Why in the Hell Do I Want to Keep a Blog?

Why in the Hell Do I Want to Keep a Blog?
Excellent question! Years ago, I began a blog as a way to share my long-distance hike on the Appalachian Trail with friends and loved ones back home. It was then that I realized how satisfying maintaining a blog was. I really do enjoy writing!

Later, when I lost my grandson and shortly thereafter, my son, followed shortly after that by my brother, I found that the blog afforded me a way to pour the overwhelming emotions I was feeling out into the universe. And I discovered that in sharing my own travails, others came forward. I realized that in being open and vulnerable, others didn't feel so alone. I understood that in a small way, I had the ability to lift the veil on mental illness, and maybe reduce the stigma just a bit.

So, once again, I'm taking up my pen and throwing myself into the universe. My primary hope is that in sharing of myself, maybe others who face similar struggles will feel less alone, and maybe, just maybe, I might inspire others who struggle as I do.

Life is good. Fight the good fight.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Sunrise Extraordinaire...

I used to write frequently, and I really enjoyed it immensely. I want to get back to it, but frankly it's been hard, despite my best efforts. Time constraints, practicality, and drive have prohibited me. But I dearly want to, so I'm going to ease in, in small snippets.

Today I have a literary snapshot of a morning watching a sunrise in Mexico. Just a few hours' time, yet I will treasure it forever.

I caught a cab from my resort at 5:30 am. I'd invited my fellow yogis the night before, but no one really wanted to approach the morning in its early bloom, so I was on my own...and just as well. I arrived about 15 minutes later, and I made my way to the furthest-most point on Punta del Sur, reportedly the first place where the sun peaks over the horizon in all of Mexico.

I came ready for my commune with the sun: I had a water-bottle filled with a perfectly-concocted mimosa, and an open and willing heart and an eager eye. I spied a stone windbreak and made my way to set up for the morning's show. But surprise! It was already occupied by two young fellows whom I estimated instantly to be about the age of my own children. They had blankets spread for their comfort, and a bluetooth speaker, over which they were playing music of my culture and generation, despite the fact that they were twenty-something young men from Jerusalem (as I discovered later).

That sunrise was utterly incredible. Knowing that I was among the first in Mexico to witness the birth of a new day was, in itself, breathtaking and spiritual. Sharing it almost wordlessly with two young men from another part of the world with vastly different views and lifestyles made it even more powerful. Despite age and gender differences, cultural and linguistic barriers, we shared a moment I shall never forget.

I'd arrived on Punta del Sur with high expectations. The dawn was beautiful, and I was in high spirits, basking in my love for travel and new experiences and looking forward to welcoming a new day. I'd arranged for a cab the night before, and as that capable fellow dropped me off at Punta del Sur the following morning, I bid him return at 7:30. In the meantime, the morning was mine, and it turned out to be pure magic.

It cost me three dollars U.S. to enter the furthest most point of Punta del Sur, which was a beautiful bluff overlooking the easternmost view of the sunrise over Mexico's portion of the Yucatan Peninsula. I came equipped with a 2-litre water bottle equipped with the perfect dry mimosa featuring fresh-squeezed orange-juice, and an eagerness to live fully. I made my way to the aforementioned windbreak, where the beautiful boys had already stationed themselves. They welcomed my heartily, and then the three of us proceeded to share the next hour nearly wordlessly, but with a strangely deep connection which I attribute wholly to our mutual desire to live fully. I quietly shared my mimosas with them and they passed me an occasional hit of ganga, all as we witnessed the sun's ascent. The icing on my cake was the fact that these boys were playing music from my generation-- two decades before they were a glimmer in their parents' eyes-- and it was the hippie stuff I'd chosen way back when! In particular was their choice of Pink Floyd: perfect!

So...I saw the sun rise in Mexico before the majority of the rest of the country. I found a relatively flat rock to settle my bum on, and I sipped champagne, toked a little ganga, and grooved to some of the best psychedelic music on the planet with two beautiful boys while I welcomed a new day. Not too shabby, eh?



