Sunrise Along the Appalachian Trail

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Hello There!

I'm not sure how you have happened upon my blog but I’m glad you did. I began blogging several years ago, although initially it was a private journal I kept just for myself. In time, however, I began to share my blog publicly, and now I have quite a few folks who check in with regularity. Perhaps you’ll become one of them!

So who am I? Well I have to tell you, I still haven’t quite figured that out. But I keep working on it. I just passed the half-century mark, and I'm hoping that I'll figure out just who I am someday soon. Maybe by the time I'm sixty?

I’ve had incredible life experiences at both ends of the spectrum, and I share a lot here--maybe too much sometimes. But I’m having a good time, so what the heck. And the focus of my blog for the coming months will be recording the details of the trip of a lifetime (for me anywy): a thru-hike of the 2,187-mile Appalachian Trail. Check in and if my adventures intrigue you, stick around.

I hope you enjoy! I give you my regards and wish you…

Happy Trails!

Fun in New Orleans

My best friend

Mom and Tami During our Alaskan Cruise

Flycatcher (Tessa), a good hiking buddy and real trooper.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Happy Birthday...

to my beautiful daughter, Rhiannon, who is 25 years old today.

I also celebrate the birth of my son, Ethan, whose life has ended but whose memory lives on in my heart and in the hearts of those who loved him.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Happy Independence Day!

I want to wish you all a happy July 4th. I hope your festivities are joyful and SAFE!!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

A Whirlwind Couple of Months...

Much has been happening in my life since last I checked in. Granted, I've made a couple of entries but there is a great deal I omitted in those entries, because I was sworn to secrecy on some of the big stuff, and I simply didn't have time to write about the rest. Today I intend to fill you in on a couple of the biggest omissions, but I'll take things chronologically. And in the interest of telling you a great deal in a short space, I'll be brief today. I'll expand later as time permits. 

In early March, Pat and I took a trip to New York, primarily to watch an exhibition tennis match between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer at Madison Square Gardens. I managed to charm BOTH atheletes into signing tennis balls for me---wow! In addition to the match, Pat and I had a wonderful time exploring New York.

In mid-March my family and I had a wonderful trip to Winter Park, Colorado, as we do every year during Spring Break. This year during our trip, Pat and I made a pact while we were up on a ski-lift discussing tentative future plans: I'll get my real-estate license, and he'll get his pilot's license. Then the two of us will be better able to commute between Austin and Colorado, and then we'll begin making some additional real estate investments between the two states.  So... I've begun an online real-estate course (which I haven't been nearly diligent enough with as of yet because of my hectic life, but soon...)

In later March I attended a reunion of Brookhaven residents and staff in Tennessee, and had a marvelous time catching up with some of my friends. We all have our continued struggles, but now we have the skills to deal with those struggles more effectively than we did before, and it was and is so heartening to see each of us tackling her respective life challenges with newer, healthier approaches. Many of my friends are not merely surviving, but thriving. I cherish my Brookhaven sisters and will always hold them close in my heart.

In April I ran the Austin American Statesman Capital 10K followed by the Nashville Music City Half-Marathon The half-marathon was a bucket-list item that I was able to cross off my list. My overall time on the half-marathon was a dismal 12+ minutes per mile, but at least I did it and that's what counts. I intend to keep running and improving, and I have my sights set on a full marathon this October. Yes, I'm slow as molasses but, as my bumper-sticker says, "You don't have to go just have to GO!"

Added bonus: While in Nashville I had the unexpected opportunity to cross another bucket-list item off my list: learning to hand-toss a pizza crust:


In late April there was a new addition to the Vanderwilt family: we welcomed a new border-collie mix, Casie, into our fold, and she is a sweetheart! We are all enamored. Even Tessa likes her, and that's saying a LOT! When things slow down a bit, Toby and Indy and Casie and I will be taking an obedience course to teach our canine friends some much-needed manners!

We knew well ahead of time that May would bring Toby's graduation from high-school, but what we didn't know was that even before the graduation celebrations, we would be celebrating a wedding!

(Drumroll here please...)

Pat and I are pleased to announce the marriage of our beautiful daughter, Ms. Rhiannon Michelle Vanderwilt, to her beloved, Mr. Jason Matthew Lambert!

Yes, Pat and I have welcomed a new son-in-law into our lives, and as an added bonus, we are delighted to report that Rhiannon's (our?) new in-laws are beyond fantastic! We're in love with the entire Lambert family, and we look forward to many celebrations in the years to come! 

Now hold onto your hats, folks, because in addition to welcoming Jason into the family, I am further pleased to announce that in December, we will be welcoming a new grandchild into the family. Jason and Rhiannon are expecting a son very shortly before Christmas. Our happiness is overflowing with the joy of these milestone events!


(If you watch very carefully, you can see the faint heartbeat a second or two into the video.)

