Monday, June 29, 2009

Connecticut ~ Day Two

After 10 hours of driving, yes I did say 10 hours, we finally arrived home safe and sound from our little trip up north. Normally it takes us about 8 hours to drive from Hartford to Richmond but it was Sunday and once we got into Delaware we slowly crawled along for about 50 miles or so. Lots of people packed up and ready to go on vacation or coming home from a weekend at the beach which made the highway traffic congested. I cannot tell you how happy I was to turn into our driveway. I have day two of our trip to share with you today. As you can see, I love to take a lot of photos and this blog is a great journal for me to have and reflect back on in the years to come so I am going to break down each day of our trip. Before I do that, I have an unrelated topic that I need to vent about.

Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett. How very sad. Farrah fought a hard and dedicated battle against cancer and she inspired me and I am grateful she shared her journey. The ups, the downs, the heartache, the laughter. I never really thought much of Farrah before her documentary. I was 7 when Charlie's Angels was on TV but I remember watching it. I liked Kate Jackson the best back then but now I would now have to say that Farrah has taken a spot in my heart. She accurately portrayed what having cancer is like. It's not pretty on some days to watch the pain, the procedures and the nerve wracking waiting and praying for an MRI scan that shows the cancer has shrunk and has responded to the harsh treatment. But thankfully, she also demonstrated the switch that is flipped when you face a life threatening disease. That switch of mortality that brings life into focus so clearly. Cancer can take away so much but it can also give you some precious gifts. The gift of prayer and experiencing God on a much different level, the know how to plainly see what is important in life and the gift to say what needs to be said to those you love before it is too late. Farrah expressed all of this and for that I thank her and will mourn her passing.

Now, Michael Jackson. I grew up listening to his music. Always a fan never a fanatic. Steve and I saw Michael perform in 2001 at the United We Stand concert in DC. I was not blown away like I thought I would be but he was entertaining. I think by this time in his career so many other bizarre behaviors took away from his singing talents and it was hard to see him without all the other craziness cluttering his persona. I do believe he was a great talent and he will be one of the greatest influences in pop music for all time. I am sad though that this man basically seems to have taken his own life by self medicating. I understand the sensitive nature of his psyche and how hard it is to cope at times but what makes me mad is all of the media coverage. Farrah, should be the one we are talking endlessly about and paying tribute too. She fought for her life. She wanted to live. She put the spotlight on cancer and made a difference. Michael, on the other hand, gave it all away. The desire to live was obviously not there. Both deaths are tragic but I can not mourn for Michael Jackson. I do have empathy for him and compassion for the demons that plagued him and I respect his talent and what he means to others, but it's just difficult to look at these two icons and see them in the same light. I wish our media would focus on heroes instead of salacious gossip and bizarre behavior. I must admit that I hardly watched any news coverage over the last week but when we did have a minute to check in, I did not see any news about Farrah, it was all Michael. I do hope they both rest in peace and we can take away all the positive influences they brought forth.

Our second day in Connecticut was just as nice as our first day. We started out with a family breakfast in Waterbury at Paisanos restaurant. Steven's Aunt Carol works there and she has been such a huge supporter for Ellie and all of us. She told everyone about Ellie's journey and asked for prayers from all of her friends and patrons of the restaurant. She collected money, has held yard sales and has prayed right along with us. Her husband Joe and son Brian and daughter Kelly have been just as wonderful. Brian and his police department (Meriden CT) gave the Friends of Ellie fund a very nice donation last summer. So we were thrilled when Aunt Carol asked us to come for breakfast to meet the owners and some of the people that have prayed for our girl. We were surprised to see additional family present at breakfast. Along with Carol and her family were Steve's sister Linda and cousins Paula, Billy, Jane and Andy. We also got to see the Landry/O'Connor sisters Eleanor and Frances. All of these people mean so much to us and to see them in person and to let them see for themselves just how well Ellie is doing is such a gift. We had a fabulous breakfast and I have to tell you that Paisanos has the best hashbrown potatoes. They are really a wonderful family at that restaurant and we are so happy to have met them. Here are some photos from our breakfast.

The Paisanos staff with two new employees, Emma and Ellie
Aunt Carol is in the back row dressed in blue.

