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At Home With Valerie Rowley – Pt. 2

Interior designer Valerie Rowley and her husband Chris took a big risk in 1993 when they bought their future home.  For one thing, the countryside house north of Toronto was quite run-down.

“We immediately saw the potential but we hadn’t sold our existing house and it was during the recession.  So did we play it safe and wait?   Nah!  We bought it and just fervently hoped our other one sold (we were up against another bidder so really had no choice).”

The other house sold, in the nick of time.

Blog Photo - Val house steps with flowers Looking at the house today, you wouldn’t know all the work Val and Chris took on. Blog Photo - Val Patio “We virtually rebuilt the interior of this home.  And made the garden almost from scratch – unless you count the few scrubby six-foot cedars that we inherited. It took many years which is why we feel we have so much of ourselves invested in it.” Blog Photo - Vals Kitchen Val’s favourite interior spaces are the kitchen and sunroom.  Blog Photo - Val Sunroom“The sunroom is full of light all year round. It’s also where I raise my vegetable and flower seedlings, grow watercress, herbs and salads through the winter, take cuttings of summer geraniums. To have this area full of pink, salmon and red blooms through the snow season makes the monochrome of winter bearable.” Blog Photo - Val Homegrown SeedlingsFavourite outdoor spaces?
Blog Photo - Val flower Bed The garden is an important part of “home” for Val and Chris. Blog Photo - Val Peonies on hillside “Luckily, Chris enjoys physical work a lot more than I do, so it’s a good partnership.   I grow things and prune and he digs holes and chops down branches.  And we have a young weeding lady who is also a budding opera singer!” Blog Photo - Muskoka chairsIn late summer and early fall, there’s the harvest. Blog Photo - Garden Produce
It takes work. But as you can see from Chris’ smile, it’s work they love doing. They plan to keep doing it for as long as possible.

Blog Photo - Chris Apple Picking

Many people today are drawn to houses that look like they belong in a glossy interior design magazine. Valerie, an interior designer, and her husband Chris, a TV producer, didn’t do that.  They bought a run-down place and worked hard at it for 20 years.  Today, for this couple, this place is  — quite simply  — home.

“I guess because everywhere  I look, what I see is immensely satisfying to me,” says Valerie.   “The flowers (growing, not cut) that I always have everywhere, the artifacts that Chris and  I have accumulated from numerous foreign countries over the years, the carefully chosen furnishings and the general knowledge that we have constructed a home  that is very personal and comforting to the two of us.  It all works.”

Blog Photo - Val Home2

“We have no intention of leaving,” says Val, “ until we physically can’t handle the work it entails – and it does entail work!”

“It’s about staying as healthy as one can as one ages,” says Val.   “I think it’s important for everyone to realize life doesn’t have to stop when the wrinkles and aches and pains start. “

Bravo, Val and Chris. You’re an inspiration.

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A Good Home, Chronic pain, Coping with Chronic Illness, Courage, Friendship, Laughter, Life Challenges, Lunch, Toronto Rehab

Laughing Through The Pain

Once a month, at the same time, in the same restaurant in a suburban mall, I meet Arna and Phyllis for lunch.

I’d never have met these women were it not for the many sessions we attended together at Toronto Rehabilitation hospital, trying to come to terms with chronic pain, trying to figure out alternatives to narcotic painkillers.

The group is one of my two separate trios of “Toronto Rehab grads” . We meet regularly to support each other.

You might expect us to be miserable, and sometimes we are.   But among each other, there’s no need to pretend. No need to say “I’m fine, thanks,” when you’re not.  We’d see right through it.

“Seriously – how are you really feeling today?” Someone will ask,  looking you straight in the eye.

And out comes the truth:  “It’s been a really crappy week. The pain’s been very bad.”

But as Arna reminds us: “I might be in pain but I don’t have to BE a pain.”

Arna

And so we laugh. Perhaps the most surprising thing is how much laughing we do. In my second trio, Penny has the talent of cracking up Joan and me with one short sentence. The woman is a born comic.

“Why don’t you write comedy?” I ask her.

“Because it’s just stuff I say,” she replies. “I don’t even know it’s funny till someone laughs.”

We laugh at the silliest things. Maybe that’s because we give each other license to SAY the silliest things to each other. Like the day when Arna and I both noticed that Phyllis seemed unusually stressed. Turns out, she’d been struggling with pain and allergies, but Phyllis was still pushing herself hard to get certain tasks completed.

In Mall

“You need to rest,” Arna advised.

“I’m too tired to rest,” Phyllis promptly replied.

You’re too tired to rest?” I asked in disbelief.

As if on cue, the three of us burst out laughing.

Blog Photo - 3 in Mall

Chronic pain never rests. The very term “chronic” means that it’s with you all the time; only the severity fluctuates. Sunny, cool, dry days are helpful to some people. Wet, cold, humid days are agony to many. And freezing temperatures? Extreme cold does a number on both our bodies and our minds.

We learned several drug-free techniques at Toronto Rehab.   Laughter is just one of them.

The act of staying in touch, and keeping these lunch appointments, are two of the tools we use to fight back against the depression that’s a travelling companion of chronic pain. And when we laugh at the ridiculous things we say on a day when even the act of walking is painful – we’re not just using one of the tools we learned – we’re also kicking chronic pain in the teeth.

Chronic pain kicks us in the butt all the time.  Kicking it in the teeth once a month is the least we can do in return.

This post is dedicated to Joan, Penny, Arna and Phyllis — and to everyone who struggles with a chronic illness.