It was an incredibly spiritual moment for me, and the sacrifice of sleep was well worth it. Beautiful morning, beautiful boys, beautiful sunrise, soul-searching music, and bonus gifts... amazing. one of the top moments of my life.







Thank you, universe. Thank you, Mexico. Thank you, boys...

(I have a time-lapse video but alas, I can't post it because of its file size. Trust me...it was magic.)

Wanna see more? 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Port in the Storm...

In navigating these new waters I find myself adrift upon, I "somehow" found myself the mistress of a 100-year-old house in Pensacola Florida, near the border of Alabama in Florida's westernmost portion of the panhandle.

In October of 2017, I signed the papers to declare myself the owner of a rather dilapidated, but very charming, little house in the neighborhood known as East Hill. I had a gut feeling that this house could be something significant for me from the very moment I laid eyes upon it. It was the biggest spontaneous decision of my life, and I firmly believe I will not regret it. There's something about this house...

I'd been to Pensacola on a number of occasions to visit dear friends, and in so doing, I fell in love with Pensacola. Although not tiny, it is significantly smaller than my hometown of Austin, Texas, and it has an even smaller-town feel than its population would suggest, especially within my neighborhood and likely other pockets throughout the city.

The street I am situated upon is lined with old houses of varying age. Mine is one of the oldest. There is a smattering of new construction, too, but primarily there is an eclectic mix of homes which gives this neighborhood a charm not found in neighborhoods in which all the homes were built at approximately the same time. There are beautiful old Victorian houses, Craftsman, and lots of little bungalows (if I am using the correct architectural terminology---not entirely sure). Mine is a tiny little bungalow, 1,200 square feet of living space: literally one-tenth of the size I have grown accustomed to occupying. And boy, what an adjustment! I have waaaaaaayyyyy too much stuff!

(An aside: No, I am not relocating permanently, this is a vacation home. I am not trying to move 8 spacious bedrooms of furniture into a diminutive 2-bedroom house. But I AM amused at what I'm learning about myself and my priorities as I decide just what I will allow myself to possess in this house.)

Many of these houses have been re-purposed into businesses. There is a by-appointment-only massage studio a block away. Several hair salons. An old-fashioned barber. A guy who teaches dance lessons in his garage. A florist. A gift shop. A couple of married ceramics artists ---the beloved friends who initially brought me to Pensacola--- who have a studio and gallery. All in some of the oldest homes here. Each interspersed by houses and other businesses in more modern (but still pretty old) buildings: a bakery; a tiny hardware store (which, incidentally, resembles a hoarder's paradise but the lone owner/clerk knows exactly where to find whatever you're looking for); an art gallery/studio open for classes. These are the people in my neighborhood, in my neighborhood, in my neighborhood...

Yes. Small town vibe, for sure. And I like it. There's a coffee shop I can walk to. A couple of restaurants. And my grocery store is moments away. It has a resident cat, Moose, who is known and loved by everyone. He dashes to greet people in the parking lot, or basks in the sun's rays by the shopping carts. Most everyone pauses to greet him. He belongs to us all.

It's the little stuff like that that make this community feel comfortable. Even the eccentric (and not altogether there) old man who lives next door and is prone to wordlessly begging change and cigarettes from me and my crew, and is known for petty theft, adds color to this neighborhood. (His name is Henry, by the way, and so far he hasn't lifted anything from me that I am aware of. I actually like him. He always has a hug and a toothless smile for me, and though I can't understand a word of his gibberish attempt at speech, I can decipher some of what he wishes he could say.)

So yeah, I fell in love with Pensacola. And during a visit sometime in the summer of 2017, I drove past this house and was enchanted at first sight. I was leaving to head back to Austin at 7:00 am the following day, but I made a spontaneous decision to call the realtor whose name was listed on the For Sale sign posted in the front yard, and she agreed to meet me there at 7:00 on my way out of town.

