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Mike Valletta

Storyteller. Photographer. Traveler.

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Connecticut

Summer, Where Are You?

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There’s no doubt that this has been a long winter for us in New England. The days were cold. The nights were even colder. The snow was, well, let’s not even talk about the snow. The fact of the matter here is, that sometime after forty inches, we grew anxious for spring to come, and quite frankly what was another couple of inches on the ground this past week in Connecticut to top things off.

Yes, winter. A season we all love to hate. As a skier, however, I usually live for winter! Not so this season as I was out due to a medical condition. Oh sure, it was great to look at, but now I know just how all you snow haters feel; exhausted!

Like many, I got out to enjoy the tease that mother nature threw at us. Saturday was nearly fifty degrees and Sunday was nearly sixty! All this after having a foot of wet snow dumped on us on Friday. I mean really, I don’t know what that nutcase we call a mother was thinking. Clearly she just needs to be medicated and thrown into rehab. Actually, a padded room sounds more justifiable.

I took a walk around the trails here at home in Torrington. Burr Pond offers a fantastic setting if you’re looking to unwind and unplug a bit. A nice trail that, unfortunately was still very snow covered, ropes around the entire length of the pond and offers some pretty fantastic views of the area from it’s upper slopes. I do this walk quite often, though due to my condition as of late, I’ve had to make sure I bring along a hiking partner in the event that I collapse…in the snow. Thanks, mother nature. Natural padding. I get it. You’re looking out for my best interests. You can stop though, really.

On the horizon, however, there’s talk of more snow for next week. I can hardly contain my enthusiasm. Am I the only one dreaming of summer nights on the beach with a tent and a bonfire? That day still seems so distant.

Hope is Given to those in Need

Faith in humanity is restored when stories like this reach the inbox. The sixth annual Starlight Dinner Dance to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital will be held this Friday March 8th at The Pontelandolfo Club in Waterbury, CT.

Since opening it’s doors back in 1962, the hospital has an average of 260 patients passing through it’s doors each day, which averages out to a total of 5,700 patients annualy. An impressive number, but what’s even more impressive is the amount of work they do. They continue to help treat and prevent catastrophic diseases in children. It goes without saying, but taking care of children is of upmost importance. After all, these are the leaders of tomorrow. If we don’t take care of them, who will? Who will give our children the strength and hope they need to move on? It’s people like you and I who have to come together to help those who can’t necessarily help themselves.

This fantastic elegant event will feature some familiar faces as Chaz and AJ from 99.1 WPLR will be emceeing while guests enjoy cocktails, a silent auction, a five course dinner, and of course a lot of dancing. A world of fun for all while giving children suffering a world of hope, which is just one of the most important ingredients needed in recovery.

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Therapy Through Nature in the Torrington Backwoods

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” -Albert Einstein

The recovery process since my motor vehicle accident has been a long one. Each day, there seems to be a new bump in the road of life. Through it all, however, I have found a great sense of therapy taking in the fresh air as I hike along the trails by my Torrington, CT home. It is here that I am surrounded by nothing but an ample forest and solitude. Hiking along the trails is something I normally do, though as of late it has allowed me to reflect on life and be thankful that I have been given yet another day to walk along the trails.

We take so much for granted. Waking up is not always guaranteed. We live such busy lives. We often forget to unwind and enjoy what we have around us before we simply lose out on the opportunity, then we live with the regret. I believe one of the biggest take aways from this whole experience has been to unwind. Stress plays a major factor in the disease. There’s just something so great about getting up in the morning and hitting the trail, each day seeing something totally new that you didn’t see the day before. These are the little things in life that make us smile, and often because we’re so busy, we don’t take the time out for ourselves to enjoy it.

So many of you have asked me what is my secret to remaining so strong in the recovery process. While there is no doubt this is one of the ways, I am also fortunate enough to be surrounded by such great company on this road of life. Wether it’s going out to dinner, or sharing a few laughs together on social media, I feel truly blessed to have each of you in my life in some way, shape, or form. They say you are the company keep, and that couldn’t hold any more true.

