Beach-combing Artist

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Everything you see in this ‘painting’ comes from the beach here at Seaside Park. It’s September, and the leaves are starting to fall. This picture captures the changing season. The colors are going from blue and green to gold and silver.

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The Path

This picture I made on the day my daughter’s divorce became official. I was at the beach when she called to tell me. She’s on a path of self-discovery. I had wanted to make a path picture ever since our trip out to Santa Fe, where she and I had walked on a little stone path in a park downtown. That idea came back to me.

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Santa Fe rock path

Ideas come from many places. I am attracted to patterns and textures in nature, and take pictures when I see something beautiful.

 

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October

October beach

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Preparing the background

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Stage Two Recovery in ACA

Hello Everybody! It’s been a LONG time since I’ve been a presence on my own blog.
However, it’s harvest time, and there are important things to share. I know I need to smile more, but that’s really hard to do because I freeze up in front of the camera.

This is a follow up to the post about being an adult child and finding a 12-step program that really fits me- Finally! I hope it’s helpful to someone here 

If you want to know more about the recovery work of Adult Children of Alcoholics (and Dysfunctional Families), the following 18 minute video is my outline of the Promises and the 3 stages of recovery. You can also scroll down to read the Laundry List and the Promises. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

 

The Laundry List (14 Characteristics of an Adult Child):

  1. We became isolated and afraid of people and authority figures.
  2.  We became approval seekers and lost our identity in the process.
  3. We are frightened by angry people and any personal criticism.
  4. We either become alcoholics, marry them, or both, or find another compulsive personality such as a workaholic to fulfill our sick abandonment needs.
  5. We live life from the viewpoint of victims and are attracted by that weakness in our love and friendship relationships.
  6. We have an overdeveloped sense of responsibility and it is easier for us to be concerned with others rather than ourselves; this enables us not to look too closely at our own faults, etc.
  7. We get guilt feelings when we stand up for ourselves instead of giving in to others.
  8. We became addicted to excitement.
  9. We confuse love and pity, and tend to love the people we can pity and rescue.
  10. We have stuffed our feelings from our traumatic childhoods and have lost the ability to feel or express our feelings because it hurts so much (denial).
  11. We judge ourselves harshly and have a very low sense of self-esteem.
  12. We are dependent personalities who are terrified of abandonment and will do anything to hold on to a relationship in order not to experience painful abandonment feelings which we received from living with sick people who were never there emotionally for us.
  13. Alcoholism is a family disease and we became para-alcoholics and took on the characteristics of that disease even though we did not pick up the drink.
  14. Para-alcoholics are reactors rather than actors.

If you identify with most or all of these traits, you may want to search online for telephone meetings or local groups in your area. If so, I may see you there!

 

The ACA Promises:

  1. We will discover our real identities by loving and accepting ourselves.
  2. Our self-esteem will increase as we give ourselves approval on a daily basis.
  3. Fear of authority figures and the need to ‘people-please’ will leave us.
  4. Our ability to share intimacy will grow inside us.
  5. As we face our abandonment issues, we will be attracted by strengths and become more tolerant of weaknesses.
  6. We will enjoy feeling stable, peaceful, and financially secure.
  7. We will learn how to play and have fun in our lives.
  8. We will choose to love people who can love and be responsible for themselves.
  9. Healthy boundaries and limits will become easier for us to set.
  10. Fears of failure and success will leave us, as we intuitively make healthier choices.
  11. With help form our ACA support group, we will slowly release our dysfunctional behaviors.
  12. Gradually, with our Higher Power’s help, we will learn to expect the best and get it.

 

END of LIFE Doula Training- Boston, MA

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Boston Beauty

I attended an end of life doula training in Boston, June 23-25, 2017. We were led by Henry Fersko-Weiss, LCSW, executive director of INELDA (International End of Life Doula Association, www.inelda.org) and author of Caring for the Dying – The Doula Approach to a Meaningful Death. These are my notes looking back:

I didn’t think much before signing up for this conference. It was nearby, it was affordable, and it was electrifyingly interesting to me. I wanted to make connections; I wanted to tell my story; and I wanted to listen to other people’s stories. I was and am searching for moments of clarity that can inform and move me to meaningful action.

