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PUBLISHED ESSAYS

I've always loved writing, any kind of writing. In my work I have to write proposals, specifications for projects, and I believe in the power of personal letter writing. An avid Scrabble player and former spelling bee winner (third grade!), I appreciate vocabulary and the way words can express and evoke emotion.

It was only natural that I used poetry and journal writing to navigate adolescence. I still have dozens of notebooks and diaries filled with everything from lyric ideas to daily happenings. Reading has always been a transporting past time, and a tremendous influence.

After successfully exploring songwriting for several years, I was intrigued by the opportunity to learn about personal essay writing. Taking a wonderful series of workshops and critique sessions with noted author Marion Roach-Smith, I began the journey into memoir essay writing. It was a great way to cross pollinate with songwriting and in fact, several essays have led to song ideas. Featured here are several that have been published, as well as my first children's book which has an accompanying CD, "Tooth Fairy Come To Me." It was a lot of fun illustrating this story using photographs of my kids as blocking for the drawings.

Management: DeLaCruz Enterprises LLC or call 518-505-1659

Click an essay title below to read the full essay

» You can't Go Home Again (Or Can You?)

This essay appeared in the Times Union, Albany, NY, on September 20, 2009

I went walking yesterday on black-topped paths created in fields where I used to play. Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, and Crosby Stills & Nash accompanied me on the journey, living in an amazing tiny invention called an iPod.

Back when I first fell in love with this music, I had to put records on the phonograph, a word — and item — that gets little use now.

A community park called The Crossings of Colonie drew me with the promise of a healthy use of my time, more productive than coasting at Starbucks doing my daily crossword puzzle.

As I walked, I marveled at the inevitable evolution of time and place. Here I once grazed my horse in a field that has been rescued from the unavoidable development of suburban tract homes just adjacent to it. A field where I wandered to sit in the center and meditate among alfalfa and Queen Anne’s lace.

The field where I looked out of the barn and saw crusted snow drifts that formed in the dead of winter, winds swirling and sculpting mounds that looked like the Sahara desert, then criss-crossed by snowmobiles and horse hoof prints, ironically now featured paved trails designed by a civil engineer to mimic farmland.

I strode next to the pig farm from which an occasional adventurous hog had escaped to scare my horse as it emerged from the nearby woods where we rode.

These woods are now filled with neighborhoods of homes where grown-up kids like me live.

Smelling milkweed pods about to burst, what I once saw as blights now nostalgically sweet, next to those roadside yellow tiny flowers that always reminded me of cheese popcorn — another childhood memory replaced by healthier fare— I reveled in dredged-up memories of innocent childhood and pretended I was thirteen again.

Thirteen, when dreaming big, I began plotting my escape from this nowhere place. And I did leave for a while. 

A brief stint at art school in Boston was cut short by lack of funds.  I came back here for a temporary period of regrouping before I set out to make my fortune elsewhere in the big wide world.  But somehow a part time job turned into a full time one.  A casual date turned into a husband and before I knew it, thirty years had gone by.

I didn’t know then that ending up here in my hometown, where every road is still familiar and I have travelled countless times, would give me comfort and ease. That raising my kids in the same area would allow me to enjoy my childhood jaunts all over again as I relived fond memories sharing with them my regular haunts.

And that everything would look so small and quaint, and that’s exactly what I would love about it.

I guess you can go back again, especially if you never really left.

http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=843169&category=SCHENECTADY

» Birdie Flew the Nest

The tears were such a surprise.  Driving home from work, I suddenly choked up and gasped out a sob.  Where did this come from?  I had been thinking about my daughter Alex, somewhere unknown on a trip overseas for a study abroad program.  This is something I’d always hoped she would do, in fact encouraged her to do, since she was in middle school.   But suddenly it was true, and the realization that she was out of reach made me feel panicky.   Not in a crisis sort of way, but in an empty-nest-mother sort of way.

Which is really funny, because I’ve been dreaming of this independence since she was born. 

Her nickname was Birdie, because a mother sparrow built a nest in the asparagus fern that hung outside our front door just when we brought her home from the hospital.  Soon, there were squeaking little cries from three tiny hatchlings.  Alex’s expression, the way she would form a small round “O” with her lips when she was about to squawk, looked like the baby birds, and so they became intertwined in my mind.

A precocious child (aren’t they all?), she was demanding, creative, resourceful and determined to go her own way.   When she was fifteen, she convinced me to let her live in Chicago for the summer in a shared apartment while she pursued a career in modeling that started even earlier than that.  I rationalized that she was mature enough, the experience would be invaluable, and she would be living with eight other older kids who would look out for her and keep her out of trouble.  The house manager lived upstairs and knew what was going on.  And which mother got the most phone calls about their child not following the rules of curfew, and walking to the store alone?  On the other hand, she got herself a job, figured out the Chicago transit system and returned a confident, independent young woman.

With her single-minded determination, she set her sights on Manhattan, declaring that it was her dream to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology for college, and wouldn’t even apply anywhere else.  Breathing a sigh of relief when she was accepted, she began the process of establishing her new life, getting a one-bedroom apartment in Harlem and commuting by subway everywhere.  More than one night I prayed that she would develop the street smarts to avoid as many potential dangers as there would be in such a big city.

She’s been going out on limbs her whole life, so why all the fuss now?  Because it feels like it’s the first time that I can’t save her; I can’t jump in the car and race down the Thruway to gather up her broken shells and try to put them back together again.  I can’t press number 5 speed dial on my cell phone just to hear her voice and ask the lightly probing questions that I hope will discreetly let me know how she is without letting a worried note slip into my voice. 

She is truly grown up now, Birdie has left the nest.  And although she will alight at home base from time to time, it is time to let her go.

» Wishin On A Star

WISHIN' ON A STAR
©2008 By Valerie DeLaCruz

I'm an American Idol addict; can't get enough of the auditions, the judges, the songs, even Ryan Seacrest's corny commentary. I sit glued to the TV every Tuesday and Wednesday night, agonizing along with the contestants, feeling their pain and embarrassment and very rare glories.

I wish it was me up there.

I know exactly how they feel; it's like a slow, poignant torture, watching them get a chance to be a singing star. That was my dream. I was sure I could do it, believed I had all of the ingredients and that it was totally attainable. After all, I applied all of my talent, life skills and lessons to the process: study and work hard, become educated about the business and the craft, promote yourself relentlessly, make contacts and build a network, write with million-selling hit songwriters, win competitions and awards. And I did win several, clawing up the slippery slope of the fickle music business. I went pretty far, attracting the attention of and being signed as a recording artist to a Nashville record label, appearing at concerts, Fan Fair and on television. Being flown to Toronto to film a music video that still airs on Great American Country.

I loved it.