Things have been happening so quickly that, frankly, my head is still spinning. The wedding and festivities were such big events that they deserve a chapter unto themselves, but in the meantime, here are some additional photographs you might enjoy:

We didn't let the wedding and baby news overshadow Toby's big milestone: his graduation from high-school! The graduation celebration was a fun but low-key affair which took place a week prior to his actual graduation. We held it early to enable out-of town relatives to celebrate with us. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day, and I am confident that a good time was had by all. 

Toby doesn't have any plans for his immediate future; he's taking a gap year to try to figure things out. In the meantime, he's taking some acting classes over the summer and looking for work, and he and I are planning a couple of trips in the very near future (Florida in just  a couple of weeks; Greece later in the summer).

Shortly after Toby's graduation, we held a wedding reception for my daughter and her new husband at our home. Photos of the reception are included in the album linked above. Here are a couple of highlights (can you tell that Rhiannon and Jason are Disney fans?):

There is much more I'd like to share but that's enough for now. Time to put dinner on the table for my family.

Until next time....

happy trails.....

(P.S.: I also attempted / accomplished a couple of additional bucket-list items: I rode a mechanical bull and I took my first---and last---jump toward certification, which is a story unto itself. Some things are just not meant to be...and I discovered that I am, in fact, afraid of something: making a potentially fatal mistake at 14,000 feet!)

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Recollections of My Boy...

It’s been seemingly forever since I’ve written, yet in actuality it’s only been about six weeks. And even my “recent” posts have been pretty brief. Much has been happening in my life (so what else is new?) and, I am happy to report, most of it has been good. I'll happily share that news with you in the days to come...

But today is devoted to my eldest son, Ethan Patrick Vanderwilt.

One year ago today, the worst thing imaginable happened: Ethan took his own life, and in doing so, he took a huge part of me with him. He left a gaping Ethan-shaped hole in my heart, and I will never be quite the same.  But with each passing day, I have become just a bit stronger, just a bit more lively, just a bit more willing to keep moving forward.  I do so because of him, to honor him and his memory. I will live more fully…for him and for his nephew, Aiden. I will love more fully, for those beautiful boys whose lives were mercilessly cut short. I will chase my dreams because they couldn’t. I will take greater risks to actualize my dreams, for them. Because they could not live, I vow to live more fully…for all of us.

Ethan was born on July 28, 1989, here in Austin Texas. His birth wasn’t quite what I’d imagined (I’d wanted a darkened room with only essential staff at hand, classical music playing, etc., etc., etc.) What I got, instead, was an emergency c-section with a room filled with people: Pat, of course; my own ObGyn and a nurse for me; a nurse and pediatrician for each of the babies, two anesthesiologists, a troupe of interns who were there to observe, plus a person whose sole job was to record the time of birth. I believe there were others, too…someone told me there were a total of at least 14 people in that tiny surgical suite. But though it wasn’t the intimate experience I’d envisioned, it was perfect, because in those moments I became a mother to the two most beautiful children I’d ever laid my eyes on. As I heard the lusty cries of first one, and then another, beautiful baby, I knew without a doubt that I was the luckiest woman in the world.

Their babyhood was magical. Hard, yes, but magical. I breastfed them until they were 10-months old (boy did I have a great pair of ta-ta’s), and in the beginning they ate every two hours, because they were so tiny  and couldn’t eat much at any one feeding. Ethan, the larger of the two, weighed 5 pounds, 12 ounces; Rhiannon weighed 5 pounds 5 ounces.  They were offset from one another by an hour, so I was feeding somebody every single hour in the early weeks! I learned to sleep while they fed. Pat was wonderful because he helped with everything else: diaper changes, meals for the two of us, housework, everything. He was a champ. Much of those earliest days are a blur because I was so sleep deprived, but I was immensely happy. Being a mother was the greatest thing I’d ever done, and I basked in that role.

(Ethan’s first laugh video here)

I remember so many sweet moments: Pat and I taking daily walks with the babies, each of us wearing a baby-carrier on our front so we could be close to them; Ethan trying to suck both thumbs at the same time (he was an all-in kind of guy), putting the babies in their swing for a few moments’ break (they loved their swings), Ethan in his stroller trying to wriggle his body around to look at me with that beautiful little face; Ethan’s first laugh (which I caught on tape, fortunately); grocery-shopping with two infants in one basket and our groceries in another…sometimes I had to feed one as I shopped. I’d hold a baby to my breast as I took items down from the shelves (it had to be done…when a baby is hungry, he’s hungry NOW! And if I nursed them only when I could sit down in privacy, I’d have had some pretty grumpy babies!) It was a way of life. I always kept myself covered, but the fact that I was feeding a baby was unmistakable. This brings to mind a story…

Now, bear in mind that when a new mother first brings home a new baby, all thought and action centers around the baby, especially when one baby happens to be two! My whole world revolved around them in the early weeks. One day, as I was wrestling with the two babies in one cart and my grocery items in the other, a man tapped me on the shoulder, saying, “Excuse me, ma’am, but I think your milk is leaking.” My hands immediately clutched my breasts in horror until I realized that he was talking about one of the gallon jugs in my cart, whereupon I then clutched my beet-red face, again in horror. Either way, I was embarrassed as hell, but he was laughing hysterically. Apparently, it wasn’t hard for him to deduce where my thought processes had taken me, and he found it---ahem---somewhat amusing. I’ll never forget how mortified I felt in that moment, but now I think it’s funny too.

