Monthly Archives: December 2014

“From our home to yours, we wish you good health, calm spirits, creativity, and time shared with those you love in the coming year.”

Moab

Arches National Park, Moab Utah, June 2014 Judy & Steve in the Arch following the long hike up!  Click photo to expand view…

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30th Wedding Anniversary, Cannon Beach, Oregon April 2014…Click photo to expand view…

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Mom, Marcella, Age 96, at Christmas 2014 opening gifts…  Click photo to expand view…

Click the Highlighted Text for More…links to past postings from our travels…

HaPpY NeW yEaR!                                                                  December, 2014

Wishing all of you Happy Holidays and a Happy 2015!  Hard to believe we’re already 15 years into the 21st Century.  2014 was a good year for us.  We celebrated our 30th anniversary in April and renewed our vows in Cannon Beach, Oregon.  We had a wonderful party for two, and enjoyed a few nights at the beach about 100 miles north of Depoe Bay. 

We never seem to tire of our life here on the Oregon Coast.  It was unusually great weather from July through September, so we enjoyed daily beach walks, looking for sea glass, and breathing fresh salt air when we weren’t playing golf.  I played with Agate Beach Women’s Golf Club this year and went to several Invitationals at other local courses this summer….really fun!  Steve was able to start playing by July, following another shoulder surgery in February.  We both worked to put on our Neighbors for Kids Charity annual golf tourney in late July, our nonprofit’s major fundraiser.  I played in a Ladies foursome of friends, and Steve sponsored and played with a group of local high school Golf Team stars.  We had a great day, enjoyed having Dan Fouts play with us again, and raised significant funds for NFK’s model afterschool program

We traveled stateside twice this year.  During May/June we traveled throughout the Southwest for a month.  Steve participated in the American Military Family Museum opening in Albuquerque, NM, and has since had his written work on children and families suffering from trauma archived through the museum.  We also visited with staff at the Vietnam Memorial Museum near Angel Fire, NM, and the Bataan Museum in Sante Fe.  We spent a week of quality time with the principals who founded the new museum in Albuquerque, a great group of high energy people we now call our friends.  We were welcomed and honored to be hosted by our new friends.

Steve spoke with a Veterans for Vets group in Pagosa Springs, Co, where we spent a week following our time in New Mexico.  We also loved soaking in the Pagosa Hot Springs.  Moab was another fun stop on our return trip home, hiking in Arches National Park.  We made it to the top!

During October we traveled to Long Beach (Lone Sailor Memorial) to attend our niece’s wedding on the Queen Mary and spent time with Steve’s sister Laura, her daughters and extended family.  We also saw close friends in San Diego and loved catching up, and stayed a few days on the beach near the Oceanside Pier.  We drove over to Palm Springs area for a few days to see my sister Joy and nephew Max, and more longtime friends.  So it was great to see everyone and enjoy some warm weather.  We saw Steve’s 96 year old Mother in Reno on our way home and old friends in the Bay Area.  We feel blessed!

Steve was elected as Depoe Bay City Councilor in November.  He’ll be sworn into office on January 6.  He’s spent the last few months doing due diligence and is ready to hit the ground running next month!  Needless to say, we’ve really gotten to know many folks here, and we both enjoy being engaged in the community.

I’ll continue my volunteer work at Neighbors for Kids as their Family Literacy Coordinator.  We host a monthly Family Night, focusing on building literacy skills and offering learning opportunities connected with our STEAM programs (science, technology, engineering, art and math).  We serve a meal and offer fun activities parents can share with their children.  Our events have grown this year so our outreach to families seems to be catching on.  We have willing community partners that want to see our kids succeed, and our programs are a positive addition to our local public schools. Like many places, education funding is an ongoing struggle here, so it’s cool to be able to help children in our own community.