When I first went to Nashville with stars in my eyes, I had an uneasy premonition of how it might all end even if I did make it big. In every office meeting, the publisher/artist/manager/agent had those gold record plaques that trumpeted their hit, their worthiness, the visible proof of their success. And where were they now; forever living off their laurels, yearning and reaching for another shot, praying for the miracle good luck kiss bestowed for arbitrary reasons that would allow them to be relevant again, to get back on top. The sad truth is, when you are on top, the only place to go is down.

But I wanted it anyway.

The music business is unkind and oxymoronic as it tries to cram creativity into a marketable package, but no one can explain why some artists or songs take off and most don't. When my first nationally released album bombed, I was let go from my contract. I mourned when I accepted that I really had gone as far as I could without sacrificing everything else. It was so hard to give up. I'm not a quitter. But I didn't want to end up like Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd, clinging to memories and asking everyone I met, "do you recognize me?"

I did have some success: my version of "Lean on Me" was licensed by Live with Regis & Kelly, and songs I've written have been used in TV and movies. I get royalty checks from iTunes downloads, licensing and airplay around the world. I've met some of the stars I aspired to be. See, I'm still tempted to defend my accomplishments, even without a gold record.

I could try to place blame. But finally in the deep dark alone night, I let myself say quietly in my head what I feared all along, what I hid behind smiles and jokes and excuses about poor distribution and inadequate radio promotion: that I just wasn't good enough, that I would never get there, that my best has already been. That is a dark hole to climb out of, hiding humiliation, a pasted-on smile framing vague answers about a next album or appearance, knowing that there won't be one.

Now I get along. I tell myself that it's a blessing in disguise. Maybe I wouldn't have had the fortitude for the downward spiral after the wild triumph had it come. Certainly I enjoy my regular life much more now, no longer striving toward the improbable, dodging rejection, dancing on the edge of huge swings up and down. I have treasured memories, experiences and recordings that are a testament to my effort. At least I tried.

Regets? No. Ironically, I'm more confident of my talent now that I don't have to prove it anymore. I have this wonderful outlet for expression. My real fortune is in the moment when a listener tells me that my song about my sister helped her tell hers how important she was to her. It's in the emails I get from women around the country thanking me for the song about my girlfriends that inspired them to tell a friend they love them. It's in the tears in my mother's eyes as I sing my tribute to her, "My Mom Says I Can."I knock 'em dead at a karaoke bar.

But when I see someone on stage, when I go to a concert, when I tune in to American Idol, I get those little butterflies in my stomach, that nervous feeling as that week's contenders perform. I see that moment before the decision stand still in time, when the loser still has a chance, still hopes beyond hope that they won't be eliminated. And then the ecstasy of a relieved and jubilant winner.

Life is good, I'm over it, but I still wish it was me.

» Sister Brother

Sister Brother
© 2006 by Valerie DeLaCruz

Sitting at the Elks Lodge the other night with my husband enjoying a beer, our conversation inevitably turned to our children, our favorite topic that we never exhaust. Our daughter Alex is twenty, attending college in New York City, being the assertive, free-spirit firstborn that she is. Our son Mike is eighteen, graduating high school and will be going to college this fall to a small campus overlooking a lake. Two kids couldn't be more different.

Raising them required the skill of a diplomat, the authority of a president, the compassion of a triage nurse and the flexibility of a gymnast. Of course, I didn't think that at the time; I just gritted my teeth, held my nose and jumped in, doing what I thought best by gut instinct. And a large helping of the memory of my own upbringing.

One thing I always insisted on was no physical fighting, name-calling or belittling. Saying "shut-up" was as forbidden in our house as the "F" word. Even though I sometimes resorted to "because I said so!," I tried to teach them how to resolve their conflicts themselves, stepping in to advise and remind them to listen to both sides, because I knew what it was like to grow up with constant bickering, yelling and sarcasm meant to wound. Always full of guilt for my part in these episodes, I know it took its toll on my relationships with my siblings.

My kids have sibling rivalry, the usual where each one thinks we like the other one better, or had some extra advantage (more toys or clothes). Or they argue about who used the car last without putting in gas, or over who used up all the toilet paper without replacing it in the bathroom they shared. But they also call each other just to say hi, unprompted by a meddling mom.

So when my husband started getting all mushy, proclaiming that the most satisfying thing for him is knowing that our children like each other, I knew exactly what he meant.

After a wonderful Easter weekend when we had the whole family home, Alex was packed up and ready to leave for the train back to New York and we were saying our goodbyes. Joe and I stood back and soaked up the sight of our children's affectionate farewell.

In their embrace, I saw a collage of images: splashing each other in the tub; Alex saving Mike once when he slipped under the water; Alex "reading" a book as Mike rapturously gazed on, even though she was imitating, having memorized the story; holding hands and jumping in the waves on Drakes Island Beach; asking each other for advice about certain teachers or friends. And I saw the best of Joe and me, our hopes and dreams over twenty years, our history. It was amazing to witness this love between them that doesn't need to be encouraged, and that couldn't be manufactured no matter how good our intentions.

And so we ordered another round and toasted to the great job we didn't do but were lucky enough to behold, brother-sister love.

» Inspiration

What Inspires Me as a Songwriter

By Valerie DeLaCruzÓ1999

A fallen, spider-veined leaf, a smooth agate stone, a whispered conversation, a compelling advertisement’s headline; these are some of the things that have inspired me to write songs.  Songwriting is similar to poetry, but very different.  In poetry, I like the cadence and the sound of the words.  In songwriting, the words must convey a meaning, and the challenge is to create a picture or feeling with few words, and try to rhyme as well.  A tall order!  I always marvel at people who say they wrote a song in 15-20 minutes.  They must just think in some sort of structure, or have an amazing command of our language and how to use it.

As I’ve matured in my songwriting, I’ve adopted a philosophy of using less to say more.  Sparseness and simplicity are worthy goals.  A conversational tone also makes for an accessible song.

I guess my biggest inspiration for songwriting comes from my life experiences.  Songwriting is a way for me to express feelings and say things that might otherwise get stored away or go unsaid as I assume that others somehow “know” how I feel.  There are a lot of sad songs and songs of longing and sorrow because when we are melancholy, we reflect.  We wallow, we analyze and it is the perfect setting for songwriting.  When we’re happy or content, we’re out doing whatever it is that makes us happy and content, we’re not sitting around writing about it.  

I have been inspired to write a song after hearing a clever line of dialogue in a movie, or reading a slogan in an ad.  That can set the whole concept for the song, and often becomes the title, or “hook.”

