Family

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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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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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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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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sisterly love ❤

It's been a while... lots has been happening, though not on here... Happy It will translate soon! Had a yard sale last week that was a big push to get several month's worth of purging round up out the door. Feels good in here now, echo-y even... and there is room for energy to move around. I am down to the last few piles of paper to sort through, and while the remainder are not perfectly organized and archived by any stretch, it is good enough that I will be able to move on from this massive project to other important things that have been waiting for me. Hurray! I have come across lots of amazing and special gems in this archeological dig of Val, and this is one of them found tonight, an essay written by my Sissy in high school... sniff sniff! Thank you Sissy, you are the best Sissy in the world and I love you!

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a short and slightly mushy essay on why i love my parents.

Looking back, its clear to see that if I liked something, my parents almost always liked it too. This includes politics, and before we knew it we had 3 Nader supporters on our hands deep in the heart of Texas! Laugh

If I like someone, they like them too. Always and assumed.

It reminds me of a very important book that I have given to a few special people in my life called
I Like You, that expresses this same sentiment so purely- you must get a copy and read it, and I dare you to not give it to your special people straight away!

One of my favorite things about both my 'rents is that if I show support for something or someone, they do too, and immediately incorporate it or them into the welcoming family fold right away. I think I might have taken this for granted for a time (although it was always appreciated and I knew how amazingly nice and cool they were) but it hit me today when my Mom was giving me an update about one of my dearest friends with so much love and care and concern in her heart, what an incredible gift their unconditional and unwavering support is. My people are
their people. My causes are their causes.

When I met and liked my birth family, my parents liked them too and were interested and loving. When I got to know them further and really liked them even more, they embraced them with open arms!

It makes me smile thinking about it and I had to pull open my laptop and jot it down. I didn’t realize or just didn't consider that the reason they do this is because they trust and like ME implicitly, and wholeheartedly believe in what I think is right and who I vouch for. A crazy and beautiful revelation to have. As my Godsister Hannah likes to say, #lovebreedslove! This is an aspect of many true friendships of course as well, those core people who have our backs no matter what. But I think my parents embody this radical acceptance and love more than anyone I know.

I love you Marge and Norm!

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Here are the lovebirds themselves in 1969 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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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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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?
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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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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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survivor.

Being chronically ill can be extremely isolating. Since my Crohn’s has been in remission and my fistula plug repair in Dec. 2010, I’ve been slowly trying to catch my breath from 23 years of severe disease, with very little moments of respite in between. I started experiencing hair loss and what seemed to be hypothyroidism not long after, seemingly because of fatigue from living in survival mode for so long.

One year ago, I had my first aura migraine ever, and have experienced them nearly every day since. Migraines bring on GI symptoms, which can impact my Crohn’s - lots of vicious cycles in this delicate dance.


These daily struggles have kept me just doing what I can to put one foot in front of the other, some days, weeks, months and years better than others, and as a result I haven’t had the time or bandwidth to do many of the things I truly love- connect with my loved ones, and have fun. I’m working on this!

I have so much gratitude for my people who have hung in there with me whatever life brings. It’s a privilege to grow and learn together. Baby steps on the journey to happy destiny...

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My loving Dad, Mom, and my one & only Grandma.

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