When life comes at you fast, take the break you need. Go out and find yourself. There’s a whole world outside your door just waiting for you to explore, and here in the Torrington backwoods, the exploration has continued to help me remain positive while appreciating the present and looking forward towards the future.

“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs

Happy in a Sad State

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Okay. So recently Connecticut has been labeled a sad state in terms of state rankings based on tweets. This study just so happens to come from one of the happiest states, Vermont. Now, generally I would agree whole heartedly about particular areas of Connecticut being just downright miserable. Those in the inner cities and larger metropolotian areas seem to be the most stressed out, and for good reason. Violence plagues those areas, but what about those of us in the rural corners of Connecticut, are we part of that equation at all?

Roughly about five years ago, I moved to the Litchfield Hills of Connecticut for a change of pace. Life is slower in good old northwesten Connecticut. The people are generally friendlier, and life is anything but normal. In fact, my life has become much more entertaining and carefree thanks to that good old mountain attitude carried with some backwards ways of life. Life, at least in this part of Connecticut, is very much a replica of the happiest state, Vermont. We are surrounded by natural elements. Towering pines, flowing rivers, lakes with mountain vistas, and old world country stores where you can get a cup of coffee and chat with your fellow neighbors. The life I live, along with many others in this part of the state, is a happy one.

With low crime rates, an abundance of fresh air, and a life of calm and peace, we are far from the least happiest people on the face of this earth. I would welcome the people who did this survey to reconsider their stance on labeling a state as happy or not happy. Just because one particular area has an infestation of negativity, does not necessarily mean thier attitude represents the state as whole. In fact, you may want to ask our city slicker weekenders why they bother coming up here if it’s such a horrible place to be. I’m sure they will be asking you what you mean by horrible. It’s downright gorgeous, and though we are a small state, we differ in so many ways.

In a Time of Need, a Community Comes Together

It is said that in times of disaster we all come together. No matter what our past circumstances with eachother were, we put those differences aside and work together and build stronger bonds. This couldn’t be any more true for a family in Granby that has sadly lost everything in a house fire. Everything that they had built their entire lives with is now burnt down to the ground. Poof. Gone. Just like that.

While hearing of house fires is nothing new, many of us just couldn’t bare to think of it happening to ourselves, but what if it did? What if you were to lose everything you ever owned? Family photos from memorable vacations or even those of loved ones who have passed, beds, clothes, even appliances. What would you do, and most importantly, just how would you cope?

It can’t be done alone. It can only be done through a community who’s heart is as big as the family who is suffering such a devastating loss. There are a lot donation efforts going on right now for the family in various ways, but one person in particular has decided to get a little creative while trying to help out a neighbor in need. Sheila Santiago, of Sheila’s Paintings, has decided to auction off a painting as a way of helping to raise funds. The painting is on an old recycled kitchen door and displays a calm flowing river, which perhaps one can translate to a sign of hope and peace.

While Sheila says there is no end date for the fundraiser, she does hope to raise any amount of money possible to help this family get back up on their feet again. She goes on to say that for every $5 donation you make, you are entered into the drawing for the painting, so if you were to make a $20 donation, you would be entered 4 times. In times such as this, is there really a limit to what can be done? Any little bit goes a long way, and so too does any little bit of creativity to help raise funds.

Donations to the fundraiser can be made as follows:

Check made payable to:
Sheila Santiago
PO BOX 5
Granby, CT 06035

Or by PayPal:
creativehaddesigns@yahoo.com

For more information on the story of the fire, click here. To find out more about how you can help, click here to access a Facebook event that Sheila has put together.

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Leave Inspired: How One Art Gallery in Torrington Plays a Big Role

What is it about art that seemingly takes us to a world away? Art is funny like that. We stare at it. Admire it. Laugh at it. Think about it. In the end, we get lost in it, and as we do we find ourselves almost in a parallel universe. Why, you could almost find yourself taking a mini vacation. Okay, but without the sound effects.

