Posted in Eats

Veggie Stuffed Shells

We were feeling silly and ran to grab some chips and dip for Girl’s Movie Night. T.J. works swing shifts and we take full advantage our free reign over the remote! A box of jumbo shells caught Annabeth’s eye and I was buzzing from some cookies we shared earlier, so I bought them. I looked up a couple recipes on Pinterest but decided to create my own version loaded with the vegetables I had on hand.

Boil a box of jumbo shells to al dente or a couple minutes less than directed.

  • 1 onion, diced
  • Healthy drizzle of olive oil

Saute onion in oil over medium heat until translucent.

My new trick to keep mushrooms on hand for sneaking into nearly all dishes. I think at this point, I’m not really tricking anyone plus Annabeth loves mushrooms.

I mince bella mushrooms finely then smooth them in a gallon zip top bag and fold into quarters. I put the folded bag of mushrooms into the freezer. When I pull it out, I flatten the bag out so it breaks into 4 squares of mushroom.

  • 1 1/2 c frozen spinach
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 c mushrooms, minced

Add spinach, garlic, bell pepper, and mushroom to the skillet. Stir well and cook until moisture is evaporated. Take off burner to cool.

  • 16 oz ricotta
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2c mozzarella, shredded
  • 1T parsley, minced

Mix ricotta, eggs, mozzarella, and parsley well.

Add spinach mixture to the bowl of ricotta and cheese. Stir well.

  • 8oz can tomato sauce

Spread tomato sauce on bottom of 9″ x 13″ pan. I mixed in some garlic powder and Italian seasoning to the can of tomato sauce first. Drizzle with olive oil.

Preheat oven to 350°

Stuff each shell, then place in the prepared pan like you’re playing a game of Tetris trying to keep the opening facing up. Make sure not to over stuff them like I did. Otherwise, you have to go back and steal stuffing from the extra plump ones for the remaining empty ones.

  • 24 oz marinara sauce

Pour marinara sauce over shells evenly. Bake for 30 minutes or until sauce bubbles.

Sprinkle with some fresh basil and grated Pecorino Romano.

You will notice that I do not add salt, except to the boiling water for the noodles. I find that there is enough salt in the ricotta and marinara. I figure that you can add salt to taste after you take your first bite. There is so much salt in foods already, it’s better to not make a habit of adding extra unless you know you truly need it. Sprinkle on some red pepper flakes or fresh ground black pepper instead.

Serve with some steamed broccoli or cauliflower and a nice salad. Annabeth made one for us all by herself! She has a special set of knives that are safe for kiddos. She cut up cucumber, red bell pepper, tomatoes, lettuce, and squeezed on some Ranch dressing. I forgot to take a picture of her creation though. Oops. Her salad was the perfect compliment to a heavier main dish. Never miss a chance to let your little ones help in the kitchen. They will surprise you!

Posted in Our Story

Time to speak up

My Mom was fiercely passionate about being a friend to all of God’s children without discrimination. She was born to an American father and a Japanese mother 14 years after World War II ended. 14 years after Japanese Americans were released from concentration camps in the United States. Her eyes would shift to the floor, as her jaw clenched, when she would recall the out lashings of hate she experienced as a child. Bless her for choosing to mold that pain into a steadfast mission of passing on a perspective of inclusion. Recalling my colorful childhood, I never would have imagined my narrow impression of race was naive. Until I moved to Louisiana.

I made a friend the year before I left Baton Rouge who left an imprint on my heart that has yet to fade. She is to blame for my self-confidence and inclination to fight. I insisted she come over to my house and get ready for an evening out. This took days of convincing her that she was welcome in my parent’s home, which I found comical knowing my Mom’s opinions. But when I saw her in her car giving herself a pep talk before walking up the driveway to my house… She was terrified to knock on the door. She was filled with fear to even be stepping foot in my yard. When my Mom reached out to embrace her, I swear the color drained from her face. She told me that her instincts kicked in and she braced herself for my Mom to hit her. And that is why Black Lives Matter to me. Her friendship went beyond any other relationship I have ever had. I regret one thing about leaving Louisiana and it is missing out on being a part of her life.

I worked for community corrections in Denver before I started my current career path as a jester in Annabeth’s court. The inmates of color never seemed to relax in the chair and accept the care being provided. Knuckles wrapped around the arm rest and eyes analyzing each movement, as if anticipating an ambush. Now that’s not to say that white people didn’t get nervous too. The minority inmates had a gentleness that reminded me of a child longing to be loved by someone who causes them immense pain. There was an expectation that they would receive lesser quality or even harmful care. I would talk to them and look them in the eyes. Smile and ask what their children’s names were when tears streamed down their faces because they missed their families. Yes, all lives matter but black lives are hurting. They are scared because they run into people who treat them less than human on a regular basis.