We enjoyed Christmas with Sarah and her boyfriend, Ron…….oh, and of course our grand dog Skai!  They were with us the 24th – 26th.  Sarah is in transition and plans to work in her field, case management or child behavior management, in Portland after the first of the year.  We’re happy she’s not too far away.  Steve’s older daughters and their families live in Southern California and Minneapolis, MN, so we don’t see our grandkids as often as we’d like.  They’re almost all young adults now! Ages 21, 20, 19 and 14.

From our home to yours, we wish you good health, calm spirits, creativity, and time shared with those you love in the coming year.

 Steve & Judy Sparks, Depoe Bay, Oregon

Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…click on the highlighted text for my author page…

Oceanside

Gorgeous Sunset at Oceanside, Ca. October 2014…Don’t miss the rare capture of Sea Gull in photo!

 

Kids Remind Us of The Christmas Spirit… Surround yourself with the joy and laughter of children…

 

KidsHero

“Be a Kids Hero!” Click highlighted text for more…

Superhero child against blue sky background

Click photo to expand view…

 

This time of year I reflect on the many blessings in my life… my family, my friends, and Heroes like you who are helping make the world a better place for children. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah or simply the warmth of the season, I wish you and your family peace, love and much happiness. Thank you for making my 2014 so very memorable and I look forward to partnering with you in the coming year as we collaborate to continue raising awareness and work to protect even more children.

Warmest wishes,

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My friend and colleague Ginger Kadlec has helped me over the past several years to learn more about the lasting effects of children victimized by maltreatment and child abuse.  My heightened level of awareness has strengthened my own journey of healing from experiencing the trauma of child abuse while growing up as a military child during the 1950’s and early 1960’s.  I am now able to talk about and share my experience with others without shame or denial.  I have come to know and believe that those who suffer from past traumatic events, including child abuse, can heal from the invisible wounds and symptoms of depression, anxiety and guilt.  It is not what is wrong with a trauma victim, it is what happened to them! (click highlighted text).  Knowing this fact allows a person struggling with the painful emotional baggage of traumatic events, including maltreatment and child abuse, to move forward in life with peace of mind and much improved mental health.

It is in the spirit of Ginger’s holiday greeting and heartwarming work to protect children, our most precious resource, that I extend my thanks and best wishes during this season to my three daughters, and their families, other family members, friends, and followers.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…

Practicing Mindfulness is Life Changing! Being in the present…Now a classroom exercise for kids…

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Jon Kabat-Zinn: There are a lot of different ways to talk about mindfulness, but what it really means is awareness. Anderson Cooper: Is it being present? Jon Kabat-Zinn: It is being present. That’s exactly what it is.

Being Present and Aware is Mindfulness…  Quote from this website article and highly informative video clip with Anderson Cooper, CBS News 60 Minutes…

Anderson Cooper: I don’t feel I’m very present in each moment. I feel like every moment I’m either thinking about something that’s coming down the road, or something that’s been in the past.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: So ultimately all this preparing is for what? For the next moment, like the last moment, like, and then we’re dead (laugh) so in a certain way…

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Our teachers at Neighbors for Kids, Depoe Bay, Oregon, spend a couple of minutes before each new program or class to help kids to be in the present…to be mindful.  I have watched the technique many times and notice immediately how important it is to learning for children to transition quietly and breathe deeply as a way to focus on the present.  Kids run from one thing to the next, minds full of anticipation and reflection…often not ready to focus in the present.  Helping kids get back to being in the moment really works!

It took me many decades and most of my life to appreciate the value of being in the present.  Mindfulness is the foundation for my own journey of healing as a trauma survivor.  I am practicing being in the present right now while writing this important blog post.  Writing is one of my key treatment strategies that changed my life almost 4 years ago while researching and writing my book, along with starting this blog.  My mind does drift and being in the present takes some discipline.  Self talk resulting from returning to a painful past and thinking too much about the future with anxiety is a habit not easily broken, especially for trauma survivors. 