There’s one artist I really admire, even to this day. He’s the Norman Rockwell of Litchdield County, Connecticut. He’s an inspiration to my dreams and he’s very much an inspiration to all. Joe Kopler, based right in the rural city of Torrington, Connecticut is a small town man with a big heart, and his work reflects it.

Joe has an art gallery located right in his home, a bit unique, but once you spend time there you will suddenly find yourself getting motivated to go out and do the things you inspire to do. Quotes such as “Time is a river, you can choose to ride the positive river flowing through life or you can choose to fight the current struggle to stay in place.” blanket his art gallery.

Joe is a positive vibe for Torrington, as well as Litchfield County. His art inspires. He even inspires me to continue writing this blog, and to keep doing the things I love! (Wow, art does all that?)

You’ll notice something a little different about Joe’s work, however. He isn’t your everyday artist. His art is sculptured, almost three dimensional so it’s as if you’re really there in the painting! I have a few hanging up on the walls at home, and after a long day at work, it’s great to come back home and get lost in his paintings. I love to just sit back on the couch and let my imagination run wild.

More recently, Joe’s artwork has been helping me to recover. I was in an accident back in December and I’ve been spending a lot of time at home. Glancing up at his paintings and dreaming about far distant places has been very theraputic. I can’t say that about many artists.

So Joe, thank-you. Thank-you for creating the wonderful works of art that you do. Thank-you for continuing to inspire me, and many others, to become better people. I couldn’t have done it without you and your art. Thank-you, for being you.

For more information, check out his website!

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Traveling the World on Bed Rest

No one ever said life was easy, but it sure is interesting! This week has really been just that for me. I was dealt some pretty bad cards just before the holidays, but I’m really making the best out of a bad situation. After all, isn’t that what you should do?

It all began the morning of Friday December 14th. May we all never forget that day after what had happened in the quaint little town of Newtown. My heart continues to be heavy for them. Around the same time that morning, just before 10AM as I was commuting back home from work, I blacked out at the wheel and drove my car into a guardrail where it then totaled my 2008 Ford Focus and once I become conscious again I sat and stared at a guardrail inside of the car with almost every airbag imaginable deployed.

I was pretty lucky. I survived with few injuries that I really felt the day after causing me not to walk. Pains in the lower back and right knee have not been too kind to me. My doctor on the hand was very kind to hand me a prescription for Vicodin.

Just when I thought the traumatic week was over, I nearly die a second time thanks to an infected tooth that was caused by nerve damage from the accident. I was lucky to have seen the dentist at 8AM walking in with a 100 degree fever and throbbing headache. The tooth is out, but had I not had it taken care of, it was about to close up my airways.

Yes, it’s been one crazy week just before the holidays. Never would I have ever imagined any of this. Then again, who does! When it rains it pours.

The doctor has commanded me to plenty of R&R….in bed! My mobility is quite limited still. We’ve done blood work to ensure the reason I blacked out wasn’t a thyroid problem but that has since come back okay. We are waiting on the results of the cat-scan next. Obviously the doctor is quite worried as to why I blacked out just as much as he is about my limited mobility.

So, what does one do in my position? Well, lets explore what I’ve been doing so far.

1. Sleep. Oh, it’s been a beautiful thing to catch up on sleep! I can sleep all day and night thanks to the wonderful drugs I’ve been out on. Sweet, beautiful, blissful sleep. Almost as if I was a baby all over again, but then comes the weird dreams I’ve been having thanks to the Vicodin which include snowboarding in Hawaii and running away from volcanic eruptions. This isn’t working out so well.

2. Television. I don’t have cable or satellite since I canceled it months ago on the count of I’m never home so I’m limited to DVD’s. Oh, it’s great to catch up on all the old movies I have laying around! But, then they get really, really old to watch and I’m out back to sleep and dreaming about parachuting from the Eiffel Tower. Nope, still not working out well.

