Who doesn’t want to be happy? Finding that comfort zone day in, day out, is a challenge. Something always manages to ruin a good time—an unexpected rain shower destroying a new pair of shoes, another driver stealing that prime parking place, a computer virus wreaking havoc with business files, a telephone call with a friend or loved one that suddenly takes a sad turn. Shaking off that sour mood is never easy. Valerie Albarda took up that challenge, spending a year Gettin’ Back to Happy, the title of her clever, funny, insightful, and uplifting book where she details her daily struggle to shrug off the bad and embrace the good.
Valerie is no Pollyanna; she’s a realist. She understands that life often throws curves. Sometimes she swings through, other times she manages to connect. But she always gives it her best effort. Along the way, we learn about this food writer—her relationships, her routines, her fears, her triumphs, and how she somehow manages to get back to a happy place. Her story empowers us to follow her lead.
Valerie lives in Stamford, Connecticut, with her husband, Maarten, and their dog, Kenji. Right off the bat we learn of her first challenge: making sure her husband, “The Flying Dutchman,” a citizen of The Netherlands, receives dual citizenship. Despite some initial fears, the interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services goes well and Maarten gets his green card. We get a glimpse of Valerie’s open nature when she reveals her efforts to learn Dutch, not the easiest, or the prettiest European language. Since she and Maarten will often visit his relatives in The Netherlands, Valerie takes this part of her responsibility seriously.
Marriage is never easy and Valerie bravely allows us to see her frustrations over Maarten’s frequent business trips. (Anyone whose spouse travels for business will relate to Valerie’s experience). The good part? All those reunions when Maarten returns. Yes, I do countdown to Maarten’s return home. I’m that kind of wife. In his absence, Valerie bonds with Kenji, whose presence is always comforting, particularly when Valerie suffers with a debilitating migraine. Some of these episodes are not only painful but also terrifying for Valerie, involving visits to the emergency room, bloods tests, morphine drips, CAT scans, and lumbar taps. The pain in my head was excruciating—like an ice pick being relentlessly driven into my skull. Maarten is always attentive, holding her hand, helping her into bed, and bringing her chicken soup.
Maryland remains a touchstone in Valerie’s life. Her father lives there and she returns often for family events. Valerie has four sisters and once a year arranges a trip to the Caribbean where “the Streeter girls” can reconnect. Valerie also works hard at her relationship with Maarten’s son, Robert, who lives in London and rejoices when she receives a Mother’s Day greeting.
Besides her family, friends and food are important to Valerie. She holds a Super Bowl party for her friends so they can eat and talk without watching the game. Warning: Valerie’s descriptions of some of what she cooks will trigger your appetite. Yet she eschews the title of “food critic” preferring to be called a “food writer,” and she is generous enough to enjoy something prepared by others (an ugly omelet made by Maarten) without handing down judgment.
By the end of the year, we feel we know Valerie, appreciate her honesty, and identify with her efforts to remain positive most of the time. There is wisdom within these pages and whether the book is read at one sitting or enjoyed one day at a time, we are happy that Valerie shared her year with us.
I’ll gladly accept the gargantuan rewards that life throws my way every now and again. But I’ll never fail to appreciate those tiny treasures that are so easily missed, so calmly swept under the rug, so effortlessly ignored. They could be my blessings in disguise.
Gettin’ Back to Happy