Author Archives: Karen Valentine

My Amygdala Hurts!!

My Amygdala Hurts!!


Silence, I have come to value silence. I live in a sound soaked world.

–Cloud Walking, Bishop Steven Charleston


As a schoolgirl, nothing struck terror in my soul like being called to the chalkboard to solve a math problem. Typically I stood facing the board, frozen and whimpering.

I did learn from those experiences, but nothing constructive.

Even as a pharmaceutical rep, I was anxious two weeks before a sales meeting. The rigor of videotaped sales contests before managers and colleagues unnerved me. Though my sales performance was excellent, I was miserable at these gatherings.

Once, after church, my friend Judy and I chatted as we gobbled cookies we had sworn we wouldn’t eat. She observed, “Well, you’re an introvert.” The secret was evidently out, though I told myself no one noticed.

Judy is right; I am an introvert. Dad said that when I was twelve, I went to my room and came out when I was seventeen and left for college. Actually, my need for solitude began very early.

When I was seven I sometimes woke early on Saturday morning. Since early waking is akin to rising from the dead for me, this is quite telling. The motivation was simple, a strong desire for private time. Down to the end of the hall I tip-toed for my secret ritual, to the last room by the back stairwell.

No one in the house knew of the standing date each Saturday; it was with Shirley Temple. If you are young, you may not appreciate her significance. Shirley Temple was a tiny Dakota Fanning, Taylor Swift and Julianne Hough rolled into one. She was a force of nature, and I adored her.

In my little sanctuary, I watched her movies, sang, and danced with all the abandon a seven-year-old could muster. Uninterrupted, I could dream my own stories. There was something else there too; God was in my secret world, in the quiet.  This time in solitude left an indelible impression on me; I still remember a few of the songs Shirley sang. “Goodnight my love; the tired old moon is descending. Goodnight my love, it’s time to call it a day.” (Benny Goodman)

Sometimes introversion is misinterpreted as a judgment against the company of others or as aloofness. It is neither of those. Extroverts need the energy others give and prefer the company of others to being alone. Introverts enjoy their own company and have no dread of being alone, even for extended periods. They do not look to “engage” for a solution to boredom or loneliness. The answer is not “out there” for us.

When I attended those sales meetings, I was threadbare by the close of the meeting. It was too much for me, sharing a hotel room, role-playing in front of a room full of people, rising early to spend the entire day shoulder-to-shoulder with people you hardly know. Just shoot me.

You may be asking how an introvert could succeed in a sales career. The answer is that I can be very effective one-on-one. Introverts often possess a quiet, focused strength not recognized by those who value more extroverted traits such as boldness, aggression, gregariousness, or volume. Most, unfortunately, society also places more value on those behaviors. Consider the popularity of belligerent social media, the abrasive Facebook posts, YouTube videos, and tweeting every thought that pops into one’s head.

Bishop Steven Charleston says we live is a “sound soaked world.”  I agree with him.

“Today’s psychologists tend to agree on several important points. For example, that introverts and extroverts differ in the level of outside stimulation they need to function well.”  Quiet, the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking—Susan Cain

At the end of the day, I do not want to socialize or play competitive games; I have had enough of that stimulation all day long. I have no need to reach for my cell phone or go out to socialize.

“According to studies by psychologist Hans Eysenck, introverts require less stimulation from the world in order to be awake and alert than extroverts do. This means introverts are more easily over-stimulated. The flip side of introverts’ sensitivity to dopamine is that they need less of it to feel happy. Extroverts’ brains run on an energy-spending nervous system, whereas introverts’ brains run on an energy conserving nervous system. This is why introverts feel content and energized when reading a book, thinking deeply, or diving into their rich inner world of ideas.” (Quiet, Susan Cain)

Evidently, the Amygdala of the brain is the epicenter that triggers emotional responses to danger. In studies with infants, highly reactive children were easily overstimulated. They have more blood flow to the brain than extroverts, enhancing traits such as good memory and planning. These overly stimulated infants become introverts as adults.