I’m definitely inspired by other musicians whom I admire and think were successful in portraying a feeling or story through the puzzle they’ve assembled with their words.  In fact, I view songwriting like a puzzle (jigsaw puzzles are a weakness of mine; I can work at them for hours, even after my neck aches from looking down and my eyes are watery from concentration).  The elements are there, the idea, some key words or phrases; now how do I work them around and upside down into a cohesive flow of words.  If I just keep at it, I’ll solve it.  All of the answers are there, it’s just a matter of time, patience and skill.  For there are definitely some skills that can be learned and applied in songwriting.  One of the best ways to do that is to analyze successful or popular songs and identify their parts.  I’ve been dramatically inspired by spending time in Nashville, Music City, where songs are revered and respected.  Hearing other writers that are better than you at getting an idea across (very often an idea you’ve had too!) can either make you cut and run or hunker down and re-write and get better.  If you’re really fortunate and can bear some constructive criticism, you can get invaluable advice from people that have been through the same thing you have.  There’s strength in numbers sometimes; support groups are positive!  Going to songwriter nights and being exposed to as many songs as you can feeds you with ideas.

I am also inspired by the aesthetic.  I need a certain surrounding or atmosphere in order to concentrate and enjoy songwriting.  It’s important to recognize your own style and the comfort zone that gives you your best results.  My ideal songwriting set-up is to be somewhere beautiful, like a cozy bed and breakfast inn with a private balcony overlooking a landscape of natural beauty, such as a lake, the ocean, woods or a garden.  Warm sunshine, a comfortable chair, my writing “tools” (yellow 8-1/2”x11” pad of paper, Pilot V-ball black pens, sharpened #2 pencils, a rhyming dictionary and a thesaurus, and my folder of ideas), my guitar, tuner and capo, and some refreshment like iced tea, juice and a scone.  This puts me in a great mood and I don’t feel like I need to get up to get anything as the process gets involved.

I also get inspired late at night as I’m readying for bed.  An idea pops in my head, it’s dark, hushed and quiet (quiet is very important to me), and I just have to jot it down.  I usually get a melody line for the idea immediately and I have to record it on the small hand-held tape recorder I keep by the bed (I have to be more disciplined about labeling the tapes, though; I have stacks of them and no clue which is which!)  Once I start singing it in my head over and over, it stays with me for several days, until I finally just have to sit down and try to work out the whole song.  I think I have a sense of value about it, that if I don’t get it fairly finished, I’ll lose it completely and what might have been my best song yet will have frittered away. Often, by the time I try to work out chords to it, it sounds pretty different from when it was born as a mere melody, so it’s great to hang on to the initial “sung” tape and hear its evolution, and use that for revising if you want to.

The other place that inspires me believe it or not is driving alone in my car.  Especially long distances where I have to think for a while.  I get an idea and start singing it.  By the time I’m home, I need to race in the house and get it on the tape recorder before it leaves me.  One time, I had an idea that I thought was so strong that I turned around from an appointment I was headed to and went home to record it (I guess I should have a tape recorder in the car, too!)  This idea was worked over a month or so, in several locations, and I finally recorded a demo of it.  My hunch about the idea was right; I subsequently won the 1998 Song of the Year Award from the Northeast CMA and the 1999 Great American Song Contest, Country Category for that song! (“Hey! That’s My Kiss).

I’ve written songs that are truly from a heartfelt, personal perspective, and ones that are exercises in applying skills, like certain rhymes, forms, etc.  The ones that are a blend of both are probably the most accessible, and other people can relate to them.  Every now and then, however, I just write something just the way I want it, not caring what anyone else might hear or relate to in the song.  Those are the easy ones to perform, because they have meaning and nuance.  It all depends on your goal as a songwriter.  If you are writing for yourself and you are the only one likely to perform your songs, you have much more leeway.  If you are writing to “pitch” your songs to other artists to perform, they have to be understandable and relative to others.

I guess I’d have to say that everyday life inspires me, and all of the things I experience or hear about.  I’m at the point where I know I will always write songs, it’s just so pleasurable in so many ways.  Once you’ve seen, you can’t “unsee;” there’s no going back to silence or just listening.  They are like a chronicle of my life, or my views on life.  I’m proud of my songs, like they are my piece of art that will survive me and have a life of their own.  They are completions of ideas and work, and can stand alone without me. 

» Father's Day

Father's Day
First published WAMC Radio on 6-14-07
© 2006 by Valerie DeLaCruz

It's that time of year again. Standing in the greeting card aisle, I'm searching through the Father's Day cards. I feel so uncomfortable as I read each gushing sentiment: "You've always been there for me Dad;" "Growing up, you always found the time to show me how much you cared" and "you made my childhood special."

None of them are right. All of them bring to the surface the falseness of trying to celebrate my childhood relationship with my father, each crafted saying belying the very emotion it was meant to convey.

I didn't really have a relationship with my father growing up. He was an enigma to be avoided so I didn't irritate him. He was the threat my mother used when she grew exasperated trying to control or discipline my siblings and me. He was a reluctant parent.

Never demonstrative, my father was a tall man, towering and intimidating to a child. Our interactions consisted mostly of dinner time, where we would be careful not to upset him. Once a month or so, there would be a Sunday drive out for ice cream, an obligatory family outing. Thinking back, I'm not sure why my siblings and I feared him so; he rarely disciplined us physically, and even on those few occasions, it was just a spanking. But just the thought of angering him was enough to keep us in line. I think it was more his untouchable aloofness than the threat of pain that worried us.

My parents divorced when I was fifteen, but the collapse of their marriage started several years before. Our house was filled with tension, unspoken disappointment, and finally, dismal apathy.

But that didn't stop my girlhood longing to gain his attention and approval. I still remember packing up my things in a U-Haul to move away to college and him coming over to say goodbye. Like all of our mandated visits, it was very uncomfortable. We never had anything to talk about when we all lived together, and there was even less now. I recall that awkward embrace, and thinking that it was the first time he had touched me since I could remember.

I was eighteen.

He remarried four years after my parents' divorce. He told me about it in a letter. No phone call. At first I felt stereotypical teenaged resistance, resentment that he couldn't find happiness in his real family. It shocked me, and denied forever the possibility of us all reuniting in the fairy-tale-perfect-family world kids fantasize about. I childishly refused to call him until he called me first, waiting to see how long it would take.

It was actually my new stepmother who changed things. She realized what my father and I didn/'t: that we needed each other. She arranged for lunches or dinners and conscientiously kept a conversation going, no matter how trivial. Slowly we began to inch closer toward each other. I started to let go of my resentment.

Years later, maturing and daring to ask more emotional and deeper questions to get to know him, it became clear that closeness was unaccustomed for him. His own family eschewed affection; sensible and hardworking, as cold and distant as their homeland in Nova Scotia. Seeing it from his viewpoint softened my judgment. I understand now that he gave what he could, imperfect though it was.

Now at fifty, I am so glad to have developed a closeness with my father that I never dreamed of. I enjoy seeing him, and feel satisfied that this important relationship has blossomed. I don't need him in the same way I did when I was a child, when he couldn't give it to me if he wanted to.