Needless to say, in addition to falling in love with Pensacola, I also fell in love with this house. Its three funky little fireplaces in rooms with shared walls that feed into a single chimney (makes me wonder about...um, private moments in either of the bedrooms), its sagging wood floors, its crazy beautiful bones. And when I learned that a previous owner, sometime in the last 30 years, added a small but reasonably-sized studio already wired for a kiln, I truly believed this house was calling to me. And typically, I am not a new-agey, fate-believing sort, but like I said: there was something about this house...

Life has taken a turn for me ---a long overdue turn--- and I find myself alone. I knew this day was coming. I've known it for years. And when it came, I pictured myself with a little getaway in the mountains of the Carolinas or Kentucky or something ---somewhere in Appalachia, not here. I really thought I'd settle in Ashville. I'm a woods/forest girl and always have been. That's where my heart lives. But fate and emotion and circumstance all collided in such a way as to land me here. Makes no sense. And sometimes I believe that is the best path. And I'm glad.

SO....
I have a little house and I'm making her mine.
The task is enormous, even for such a small home. I'm feeding lots of families.

But when I am done, she'll be a little jewel. Maybe a gawdy, over-the-top little jewel, but she's my fort, my port, my own. She's My Little Jewel.

Here's Google's street view and what the house looked like when I began:


Here's the exterior now...



Maybe it doesn't look like much but there has been a TON of work just to get it here. And soon the fence will go up, the exterior paint will be applied, and the house will be transformed. And that doesn't include landscaping or detail work.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

I'll Love You Forever...

Dear Ethan,

I love you sweetheart. I love you to the moon and back a gazillion times and a gazillion times again. I love you more than all the stars in the sky, all the grains of sand on the beach. I love you in the way only a mama can love her boy.

Five years ago today, you left us. It's been a struggle to find a new normal in a world without my Ethan, but baby, I want you to know that I'm finding my way. It hasn't been easy, and I stumble regularly, but I'm learning to put one foot in front of the other and to keep on keeping on. I feel certain that you wouldn't want me to hold onto my sorrow, so I am doing everything in my power to let go of the hurt and hang onto only the love.

I remember you, baby. You're the precious little boy who used to try to suck both of your thumbs at the same time. You're the boy who could recite the lines of all your favorite movies, verbatim. You're the boy who used to play the trombone so beautifully, and who had the rare trait of perfect pitch. I remember how excited your piano teacher was to discover this, and the enthusiasm in his voice when he shared the discovery with us. That's a really rare gift.

You had many rare gifts, baby. Especially that amazing brain of yours. You were one of the smartest people I ever met, and the world lost a treasure when you went away. You could have been almost anything you wanted to be. But you couldn't be happy. And I understand, honey. Probably more than anyone else on the planet, I understand.

I remember you and your brothers and sister and I going to Home Depot and trying to whistle the Colonel Bogey March (the theme song to the movie The Bridge Over the River Kwai) in unison without breaking up into gales of laughter. That's one of my favorite memories, and whenever I hear that song I think of you. The other shoppers loved it too.

I remember singing the songs to the soundtrack of the movie, "Chicago." The one where Richard Gere sings about the gun, and the tempo grows increasingly faster...trying to see who could get the most words out without drawing a breath.

I remember walkie-talkies in the grocery store. You and Rhiannon loved it when I'd use the radio to tell you to go get flour on aisle 5, then meet me by the eggs. It made shopping an adventure, and you loved it.

I remember you putting a package of condoms in the shopping cart, thinking they were those foil-wrapped chocolate coins. I remember the shopper nearby laughing as she listened to me try to explain that no, honey, it's not chocolate. It's called a condom. "What's a condom?" "Well, it's something for grownups." "What's it for?" "Well..."

Yes, honey. I remember you. My beautiful, handsome, intelligent, troubled boy. I hope you found the peace you were looking for. I understand why you had to go away. I just wish, selfishly, that you could have stayed around.