All but 2 of the 67 participants were women. We sat at round tables in groups of 6 or 7. I would have preferred smaller tables, and fewer people at each, but that’s the teacher in me. I always want closer, more intimate, and more talk time per person.

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The women represented diverse backgrounds and ages: predominantly nursing and middle aged, but there were yoga instructors, energy healers, and a post-graduate student Emilie’s age doing research. We got to meet one on one at meal times, when we were free to wander around outside. I found my best connections when I walked into the market area a few blocks away to grab a bite and sit out in the sun and fresh air.

I was familiar from my recent CPE training with much of the content – addressing grief and loss, the need for active listening, and the reality of how death is generally viewed and dealt with by our culture and most of the medical profession. Avoidance is the key word here. The new parts were fascinating and rich, and provided a sought after complement to chaplaincy. Here is a snapshot of some of the exercises we did:

1.Visualize your own death: How would I like to be remembered? Am I living my life so that I will be remembered that way? We were encouraged to talk to our loved ones, and ask such questions as, ‘How did you know that I loved you?’

I want people to know ME, not who I  often pretend to be. It’s not easy to show my Self to others. So many important and precious parts have been hidden for so long.  My younger brother died 6 weeks before the training, and death was a fresh experience I was still struggling to understand. I felt a sadness that I had not really ‘known’ him better. What was missing? Why had I hardly noticed him as a boy growing up, or thought about him as a person, not just ‘my brother.’ Now that he was dying, it was hard for either of us to be open, vulnerable, or fearless. The hospice nurse told me privately that 90% of Pete’s pain was emotional. I was shocked. He had always acted so strong- a big bluffer like me. Why did he seem to be holding onto and hiding his feelings? When I asked him to elaborate when he said that he was feeling despair, he said, ‘No, I’m not going there.’ Then he turned and looked at me and said, ‘Rob, you know sometimes you can really be annoying.’  I had to let go of my certainty that talking things out would help him.We were dancing around the fact of his dying, never really willing to look at it directly or talk about what it meant. However, the appearance of strength began to crumble.

The instructor reminded us that this class is about how we live our life, not just about how we serve the dying.  Although we are not in charge of how people remember us, I want to be remembered as open, vulnerable, and fearless, and Pete reminded me that I still have a lot of work to do.

2.Role play listening to and communicating with a dying person:

Who do you want to be with you when you take your last breaths? Children, animals? What kind of touch if any do you want from those persons? Do you want to be held, and if so by whom? Do you have any special music you want playing? Sounds (a thunderstorm or an ocean wave, etc)? Any special fragrances? Where do you want to be – bedroom, porch, under the open sky? Are there any special rituals that have meaning for you? One woman with a native American background shared that she wants a ‘smudging’ at the beginning and end of each day, and she wants her bed moved to the living room where she can be surrounded by all of her native American art. She said she plans on having a native pow-wow. Other participants said things like:

– ‘Don’t be afraid to be authentic when you’re with me. I don’t want to hear platitudes. And keep your judgments to yourself.’

– ‘I want my death to be joyful. Bring out the drums and the flute.’

– ‘I want my dog to be with me.’

– ‘I want help writing a letter to my daughter.

Pete had his faithful dog, Dempsey, checking in on him whenever his breathing changed, and nuzzling his hand whenever it dangled off the edge of the bed. I know animals give me a certain kind of courage. Looking at them reminds me of a natural world where death is as much a part of life as life is. After the sound of that last labored breath had faded into the stale air, Dempsey sniffed the familiar hand, walked to his cushion at the foot of the hospital bed and lay down to sleep. It had been a long morning. He seemed to know that Pete was gone.

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3.Creating a Legacy: What would it look like?

We looked at samples of what constitutes meaning in a person’s life, and ways that meaning can be represented in a concrete artifact left behind to inspire and help family members to reconnect with the loved one’s life after death has occurred.

