All posts by letters from val

Living in gratitude,

4 Lessons From My Father

Hi Friends,

Last night, I spoke to my father on Skype for over an hour, because there was much to catch up on. His directness, combined with his no-nonsense tone, over the years, has never ceased to amaze, amuse or annoy me, and that has been mutual. Strangely, he encouraged my childhood precociousness, but that outspokenness and verve led to many of our clashes. “Children are to be seen and not heard” wasn’t a maxim used in my house, but I know, as the child and not peer, I overly exercised the right to speak a few times.

It’s always been said that we’re too much alike, and therein lay many of our conflicts; however, now that I’m many years beyond my “problem years,” I can see that he’s done what only a parent can– be brutally honest for the greater good. We’ve both mellowed out a lot. (It had to happen, right?)

With time, I’m recognizing some of the lessons he tried to impart, that completely infuriated me then, and the new ones that I really appreciate:

1) Be responsible with your money. Once, when I was 23, I asked my father to borrow $40, to which he answered  “No.” I couldn’t believe it, ’cause I needed the cash, and I knew that he had it. It all seemed so unfair and selfish that it rankled me to the core. Why should I be held accountable for the money I earned, when there was cash that could be borrowed. I never forgot that, and it took years for me to see that he was right. I, also, never forgot that a week later he sent me a check for $200 to “help,” and a note about money management. (The message is just now registering.)

2) Show up on time. Jamaicans are allergic to clocks, and watches (except as fashion statements), but my father shows up early for every occasion. It’s so un-Jamaican of him– this punctuality thing, and it must boil down to his many years of living and working in New York. I hear there may be others like him, but I’ve never met them. He once told me that a funeral we were attending started two hours earlier than it really did, because he wanted me to get there at 1pm, the designated time. When I showed up late, and somewhat amused that I had been deceived, he only replied that if he’d said the correct time, we would have been late and disrespectful to the family of the deceased. Point taken. It’s only in the last three years that the message has taken root. Time is the most valuable commodity anyone has, and someone who shows up late (repeatedly) doesn’t know its worth.

3) Be good to others. There was a childhood Christmas that I distinctly remember where my brother and I had to choose the gift we liked the most, drive with our parents to an impoverished neighborhood, and give it to a less fortunate child. The lessons that were important to learn then were: 1) We were fortunate to have what we had, and our good fortune should be shared 2) No one is beneath or above us, especially not due to finances. We’re connected on a deeper level. 3) Giving feels even better than receiving.

4) Be crazy. There were three things that my father said to me constantly while growing up, “Ma nishtana halila hazeh,” (loosely translated as “Why should this day be different from any other”), “Lusmishinup,” (spelling and language unknown– but essentially, “Shut up” said affectionately), and “I’m going crazy, you wanna come?” There were times in my childhood when we’d be sitting around, and my father would get the car keys and say, “I’m going crazy, you wanna come?” The act of spontaneity, the getting up and going on an adventure, always resulted in happiness. Mind you, the “crazy” was never very crazy at all– Devon House for an ice-cream cone, a drive around town, to the house of one his friends for conversation where I played with one of the kids or listened to the adults talk about things I couldn’t understand as someone’s pipe smoke lingered over my head, a drive for a patty, a respite from the ordinariness of life. In all my years, my travels have never been as exciting as going along for the ride and “going crazy,” and I’ve never forgotten that it’s important to get up and get moving sometimes.

Last night, my father said, “What’s this India thing I read on your blog? How many pieces of you are there that you still need to find yourself?” He made me laugh, though his question was serious. There are so many pieces of all of us, discoverable and undiscoverable, but I’m so thankful to my father that many identifiable pieces are whole and intact– awareness, esteem, humor. He was never a softie, or the teddy bear type of dad, but his actions spoke of many things incommunicable by words.



Can’t Hide With Only Words

Pretending got harder and harder. — Margie Joseph (Words Are Impossible)

Dear Friends,

Two nights ago, an old friend sent me a picture of us and two other friends from ten years ago. It’s amazing how those ten years flew by, and though at times it seems like decades ago not just ten, it also seems like just yesterday.

After reminiscing for a moment with her via email about how we’ve become better, mentally and emotionally, and a teeny bit gray and lined physically, we both agreed that we wouldn’t go back ten years, if given the choice. I just really want to know why strength, insight and wisdom comes hand in hand with wrinkles.