And I know he is happy that we have an easy familiarity now, where hugs are not milestones. It might have taken years of my adult life to develop, but it was worth it.

And so I search for a card that will have an authentic ring to its verse, that will celebrate the journey we've made to be father and daughter. And I finally find it:

"On Father's Day
I wanted to tell you
How important you are to me
And how much I love you"

But what I really want to find is the section that has Father's Day cards for stepmothers, because she helped him become the father I always wanted.

» PUZZLES

PUZZLE                                                                    

©2006 By Valerie DeLaCruz            

I like puzzles.

Especially jigsaw puzzles.

I like the way the pieces sound when you shake the box, considering whether or not to purchase that particular one.  Searching through the games section of the toy store to find the small shelf space dedicated to the jigsaw puzzles.  Finding one with a photograph that pleases; with large colorful subject changes that will make it easier to hunt through the pieces and sort them.  I never buy the kind with illustrations, but the beautiful pictorial photographic ones that help me daydream about far off places and vivid landscapes, even while I have to concentrate. 

If only life were as knowable. 

You see, a jigsaw puzzle can be solved.  It’s not vague or messy or ambiguous.  Each piece has its place and no other will fit where it goes.  You can’t force the wrong piece into another’s place.  The only way you can fail is if you drop a piece and lose it. 

A puzzle is a lesson in perseverance. At first it seems daunting, but it’s the best example of how to divide and conquer.  All the steps we’re told to take in accomplishing anything play out in solving a jigsaw puzzle; any large task can be undertaken one small step at a time.  Don’t be discouraged by the big picture, and there’s a picture right there on the box as inspiration, an attainable goal.

First you sort out all the pieces that have a flat, straight edge.  These make up the outside edge of the picture.  They are the easiest to connect and familiarize you with the shapes.  Then you start with an easy subject in the picture, one where there will only be a few pieces that will make up that part.  You can sort them by color, using the box picture as a guide.  Another strategy is to sort out pieces that have a clear delineation, a line through them showing where the horizon meets a foreground. This gets you oriented.

Just like anything in life, some have better quality than others.  The cardboard backing doesn’t fray, it’s stiffer.  The shapes are more varied and that makes them easier to sort.  I don’t even bother with a puzzle less than 1000 pieces.  I want a challenge.

Every time I finish a puzzle it is like an affirmation that I can accomplish something if I set my mind to it.  If I follow a methodical process and don’t give up, I can reach my aim.  What better life lesson is there? 

Now about crossword puzzles…..

» Autumn Leaves
Autumn Leaves

©2008 Valerie DeLaCruz

 

The trees are taking off their clothes

But not shyly

They’re dizzily shouting a fierceness of color

As they chaos-cloak the ground with abandon

 

I’m kicking through them greedily

Grinning ear to ear as I walk through

years of memories of raking, laughing, falling

Smelling their crisp musky swan song

 

It’s brief, but they take their sweet time

And you would never know that this is the beginning

of long gray dirty-shirted sky days to come

 

Days when you will long for the song

of the autumn leaves

» I Do Again

I Do Again
© 2005 by Valerie DeLaCruz

It wasn't a revelation. It was more of a quiet accumulation of time, an acknowledgment of our history together. This year to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of our wedding, my husband and I decided to renew our marriage vows.

Why did we do it? According to my husband, "it's something you want to do Valerie, and I'll go along with it." At first that sounded disappointing, as if he didn't care. But having learned him over all this time, I knew not to take that personally. I knew that come that day, I would get to relive one of the most wonderful moments of my life, when he looked in my eyes and told me he would be there for me forever, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part. And he has been there. We have stuck it out in good times and bad. Now we have a reservoir of memories, triumphs and hard lessons learned because we did.

We can look back and see our humble beginnings, struggling to pay rent in a tiny apartment, then taking the terrifying step of putting our entire life savings down on a house, wondering how we would make the quantum leap of four times our rent to pay a mortgage. Building careers and encouraging each other as we climbed our ladders, trying not to veer off in separate directions, coming back to center to support each other. Then children with all of the joys and strain on a marriage that makes it both stronger and more vulnerable. Handling each obstacle with compromise. Always compromise, the single most valuable skill in living a long-term relationship. Communication opens the door, but compromise is what lets you walk through it and keep walking together hand in hand.

Through these years, there have certainly been times when we questioned whether or not to stay together. Sometimes it felt like we wouldn't make it. Now I understand what the priest meant when he asked us in our first wedding "to live God's love every day." For we have done just that. It isn't this ritual or this moment, but every day's moments, even the bad ones, where we are tested and choose to believe in the value of our lives together. To place faith in our commitment.

The renewal of vows ceremony is much like a wedding ceremony, but saying those vows anew had a deeper, richer, meaning. Now we really knew what we were saying. It is a more realistic promise than the first time, when all the world was still ahead. It is shaped and burnished by many deeds large and small in our daily lives. Standing on the altar, with our children as our witnesses, echoes of us when we were younger, I saw the sweeping image of the time line of our relationship and our family.

And so I honored the pledge that I swore before God and my husband all those years ago. This milestone, this achievement. It wasn't about the party, although it was a joyous celebration, small and intimate where each person there was a special part of our history. It was about acceptance and perseverance. About being more than halfway through life, and having spent half of my life with this man. We have a history that is a foundation now, that feels like it will be our life line in any storm. I'm not naïve enough to think it's clear sailing from here on in, but the years have honed and polished like a worry stone the words we didn't realize were so monumental as we spoke them long ago: "I do." And so I do again.

» The Reader
THE READER                                                   

©2009 By Valerie DeLaCruz            

Breathless and apprehensive, I’m somewhere far away, in a place I’ve never been, a century before I was born.

I’m reading a book.

Reports that books will someday become obsolete as more media converts to online content will never convince me.  There is something about reading a physical book that could never be replaced with data bytes.  The tactile feeling of the cloth cover and leather binding, the heft, the crisp dryness of the pages all adds to the pleasure of the experience.  Oh, I tried downloading books to my iPod, but something is missed.  I found my mind wandering and missing key points, or if listening at bedtime, falling asleep and not being able to find where I was in the story the next night.

I became smitten with reading in the fifth grade.  It was the summer I was allowed to ride my bike alone to the library to use my library card and take out three books at a time.  What a thrill to hold this card with my own name printed on it, a first grown up symbol of my individuality.  Madeline L’Engle and Daphne DuMaurier hooked me good, and years later I enjoyed introducing them to my own children.

Maybe it was even before that, when my third grade teacher, Miss Cummings, would spend a portion of each day reading a chapter from Dr. Doolittle.  Ah, the power of imagination!  Fantastical worlds and creatures came to life in my mind and I could hardly wait to find out what would happen the next day.