Ethan LOVED his blankie, made by his maternal grandmother "Nanny" Nancy Hayes.

Yes this is some incredibly BLUE toilet paper! Where does one get such toilet paper?
I do not recall, but Ethan liked it!

I have fond recollections of piano recitals, Indian Guides, picnics, band recitals, campouts, family vacations....the list is long. During one family vacation I asked my kids to keep a journal so they could look back upon their experiences later. Here are a couple of his entries:

Day 1

 We left our house at 8:00 AM on Monday June 10, 2002. When we left it was very bumpy in our RV but later we got used to it. That was after we took our first sharp turn and everything in the refrigerator and pantry and on the counter flew out at us. In the beginning we had to stuff envelopes for party invitations for my dad’s parents 50th wedding anniversary. We went to the store and got Dramamine and Game Boy batteries. After that happened my mom and I had a very short nap while my sister and brothers were playing Nintendo. After we woke up I tried playing Nintendo but I have already beaten all the games we have so I played my mom Gin. After a few games the door flew open and we realized that a compartment on the side was open and my mom almost lost her tripod for her camera. The coffee maker also flew off the counter and broke and we had to stop and buy a broom because we forgot to bring one. When we were pulling out of the store we saw a snake exhibit and we looked at snakes there. There were also turtles and spiders. On the counter there was frozen rats and mice for the snakes to eat.  After that we ate dinner at Cueva de Leon cafĂ© and I got a huge burrito. I only ate half of it so we saved some of it for lunch the next day. We then started driving to the Davis Mountains to go to an observatory that is only open late on Tuesday. We got there on Monday so we will have to wait another day there. We were going to watch stars today and tomorrow we were going to go to Fort Davis and Davis Mountains State Park. Instead we are going to the Davis Mountains State Park today and tomorrow we are going to the observatory. When we got to the park we went climbing in the big hills they call mountains. We didn’t get very far up because Toby stepped on cactus and started crying. Then we had to go back to the RV. When we got to the RV we watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone.”

“Day 2

The next day on Tuesday we woke up at 8:00 and ate Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal and I explored outside with Toby and looked for dried up cactus. After dad found his keys we went to the Fort Davis and looked at sites like outhouses and jails and kitchens and hospitals and a church. We also saw some cabinets with old colonel hats that were very fancy and had feathers on the top. There were also guns and knives and soaps from the old days there. There were a lot of lizards and we chased many of them. I am the only one who caught one and it wasn’t a lizard at all. It was an endangered horny toad. The walls of the houses were made of adobe and were just like mud and pebbles. It was hard to believe that they actually stayed together in the weather. When we left we had leftovers from the lunch the day before but we couldn’t heat it up because the generator wouldn’t work. We think it was because the RV was on a slant when it was parked. As I am writing we are stopping at a store so we can find a parking space level enough to keep the generator going. My mom says that tonight we are having hamburger helper. That is one of my favorite meals. We are going to the store to get something for tomorrows breakfast and some chocolate for milk. Then we went to the McDonalds Observatory and got a tour of the two largest telescopes and the guide talked for a very ling time. After that we went to a smaller dome that looked like the telescope domes and it had a smaller telescope. This dome was only twenty feet across (that’s what the tour guide said) and had 2 TVs in it. There was a video camera attached to the eyepiece and the video was sent to the TVs. The guide aimed the telescope at the sun and we saw a big black and white picture with a lot of detail. There were a lot of flares on the sun and they were very cool. They rated the flares C, M, and X. X being the strongest and C the weakest. We saw a filming of an M flare but no Xs. The M was a very big flare and it shot out of the sun. In the beginning it was big but got a bit smaller and shot straight out of the sun and a few seconds later it exploded at the end. It was very cool. After that he showed us some pictures of auroras and one that was all red and he said that one was taken at the observatory. Then we left the building and we were going to the RV but then it started raining. We waited for a while for the rain to stop but we finally gave up on that idea and ran in the rain to the RV. Right when we got to the RV it stopped raining. That was just our luck. We needed to have a nap so we could stay up late for the star party (where we got to actually look in the telescope) so we had a nap. When we got up I read a Garfield book. Then we ate lunch. There was a change of plans because the store we went to was so small they didn’t have hamburger helper so we had tuna helper instead. It might have actually been better than hamburger helper. I had two huge helpings of it. My mom is making a cross-stitch for my grandmother and grandfathers 50th wedding anniversary. She needs to make in the next three weeks. She doesn’t know if she will be able to do it but I think she will. The dark clouds are coming back and that means a storm. We just had a small one. I hope we will still be able to have a star party. If we can not have one we will still watch movies so we don’t pay for anything. I would still rather watch stars in a huge telescope with 91-1 ½ foot hexagonal lenses than watch educational star movies. The star party starts at 9:00 PM and it is almost 8:30 now. I can’t wait for the star party. I really hope we have it. I just won a coin toss to see who sleeps in the best bed tonight. It’s right above the driver and passenger seat and it comes out of the wall like a drawer. We got to do the star party last night, but it wasn’t like I thought it would be. I thought we were going to look at the stars and planets through the huge telescopes in the domes. All we did was get some really small telescopes and look at the stars and planets through them. They looked just the same as when you didn’t use a telescope but the were a bit bigger. We saw Venus and Jupiter and some stars. Jupiter was my favorite one because I saw three moons around it. At about 11:00 we went to bed. “

