Posted in Adventures

Beach Refresh

What do you do when you have a few free days in the coldest month of the year? Go to the beach, of course! That honestly had more to do with hotel prices and unexpected time off. We twisted the need for some family time before Dad starts his new job into an early celebration for Annabeth’s upcoming birthday. I found a hotel for $52/night and we were off to explore Myrtle Beach for our first time.

T.J. gave his 2 week notice to Cummins at the end of January. They do not allow employees on their way out to perform repairs in fear of sabotage or subpar work. His district manager even told him that this is “going to be a very long 2 weeks” for him. Instead of letting him go, he worked as a janitor for an entire week while the remaining techs sat around without a single truck in the shop. He contacted HR on the Monday following and was informed that they have no knowledge of his termination of employment. So, he sat down and insisted that the paperwork be filed before he continue to paint lines on the shop floor. I hate to use the phrase but that place truly is a shit show. They had no Branch Manager and no Shop Manager. The truck shop was run solely by a Foreman who had been reluctantly promoted a few months prior, just before the Shop Manager was fired. Once the paperwork was completed, HR informed them that common practice is to let the employee go but his Foreman and District Manager would not. T.J. walked out on Tuesday after an 8 hour day of waiting on them to give him instruction and did not return. When he stopped by to pick up his toolbox, he found out that corporate fired all but one employee in the parts department without notice and gave them one week’s pay. The remaining employee was immediately required to work 10-12 hour days and cover the duties of 5 employees by herself. Cummins has taken a nose dive from their esteemed perch in T.J.’s realm of respect. This is not only a result of his experience as an employee but the refusal to support their pickup truck engines in any aspect.

I had already been peeking at hotels along the coast to surprise Annabeth and T.J. and take advantage of the off season. Recognizing his deflated posture, I jumped to book a well deserved mini escape. We woke up Wednesday morning, packed our bags, and followed Hwy 17 to Myrtle Beach. Check in wasn’t until 4pm, so we made a stop at an Irish Pub for lunch. Best. Food. Ever. Just passing by, it looks like an unassuming biker bar connected to a bright blue tattoo parlor. I’ve always found it strange that there’s a billboard above advertising the best Irish food around. Now I know why. We pulled in and the front of the bar actually faces the parking lot, so from the street all you see is the smoking deck. T.J. had the prime rib sandwich with an addicting horseradish sauce and I shared a corned beef, cabbage, and mashed potato plate with Annabeth. Perfect beginning to our little refresh.

We arrived at the hotel promptly for check in. The excitement began with a goodie bag for Cooper with treats and poop bags, a coupon book, and our room key gave us access to a movie rental box. Dad wanted to rest for a bit but Annabeth was naked before he had the chance to close his eyes. I wiggled her into her swimsuit and we corralled her towards the dunes as she greeted each and every stranger, “I am going to the beach!” She jumped with joyous anticipation and did not slow down until she reached the water. At which point, she pulled me into the ocean approaching the freezing cold waves with a willingness to be drawn into them. She took breaks on her belly imitating a mermaid as the water lapped around her singing giggles. Attempts to lure her away from the water with a search for seashells was a fail, so our path back to the hotel was tearful.

T.J. and I have never been able to envision ourselves as regulars at the beach but this trip pushed us over the edge. We had genuine fun. Even in the off season, there were plenty of restaurants and entertainment options open. We went on the Sky Wheel right on the boardwalk along the beach. Our hotel even offered us a coupon for one free admission! The attendants gave us an extra go-round since we were the only ones on the ride. Wonder Works Museum was a gigantic hit for all three of us. We are eager to go back there. I was expecting the food to be average due to it being a tourist town with few visitors but we enjoyed every meal. We had the most authentic Mexican food since we’ve been here at the cutest Taqueria in downtown Georgetown while browsing a listing for a house built in 1775 on land once owned by a signer of the Declaration of Independence. We may have also tossed around the idea of investing in a condo at one of the adorable beach resorts.

I spent the drive back home babbling about how our 3 night stay transformed my detest for sand&sea into a glimmer of the serenity we formerly sought in the Rocky Mountains. Buckets of memories were made in that short trip. T.J. taught himself how to swim- from flailing to a nearly smooth glide. Annabeth (with a life vest on) swam unassisted across the entire pool! Typically, I spend the entire trip agonizing over how each grain of sand goes that extra mile to find its way into items I didn’t even bring with us to the beach! Instead, I was making a list to prepare a grab-and-go beach gear bag for future exploration. What an interesting parallel to Dad’s return to Penske. A dreaded experience turned refreshingly hopeful.

As I recall the defeating emotions of our transition from Colorado to South Carolina, I am thankful for the resilience we’ve acquired through that painful process. Our leaps of faith have since been taken blindly with open arms. The reward is an immeasurable sense of comfort in the most uncertain situations. We believe this approach sets you up for a future filled with wonder and wander. May you stray from the predictable and catch yourself with a grin that oozes from a joyful heart.