Spending time alone has fostered a contemplative spiritual nature, which has cultivated my ability to navigate our noisy world. If I do not have time alone to read, write, and meditate, I am out of sorts.  I need this as much as I need sleep or air.

Life only in the bubble is not rich and expansive, though. I am grateful for many deep, long-term friendships. Yet, I celebrate my true nature and honor it with quality time spent in quiet also.

Perhaps you, too, are a tad overstimulated now. I invite you to quiet, take a step back. Your Amygdala will feel much better.





These Lemon Colored Walls

These Lemon Colored Walls

   Truth itself is something you live, not something you think.

—Marth Beck, Finding Your Way in a Wild New World


Morning light nudges through the plantation shutters and cascades across the floor, giving strength to the five-foot cactus in its wake. Usually, it infuses me with the same. Steaming Oolong in my cup with the right touch of milk and honey enlivens me for the moment.

Outside I stroll in the garden, but see very few July lilies; sadly, they refuse to smile up at me this summer. Ever-present, the Weeping Balsam branches stretch down to me, beckoning me to touch them, I always do. The Komorebi of the sun through their tines delights me; I go to both of them and thank them for their feathery beauty, the stability they bring to my fledgling gardening efforts, to my fledgling life efforts.

The arrival of clouds is quite welcome on this hottest of summer days, allowing me to stay out even longer, I breathe in the freedom. Freedom, I knew it once, felt its power.

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Need Entertainment? Inspiration? Enlightenment?

Need Entertainment? Inspiration? Enlightenment?


“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines

what you will be when you can’t help it.” —Osacr Wilde

From the “Must Read” section on the blog, you will see that I gravitate to books written by women. This is purposeful and not-so-much. Purposeful, because female writers have struggled historically, unable to even write under their own names. I think of Jane Austen and the difficulty she had “living by her pen” as she said it. She was not respected as male writers were, hardly eked out a living. Yes, I want to support female writers as I can. It is not-so-much purposeful because my books just appear, chosen for me in serendipitous ways.

I could fill pages with reviews of books I love and will never post a review of a book I have not read. I am usually listening to one audiobook and have two more books on my coffee table that I am reading. In this period of COVID isolation, I am overwhelmed with books I want to read or read again. I am so grateful to writers for their willingness to put their work out in the world so I can hear their voices, their stories. It takes uncommon courage and unique vulnerability to write a book and then struggle to get it published.  It requires tremendous effort, skill, and persistence.

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Dear Corona

Dear Corona

“There are voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.” —-Ralph Waldo Emerson


Corona, I curled my hair today for you. For the second time ever, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church live-streamed services. Like everyone else, I stayed home. I curled my hair anyway.

Yesterday I cooked and froze enough food for four women; it will serve me well should you render me ill and unable to get out. The time for preparedness is now. It could happen.

We dash about in this country, seeking-what? Safety? Success? Money? Toilet paper? Entertainment? Inclusion? A Tribe? What we need now is to change our focus to something that provides a tiny reminder of where we place our faith. We eventually must choose what we cling to, fear, and things that will fade away, or something deeper, something sacred-like wonder.

To that end, I submit the below; please go to your respective happy places.

Does this seem right to you?

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You Gotta Get on the Bus

You Gotta Get on the Bus

Please welcome a new Guest Contributor. . .


He couldn’t have weighed much more than his new raincoat.  It was so new, in fact, it wouldn’t let his arms hang the way that they should.  They hung out at his sides at an odd angle, and he could no more scratch his nose than he could turn his head strapped firmly in the hood.  He stood stiff beside the road, and he watched me coming for a long way.

As I passed by him, he looked at me in the strangest way.  His lower lip was curled under his front teeth in fear.  In that passing moment, I wanted to stop and comfort him, but it was called off by the rest of his expression.  When I found him again in my rearview mirror, I saw that it wasn’t me that he had been looking at, at all, but that big yellow school bus that was behind me.  “Oh, that’s right,” I thought, the first day of school.  His eyes were fixed on the bus in such a determined way that I knew he didn’t need any counsel.  Brave as any soldier, he was going to get on that bus for the very first time.

