earth beneath your feet.

Here’s what I’m currently learning and working on:

  • Love is additive. There’s more room in our hearts for an abundance of love than we ever could imagine.

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  • We all come from such different backgrounds and life experiences. It can be hard to really try to put ourselves in others’ shoes- I know I struggle with it. Again, we see things as we are, not as they are… relationships of all shapes and sizes are a gift that is letting me practice this. Life is short- love each other! And let the little things that are not important go. With practice we start to see what the little things are. I’ve found I have more flexibility that I thought on this as I’ve matured. I used to want things a certain way. And while I still have some preferences, some more important than others, I have been surprised to see what I don’t need to hang on to. It has freed me up to be more open to receiving the gifts that do come my way.
   “We need, in love, to practice only this: letting each other go. For holding on comes easily; we do not need to learn it.” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke, Translations from the Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke

In terms of current priorities and goals, here’s what I’m focused on making happen:

  • Writing. I wrote 3,619 words participating in National Novel Writing Month in November. I definitely wasn’t going for a high count but rather consistency in showing up a few days a week in a room with other women and getting some words down on the page, and in that regard I was a success! We’re continuing the momentum through mid-December. I’ve been taking personal essay and memoir workshops in Berkeley this year at a fabulous place called Left Margin Lit (I am in their midst as I write this) and have dived into writing in a way that has been calling to me for a really long time. It feels good!
  • Hitting Fuzzy Yellow Balls. Tennis is another one of my hobbies that fell by the wayside. Whenever I pick up a racquet (which has sadly been only occasionally over the years) I think, I need to get back into this again, for real. I’ve been playing the past few months with some wonderful ladies, and just joined a friendly club in my new neighborhood that will guarantee I get in some more regular tennis action.
  • Creative Pursuits. Music, crafty things, design, color, style, photos, telling stories. I strive to fit these in more and make the time to create- it's good for the soul!
  • Inspiring Work and Building Community. I keep close to the flow on this and am learning to stick to the things that I am drawn to.
  • Exploration in whatever forms this takes. I live in the effing Bay Area! My new environment provides plenty to keep me busy in this department on a daily basis.
Until next year… I hope you make some magic happen on your birthday, and the 364 other Unbirthdays in between.

Enjoy one of my favorite
Birthday songs!

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Smurftastic birthday with the annual classic birthday candle!

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6th Birthday Happy

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When Grandma came to live with us in NC, Dec. 3rd, 2012

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packing light: part I.

My sweet cousin Nicole shared a book she loved with me recently as I was working on making the move out to California called Packing Light: Thoughts On Living Life With Less Baggage. It came to me at the perfect time, and I eagerly dug into the soulful thoughts the author Allison Vesterfelt shares with her readers. Truthfully, I carried this book around with me a bit like the tattered Velveteen Rabbit as I traversed the country that year, reading it on the plane and as my eyes grew heavy at night, folding over many of its pages, underlining and scribbling notes with vigorous head noddings and a-has. Her words were a source of comfort and strength as I figured out what the biggest transition of my life to date was going to look like, sans road map. If other people could do big scary things, I could too! I highly recommend it as a companion for anyone experiencing any kind of growth or life transformation.

Our brains are funny in times of transition. The closer we get to taking a leap or making a big change, the more fear creeps in and makes us want to cling to the walls, screaming with a megaphone in our ear all the reasons why we can’t do it. Fears also come up for the people who love us as change is in the air, and the overwhelm can get, well, overwhelming.

My ex-boyfriend Mike coined a phrase
Exhilafrightciting to explain the times in life such as these, and I find myself using it a lot lately. Exhilarating, frightening, exciting. It describes many of life’s moments: new love, new changes, new adventures, new anything.

Vesterfelt writes: “We get so focused on what we think is going to happen, so worried about it, we don’t even consider something better might be coming, something we couldn’t have possibly dreamed up ourselves.” That is one of the key lessons for me of this book- lightening our loads, emotionally and physically, leaves us more free to pursue what is truly important and open to receiving infinite possibilities that might come our way.

I’ve been working on ‘packing light’ for a long time. As my Dad likes to joke when he asks me what I’m doing, I usually answer “getting organized.” I spend a lot of my time getting ready to do something. This is somewhat due to my procrastinating, recovering-perfectionist nature to be sure. But also because, I’m Busy. Hopefully less of the culturally glorified Busy that is starting to be frowned upon instead of being worn as a badge of honor (which I am certainly guilty of), and more of the truly just-have-mucho-stuff going on. I like it, obviously, because I’ve lived this way as long as I can remember. If you asked my people to describe the definition of busy they would say that my photo is next to it in the dictionary. My Mom frequently says supportively: “We all know Val needs more hours in the day.”

In peak childhood days circa age six to ten I was churning out colorful loom potholders, coloring intricate designs on graphic outlines, and watching my favorite TV shows of the 80’s simultaneously, usually Saturday morning cartoons or sitcoms such as the Sesame Street, Mr. Rogers, Little House on the Prairie, and later the Love Boat and Three’s Company, the latter much to my mother’s chagrin. Come and knock on our door… I digress!

My varied ADHD-esque interests and curious nature left me with with lots of eclectic items in my possession. It began with collections: book series, special soaps in the shape of things like animals and golf balls, pencils with unique eraser toppers, paper napkins, stamps, baseball cards, paper and office supplies.

I can still smell the soaps and remember the feel of them and the oils on my hands. They were all beautiful and unique. A swan, a flower, a heart. I have moved several times over the years around the country, but due to my illness was unable to effectively purge things during most of those and my physical and emotional load grew increasingly heavier.

When I left Austin, Texas for North Carolina to seek answers for my health concerns, I took a babystep and let go of some of these special childhood treasures. I snapped a photo of my soap collection and said goodbye. It was not easy to part with. I came across the photo technique in one of the million of organizing books I had amassed and it felt like a decent solution.

As an archiver of life, letting go of special items with sentimental value feels damn near impossible. The professional organizer I hired many years later said that these types of possessions were the toughest to part with for most people, and her recommendation was to start with evaluating (and getting rid of) the easy stuff first. Some early quick “wins” give us a boost of confidence to keep moving forward.

I think about the irony that our possessions can so easily possess us. The stuff keeping us stuck. I used to love binge watching a show called Clean House, where the crew would intervene on a household struggling with too much stuff. The deeper reasons behind these situations was usually some kind of familial or career loss, illness, or other personal struggle.

I felt a lot of empathy for the participants, drawing strong parallels with my own story. It was powerful to see the end result (albeit at an orchestrated-for-TV mach speed pace), where the participants have lightened their loads considerably, faced some deep emotional demons head on, and are left with a peaceful home environment and a fresh start.

Vesterfelt’s book captures some of the heart of this process for me. “If we want to be truly alive, truly awake to the reality of the world around us, packing light will be a continued, daily struggle.”

As we embark on exhilafrightciting new adventures, I keep in mind what my doctor says: it's not “leap and the net will appear,” it’s leap and build the net on the way down. That’s what I take Packing Light’s message to be- when we follow what’s calling us on our journey, we are provided with the support we need in one way or another, even if it takes an unexpected or perhaps initially undesirable form. We are open to new opportunities. This echos Paulo Coelho’s concept behind
The Alchemist- all the universe conspiring to help us achieve our dreams once we follow our path or personal legend. Fodder for another post! 

I want to know - how are you practicing packing light in your lives?