The focus is on ‘life lived’ rather than life lost. This exercise helps dying people feel purposeful about their final days, and gives them a sense of completion. Examples of legacy projects include memory books, letters, videos, audios, pilgrimages, and collections of art, poems, recipes, etc. Doulas can coach the dying to share life stories about successes and failures, lessons learned, acts of forgiveness, values and beliefs, addressing unfinished business, and strengths and resilience, which can be shared with family, and bring joy and dignity to an otherwise confused and uncertain space.

We were given a list of 29 questions and asked to choose 2 or 3 of them that spoke most to us. Here are the ones I chose:

1.What did you love to do in your spare time?

2.What work or aspect of work did you consider the most important to you?

3.How did you spend time in nature and what made that important to you?

4.What did you collect and why?

I notice now that I chose the questions that have to do with reveling in the beauty of nature and creating things. It’s such a big part of who I am, and what I have done in my life. More than relationships, which have been so much more troubling. The women at my table asked me to elaborate on what those questions meant to me, and watched my face and body light up as I spoke about my art and music, and the beach, the birds and the rocks near my home. As the volunteer ‘dying person,’ I understood how important it is to be asked questions that stir us to share our loves and enthusiasms about life. The ‘practicing doulas’ listened to me, and we all felt the energy and we all wanted to stay connected. I felt both shy and happy – a part of me had come out of hiding; I felt empowered to have shared it, and more alive.

The following story is about my brother and the shift that happened in his mind and helped him embrace the inevitable, which none of us knew was only 11 days away: My daughter and I were visiting. She was sitting on his bed holding his hands, and started to tell him what he had meant to her and how his words of wisdom had helped her through her current life upheavals. “You told me a story, Uncle Pete, when I asked you how it felt to be dying. You said it’s like coming to the edge of a cliff and knowing that there was nothing else to do but to jump. And when I asked if you were afraid, you said, ‘No! Because I know I’m gonna fly.'” That story came to me when I felt afraid and thought I couldn’t go forward, and I told myself what you said, and found the strength to fly inside me. Thank you, Uncle Pete. I love you!’

 

 

 

Pete began to cry. He reached to pull her close to him and let his head drop to her shoulder. The room was quiet as we listened to the sound of his heart, full to breaking.

Pete’s wisdom was a big part of his legacy. That his closest niece, his ‘Emmylou,’  had taken some of it inside herself gave him the strength to let go and jump, and know that he could fly. What we give comes back to us. Now Emilie has taken him as a spirit guide, along with her Grandma Coco, to protect and encourage and inspire her life. Yes, Pete, you made a difference.

Pete and Emilie

 

4.Vigil Planning: What is your vision of a Good Death?

Each person’s wishes are unique. The vigil is a plan for when the person enters the active dying phase. It includes what was already mentioned above in step 2, and also outlines what the person would like done after he/she dies. I was struck particularly by our speaker Henry’s vigil plan:

“As people visit, conduct vigil, or take care of me I want them to do so in a way that honors my Buddhist beliefs and the central place of family in my life. So, please sit on one of the cushions or chairs at the entrance to my room and meditate for some time in whatever way helps you connect to the oneness of all being. By going inward and opening to the sacred you will bring a different mind state to my bedside – a mind state we will share while you are there (with me)~

This moment…only moment.”

“Please lie in bed with me, hold my hand, caress my arms, legs, face, and head. Whenever possible, wheel my bed outside onto the deck, so I can see the open sky, the trees, the stars, hear the birds, and feel the fresh air on my skin.”

You can say whatever comes straight from your heart.”

When asked to think about my death, I wrote right away that I want to die outside if possible! With the sounds of breezes in leafy motion, birds in friendly chatter and ecstatic song, a car honking somewhere, children shouting in play, their bicycle wheels rolling across the pavement; a guitar strumming – maybe Joe Walsh singing about how life’s been good or Tom Petty learning to fly…

I hope it’s in the summer when the doors can all be flung wide open! I want to see green palm fronds, and have a view of the blue or starlit sky. I want my cozy comforter and soft sheets, and the light of the sun warming me. I want to be surrounded by vibrant colors, and hear the delicate sound of wind chimes as people come and go. I like the idea of asking people to take off their shoes or any covering on their heads; to wash their hands in a bowl of scented water by the door, and sprinkle themselves and anyone they’re with, saying: ‘Peace be unto you!’ ‘And with your Spirit!’