Day 3

The next morning we took a hike at the park for a while. When we got back we had breakfast while my dad drove the RV. Then I read the first book in a Garfield three pack and now we are about to play a game. We drove for a while then we came to a stagecoach station and looked around. It was a lot of walls that were crumbled and signs that said trail closed for restoration.  We drove for another three hours until we got to Carlsbad Caverns. There we got some audio things so when we took a self guided tour we could listen to facts and history about the cave. It was huge in some rooms. The Big Room could fit fourteen Astrodomes in it. There were a lot of stalagmites and stalactites in the cave. One looked a lot like a lion’s tail. There was a bottomless pit and some other formations that looked like cavemen and chandeliers. It took a long time to go through the cave. Then we went to a small store where we bought post cards to send to family and friends back in Austin. Then we ate dinner at a place where everything was frozen and reheated for us to eat. The only good food they were the curly fries. They are deep-fried and have a lot of spices on them. My mom hated it and never wanted to go there again. That night we went to the cave entrance and saw millions of bats come out. They circled around for a while and then came out into the sky to the side and flew away in a line.”

Day 4

The next day we got up early and instead of taking the elevators down 750 feet to the cave we walked the whole way. It usually takes three hours and thirty minutes to walk it but it took us two hours and forty-seven minutes. That is because we went there yesterday and had already seen all of the formations so we didn’t stay to look as long as we did yesterday. My mom also didn’t bring her camera and we didn’t take any audio things this time. We then drove a while and found a hotel with a pool. It was a very small pool but there was a child’s part of the pool with a big ship and some slides coming out of it. There was also a huge water slide like at water parks. We had to pay six dollars each to play in the kid’s part with the ship or the water slide. That’s why my parents didn’t want to swim here. Neither did my sister or I but my two little brothers still wanted to swim in the small pool that only goes five feet deep. My parents stayed with my little brothers and my sister and I watched Rat Race in the RV. It is a very funny movie about eight people who won a golden coin that said visit me upstairs. There the man told them that there was 2 million dollars in Silver City, New Mexico. They got a key so they could open the locker with the money in it. None of them believed it but then some of them thought it might be real. A lot of funny things happen to them on the way to New Mexico. After that we drove all day to get to Tombstone, Arizona. During the trip we each watched a movie. Toby, my youngest brother, watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. Jeremy, my other little brother, watched Marry Poppins. Then we stopped to buy new Game Boy Advance games. I got Wario Land 4, Rae, my older sister, got Bomber Man Max, Jeremy got Pokemon Silver Version and Toby got Scooby Doo. “

Day 5

The next day we ate Pop Tarts for breakfast and drove some more. We still are not in Arizona yet. We were hoping to get there yesterday but we will get there this morning. We got to Arizona later and took a picture at the sign that says Arizona on it. We take pictures at all states we go through. When we got there we went to a national park that was full of those cacti that are on cartoons. We took a trail and saw some lizards that Toby wanted to catch. Then we went to another park with those cacti in it and we took a long path. The sign said it was less than a mile long but it seemed like more than a mile. I found a really big horny toad. We couldn’t catch it but my mom got a picture of it. On that same trail after my mom got my picture on a big boulder a swarm of hornets came and I got stung twice. It stings like fire. It is the first time I have ever gotten stung by anything before except ants and misquotes. Now we are on the road again and we are heading to the Petrified Forest. “

There’s lots more but I’ll spare you further reading. No one could possibly think Ethan’s journal is  as wonderful as I do. We had an amazing time, and I recommend such a trip at least once in a lifetime for every family. We saw and did so much! I do recall a really rough afternoon during that month-long RV trip, though. We went to White Sands National Park, and the morning air was crisp and mild. We kicked our shoes off as we approached the vast expanse of sand, because the sand felt so nice on our feet. We trekked on, the kids rolling down the hills gleefully, making fresh tracks in the wind-blown dunes. It was marvelous. But the sun rose higher and higher in the sky, and those sands grew hotter and hotter. Soon they were blisteringly hot, and I do mean literally. We had no choice but to walk back out of the dunes in our bare feet. Pat had already gone ahead, and each of us were left to our own devices to get out. I was able to carry Toby, being the youngest and smallest. Rhiannon and Jeremy made their own torturous and very tearful way back to the RV, and Ethan, being the very clever boy that he was, took his t-shirt off and tore it in two, tying each of the pieces to his feet. We’d all have done so if we’d thought of it, but only Ethan came up with that clever plan, and he made it back long before the rest of us did. None of us was witness to his genius solution until we reunited back at the RV. Man. It was bad! But today it is an outstanding memory that we all laugh about as we shake our heads at our stupidity (mine and Pat’s, not the kids’).