In Colorado, I saw this translate to the Hispanic community too. So. Much. Racism. Here’s where I start to deviate. The “All Lives Matter” slogan is ignorant and redundant, in my opinion. All Lives Matter is EXACTLY the point that the protestors are trying to make. You certainly cannot sum up an entire explanation in a catchy phrase but they are voicing their discontent for people of color being treated as if they DO NOT matter. I’m going to put this in the best way that my white privilege status allows: I hate nothing more than when a mother scoffs at my struggle as an exclusive pumper. She breastfed and her circumstance protected her from the reality I survived for 14 months. Maybe there were extenuating circumstances. Maybe pumping came easily for others. Maybe I used drugs. Maybe I had an arrest record. But why think less of me? Should my trauma be marginalized because you can relate on one aspect of my story? Try a little empathy. Nothing should matter except the fact that I endured something difficult. Give me a hug! What if you were in countless situations when someone put you in a box with a single glance and proceeded to act on hate? Whether it be because of skin color, gender, orientation, status, or even that guy who keeps cooking fish in the microwave, we should all be banding together to support every single person who encounters discrimination.

Racism exists across the board on varying levels for every single one of us. If you claim to see past skin color, then let’s get fired up when we see injustice and take a stand. Keep a color-coded chart of each incident and let me know how lopsided that rainbow looks. Regardless of the murderer or victim’s race, we should be outraged. If you aren’t comfortable speaking up for Black Lives Matter, start a campaign to enforce stricter repercussions for our community defenders who have a history of abusing their power. (By the way, this entire situation should make you uncomfortable.) Speak out against the unions that protect officers who prove time and time again that they are not dedicated to protecting the citizens they serve. Be aware of local events and commit to being perceptive when you are in public. Showing support can be as simple as witnessing a nasty comment and offering an unsolicited kind word. Be human. We are here to love and be loved. Give the rest to God.

Posted in Our Story

Time Flies

Quarantine started the week of St Patrick’s Day for us here in South Carolina. I greeted the stay at home order with a list of projects. I pulled out my can of paint and finished painting my exterior doors that were abruptly abandoned when summer came early last year. The screened in porch has been redecorated with a comfy new lounge area. Yard cleanup was in full force back in March. I pruned my hydrangeas and watch with pride as they are now blooming fabulously. Walking out in my pajamas to empty coffee grounds on the bare branches has been rewarded with rich periwinkle blossoms. We even accepted the challenge of pool maintenance by installing a small above ground pool for Annabeth. The neighbors brought the Easter Bunny to life by filling and hiding eggs for Annabeth twice! We shared a social distancing Easter dinner by setting up tables on either side of the fence and feasting. My birthday was so special! Fresh picked strawberries from a neighbor in the morning, a driveway donut surprise in the afternoon, and a fish taco carport dinner next door.

But I lost my steam a couple weeks ago. I spent the first few weeks supporting local restaurants but as the scale crept up, I started May out by committing to cooking meals again. I feel glued to the cutting board and buried under the repeating dirty dishes. T.J. works 2pm-midnight, so I pack 2 meals for him in the morning to get him through the long shift. We eat a late breakfast together, then Annabeth and I eat lunch and dinner without him. Annabeth may be a challenging kid but she is an excellent eater. Grilled fish, steamed broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and salad are her favorite foods at the moment. Fresh fruit of any kind is a treat for her. I dream of ordering a cheese pizza while mindlessly chopping every vegetable in the kitchen for her meal like deja vu. “Mom, do we have any brussel sprouts? You never make brussel sprouts any more!” I know, my struggle is real. I would much rather be playing outside with her waiting on delivery than in the kitchen for hours alone! I wish we were busy with flag football, reading & painting with the hog at Charles Towne (an active excavation site), yoga at the library, storytime at the local indoor play place, discovery beach walks, and scouting antique stores. Instead, I glare at the cans of paint in my bedroom as I defy all opportunities to be productive. I am throwing an adult sized tantrum. It’s time to pull out the paint brushes and get back to it, I guess. But first, I’m off to slice and roast some zuchinni for Annabeth’s lunch.

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!