Peel those potatoes! Emma and Ellie with the cooks.

The girls pose with Frances O'Connor, a big prayer warrior for Ellie

After breakfast we took the girls down to Clinton, to the beach. The Connecticut weather has been more rainy than sunny so we were making the most out of the temporary sunny day. While Steve and Ellie made a sand castle, Emma and I took a walk along the marsh to look at the nesting osprey and warblers that were flitting about. I was so hoping to see a Summer Tanager as I have heard they are frequent visitors but sadly, I didn't catch sight of any. Next time for sure. Around 3:30 we headed to Cheshire to Aunt Linda's house. The girls were excited to spend some quality time with their crazy aunt. Linda has been affected by Ellie's journey so much. She has faithfully called and visited and is a strong presence in their lives. Steve's other sister, Denise was coming by too for dinner with the girls. Steve and I saw our golden opportunity for some alone time and decided to drop the girls off and head back down the the shore. We had a beautiful and much needed date night.

We started off in Madison (one of my favorite towns) at Lenny and Joes. Lenny and Joes is an iconic part of the Connecticut shoreline. It is a well known restaurant that is a must for anyone that loves fried seafood or lobster rolls. I personally have another reason for going. My dad's spirit is all over Lenny and Joes. He was good friends with them back in the 80s and he helped them build their two restaurants. I cannot tell you how proud I was to sit on the benches and eat at the wooden table that father built (my mom says she helped too with the staining). The food was incredible but the presence of my father was very moving. I still miss him so much but he lives on in many ways and seeing the benches and tables at Lenny and Joes was a tribute to his love of woodworking. Here is a photo of those tables that he made over 20 years ago.

My father's blood, sweat and maybe even a tear or too are in these benches and tables.

I had fried scallops and Steve had fried clams, scallops and fish and onion rings.
It was so good that I went through 2 cups of tartar sauces.
You have to click on the photo to really see how delicious it all is.

Once we stuffed ourselves we decided to walk off our dinner at Hammonassett state beach which was right around the corner. We headed to the Nature trails at Meigs Point and took a nice long walk. I was so thrilled to see Purple Martin and their houses at the start of our walk. They are a life bird for me, ones I had never seen before. They are beautiful and the way they nest, in these condos of sorts, is so interesting. We also saw many shore birds, Tree Swallows, Red Winged Blackbirds, Robins, Killdeer, Plovers, and some fast warblers that were hard to ID. Once our walk was finished we decided to walk along the shore at sunset (insert romantic music here). It was very nice to have this time to ourselves. Here is the rest of our night in photos and there are even more over at my Flickr account. Day three tomorrow. :)

I loved this scene. There are Little Egrets, White Egrets and Cormorants fishing by the shore.
If you click on the photo for a larger look, you will see the black Cormorant in the middle has a fish.

Beautiful Egrets by the shoreline.

Purple Martins sitting atop their house.

The condo style living of Purple Martins.
The houses are on a crank and come down to be cleaned.

Sunset on Long Island Sound

Steve and me at the beach, close to sunset

Friday, June 26, 2009

Connecticut ~ Day One

We have been in Connecticut for the past three days and we are all having a wonderful time. We left Tuesday late morning and on the way we stopped off to visit with Liam's family. We didn't call before hand but I thought it would be OK. I had a feeling a visit from Ellie would make Maria feel better...and it did. She ran to her and as they embraced they both cried. We all cried. Again, it's all bittersweet. We know Liam is in heaven and he is with God but the pain of losing a child is raw, raw emotion. Our hearts are with them and we were grateful to be able to express our condolences in person. Maria gave each girl one of Liam's bead bracelets that he had made and loved so much. We will forever cherish them.

We arrived late Tuesday at our friend's Laurel and Tony's. They live in Windsor, CT in a charming older house that they have renovated. Laurel has fabulous decorating style and each room is warm and inviting. Cottage style that is simple but cozy and very New England. In the girls room, a little gift basket awaited them. Precious. Laurel has 3 cats but these two are new since my last visit.

Benton & Allen - Laurel and Tony's new additions.