3. 52 Pick Up. What a fun old school game! I found a deck of cards sitting on the nightstand. After playing a couple of solo games, I was ready for 52 pickup that I would have assumed would land on the bed. Nope, all over the floor instead. Well, that game ended quickly so it was back to dreamland I went dreaming about being chased by tigers in jungle and falling off a cliff. Nope, not working out well.

4. Social Media. Okay, this I can deal with. I’m a social media guru. Being on sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are sure to keep me busy. I’m able to get the proper R&R I need while still being able to talk with friends and family. But, then I see all the posts about Newtown and I don’t want to get all depressed so I decide to fall asleep and dream about being on the Titanic. Nope, this still isn’t working out well.

Yup, this has been my week. Laid up, and drugged up in bed. I wonder what my doctor has in store next for me? I could only hope it’s not more pills. I really, really want some normal dreams again! I’m tired of the elephants, I’m tired of the Oompa Loompa chasing after me, and I’m tired of jumping out of random planes in random countries.

For someone who hasn’t left the bed, I feel like quite the world traveler. Maybe I should take these medications more often.

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Outside In: Decorating for Christmas from the Great Outdoors

So this year I’ve been pretty excited about the whole holiday decorating thing. I mean, honestly who isn’t? Every year I, like many of you, unpack and search high and low for every single piece of decor I tucked away since the spring. I really hate that dreaded game. You think you know where everything is then boom, it’s not where you remember it to be!

Well, this year I decided to do something completely different thanks to a little site, and my trusty new friend, called Pinterest. Pinterest, the online pin board for just about everything you can think of, is highly addicting and has tons of cool ideas to deck the halls for the holidays. Searching through, I noticed so many have been going traditional and bringing the outdoors, indoors. That’s a cool idea! I mean why should I go but a thing of garland when I can get pine from my own backyard for free and have a field day in my home!

Oh yeah, field day is exactly what’s been happening. In fact, I may be going just a little over the top with this and you may think you’ve walked into the woods when you enter my home but it’s a feeling I’m really enjoying!

I went for a little hike and savaged up a whole bunch of pine branches and balsams. Next, I collected a whole lot of pine cones and some hard wood pieces. It was a lot of fun for me finding this stuff. It was like one big scavenger hunt in the big old woods! I felt just like a kid.

Now, into the decorating. I’m no Martha Stewart, but when you take some pine branches and throw them onto a coffee table and scatter a few little pine cones around candles your night going to use, it really looks awesome! I did this trend though out the whole house and now I’ve turned my house into a rustic Christmas lodge. A few pine cones and pine around some mirrors, a log with some pine in front of the television, yup, I’d say it’s starting to look a whole lot like Christmas at my house, and on a shoestring budget of free!

Thanks, Pinterest, I owe you one.

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Battening Down the Hatches

Living at or above 1,000 feet is often a joy, especially during the winter time when the snow really piles up. During the fall, the views are picturesque. During a hurricane, nothing is all that joyous!

The talk today has been how bad the winds from Sandy are going to be, especially at the higher elevations like we have here in Litchfield County. The talk of 60-80 mph gusts throughout the duration of the storm will have anyone at high altitudes shaking, and with the amount of trees that surround us, well you get the picture. It’s going to be scary!

Power outages are a sure thing. Already prepared for that by stocking up on candles and the essentials. We’re now less than 48 hours from impact. Many of us have already battened down the hatches. All that is left to do is wait. If the forecast plays out exactly as it is planned, then Litchfield County will be spared the significant rains, but won’t be spared the damaging winds. Much of my property has been cleared off. Oh, how I wish I lived in a field without trees around though.

Remember, get prepared for the worst. Not that the worst will happen, but it’s better to be safe then sorry. Spend the day today gathering last minute things and connecting with friends and loved ones. We’ll get through this!

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