Thinking about these things is inspiring and comforting. And why not now, when we still have time to think and share?

My retreat space at home

 

5.Signs and Symptoms of Imminent Death: This part was new and entirely interesting to me. In CPE we never talked about cyanosis or mottling, although I saw it in my brother’s hands, feet, and legs. Vital signs such as blood pressure and oxygen saturation can predict with 95% accuracy death within 48 hours. We talked about the patterns of breathing, and the slowing down of the breath, and how to recognize that death will take place within minutes to 2 hours. We discussed pain management, the use of morphine, and the current movement to educate people with terminal end-stage disease that they can voluntarily stop eating and drinking. I was surprised that there is no legal requirement to report a death immediately, and to hear that it is advisable and healing to take time with the body before calling the funeral home. My sister was very protective of that kind of time with my mother. She’s a wise end-of-life doula. Hospitals tell families to take as much time as they want, but in fact expect them to leave after a couple of hours. At home, there is so much more space to share with the dead, and to process their transition. The facts of death and what it looks, sounds and smells like was always fearful to me, and I remember I was uncomfortable when I saw my first dead body at Bridgeport Hospital. Now, I have come to see death differently.  Of course, I wonder how I will feel as I take the hand of death and begin that part of my journey.

I was surprised how comfortable I felt listening to the ‘science’ of the dying process. Talking about my emotions in the previous exercises had been so challenging. I hadn’t identified the anxiety I was feeling until I felt the relief of focusing outward again on facts. That was a big takeaway for me: my difficulty feeling and sharing emotion. I shared that with the trainer as I left, and he smiled. “You’re working on it, I can see that!” Yes, I am. Step by step.

6.Reprocessing and Grief Work: working with the family after the death. What to talk about, how to be of assistance.

This part included a section about washing the person’s body as a ritual that can be very healing and beautiful. When a person dies at home rather than in a hospital there are so many more possibilities for creative leave-taking. Unfortunately, a growing percentage of the population in our country die in hospital rooms without having made any preparations. Making a living will, having a plan, and being prepared is a blessing and a comfort that we all are encouraged to make time for.

Pete’s partner and life companion didn’t respond to our emails, calls, or texts for several weeks. She had told us she would need to sleep for a month, but we finally decided to go regardless of whether she was ready to see us or not, and drove the 5 hours to spend the weekend with her. She needed to pour out so we sat and listened over lunch at their favorite spot on the river. She had hardly touched her food. Then over a beer outside in their garden we heard the stories of his last few days, and we laughed and cried together.

People don’t always know how to grieve. It can get the best of us, and take away all desire to keep on living. She needed us, just as we needed her.  “You’re Pete’s family. When I look at you, I see him. You’re the only ones I can really talk to. I know you’ll understand.” When we rolled up our sleeves to clean up the house, there was a lightness in the air that was palpable. Each shake of a carpet, each load of stuff to recycle, and each trip to the dump made the air cleaner and brighter. It was her place now, and we were shaking the memories out of hiding, into the light.

 

 

 

 

In conclusion:

At the conference I heard for the first time about Death Cafes and the Death Positive Movement.We talked about Irish wakes and ‘homegoing celebrations’ and were introduced to NODA (no one dies alone) and the Conversation Project which encourages people to talk about death in advance with their loved ones. Doulas provide a needed complement to hospice and chaplain work. I felt the training was both broader and more specific at the same time, and definitely more family-centered.  We need a shift in our cultural consciousness about the very natural process of dying. And that’s a process too.

When I got home to my little place in Bridgeport, I got many inspirations about my death. I never liked the idea of burial – not just because I don’t like small, dark, confined spaces! – but because we all tend to move so much. I don’t want to be buried somewhere that no one can get to easily, and often ignored. On the other hand, cremation was not encouraged by my faith group, and I never liked the idea of my ashes being sprinkled over the ocean for example. Where would people go to find me?  I don’t mind to go back to the earth in the form of ashes, but I want to be buried beneath one of my favorite trees here in Seaside Park. My daughter will know which one it is, and she will be able to come sit under those lovely branches and listen to me talking to her about this and that, as I like to do. She’ll be able to look out at the sea and remember how much of my heart is invested there along the shore, among the rocks we climbed, and with each gleaming gull that glides past overhead. “Maybe Mom spoke to that one!”