Reading poetry by Sara Teasdale and Kahlil Gibran, I was inspired to write my own during adolescence, a source of comfort and expression that transported me without the drugs that many of my friends were using. And the Little Prince was a treasured find that I still read yearly.

Even though I confess to buying books online (I am a loyal member of the Literary Guild, where because of my years of purchases I can buy best sellers at half price with free shipping!), there is something so inviting about stacks of shelves packed with titles created to pique interest and tempt.  The cover art and liner notes, further enticement to get you to open to that first page and begin. 

With over 200,000 books published in the US alone every year, the choices are staggering. I change it up, mixing in historical novels with science fiction, chick-lit and inspirational volumes.  Before I go on a trip, it’s one of the best parts of packing, choosing what worlds of wonder or emotion will accompany me on vacation. 

Learning how to and enjoying reading is the gateway to most knowledge, the way to travel anywhere and a lifelong passion that celebrates imagination as it challenges thought.  When I’m asked what I might like for a gift, I reply that I can always be amused at Barnes & Noble or Borders.  It’s a treat that brings me back to that first library.

Only now I can take out more than three books if I want!

» Swim With the Fishes

©2009 By Valerie DeLaCruz       

     

“Pisces, Virgo rising, is a very good sign, strong and kind…..”

--Kenny Loggins/Jim Messina

I discovered astrology when I was an emotional, impressionable teenager in the late nineteen sixties.  In other words, I was a hippie.

The Zodiac was our bible, a new age guide for all things spiritual.  We poured over charts and symbols and tried to interpret our dreams and personalities through sun signs and the influence of the other “houses.”  Oh it was heady (and sold to us in head shops along with incense, beaded tie dyed, batiked clothing and roach clips).  It was the Age of Aquarius.

I devoured everything I could read about my sun sign, Pisces, and marveled at how many of my personality traits were documented in the stars: creativity, dreaminess, attracted to beauty, artistic, musical, romantic, imaginative, sensitive, compassionate and perceptive.

It also pointed out to me many of the negative characteristics that I was vaguely uneasy about: unrealistic, naïve, gullible, seeing things through rose-colored glasses, easily swayed (the fishes swim both up and downstream and can see both sides of a situation).

But it was a good place to start in paying attention to my essence and improving the way I operated in the world.  It helped me celebrate and nurture my creativity and realize it was so important in my life.  Even today, I read the daily horoscope for clues to watch for in behavior.  It helps me watch my impulsiveness or impatience, a reminder to be more civil or careful: “you could be quite hard on someone without meaning to be.  Remember, honey works better than vinegar.”

I love being a Pisces!  I embrace it for all of its charm, glamour, beauty, artistry and optimism.  And it is tempered by my ascendant, Virgo, a sign known for its pragmatism, logical viewpoint and love of order.  I often wondered why I was rigid in certain areas, and uneasy when wishy-washy.  Once I discovered this other large influencing astrological aspect, it helped me embrace the logical and goal-oriented side of my personality.  This offers a balance that I recognize and use to have a full and satisfying life.

So I will continue to swim upstream, go with the flow, and all the variations a water baby can find.  I’ll respond to the tug of the ocean, the sparkle of sun light on any body of water and the magnificence of the stars above.  I don’t plan my life around my horoscope, (ok, maybe a little), but it is a great guide.

» HOLIDAY TRADITIONS
HOLIDAY TRADITIONS                                                       

©2008 By Valerie DeLaCruz              

This year, there is a sober worry about our finances that has everyone afraid they won’t be able to provide as big and generous a Christmas as usual.  Parents are sitting down with their kids to prepare them that there won’t be as many gifts as they expect.  Retail stores are running television ads that promise you won’t have to let your kids down because they’ve lowered prices and you can still buy lots of items.

Aren’t we missing the point?

I think this “new” idea about a more modest Christmas holiday is long overdue.  How have we gotten to the point where the percentage of increase or decrease in Black Friday sales counts more than our plans to be with our family?  Why have we let our kids have such expectations of material things? And while it may be a cliché, this is the perfect year to really consider the meaning of Christmas and celebrate holiday traditions both new and old.

When I think of my best Christmas memories, they’re rarely gifts I’ve received.  They center more around a feeling I want to recapture.  I remember my mom dressing up me and my three siblings in flannel nightgowns and nightcaps and posing us down the garland-festooned stair railing holding candles to create our Christmas card picture in black and white that still delights when we look at photo albums.  I remember my first Beatles single “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” and playing it incessantly.  Looking out the window after dark on Christmas eve to see the fresh falling snow that looked like sprinkled sparkles, a hushed and perfect scene for snuggling inside with hot cocoa.  The beautiful crèche that my mom passed down to me that mesmerized my imagination as I fantasized that the angel overlooking it came to life after we went to sleep.  It had a single blue Christmas tree bulb that illuminated the tableau with baby Jesus in the manger and the Magi reverently arrayed around Him, and a hidden music mechanism that played “Silent Night” when wound up.  Silent Night is still my favorite Christmas song and always transports me back to that scene when I hear it.

My mom recognized the importance of our imagination and created some beautiful rituals that inspire me still.  She hung a strap of sleigh bells at the front door (we had no chimney for Santa) and gave it a single shake around midnight, thrilling us if we were still wide-eyed awake, but knowing we couldn’t try to “catch” Santa or he would disappear.  When we woke, there would be strands of white “angel hair” strewn around the tree on top of the tinsel, and she told us stories about how when the angels came to bless our house, some of their hair got caught on the tree’s needles.

Last year, I started a tradition that pleased its recipients more than any store-bought gift I could have given: a WHAT I LOVE ABOUT YOU list.  Using one of the holiday desktop publishing stationery packages available at any office supply store, I created short, specific lists of their qualities that makes them special to me. Here is an example that I wrote for my sister:

As part of my Christmas gifts this year,
I’d like to tell you what I love about you:

Your beauty

Your compassion

Your unconditional support

Your optimism

Your talent and creativity

Your homemaking skills

and care of your family

Your gracefulness and strength

And most of all, the way

you make me feel special and loved

Writing, printing and decorating these took more time than agonizing over the “right” item to buy, but it was time well spent in thinking about each loved one rather than rushing crazed through stores and crowds.  And I truly felt like I was giving the gift of my time, love and attention; something they could savor over and over as they reread it over time.

And so I’ve added this new tradition to the old ones of finding a special ornament each year when we travel to add to our collection, and the clams casino my husband makes every Christmas eve (whose absence would cause a riot in our house!), and singing Christmas carols around the piano after dinner.  Because holiday traditions give us comfort, something to depend on, and ultimately reinforce the season’s spirit and what really matters most: giving and sharing.