Although my life experience has proven that during those special times that I unknowingly practiced being in the present, it was always relaxing and joyful…  I dreamed of being mindful of the present every moment of the day, but did not know how…  I haven’t yet achieved perfection at “being,” but the joy of being present most of the time these days is a peace of mind to be treasured…  Jon Kabat-Zinn: “a timeless quality of being in the moment…”

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…  Click on the highlighted text for my author page…

How Does Violence Affect Kids? Holidays can be especially toxic for some families…

Ray Rice

Ray Rice incident of domestic violence sparked a national conversation…time for more awareness…

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How Violence Affects Children…click image for larger view.

Raising Domestic Violence Awareness During the Holidays… Quote from this website article from 9News… Click on the video clip while reading the article…

“But after the video of then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice hitting his then-fiancee Janay Rice in an elevator surfaced, calls to the National Domestic Violence hotline (1-800-799-SAFE)increased by 84 percent and remained higher than normal. Locally, a domestic violence advocacy organization in Loveland said they’ve received a significant increase in calls to their hotline and in walk-in requests for assistance since the video’s release.”

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For very many kids who live with toxic circumstances at home, there is no break for the holidays…  The holidays stirred up lots of extra stress and frustration in our home during my childhood c1950’s.  I know why now, as an adult and trauma survivor in my own life…  My parents lived with so much emotional pain that they created expectations of relief and a brief time for peace of mind for the holidays…  As kids we were mostly joyful with big expectations for the holiday season.  It was supposed to be the happiest time of the year.  It was more often not the case in our home.  I know now that in every neighborhood there are many homes that show a pattern of increased violence during the weeks leading up to Christmas.  Carrying around emotional baggage from past traumatic events cannot be put away during this special time of the year.  It is in general better to lower expectations during the holidays and be realistic about the journey healing from past traumatic events.

If your parent is a combat veteran, bad memories are often more vivid during the holidays.  My father lost close friends and shipmates during the holidays starting with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  Dad tried to hide his pain with alcohol, the only choice for self medication at the time.  We siblings were often in the middle of rage and fights, sometimes physical and mental abuse.  Consequently, the fear of the holidays and terrible memories became part of our family culture.  It was much better to be in school or at a friend’s home to feel safe and joyful.  We always envied families who seemed happy, and loved to be invited over to share in the holiday joy and laughter…tough to find in our home for the most part. 

Awareness is the key in mitigating a potentially explosive holiday season.  Step up the awareness campaign in your home and do not pretend.  By discussing expectations and past experiences of toxic behavior and the reasons together as a family, you could be surprised that improved relationships and some peace of mind can be discovered along the way.  Talking to each other and showing you care can make a huge difference.  Get the hugging started,  and cry when you feel like it.  Surrounding your family with love and attention is the best treatment possible as trauma survivors.  Don’t escape to your “blanket fort.”  Stay in the family room close to the spirit of Christmas and joy of the season.  Do this together as a family!  You will not be disappointed…

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…  Click on the highlighted text for my author page…

Can Parents and Mentors Help Teach Kids How to Achieve Peace of Mind?

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Mindful Gifts for Children…click on photo for larger view…

Mindfulness Gifts for Kids…  Quote from this website article…by Playful Learning…

“As the girls get older and confront many new situations, I am finding that one of the most important things I can teach them, is how to find a sense of peace within themselves.

Whether it is a situation with peers, pressure from school, or scary things they hear about in the news, we want our children to know that they can handle and process anything that comes their way.”

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I am a very late boomer bloomer when it comes to learning how to achieve a mind at peace…  My life was so toxic and scary growing up and during my adult life that emotional numbness and self medication strategies seemed the only answer to slow my mind down during off hours at home.  I could never sit still or relax peacefully…hardly ever.  During the day my mind was busy with work, school, and exercise regimen, an excellent agenda to stay focused and keep my head from wondering back to painful places and insecurity.  I can’t remember ever having my parents or teachers teach me strategies that would help my emotional challenges during the evening hours and to get a healthy nights sleep…  I hated downtime!  Sleeping peacefully and restfully was a rare experience…nightmares haunted me just about every night…