Posted in Our Story

Untitled (intentionally)

I’ve been struggling with myself lately. My sister called in the middle of the day last week simply to be heard. Her words could have been my own. “I no longer have my own identity.” Living 1,690 miles away from her, I jumped on my Amazon app to find the perfect item capable of reviving her sense of self. What did I find? Mama Bear paraphernalia, kitchen gadgets, wine accessories, and relaxation goodies. All things that I am certain we could scroll through for hours finding quite a few to add to our wish lists. Not a single one I found related to my sister as a person outside of her current circumstance. Not one. I found junk to help her unwind from a rough day with 2 toddlers. Practical stuff for her obligations as a cook and homemaker. I saw a pair of earrings that struck me as her style but I didn’t even click on them. Being a Mom to my own 3 year old, I know better than to gift her another reason for her baby to tug at her body or to serve as a reminder for how long it has been since an escape AKA date night. There I was helpless in my effort to bring her comfort and left with a growing awareness of my own detachment from who I formerly knew as myself.

I just keep thinking: I am beginning to comprehend what motivated my Mom. I know that if she were here, I would be grateful for her in a more complex way now that I have a feisty minion of my own. Since she is no longer a resident of this Earth, I have been blessed with a newfound bond to her. The complication of our relationship has never been a secret and I think that friction would have held up a wall as long as she was alive. In a strange twist, her death blasted a pathway between us. Without her persistent pull to rescue me from repeating her fears, I can see her and I believe she is finally able to see me. With every step I come closer to uncovering who she was, I see a woman tangled in the veils of being a wife and torn from herself by the ever changing obligations as a mother. I’ve spoken frankly to the people closest to her throughout the progressing phases of her life.  Had those people been able to share stories of her with each other, they’d uncover a stranger too. She buried who she was under layers of other people’s expectations. She lost sight of herself and became obsessed with “properly” filling her roles.

The fear of falling into the grooves worn by her path remains my challenge, even without her presence. Ironically, the traits that gave her the most grief bring me comfort. Let me clarify. Given the choice and without a drop of hesitation, I would take her as a grandmother to my daughter over her absence. I am here attempting to brighten this situation similar to the way she would turn to the seemingly defeated party and offer solace. My sister and I are in her shoes. Lost. Not just because my barely size 6 foot would be swallowed by her size 9 clogs but a ‘disappearing from my own reflection in the mirror’ kind of lost. As I bantered with my sister, “No one told us it would be like this!” Lonely and alone. Sounds redundant but being lonely and alone are not identical. Alone is being without someone else. Lonely is not having companionship. I am more often than not lonely while sitting right next to my husband. Not alone, just lonely. Same goes for being with my daughter. Not alone, just lonely and lost in my own skin.

You are not alone. I am here in South Carolina crawling through the trenches with you. You are virtually not alone. I call you all to lift up your fellow Mamas. She’s that sexy lady using her forearms to push the buggy while coaxing a grumpy mini human to be pleased with the samples of popped pea crisps- baked, not fried. That one next to you with her previously silky hair twisted atop her head as a display of her altered priorities. I think we can all find a comfortable venue to provide support and connect with others in similar situations. Unlike my former self, I am unfazed replying to my daughter asking what I’d like to do with the confident reply, “Bang my head against the wall.” The passing Mom snickered with full eye contact and whispered, “I’m right there with you.” She was hunched over a buggy filled with carefully curated picks. Her new life’s passion- selecting the ideal items for her family based on research, financial responsibility, and social influence. Be her friend. For that moment in passing, a season of tee ball, or a continued comradery through traded date nights and excited Ladies’ Nights painting wall decor. Not just fellow moms but anyone within your reach who is fighting a battle familiar to you. I’m pretty sure we can all find another in a related uncharted territory carving out a path while recreating their own sense of self.

I tease about volunteering to teach an unconventional maternity class about your life after giving birth. Becoming a mother did not come naturally to me and I did not cope gracefully with the introduction of my daughter. I believe that many parents experience some degree of postpartum depression and we should acknowledge the impact of adjusting to these phases in our lives. We all are moving through unique reactions to the situations life throws at us. I am continually recovering from an evolving dynamic in my family since my mother’s passing in 2014. Through recent stories of my Mom, I see her as a proud and loving person for the first time in my life. Her death also sparked the loss of my Dad, as I knew him. He disassociated from the remaining family unit and I am sadly accepting his new occasional presence in my life. As a result, I have no where to go home to. My house is suddenly the primary home in my life. Even married and with a kid, I envisioned ultimately going home to my parent’s house as I worked in the background to create a home of my own. Hosting holidays in my house feels more like playing pretend than warmly welcoming friends and family to celebrate in a cozy established home. I took for granted how blessed I was to be under one roof with the people I’ve shared a lifetime of memories with in a house that held an irreplaceable familiarity. It’s awkward to be in this place building my own young family’s memories without the ability to recharge in the embrace of a home filled with the memories that formed me.