I’ll be leaving one life, and coming home to another.

Robin Debacker

August, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m An Adult Child – part 1

Living life from a basis of fear

Comparing myself to others

Never thinking it was safe to play

Surrounded by people who didn’t respect me or treat me well

Afraid of authority figures and tending to isolate myself

Frightened by angry people and any personal criticism

Feeling overly responsible for others as a way to avoid looking at my own faults

Being my own Harsh, Harsher, and Harshest judge and critic

Feeling tremendously guilty when I stand up for myself instead of giving in to others

Addicted to excitement in its myriad forms

Stuffing feelings, and not even able to remember or feel what they are now

Continuing to live with sick people who were never there emotionally for me in order not to be abandoned.

Yes, Yes, Yes, and Yes. I recognize myself when I read the Laundry List –  14 Traits of an Adult Child. And when I introduce myself at an ACA meeting, ‘Hi, I’m Robin, an adult child,” I’m embracing a reality I have always lived and struggled to hide and accept.

The Red Book has 648 pages, so it can’t be summed up in a paragraph here. What I’d like to do is offer a few bits and pieces as I work through them. Right now I’m working on reparenting myself: learning to be sensitive to my needs and my background experience. For me, I need a lot of validation – that my feelings make sense given my family history.

I encourage myself in many ways. For example, I remind myself when I start to slip into that spiral of self-doubt and condemnation that I’m actually doing a pretty good job; that I am not a bad person; that I have something valuable to share with the world. I repeat Lady Gaga’s words to my hurting hating Self, “You’re on the right track, baby! God makes no mistakes.”

I also tell myself that growth doesn’t happen in the blink of an eye. Patience, my dear! I sing songs with empowering messages, take time at the water’s edge, and share my experiences with trusted friends both in and out of the program.

And like Joe Walsh, I’m taking it One Day at a Time.

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Adult Children

ACA is a 12-Step program for Adult Children of Alcoholic/Dysfunctional Families. I joined a local group in January 2016. We meet once a week for about 75 minutes, and we’re all women.  When I first walked in, I felt I was home. Part of it was the warmth of the room’s furnishings: sofas, big comfy chairs, big windows and a lot of light. Part of it was that the women there had been meeting for 25 years, and there was a peaceful practice of acceptance in place that I could feel immediately. But really, the biggest part was that I knew on some level before even opening my mouth or hearing anyone open theirs, that this was a safe space- a place to explore and discover my Self.

The first thing that struck me about the meeting was that no one said a word while someone else was talking. There was absolutely NO CROSSTALK. I was a little uncomfortable about it. I’m used to nodding my head, saying ‘Uh-huh!’ or ‘Really?’ and making eye contact with the speaker, at the very minimum. More often, I like to give my feedback, my Two Cents. In this room, the speaker takes her turn when she’s ready, breaking the silence to say her name and be greeted. After that, no one offers any comment. We just sit and listen. And we Thank her when she’s done. That’s all. Then we return to silence.

The term ‘crosstalk’ means interrupting, referring to, commenting on, or using the contents of what another person has said during the meeting. Many ACA members come from family backgrounds where feelings and perceptions were judged as wrong or defective.  When we were growing up, no one listened to us; or they told us that our feelings were wrong. As adults, we are accustomed to taking care of other people and not taking responsibility for our own lives. In ACA we speak about our own experiences and feelings, and accept without comment what others say because it is True for Them. We work toward taking more responsibility in our lives rather than giving advice to others.

In ACA, we do not touch, hug, or attempt to comfort others when they become emotional during a meeting. If someone begins to cry or weep, we allow them to feel their feelings. We support them by refraining from touching them or interrupting their tears with something we might say. To touch or hug the person is known as ‘fixing.’ We learn to listen, which is often the greatest support of all.