» Resolutions

RESOLUTIONS
©2008 By Valerie DeLaCruz

I don't make New Year's resolutions anymore. What's the use? They fade from my consciousness about two weeks into January, forced aside as to-do lists and deadlines crowd them out. About November I think sheepishly that I must have had one, but can't be sure what it was, and I know I let it slip. So recently over holiday cocktails with my friend Kelly, the subject came up and I pooh-poohed it. With an impatient groan, I declared my resolution was "no resolutions."

But then she told me about how she comes up with one that she can actually keep all year long. She says the key to a successful resolution is to make it be just one word.

One word.

Now that sounds wonderfully simple on the face of it, but when you have to boil down your hopes and aspirations for a whole year into one word, that word takes on a purpose that calls for real contemplation.

Kelly described her process to arrive at the word. About two months before New Year's, she starts assessing how her year has been going: her challenges, progress, triumphs. She gives a lot of thought to what she would like to have happen for the coming year, what areas are lacking or need improvement. And she doesn't just use an obvious word like "improvement," instead searching for a special word that will delight her each time she thinks of it; one that will inspire her to be influenced by it. When she has one she likes, she researches it in the dictionary and Thesaurus kept on her desk for just this purpose. She lets it roll off her tongue and tries it out. Because she is looking for a word that can be applied to all areas of life: home, work, love, relationships, family, growth and happiness. Last year her word was promise, as in "may each day hold new promise," and for promises made to herself about certain goals.

I really liked this concept. It was like compressing months of journal-writing into a compact, take-it-anywhere-you-go positive reinforcement. I was intrigued and excited about finding a resolution word rather than annoyed at the usually futile attempt to have and keep one. And so we used the rest of the evening to bandy words about, pull some out of the air, debate the pros and cons of several. It made for a wonderful exploration of values. By the last martini, we had numerous ones to take home and ponder.

During that evening in the thick of the holiday season, we talked about shopping and gift-giving. I laughingly told how while shopping, I usually ended up buying something for myself. I had just been to Macy's and fell in love with the wonderful dishware in the new Martha Stewart collection. While describing its simplicity, functionality and great classic design, the word I felt said it best was lovely. Kelly said that was a word worth considering. I looked it up in the dictionary: "charmingly or exquisitely beautiful; having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye; delightful; highly pleasing; of a great moral or spiritual beauty."

As I contemplated my year ahead, I kept coming back to lovely, and considered how it could apply to everything I really wanted to achieve, such as more patience. What if I brought this word to mind in a difficult situation, or squashed my cursing before it came out of my mouth by remembering that I wanted my life to be lovely? Might it inspire me to be more polite, more civil toward others?

Another thing usually on a resolution list is to try and slow down and relax, to not rush around so. Might my thought of "lovely" make me see things with new eyes, and find the beauty and peace around me if I just noticed? To see the uselessness of worrying about things I can't control?

And what if I considered myself to be lovely every day; might that feeling of confidence present itself in my countenance? Would I smile more? And wouldn't my smiles be returned, adding yet more loveliness to every day?

And so I chose lovely as my one-word resolution. Adding this word to my inner dialogue will affect my choices all this year. And to start right in, I don't have it scribbled on a post-it note above my desk; I've had a calligraphic lettering of it set in a beautiful silver frame.

Or should I say, a lovely silver frame.

» The Art Of A Daughter

The Art of a Daughter
First published in print: Sunday, December 9, 2007 - Albany, NY Times Union and then again on WAMC Radio Albany, NY November 2005
© 2007 by Valerie DeLaCruz

I turn the corner at 27th Street and Seventh Avenue and face two-story high windows, reflecting the warm sunshine of a late summer evening. My husband and I are about to surprise our 21 year old daughter, an art student at the New York city college on that corner, where she is having her first exhibit. We've come some distance to be there and show our support, a two and a half hour train ride and taxis through the busy, boisterous city. She is not expecting us.

Walking up to the substantial edifice, we can see her in the front of the atrium space, happily spreading out cheese and Ritz crackers on a folding table, flanked by other students and her teacher, who curated the show, inviting our daughter and two other promising students "whose work was strong" to have a showing in the school's lobby.

She sees her father first through the window, and her eyes snap open wide with delight, her exuberant face showing everything in a moment: recognition, surprise, thrill for the unlikely possibility that he is really there, out of time and place. She bounds out the door and careens around the corner to jump up on him in a child's bear hug that makes her seem like she is six again. She squeals with joyful pleasure and then sees me, a double happiness takeout dream, almost too much to believe. She sheds off of him and charges me like a sprinter coming off the blocks. She holds me in a long, tight squeeze that surprises me and voices physically how important it is to her that we are there.

I take her in, so obviously in her element, surrounded by friends, teachers, other artists and even random people she invited from the subway. She is a brilliant star leading a constellation, confidently juggling everyone as she introduces us all. And the artwork, monumental, hung on a 25 foot high concrete wall, highly textured and abstract, one canvas four feet wide by twelve feet tall. Her audacity to paint so large, to make a great big statement of her ideas and imagination.

As I stand off to the side, I marvel at the whirlwind, the pure force of this person who has blossomed into a new separate being, who still needs me in a way, but who will clearly make it on her own now. I savor the feeling of satisfaction as my mind scrolls through film of her life and my role in it: her stubborn tenacity towards her world view since infancy; insistent, demanding and with verve. Wearing two different colored socks and sneakers at age five because she liked the contrast; asking the principal at her middle school to call an assembly so she could enlighten her classmates about the injustices to women being wrought by the Taliban; painting murals with imbedded pieces of broken glass and fabric on her bedroom walls as a teenager, exploring her angst and vision; finding a way to graduate high school early to get a jumpstart on her "real" life.

I am rewarded, thinking about a lifetime of encouraging her creativity in between discipline and the day-to-day, making opportunities for her to explore, question and develop her own opinions as she fashioned her life and her essence poured out all around her, influencing us all.

I'm stirred from this reverie by yet another professor telling me what a pleasure she is to have as a student, what an exceptional person she is in so many facets, and how grounded and mature she is. But I already know she is remarkable. I'm her mother.

I glimpse the astounding realization that this is just the beginning, that there is way more to witness as my daughter crafts her place in the world. On its heels another revelation as I am released from the pressure to perform as expectations are transferred on to her, as is right; the barely perceptible passing of a torch somehow.

So the evening is a huge success, because we've experienced her successful life. This big apple city is not too big for our girl; the world is her oyster, and I can get back on the train knowing that I put my mother eyes on her and she is fine.

She is more than fine.

She is amazing.

http://timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?
storyID=645245&category=LIFESTORIES&BCCode=&newsdate=12/16/2007#

» The Most Important Day Of My Life

The Most Important Day of My Life
© 2008 by Valerie DeLaCruz

I wanted so much to be clever or profound. I wanted to avoid obvious clichs like my first experience of the ocean, the births of my children or achieving an award. Might it be surviving spinal surgery, or making a music demo that led to a recording contract and television program, or renewing my vows after twenty five years of marriage?