To face when something is gone is the hardest thing I’ve done. — Margie Joseph

As a woman, it’s hard to age; let me not speak for all women, it’s been hard for me, and judging from the media bombardment of hair dyes, youth-enhancing creams and every pill, botox and collagen ads, it’s difficult for many. Aging doesn’t bother me as much as the idea that women don’t have the luxury to live freely without thinking of their reproductive capabilities. It’s true that ten years ago, and last week, I said I didn’t want children, but that will soon be a decision that’s not mine to make. My body will decide. Then? That biological clock that many of my female friends have heard, (and even one or two of my male friends), has never sounded in my ears, or alarmed at my ovaries, but if and when it does, then what? That’s a decision to live with without regret. A relationship hasn’t come where starting a life was even on the table, and having a child simply for the sake of it or because time was running out, also was never an option. Men can live their thirties, forties, and even fifties, then decide how they want to proceed. Women have a window….when the window slams down, it’s paperwork; if you’re a Hollywood actress that window is seemingly forever partially open.

Stronger, I was weak, but I’m growing much stronger. If you give me a little more time, the more I find myself, the more I find. — Margie Joseph

Aging is fantastic; what’s the alternative? Though I complain, and profess to hate birthdays, I wouldn’t trade gaining another year’s experience for avoiding what amounts to just a number, and possibly a broken clock. What a joy it has been to experience the ten years that have gone– the countries visited, the friends, the shattering and enlarging of my heart by losing friends, losing loves, the people met, the beautiful landscapes, the awakenings, the— -….the all of it. Every challenge just makes us/ has made me stronger.

Just a little more time now, I’ll get stronger. And, I’ll get stronger. One day, I’ll get stronger. — Margie Joseph.




The Lure of Tokyo

Dear Friends,

It’s 12:26am, and I should be dreaming of houses by the beach and surfers coming in to shore, but I just came in from my private lesson and feeling far from drowsy. My private student works in the financial industry, and leaves work quite late, so our lessons start late and run until almost midnight. His English is excellent, thus we converse about all sorts of things for ninety minutes or so. I guess we’re the other’s sounding board, except one of us leaves more financially stable than when we greeted. (Thank heavens, ’cause some days my pockets are oh too light.)

We meet in a karaoke bar’s private room, because the rooms are quiet (except for the atrocious singing nearby), and you can drink as much as you’d like for one set price. As you know though, since Ubud, I haven’t drunk alcohol. My drink of choice is hot oolong tea, which has tremendous health benefits and is reputed to be great for one’s metabolism. He drinks whiskey sours, and/or beer. He asked me tonight why I’m being so restrictive with myself, “No beer, no meat,” to which I replied that I have no judgements at all about those things, and if one chooses to eat them or not, but I have no taste for them at the moment. If you don’t want something, it doesn’t hurt if you can’t have it, right? Unfortunately, my feelings about Nutty Buddies and Snickers bars aren’t the same.

In Ubud, I met quite a few people who had visited Rishikesh and Mysore, and they opened my eyes to the incredible beauty of those places, and what could be learned from time spent there– in regards to yoga and meditation. For the last week or so, I’ve been looking at ashrams in both places. Honestly, my only thoughts of India had been that it was overly-crowded and hectic.  When I told my boss that I wanted to move my resignation up a bit, so that I could visit India before Jamaica, he asked me if I was “doing an Eat Pray Love thing.” He made me laugh, because I hadn’t thought about it that way, though Ubud is rife with the book’s presence. However, a yoga retreat, or a meditation retreat, is the natural next step if you’ve become in love with yoga. It’s not that India is the place that I must go in order to do so, but the fact that I’m in Tokyo makes it cheap and convenient to get there.

My student O urged me to not to get “too religious,” but I countered by saying that it’s not about “religion” in a technical sense at all. He asked me if I believed in God, and we spoke at length about my interpretation of God, which isn’t defined by Christianity, the religion I was born into, or any other organized religion that I have a modicum of knowledge about. Truly religious people would find my views sacrilegious, though I find biblical verses to be gorgeous and helpful; just as I do Rumi, Buddhist principles, etc. It  puzzles me how some spend hours in church one or two days a week and behave far from “godly,” kind, and all-loving. O stated that if I sit in meditation all the time that I would become obsessed with God, but I already feel that God is everywhere, so my intention is to find clarity in silence.

He asked me what would happen after India, and I spoke to him about my future plans. He asked why I don’t stay in Jamaica for awhile– but, how can I live somewhere where I can’t ride my bicycle at night? As I rode home, the lure of Tokyo came over me, and I realized why it’s been so hard to leave this place. It’s so safe, so easy, so convenient– almost too much so. I thought, “Why not stay six more months, save some money, then move on?” The 24-hour everything, the affordable, cramped, yet comfortable living, the short, moderate seasons, the excellent customer service–it certainly is a trap. As I said to him, I must say to myself, and to you, “Prioritize what is important; what you want to see each day; who you want to spend time with; how you want to live;” then, the answer will come. Silence in India isn’t needed for that clarity, just a pen and a notebook.