Take a full deep breath and give yourself grace. The journey to conquering our circumstance is swimming with every facet of emotion. You may be stepping in some ugly stuff right now or basking in the warmth of your season. Take a second to absorb the fluid onward motion of your life. I spent too much of Annabeth’s first years swallowed by the depressing state I found myself in. But perspective certainly is everything. I am not slipping further away from me. There is nothing to let go of because I have taken the reins and I am transforming day by day, allowing the heartache to stretch me to seek a fresh perspective that will propel me through my next phase in life. Simply making the decision to no longer regret growing apart from who I once was gives me the grace to fall in love with myself all over again. I am not a shell of my former self, disappearing with each role I take on. I am blessed by the challenges that are carving depth and strength into my character.

Bring on that Mama Bear mug! I am beaming proud of that chunk of myself who gets to be a Mom. I will connect with my situations on a more personal level and take advantage of the endless moments that serve as opportunities to define me. I will develop my own expectations of the roles I fill and mindfully immerse my being into all aspects of who I am. I am Momma. I am a wife. I am a neighbor and a friend. Enjoying my circumstance is loving who I am being molded into along the way.

Posted in Our Story

Fall into Winter

The holidays consumed us this year. Intentionally. T.J.’s schedule allows us to be a family and we are basking in the time we have together. Annabeth’s tee ball league ended just before Halloween. T.J. volunteered to play catch with the kids at first practice and was assistant coach from then on. I giggled as I watched preschoolers more fascinated with the red dirt and bugs than T.J.’s attempts to corral them into fielding the ball. The big news: We made our first friends through some chatting on the bleachers! T.J. and I cannot remember the last time we made a new friend that wasn’t via work or school. How sad. Honestly, our sweet neighbors in Hudson are the last friends we can remember making. I’m not sure if that was their choice or just victims of circumstance.

Our last couple months were filled with dancing in the booths of Taco Bell and Raising Cane’s, peeing in the backyard, playing with Barbie dolls, and a developing obsession with Disney+. Annabeth chose to go as Shazam for Halloween, after failed attempts to convince her that Moana/Maui/Hei Hei or Ariel/King Triton/Sebastian were superior choices. She corrected anyone who guessed she was Shazam saying, “We are Shazam FAMILY.” We now pray over dinner with our hands stacked and end it with, “Shazam!” instead of an Amen. We made it to a Fall Festival at the park and Hocus Pocus movie that followed but cold temps brought us home early. It’s rough when your 71 degree sunshine drops into a chilling 48! We also found the cutest Harvest Festival put on by neighboring churches and joined our new friends from tee ball in the fun. The kids jumped in a bouncy house, decorated mini pumpkins, joined in on a cake walk, got tattoos and sno cones, and played countless games for treats. We also joined them for Trick-or-Treating on Halloween because our neighborhood is over 55 years old and so are most of it’s residents. We did see one large group hopping on and off a hayride pulled by an ATV stopping at the few houses that were lit up as we visited a couple of the neighbors we know before heading home for the night.

The first weekend in November, we surprised Annabeth with Disney On Ice at the North Charleston Coliseum. I was proud of myself for remembering to get her dressed in costume for the event. There is no greater shame than Annabeth’s reaction to being the only one not dressed properly for the occasion, especially when it comes to a princess theme. We had her convinced we were getting ready for dinner at Cane’s, so she was stoked when we revealed that ice skating Disney princesses were a part of the evening. T.J. and I ended up being surprised at how much we enjoyed the performance. Annabeth was on the edge of her seat nearly the entire time! Win, win for all. Despite the distraction, the promise of Cane’s stood fast. Chicken and crinkle cut fries drenched in Cane’s sauce were the ultimate finale for our Southern Belle in training.

The following weekend we spent at the Coastal Carolina Fair, which was held at an event park just 4 miles from our house. It was nicely organized and we set our sights on the 2 sections designated for kiddie rides. My eyes brimmed with tears as she braved going on her first ride all by herself! The only ride we went on together was the Ferris Wheel. Annabeth will never let Dad live down forgetting the cheese sauce for her first ever curly fries. Man, oh man. She was so disappointed. She refused to eat them no matter how many ketchup drenched potatoes Dad offered.