Wednesday we had no plans so we just drove by some of our favorite places. We drove through Glastonbury and up Route 66 to Colchester where we bought our first house. The drive is so pretty and I love all of the New England charm and quaintness. I think those are some of the elements we miss the most living in Virginia. Along our drive we spotted so many unique restaurants, flowerstands, and signs soliciting for homemade honey or Adirondack chairs. I love all the beautiful colonial homes, rock walls and land - they have so much land here. We love our little spot in Virginia and I don't think we want to move back but we do have our moments when we consider it. I know Steve thinks about it often and if I gave the go ahead he would go pack his bags in an instant. I just have to remind myself of the cost of living, the snow, and the personal distance that New Englanders place between themselves and their neighbors. We are in such a wonderful place for the girls to grow up and truth be told, New England can be a harder place to raise kids. Our yearly visits will have to sustain us and this way we get to enjoy all the things we love and nothing that we don't. On our drive we visited with one of Steve's good friends Scott. He is a police officer in Portland, CT and Steve and Scott have known each other since 2nd grade. Scott was the best man in our wedding.

Scott, Steve and girls in Portland

We did a drive by of our old house. Your first house as a married couple, it's always a sentimental moment. It looks the same except they added in a large detached garage. We looked lovingly upon the rock wall that Steve built one summer and the big wrap around deck that Steve and my father built the following summer. I am glad that the family that owns it now have cared for it the way they have. After our trip down memory lane we headed through town and stopped for lunch at one of favorite places, Family Pizza in Colchester. The best pizza is made right here and as long as I can get one pie each year, I am happy. It was fabulous. Feast your eyes on this masterpiece of Sausage and onion and cheese. Yum!
I wish we had taste-o-vision so you could take a bite.

We also got dessert... look at this display!

After lunch we headed to Old Saybrook and the water. It was raining on and off so we just drove down to Fenwick to take in all the pretty sights. So without further adue, here is the scenic tour of our day.

beach house in Fenwick ~ Old Saybrook CT

I love the tall birdhouses in gardens. So pretty

Light house at Fenwick

A beautiful field of poppies

A beautiful girl holding those beautiful poppies.

The inlet was full of swans. Dozens of them.

Osprey in the inlet.

View from the Old Saybrook causeway.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Bittersweet emotions

I worked all day today getting Tickle Bellies orders out. It was just me working today which was fine, I was kind of in a funk for most of the morning. Our friend Liam, who was just 7, earned his wings early this morning and went to heaven. We met Liam and his family our very first day at MCV hospital back in April 2008. He also had a brain tumor but it was one of the worst kinds of brain tumors to have. Obviously, all brain tumors suck but there are some that do have a successful cure rate. Liam's tumor was not one of those. But I told myself, that someone has to be the first to be cured, Liam could be that someone. So there is always hope that a new treatment or something will effect that tumor and a successful treatment plan will be in place and this little boy will live and not die. And of course there is our loving God and His promises and plan and when the doctors have no answers, no remedy for the problem, perhaps it is then that Divine Healing will take place. Sadly for us, all of those prayers for healing here on earth were not answered. However, I know deep down that Liam is better off. He is the winner in the lottery of life and he received his big payday today. He has no pain, no morphine pumps, no pressure in his head, no more medicine and no more fear of what may lie ahead. He is free and I can only imagine the peace and love that now fills his soul. It's been a bittersweet day and as I hug my girls I am thankful. I am grateful they are here with Steven and me because I am so selfish that I couldn't live without them. God has allowed me to keep Ellie here with us for now and we are going to give thanksgiving for that each day that we have and we are going to do our best to live our life with purpose, with meaning and with fun... lots of fun.

I am sad that the timing for our vacation will make us miss Liam's funeral. We will stop at their home tomorrow on our drive so we can deliver our condolences to his family in person. Hug your kids tight and let the little stuff go. That's what we are trying to do. So this vacation has come at a good time and I am really looking forward to just being and enjoying and making memories. Unplugging from it all for a few days.