Posted in Adventures

New Year New/Old Job

T.J. is making a comeback as a Maintenance Supervisor for Penske Truck Lease. I am less than enthusiastic about this but T.J. is hopeful. Annabeth’s first years on this planet were tough for me. T.J.’s shop manager was injured a couple of months after Annabeth was born and he was thrown into the position. Zero recognition. Zero compensation. They even demanded that he account for his time repairing trucks to cover the time he spent managing the shop. This meant that he had to do 8 hours worth of repairs plus his management responsibilities every single day in a max of 8 hours! Depending on weather, he would spend up to 2 hours on his commute each way. He was announced as the next Maintenance Supervisor with no consent from him and told that they did not even expect him to be able to fulfill the responsibilities. This also meant 10 hour work days that turned into 16 hour days during the month of December. When I say that he nearly missed Annabeth’s first Christmas, I am not exaggerating. He was coming home at 5pm, going to sleep at 7pm, and waking up at 3am on a good day. I was an exclusive pumping new Mom isolated in a 794 square foot house in a rural town of about 1,500 residents.

Here we are in a new circumstance and T.J. is ready to put back on the Penske hat. I pray this will not be a repeat of the past. Those were the darkest years of my life and one of the main reasons we moved to South Carolina. We are in a different world now. The shop is 5 miles away from our house and T.J. has a fresh perspective to address some of the issues that were within his control. Fingers crossed that the new management makes this job nothing like it was back in Colorado.

January was busy for Annabeth too! We took her to the Pirate and Mermaid event at Magnolia Gardens after swim lessons one Saturday. Dad even made her a pirate hat to complete her requested “Bad Guy Pirate Mermaid” costume. She even got to make her own sea shell necklace. We had a great time and plan on getting a membership the next time we go. They have regular events that are perfect for Annabeth plus it’s a must see place for visitors! Come on down to see America’s Oldest Formal Gardens, a plantation, and a swamp.

The flowers are blooming and we are going to get up to 81° today for the first time since Fall. Bugs come with the warmer weather and Annabeth’s shrieks of terror can be heard down the block. That doesn’t stop me from pushing her outside with a water bottle and insisting she play outside. Maybe I should convince her that I hate when she plays outside… I bet I wouldn’t be able to keep her away from the backdoor.

Posted in Eats

Crispy Chicken with Quinoa & Greens

T.J.’s Dad has been in a tough spot recovering from back surgery in November. Then he suffered a heart attack and had a stent placed last month. Needless to say, the doctor ordered a complete diet overhaul. We decided to hop on board and start following the Mediterranean style of eating that my doctor recommended for me. I sifted through some cookbooks on Amazon and settled on The Mediterranean Prescription by Angelo Acquista, M.D. It’s more book than cook but there are several recipes in the last section. In the 2 weeks we’ve been shifting to the plan, we are surprised by the effects. I have spoken to my inner old lady and she craves oatmeal in the morning. If I skip breakfast, specifically oatmeal, I will not be able to resist munching after Annabeth goes to sleep. One night I ate chips and guacamole plus 9 pizza rolls!

I threw together this recipe and it reminds me of the Campbell’s Soup chicken and rice my Mom used to make. I loved that stuff. She would reassure us that she didn’t use mushrooms and pick out the large chunks to hide her lie. Now I’m over here mincing mushrooms and stashing them in the freezer to add to everything! Same goes for Power Greens, I buy a Costco bag and throw it in the freezer just before it starts to turn bad. Once frozen, you can use your fist to smash them into tiny bits and sneak into nearly any dish. I use fresh versions for this meal but the leftovers will find their way to the freezer in a few days.

  • 5 oz Power Greens or Spinach or Kale

Heat skillet to medium. When hot, drizzle lightly with oil and add greens. Stir for a few minutes until wilted. Remove and set aside in a strainer. Prep:

  • 1 large shallot or small onion, diced
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3-4 chicken thighs, bone in skin optional

Marinate or season chicken thighs as desired. Heat skillet to medium. When hot, drizzle with oil and brown on both sides. This takes about 7 minutes per side. Do not flip until chicken lifts easily from pan. Remove and set aside.

I prefer avocado oil for this step. It has a high smoke point, usually between 460° and 500°. Extra Virgin Olive Oil has a low smoke point, so do not use it here.

While your chicken browns, go pick some fresh herbs and get them ready to be added to the vegetables. I have thyme flourishing right now, so that’s what I added but I would have liked some rosemary too. He’s just too small right now.

Add a couple teaspoons of oil to the pan the chicken was in and saute the onion or shallot for a few minutes until translucent. Add a tiny bit of water if needed to keep from browning. Add garlic and herbs, scraping the bottom of the pan to lift chicken bits.