I was thrilled to find this website resource, Playful Learning.  Reading through the reference information and discussion got my attention and pointed me right back to my childhood.  These are the early years that we parents, educators, and mentors can make a difference in helping kids learn techniques of mindfulness to help us develop lasting strategies to learn how to relax and reflect…achieve peace of mind in healthy ways…

I am all in on getting kids and teens engaged in exercises that help them sit back and take a deep breath.  Kids need time to think and reflect.  They need to learn early how to feel secure with themselves alone, away from all the noise of life for a bit.  Help your child learn about mindfulness exercises by researching the Playful Learning website.  Find a gift that suits his or her needs, and show them how to achieve peace of mind on a regular basis early in life.  As a parent or mentor you will provide a gift that lasts a life-time. 

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…  Click highlighted text for my author page…

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, December 7, 1941…My Father’s Memories…

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USS West Virginia (BB48) Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941… It was when this photo was taken, my Dad, Vernon H. Sparks, US Navy, Coxswain, was swimming to Ford Island following the call by Capt. Bennion to “Abandon Ship!”

 

 

A post WWII family's struggle with moral injury and PTSD

Photos on cover of Vernon and Marcella Sparks c1940 and the USS West Virginia in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor…

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The well recognized photo of the USS West Virginia (BB48) is very personal to me.  I know my father, Vernon, was swimming to Ford Island at the time the photo was taken of his ship sinking in Pearl Harbor.  The heartfelt feelings are healing and provide a special spiritual connection to my father.  When asked, Dad talked of his experience on that fateful day so long ago… I could tell it was hard for Dad to speak of the events because the memories were so vivid and painful for him.  He lost his best friend and shipmate Roy Powers on that day, and could never get past the memory of seeing his battle buddy falling back headless from looking out the porthole of the ship during the bombing.  Dad rarely spoke of the rest of WWII and the many months he spent in hard combat in the South Pacific.  He finally came home in June of 1945 just before WWII ended.  I tell my family’s post WWII story of forgiveness and healing in the books listed below.

My cousin, Dawn, in Minneapolis, Mn., sent me Dad’s written account of his experience aboard the USS West Virginia (BB48) before he finally abandoned ship as ordered.  Dad wrote his account for the US Park Service on the 50th Anniversary (1991) of the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.(click on this powerful ABC video clip)!  This was the first time he returned to Pearl Harbor following WWII to receive the Pearl Harbor Survivors Medal.  The unexplained part of this story, is that my father never shared the US Park Service document with his immediate family.  He mailed it to his sister, Dolly, for safe keeping.  My guess  is that it was too painful for him to share the tragic details with us by revisiting the experience over and over again…

In honor of all those who served, and the families who waited for weeks to learn of the fate of loved ones, following is my father Vernon’s transcribed first person account of those minutes following the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941…

Vernon H. Sparks Handwritten Account

Following is a transcription from the National Park Service…

National Park Service

Survivor Questionnaire – Persons Present December 7, 1941, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii

Vernon H. Sparks, US Navy, Battleship USS West Virginia, Coxswain

Hometown: St. Paul, Mn

Brief Account of What Happened to You Before, During, & After the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor.