In other news.... I am sure you have all been on the edge of your seats since I have posted the big Ipod Touch or Room Redo conflict that Emma was having. Drum roll please... the winner is

We went out yesterday to get this so she would have some hot new technology to play with during tomorrow's 8 hour drive. It is a very cool Ipod and I am quite jealous. It has all these neat apps like the Iphone and a big, crystal clear viewing screen. She has downloaded two movies for our trip. The neat thing that I liked was the hidden side speakers so you can share your music with everyone if you choose to, no headphones needed. Thankfully our tastes in music is similar so I don't cringe in horror when she plays something for all of us to hear.

I will be updating from New England if I have time. Here are some random photos from our weekend.

Ellie plays 'Cooking Mama' on her DS.

Zebra Swallowtail butterfly comes for a visit.

Lance Armstrong
Steven is ready for a neighborhood ride.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The beach is calling....

Happy Father's Day to all the dads but especially to the father of my girls. Steven is a really great dad. He is the milkshake maker, the swing pusher, the bath giver, the "let's go feed the ducks" guy, the "Sure I'll take you to the pool" guy, the "hey Emma, lets go to a Caps Game" guy, he goes to their sports events, their daisy events and he will give up his laptop and ESPN in a second in exchange for and Hannah Montana. He has patience, is kindhearted and he loves his daughters. The feeling is mutual as both of them claim the title of 'Daddy's little Girl'. I know the past year and a half has taught him so much about what being a dad really means and the thought of losing your child has forever changed him and made him even better. We all love you very much!

Steven and the loves of his life, Ellie and Emma

This weekend has been HOT!! I felt like I needed an oxygen mask yesterday when I went outside. The air was so thick and humid. This is the part of summer that I don't really care for and it makes me daydream about being in a beach chair with sand between my toes, a fruity cocktail in my hand and the sound of waves and seagulls in my ears. We haven't headed to the beach yet this year but we are just days away. Tuesday we leave for a few days in Connecticut. We always love going back home every year in the summertime. There is really no place like New England in the summer and the pull to go is very strong. We have lots of friends and family to visit with but we will take one day just for us. A day that usually starts off in Old Saybrook with breakfast at a favorite diner and then we do the slow crawl along the shoreline stopping in favorite boutiques and landmarks along the way. We spend a good deal of time in Clinton, the town I grew up in. We will go to the beach there and search the tidal pools for crabs and other treasures and then head to the next town, which is one of my most favorite places of all, Madison, CT. Madison is a quaint New England shoreline town. The beaches and homes are beautiful and when we let ourselves dream, we dream of having a summer home there. It's always the perfect day for all of us and we look forward to it every year.

My well read book on Cape Cod that is sitting on the pool towels along with
Ellie's favorite pool friend, Tina the turtle.

I am also planning our August vacation to Cape Cod. I have consulted experts (sister-in-law Darlene and good friend MaryAnn) about where to go and stay and I also bought a book that has been very helpful. It's been 18 years since I have been to Cape Cod and I was at a loss where to go. So far we are staying 2 nights in Yarmouth, 4 nights in Chatham and 3 nights in Eastham. We will visit Martha's Vineyard for shopping and photography of all the beautiful homes and we will head up to Provincetown for more shopping and a whale watch tour. It's going to be wonderful and I hope I can hold out until August. I can hear the seagulls already...

Last night we headed to the pool for a pool party. There was a local band, ice cream and night time swimming. Ellie and Emma loved swimming after dark and I loved that I had a jug filled with frozen margaritas for Steve and I and we could sit and relax while socializing with a ton of neighbors and friends. It was a really good time and reinforced how wonderful it is to be home this summer. We are very blessed and each day is appreciated. Today I am off to buy a new bathing suit. I think I would rather set my toes on fire but it has to be done. Wish me luck.

I will leave you with some morning photos of Princess Ellie and her court jester, Kanye.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Day Trippin' Part Two

"...With the smell of the woods, and the wind in the trees, they will forget the rush and strain of all the other long weeks of the year, and for a short time at least, the days will be good for their hearts and for their souls."
-President Franklin Roosevelt speaking about vacationers to the national parks in his
speech at Shenandoah National Park's dedication, July 3, 1936

The second part of our day trip was fabulous. We were greeted with dozens of Barn Swallows swooping high and low and zig zagging dangerously close to the road as we turned into the entrance to the Shenandoah National Park. You know it's a good sign when birds you hardly ever get a glance at in every day life are welcoming you. I was like a kid in a candy store. I spotted the nest of Barn Swallows as soon as we pulled up to the toll station. The ranger told us they nest there every year and perform their aerobatic maneuvers over cars and buses alike. I took a photo of some babies in the nest - these guys looked like they were ready to move out any day now.

