Light and Love

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“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK, Jr.

This is one of my favorite Martin Luther King, Jr. quotes, of which there are many. But this one, to me, transcends all issues, big and small.

Even though tomorrow is the day we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day here in the Unites States, today is his birthday. As a tribute to an amazing man who worked hard to teach us so many amazing lessons, let’s continue spreading his message of light and love. And just like you make resolutions at the turn of the New Year; why not resolve right now to be the change you want to see in the world? We’ve all heard that saying. Well, it’s time to live it.

What can I say about MLK, Jr. that hasn’t already been said? Arguably one of the most profound prophets the world has ever seen, his words are forever poignant. He was an amazing leader and teacher as well as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, implementers of positive change.

You may not agree. You might even say, “But, Val, there have been so many awesome implementers of positive change, how can you possibly pick a #1?” True. And while I’m sure there will eventually be a  VH1 Greatest Implementers of Positive Change Countdown, I’m not sure who’d make the #1 spot on the list, or if I’d even agree with whomever got picked (I sure as hell haven’t agreed with all their #1s), BUT there is no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. made our world a better place. I’m sure we can all agree on that.

But we can’t simply rest on his laurels, no matter how awesome those laurels may have been. Our lives and our world are ever changing. And I believe (no pun intended) that if we keep King’s positive message in our minds and in our hearts, the changes we experience and implement will be positive, too.

While challenging at times, change is good. It’s healthy. It’s necessary. It teaches us that even though we are humans who make mistakes, we do not have to live and die by those mistakes or by the errors of our ancestors. We can always correct mistakes of the past, make adjustments to the present and fix our future.

Each of us, at times, fears change. And that’s natural, or so I’ve heard. But in order to succeed, whether that success is competitive or creative, some sort of change must take place to achieve it. Sometimes we don’t even realize we’re changing, but we are. Other times, we have to work really hard to see even the slightest progress. But whenever we implement change or simply embrace the changes that are taking place in our lives and in the world around us, we become stronger and that, in and of itself, is progress.

We need to keep moving forward by actively seeking new ways to strengthen our minds, our bodies and our souls. The knowledge and strength we nurture now is the foundation on which we build our future. Positive change takes commitment, drive and determination. It takes work. Positive change promotes prosperity and we all want that. So look to the positive.

Even when that feels like an unbearable burden, when the weight of the world is pressing down upon our shoulders and we feel alone, there is still hope. We just need to open our eyes and be willing to see it and share it. When hope is not so easy to see, that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. In those times, we need to believe–in ourselves and in each other.

Maybe we’re not looking hard enough or in the right place. Maybe we need to alter our perspective or open our minds. Or maybe we need the love and support of a friend to help us see it. Or perhaps it is our destiny to create it.

We need to embrace change. Not only because it’s healthy and because it helps us to grow, but because it is necessary and inevitable. The world is going to continue to change with or without us. We might as well find our niche and be a part of it. Live. Love. Learn. Right?

You and I are the light and the love that Martin Luther King, Jr. was talking about. We can promote hope and positive change by thinking with our hearts. We should be doing something every day to help those around us and lift each other up. It won’t take long for that positive energy to spread. We all know that even the smallest gesture can start a chain reaction. A smile. A hug. A kiss. A handshake. A kind word. These things may seem insignificant. But they’re not.

How often are you affected by such simple things? Unfortunately it works both ways, on the positive and negative sides of the spectrum. Just as a smile is contagious, so is a frown. A gesture of gratitude can make your morning, the same as an insult or rude remark can ruin your whole day.

Why not make a conscious effort to promote the positive?

Do something positive — big or small. But do something!

I can’t think of a better way to honor the life of a man who gave so much to the good of humanity. Our humanity. Even though he is gone, his legacy lives on and his words and actions continue to make a difference.

Your spirit, your words and your actions can make a difference, too. They already do – every day. Maybe you don’t see it. But it’s true. And just like hope and change, the world needs you. You are here for a reason. You may not have it all figured out yet. Then again, who does? But you and I are more than just cogs in a machine. We are crucial. Our purpose is palpable.

Let’s work together to change the world.

Light and love.

Have you ever seen a cow riding a bicycle?

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Well I have and it was awesome.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays (3rd favorite to be exact). And ever since way back when I was a kid, I’ve always loved getting dressed up for it, typically alternating clever and disturbing costumes year after year.