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Death at the Clip & Curl

Death at the Clip & Curl


We are, all of us, wandering about in a state of oblivion, borrowing our time, seizing our days, escaping our fates, slipping through loopholes, unaware of when the axe may fall.                                –Maggie O’Farrell, I Am, I Am, I Am: Seventeen Brushes with Death

We were alone, just the incredibly odd man and me. I thought it was the end for me, but what could I do about it? Scream, absolutely. Talk my way out of it, doubtful. Fight, sure, but given my lack of physical prowess, not a viable solution.

It was a day of heavy, jet-lag-meets-the-flu fatigue, arms too heavy to do my hair, much less my job. I pulled into what I shall call the “Clip & Curl” to have someone shampoo and blow-dry my tired hair. A lone stylist was there, a man. I did not think much of it until it was too late.

I do not frequent walk-in salons, but I had a chaotic day ahead and needed help, so I went into the no-frills vanilla salon. The only staff member there was a medium-sized man of about forty. I cannot say he greeted me, just soberly showed me back to the shampoo area and prepared me for what I hoped would be a relaxing head massage and speedy hair styling. Straightaway the man was odd.

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Dogs and Ducks & Swans Better Scurry

Dogs and Ducks & Swans Better Scurry

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between dog and man.” –Mark Twain


Didn’t get out much did you, Mr. Twain? Recently I risked life and limb rescuing the tiniest Dachshund from traffic during rush hour, no small feat. After, the little ingrate thanked me by biting me on the leg harder than I thought possible, despite his owner’s protests that “He never acts like that.” Critters can be persnickety.

Caesar and Cleopatra

Birds had it out for me from the get-go. Mom had two black swans, Caesar and Cleopatra. Caesar had no use for me, and with a wingspan of six feet, he was intimidating. He charged me routinely, enormous wings spread, serrated beak wide open, lunging for my bottom as I hightailed it toward the fence. The only human Caesar showed a modicum of respect for was my little niece Katy, who sort of scared us all back then.

We lived in the country with dogs, cats, cattle, horses, catfish, turtles, swans, ducks, and for a time, an alligator and one tiny fawn. Our place was also residence to coyotes, skunks, feral cats, Blue Herron, various reptiles, rabbits, squirrels, possums, and the occasional goose. I adore animals of most species, and we had some doozies.

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Celebrate Me Home

Celebrate Me Home

Home for the holidays,
I believe I’ve missed each and every face,
Come on and play my music,
Let’s turn on the love light in the place

Please, celebrate me home,
Give me a number,
Please, celebrate me home
Play me one more song,
That I’ll always remember,
And I can recall,
Whenever I find myself too all alone,
I can sing me home.

Excerpt from Celebrate Me Home, Kenny Loggins

Originally published in 2014

Sitting alone in the woods with the two monastery dogs, Banjo and Oriole, I gaze out in the distance, they are good company and seem to have taken a vow of silence like me. From the hill, I look over the tops of the trees struggling to show some early spring radiance. I can see Lake Keystone as the sun beats down on the back of my neck, reminding me that it won’t be spring for long. Before you can say “hotter than hell,” it will be.

The pond at our ranch home growing up.

Hiking and climbing over the huge boulders I do something I have not done in a very long time, I smell the earth.  It takes me back to a time when I was much closer to the earth, the land, the country, and I am grateful for my awakening senses. For a while I am home.

I was a small town girl, but I really grew up out in the country. Our home was in the country, my families’ livelihood came from the country, our nurturing was grounded in the country, and a piece of my soul lingers there still.

Walking down a country road.

The solace the country offers is inclusive, there for anyone who takes the time. Its gifts are the healing sight of pastures and farm ponds, the touch of green grass, a soft blanket of needles underfoot through the pines, the smell of freshly cut hay, the whinny of horses, and the feel of a warm, humid breeze on your face.  Nothing occludes the stars from your vision when you are in the country, a tonic for city worn eyes.