From the moment we started driving down Skyline Drive I was mesmerized, enthralled and grateful. The scenery was majestic. Peaks and valleys, trees and flowers and wildlife at every turn. I pulled off at the very first observation area and the girls and I got out and filled our lungs with fresh clean air. Atop a tree in the distance sat a beautiful male Indigo Bunting. The prettiest blue you'd ever want to see. On occasion I will see an Indigo Bunting in the yard and it's a really exciting moment for me, but that usually happens once or if I am lucky, twice a year. He flew off before I could capture his beauty forever with my camera but take my word when I say he was breath taking.

The euphoria I was feeling as we drove down the meandering mountain road was so inspiring. God's earth when it is in this untouched state is amazing. It was a privilege to be there and it was highly spiritual. The girls felt it too and they sat with anticipation ready for whatever beauty was around the next bend.

We headed to Big Meadows where there was a restaurant and gas station. The field across from the restaurant was huge and open, only grasses, wild flowers and berries for acres. There were several families of deer that were in the field and the joy of seeing a brand new little fawn leaping about on awkward legs was entertaining. Ellie and Emma really loved seeing the babies. They were 'oooing and ahhhing' over their cuteness, which made me sigh in delight. They are loving this nature adventure. I am so glad they have inherited my love and appreciation for the environment.

After a hearty dinner we continued south down Skyline Drive on toward Charlottesville. We spotted more deer and a wild turkey and I was catching quick sightings of an array of birds I have never seen. Lifers, as true birders would say. I saw a Redstart and at least two birds from the Warbler family that I haven't ever seen before. I don't know which ones they were but trust me, they were new for me. I could have stood for hours seeking out birds with my binoculars but I know that's more of a solitary experience that the girls were not able to fully appreciate so I only took a few minutes here and there scanning for them. I have made a mental note that I need to go back with Steve and spend some real quality time hiking on a trail looking for birds. What a day that will be.

Along with the deer, turkey and birds we spotted a skunk that looked very strange to me. I am a New England girl born and raised and our skunks are black and white. You know, like Pepe Le Pew. This skunk was mostly black with just a hint of white. I have a blurry photo of him but take a gander at his weird markings.

The big thrill of the entire day for all of us was the big Black bear that was in the road as we came around a corner. We turned the bend and there he was lobbing across the road. He stopped to look at us and we all said something that none of us should probably say out loud. As I reached behind me for the camera he decided to continue on down into the woods. He was gone in a flash and we were too scared to get out to investigate. I know they are more afraid of us then we are of them but still, he was a big boy (or girl). Wow. That was so exciting and the first time any of us saw a bear in his natural habitat.
The drive was long due to all our stoppings along the way but 5 hours later we made it to the end of the park. We headed to Grandma's house to drop off Emma for a few days. It was late and well after midnight before Ellie and I arrived home but it was a day trip for the record books and one we will recall with fondness for many years.

My sweet girls enjoying the beauty of nature.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Day Trippin' Part One

The girls and I had an absolutely fabulous day yesterday! We headed out from Richmond to Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia. It's about 3 hours away but the drive is very scenic and rather enjoyable. I appreciated the views more than the girls but every once in awhile Ellie would look away from her movie to tell me about a herd of cows on a hillside. We spent the first half of the day exploring the caverns and the second half driving along the incredibly beautiful Skyline Drive which intersects right through the Shenandoah National Park. Steve and I drove up here when we first moved to Virginia back in 2000. I cannot believe I waited almost 9 years to return. It was breathtaking.

Luray, Virginia at Luray Caverns.
Blue Ridge Mountains in the background

I wasn't too sure what the girls would think about going deep into a cavern filled with stalagmites and stalactites. It would be dark, cold and wet. Ellie usually is up for any type of adventure but Emma can sometimes be on the fence with things that are messy or too nature-ish. I was so pleased that they both LOVED the caverns. I think that after all we have been through the past 16 months, it doesn't really matter too much what we do, so long as we are doing it together. It warms my heart to know what being together means for all of us now. It's a great feeling.

Deep inside the caverns, Emma gives me the thumbs up

We took the children's audio tour and received an interesting education about how the cavern was formed, how very old it is and we also went on a treasure hunt of sorts looking for certain shapes and objects within the rocks. It was a lot of fun and it wasn't cold at all. About 55 degrees but it felt warm not damp. It was wet in spots with water dripping off the rocks and on occasion we would feel a drip on our heads. I could have lived without that happening.

Ellie and me take a seat on some fallen rocks.
Photo by Emma

Listening to the fascinating audio tour.

Toward the end of the tour, we came to the Wishing Well. The Wishing Well is a lagoon that is full of money. Upon first look I thought it was your typical wishing spot and I gave the girls pennies. After taking a closer look I saw there were lots of dollar bills on the bottom of the water. I even spied a $20.00 bill. I then noticed the sign explaining what the wishing well was for. Each year the lagoon is drained and the money collected goes to various charities. There was a list of past charities. The most recent charity was the American Cancer Society. Of course we wanted to add more money to the lagoon in hopes that Pediatric Cancer or some charity close to our heart would be the recipient. The girls each dropped a dollar into the lagoon.

The girls drop their wishing money into the well.
I hope all their wishes are granted.

After we made the long climb out of the cavern we did some shopping and some eating of the all important and necessary summer time day trip sponsor, ice cream. Here are some random photos above ground.

The girls practice their best old lady cane shuffle

Bonnie and Clyde cause havoc in the gift shop.

Emma sports a hot pink miner's hat. I actually contemplated buying this for late night frogging.

Ellie takes in one last view of the mountains before we head on out.

We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Luray Caverns. It was the perfect day trip. Of course, for me the best part of the day lay before us. We soon would be seeing lots of birds, deer and even a Black bear on our drive through Skyline Drive. Stay tuned...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Summertime Summertime Sum Sum Summertime

Summer vacation is officially here. It's nice to sleep in a little later and to have an easier more relaxed pace. Emma is on her own agenda because she is now 12 and 12 year olds can come and go. She never leaves the neighborhood and thanks to technology she is just a text away at all times. She and her friends will go to the pool or hang out, flitting between houses. Ellie on the other hand has the tendency to get bored easily. She does have a lot of activities she enjoys doing but secretly she is so envious of Emmy's freedom. She hates being 6 at times when she cannot just go out and wander about. June 29th is when she starts summer school. I know she will be thrilled. I didn't sign her up for any camps this summer because I would be so lost without her and truth be told I am not ready to let her go just yet. So between summer school and all the other trips and vacations we have planned it should all work out just fine.

Tomorrow we are headed west to Skyline Drive for a scenic day trip to the mountains. We are also going to check out Luray Caverns. I was there when I was about Ellie's age. We took a family trip from Connecticut to Disney World and drove home through the mountains. I remember it being so cold, wet and dark inside the caverns but also very cool looking with all those stalagmites. It'll be fun to take the girls. Steve will be headed to Arkansas for several days for work so he cannot join us. I think he would have really liked it too. On the way home from the mountains we will stop by to see Grandma Marilyn and Emma is going to stay for a bit longer and visit with her until Saturday. She loves to visit with my mom. She will be overly pampered, that is for sure.

Kayne has recuperated nicely. He is back to his crazy self and the neediness is gone. He isn't meowing every 5 seconds for attention. Thank God for that because he was driving us all crazy. He has made friends with all our other cats and is going to be a nice fit into the family.

Here are some random photos from the past few days. Summer is here and we are loving it!

It's officially summer when the pool towels hang over the deck chairs to dry.

Ellie had some fun dressing up Kanye. He is so well natured that he tolerated wearing American Girl doll outfits. We also have learned he is in touch with his feminine side.

Sarah Palin Emma gets ready to head to the pool.

Bumble Bees and flowers. I could sit and watch this scene all day long.