Elevate Your Mood

Do you not know that we are fearfully and marvelously made? That we have been custom-designed to play a unique role in history, that is separate and distinct from anybody else in the world? Nobody else has your fingerprint, nobody else has your voice print, nobody else will ever be you. There’s never been a you before, there’ll never be a you after you, you’re in a class all by yourself. — T.D Jakes

Dear Friends,

These days I’m feeling euphoric, so much so that I’ve restarted the glad list for a week of gratitude. (I know some of you are highly annoyed by extreme bursts of joy and “gladness,” so please skip this until you’re in a better mood…or maybe, by some chance something in here will lighten your mood.) Fingers crossed.

The point of the glad list is to start noting things, no matter how small, that put a smile on your face. It’s been scientifically proven that you can elevate your mood by training your thoughts to be more positive.So here goes:

1) As you know, I’m moving to Germany in a few months, so last night my wonderful friend D left a German cd with eighteen lessons in my locker at work. I did lesson 1 twice, and it’s exciting that I can now say , “No, I don’t understand German,” “I understand English,” “I understand a little German,” “Do you understand English?” Awesome friends and a little more knowledge is something to be glad about.

2) In Ubud, I had a session with a nutritionist and spoke for an hour about the foods I should and shouldn’t be eating. Granted, I could’ve bought a book or done the research, but meeting with the nutritionist was fantastic, because she looked at my nails, tongue and eyes to see what was lacking. It’s easy to eat well in Ubud, because the town is devoted to health, but when I came back to Tokyo, I fell, again, into bad habits– chocolate, popsicles, pasta almost everyday, cheese, cheese and more cheese. (Let’s be honest, everything tastes better with cheese.)

Two weeks, it hit me that my diet really needed to change, so I’ve been eating an abundance of vegetables, nuts, some fruit, and drinking much green tea and water. I’ve been cooking the vegetables, for only a few minutes, with garlic, olive oil and a touch of sea salt, and I must tell you that my energy is through the roof and my skin is smoother. Eat your veggies!


3) On the blog, Bodhi, I came across the greatest post (, which introduced the blog Zen Habits ( Zen Habits is an amazing blog filled with tips on living simply, more centered, and with purpose.  So for the millionth time, I hope I’ve finally broken my Facebook habit. I hadn’t been on in awhile, but last night I deactivated the account altogether. Last week, before even reading Zen Habits, I’d disconnected my cellphone service (smartphone’s are a trap), so I’m reachable only twice a day via the Internet (email (, Skype, and LINE). It’s freeing not to be constantly checking for email updates, etc or have to answer messages immediately or be filled with guilt; if you didn’t know, now you know. So, what’re you glad about?

This is your moment, this is your day. Everything you’ve gone through in the past was getting you ready for this moment right now!– T.D Jakes




And It Goes On…

Dis long time gal mi neva see you, come mek mi hol’ yuh hand.– (Long Time Gal, Jamaican folk song)

Dear Friends,

What a sunny day it is today! There’s a warm breeze blowing through the open window; as I sit here at the kitchen table, light graces the room. It certainly is a day to walk to the river, lie on the grass, look up at the cloudless sky, and daydream while eating chilled apple slices and bursting, blackish-purple grapes

First dream: .There’s a brown girl in the ring. Then you skip across the ocean….(Brown Girl in the Ring, Jamaican Folk Song)

This morning, I submitted my resignation notice. As you know, there’s been a back and forth going on in my head about what to do next, and the answers are all falling into place like Connect Four pieces. In a few short months, three to be exact, I’ll be skipping across oceans and seas and time zones to Jamaica for a few weeks– four to be exact. It’s been over three years since I’ve seen the green, brown and blue faces of Jamaica– the ragged mountains, the swaying hills, the open seas; hugged anyone in my family, been hugged by anyone in my family; seen flowers opening to meet the day; peeled and devoured plums and mangoes not found on this continent; woken up in a nest of pillows under the beating sun; been in rooms of chocolate, caramel, vanilla latte, peanut brittle, and pecan, smiling people; drunk a glass of sorrel served with the blackest cake; heard accents that I recognize as familiar– the falling and rising; the urgency of language; the patois, the sweet creole mix heard when my ears opened to this earth. Jamaica! (When I told my mother I was coming to Jamaica in early December, she reacted exactly as I would if I’d heard that Michael Jackson had risen from the dead and was performing at Tokyo Dome.) 

Second dream:

After the warmth of Jamaica, it’ll be time to descend into the winter of Dusseldorf, Germany where I’ve accepted a part-time job teaching English. Incredibly, it’s possible to obtain a visa for part-time work, but then what to do with the extra time– learn German, yoga teacher’s training, take a jewelry design class, study mento? See, the figuring what to do never ends. The thought of living on yet another continent (#4), meeting new people, living in a much bigger place (anyplace would be bigger than the living space I have in Tokyo), and being challenged puts a huge smile on my face. Ultimately, it’ll be the time to figure out a career path. Life is long, as much as it’s short.