Against his will, I usually “urge” my husband to dress up too. In fact throughout our relationship, I’ve tortured him with one awful costume after the next. He claims he hates it. But I don’t believe him since he almost always gives in to whatever I want. One year, I made him dress up like a turd. Yep. It was a group theme. I made the costumes myself. Corn and all. He was a good sport about it… even though it was a little shitty of me. Another year, we were simply ketchup and mustard. He said “no” at first but eventually he agreed and there we were, two condiments at a New York City bar together. He even let me be mustard. That’s love. But he drew the line the year I wanted him to dress up like a vampire. I didn’t see the big deal, really. Honestly he was fine with it until I admitted I planned to dress as a tampon.

Whether I’ve been single, half of a couple or part of a group, I’ve always had fun on Halloween. But being a mom at Halloween is the greatest. Playing dress up with my daughter is so much fun. And rather than simply play dress up once, I get to do four straight days of Halloween festivities with her this year. She and I have already been trick or treating twice in two different towns and it’s not even the 31st yet. If you ask me, that’s pretty awesome.

She’s being a cow for Halloween this year. It seemed fitting since we’ve seen plenty of real cows since moo-ving to Iowa. Like most 2-year-olds, she loves mooing back at them. But she is by far the cutest cow I’ve ever seen!

Today, I put my little cow in her child seat and we went for a bike ride together through town. That was a first! I mean, have you ever seen a cow on a bicycle? I would (probably) never have done that in New York City. But it was great! And you know what? She had a blast being a cow on a bicycle.

Admittedly since Lyla entered our lives, I’ve focused more energy on her costumes than mine or my husband’s. Last year, I didn’t even bother getting dressed up. My husband was stoked when he learned he didn’t have to get dressed up either. Instead, I focused all my creative energy on our daughter. She was a strawberry. Simple enough. But. Cutest. Strawberry. Ever!

My husband doesn’t know it yet but this year, we’ll be making a soft comeback as a family. To expand upon our daughter’s costume, all three of us will be dressing as cows tomorrow night at his parents’ Halloween party.

It’ll be our first Halloween together as a family in Iowa. I can’t skip this one!

But rather than make him dress from head to toe in plush cow apparel like our daughter, I’m simply giving him a button that says “Moo” and a hat that says, “More cowbell!” So yes, I’m going easy on him. But next year… well, that’s a surprise… but if he thought being a vampire was bad!

Tomorrow night, I’ll be wearing a hat that says “I love cows.” And although I’ve never put much thought into that before, this year I know it’s true. If my husband and my daughter are cows, then I must love cows.

Together as a family we plan to party till the cows come home… but really we’re already home so I guess we’ll just party till our little cow needs her nap.

Happy Halloween!

Take the Poem’s Advice

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Sorry I haven’t posted in a while.

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time inside my head. I’m currently revising two novels and writing a third, while trying to simultaneously work through some real life stuff. There are days when I write and write and other days when I can’t seem to assemble a sentence or write a single word. I know I can do it but there are times when I question even the most obvious things.

Don’t worry. I’m still my optimistic self. But I’m only human.

A friend of mine posted this poem on Facebook. I have no idea who wrote it but I can certainly relate. And today I needed to read it.

I’m reposting it because I thought some of you might need it too.

Don’t Quit:

When things go wrong, as  they sometimes will, When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill, When the funds are low and the debts are high, And you want to smile,  but you have to sigh, When care is pressing you down a bit, Rest, if you  must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its  twists and turns, As every one of us sometimes learns, And many a  failure turns about, When he might have won had he stuck it out; Don’t  give up though the pace seems slow– You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer  than, It seems to a faint and faltering man, Often the struggler has  given up, When he might have captured the victor’s cup, And he learned  too late when the night slipped down, How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned  inside out– The silver tint of the clouds of doubt, And you never can  tell how close you are, It may be near when it seems so far, So stick to  the fight when you’re hardest hit– It’s when things seem worst that you  must not quit.

– Author  unknown

(Thank you to Shelley Anderson for posting this today!)

Today

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Today is a significant day in our nation’s history…

But let me begin by telling you that it’s also my mom’s birthday.

Since she is the most amazing woman I know, and that’s saying a lot since I know a lot of pretty amazing women, I’d like to take a moment to honor her.