Sometimes I want to go away, too, but I've made a resolution to stick around. I'm going to live more fully for both of us. And no matter where I go, no matter what I do, I'm going to carry you with me.

I love you, darling. Forever and always.

Love,
Mama


Memorial Tribute to Cpl. Ethan Vanderwilt
(click link)


















Monday, June 18, 2018

Passion and Crème Brûlée

I posed a challenge to a friend yesterday, and upon contemplating my challenge, I realized just how difficult an assignment it was. You see, I asked him to think about what he feels most passionately about, and list his top five. I specified that these things should be positive passions. After all, one could be passionate in their detestation of, say, raw seafood or human trafficking. No, my challenge was for him to ponder what sets his mind and/or heart alight, or what drives him in the here and now. I told him I didn’t want to know his answers; only that he think about it. So I decided to take on the challenge myself, and the challenge proved far more difficult than I’d anticipated.

What is passion? Dictionary.com defines passion as follows:

     1.   any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate. 
     2.   strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor. 
     3.   strong sexual desire; lust. 
     4.   an instance or experience of strong love or sexual desire. 
     5.   a person toward whom one feels strong love or sexual desire. 
     6.   a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything: a passion for music. 
     7.   the object of such a fondness or desire: Accuracy became a passion with him. 
     8.   an outburst of strong emotion or feeling: He suddenly broke into a passion of bitter words. 
     9.   violent anger. 
   There are others, but they do not apply to the train of thought I am aiming for.

There are many "ordinary" things that I feel passionately about. For instance, like probably almost everyone on this big beautiful planet, I am fiercely passionate about love (whether familial, romantic, or friendship), and my desire to both give and receive it. I’m passionate about the beauty of nature: a breathtaking sunrise, a snow-covered mountain, a delicate butterfly’s wing. I’m passionate about my personal interests: tennis, literature, art... there are many things I feel passionate about. But these things are rather obvious and expected, even though they are most assuredly true and legitimate passions. But I want to dig deeper. What is it that is uppermost in my mind at this particular moment of my life? What drives me now

For the purposes of this self-imposed assignment, I believe that the sixth item on the definitions list above most accurately points toward what I was asking from my friend and now, from myself. After careful contemplation, I’ve come up with several. I’ll share them with you one by one. The first on my list, and the topic of today’s post, is my desire to regain my health and be the best me I can be. That sounds so cliché, so let me put it in a way that might give you a greater appreciation of my truth: I want to save my life, and furthermore, I want to truly live it! I’m ready. It’s time.

Does a goal equal a passion? In my mind it does, and the first is to be well. Truly, wholly well. I guess you could say that my number one passion at this juncture is my own health and fitness.

Frankly, I’ve been neglectful of both my mental and physical health these past years, and I have an ardent desire to change that and emulate the people who I most admire in my life: Ivi, Claudia, Andrea, Paulo, James, Wendy, Donna…there are many others. The common denominator that these people share is a life of balance that includes being extremely diligent about maintaining their health. I want that for myself, too. I believe that if I just keep to the path I’ve outlined for myself, the rest will follow. 

The past eight years have been extremely challenging, and somewhere along the way I lost myself. It was, quite frankly, like I was drowning. I felt myself slip below the surface many times, but I managed to come back up for air each time. Grief and trauma, difficult transitions and loss consumed me, and I quit caring about myself for a while. I ate to excess to mask my emotions, and I drank too much for the same reasons. I chain-smoked cigarettes (and the occasional joint), and even used cocaine now and then. I self-medicated in all the worst ways: anything to forget. Even worse, I kept to myself and wallowed in my sorrow. I withdrew from family, friends, and indeed the world. 

On several occasions I vowed to force myself to get better. I'd make a few positive steps then slide back beneath the surface, only to keep trying to come up for air again. Then, finally, one day I decided that I was done wallowing in the past. I knew I had to make a concerted effort to get a handle on my life and my desire to be well…or at least better. No more letting setbacks get the better of me.