All compelling candidates for the most important day of my life.

Oh, I wrestled with many options: perhaps the powerful feeling of discovery in the world of books with their power to teach and transport, riding my bike miles to the library at age twelve to devour Madeleine L'Engle and Daphne du Maurier. Or the job as an advertising layout artist where I could use my creativity, having resigned myself to a life of unfulfilling clerical work after dropping out of college, learning that there is always another chance, and another way. That persistence and seizing opportunity will reap rewards that giving up without trying never can.

How to pick between being selected Young Careerist of the Year with a speech I adlibbed from notes on index cards written by my mother, my best champion (a mother who inspired me to write a song titled, "My Mom Says I Can"), and the day I found out the lump in my breast wasn't cancer? And the day I surprised my daughter at her college art exhibit to witness her blossoming independence and exuberance, passing on the torch somehow?

Is it intentional that I don't list many adversities or calamities here, though I've certainly had them as much as anyone? It must be; a function of hopefulness and positive thinking. It's the way my mind works, with attributes of confidence and affirmation.

I have an extravagance of fabulous jubilant days, and stowed-away suitcases full of dark joyless ones. It is the weaving of these contrasting highlights into the plain old regular one-foot-in-front-of the-other-days that allows me to reflect wistfully and gratefully on an abundant wealth of memories.

But the more I try to pick the most important day of my life, I realize it can only be today.

Because today is the day I have right now; it is the day I will use all of my experiences from all of the important days that have shaped who I am, and the promise of what I continue to become.

So maybe I really do have a most important day: the one when I recognized that my attitude could color every situation; that I could choose to be happy, and no one else could for me; that even if depression wormed its way into my psyche, if hardship hammered me, they couldn't have lasting power over me. And this optimism has led me willingly through my 50 plus years' worth of days, illuminating my belief that tomorrow is another day, another fabulous today.

» The Round Table - Sweet Tea

The Round Table
Weekly Essays 9-15-2006
Sweet Tea
First published on WAMC Radio 9-15-2006
©2006 By Valerie DeLaCruz

Sweet.

Tall.

Free refills.

I am addicted to sweet tea.

That nectar of the south, a secret weapon to draw unwitting visitors into its fold.

My sister moved to a little town in Georgia last year from the heart of America, Minnesota. On my first visit to her new home, we went out shopping for accessories to complete her dcor. We hadn't gone far when she veered into a parking lot and lined up in the drive-through of Chick-fil-A, a fast food restaurant specializing in (what else?) fried chicken.

"You've got to try this sweet tea, Valerie, it's delicious!"
"Sweet tea?"
"Yeah, that's what they call iced tea here."
I didn't notice her over-eagerness as she ordered up two large cups. Perhaps she had the shakes, I'm not sure. After she handed me one of them, I took a sip and almost gagged.

"Yikes, this is sickeningly sweet!" I cried. I dumped out half of it and added water from my Aquafina bottle.

Here in the north, we have our regional beverages, too. There's warm apple cider in the fall and eggnog that comes once a year at holiday time. Something to anticipate, recalling changing seasons and scarves and mittens. But this basic quaff of the Dixie states is available year round, as common as a deer tick on a coon hound (see, it does something to you!)

I never got this way about Kool-Aid or Tang or even Bosco. Maybe it's the caffeine. Not being a coffee drinker I thought I was immune from the daily morning habit of everyone around me.

Nah, it must be the sugar. That shocking blast of overstimulation that we attempt to keep from our children with a good-mom snack of carrot sticks instead of Oreos.

Days passed and my trip was almost over. We stopped for some sweet tea on another one of our jaunts and I ordered mine "half and half:" half unsweetened and half sweetened. That was better. I thought I could get used to it. Little did I know.Safely home up in Yankee territory, I indulged in Diet Coke and the occasional chai tea latte at Starbucks. Sweet tea never entered my mind.

Then I bought a condo on the Georgia coast.

I started monthly trips there to furnish it and visit my sister. Wandering around like a catfish out of water and testing out y'alls all over town, I had the inevitable southern beverage of choice: sweet tea (half and half) with almost every meal.

At first it was innocuous, a regular 12 ounce cup with a sandwich. Gradually, I found myself taking advantage of free refills, and adding less of the unsweetened tea, the proportion careening toward the full monty. Finally, I just gave in. I knew I had it bad when I started anticipating which drive-through was closest to the airport while I was on the plane about to land in Savannah.

Now I just accept it.

I surrender.

The war between the states' brews is over for me.

"I'll have the extra large sweet tea, please, and hurry!"

Did I mention the biscuits?

WAMC/Northeast Public Radio
P.O. Box 66600
Albany, NY 12206

Telephone Numbers:

Main Office: (518)465-5233 / (800)323-WAMC (9262)
Fax: (518) 432-6974
Newsroom Fax: (518) 432-0991
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Press Releases and Media Advisories: [email protected]

» The Round Table - The Reluctant Mother

The Round Table
Weekly Essays 12-9-05
The Reluctant Mother
First published on WAMC Radio 12-6-05
©2005 By Valerie DeLaCruz

I was a reluctant mother.

My husband gave me an ultimatum about having children and I acquiesced. I spent much of my kids' childhood being resentful of the monumental change that took place in my life when they came into it. I was the one who was trapped with the arrangements, managing schedules, and the day-to-day raising them while he was out of town on business (living it up with adults!) most of the week. Juggling and trying to "have it all:" being a mother, a lover, an entrepreneur, an artist and friend, and I didn't always think I was doing a good job.

Then I got a DVD player and it opened my eyes.

It gave me an excuse to collect all of our VHS tapes of family movies to convert them into DVDs. They were gathering dust all over the house and we hadn't watched one in years.

Back home after picking up the shiny new DVDs and sitting on the couch with my now-teenaged children, we put on the first one. They didn't follow any chronological order: sledding down our tiny backyard hill followed splashing through the waves on a beach in Maine. But slowly, as each unfolded, I was struck with wonder.

Watching the DVDs, it hit me just how wrong I had been. There were my children, Alex and Mike, sitting at their own little table and chairs having their meals together; laughing out loud and then jumping on the bed in silly game they made up pretending that they were scarecrows and then moving as if alive to surprise me. There was the easel set up in the driveway with 4 giant cups of tempera paints, newspapers underneath to catch the spills, and Alex in an apron painting something abstract ("why does it need to be anything?") that foretold of her pursuit of her college degree in art. There was Mike, Alex and two friends lying on the floor against the couch covered up so cozily under a down comforter, on mounds of pillows from every room in the house, each with their own bowl of popcorn and watching a movie, broad grins on their faces like this was the way EVERY night is around here! Splashing bubbles on each other in the bathtub (and groaning as we watch it now, embarrassed of their nudity when back then, being just in their skin was as natural as anything). Yearly family vacations in Maine where they would spend hours looking for a tiny crab hidden under a rock in the tide-pools and squeal with delight when they discovered one.