I was tidying up in my closet very recently and I came upon a timeline Ethan had made. I'd never seen it before. Seems he’d been spying on us one Christmas eve. I laughed through my tears as I read it. Such a clever boy!

(photo of Ethan’s timeline here.)

There are too many memories to share herein. I have begun a journal of my memories of him, and one day I hope to give it to his daughter, if ever I am given that opportunity. (No, I have not met Ethan’s daughter Lyla Grace yet. No, I don’t think I ever will. No, I don’t understand it at all. I think it’s the greatest cruelty Ethan's lady can inflict but what can I do? It’s yet another loss I must accept. And I’m working on that but it is EXTREMELY difficult to know that there is a beautiful little girl out there who carries her daddy’s ---my son’s--- blood, and I don’t get so much as a photograph. Yes I’m bitter but I am trying very hard not to be.)

Ethan was a marvel. I loved that boy so damned much but alas for both of us, he was too much like me for his own good: stubborn, headstrong, reckless, and with an intrinsic anger I think he was born with. He and I discussed ways he might deal with it even when he was a very small boy. In later years, we tried counseling and psychiatric care, but it simply wasn't enough. Mental illness is a trait that is rampant in the Ellis side of my family. There is a great deal of mental illness and substance abuse throughout the generations. Several suicides, too. I’ve fought depression my whole life, sometimes more successfully than others. I have been suicidal. I have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and Post-traumatic stress disorder. I am sure that Ethan suffered both of these afflictions too, though there wasn't a definitive diagnosis. But in my heart I am sure, because to look at him and his symptoms was like looking in a mirror, and I am so sad I passed that genetic trait to my beloved boy. I think Ethan fought and fought and fought until something pushed him past the breaking point. The Marine Corps, Afghanistan, personal relationships…who knows? Any and all of the aforementioned, maybe more. We will never know what went through his mind in his final days. Whatever it was, it all turned out to be too much for my boy and he decided he couldn’t fight anymore.

Now he doesn’t have to fight. I have to believe he has found his peace, whether it is in the darkness of eternal sleep, or a world somewhere beyond our ken, I cannot guess. But at least he has found some sort of peace, and we are left to find ours. And for Ethan, I have made a promise to be better than ever, in his honor: to live more healthfully, more lovingly, more genuinely. To make each day count. To chase my own dreams, because tomorrow comes with no promises.

To Ethan:
I love you more than words can convey, my darling. I tried to show you throughout your life in my words and deeds, but I know I could be stern with you too. Maybe I was too stern, I don’t know. But what I do know is that everything I did came from love. You children are my world, my reason for living. I tried so much to guide you, to help you, because I recognized your pain. It’s my pain too. If only I could have convinced you that it can be dealt with, managed.  Well, Ethan, I will try to show others through my example that depression, bipolar, and other mental illnesses need not be a death sentence. There is life, beautiful life, despite these illnesses. I will do so for you.

I think you would be amused that we all came to see you today, and we all sat at your graveside and ate Twizzlers as we spoke of you and to you. You were and are loved fiercely, Ethan. How I wish you’d believed that.

God, how I love and miss you, my boy. Sleep sweet, Ethan.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Congratulations Toby!!!!!

My son Toby is about to graduate later this month, and I can hardly believe it. Can it really be true that my youngest is graduating already???? My baby? How did he grow up so fast?

Mr. Tobias Porter Vanderwilt, I am so damned proud of you! You are a wonderful son and it has been a joy and a privilege to watch you grow from the beautiful baby you once were, to the handsome and promising young man you have become. You are a man I love, respect, admire, and cherish; and whose company I enjoy immensely! Your father and I have been so fortunate in you.

Thanks for being the wonderful person you are, Toby! Congratulations!


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back---or Is It One Step Forward and Two Steps Back?

I confess that I am struggling today. I wish I could just move forward, and I certainly try, but it is so difficult sometimes. I have had so much loss in my life, and now a new loss.

Recent circumstances make me feel I "should" give up hope in ever meeting my granddaughter. It is so tempting to play the victim in these circumstances and tell you how wrong I feel this is and why, but that is to no avail, so I choose not to adopt such a negative role. Instead I will take deep breaths and practice Acceptance, as I learned at Brookhaven, and try to move forward without dwelling on the "if only's..." and "should's."  "Shoulds" and "If only's" only serve to torture us in the face of situations over which we have no control, bringing further anguish. I must accept the things I cannot change. Peyton has made her choice, for better or worse, and we must abide by it. She is Lyla's mother. But I must try not to give up hope entirely, even though it breaks my heart to cling to a hope I sometimes believe to be futile.