Recently I've begun to get involved in different activities in order to meet new friends whose lifestyles merge with my desire to live a life of healthy moderation, including riding my motorcycle, learning to dance, and resuming yoga practice. I still stumble and fall back into unhealthy patterns now and then, but with each setback I pick myself up off the ground and set forth with even greater determination. I recently lost a significant amount of weight and I have all but eliminated the cigarettes. I still struggle with my nicotine addiction, but definite progress is being made. I swore off the coke (which was a very brief episode anyway: I realized just how seductive cocaine can be and knew that with my tendencies, I was playing with fire… so I nipped that one in the bud fast!) 

As for alcohol, I don’t drink nearly as much as I used to, but probably still more than I should. I’m considering eliminating alcohol from my life altogether but that’s such a dismal proposition that I’m not ready to make that commitment yet. I believe that I am heading in that direction, though. I just have a strong instinct that my life would be better if I said goodbye to booze altogether, but it’s been part of my life since I was 14. A big part of my life, if I am to be honest. To say goodbye to my old “friend” is scary. 

I’ve started taking yoga classes. I’ve amped up my tennis play to at least three times each week. I have other plans for increasing my physical activity, too: weekly hikes, occasional kayaking, stand-up-paddling, etc. And though I absolutely hate going to the gym, I feel that it’s something I really need to do. Nothing beats resistance training for reshaping the body, so maybe with this stellar playlist I’ve created on Spotify, I can distract myself from how much I hate lifting weights! 

That’s the plan of action for my continued pursuit of physical health. Equally as important, and maybe more so, is the pursuit of my mental health. Mental health is something most people take for granted. In my family, however, mental health is an attribute many of us struggle to hold onto. My family tree is chock full of nuts, and I’d have to say I’m one of them. I have been for a very long time. I’ve found coping strategies that have gotten me through with tolerable success, and sometimes I’ve actually even felt good! But I have a chemical imbalance in my brain, and despite therapy and my best efforts, I can’t do it without medication. I accepted that long ago. Sadly, sometimes those medications simply quit working, and I am forced to go back to the drawing board in pursuit of a new treatment. Which is where I find myself now. 

I’ve been on a roller-coaster and I want to get off. Time for balance, healthy choices, and eliminating the extremes. I can do this with a healthy diet, exercise, and the help of my therapist and psychiatrist. And I’m sure I’ll get by…with a little help from my friends! And yes, I've attempted to follow these resolutions before with only mixed success, but mixed success is better than no success. But you know what? I may be extremely fallible, but baby, I've come a long way.  And my determination to succeed will eventually get me there.

So…a post that began about passion somehow evolved into a post about goals pursuant to the realization of optimal health. Don’t quite know how it happened, but there you go. And in sharing this very personal information with you, I am making myself accountable. I’ll keep you apprised of my progress. 

But yeah. I‘m passionate about getting and staying healthy.
Affirmations: I am healthy! I am athletic! I live life in moderation and balance!

Cheers!

(Oh…I’m pretty passionate about Crème Brûlée, too.)

 
INGREDIENTS

2 cups heavy or light cream, or half-and-half 
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
⅛ teaspoon salt 
5 egg yolks 
½ cup sugar, more for topping



PREPARATION

1.    Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a saucepan, combine cream, vanilla bean and salt and cook over low heat just until hot. Let sit for a few minutes, then discard vanilla bean. (If using vanilla extract, add it now.)

2.    In a bowl, beat yolks and sugar together until light. Stir about a quarter of the cream into this mixture, then pour sugar-egg mixture into cream and stir. Pour into four 6-ounce ramekins and place ramekins in a baking dish; fill dish with boiling water halfway up the sides of the dishes. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until centers are barely set. Cool completely. Refrigerate for several hours and up to a couple of days.

3.    When ready to serve, top each custard with about a teaspoon of sugar in a thin layer. Place ramekins in a broiler 2 to 3 inches from heat source. Turn on broiler. Cook until sugar melts and browns or even blackens a bit, about 5 minutes. Serve within two hours.