Looking at these images, I realized what a wonderful life I had made for them, but what a wonderful life they had made for me too, and here was the proof. What joy I could take in knowing that giving them a comfortable, safe and fun existence was a calling. Tears welled in my eyes as the reluctance I had worn like a badge was transformed at that moment into realization, acceptance, and finally, celebration. And suddenly I knew; all of my other aspirations could never be as fulfilling as the gift the new DVD player gave me: the sight of my happy children, my true masterpiece.

WAMC/Northeast Public Radio
P.O. Box 66600
Albany, NY 12206

Telephone Numbers:

Main Office: (518)465-5233 / (800)323-WAMC (9262)
Fax: (518) 432-6974
Newsroom Fax: (518) 432-0991
National Productions Fax: (518) 465-2823

Press Releases and Media Advisories: [email protected]

» The Round Table Island Eyes

The Round Table
Weekly Essays 12-9-05
Island Eyes
First published on WAMC Radio 2-9-06
©2005 By Valerie DeLaCruz
518-505-1659
[email protected]

Last spring I took a vacation to Cat Island in the Bahamas with a lifelong friend to celebrate our fiftieth birthdays. This isolated, small out-island has a population of about 1700 and is still unspoiled by resort development. In fact, the few places that offer accommodations have no more than a dozen rooms or cabins. We chose Cat Island for its contrast to the pace of our daily life.

My inspiration for treasuring this time away is found in Anne Morrow Lindbergh's book Gift of the Sea. My favorite line is:"I must remember to see with island eyes." I take that to mean slowing down and noticing small and simple things, and shedding need of hustle and possessions. But I think it is also advice for long after you've left; reminding you to try and retain that peaceful perspective when you are back home.

Our charming rental was named "Point House" for being the last house on the point at Fernandez Bay, a pristine mile-long stretch of beach with brilliant turquoise water to feast our city eyes on. After settling into this ceiling-fan-cooled modest house made of indigenous coral rock and wood, we developed a leisurely routine. With no telephone, television, cell phone service or motorized distractions, our bodies slowly sank into the easy rhythm of island life. Our day started with an hour-long morning walk, then a late breakfast on the patio. A beach stroll and a chair with umbrella set up for reading and watching waves was followed by swimming in the clearest water; cool salad and conch fritters for lunch, a drowsy hammock nap, more swimming, and a sea shell quest at water's edge. Then a game of Scrabble was accompanied by Red Stripe beers and cheese and crackers on the beach to watch the sun lowering. Back to the house for open-air showers, candlelight dinner surprise after sunset, more Scrabble, wine, and finally bedtime around 9:30pm. Somewhere along the way, worries, stresses and cares dissolved, evaporating with the breeze.

Now to tell the truth, I like my hectic life, thriving on the stimulation of juggling six things at once and cramming to meet a deadline; that sense of accomplishment and productivity. Like the Pisces that I am, I want to swim both up and down stream, toward the lazy sun-dappled waterfall and through the bone-crushing current. But there is something so refreshing and rejuvenating about the unhurried island life, where your biggest decision is between a marguerita and a Corona. I want to guard this leisurely light-heartedness, carry this precious treasure home in my suitcase to call on when I get bogged down.

So today I greeted everyone I met with a smile, and said "Good morning!" despite their sometimes cautious replies. I took a quiet moment to enjoy a meal and watch what the sky did. I didn't rush through anything. I called my loved ones to hear their voices and told stories that made us laugh. Luxuriating in the feeling of mellow contentment, I picked up and examined the shell I brought back as a souvenir. While I am hanging on to letting go, it is the charm I will use to remind me to see with island eyes.

WAMC/Northeast Public Radio is a regional public radio network serving parts of seven northeastern states. These include New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Stations and translators are in ten locations throughout the region. Alan Chartock is President and CEO of the network. Our studios and offices are located at 318 Central Avenue in Albany, NY.

WAMC/Northeast Public Radio is a member of National Public Radio and an affiliate of Public Radio International.

E-Mail:[email protected]

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WAMC/Northeast Public Radio
P.O. Box 66600
Albany, NY 12206

Telephone Numbers:

Main Office: (518)465-5233 / (800)323-WAMC (9262)
Fax: (518) 432-6974
Newsroom Fax: (518) 432-0991
National Productions Fax: (518) 465-2823

Press Releases and Media Advisories: [email protected]

» What Happened To Tom Petty And Me

What Happened to Tom Petty and Me?
First published on WAMC 10-2006
©2006 By Valerie DeLaCruz

Is it me, or does Tom Petty look like the scarecrow from the Wizard of Oz?

I mean, I love his music, and he can still rock out with the best of them, but it sure was hard to look at him up on that 40 foot screen at the concert I went to this year. It was an uncomfortable reminder of what us baby boomers don't seem to want to admit.

We're getting old.

I look for myself in recent pictures and don't find me. I see my mother. Ouch, wait a minute, that IS me! But why do I still feel like I did when I was seventeen? Why can't the outside of me match the inside of me?

Why are the guys that flirt with me balding or gray? I'm looking at the thirty year old guys (yikes! I could be their mother!) wondering why they call me "m'am" all the time.

I hate that.

I guess it was inevitable. It should have been clear to me when I haven't been able to find a comfortable pair of jeans in years. Why are they still making those blasted low rise jeans? Do they seem to get lower each season instead of higher? Thank heavens for stretch pants! I keep waiting for the return of the style I like (up over my waist, holding in my gut and smoothing down to a nice bell-bottom that evens out the proportion of the shape I imagine I still have). After all, hip-huggers came back.

They just won't leave.

And it's not just me. My husband still proudly proclaims that he's worn the same size pants for the last twenty years. He apparently hasn't also noticed that the waist is down somewhere where he can't see it.

And my slacks are getting shorter too. I wear shoes with heels less and less. Slacks have to be shorter with flat shoes. And I don't seem as tall..

I flatly refuse to believe the doctor after she measures me at my annual check-up and pronounces that I'm 5'-7."

"No way, " I insist. "I'm 5'-8."

"Not anymore," she replies. "And you weigh 155 pounds."
It seems I'm getting shorter and wider.

Tom Petty must cringe when he looks back at his old album covers.

It's a good thing that I have all those pictures around the house. Ones taken over the years, in the good old days, freezing a moment in time. Because I'm never going to look or feel better again than I do right now. I'll look back at the pictures from today in ten years and exclaim, "Boy I sure looked young and thin then."

And I was.