I must sow new gardens, literally and figuratively. "To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow," said one of my all-time favorite actresses and one of the most beautiful women ever to walk the planet, Audrey Hepburn. For my literal garden, I went to a nursery yesterday and selected some of this year's plants: squash, straightneck and zucchini; bell peppers, California Wonder and Purple Beauty; cucumbers, Marketmore; tomatoes, Heirloom and Lemon Boy; mint: peppermint and grapefruit (sounded intriguing, supposedly makes a good herbal tea); and last and definitely least, okra. I don't like it but some in this household do, so I'll see how it goes. There are a few more plants I want to get: some big, beefy tomatoes such as Big Boy or similar, and some green beans. I feared I'd missed the ideal window of opportunity for planting a summer garden here in Central Texas (zone 8b), but when I went to the nursery yesterday I was assured that I still had time, so I'm giving it a shot. Summer gardening here can be brutal, with temperatures in the triple-digits, sometimes as high as 115. Often when it's too hot the plants won't set fruit, but I am choosing to be an optimist: I'll just plant my garden and hope for the best, for that is all I can do. (Well, I can help it along with weeding and fertilizing, but the rest is pretty much up to Mother Nature.)

As for my figurative garden, I must try to plant and maintain the seeds of hope, even when most everything seems futile. I will tend my garden as best I can with love, patience, kindness, and trust, even on the occasions when those things are not reciprocated. It is oh-so-hard sometimes, and I want to protect myself from further hurt by preemptively closing certain doors, but I know that is not the answer. I will try, against my better judgment, to remain hopeful, even though to take such an attitude leaves me extremely vulnerable to further hurt. The potential benefits far outweigh the risks, but my heart is so wounded after these past years that it is extremely tempting to build barriers against further wounds. But walls not only close off intruders, they close off friends and loved ones too, so I will try to remain as open to possibility as I can, even if I risk further hurt. I will simply take a deep breath and plunge forward, full speed ahead. I vow to remain "all in" on this journey called life.

I'm taking on a new challenge this weekend: my first half-marathon. This is one of my bucket-list items, and I look forward to it with a twinge of trepidation: I haven't trained quite as much as I should have, but damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead! I fly to Nashville on Thursday morning, where I'll have the opportunity to spend time with a dear friend for several days, and she'll be there to cheer me on during the event, the Music City Marathon, which will take place on Saturday. She was going to run with me, but is unable to due to injury, but she'll still be my cheerleader. And I'll reward myself by going to Boot Country, purportedly the largest retailer of cowboy boots in the country. Otherwise, I really don't know much about Nashville, so if anyone has any advice about where to go or what to see or do, please leave a comment. And if any of my friends happen to be in the area, contact me! I'm there for several days; maybe we can get together!

Anyway, I'm likely off the computer for the next several days, so I wish you well and I'll update you upon my return. I'm off to work on accepting the things I cannot change for now...

Adieu. Happy Trails.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Easter!

Today was a fresh new day after yesterday's day of sorrow. Don't get me wrong, yesterday was really, really nice, but it also marked the tenth month following the worst day of my life. It was the reminders everywhere I turned that made it so difficult. But at the same time, those same reminders of loss are also reminders of wonderfully sweet memories of days gone by: laughing, exuberant children coloring Easter eggs and admiring one anothers' handiwork; eagerly anticipating the Easter Bunny's arrival; racing outside and scrambling over one another during our annual Easter egg hunts; and just being together and enjoying one another and realizing that such occasions are the stuff that really count in life: quality time with those I love most.

Even though all of those folks have grown, whether up or simply older, and we don't anticipate the Easter Bunny's arrival anymore, the important stuff remains: love, affection, devotion, and gratitude for these incredible people I call my own. But we DO still dye eggs, and in fact the family has devised a competition for next year: an Easter egg decorating contest. We can submit ONE store-bought chicken egg, decorated in ANY fashion we choose. Winner gets a dollar from each contestant plus bragging rights for an entire year. This should be interesting because ours is one of the wackiest families on the planet! These likely won't be "pretty" eggs in the conventional sense; rather they will be punny, robotic, ironic, unexpected, inappropriate, exceedingly clever, or any and all of the above and more. I look forward to it.

I hope you and yours enjoyed your Easter weekend as well. I hope it's been filled with all the good stuff: love, laughter, fun, affection, and maybe even a chocolate bunny or two.

Special THANK YOU to Wendy and Lauren for watching our pooches for us while we were gone!!!!!! You two are so thoughtful!



