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Birthday Blog 2020 ~ What a Difference a Year Makes

While I won't reveal my age, I can say life is passing by faster than I'm comfortable with. Last year on my birthday, I was in Firenze enjoying Italy and all the beauty it has to offer. I hadn't traveled there since I was 19 on a fashion study trip with college, and I felt more myself away from what I grew up with. At the age of 19, everything is possible so I predicted that I'd return frequently. Life presented many paths and unexpected hurdles but the opportunity to journey back to Europe took decades to arrive. I began to write about the steep hills and winding roads of life and suddenly, I'm back in Italy just as I wrote about in my book, "Caution Mermaid Crossing, Voyages of a Motherless Daughter" where in one of the essays, I describe feeling more at home in Italy than I ever did in my own family home. I wrote how I longed to go back and recapture that sublime feeling once again.

I actually manifested in real-time what I wrote in my book. I never could have imagined that it would take decades to get there and how going through the unimaginable life threatening crisis, which not only led me to completing a book, but would lead me to an organization that sponsored my trip to Cortona (Tuscany) to share my workshop, "Healing and Living Through Color" with sister survivors.

When my ticket was presented by a sponsor who donated miles and my friend and director of the organization asked when I wanted to return, I quickly replied, one month. It became the adventure of a lifetime. Although I had a very small budget; the airline lost my bag for 5-days and I had to retrieve it myself at the Florence airport; jet lag followed me for several days; got lost quite a bit in a foreign country, I was in heaven. Before departing, people asked me about how I'd feel spending my birthday on my ow in Florence. I said, "Who cares, I'll be in Italy." And, it's true. I've spent plenty occasions on my own in Santa Barbara and thrilled for the change of scenery.

The interesting thing about a life-threatening illness is that the mind goes on auto pilot and you lose all track of time. My birthday came a couple months after my diagnosis July 2013 resulting in a radical double mastectomy. I was not so stable. My friends gathered for a celebration at the Biltmore by the sea and I remember wearing heels to feel better about my femininity since the loss of one's breasts tends to lower self-esteem; something I've struggled with my whole life. I felt off-balance in self and in heels. But I was grateful to be alive and with good friends. That was September 29, 2013 and what I couldn't have imagined that the complications from staph infection would result in 9 surgeries over a total of 6 1/2 years. So, finding myself in Italy before that final surgery January, 2020 was the best gift I could've had bestowed upon me.

* * *

When challenges came about traveling on my own in Italy, I carried on with the same attitude--Who cares, I'm in Italy. I felt more included and more myself in a foreign country. Why is that? I've been contemplating it ever since. I do know that the lifestyle suits me. I was on such a high when I returned home but I hit the ground running putting one fire out after the next. Challenges prevailed. Another big surgery in January where I isolated in recovery for weeks and as I started to get past brutal pain, a pandemic hit and deeper isolation ensued. We had no leadership with proper preparation and a plan, but one who ignored the warnings, displaying a blatant disregard for the seriousness of Corona virus and certainly no hope for the US being a leader to other countries where we united to contain the virus in a timely manner.

In the year that I've been back from Italy, I've been worn down and worn out from the worst administration I've witnessed in my lifetime. Corruption, collusion, fraudulent acts, shameful racism, laws of the constitution broken, and Democracy crushed barely hanging on. Between the isolation completely on my own, and an authoritarian administration wreaking havoc on this country and causing more than half its people to be in a disturbed and distressed state-of-being, I'm ready to escape--escaping to either a deserted island where my mermaid essence shines or back to Italy.

* * *

My birthday in Italy was a day of wandering and presenting me lively conversations with waiters that treated me to an espresso and a shot of an interesting liqueur-like drink to celebrate my day; a tremendous exhibit by Leonardo Da Vinci showing his scientific/botanist genius, to an accidental destination at the Ponte Vecchio where I stared at ancient beauty and history for an indeterminable time, and then walked over the bridge to Piazza Santo Spirito Square for an early birthday dinner. Calorie awareness was not a part of my ordering decision. I was in one of the more romantic cities in the world on my own for my birthday and I was content, happy and grateful to be alive. I listened to the chatter amongst crowded tables and the sound of a lovely fountain in the middle of the square. Sitting with a lover to enjoy the moment instead of a table for one where I'd gaze at the love of my life sitting across from me to celebrate my birthday may have been preferable but I felt embraced by the warm day, the warmth of the people surrounding me, and the warmth of my own spirit ignited by adventure and possibility.

* * *

In the time of Libra and Corona: A social distanced birthday this year was spent at my favorite Italian restaurant in Santa Barbara by the invitation from a friend. It was my 2nd official outing (don't count Trader Joes, pharmacy, Dr appointments...AKA necessities) in seven months. I was thrilled to order inside with a mask, sit in the corner of the patio with my friend and have a conversation with an interesting, like-minded friend for a yummy

meal where the owner of the restaurant (a friend) comped me a glass of Rose wine. Before I went out, I said to myself, "I'm sick of quarantine yoga pants, I'm dressing up!" And, I did. I wore a dress, heels, and makeup and it felt so novel and I felt so human... and feminine.

What a Difference a Year Makes

A few days ago in the early morning hours, while the fog lay thick outside my door and sitting on my sofa with tea, I felt a distinct thick layer inside. It dawned on me that it was a layer of loneliness so palpable, I could cut it with a knife. I sipped my tea and stared at trees.

In-the-time-of-Libra-and-Corona, most of us have been isolated. But, many are isolated with family or a partner (a bubble of friends) but some of us are solo isolated, which is my scenario. I've had corona brain and Trump stress causing me to lose track of time and not be as productive or sleep well. Can anyone relate? It's been a couple months since I've written a blog essay and I attribute it to what I mentioned above.

According to Trump, we heard that it's just a flu that would magically disappear, a Democratic hoax; displaying casual disregard for an infectious disease, intentionally and proudly not wearing a mask, dismissing medical experts who disappeared from the scene, purposely and dangerously downplaying and continuing to downplay a pandemic leading to more than 200,000 deaths, all of which didn't pay off so well when the GOP gathered at an event Sept. 26th without masks or social distancing, which resulted in Trump getting Corona along with many other GOP 'non'-leaders. Does everyone struck with Covid airlifted to the best hospital and surrounded by 20 medical experts with the most advanced drugs??? NO!

Here's what I've decided and it's a statement laced with a bit of sarcasm. According to my chart done by a professional, I have three planets in Scorpio (including my moon) so I'm extending my birthday until November 3rd and asking for an extended present: Vote and vote Trump OUT--Save our country and save OUR Democracy--Vote Blue & Vote Early (drop ballot at secure drop box instead of strained USPS) to not only vote Trump out but for qualified leadership who'll do right by the people during a pandemic, take action on the critical Emergency issue of Climate Change so evident in California with extreme fires (the worst in history-2020), supreme court justices, social justice, health care for all, women's rights, black lives matter, minimum wage increase, education, etc.!

Let's get out of this mess and look to better days ahead with truly qualified, respectable, progressive, and dignified leadership where America is once again a country other countries respect and look to US for guidance. I look forward to my next birthday being one of less stress and worry so I can breathe easy again and sleep better, as well as enjoy deep connection, ability to gather and travel; and a time where I feel proud of this country again.

Be well. Be safe. Vote well.

Keep on swimming through life,

Valerie Anne

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