My mom is the one who taught me how to love by loving me every second of my life. She has given me her undivided, unconditional support every step of the way. She has held my hand through all of life’s challenges. She believes in me and my dreams. She gives me advice when I need it yet never says “I told you so” when I prove time and time again how stubborn I can be. She has been my #1 fan since the day I was born. I couldn’t ask for a better mom or friend.

Ten years ago today, I woke up thinking that the day would be significant simply because it was my mom’s birthday. I hoped I wouldn’t forget to call her.

I was 25-yrs-old, living in the NYC area and working at the National Basketball Association. I was on my way to work when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. I saw the smoke from my car. The DJ on the radio said a small plane had crashed. His tone made it sound like no big deal. It seemed more like a nuisance than anything else. Of course he turned out to be wrong.

As I pulled into the NBA’s parking lot, my then-boyfriend called me from the subway platform beneath the World Trade Center. He switched trains there on his way to work nearby. He said there was chaos there, alarms going off and he was stuck underground in a mob of people. He wanted to know if I’d heard anything and if I could tell him what happened. I told him what I thought I knew – that there was an accident, that a small plane had crashed into one of the towers. My tone probably made it seem like no big deal. At the time, I didn’t think it was. Of course I too was wrong.

Moments after we said goodbye, I parked, entered the building and climbed the stairs to my desk just in time to see the second plane strike Tower II.

Like millions of other people, I watched it happen live on TV.

Suddenly it was a very big deal.

I tried to reach my boyfriend but couldn’t. For hours, I tried to get him back on the phone. But cell phones were useless that day. All circuits were busy. No one could get through.

In pure panic, I called my mom. I was in shock when I said, “Happy birthday.” She was in shock too when she thanked me for the flowers I’d sent her. Then she told me that my dad was in New York too and that she hadn’t been able to reach him either. But she put her own worst fear aside to focus on me. Was I OK?

I wasn’t even close to OK. Neither was she. No one was. We were all scared to death that day and rightfully so. What was happening? No one knew for sure. As the details unfolded throughout the day, it only became scarier and more confusing. None of it made any sense. It was all too horrifying to be true.

My mom’s voice was the only thing that comforted me. Even though we were in different states, knowing she was there somehow helped. It gave me hope. And with her there on the phone with me, I wasn’t alone.

People were leaving work to go home to be with their loved ones. Some stayed behind, glued to their desks or huddled around television monitors. Like me, maybe they didn’t know where else to go. Should I have gone home to my empty apartment? I practically lived at work so it made more sense for me to stay there. At a point, that too became too hard to bear.

I could no longer sit there waiting. I needed to go out and physically search for him. I’d heard people were flooding out of Manhattan and many of them were heading for Hoboken. So a coworker/friend drove me there.

I remember how oddly peaceful and eerily beautiful it was outside that day. It felt like the first day of spring. Was it all a bad dream?

My father eventually got out of New York and came home to my mother, giving her a birthday present that blew my 1-800-Flowers out of the water.

My then-boyfriend made it out of the city too. His ordeal was far more traumatic. He’d finally made it to his office after speaking to me that morning and from his window he later told me that he could see the towers burning. His office building was eventually evacuated and he managed to make it on foot to the Hudson River, where he somehow got across and then walked home.

He couldn’t talk about what he saw that day. He gave me blurbs here and there. I tried not to press him for the details I was sure I could already see on his face. I was horrified for him when he eventually told me some of what he’d seen, like people jumping from windows. I could only try to be there for him.

While a day that didn’t make sense continues to not make sense 10 years later, it’s true that the whole world changed that day. I know my life did.

For one, I am obviously no longer with that same person. He broke up with me exactly 2 months later. That’s OK. It simply wasn’t meant to be and it didn’t take me long to figure out what was.

I know how lucky I was that day.

It breaks my heart when I hear stories of people who lost loved ones. Tears fill my eyes and I get the exact same lump in my throat every time I think about it. But in a way, my experience on 9/11/01 helped set me free. I learned a lot about myself that day and in the days and months which followed. I learned to appreciate my life and not to take anyone in it for granted. I learned to follow my heart and to go after my dreams.

You and I live in a post 9-11 world. It’s a world where anything can happen. We can choose to keep on living and trying to achieve great things or we can run and hide in a corner. I don’t know about you but if there’s a chance that it could all end tomorrow, I refuse to waste this moment.