Travel-Must-Haves-For-Amazing-Hair-

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sail away from the safe harbor...

I’m about to embark on a new life adventure and fulfill a longstanding dream deferred. In the early 2000s I went to San Francisco, CA for the first time with my soul friend Caitlin (this photo of me below was my first SF pre-cell phone camera selfie in the summer of 2000 Happy) I immediately fell head over heels in love with the city and returned several more times. I loved its breathtaking beauty, the hills, the trees, the water, the horizon, its diversity and culture, and most of all, its expansive healthy lifestyle and nourishment options on every corner. We were supposed to move there together in the great Unwreckable Journey of 2000 (made tee shirts and everything, complete with a fuzzy iron-on letter misspelling! Happy).

My twenties were a tumultuous roller coaster of severe chronic illness (Crohn’s) ups and downs, and while Caity made it out there, I never did. Life happens to all of us, and I believe it is the way we handle our circumstances that define us. Because I’m driven to continual learning and personal success, I admit a bit sheepishly my pride that despite my adversities I have been continuously employed since the age of 15, and graduated from college with honors after many hospitalizations and incompletes. More education may be in my future, but I am content with what I have already accomplished and embrace that I am enough, no matter how many twists and turns my journey has taken or how long it takes me to achieve my goals. We all have obstacles in our paths that challenge us and I am grateful for all of mine because they have chiseled me into who am today: a fighter, a survivor, and a person that I have grown to be very proud of. I haven’t always been able to give myself that grace.

And so, sixteen years later, I now have the opportunity to make this dream come true and move to the Bay Area in early October of this year and I could not be more excited. Many of you have heard about this over the past two years and supported me in a variety of ways as I have worked to forge a path for this to happen.

Today is my last official day at CCL. I will remain closely connected as a consultant and they will be one of my biggest clients. Little will change as I will stay on my two current primary projects, RWJF Executive Nurse Fellows and the Young Women’s Leadership programming and see those through. In addition I will be working to grow CCL’s social sector work and already have some promising leads. The good news is I will be back in North Carolina several times over the next year for a couple weeks at a time so will be able to stay connected to my community and family here.

It is the right time to take this leap and build my net on the way down. I have expanded my consulting business, vallmark* LLC (
www.vallmark.com) and am currently accepting new clients. My passions include helping build and deliver leadership programs for young people, empowering young women, coaching, writing, communications and speaking.

This shift will allow me the flexibility to be open to possibilities that present themselves as I find my niche out West. Yes, it has changed a lot in the 16 years that I've been longing to be in its midst, and the irony is not lost on me that I am a low-tech grassroots gal drawn to this current hub of innovation and massive growth. I am interested to find what is calling me there, whether its to be a grounding source for community work, a person/people, learning opportunities, all of the above... I remain open.

Over the past 9 years I have been so privileged to be surrounded by incredibly intelligent, caring, thoughtful and dedicated colleagues at CCL who continually inspire me, motivate me to dream bigger and bolder, and who have become trusted friends and advisors that I am beyond thankful for. I'm happy that won't change!

Meanwhile- little old Greensboro, NC over these almost 13! years since I was “banished” here from Austin, TX to get well- has grown into a place very near and dear to my heart. I now know I came here to meet some of my best lifelong friends who have been, quite literally, crucial to my survival and development into the most fully realized version of myself yet. I am getting verklempt... Really, just a huge THANK YOU to each and every one of you for what you have given to enrich my life in all ways.

My sister and I have joked that over the years we have followed my parents around the country as they move- they keep running away and we keep following Happy. This is the first move I’ve made on my own and I know that in order to be the best family member I can be I have to follow my heart, even though it will feel hard and far away at times! I love them to pieces for loving and supporting me unconditionally.

Are things perfect? Of course not. Its true what they say about not waiting until everything is to do something. Do your research, prepare as best as you can, hedge your bets and jump in! Because #onelife, #yolo, and #betterlatethannever right?

How the West was won almost two centuries ago is a great narrative of facing and overcoming adversity on the quest for exploration and navigating unchartered territory.

It was during my Girl Scouts program almost 4 years ago where something clicked and I reached that state of flow and pure joy in my work. I realized that in order to be a role model, particularly for young women, it is of the utmost importance to live my fullest, most authentic life, no matter how scary that might feel to do, and to share my story and truth with others. I fight my humility by remembering I also owe it to all those who have not been as fortunate to see their dreams manifested. So with that, here I go…

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ H. Jackson Brown’s mother

SF post

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blaze a trail.

I am part of a global women's coaching group and I went to look back today at the intention I set at the beginning of the year: "I will blaze a courageous trail through the forests of my life." I am thrilled and proud to say that I think I did that, in my own style, always learning along the way. AND I invented a hashtag that I need to remember to use Happy #‎growoutloud

My wish for you in the coming year- to continue on this beautiful and crazy journey with me, and live with a heart wide open! Much love, joy, and strength to you in 2016!

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wide-open-heart

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good morning...

Good morning! It's gonna be a great week. My nurses are here this week- a cohort of 20 senior leaders graduating after being with us in a leadership program for 3 years. I'm gearing up for the next four days of wonderful insanity by sipping some turmeric ginger green tea out of my favorite mug from the local coffee shop Green Bean Golden Gate.All good things- giddy up!

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live for yourselves.

Another old find (love this notepad's message too, something I struggle with constantly, sleep, which will be another post soon!) and great quote from Emerson. I find this to be true, that it is easy and natural for me to extend my energy outward, and as a giver, I always want to be right there helping others. It takes strength to pull myself back in and say no, just for now, so that I can say yes to myself, because my life needs me. When I do it, it feels good and right. And actually, it is how I will be able to help the most people anyway, focused on what I need to do to bring forth my best work and self. So even though my preference is to live for others, I really enjoy going inward and living for myself, and hope to work on this more.


phsssssoto

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Cathy cartoon.

My Mom and I used to love the cartoon Cathy, and she sent me this one from a daily calendar she had, probably at least 15 years ago given the text... man do these always resonate with me! But literally, this one is Me- I still do this when I travel, even if its an hour road trip, bringing a backpack full of projects that I do not touch! The organizing struggle is real. Happy

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Happy Birthday Grammy ❤

Today would be my Grammy's 94th birthday. This is the first year all of her family and loved ones will not be sending her a card- and that is a lot of people, because she was the card queen! She probably got over 50 cards for any given holiday.

She LOVED celebrating birthdays, including her own. She loved gifts, celebrations, flowers, food, sweets, all of it, but most of all she loved the special time gathering with family. These are some of my all time favorite pictures of her on her birthday, taken by my talented friend
John Carey, who Grammy adored- the cake read Happy 39th because that was the age she stopped getting older Laugh. She always teared up, and was so full of joy- she is the cutest thing I've ever seen. We will be toasting to you today Grammy, I hope you are having the best party ever up there with all your long lost loved ones. We miss you. I couldn't be more happy that you were born on this day- thank you for changing my life for the better.

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we'd never find this moment again...

A classic find going through papers this weekend from my Austin days, a clipping from the weekly paper... a rare, touching one from Sir Groening (message from his Dad Homer...)

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honoring space.

Time and space, space and time. It has been a very busy two months, June and July. I love my life- it's the best it's ever been and is as rich and full as I could ever hope for. But I've been doing and going nonstop, and this weekend is the start of one which I will have mostly to myself, with no scheduled events or major to dos. Space.