The end of the day did not find me with friends at the Dairy Freeze when I was in school; I was in the country feeding cattle.  My brother and I had a little cattle company when we were kids, the “M & K Cattle Company.”  I’m still pissy that it wasn’t named the “K & M Cattle Company”; after all, I was older and infinitely wiser. This joint venture provided biology lessons, finance 101, daily workouts, precious time with a treasured sibling, and opened us to the dire truth of forgoing something we liked for something better.

Blossoms from Mom’s peach tree in my folk’s backyard.

In the country, folks just drop in when ”Y’all come round” is extended, and you better have coffee and pie ready too; they never turn it down. They just sit and talk mostly. Some walk quietly around the pond and skip stones across the water, or sit on the bench under the trees and smell the honeysuckle that lines the fence row.  Or, go out to feed the horses some hay and stand on the corral fence to get a better look at the cattle down in the pasture. You can tap on the fence that extends into the pond, and the catfish know it is feeding time; they skim along the top of the pond, huge mouths wide open to scoop up chow.

A painting in my home by Steve Hanks.

There is something about the expansiveness of the countryside that makes you feel free in a way nothing else can. The absolute wonder, stillness, beauty, and simplicity of the land, the animals, the sunrise, the night sky-even the air bristles with unique enchantment.

I’ve lived in the city now for years and love its rhythm, its convenience, the melting pot of faces, cultures, and cuisines, its opportunities, the city lights when it rains, the anonymity, the seasonal events, the synergy of liked minded spirits, and the life I’ve nurtured here. But I sometimes feel a deep longing and know I’m missing that part of me I left in the country. Nowhere can I hear better God’s invitation to sit and talk.

Dad’s beloved horse, Copper.

I remember years ago coming to myself, realizing that I was smiling for the first time in about four months. I was out in the pasture, just walking in the country. I was home.

God made the country, and man made the town.  — The Task, William Cowper

What are We Willing to Risk Today?

What are We Willing to Risk Today?


In the spring while the cherry blossoms were showing off, I went to Alexandria Virginia to visit Pat, my dear friend, and spiritual director. We chat Thursday nights unless one of us is too pooped. Embarrassingly, it is usually me.

If you spoke with Pat on the phone, you would think you were speaking to a very spunky fifty-year-old, engaged, clever, opinionated, intelligent, and passionate. Pat drove me to catch the Metro so I could visit D.C, takes two flights of stairs routinely, and insisted on cooking for me each night. She is ninety-three and treasured.

Something we are both passionate about is voting. It is a privilege that was won, literally by the blood, sweat, and tears of other women. These are my heroines, not movie stars, politicians, beauty queens, TV personalities, not even great singers. Pat and I never take these women for granted. For years our Grandmothers, aunts, and her mother could not vote. Can you really imagine it?

                                          Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, April 2018

As I stood in front of the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, I remembered a photo of the suffragists, the National Women’s Party in 1917, standing in the same spot holding picket signs. About two hundred women were arrested during those days, half of them sent to prison. Alice Paul, their leader, and others who went on hunger strikes in protest were force-fed. Those brave, determined, women fought and suffered, so I don’t have to.

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Meant for Better Things

Meant for Better Things

. . .we’re squeezed into uncomfortable things that pull, pinch, tug, choke, itch, hike up or down, and make the days of our lives miserable. We wear these creations of torture, we tell ourselves, in order to be agreeable to the rest of the world. But, why shouldn’t we find a way to make the rest of the world agreeable to us instead?”   —Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance


Back in the day, I was a “disco” dancer. A night of dancing was torture for your feet, especially in the shoes we wore back then. They were a cross between stilettos and the stacked heels girls wear today. John Travolta would have been proud.

I took a dance class to learn new moves. A guy named Kim, several years younger tossed me over his shoulder and expected me to land on my feet. It resembled a mis-fired double lutz. My feet never forgave me.

A few years ago I took all my high-heels to Goodwill. I could still wear them, but my “sensibilities” had changed; I was no longer willing to drink the fashion slave kool-aid.

Recently I heard a radio interview with a surgeon who stated: ”Once a week someone comes in wanting her feet surgically altered to fit a particular shoe.” It sickened me to think one would do this for a pair of shoes! It reminded me of the practice of foot binding forced upon young girls that took place in China.

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