I’ve come to cherish the ‘no crosstalk’ rule. It’s still a challenge for me to remain silent but I’m getting more comfortable with sitting in silence. And I have experienced first-hand how effectively freeing and validating that silence is. There is nowhere else in my experience where I can share what’s on my heart without being interrupted, interpreted, advised, judged, or in some other way verbally responded to, even positively, with questioning or other kinds of feedback. The silence of the group around me is a reward in itself, and I know I have been heard.

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Birthing another kind of Baby – Making Paper Art

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I’m crouching down on my knees, looking back and forth from the ‘canvas’ on the floor in front of me to a scattered pile of colored paper clippings and magazine cut-outs off to the side. Each of these little shreds of paper seem precious. In fact, I carried an envelope filled with them back with me from my recent trip to Belgium. If I find one left behind on the carpet after cleaning up, I pick it up gently and put it back in the pile. Who knows where it’s intended to go in the future?

Today, I’ve just finished ‘mid-wifing’ a birth. This thing has a life of it’s own. I’m just assisting, putting puzzle pieces together, like it’s already been prepared and my job is to figure out where they all go. It’s FUN.

 

 

Lately I’ve been copying things I like from the masters. Each time I learn something. Isn’t that how artists start? We certainly don’t create in a vacuum. I take something I like and add something new. Steal like an artist! My new baby (on the right) is inspired by one of my favorite artists, Henri Matisse. His later work was done from bed, where his primary tools were scissors and brilliant colored paper. This one (above, left) was done in 1951, the year I was born. I copied some of his cutouts almost exactly. Can you see which ones?  Do you think Matisse would like the way I used his shapes? I’m sorry I can’t ask him, but I think he would.

 

 

This is my very first paper project from 2013. The one on the left was tacked to the wall in our bathroom in Belgium, where it looked really nice. However, when I saw it again on my recent visit, I couldn’t bear to leave it behind, so I rolled it up and brought it back (no small task cuz it’s pretty big.) I added a border to fit the frame. Better?  Worse? I’m not sure. They’re different!

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Paper Art- Project 2, Belgium 2013

This one (above) is still hanging in the living room in Liege. It was too fragile to move. My second paper cut-out project, it came at a period when I was immersed in all things Pucci.

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Rice Bowl – Project 3, 2013

The idea for Rice Bowl must have originated somewhere in Korea while I was there. The wallpaper sample had an oriental look, and the rest just happened. Looking at it I can recall sitting in a cozy Korean ‘Chuk’ restaurant, playing with my chopsticks, listening to Asian music and savoring the taste of red pepper paste.

WONDER WOMAN: A piece of black construction paper and a pair of scissors in my hand, I was wondering what to do for a design project that week. I had no conscious ideas until I saw her. She seemed to create herself.

She didn’t hesitate to jump up and ask for a photo shoot. I had to scramble around to satisfy her.  She was all energy and dragged me around the house in a flurry of excitement.

 

 

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I don’t get into second-guessing while I’m working. I don’t ask myself,  ‘What am I creating?’ or ‘Who am I to think I am creating something here?’ although that last one comes up in the back of my mind sometimes. I just get down close and watch.  The focus is deep, relaxing, and energized~ like wonder woman, I’m all over the place, and so is the stuff on the floor. It’s a visual, organic experience. That part is what I really like~ there’s very little rational or mental work going on. From the GUT is where the baby comes. I’m discovering her as she develops. I have no idea what she’s going to look like, or when she’s going to say, “I’m done!” I’m the innocent bystander clapping my hands when it’s all over shouting, “Wow! Oh, wow!”

These are my babies, and I love them, but it’s not like I can say I created them. Yes, I put in some raw ingredients. In the case of a child, I put in my egg, my husband put in his sperm, and then we sat back and watched as it took shape. When the baby finally appeared, we said, ‘Wow! This is incredible! Who are YOU? Where did YOU come from? You’re not like anything we’ve ever seen. You’re something special. You’re unique.’

‘We love you!’

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“My Mission Statement!” – 2013

It was great to make a wall hanging that reminds me what’s important, what makes me happy. I took a picture of this one before leaving Belgium, so I can make another one now that I’m in back in the States.

I’m going to run out today and look for another frame. With a frame in front of me, at least I know what size the next baby’s going to be. Everything else will be a surprise.

 

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Self-portrait, 2013