I was on the 3rd deck heading for the anchor windless room when the first torpedo hit the USS West Virginia. From there, more bombing and torpedoes-when all hell broke loose.Men in the brig were screaming for help. I could not respond, there was no time…to check where the Marine guard was with the keys to the cells. Evidently, he had already been hit.The men in the brig were engulfed in water and perished.I worked my way up to the2nd deck with water up to my waist.By this time, I came to a hatch with the manhole still open leading to the main deck.I barely made it out of the escape hatch and was ordered by Lt. Stark to close that hatch.The men were still down there but it was too late for them.That was the first time I heard that the Japs were attacking our fleet…and the whole island. I watched one of my best shipmates get himself killed-Roy Powers.He stuck his head out the port side close to the ship-fitters shop; and about that time another torpedo hit and the concussion blew his head off.His body fell back on deck headless.  After that it was a matter of surviving.  There was no defense, the ship was already listing to port at about 35 degrees angle.I worked myself up further on the deck and observed the Commanding Officer, Mervyn S. Bennion heading for the bridge.The strafing and bombing was still on.When I arrived on the main deck going forward to the number one turret…strafing still going on…I dived under the overhang of the turret.Communications was out, so by word of mouth heard the order, “all hands abandon ship.”Note: Capt. Bennion was lying on the wing of the bridge mortally wounded…He asked the doc, “What kind of chance he had?”And was told, “Not much Captain.”Then, Captain Bennion said, “Leave me on the bridge and this is my last order, ALL HANDS ABANDON SHIP!”He died right after that order… After that order I jumped over the side to starboard and swam to Ford Island…Us guys that made it were standing on the beach watching the USS Arizona blow up sky high…what a helpless feeling.  I had torn my white uniform up to use as emergency treatment bandages for the wounded. Anyway, to make a long story short, we dashed across the field under strafing conditions to shelter. In the BOQ, we were able shower in there and salvage clothes from the lockers, and helped organize the Harbor Patrol. And was with that duty for a few months – then assigned to new construction with the 5th Amphibious Force hitting the beaches of the South Pacific, all the way, then finally Iwo Jima, & Okinawa until the Peace Treaty was signed aboard the USS Missouri in Toyko, Japan.  People like myself could go on & on…but that would take a book…

Vernon H. Sparks, December 7, 1941, Battleship USS West Virginia

From Ship’s Crew Muster

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“Remember Pearl Harbor!”

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…  Click on highlighted text for my author page…

You can also purchase the Pearl Harbor 50th Anniversary Edition…by clicking the highlighted text or on my sidebar…

 

 

 

 

 

I Used to Hate the Holiday Season, Especially Christmas…Fighting Depression Demons

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8 Signs and Symptoms of Someone Slipping into a Dangerous Depression…

Symptoms of depression can worsen during the holidays…  Quote from this website article by Life-Sight.com…

“Whether someone is suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder or if they have been struggling to overcome chronic depression for years, dealing with depression is never easy. Understanding the signs and symptoms of depression can help you ensure your loved ones are given the support and assistance necessary to get their lives back on track.  Click on the highlighted link and review the 8 signs and symptoms of someone slipping into a dangerous depression.”

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Most of us are familiar with the symptoms of depression these days because of the awareness campaigns, discussions, and conversations all around us at home, work, and play.  What we do mostly is shy away from actually telling loved ones “you may suffer from depression” and encouraging them to seek support.

Symptom #8…Quoted from the referenced website article

BUILDING A SUPPORT GROUP

“Building a support group for your friend or loved one is important when they are suffering from depression. Gathering their closest and most trusted friends and family members is a way for you to show you are there for them in their time of need.”

I used to retreat from family members and loved ones during holidays, and as a result spoiled these special times for others, who wondered what was wrong with me…  If you are feeling depressed, say so, but do not retreat to your blanket fort.   The “blanket fort”  (click on highlighted Pinterest link) might work for a short time, but it is not an effective treatment for depression, nor is alcohol  or drugs.  After you share your feelings of pain, get to work in the kitchen, play games, watch football, surround yourself with children and laughter.  You will get better almost immediately.  And since depression treatment is a work in progress, seek professional help.  Find a long term alternative treatment strategy that works for you, especially if the treatment involves making a difference for others, including using your creative talents to help the greater good…  This is the journey of healing that effectively fights back depression and keeps pain at a safe distance.

Writing this blog today is one very important part of my own treatment strategy for anxiety and depression.  Once becoming completely aware of my own symptoms, I have been able to keep the pain mostly at a safe distance…it is harder work during the holidays.  Researching and writing my book was the beginning of my own life long healing process.  Keeping loved ones and close friends in the loop has also been critical.  I don’t spoil holidays for everyone else anymore.  I love Christmas!  It is never too late to confront the demons of depression and anxiety.

Happy Holidays!

Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1…   Click on the highlighted text for my author page…