Today is a significant day in our nation’s history. It’s a day to look back and remember something we could never possibly forget, to honor the heroes and pay tribute to all those who lost their lives or loved someone who did. But most of all, it is a day to be thankful for life itself and for the people who love us.

And today is my mom’s birthday.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you. And I thank God for you every day.

Happy National Mustard Day!

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I love mustard.

And before you ask… no, not enough to marry it. But maybe just enough to casually fool around. Besides, I’m already married.

But mustard and I go way back. Growing up in Philly, I’d put mustard on my pretzel. Nothing beats Gulden’s (not Golden’s, Gulden’s) Spicy Brown Mustard on a Philly Soft! And you’ll probably think this is gross but I’d often pair the combo with a Yoo-hoo. My mouth is watering.

“What kind of wine would you like with your meal, ma’am?”

“Oh, I’ll have some yummy chocolate flavored water please! And could you bring me a huge vat of mustard for this pretzel? Thanks!”

Gosh, I haven’t had a Yoo-hoo since college. But let’s get back to mustard. This is, after all, a very serious blog about mustard.

I love all kinds of mustard. I’m a huge fan of yellow mustard, spicy mustard, honey mustard, fancy mustard sauces, mustard mixed with interesting ingredients (like Jack Daniels or horseradish or pineapples), mustard seed, mustard powder, the color mustard, Colonel Mustard…

I like mustard on sandwiches, on fish, as a dip or dressing.

My husband makes the meanest grilled artichokes and pairs them with a mustard sauce that will blow your mind (now can you see why I chose to marry him over mustard?).

I have been known to dip raw veggies in mustard AND put mustard on pizza. Why not? It is, after all, delicious and nutritious.

So… Happy National Mustard Day to you and yours. I hope you find a way to enjoy mustard today and every day. If you’re one of those weird anti-mustard people, please do the right thing and find a way to welcome mustard back into your life. This feud has been going on for too long, hasn’t it? Yes, it has. And mustard told me that it doesn’t even remember why you’re fighting. It doesn’t care who is at fault. It just wants you back. It misses you. So, please, do the right thing. You will be happy you decided to take my advice on this one.

By the way, have I mentioned that I hate mayo?

Happy National Mustard Day! Enjoy!

Japan

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The images are inconceivable.

The pain and fear they must be feeling is beyond comprehension.

I watched a story last night about a mother and child who were washed out to sea by tsunami. I can’t get it out of my head. The young mother was doing everything in her power to hold on to her infant daughter, but she was outmatched by the power and magnitude of the waves and debris. They were eventually separated, and the baby was lost. That feeling is far too awful to imagine. Even so, I flash what if that were me thoughts in my brain. What if that was my child being ripped from my arms? I shutter and jerk, like I suddenly stepped off a curb in a dream. Then I thank God, in this moment, that she’s fine. We’re fine.

But, what about them?

There are so many stories. Breaking news plays like background music. CNN has replaced Nick Jr. in my home, and I can’t seem to bring myself to change the channel. Even if I could, it wouldn’t shut off my head.

Earthquakes… tsunami… nuclear threat?? How much more can these poor people handle? When will enough be enough? How much is too much? Haven’t we passed that point yet?

“1000 corpses washed to shore” just ticked across the bottom of the screen… 2000 more bodies found under rubble? An estimated 10,000 dead. Possibly more? When will the numbers stop?

We live in a world where anything can happen.

While we hope and pray that anything will mean something good for us and our loved ones, the fact that anything could be something so horrific makes me cringe.

My daughter is in my arms as I type this blog. I fight to blink back tears. But, I can’t.

Hold your loved ones closer, tighter today. Remind them how much you love them. Be thankful for your beautiful life and all the blessings and stresses which come with it. Appreciate your friends and family. Be thankful that you have food and shelter, and a spare blanket to keep you warm. Some people don’t have a spare anything.

There are too many malnourished, mistreated, sick, abused, impoverished, pain-stricken souls in our world. They need our help. Right now, Japan needs our help, and we must do whatever we can.

We can’t help thanking God that it’s not us. But, that doesn’t mean we should think of this as something happening to them.

In a world where anything can happen, you never know when the tide will turn, when the shoe will be on the other foot, when we and they will shift. Please take a moment out of your life and do something to help someone in need. It is our duty to help. It is our privilege. People are fighting for their lives and for the lives of their children… our children.

We are one world.

This is not about them.

This is about us.