Spruce Abuse

Colorado Spruce, April 2010

Hack Job Cutting all of the branches six feet up.

Status of 30+ year old tree, April, 2020.

This post diverges a bit from my usual, but I just have to share what happened this week. We have lived in the same house for 27 and a half years. The Colorado spruce tree that sits just on the neighbors’ side of the property line was here and already a large tree when we moved in. This is the third family who has lived in the house since we’ve been here.  We have trimmed the bottom branches every five years or so, or the neighbor did. It was a shared tree on the property line and we respected its beauty. I also liked that it concealed my view of the rest of the street, it made my yard feel more private and protected.

The spruce tree has outlived three aspen trees, two that were here when we moved in and one that volunteered on the same property line closer to the houses. The tree is a part of our home landscape, and as I look at a quarter century of family photos, it is prominent in many of them. As a dear friend said when I was telling her what happened, “Trees hold special memories–they grow as a family grows.”

Well on Sunday, the new nextdoor neighbor hacked out the first 6 feet of branches from the bottom of the tree. He did not say a word to us, he just hacked it up. So here’s what we have to look at every day. I’m told it will grow back, if it doesn’t kill the tree.

Why would any one do this to a beautiful, healthy tree?

Where will the bunnies go when it’s cold?

I’m getting used to this new normal, but I don’t like it.

Posted in engagement, Overexcitability, Regret, Remembering, Spring, time, Traditions | 2 Comments

Giving Gratitude Daily

Yesterday I had the great honor to convene with my many friends who are advocates for gifted and talented students via a Zoom call. We have been meeting for a few years now. I’ve known many of these wonderful women for decades, some I’ve just met recently. All are smart, funny and dedicated to supporting GT kids as educators, administrators, social workers, resource teachers, and parents. We had a blast; talked for 2 1/2 hours and laughed a lot! I needed that.

It was helpful to talk about our fears, our successes and frustrations at this most strange time. Many of my friends are on the front line of “remote education”, suddenly faced with keeping students engaged in school academically and meeting their social/emotional needs. Gifted kids often have significant social emotional needs, and many of ‘our’ students are also from low income and at-risk homes. This means that there is a lot going on for them and they really miss the stability of the school routine that supports them.  It was good to hear how things are going on the front lines. And I know these educators are using every creative energy they have to make remote learning work as good as it can. I left the call last night with such gratitude for these friendships and for the important work that they are doing to keep kids safe and learning.

Then I remembered my Gratitude Jar. A few years ago, making gratitude jars was the activity at a Christmas party hosted by a couple of these wonderful friends, Lisa and Cyndy. We all picked a vessel to decorate and Lisa and Cyndy had tables full of things to customize our jars. I faithfully put a note about gratitude in the jar every day for the first few months I had it, but then I stopped. My jar has been collecting dust on a table in my office for a couple of years now.

Today seems a good time to dust it off and start putting one thing that I am grateful for in the jar every day. So, that’s what I did. I started with a note about being grateful for my friends and the ability to connect with them at this time. And grateful for Zoom to allow that to happen.

I invite you to make your own gratitude jar or start a simple gratitude journal. I do believe that we open ourselves up to abundance when we stop to be thankful as part of a daily practice. I know there are others of my local friends who a jar a few years ago at Lisa and Cyndy’s house. Get them out, dust them off. Find the good in each and every day.

Stay well friends and give thanks!



Posted in Celebrations, friendships, Gathering, Gratitude, Jeffco, Reaching Educators, Remembering, Traditions | Leave a comment

What Would Meem and Poppop Say?

Meem & Poppop at one of our weddings

I’ve been doing a lot of painting and cleaning while on “Stay at Home” orders these past few weeks. Painting helps me process and there is a lot to process.

My mind has wandered to what my maternal grandparents, Martha and Earl Wyckoff (Meem and Poppop), would have to say about the state of things. Poppop passed in March, 2001 and Meem died on Thanksgiving Day, 2010, just four months before Patrick.

I pulled out the last scrapbook that my Mom made for Meem for inspiration this morning. It is a big book, containing photos and captions from every decade of their lives. Turning to my Mom’s remarks from Meem’s funeral, I was reminded that Meem was born during the peak of the Spanish Flu, on October, 30 1918. Her mother was confined to bed rest at the time. That must have been terrifying for her Mom. This is something I don’t remember Meem talking about.