Saturday, April 19, 2014

Missing My Loved Ones

Ten months ago today, my beautiful eldest son, Ethan Patrick Vanderwilt, departed this earth. The loss of my son shattered my world completely. My heart was (and always will be) still grieving for my beautiful grandson, and Ethan's death so soon after left me utterly devastated. I am only just now beginning to piece my world into a new semblance of order. I will never be the same; my world will never be the same. I miss Ethan and Aiden each and every day. I grieve them each and every day. But at the same time, I live in gratitude that I had those two beautiful beings in my life, however briefly. They filled my heart with love and gave me gifts innumerable just by their very existence. It was a privilege to raise my beautiful son, even when times with him grew rocky. I always had faith and hope that he would eventually gain a certain level of maturity and insight, and one day return to those who love him most. But something was broken in my son and he lost hope. Something has been broken in me, too, for a very long time. But I cling to hope. I won't let go, though I understand well the pain that drives one such as my son to do what he did. And Afghanistan probably left him with demons that none of us can fathom. I can only hope and---yes, pray---that he has found the peace he sought. I send him my love every day throughout the day. I do not know if it is possible for the deceased to feel the love we send to them, but I send it nonetheless. I send my love to Aiden and to all of those I have loved and lost, whether through death or circumstance, and I always hope with all of my heart that somehow they feel it. But even if they don't, I do. And I will hold onto my love until the day I take my own last breath and, who knows?...maybe beyond.

Life is beautiful and precious and filled with love, joy, magic, and possibility if only we look for those qualities. And that is how I choose to live part 2 of my life (because of course I am going to live vibrantly until at least age 102). Ethan and Aiden taught me that. And I will live in the hope that one day soon, I will have the opportunity to bestow my love on Ethan's beautiful daughter, who will be four months old in two days. I want to share so much of her father with her. I have so much love to give to Lyla, her sister Candyce, and their mother Peyton, if only her mama opens that door. I will hold on to that hope for the rest of my days.

I love you Ethan. I love you Aiden. I love you, my wonderful friends whose lives have diverged from mine. And I love you Lyla, even though we have not yet met, because you are my son's child, and you represent hope for the future.

Here are pictures of Ethan's final resting place, installed at last after nearly 10 months. When the epoxy has had a few weeks to cure, we will keep those vases filled with flowers and/or American flags. And I spend time with him every week, talking to him, lying on the grass with him, or sitting on the nearby bench and just remembering... beautiful boy...

Friday, April 18, 2014

Our Family is Growing...Again!

Yes, we have a new member of the Vanderwilt household. Her name is Casie and she came to us rather unexpectedly (we are foster failures, I guess), but we are smitten. And as soon as school lets out next month, she and Indy are going to go to Obedience class with Toby and me. 

Below is Toby with Indy less than nine months ago.
Here is Indy today. This fellow is only 9 months old!!!!!! He is not done growing yet, but he already weighs right at 100 pounds! (Wikipedia says the average male German shepherd dog is 66-88 pounds. I think we need to change his name to Hulk!)
The words of inspiration I'd like to share today are quotes about happiness, both of which come from the Dalai Lama XIV:

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” 


“The very purpose of our life is happiness, which is sustained by hope. We have no guarantee about the future, but we exist in the hope of something better. Hope means keeping going, thinking, ‘I can do this.’ It brings inner strength, self-confidence, the ability to do what you do honestly, truthfully and transparently. I appreciate your having already begun to help others.” 

I'm not sure what I believe as far as a Higher Power, but I do believe in hope, and sometimes when I think of a Higher Power, it is precisely in that capacity: Hope. That's what I believe in without a shred of doubt. And I get much of that feeling of hope from my fellow man. I am inspired by mankind. Beyond that? I don't know, and that's okay too.

Hope your Easter is filled with the love of your friends and family. May your hearts be filled.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Happiness Is...Easter Eggs!

Yesterday’s post was a pretty heavy one for me to write, and I’ll bet it was a pretty heavy read, too, even though I didn’t share every gruesome detail. Earlier today, however, I took it down because I was having misgivings about sharing that much with everyone all at once. If you’ve been following me for any length of time you probably know most of it anyway, but I sure did put a lot out there in one big (potentially) TMI post. I didn’t mind that about 60+ people had seen it already, but I felt that for the time being I should revert it back to a draft while I ponder its value to others. My earnest intention is to help and inspire others, and if my story can facilitate that in any way then I’m happy to share every gruesome detail. I have since had several people tell me that they were inspired, and I even had my strongest critic offer his opinion (which was supportive), so I’ve decided to repost it. 

For today’s post I’d like to discuss lighter topics, such as happiness, hope and recovery. Oh, and Easter eggs.

First things first: Happiness. I wonder how many of you remember the ‘Happiness Is…’ posters from the 70’s? “Happiness is a Warm Hug”? “Happiness is a Soft Kitten”? “Peace, Love, Happiness”? “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”? Take a moment, right now, and create, in your mind, your own Happiness poster. Keep it simple. Don’t make it something huge, like “Happiness is World Peace.” And don’t make it something superficial, like “Happiness is a Big Bank Account.” Make it something real, something you can feel or experience now. Something small but significant. “Happiness is air in my lungs.” “Happiness is the healthy meal I just nourished my body with.” “Happiness is listening to my husband and son sitting at the table speaking Nerd to each other.” This is probably the single biggest change I have made in my life: attitude. How I look at things each and every day. In fact, before I even climb out of my bed each morning, I try to make a mental list of at least a few things I am grateful for, just simple things “Happiness is a warm dog named Tessa keeping my toes toasty.” “Happiness is the opportunity to test my body.” “Happiness is the love of my dear ones.” “Happiness is the sound of a Siamese cat mewing in the foyer in the middle of the night.” (Yes, because I can HEAR her! Would I prefer her timing to be different? Yes, but I can hear her and it makes me smile, just because she loves the sound of her own voice so much that she thinks everyone does, at any and all times.) “Happiness is a load of laundry, because it means I have clean, fresh, serviceable clothes to look forward to.” “Happiness is dirty dishes, because it means we are nourished.” Simple.  