Finga mash nuh cry, memba play we a play. — (Emmanuel Road, Jamaican folk song)

We were taught folk songs in elementary school, sometimes formally, and other times on the playground. It was important for our teachers to impart our culture and impress upon us the significance of our heritage. Though many of the Jamaican folk songs are upbeat, some are mournful– created for laborers to survive backbreaking conditions that didn’t break them. In short, the songs epitomize life– the soaring moments, the challenges, the triumphs, and the darkest days. However, every song teaches us that this life, as hard as it may be, and how persecuted we may seem at times, is just a game.

Third dream:

It amazes me that just when you thought you’re holding as much as love as you can handle, the heart expands. There’s always room to love more: more people, more places, more food, more books, more songs, etcetera, etcetera. The love never stops, never ends, but there’s a core to every heart that the love is built around. When the sun starts going down on my life, the wind slightly stirs the leaves, the trees lower their branches to meet me, a ska guitar is heard in the distance, there should be voices of love around me; someone’s hand should be on my cheek; it should be said, “Yes, that was a life well-lived,” and those words should rest in the tree in my view. So you see my friends, it’s time to start finding and truly living a life that one can be proud of.

Much love,


Nothing is Permanent

“There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 

Dear Friends,

I’m at a crossroads. Every three years or so I get a feeling where I know I can’t stay where I am anymore, but I’m not exactly certain where I should be. I’m not sure why the itch comes without fail, but it comes and rapidly spreads until I can’t think of anything but leaving. If my life were a parable, it would be time to return to home, rediscover or discover my roots, be surrounded by family and those who’ve known and loved me, and quell this insurgence in me. However, it’s not time yet to go home, wash the travel off myself, and be surrounded by the familiar. I wonder though how much of anything will be familiar after all this distance, prolonged time and separation. How long was the prodigal son gone? Maybe, it took him more time to squander his wealth than me?

Oh, I’ve been prodigal. Do you remember the excitement I hardly contained when  moving to Tokyo? I imagined working hard, and saving a sizable amount of money. From watching an episode of House Hunters International, I was under the impression that I could teach in Tokyo and save enough money to invest in something; buy something of value; start to build a life for myself somewhere else. The couple on House Hunters International worked in Tokyo for a few years and managed to save enough money to buy a bright, spacious house in Central America. Three years later, I’m here with not much saved, and still the need to go.

As I sit here, I think of how much I’ve depended on my family. If there’s a problem, I usually think I need to solve it myself, which, in hindsight, has led to pain that could’ve been released, lessened, or avoided.  If the problem is financial, I look first at myself, then to my mother, then brother, then father in turn– even at this age, but who else would I turn to? JP Morgan Chase? If the problem is emotional, again, I look to myself first. It has been difficult to turn to friends for advice, input in my life processes, and even sometimes as an ear or shoulder to lean on. However, I’ve found with time that what I perceived as weakness would’ve been strength. Holding my thoughts  to my chest and hiding my feelings has done more harm than good. In Ubud, I felt down on one particular day, so I put on my pink floral dress, did my makeup and twisted my hair nicely, because I remembered hearing and internalizing that the worse you feel, the better you should look. “The world doesn’t have to know that you’re having a bad day.” (You know what, it’s okay if the world knows you’re having a bad day, because pretending everything’s great’s not going to help anyone, least of all you.)

So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!”

When I was 24, on a trip to Jamaica, I visited my uncle and his wife on a Sunday morning for brunch. His wife was worried about the way my life was shaping up, and expressed that, to which he replied, “It doesn’t matter. You can do anything you want, and if you don’t like what you’re doing, do something else. Nothing is permanent.” His words have stayed with me ever since, and I don’t know if they’ve been a blessing or a curse, because those words underlie the feeling of non-urgency behind most of my decisions. Contrarily, his brother, my father’s words usually contained the phrase, “Valerie, get your act together.” They’re both right.

And, here I am “starving to death” for an answer of what to do and where to go and who to meet and why I am?

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

There’s something that I’m looking for; I went to the yoga mat, and I came to the computer. I went inside and practiced silence, and now I’ve come here talking to you.  If this life were a parable, after this long journey, I would put my bag down at the door…no, I’d put my bag down in the driveway. The day would be hot, but there would be a slight breeze; my eyes would be closed, but my arms would be open. I would hug, be hugged, and there would be tears of joy. But, this life isn’t a parable, and I’m still in a foreign land trying to figure out what to do.

Take care,