  • 8 baby bella or white button mushrooms, sliced or demolished
  • 8 oz jarred roasted red bell pepper, rinsed and drained
  • 1c quinoa, rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2c chicken broth or Better Than Bouillon

Add mushrooms, bell pepper, quinoa, and broth to the skillet. Stir until mixed well. You could also add some black pepper, smoked paprika, or even tumeric here.

Pour quinoa mixture into an oven safe pan and arrange chicken thighs on top, smashing them down until they’re submerged.

Bake at 350° for 30-40 minutes or until the quinoa has unraveled.

I tried to bake this in my air fryer and I will use my oven next time. The quinoa was not done in the middle of the dish, so I removed the chicken, added a little half & half and put it back in to finish cooking.

Here’s where I messed up. I didn’t take a picture of it plated. Oops. I was frazzled because we were eating later than intended and already tearing into the chicken while the quinoa finished cooking. I did sprinkle some Pecorino Romano and red pepper flakes on the quinoa just before serving. I also do not add salt to most of my foods until served. We are not big on salt and most of the time we end up adding a tiny bit, if any salt.

I cut some small tomatoes in half, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I served these as our side.

Dessert has been pears, apples, strawberries, or mango lately. I sneak a piece of dark chocolate every once in a while.

I do not cook special things for Annabeth. She eats what we eat. She does pick at some stuff but that’s mostly because she does not like mushy foods. We’ve just barely been able to convince her to eat mashed potatoes. I can’t complain. Salad is one of her favorite foods and she prefers her produce raw. I used to cook according to T.J.’s preferences but I saw how unhealthy that was, so I stopped. I made small switches, like whole grain pasta and chicken sausage a long time ago. Now he snacks on nuts and dried or fresh fruit. His breakfast is plain Greek yogurt drizzled with honey and topped with granola. He was less than thrilled when I started enforcing these habits but he has since complimented the changes. I think replacing some of the worst offenders one at a time primed him for the complete change. Now he grumbles after we go out to eat and offers to lend a hand when I’m struggling to get dinner prepared. Grabbing fast food is actually a threat these days. We don’t eat sugar much but we still enjoy a scoop of ice cream a couple times a month.

Posted in Adventures

December Cruisin’

We spent the week after Thanksgiving packing for our first cruise. I read a cruise tip to pack all of your summer clothes and swimsuits instead of storing them for the winter. I never got the chance to do that! Annabeth was splashing around in her pool while Dad washed his car a couple weeks ago. We left for Cocoa Beach the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Annabeth had her first swim lesson at 9:30am. We stopped at Bojangle’s for breakfast biscuits and drove 6 hours to our hotel for the night. Parking was included in our hotel stay, so we took a shuttle to port and boarded the Harmony of the Seas Sunday morning.

We had some fun but 7 nights was a little too much for first-timers. It would have been much more enjoyable if Annabeth were older or if we were traveling with family and/or friends. The weather was gorgeous and we loved the white tablecloth dining. Annabeth could have spent every waking moment in the hot tub or saltwater pool.

We disembarked on Sunday and drove straight home. Cooper was being taken care of by a neighbor and he was ready for us to come back. We felt like Christmas came and went too quickly, so we’ll try to skip December vacations unless they include Christmas. We didn’t even have a tree up until a week before Christmas. Annabeth didn’t mind and that’s really all that matters. We had friends over the Sunday before Christmas to paint pajama shirts and decorate cookies. In Colorado, we got the kids together and painted Christmas morning shirts. The people you thought had zero artistic ability seemed to decorate with surprise talent. The messy paint party has become my favorite newer Christmas tradition and we were happy to have some friends here to share in the fun. Plus, who can pass up wings and sugar cookies?

T.J. had some leftover vacation days and ended up being off for 5 days for Christmas. Honestly, I was ready for him to go back to work and get Annabeth back into our regular routine. Sorry, Dad. We love you but you sure do mess things up! I spent the week of New Year’s programming the “Dad” out of Annabeth and catching a whole lot of mumbling, “Dad lets me.”

Annabeth’s belief in Santa for the first time was a bunch of fun. It was also ammunition to keep her on the straight and narrow. Santa brought small trinkets every night if she behaved for that day. He left a few notes in place of treats encouraging Annabeth to follow instructions for a change. She was genuinely saddened by disappointing Santa but Mom was pleased to see the refreshed motivation to listen. That back-fired on us when it was Christmas Eve and she ran to us in tears realizing that she had not yet sat on Santa’s lap to share her Christmas wishes. Thanks Miracle on 34th Street. I was too busy baking so T.J. brought her to the mall to meet Santa. He arrived just as they placed a sign after the last kid in line that Santa was taking a break in an hour. The line was that long! They ate pizza, went shopping for Mom’s Christmas gift, and snagged a spot at the front of the line. Christmas was a lot of playing with Barbies, a new obsession with Polly Pocket, and a conversation with Santa about those Crayola Glitter Dots in Annabeth’s stocking. Now on to 2020!