What I remember her talking about was growing up during the Depression. She was eleven years old when it began. She started dating Earl when she was a teenager. They both lived in Almonesson, NJ, next door to each other. He was 4 1/2 years older than her and had been in the CCCs in Idaho. In November, 1936 they accompanied another couple who were eloping to get married in Elkton, MD. Maryland had a lower age limit to get a marriage license (I think). They were their witnesses. The story goes that the guy said to Earl, “You may as well get married while you are here. When will you have enough gas to get back down here?” So, Martha and Earl were married, but they kept it a secret because they didn’t have enough money to get an apartment of their own.

Once they told her parents that they were married, they lived with her parents. Before very long, my grandmother was pregnant with her first child. But she was very ill at birth and only lived a few days. I have reflected on what that grief must have been like. She was so young and the loss of a child is so much to bear. I know that they bought a family plot in the cemetery nearby to bury the baby. She never had a grave marker until my grandmother bought the marker for Poppop after he died. Money was always an underlying concern and they never wasted anything. This rubs off and I am grateful for all they taught my parents and me.

During the Depression, Meem was a hairdresser, so never out of work. There’s an irony to what’s happening today. Poppop worked for RCA as a prototype builder. He was proud to have had a part in building the prototype of the lunar rover. Poppop had an amazing gift for seeing how things fit together. He did this work despite having no formal education as an engineer.

Both of them had an amazing talent to see the potential in things. He could fix anything, we always said, “Don’t throw that away, Poppop can fix it.” She could make anything out of fabric and glue. She loved Elmer’s Glue! In their retirement they started an antique business, MarlWyck Antiques. They focused on refinishing old trunks. Poppop would strip off the old leather, fashion new metal corners, hinges, etc. Meanwhile Meem would recover the trays inside the trunks with beautiful cotton fabric. Their pieces were amazing works of art.

So, with their history of being young adults during the Depression, I wonder what they’s say about the state of things today. My guess is that Meem’s counsel would be to keep using what we have. I have frozen soups, a turkey that I didn’t cook last year for Christmas, and lots of other things that I can cobble together into meals. She would also advise that it’s about time I cleaned the basement! After Patrick died down there, I just couldn’t face the space for a long time. Then Richy moved in and stayed for the better part of seven years. Lots of stuff to clean and throw out there. I know she’d say keep trying to be kind to each other. She always said never go to bed angry.

Poppop was not a man of many words. He would say, “It’ll be ok Dolly.” And then he would give me one of his most amazingly tight hugs. And it would feel like it’s going to be ok.

May we all use the lessons learned from our elders. May we find the lessons in this time. And I think it’ll be ok.

Stay well friends.


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About Daniel and The Study is Published

It happened this week. After five years of hard work on behalf of the William & Mary team, the psychological autopsy of Patrick was published. It was actually published online on January 14, 2020 in Roeper Review . It has a very academic title, A Psychological Autopsy of an Intellectually Gifted Student With Attention Deficit Disorder. The first author, Dr. Tracy Cross, has previously shared that he believes this is the best work by his team yet. They have produced four such studies of gifted adolescents (all 4 boys) and Dr. Cross was on the dissertation committee for the author of the only such study of a girl, it is the most recent until this one, published in 2010.

I received a copy of the study from Tracy in March of 2019. It’s hard to read, but I did. I gave some edits that were factually incorrect. It has been in review, final editing and publishing for nearly a year since. Receiving the journal article in published form really hit me hard. I realized that I hadn’t really planned for what I would do with the article once it was published. Luckily, I have amazing, smart, connected friends who spent time brainstorming with me this week to identify initial steps.

And this is what it has to do with Daniel–

I came home from my meeting with my friends on Wednesday night. Emily, Jerry and I were all home. Emily was using the Alexa in the living room to play favorite songs, mostly ‘old ones’, the ones Jerry and I grew up with. As often happens, one song reminds us of another and we were having fun listening to songs from the 70s.

Jerry walked over to to the device and said, “Alexa, play Daniel by Elton John”. Jerry did not know that the name that the team changed Patrick to was Daniel. He had not read the study. Validation.

Then we looked up the lyrics:

Daniel is traveling tonight on a plane
I can see the red tail lights heading for Spain
Oh and I can see Daniel waving goodbye
God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes
They say Spain is pretty, though I’ve never been
Well Daniel says it’s the best place that he’s ever seen
Oh and he should know, he’s been there enough
Lord I miss Daniel, oh I miss him so much
Oh oh, Daniel my brother you are older than me
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won’t heal?
Your eyes have died, but you see more than I
Daniel you’re a star in the face of the sky
Oh oh, Daniel my brother you are older than me
Do you still feel the pain of the scars that won’t heal?
Your eyes have died, but you…
Source: LyricFind

I had always thought it was about an older brother who died. It would make sense that the study team might pick that name given the configuration of our family. But further exploration reveals it is actually about a Vietnam veteran who left for Spain because he just wanted a normal life when he got home from the war.  Bernie Taupin, who wrote the lyrics with Elton John, explained what happened in an interview that’s documented in SongFacts.

From SongFacts:

The lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, Elton’s writing partner. He explained the inspiration on his web site: “I’d seen this article in Time magazine on the Tet Offensive. And there was a sidebar next to it with a story about how many of the soldiers that were coming back from ‘Nam were these simple sort of down home country guys who were generally embarrassed by both the adulation and, depending on what part of the country you came from, the animosity that they were greeted by. For the most part, they just wanted to get back to a normal life, but found it hard, what with all the looky loos and the monkeys of war that they carried on their backs.

I just took it from there and wrote it from a younger brother’s perspective; made him disabled and wanting to get away. I made it Spain, basically, because it rhymes with plane.”

When Elton wrote the music for this song, he chopped off the last verse because he thought the song was already too long. The deleted verse explained that “Daniel” was a Vietnam vet who returned home to the farm after the war, couldn’t find peace, and decided to leave America and go to Spain. With the last verse chopped off, it became a fairly vague story of two brothers who part ways, although Bernie Taupin says that losing the verse wasn’t a big deal.

Said Taupin: “We had that whole thing about the missing verse that everybody seems to believe explained the true meaning of the song. I think that’s just an urban legend. It didn’t really explain anything. Sure, it was cut out. But that used to happen all the time with our songs. I would often overwrite, and Elton felt it necessary to edit somewhat. But believe me, it didn’t say anything that the rest of the song didn’t say.”

Needless to say, the first question on my list for Dr. Cross is, “Why did they name him Daniel?” I’ll post the answer when I get it!

Posted in Daniel, Dr. Cross, Emily, Gratitude, Healing, Reaching Educators, Recovery, Remembering, suicide prevention, Telling Patrick's Story, The Study | Leave a comment

2019 Holiday Newsletter: A Milestone

The last holiday newsletter I wrote was in 2010. I was still largely in shock from my grandmother Wyckoff (Meem) passing away after a stroke on Thanksgiving that year. But I was excited about the many accomplishments of my three kids and Patrick and I were launching a photography business, so there was also great anticipation.

After Patrick died, the very thought of a holiday newsletter brought me to tears. I had been so excited when I moved the format from 2 columns to three, in anticipation of traveling to China to adopt Emily in 2002. The idea of deleting a column since there was no news of Patrick was depressing beyond words.

I remain blessed to have my dear friend Marguerite in my life. We met when her son, Matthew passed 6 days before Patrick and we used the same funeral home. We have remained close and have had the benefit of each other as we walk our grief journey. Matthew’s birthday is Christmas Eve, so Christmas has remained very difficult for Marguerite. She called me this week to say that she had put up her Christmas tree for the first time without major tears this year. This milestone for Marguerite got me thinking about my own hang up about the holiday newsletter.

I have spend a good part of this year working on living in the present moment and enjoying the simple abundance of life. With this perspective (and a little time because my work projects were caught up) I opened up the 2010 newsletter file on Friday to consider whether this might be the year that I could write about the family news again. I did it. It’s not the most articulate or creative, but a milestone for me none the less.

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

2019 Newsletter p.1

2019 Straut Newsletter p. 2

Posted in Brendan, Christmas, Emily, family reunion, Gathering, Gratitude, Grief triggers, GT HS Center, Healing, hugs, Jeffco, Marguerite, regrets, Remembering, Thanksgiving, time, Traditions | Leave a comment

Carly Marie Challenge Day 17: Treasured

Patchy’s Treasured Green Suede Adidas

17. TREASURED | Do you have any treasured belongings that remind your of your child? What are they and what do they mean to you?

Patrick loved these Adidas shoes. He mostly saved them for special occasions. As I look at pictures of him in the last year or two of his life, he was often wearing them. He special ordered them because he wanted kelly green suede and he had a fairly small foot.

After Patrick’s death Brendan wore these shoes and Patrick’s class ring when he wanted to have his brother close by. Shane wore them a few times too while he was living with us. At some point, we all agreed that the shoes were starting to wear too much and we should save them. I’m not sure for what, but we are saving them.

The other treasured belonging I have that reminds of me of Patrick is a Celtic cross that I bought the summer after he died. I was tempted to use some of Patrick’s ashes to have a pendant made, but I was reluctant to break the seal on the ashes. We’ve struggled to figure out what to do with them, and pulling out a tablespoon of them just hit me weirdly. I didn’t want to do it.

Patrick was very much into his Irish heritage, so I thought a simple Celtic pendant to wear when I talk about suicide prevention, his death and when I am working with other kids fits the bill for me. I like it so much that I had a colleague use the pendant design as the basis for the logo for the Patrick Straut Foundation pictured below. These are reminders to myself that I promised to work on behalf of gifted kids, on suicide prevention and on sensible gun legislation. In this way some good would come from losing Patrick. I believe it has.

Patrick Straut Foundation Logo

Posted in Brendan, engagement, green suede shoes adidas, GT HS Center, Healing, Jeffco, Patrick's friends, Shane, suicide prevention, Telling Patrick's Story | Leave a comment

Carly Marie Challenge Day 14: Support Circles

Healing Moms Hands, 2015

14. SUPPORT CIRCLES | Share your favourite support networks. It may be a charity or a small friendship group. Share their information for others to find.

This is a topic where I feel I have been quite blessed in my grief journey. I have previously written about My Grief Jouney and the support circles is has included. They have been such a blessing to me. I will repost from the Patrick Straut Foundation website here.

Grief and recovery are important topics. Being in the middle of my own grief journey, and having no prior background or training in counseling, I struggle to bring structure to this topic. What I know for certain is that it has been extremely important for me to process my grief with others who are processing similar loss. This is not true for everyone and I have learned not to impose what worked for me on others. It’s just not helpful. The other thing I know for sure is that my yoga practice has helped to keep me grounded, mindful and grateful on my grief journey. Again, it’s not for everyone, but it has helped me a lot.

A key blessing of my grief journey has been my Grief Buddy, Marguerite. I was blessed to be introduced to her within about a month of losing our boys. Marguerite’s son Matthew passed away on March 10, 2011, just 6 days before Patrick died, and we used the same funeral home. The Bereavement Director, who knew Marguerite through business, made the introduction after I consulted with her about counseling options for my family. She wisely surmised that Marguerite and I had a lot in common, in addition to the timing of our profound losses, and that we would help each other through the grief journey. I’m not sure I would be as far in my grief journey if I hadn’t had Marguerite by my side for each step of the way. For her friendship, love and many hours of listening and sharing, I am eternally grateful.

Healing Moms: Dawn, Louise, Terri, Nancy & Jenny, 2014


Another hugely helpful outlet for me has been my Healing Moms group. This is a group of women who mostly met through our local Compassionate Friends chapter and who have committed to getting together periodically to talk about our kids, challenge ourselves with activities and crafts, and generally just share the grief and recovery journey. We’ve done fun things like white water rafting in honor of Kade and Ryan around their angel anniversaries in the summer.

We mostly found each other through the local chapter of Compassionate Friends. It is a wonderful place to begin to engage with others who have lost children.

Terri, Nancy, Louise & Jenny at the lunch break, Arkansas River, July, 2016





The leader of our group is Jenny Robbins. Jenny lost her son Kade at age 19 about a year after Patrick and Matthew died. Jenny  recently completed her Masters of Counseling program at Regis University in Denver, CO. She has turned her tragedy into motivation to learn to be a counselor, focused on grief and recovery.

I am so grateful for my grief buddy and the support circle represented by our Healing Moms Group.

Posted in Birthdays, Celebrations, engagement, friendships, Gathering, Gratitude, Healing, Marguerite, Recovery, Remembering, Telling Patrick's Story, time, Traditions | Leave a comment

Carly Marie Challenge Day 13: Family Portrait

Family, Fall 2008

13. FAMILY PORTRAIT | What does your family portrait look like? It does not have to be a traditional family dynamic. Friends are considered family to many people. It could be just yourself. What would your family portrait look like if your children were here?

This prompt made me stop participating in the challenge for a few days. Most Carly Marie Project Heal participants have suffered miscarriage or young infant loss. I suspect they think that I am actually quite lucky to have had Patrick for 18 years. Some of them only had their children for 18 minutes, or hours. I knew that going into the challenge. Jenny was doing it, and Kade was 19 when he died.

But when I started to read their posts, it was a little overwhelming. Many talked about getting pregnant with the children in their family now when they should have still been pregnant with the ones they lost. I never experienced a loss like that. And I thought sharing a picture of my three kids was over the top.

The other issue that this prompt raised for me was that we really don’t have family portraits since Patrick died. I just don’t know how to do it. In fact, this one is from 2 1/2 years before he died. So he was just 16 in the picture, Brendan had just turned 12 and Emily was 7. I can’t believe we didn’t bother to take a family picture any later than November of 2008.

Jenny has carried a portrait of Kade with her on family vacations when they planned to have family portraits, so that Kade could be included. Maybe I need to plan to do that so that we have a family portrait while Brendan and Emily are still close to home.


Posted in Brendan, Emily, fall, Gathering, Healing, Recovery, Regret, Remembering, time, Traditions | Leave a comment

Carly Marie Challenge Day 12: Transformation

My vision board from Dec. 2016

12. TRANSFORMATION | How have you changed since the death of your child? Share about who you were before and who you are now.

I think this would be a very difficult prompt for someone with just months since they lost their child rather than years. The years provide opportunities for reflection, experiences with others in similar circumstances; time to get past denial and grow in acceptance.

I created the vision board pictured in December, 2016 when I was very excited to have a job offer from a non-profit in my field that I have always thought it would be awesome to work for. It was a remote position, that was supposed to give me opportunities to continue to do research with a favored colleague, time for my non-profit foundation and work-life balance. Well sometimes things don’t work out the way you plan them, but I stand by the things I put on this vision board.

The things that have changed about me since Patrick’s death are many. I have become the founder of a non-profit foundation to raise money to scholarships in his name each year. I have grown in my yoga and meditation practice. I have grown professionally, as a research and as a project manager. I have determined that work-life balance is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s necessary for me. I want to be available for my kids while they want me to assist them.

I also have embraced the idea of Post-Traumatic Growth. It is a wonderful idea that gives me hope that I continue to become my best self. It give permission to not do everything, to not be perfect, and even to say, “no” sometimes.


Posted in friendships, Gathering, Gratitude, Grief, Growing Up, Healing, Recovery, Remembering, Success, time | Leave a comment

Carly Marie Challenge Day 11: Beliefs

Swamiji and I, March 2013

11. BELIEFS | Share a little about your belief system. Are you a spiritual or religious person? Do you believe there is nothing after life and death? Have your beliefs changed since the death of your child?

I started practicing yoga and meditation before Patrick died.  For this, I am very grateful. Through my dear friend and yoga teacher, Leslie, I came to know and have opportunities to sit with Yogacharya Dharmananda (Swamiji), a wonderful spiritual leader who lives nearby in Colorado. He has helped me scratch the surface of understanding and embracing Buddhist beliefs.

I  know that Patrick reached out to me on the day he died during my yoga practice. This was a gift that I am eternally grateful for, because it helps me know that his energy is still in the world. I was at my weekly yoga practice with Leslie and my friends at a non-profit organization where I worked for a short period of time.  Near the end of the practice, we went into camel pose, a heart opener. When I took the pose, I literally felt divine light and energy, gold, powerful, beautiful. It was overwhelming and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I didn’t say anything to my colleagues sharing the practice. I knew it could be an emotional pose, and thought that was all it was.

Little did I know that Patrick was lying dead on my basement floor. I know it was his spirit reaching out to let me know that he was ok. I think he saw the opportunity of me in a heart opening pose and took that chance to reach out to me from the astral plane. He was letting me know that he was still around. In those first weeks, I felt his energy a lot–in his room, preparing remarks for the funeral, while visiting places he would have loved to see, etc.

I feel so blessed that by then I was liberated from the traditional dogmatic religious beliefs about death by suicide. How does one ever recover from their religion teaching that their child is damned to hell for eternity. I want nothing to do with that dogma and fear peddling.

I find comfort in a belief that the world has shades of grey, it’s not black or white, good or bad. It’s complicated, and so is my belief system.

Posted in Gratitude, Healing, Recovery, Remembering, Success | Leave a comment