It’s raining now. That might bring some people down, but we need it so desperately so I say, bring it on! Happiness is the much-needed rain hydrating our plants and animals! 

Happiness is everywhere; you just have to be open to it. It’s EASY to find things to get you down, but try to make a game of turning it around! Take traffic, for instance. No one likes traffic, of that we are all in agreement. So what to do? Sit in your car and fume about the damned traffic and how you’re going to be late getting home yet again and you spend XX-minutes (or even hours) a day in traffic and it makes your blood pressure rise because you are so frustrated and that as$%^&* just cut you off and…and….and… 

Or how about your bills? Yes, every month when you get that checkbook out you can begin your tirade about the cost of natural gas and electricity and how the utility companies are ripping you off every month and how we need to get off of our dependence on oil from the middle east and…and…and. 

Does it help? No. Does it change the situation? No. Traffic still sucks and bills still have to be paid. But you CAN change your attitude about it. “I am so grateful to have a job to go to every day so I can feed and clothe my family, and challenge my mind and/or body.” "I am so grateful that I live in a warm and comfortable home and that my basic needs are met.” Yeah, sure. You know all this. But do you do it? Do you REALLY do it? It makes a difference. It really does. Have an attitude of gratitude as much as you possibly can and it helps with all aspects of your life. (I don’t get mad at the doctor when I have to wait anymore. I anticipate it as reality, accept it, and tell myself, “Now I get to read this magazine article I might otherwise have missed.”) 

Yeah, it all sounds so Mary Sunshine, but it’s real. Trust me, I know. I’ve rebuilt my life around it. It’s part of the reason I have hope: my glass is half full, not half empty. I believe in the possibility of tomorrow, and the pain of yesterday is behind me. No I don’t want to become a walking clichĂ© but some of those trite sayings are overused for a reason: they’re dead on. 

I’m going to recommend a book that I found extremely valuable while I was in therapy: Train Your Brain to Get Happy: The Simple Program That Primes Your Grey Cells for Joy, Optimism, and Serenity, by Teresa Aubele, PhD; Stan Wenck; and Susan Reynolds. (Amazon happens to be offering the Kindle version for FREE right now; I don’t think you need a Kindle, just the free Kindle app.) And believe me when I tell you that I am NOT one to buy into any new-age psychobabble B.S. I am a skeptic by nature and I believe in science, and this book has a lot of scientific research into proven techniques (such as the one I outlined previously) that can actually change the way you think IF put it into practice with diligence! You have to take an active role. It’s just like exercise: you can buy the treadmill but unless you step on, nothing’s gonna change!

 I’ve learned a great deal more than that these past several months and I’ll share it with you piecemeal. But today is just a taste of how a change in attitude can help. Such a simple concept but amazingly powerful! And not so simple to put into practice, but hey---that's the key word: PRACTICE!
Which brings me to yesterday’s post. The point I wanted to make is that I have had a rather difficult life, and I was once ready to simply throw it away. I have had a change of attitude, however, and that has made all the difference. It didn’t just happen, though: I had to work on it, and work on it with diligence! And I continue to work on it each and every day, each and every moment! I don’t know if sharing my past makes my transformation more powerful or not; I'm hoping it does, so I'm sharing.  

Okay, so I’ve touched on happiness, hope, and some of my recovery. Now about those Easter-eggs:
This is easy. Perfect hard-cooked eggs every single time. Bring your eggs to room temperature (about an hour on the counter should do it), then steam them for 20 minutes. Plunge in a cold-water bath. Done. Perfect every time! I NEVER boil my eggs anymore. Just bring a pot of water to a rolling boil then put a colander or something above the water to get the eggs up and out of direct contact with the water. Steam them above the rolling boil for twenty minutes then plunge them in ice-water. The shells will never, ever stick and you don't need any fancy gadgetry. Couldn't be easier or better! And tomorrow I am modifying a carrot cake to see if I can make a healthier version while still keeping it tasty. If I succeed I'll post the recipe (unless someone already has one). I'm planning to use zucchini AND carrots (shhhhhh....don't tell my family), reduce the sugar, and replace part of the oil with applesauce. If it's anything like Ethan and Rhiannon's first birthday cake (sugar-free applesauce spice cake), no one will eat it, no one will be able to lift it because it's like a cinder-block, and my time and effort will be wasted. Here's hoping for better luck this time around. Splenda, come to Mama baby...

P.S. Happiness is the squirrel who taunted my dog and flirted with my camera during this morning's walk: