Thanks for stopping by!!!!

Following a series of traumatic events in my life (the deaths of my grandson, followed by my son, as well as numerous other major travails), my life went into a dramatic tailspin and I lost my enthusiasm for living. After reaching the lowest depths of despair, however, something within me cried out to do whatever it took to pull myself up and move forward. Happily, I am recovering slowly but surely by grasping life by the horns and not only holding on for the ride, but relishing it every step of the way.

In an effort to recover the joie de vivre I'd once known, I have found that through pushing myself to live fully (even on the days when I don’t particularly want to), I am rediscovering the wonder that can be found by simply moving forward. I'm "making it" by, in part, making it! In other words, unleashing my creativity through myriad projects has proven to be cathartic and healing to me. Included in this creative drive is a passion to write, so while I don't consider myself to be an especially gifted writer, I do so for the joy it gives to me. Sometimes, though, I have been known to stir something in my readers now and then, as well. Thus, I offer you a glimpse into my world by sharing my journey. I hope you'll find something in my musings to move you, amuse you, inspire you, or intrigue you as I post the occasional missive about my mission to move forward from tragedy through the healing powers of creativity, adventure, and living life to the fullest.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Making...a Vertical Garden!

It’s been a long while since I’ve posted. I’ve been trying to keep busy but sometimes I slip into periods of low-motivation. I’m coming out of such a period right now, and tackling a project I started a couple of months ago.

One day my mother and I drove by a Whole Foods market and I was intrigued by a cinder-block planter I saw in front. I’d never seen such a thing and I found the concept quite appealing. Although I found the Whole Foods project rather plain, I could envision its potential, so I photographed it for future reference.

When I felt ready to give further consideration to the project, I began to do Internet searches to see what others had done. I was surprised at how much I found. This was an idea that had been explored by others far more extensively than I’d imagined, because until the Whole Foods project, I'd never seen one before. Clearly this was something others found appealing too, and for good reason, as far as I’m concerned. It’s versatile, attractive, relatively easy to do, and offers infinite possibilities for composition. Here are some of the ideas I saw that I found most appealing:

When I finally decided to tackle my own version, I bought about 50 cinder blocks and began stacking them experimentally.

I was enthusiastic about what I came up with, but I felt that the blocks lacked a certain rustic warmth I was after. I think brand new blocks would be ideally suited to to the sleek lines of industrial-inspired modern architecture, but they didn’t suit the warmth of my Tuscan environment.  I wanted something that looked old and well-weathered, so I dismantled my stacked composition of new cinder blocks and set to work making them something more akin to my personal tastes. I was particularly inspired by this particular version I'd seen online:

I got out my hammers, chisels, a protective drop-cloth, and just set out to beat those cinder-blocks into submission. I beat them until I’d raised blisters on my hands and I'd even bloodied my hands and feet and bruised my legs. I dropped the blocks on my feet a couple of times---and it being summer, combined with the fact that I typically wear shoes only when absolutely necessary, naturally I was bare foot. I guess you could say that I literally put my blood, sweat, and tears into this project. Jeremy and Toby helped me with some of the distressing process, but I took the lion's share of the job upon myself.

After the blocks were distressed, I restacked them. I was fairly pleased with the look, but there was still something not quite right. It occurred to me that the blocks needed more than just a distressed texture. They needed a patina that would lend them a believable illusion of age. So I dismantled my stack once again, and set to work giving those cinder blocks the patina I felt they needed. I bought three colors of cement stain and, using a sea sponge, set about applying the colors in such a way as to simulate moss, lichen, mildew, and age. I went overboard on the first few cinder blocks, then discovered that a light touch went a long way.

I was finally ready to stack the blocks for what I thought would be the last time. And believe me, I was tired of stacking and dismantling time and again. Cinder blocks are heavy, and they have a very rough exterior. Each time was a workout, and I was growing weary of the repeated exercise. But upon stacking them once again, I decided that I thought they would look best if they were permanently placed with mortar. So I deconstructed the composition one last time and sought the help of a professional for the actual masonry work, which I knew was beyond my skill levels.

Each deconstruction and reassembly produced a composition different from the previous, and the final assembly proved likewise. I directed the bricklayer as to the placement of each cinder-block, making adjustments here and there until I’d created a structure that I found appealing. In fact, I am happy to say that I do believe the last design was the best of all.

As you can see below, I decided to add a finishing touch: a sort of "drip tray" to minimize the look of runoff water. I think it adds a nice touch. It's made from 2 x 6 cedar planks filled with river rocks.

This project was completed in August and I've really been enjoying it since then. I'm happy with how it looks, and I've received numerous compliments on it. And I think that it will only improve as I continue to fill the openings with assorted plants, and those plants begin to grow and mature.

My plants are currently being held in place by pots I fashioned out of landscape wire lined with landscape fabric. I couldn't find anything ready-made that fit the openings satisfactorily. Unfortunately, these makeshift "pots" are fragile and have the unfortunate side effect of causing my plants to dry out far too quickly in the incessant heat of Texas summer. I knew this would likely be the case, so those wire pots were only a temporary measure, which brings me to the newest phase of this project: making custom clay pots for my vertical garden.

There are 27 openings in my little cement garden, so I need to make 27 pots, plus a few extra in case of breakage down the road. After much trial and error, I decided simplicity was the best approach, so here is the design I came up with:

It's made of a locally manufactured low-fire terra cotta clay. I think that the rough gray cinder-blocks, combined with smooth red clay pots filled with plants of assorted greens of varying textures and accented with flowers in a variety of colors, will make for a nice final composition. But these pots are really time-consuming to make, so I'll make a few then move on to something else; make a few more then move on...

(I honestly think I might be somewhat ADD; it's hard for me to complete a task start to finish. If you were to watch me in action you'd see me bouncing around between tasks because I am so easily bored. Thankfully I tend to bounce back and finish a task most of the time, but more on that another time.)

Soon I'll show you, in more detail than you probably ever wanted to see, how these pots are constructed.


And now, on a personal level, I am excited to share some photographs from Rhiannon's baby shower which took place this past Saturday. Rhiannon's mother-in-law Pam, sisters-in-law Allison and Heather, and Aunt-in-law Liz put together a really nice celebration with a tea-party theme. A good time was had by all, and Rhiannon received some lovely gifts in preparation for John James' late-December arrival.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Making...a Three-Stage Composting System!

In keeping with the "Making It" theme, I'd like to tell you about a project I recently completed of which I am pretty proud: A three-stage composting system.

I got online and did quite a bit of research about composting, which is something that I have been interested in for years but never actually implemented---until now. Did you know that depending on your diet, 30% or more of your kitchen food waste is compostable? Imagine how much waste could be kept from landfills if every household practiced composting! I'm not encouraging it for everyone, but it's something that resonates with me and my desire to reduce waste and improve my little patch of earth, so I have decided to implement it.

After my research, I decided that a three-stage active composting process sounded best. The first stage is where new organic non-animal waste is collected: kitchen scraps, grass clippings, tree trimmings, fabric scraps, coffee-grinds and filters, sawdust, newspapers, even dog hair in small quantities! All of it, and more, can be used to make compost. All of it is tossed into the first stage until that bin is full, at which time it is transferred to the second stage.

The second stage is the active stage: it's where the magic happens, if done right. No new stuff is added to this bin. The magic mixture needs to "cook," and if handled properly by keeping it moist and aerated, friends such as myriad beneficial microorganisms and bacteria come to join the party and break down your waste into a beautiful humus to enrich your soil.

The final stage is where the lovely rich humus will be transferred, ready for use when needed. Meanwhile the cycle has begun anew in bins one and two. Beauty, huh? And one special little trick I have implemented to make it possible to turn my pile less frequently: I buried a section of perforated PVC pipe in the middle bin to allow air to reach the middle of the active pile. Air is crucial for an aerobic pile to thrive, Otherwise it becomes anaerobic. Anaerobic gets the job done, but it takes far longer and it STINKS! The micro-critters involved are different than those of the aerobic system. I want aerobic action, so I implemented the PVC as well as turn the pile every couple of weeks. (Without the PVC the pile should ideally be turned about every week.)

I sketched a three-stage system that I thought looked good, using the information gleaned from dozens of websites I visited. My design consisting of seven 4' x 4' segments that I actually constructed in my foyer with the benefit of air conditioning! I did the sawing in the unconditioned workshop, but the screwing, gluing, and clamping all happened inside. Guests were certainly surprised to see a compost pile being constructed in my foyer!

In my mind, the seven segments would be parts of a sort of compost-pile kit, which would magically come together at the end. Ha! After completing 3 segments and setting them up inside I realized that it looked like I was constructing a small house. The segments were HUGE!!!!! So I cut them down by a foot  on each side (doesn't sound like much but it made an enormous difference), then proceeded to complete the other 4.  (Wish I had pictures of the foyer part of the job.)

Next I made the floors: three segments each lined with landscape wire and landscape fabric, to help air reach the pile from beneath. I decided to drill a few holes to help this process along. Overkill, I'm sure, but that's what I did.

When it came time to put all the elements together, I enlisted the help of my landscapers to dig the holes. I told them exactly where they needed to be, then trusted that it would happen. Then, of course, I'd planned to effortlessly attach my segments into place, attached to cedar 4' x 4's, and all would magically come together without a hitch...NOT!!!!!!

The holes were off a bit each, which required about an hour's worth of additional digging. Then I realized that I'd forgotten to take the slope of the yard into account so I had to make some modifications. Next I realized that none of my units were truly perfectly square (damned close, but not perfect), nor were the 4 x 4 uprights, so tweaking was in order all around. It took an entire day to assemble the thing, but once assembled I added the final touches: u-shaped slots in which to put removable panels to serve as front covers, copper finials on the posts, flower pots which have yet to be planted, and other decorative touches. Yes, it's the most over-the-top compost pile ever, but I'm proud of it as my first "big" construction project and I look forward to doing more projects. I know I went overboard but I like even the most utilitarian items to have a beauty about them if possible. It just makes my environment more appealing.

 I thank Habitat for Humanity for helping me to become comfortable with power tools, and Pat for helping ti improve my proficiency and skills, and for offering helpful suggestions when consulted.

Yes I can!!!

And so can Rosie...

Bracing the walls..

Now it's time to put the bottoms in place...

These u-shaped channels allow the front panels to be removed when working with the bins.

Removing the front panels...

Not bad but could be better...

And...done! Unless I paint flowers or a smiling sunshine of the front, which I might do.

This project wasn't simply about making a compost pile, which was the desired end result of course, but it was also about trusting in my own existing skills and aquiring new skills; learning from my mistakes; greater independence (which will be useful in the days, weeks, months and even years to come as Pat and the boys move on and I decide what to do in the next chapter of my life), and seeing a project through to completion, even when I became frustrated a few times. It was a confidence booster too. I look forward to new challenges.

So there you have it: more info than you ever wanted to know about composting in general and my project in particular.

I don't know how much, if at all, I'll be posting in the weeks to come. I'm off to Greece with my youngest son, Toby, in celebration of his high-school graduation; I come home September 30th, home for one day, then off to Utah for my first-ever Marathon, mere days before my 53rd birthday. I'd hoped to complete this goal by age 50 but life had a few twists and turns for me. But it's happening October 4th, and I'll do my best and I look forward to the experience.

In the meantime, Happy Trails!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Countdown to Bucket-List Item 7: MARATHON

After a relatively long absence, particularly one during which few posts of any substance have been made, I have decided to return to my blog, though likely my posts will be on a more sporadic and infrequent basis. I'm not sure how much I'll share this time, because I realize that in the past I have probably often shared too much. It was cathartic when it needed to be, however, so I'll continue to share a bit of personal stuff, but what I really want to focus on moving forward is positive living. My traumatic past has definitely impacted me, but it will not define me. How I live my life from this day forward defines me, I believe, and in that spirit my blog will be evolving into a personal endeavor to track my own goals toward healthy living. It will return to its roots in that it's once again primarily for me rather than my readers. I intend to use it to track my progress in multiple areas of my life and if anyone cares to peek in and finds it interesting, great. If not, that's okay too. It's mine.

In returning to my blog, I recognize certain changes that I want to make. I don't want to dwell on the tragedies that have befallen me (though I may reference them from time to time, as they have had such a significant impact); rather, I choose to focus on moving forward, hence the new blog name. "Making It" references my desire to make it through each day with enthusiasm, hope, and gratitude; it also references my passion for creativity, much of which I will share herein.

I have found that keeping myself busy through creativity keeps me out of my head, which is a very GOOD thing. I used to constantly be making and doing things, and folks used to call me a "little dynamo," but parenting and life in general have somewhat prevented me from pursuing as many creative endeavours as I once did. I relish my years as a mother raising her children, but those babies are young adults now, and I find that I have far more time to do some of the things I'd put aside as well as try new things that I've often thought about but never had time for.

Speaking of which: I am 19 days away from a big goal I'd set for myself years ago: a marathon. I'd hoped to complete one by the time I was 50, but circumstances postponed that. Still, better late than never. Frankly, I'm rather worried because I readily admit that I have not trained adequately; still, I'm going for it. The airline and lodging reservations are made, and even if they weren't I'm committed mentally, even though my body is in for a shock. Still, I believe that if I can hike day after day for weeks and even months on end, I can keep trotting forward, even if at a snail's pace, for 26.2 miles. I don't kid myself; it'll be tough, but I can do this. I know I can. (I just hope I still know this at mile 20.)

I haven't decided whether to be my usual goofy self at this marathon. In Austin it's perfectly acceptable and even encouraged to be funky and downright weird, but in Utah in the mountains in a "real" marathon? Hmmmm.....

This is how I'd dress to run an event here (in fact it won me $50.00 in a costume contest that I didn't even know existed but hey, if someone wants to give me money for being my usual goofy self, I'm good with that):

In Utah I'll be attending a "real" marathon with "real" runners, most of whom I've never met---folks who finish marathons in well under 3 hours. I'll seriously be lucky to finish in 6 and I'm not kidding. Being such a poor runner, do I really want to call attention to myself by dressing so? I guess I can be the comedic relief...but I don't know. Are people silly in Utah? I'll pack my tutu and decide on race day. I wish I could wear a t-shirt honoring Ethan, but I'm not going to wear cotton and I can't get his picture put on a tech shirt. I'll bring him with me somehow though. I'll wear his dog tags or something. I run for him as well as myself.

Speaking of running, it's time I was off for my morning run. Later I'll share some of the fun stuff I have been doing.

Happy Trails!

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!)

Thanks for stopping by...

Following the deaths of my grandson in 2010 and my eldest son in 2013, my life went into a dramatic tailspin and I felt a sense of hopelessness and despair such as I'd never known. Frankly, I was fully ready to check out. After reaching the lowest depths of despair, however, I resolved to pull myself up and move forward. Happily, I am recovering slowly but surely by grasping life by the horns and not only holding on for the ride, but relishing it every step of the way.

In an effort to recover the sense of joy I'd once known, I have found that through pushing myself to live fully I am rediscovering the wonder that can be found by simply moving forward. I'm "making it" by, in part, making it! In other words, unleashing my creativity through myriad project has proven to be cathartic and healing to me. Included in this creative drive is a passion to write, so while I don't consider myself to be an especially gifted writer, I have been known to evoke emotion in my readers now and then. Thus, I offer you a glimpse into my world by sharing my journey. I hope you'll find something in my musings to move you, amuse you, inspire you, or intrigue you as I post the occasional missive about my mission to move forward from tragedy through the healing powers of creativity, adventure, and living life to the fullest.

Fun in New Orleans

My best friend

Mom and Tami During our Alaskan Cruise

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