This blue moon. All kinds of feelings are suddenly coming up for me, and I need space to be able to have my feelings, and feelings to be able to write, so it is a blessing in that way because I'm writing. I am finally writing thank you notes and responses from loved ones when my Grandma passed, and I'm sure that is stirring things up... After a walk this evening at dusk, I was flooded by familiar sounds of high summer, lush greens and the smell of sweat on my skin. It reminded me of staying with her many summers in Maine, NY, in the country, when I would go for walks along the small highway in the evening. Cars whizzing by, trudging through flowers in bloom, black eyed susans, queen anne's lace, dandelions and clovers, passing by the cemetery last before I came back to her cozy trailer where she was always eagerly up waiting (worrying Happy) for me.

Lying in bed in her back bedroom, the most peaceful place on earth to sleep, windows open, listening to the night sounds, feeling the cocoon of a safe and warm place wrapping me in love. I get taken back to this place more than any other when I go to somewhere peaceful in my mind. Memory is so visceral sometimes.

I walked by the hospital tonight where she was admitted so frequently. I just don't really believe she's gone, even thought she left us in my presence. I love her for that. I turned around to get a photo of her parents to lay next to her, to comfort her and help her know who she was going to be with, and when I turned around, she looked right at me, and then off she went.

Maybe tonight was the beginning of grieving. I hope she is having fun right now, baking cookies and playing cards and watching TV. Happy I miss you Grammy. I miss our long chats, and your unconditional, wholehearted, larger than life love. There was nothing else like it. Thank you for making me feel so special. My heart aches for you...


Living Memory
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transitions.

There have been lots of comings and goings in my world lately, people wise. I have been spending this week helping my second set of neighbor/friends in a month pack up and move, and it is a process. You know you have made it to true friend status when you help someone move- you are down in the nitty gritty of their most intimate stuff, and they trust you to know what to throw away and what to keep- when I think about it, it's actually a privilege.

Even someone else's trash is satisfying to me Happy and I have gotten lots of joy and inspiration helping my friend get rid of 4 huge bags of clothes this week, and a whole bunch of other stuff. It's amazing how powerful simply having a witness or "body double" can be in doing this kind of thing and it is so helpful to have someone to check your reality with and offer another perspective. It's honestly exhilarating and addicting to purge and I've just been on a roll with it personally, so its fun to help others also.

It is interesting what kinds of things this work brings up. Tonight after a long week of late nights, early mornings and full days (tired just typing that) I had some really fascinating thoughts about my own upcoming life transitions. Lingering old thoughts/messages/tapes popping up, visiting again for what is perhaps soon to be the last time before they are tossed out with the rest of the old and no longer useful. Actually just having the feelings out with my friend and then continuing a packing burst helped churn it for me and I feel better.

Something about clearing a space, all the dust and dirt and past it digs up, floating in the air, breathing it in. There is a time where you are suspended in a haze cloud that is much worse than when you started, even though you are well on your way to freedom and a fresh and paired down new space and life. That inbetween time is something intense and palpable for everyone involved! Louise Hay uses the analogy of a dirty dishpan. When you scrub the pan, all the gunk comes to the surface and it is way worse than when you started. Eventually, after more scrubbing and cleaning, the pan is empty and shiny and clean.

Here's a song I recently wrote as a capstone to this lovely renaissance period of our lives here in the Fisher Park Neighborhood, dedicated to these friends:
https://vimeo.com/131736670

I've also had an influx of new friends, particularly younger people, come into my life recently. Maybe it's the summertime... maybe it's the good energy in the air. Either way, I'm enjoying it!

Update: I just found out it is a blue moon- no wonder...
http://www.elephantjournal.com/2015/07/unprecedented-blue-moon-in-aquarius-now-or-never/ This excerpt from the above article explains a lot:

Our souls can sense that we are on the verge of something big—but it’s up to us to initiate change.

We are on the threshold of having massive pieces of the puzzle collide. There may be big changes or upsets in the status quo during the next several weeks. We may find ourselves acting in ways that only a few weeks ago we never thought possible, but Aquarius is lighting a fire inside of our hearts and daring us to break the boundaries that have held us back for far too long.

We can only deny ourselves of what we want the most for so long.

While we may feel anxious at all of the possible changes being presented to ourselves—know that the universe won’t bring us anything we aren’t ready for.

The truth of it is there is no such thing as the perfect time—so now is as good a time as any.

Everything that we have been going through the past year has been leading up to this moon. It’s the time of infinite possibilities, of desires bubbling over and manifesting themselves in our lives in ways we never thought possible.

No matter what has come in or out of our lives in the past few years, once in a while we are given the chance to have everything we’ve always wanted—we just have to make the choice now to not let it go.

Because certain chances only come around once in a blue moon.


Moving madness Happy
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heart wide open.

This is interesting to get my mind around, or at least try to articulate. After years of work and babysteps (my favorite thing ever), I’m getting very close to “returning to myself”. What does this mean?

For me, it means being able to be my authentic self in 99% of situations, including work, family, etc. I like myself and who I am, no apologies. I spent years running and hiding from the true me, even if subtly at times. Years tamping down my brilliance, sparkle, radiance, energy, light, boldness, vibrancy, joy, fun. Censoring what I really think, fighting against my core values, being with people who sapped my energy instead of lifting me up.
 
It has been a slow crawl of a process of releasing perfectionism, not waiting until things are perfect to show my face, learning how to show my face when it is imperfect, flawed, messy, loud, “too much” at times. I created a new hashtag recently that I love and have been weaving through my life: #growoutloud

The simple secret is that life is really really fucking short. Too short. Heartbreakingly short.
 
I want to dance! Laugh. Smile. Feel light. Be with the ones I love. Why do we let all these other “shoulds” and stressors cloud our way to joy? Life. It takes what it takes. Youth is wasted on the young, as
Greenberg says. Haha… bittersweetly true. As skin start to sag, wrinkle, get bumpy and sunspotty, inner radiance, wisdom, and beauty grows stronger, more stable and confident- so ironic. Happy
 
It has happened in the smallest of ways, unfolding a day, week, month, year, years at a time, peeling back the onion layers, slowly lightening the heavy load we choose to carry, think we are supposed to carry. After a few years of quiet, I can hear my heartbeat, and my song humming. The music has returned, my zeal and thirst for learning is piqued, and I’m hungry for the stuff of being present and available. I’m here, and it feels good.  
 
My friends can see it way better than I can. It is invaluable to have witnesses to go through life with, who can tell you how you are doing when you don’t know and can’t see… they have seen this growth and change and transformation and help me know I’m heading in the right direction. They don’t judge me for taking so long. I’ve learned to gently stand up for what I believe in, to be firm and still kind, to hold people and love them for exactly who they are at any given moment (always continually working on that one Happy).
 
I’m finally doing work I really care about and connect to deeply, and that is so important to me. Since doing it, all kinds of other good things have flowed from this.
 
People can see light in us that we often can’t see.
 
If I have 38 years of being half asleep, and 5 years of being awake, I’ll take that any day over 100 years half asleep. I’m really looking forward to what’s next for me.
 
Here is the deal- the world actually WANTS you to be your truest self! It seems incredible, I know. We are our own worst enemies.
 
It’s all love. Here and now, and forever more. Embrace who you are. Others are so eager to also. Let it happen and open your heart. Watch out- blazing suns ahead! Happy

 

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oblique strategies.

Love these cards that Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt designed in 1975 to disrupt conditioned thought processes and spark creativity... This site lets you draw a card any time you need one. http://www.oblicard.com
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In Memoriam: Betty Maxine Wilbur, 8/4/1921 to 5/31/2015.

Our dear Betty Maxine Wilbur transitioned on to the next adventure peacefully today at 1:40pm, surrounded by her loving Swan family, her daughter Franny, son Geoff, granddaughters Vally and Katie, and care kitty Marshall. She was 93 years young, or 39 as she would say! She was my best friend and only Grammy we've ever had, and there are never going to be enough I love yous and hugs and thank yous and reminiscing about special times... so our hearts are aching, yet we are happy that she is free and on to the next thing in what is no doubt a beautiful place. We all feel so lucky to have had her with us here in North Carolina the past two and a half years- we have made so many wonderful memories, and she has collected quite the fan club of admirers. Happy

The Swans will have a celebration to honor her with our NY family, and we will have a celebration of her life here in NC in several weeks. Thanks so much for all your love, prayers, good energy, and all you have done for her. We read her all your kind notes and I know they comforted her and brought her joy. She was the most loved woman, and for good reason. We will miss her terribly. I love you Grammy, forever and always you are in my heart!


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oh Carly!

"It's my yearning to love a damaged person. I mean, we're all kind of damaged and it's normal to be damaged, but some people don't like to admit it. It's amazing how many people don't like to admit what's wrong with them. Whether it's depression or having had cancer... And when I met that man I thought, Here's somebody I could love... I just know that what was left of him, which was personality and character and the look in his eyes, meant more to me than any intact body part, and it reminds me of something that somebody used to say to me who was in love with me a long time ago; he said, 'I would love you if you were a stump.'"

Honestly, I know I can relate to that and what we want to hear (that someone else will love us if we are a stump Happy)... can you? And, I love me some Carly Simon!

~ Carly Simon in an interview with Out magazine, October 2008.

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five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes...

One year ago today I received a letter in the mail that would change my life forever. Sounds like a good opening line for a book right? Winking First of all, to receive a Real and Important letter in the mail blew my mind! It was from a Vermont adoption agency, telling me that they had some information they thought I would like to have and asking me to please contact them about it. It was the Friday before Memorial weekend after 5pm, so I had to wait 3 verrryyyyyyy long days before I could find out what it was. Yes, my crew and I analyzed every word in this letter up, down and sideways! I found out the following week that my biological mother had sent some medical history information to the agency for me on that side of my family and shared her contact info. as well.

Several weeks after that, I received the info. and her name (and I released mine)… and immediately called my Godsister Hannah in Burlington, VT to help me research, ahem, aka stalk my entire birth family tree on that side for the next two hours! Lots of gasps and goosebumps and tingles and surrealness. It was an exhilarating time to say the least, seeing names and photos and faces … after all these years of wondering. The adoption coordinator encouraged us to write letters, so I checked my mailbox for the next couple months, and did not reach out to the family I had found online because I wasn’t sure if it was OK to do so. Just knowing they were out there was honestly enough for the time being, and we took those months as a family to catch up a bit and process some of this news.

I realized that it was my turn to send something in return for the initial outreach, so I finally got a first letter in the mail. I procrastinated (a lot) because I felt like it had to be the ‘perfect-kitchen-sink-letter’ and, what do you say in the first letter ever?? Thankfully I have dear friends who helped bring me down to earth about it, and this whole time period in general, and keep me accountable on just getting a starting point down on paper, so I wrote a short intro hello note with the help of my Grandma one Sunday afternoon at the end of July last summer, and sent it off on its way to Vermont. I had all these doubts about the Mail all of a sudden, and how crazy it is to rely on sending something off like that, almost on faith, it felt like to me at the time. About six days later, 2 of my birth aunts contacted me on social media… and of course I freaked out in a good way… I connected with my newfound and dear cousin Nicole, and then a letter came from Cheryl in the mail. Then it was a flurry of first connections with more new cousins (13 in all, not counting their children and partners!), and I spent the next few months in a hazy pink cloud, a thrill of excitement coursing through my veins with the ding of a new message (thank you Facebook, for being awesome and very handy for this purpose!).

My cousin Brian reached out with: "Hi, are you cousin? I’m a McDonough, if you are who I think you are then your mother and my mother were sisters…” I had already been told about Brian, and from everything I saw from stalking him and his photos Laugh, I could tell we would be fast friends. We are both oldests in our family, nostalgic, and love family history, etc. Next thing you know we are Skyping (then e-mailing, texting, calling, ha!) and he and his lovely fiancé, now wife, Becca’s bright faces were staring at me through the computer screen! Between the 3 of us the permagrins were in full effect, and next thing I know they are inviting me to their wedding in October and not taking no for an answer. !!

So, off I go on an adventure to meet all but one of the immediate birth fam clan to Connecticut and Vermont in the fall. I spent an incredible six days with mostly all new people, and thankfully my Godfamily interspersed in there for some much needed grounding support Happy. I got to meet my cousin Sean on his birthday (pretty cool present I was able to give him if you ask me ;D). I was welcomed with a party, wined, dined, and chauffeured, and filled in on family 101 cliff notes, and they all made real efforts to see me (and the wedding was pretty helpful!).

I am at a perfect time in my life for all of this to unfold, but I certainly still had my moments of overwhelm and feeling a bit unmoored. There have been ups and downs and a roller coaster of emotions for everyone, and bittersweetness throughout it all. “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a moment of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich even when it contains a splinter of sadness. ~ Shauna Niequist

This was SUCH a big and important thing for me in my life journey and path that I had compartmentalized it off so that I could live my life. When the letter came and the floodgates opened, it was honestly beyond my wildest dreams because I hadn’t entertained many thoughts about it or asked the what ifs, other than a fleeting innate curiosity here or there. I didn’t have any expectations, so not only was I not disappointed, but I was gifted and overwhelmed, frankly, with a new and extraordinary family that I am still coming to know. On the last night of my trip I met another cousin and his family for the first time, Pat McD, who I hadn’t connected with previously because he is not on Facebook. It was the perfect ending to a wonderfully full and rich week, and he, also the oldest in his family, gave me some much needed kindness and words of support that helped coalesce everything I had been experiencing to that point. He invited me back to do the Penguin Plunge in February, a cause that the entire family gets in on and is near and dear to their hearts, and I realized after settling back in at home that I didn’t want to waste another minute not having them in my life, and I went back (and plunged, into freezing Lake Champlain! Happy). Happily I got to meet my cousin Amanda this visit to complete my dance card! There is still so much more to learn, and this is just the beginning.

Most days now it is life as usual, and I guess in some ways this just isn’t that big of a deal, and happens every day for people, all the time. I also am aware that it does NOT happen this way for so many, and I know with every fiber in my being how lucky and blessed I am. Then there are some days where it hits me in beautiful waves and I smile, when I have a connection with some of my new family, recount the story to someone, or just think about all of these amazing new additions to my life. I didn’t need them, but I want them, in ways I didn’t know was possible to feel. Even though we didn’t grow up together (and I wish I could take a magic carpet back and see what that was like), the bonds were immediate and strong. I’m still exploring and learning like everyone else on this planet. Families are living and breathing things and they grow and change and shift. When I stop and think about it and zoom way out, I am still totally incredulous that we are here, and that I have my chosen/given family of origin, and now even more with my nature family. I also think it’s hard to explain, because it’s mostly feelings. 

I acknowledge and thank my family, my sister Kathryn, who is my rock and has my back, my parents, who I ended up with on purpose, my one and only Grandma who has always made me feel so special and so supremely loved, my aunts, uncles and cousins, my dear Godparents Bernie and Michael Schwartz, and my friends who are like family to me- I truly have a village (and need one- LOL!), and that has made doing all this so much easier. 

We were so excited to have cousin Megan visit us in January this year, and cousins Brian, Becca, Liam, and Finn with us this spring, and for them to meet my family! My family has opened their arms and hearts in the most generous of spirits throughout all of this, and I am in awe of the way they love. 

And if you’re still reading, thanks for allowing me to share… it's been a pretty big year.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hj7LRuusFqo

From Seasons of Love, Rent (one of my all time favorites, ever).

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love? How about love? How about love?
Measure in love
Seasons of love


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in the gloaming.

I spent the day at a used bookstore yesterday with my Dad in Mount Airy, NC called Yesterday's, and had a blast spending hours digging through old books, magazines, records, and other memorabilia. This is our idea of heaven... I joke that I am slowly buying back all my treasures from childhood! Happy

I found this 40+ year old National Geographic for my nature loving friend (Nat'l Geo calls to me, with great memories of my Dad's vast collection in the basement of our NY house growing up), and I loved the in depth piece on John Muir.

Muir's adventures and significant impact on our natural world are highlighted, along with photos and quotes of these parks and landmarks, and a peace settled over me just reading about his legacy.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” ~ John Muir


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The gloaming, dusk, has always been my favorite time of day. It is magical.

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this sucks.

This sucks. This talented young man just graduated from Penn and announced his wedding to his fiancé, who also has Crohn's Disease. http://www.phillymag.com/announce…/jessica-leva-zack-seigel/

They met at Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America Camp Oasis, a special place near and dear to my heart, that provides a safe place for kids to be around others suffering from the same illness as them (and have a blast while feeling safe and accepted!).
https://secure3.convio.net/ccfa/site/Donation2;jsessionid=E34293592B1B0E2EB2462DB72F7060BE.app321b?df_id=16402&16402.donation=landing

Zack died from lymphoma, a known side effect of being on medications for Crohn's, including the one I take. My heart is breaking for his family and loved ones. http://www.thedp.com/article/2015/01/former-rower-dies-of-crohns-disease-and-lymphoma

I am often amazed to see how similarly people with my struggles feel, probably because I'm usually in my own bubble for protection... A few quotes shared on Zack's fiancé Jess's page that I too have lived and breathed many times over:

"Everyday I am reminded that our life's journey is really about the people that touch us." - Stuart Scott

C.S. Lewis once said, "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one."


Zack and Jessica, a beautiful love story
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soul food.

I read this from some great gals I follow, and it immediately resonated and I had to make it into my very first meme Happy So it is with what I am doing here, trying to create my own little authentic space to exist and share what I know and love with the world, across a variety of categories. While all areas might not appeal, hopefully everyone finds a little something they didn't know they needed. Thanks for visiting and being a part of Why I Like Rainbows! Be True to Yourself.


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music and lyrics.

And now for something different, some songs I recorded acoustic and rough, with themes of struggle and poignancy. The lyrics to Pompeii have been my anthem lately! I was messing around with filters, and late at night, I found I looked better with some funky effects Winking While you're there you can check out my other vids from this past year as well. Enjoy!

Lean On Me

Pompeii

Titanium

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My sweet kitty Marshall enjoying my fuzzy guitar case Happy
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it's like falling in love.

Meeting new blood relatives is a bit like falling in love, or certainly the infatuation phase (except that it isn't temporary!).

I LIKE them so much! Makes me smile when a relationship with one of them deepens and grows. This post was started in August, but the fall became a wonderful whirlwind spent writing and getting to know this family, via letters, Skype, text, email, Facebook, and a first face to face visit in October, and I am just beginning write about it (I've had quite a year!). Hearing the ding of a new message online is so exciting! And with 13 cousins, 2 aunts, 1 uncle, and one birth mom (not to mention spouses, kids of cousins, extended family etc.), I've had a bit more to keep up with than them Laugh

It is the strangest thing to do, meeting your blood relations for the first time, having missed so many years of each other's lives. There is no guidebook for this, trust me, I looked! All I can describe is my experience, and it has been amazing. Its kind of a giddy feeling- endlessly fascinated with learning about them for one thing (because you know virtually nothing!) and with checking them out, from every inch of what they look like to their personality and how they interact with people, and what they spend their time doing. Its all so incredibly interesting! Happy The thing that makes its different is that you are meeting people who are instantly family. The trust isn't there, but yet it sort of is, in an immediate and unconditional way. These guys would do just about anything for me and extended such a warm welcome to me when I went to visit and meet them all in Vermont and Connecticut in October. I feel the same way about them and I've only met them once!

It is a warm feeling. It dies down for a while, then when new correspondence takes place, and next visits are planned to see one another, I get excited all over again!

Also I'm not sure if it is rose-colored glasses or not, but I pretty much only see the good things and characteristics about them! I had such a great time that I am going back in a few weeks to see them again Happy I wasn't sure I could make it work, and then I thought about it and realized how much time we had already missed in each other's lives and decided I don't want to miss another day. It's funny how things become important so very quickly. I can't wait to go back and for them to visit me and meet my family too! Warm fuzzies all around Happy.

Photos of me meeting my cousins, birth aunts, uncle, and birth mother for the first time

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start each day like it's your birthday!

Below was my Facebook post on my birthday today after a fantastic day all around, having lunch with my family, decorating my Charlie Brown Christmas tree (well, my Grandma decorating it- one of her favorite things to do), special phone calls and songs from little ones, and a cozy bonfire in my front yard with my neighbor friends! Great little article on why fire is so enjoyable and restorative: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/6171508

I am going to get deep for a moment (it’s my birthday post and I can do what I wanna… Laugh):
Birthdays are a great time for me to practice the powerful 4 agreements: Don’t take anything personally. Always do your best. Don’t make assumptions. Be impeccable with your word. Let go of expectations is another one I see rolled up in these as well. 

As I reflect on the kaleidoscope of people in my personal network, I know you all from very different places and times and contexts in my life, scattered around the globe, some in closer mental/physical proximity than others, and yet here you are, still sticking around and showing up for me in various ways. I’m feeling mushy about that. Happy I expected to be thankful at the end of today, but didn’t expect to be so moved by the breadth of love from so many good souls in my life, each one of you making me smile. It is a rich fabric of unique connections that I feel blanketed in. Big love.

This has been a renaissance year for me. There has been hard news too, and I try to remember that the sun and the rain are what make up my rainbow. 

It is truly wild for me to get this opportunity to share myself with so many in the most authentic way I know how. It’s scary at times right? All these different groups and types of people. It’s a thrill in some ways to continue, despite fear, in everything I do, so that I can keep learning and growing. Thanks for bearing witness to that for me, and letting me practice this life stuff with you. Here’s a thought: no one knows what they are doing! So thus we are free to face the world with confidence. Happy Much love and so glad you are with me on this journey. 


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Our cozy fire pit
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Me after a great night tonight - got this beautiful cashmere hat as an unexpected gift, thanks Eric Happy
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Mr. Roy Williams.

On this world HIV/AIDS awareness day, I recognize the most influential teacher and mentor I've ever had. Mr. Roy Williams was a beautiful soul, kind, loving, fun, thoughtful, encouraging, and supportive, among many outstanding qualities. These are my friends that I came to know well with him, and cherished our special time together in our youth, playing brain games, pushing each other, and relishing this safe space he created for us. I remember being so excited when we all worked together to surprise him on his birthday Happy He wrote me COLLEGE recommendation letters, even though our time officially ended in elementary school; we always stayed connected. He came to my piano recitals, games, and always wrote lovely notes in his memorable penmanship.

Losing him at such a young age spurred my activism and involvement in HIV/AIDS work, and in health care in general- I can only hope to bring a small piece of his beautiful legacy and compassion to my work. He has touched so many people's lives as he did mine. I'm forever grateful for the impact he has had on me and am thinking of him and his family today.
❤️  He is STILL inspiring me, just thinking of him today and seeing his writing, his powerful words which shaped me and gave me confidence I needed and still need- I'm inspired to go do and be more right this second. That is a powerful legacy.

Mr Williams

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it takes a village.

My mother and godmother have always said it takes a village to raise a child. Tomorrow morning, I’m embarking on a new adventure to meet my birth family on my mother's side. I want to thank all my family and amazing friends who have been there to support me through this journey, at every stage for all these years. It has been a very long time coming! I have the best family in the world and I know I am incredibly lucky. Our family is growing, and we welcome my new clan with arms wide open!

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the yesterdays.

Today I tell a true story, to a live audience, with no notes, for 12 minutes, around the theme of On The Edge, via the nonprofit storytelling organization The Monti. I have to tell you it has been a surprisingly cathartic experience! I had a good friend help me cut things out of my story, because it's way too hard to do yourself when it's your LIFE! She helped me realize I already knew the story, very well, and just needed to tell it the way I would tell it to anyone in conversation. The actual story and narrative do the work, not the words- pretty cool! It's a shift of mediums for me, as I'm more used to writing, and it's been a good challenge to step out of my comfort zone.

The gist and moral of the story, is that through a process of shedding yesterdays, I am slowly but surely more able to live in today. It is the story of overcoming 25 years of chronic illness that I write about here, and this site has helped prepare me to tell it.

The image below is a slate wallhanging that was in our house growing up in Upstate NY, and I've always loved it. It's now in my living room, and I just noticed it when practicing my story. It reminds me of home, because we had a big beautiful white birch tree in the front yard, and the cool, heavy shale is from that region. It's perfect ... read aloud, meditate on, and enjoy!


yes
A blurry shot of my sister Katie, cousin Julie, and I horsing around in the birch tree Happy
tree

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don't give up!

I'm behind on posting- have several in the works and promise to post soon. In the meantime, just a little reminder Happy

nevergive up

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Renaissance-y.

I wrote these scraps of thought on the go, and as I'm coming back to it, I'm just leaving it as it came out- its simple enough to make sense (mostly I think? Winking).

I wanna be a success story- for others to look to. Here's why I'm pushing through fear, self-imposed boundaries, junk, and overcoming barriers and obstacles to expand my contribution. My favorite quote explains it all in a nutshell (fear of success):



Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. ~ Marianne Williamson

I had my fortune read for me recently, this summer. It was cool. Tarot cards. I got a hermit card for the one that was "behind" me. Since then I've found some connections to this hermit hiding idea. I have to be honest and say that I have been hiding somewhat, in my house, in my life. That is coming to an end, and it's a strange process. Its awkward and messy at times like learning anything is, but ultimately I'm doin' it... Happy To be vulnerable means to be able to be loved. Without even knowing it, I had built up little walls around things, keeping people and things out. Its insidious. Safe. They were stripped down, and had crept up again! Its been an intense few years, and its understandable that I went into turtle shell protect mode. But its time to peek my head out- the coast is clear.

What this "coming out" of hiding is allowing me to do, primarily, is be there for my core best friends/family. It's really touching for me to get my head out of my ass and see that there are people who actually need me! A huge gift that I did not realize because I was only thinking about things from my own, tunnel-vision perspective. Sad

So the way I see it I have two choices:

1) Old way- hiding (hermit). I drew this quote yesterday at a dinner party: "Nothing is more capable of troubling our reason, and consuming our health, than secret notions of jealousy in solitude." ~ Aphra Behn. I wasn't sure what it meant until my friend pointed out it was the hermit concept. Oh! Man.

2) New way- move forward. Be who I am. Be afraid and do it anyway. Do it BECAUSE I am afraid.

Once you know another way, its pretty much impossible to go back anyway. We still do it, but it really sucks and we feel guilty for doing it. Its worse than not knowing! Ugh. OK, for you non-conceptual thinkers, I know I am losing you. Happy But bear with me!

I have been calling this period my Renaissance. It has been the summer of love, the summer of freedom, summer of facing reality, summer of discovery, summer of the creative and the brave. I can hear the universe whispering to me, saying "it's your time now, child." "Go be your full, rainbow-ific self!" People are being put in my path that support me and my philosophy, and that want to help me. Looking forward to seeing what happens next!


Fear-Redmoon

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place in this world.

For some of us, it is not the easiest thing to find our physical place in this world (important song from my formative years), what feels most like home. For me, it is an amalgam of lots of special, favorite places that I've been or dreamed about. I've discovered that geographic location/environment is an important value of mine, and while I've lived in a variety of places and settings, I certainly haven't thrived in all of them.

My utopian community would currently make up the best combination of: London and small town England, Austin, San Francisco, Portland, lakes and parks of Vermont/Upstate NY, Playa del Carmen, Mexico, Aruba, Costa del Sol, Spain, and New Zealand. Coincidentally these are almost all places I've lived in or spent time traveling to. Laugh I enjoy other cites too: NYC, DC, Philly, Boston etc. but I'm trying to be specific about exactly what calls to me.

I love the history, charm, way of life in England (and the accents!), the live music community, food, and outdoor life in Austin, and its inclusive, active culture of all ages. Among many things, I love San Francisco's vibrancy, hills, healthy food/quality of life, diversity, retro and vintage shopping, public transportation, cool weather, coast, and trees. I like how I can be myself. I spent a good amount of time there in my early twenties visiting my best friend from college and her brother, and didn't get a chance to move there like we had planned.

I love Portland's creative energy, inspiration and walkability. The rolling hills, lakes, and neighborhoods of Vermont and Upstate New York feel like home to me. I hail from the northeast, and that is definitely baked into my soul, with a love of cloudy cooler weather and four seasons, older homes and buildings, and overall aesthetic. Arizona, for example, while I lived there and enjoyed many things about it, did not feel like home to me, just a unique place to visit.

The European presence and friendly, fun vibe in Playa is amazing, the soft Aruba beaches and breeze is the best combination, and Costa del Sol is brimming with tasty food and the Mediterranean laid-back lifestyle. I haven't been to New Zealand yet, but I crave its calm, beautiful, nature and health driven culture.

No doubt as I continue to travel I will find more and more spots to occupy little pieces of my heart (Italy, I'm coming for you Happy)! No place is truly a home without people, and that is an important factor as we get older and close friends and family become scattered about the globe. We make sacrifices with the environment for people sometimes for sure, and for good reason.

We owe it to ourselves to determine where we best fit, where we most come alive and fully express our best selves. Moving and trying different places is part of figuring it out; even by process of elimination, core needs come to the surface about what kind of community we want to be a part of (from the pics I found, clearly food is an important part of my equation ;D)... When do you know you are
home?


GF orange almond cake at Vegetalia's in Spain, May 2005
veg

My friend Ry guy and I eating Dosa in San Francisco this week, August 2014
ry


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limitless potential.

Welp, here are some random scraps that I jotted down here to reflect on later... rather than reflect, I shall let them speak for themselves. Happy

POTENTIAL. The opportunity to explore our limitless potential. Happy Blog! I'm excited!
Haha, classic Val starter excitement and closing problem! I will leave this here as a placeholder for me to come back and explore this idea further, because it sounds really cool to write about. For now what I will say is, I get these little glimpses of what a heart wide open, best and most conscious life lived might be like. They are electric jolts and shivers down my body, the tingles, felt in a location visited, time with an inspiring kindred spirit, in the flow doing something I love. There is some sort of block to accessing this place fully, and certainly not all the time... like if I'm fully realized... then what? Kind of thing. That might be the block.

But why not do a lot more of the things I love to do? On purpose, intentionally? Because they are not happening on autopilot and habit. I need to make it a practice to incorporate more awesome and fun and satisfying things into my schedule on a regular basis. I'm the only one who can do it!

And, from some girl(s) movie: 

“The shitty part for the other people in your life is no matter how painful it is for them, when you’re a writer, you just can’t let shit go, you have to study it, and poke it, turn it over and investigate it incessantly..." Oh so true!!

For me, its about finding relational order with everything in my life, a term shared with me by my previous naturopath doctor, who we affectionately call PhD dude- he suggested that I need to have relational order, and how it is tied to science of who we are as a person, and that I won't stop until I get there, much to the chagrin of the normies in my life...


meditation_Sep081

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birthday girl.

Today is a great day to be born! I love my birthday. My family has always been big on celebrations and holidays, starting with my Grandma in her home when her girls were young, and filtering on down throughout our lives. My family made us feel very special on our birthdays, Valentine's Day, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, with lots of gifts and positive attention, and of course delicious and made from scratch favorite foods.

After the health struggles I've faced for most of my years, I love my birthday even more because I'm on the up and up for once, and I couldn't be more grateful to be alive, truly, and to get a second chance to make this life count. I feel extremely fortunate to have been adopted by two incredible people on December 8th, and to have been so loved and well cared for. Birthdays are important ways for me to celebrate life, and all the special people that are in it.

I'm giving myself two gifts this year- sharing this website with the world and letting others in, after many, many years in the making, and a rainbow tattoo, which has also been percolating for a very long time. Stay tuned for updates on that process in the coming weeks!

My favorite birthday photo- I remember it sitting on my Dad's desk- Apalachin, NY, circa 1981?
VS bday

Austin, TX, December 2002, last ditch effort to save my health before surgery- eating a homemade
special diet "cake," weighing 90 pounds- my most fragile birthday.
val bday 2002

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After my group birthday dinner tonight, my mom said to me: "You can tell a person's character by the company they keep, and you have a great posse." Well, I couldn't agree more about my amazing posse! And I KNOW that they help improve upon my character. Grateful!

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ten years gone.

It's hard to believe that it has been ten years since I've moved from Austin, TX to Greensboro, NC, this Thanksgiving weekend in 2003.

I had extensive life saving surgery for cumulative years of severe Crohn's disease in December 2002 in Austin, which included four feet of intestines removed, a hole in my bladder repaired, and a fistula repaired. My immune system was completely shot at that point and I was very weakened and susceptible to other difficulties, and it was a domino effect in the worst way. I recovered the best I could but it was not ideal conditions, looking back. 2003 was a hell of a year.

I developed C. diff (Clostridium difficile) from that hospital stay unbeknownst to me, and muddled through work for months wondering if this was how I was supposed to feel. I drove myself to the ER after my ankles swelled up enormously one day and my co-workers feared something heart related, parked in the front, and didn't come out for a week. I also developed a sulfite allergy that summer, and had another trip to the ER as my throat closed up listening to R.E.M. at the 2nd Austin City Limits music festival!

While on disability from work for a month recovering from the C. diff and everything else, I came to stay with my family who had just moved to NC and made trips to Duke, UNC Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, and Johns Hopkins. I was glad I did because at 3 out of 4 places I got new answers to the various befuddling complexities I was dealing with. I discovered I had terrible latex and formaldehyde allergies that were breaking me out all over my body, and I had experienced an allergic reaction to Remicade, which was a newer drug at the time with side effects not being reported by its maker yet because it had been administered to less than 5,000 people.

At that crossroads, I remember weighing the pros and cons of moving from an amazing city that I hadn't really had a chance to fully appreciate or enjoy because I was too ill, to somewhere near my family that had many big medical institutions in close proximity. I was genuinely torn and heartbroken about leaving Austin (considered leaving my stuff in storage there), but ultimately decided to just pack it all up and come here where I had found at least some of my answers.

I had tried everything humanly possible to get well in Austin, but I was too sick ironically for any of it to have a chance at working. Painstakingly slowly, over this past decade in NC, I have had the opportunity to take baby steps towards getting well (two forward and one back), and have built up a dedicated health team army in the process.

As much as I've begrudged being "banished" here from the cool city to get well, incredibly, I do not regret the decision.

Just came across this sorting through files from that move...
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11.25.03 - back when photos had printed timestamps...
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Ten Years Gone.
10yrgone

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on attitude & perspective

Attitudes are self-created. You are free to choose to be victimized by circumstance or people, or you can choose to look at life with an open mind and be victorious. No one else can choose your attitude for you. Your perspective and choice of attitude gives you the power to be in control. That is the essence of true freedom. ~ Irene Dunlap


This was one of my favorite quotes I hung in my cabin when I was a camp counselor at Camp Oasis, a camp for kids with Crohn's and Colitis. There were others too that I brought with me to decorate the walls and the girl's minds, wrote with markers on colorful construction paper that my mom and friend John helped me make, some that I still have hanging on my wall in my office below, reminding me of that experience.

I paid over $1000 to volunteer at this camp, all told, in the summer of 2006 in St. Louis, MO- now that is saying something! They say you should ask yourself what you would do for free, or if money was no object- and whatever it is, do that. I've certainly volunteered for a lot of camps over the years, so it will most definitely be a part of my what-I'm-going-to-be-when-I-grow-up plan!

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all we have is now.

This is a portion of what I have on my facebook "about me" section, since the day I signed up in 2008 (as close to any "profile" as I get):

Life is beautiful and short. Enjoy it and each other while you can. The end. I have a glass full disposition on life. I try to always see the good in people & situations. I believe in living each day as if it were the last. I don't beat around the bush. I'm not afraid to be real. I believe in dreams. I believe everyone has an intrinsic, authentic truth & tend to seek it out. I will never stop learning and exploring. I ask a lot of questions, especially why & what do you mean? I like being alone. I like being with you. What you see is what you get. I'm an ordinary person. I'm an extraordinary person. I wear my heart on my sleeve.

The world lost a special lady named Hazel today. She was someone that was sweet, loving, generous, and affectionate to me, she was a grandmother and mother, among other things, had a cozy house filled with cherished memories and photos of loved ones, comforts, and vintage delights in that pink and moss green hue of the 60s.

Was I nice to people at the grocery store serving me today? Not consistently, no.

Did I take the time to smile to people I encountered today? I did attempt this, but wholeheartedly and always in the moment, no.

This pains me because we are so often on autopilot, so self-absorbed with our own thoughts, so hurried, that rarely do we even fully acknowledge each other.

I learned the lesson early on that people are what matter (another post to get into the why). Do I live every day and each moment like it is my last? Sadly, no. I know it might be difficult to do so, but for as much as I know and believe that
all we have is now, there is a disconnect in the daily grind from experiencing this kind of reality more often, as much as I wish I did.

Only with hard losses, struggle, and unexpected wake up calls are we jolted back into remembering.

I'm going to work on getting to this place more, hopefully without the painful paths it usually takes to get me there.


The heart may freeze
Or it can burn
The pain will ease
If I can learn

There is no future
There is no past
I live this moment
As my last

There's only us
There's only this
Forget regret
Or life is yours to miss

No other road
No other way
No day but today

There's only now
There's only here

Give in to love
Or live in fear
No other path
No other way

No day but today.

~ From my favorite musical Rent

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Today.
grannyhazel

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betty maxine.

My Grandma, Betty Maxine, is my heart. We've always been very close, and she is the only grandparent I've ever known. She fills me with joy, makes me laugh with her quick wit and terrific sense of humor, and is a lot of fun to be around. She makes me smile. She loves to snuggle. I definitely got my sense of style (and love of shoes!) from her, and maybe also my strength. She is incredibly strong and has been through so much in her 92 years. She gets knocked down, but she gets back up every time, and never gives up.

We've had great fun over the years- many, many sleepovers where we lie in bed together talking until the wee hours (she loves this, as do I!)... cooking at 1am, playing cards, laughing, watching Hallmark channel movies, visits to the Secret Diner. She lives with my parents now, more frail than in the past, but still giving it everything she's got.

This is a bracelet I made her because her wrists are too small for conventional bracelets. It is simple and didn't take me long to make. She loves it, wears it every day, and says it brings her good luck. It means so much to me that it means so much to her... she shows it to me proudly every time I visit. My Grammy is love.

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Getting pretty at my vanity
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That one time I beat her at cards... very rare! Happy
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the world is changed...

This first line of the book!:

"You put two things together that have not been put together before. And the world is changed. People may not notice at the time, but that doesn't matter. The world has been changed nonetheless."

"We live on the flat, on the level, and yet--and so--we aspire. Groundlings, we can sometimes reach as far as the gods. Some soar with art, others with religion; most with love. But when we soar, we can also crash. There are few soft landings. We may find ourselves bouncing across the ground with leg-fracturing force, dragged towards some foreign railway line. Every love story is a potential grief story. If not at first, then later. If not for one, then for the other. Sometimes, for both.

So why do we constantly aspire to love? Because love is the meeting point of truth and magic. Truth, as in photography; magic, as in ballooning."

~ From Levels of Life, By Julian Barnes
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love.

Can't sleep can't work can't do anything warm fuzzies that are at the beginning of any relationship (honeymoon phase) and are so undeniably tempting and all consuming.  

Just because you've had them before doesn't mean you are ever immune to them (if you are still human). They keep coming, nature's way of helping further our species, I can feel that in my body, truly. We may have even very recently been dragged through agony, heartache and pain, and yet we run towards the light with our arms wide open and outstretched, hoping that perhaps this time will be different. It has to be. We keep learning and growing and try to quit falling in the same potholes that got us into dead end situations, but we are nonetheless so imperfect, and still utterly our same, vulnerable, flawed selves when this new opportunity shows up at our doorsteps.

The kind that you can't not talk about to everyone you see. An enlightened education into what unbridled joy means.

Hormones flood our brains with confusion and rose colored glasses. It doesn't matter. There is nothing I could have done to stop this. And I wouldn't want to. For now, I'm letting the fire burn and seeing where it leads.

 my-heart-on-fire-1

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surf.

I've developed a voyeuristic interest in surfing and surf culture lately, spurred somewhat from the inspirational story of Bethany Hamilton in Soul Surfer, and have watched other films since then, such as Chasing Mavericks, Blue Crush and Beautiful Wave. Cheesier depictions perhaps, but good enough for me. I've researched the stories of these legends, and have been endlessly fascinated with the way they live their lives.

I was considering what interests me about it, since I've never surfed, and I'm not sure if I plan to. I'm a strong swimmer and have always loved the water. I love sailing and boating. I've bodysurfed plenty, mostly as a fearless kid with my Dad in the cold Atlantic ocean, and have felt the panic of being knocked down by sets of waves at a time, discombobulated, not knowing which direction is up. I've lost my bikini top as a teenager, crawling out of the water on my stomach, so embarrassed and awkward. I've waited, heart pounding, for my Dad's bald head to bob up in the water as a sign he is OK. I've lost my nerve as I've gotten older and have become more risk-averse for sure, opting to stay on the shore most times, or just getting wet.

Mostly though, I just have a love affair with the ocean. It is one of my most favorite places to be, where I feel so small, and yet incredibly grounded and peaceful. I love the color. I like hearing the waves and smelling the water and the salty sea air. Also there's such mystery and power in its vastness. It breeds adventurers and seekers. The fact that there are people who spend the majority of their time in the water chasing their bliss as a hobby is thrilling to me, and something I feel like supporting.

I picked up
surfer magazine recently, and I gotta say I love reading it. I actually know many of the names mentioned now and can understand and visualize most of the descriptive jargon. Seeing jaw-dropping photos of big wave surfers in their element is like art I want to hang on my wall. In fact, I've torn out a couple particularly breathtaking pages to stare at. Surfing world, please welcome your newest fan.

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i always feel like somebody's watching me

This week started off with bang. I was at a local coffee shop this weekend, and a strange guy was not reading his newspaper, and blatantly staring at me instead. I thought maybe he was interested in what was on my screen, so I angled away from him a tad and ignored him. When some people to my left vacated their table, this person and his newspaper quickly got up and moved to their place, and I felt my bag move as he brushed by me. I adjusted it back up on my chair and kept typing.

All of a sudden a patron sitting in front of me jumped up, grabbed the newspaper on the guy's table, and revealed my wallet underneath! He quickly told him to get out. It all happened so fast... exciting I have to say! He had seen him grab it out of my bag when he went by. I'm so grateful to him- I never would have thought twice about it if he hadn't been
watching me! I thanked him on my way out, and he said he didn't think he was after my money, but rather was trying to stalk me. !!!! He had been watching the whole time, watching him watch me, and had even said something to the cafe staff about it. When he threw him out, the barista ran after him. It all caused quite a stir! When I thought it was about money, I laughed it off, and joked about how I didn't have anything for him to steal. This was much more unsettling!

Coincidentally, this kicked off a very lean week financially for me, so I'm seeing how far I can stretch the contents of my fridge and cupboards, by playing
Lynne Rosetto Kasper's game of "what can I make with these 5 ingredients"... wish me luck!

Oh e-cards, so good for a quick cackle...

Pasted Graphic IMG_4066

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gluten free pizza slices in portland!

www.pizzicatopizza.com

So excited to be here in PDX for a few days on vacation. It’s glorious and so inspiring. Really great to be playing on computer for fun for once, it’s been WAY too long! Good to be back. Vacation is essential to our health!

PS: This quote has been staring at me from my new favourite
magazine Experience Life (Being Healthy Is a Revolutionary Act): “The energy it takes to ignore an inner longing is greater than the leap of faith it takes to move you in the direction of your dreams.” The title and tagline of this magazine is brilliant!

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