T.J.’s 38th birthday was on November 23rd. (I get to tease him about his impending 40th birthday next year!) Let me tell you, hunting for a gift for Daddy was tough. Annabeth and I wanted to get these tennis shoes he has been keeping his eye on. We waited for the perfect time to make the trek down to the Tanger Outlets only to discover that they were sold out of his size! I panicked and Annabeth was in tears. We scrambled through Costco searching for a last minute gift when Annabeth excitedly exclaimed, “The Queen’s tea, Mom!” She jabbered on about how much Dad loves the Queen’s tea and just had to wrap it up for his birthday. “The Queen’s tea will be perfect for Dad,” she demanded. Amused by her enthusiasm, I eventually locked my eyes on the purple box with a crown on the label. Crown Royal: The Queen’s Tea. You should have seen Annabeth beam with pride when she handed him that present! The best part is, I can’t remember the last time he had Crown. We ended the day by having our new friends over for lasagna and cheesecake.

We finished off November with Thanksgiving at our neighbor’s house. T.J. smoked a gorgeous brined turkey stuffed with onions, oranges, and apples. We made the mistake of slathering our last one with a compound butter. Needless to say, we learned why you should lift the skin and rub butter directly onto the meat. My stomach can hardly contain its contents at the sight of a featherless bird. I will not be massaging a headless turkey under a dermal sheet any time soon. My biggest feat to date is using a wooden spoon to shove cornbread stuffing into the carcass last Thanksgiving! It was a lovely meal and we were so grateful to be able to share it with our neighbor. She watches Annabeth on occasion and we check on her puppies when needed. The value of friendship surely has increased with age.

This year has brought a revived focus on thankfulness. We are sad to be a 3.5 hour plane ride away from our friends and family in Colorado but South Carolina has been so good for us. We feel alive here. This place, this circumstance has refreshed our souls and opened our hearts.

Posted in Adventures

South Carolina State Fair

Summer heat is a thing of the past and the cooler fall weather ushers in the active lifestyle we sought in our move to South Carolina. We’ve been a little lax since our return from a short trip to Colorado, so we decided to call our own bluff and venture to the South Carolina State Fair. Ironically, the active lifestyle we crave is not one that comes naturally to us. Our remote location in Colorado and overwhelming demands from T.J.’s job caused us to become stagnant. Experiencing a southern summer was not as intense as we expected but we did find ourselves eating dinner a safe distance from the heat and mosquitoes our porch harbored. Well into October and we are making a late return to our outdoor habits. In an effort to soak up every drop of newbie firsts, we set off to spend the day in Columbia at the State Fair. Plans were to dedicate our Saturday to the event but in true southern fashion, T.J. was called on to help a neighbor. Annabeth was excited by the sudden free time. When asked where she’d like to go, she swung her head around with a wide-eyed grin. My heart sunk and I held my breath as I realized that her raised eyebrows indicated she fully grasped my open sense of adventure. I feared her imagination had taken hold and expected a request to turn into mermaids who swim to a hair salon in the stars. With her fists clenched dramatically, she exclaimed, “We can go to Taco Bell!” Man, if that is the bar she has raised for happiness, the fair is surely going to blow her mind.

We wanted the entire day to be as magical as possible for Annabeth, so we spared no expense. Bojangles was our first stop for breakfast biscuits. Annabeth will turn down every beloved toddler food for a plain biscuit, only trumped by a biscuit drenched in gravy or a straight bowl of gravy with a spoon. I think if she was more familiar with Waffle House or Cracker Barrel, Taco Bell would drop down a notch. Thus began our 1.5 hour trek to the State Fairgrounds. The interstate has a wooded median that prevents you from seeing the traffic going the opposing direction, so it almost felt like we were taking a back road. The sights along the way consisted of several deer that were casualties of passing vehicles, bodies of water peeking through the dense woods on either side, and a handful of homes scattered around. Before we knew it, we’d arrived at the edge of Columbia.

I had kept a secret from T.J. The fairgrounds shared a parking lot with the University of South Carolina Gamecocks Stadium. T.J.’s eyes sparkled as his jaw dropped to gulp down a deep breath of wonder. His child-like heart was awakened just in time for the fair. We pulled into a parking spot and jumped out to spray on some sunscreen before making our way to the entrance. Our enthusiasm was halted when we spotted the line weaving through the rows of cars. I teased about how we should have been more prepared to tailgate for such an event and that was all it took to make quick friends with the family in line behind us. As we chatted about life in South Carolina, the wait seemed nominal.

Williams-Brice Stadium

We set off to find the 150th Anniversary sandcastle. It took two seconds for me to get distracted and I led Annabeth to a face painting booth. Washing off the magical unicorn painted mask after her 3rd birthday party broke her heart in an unexpected way. It was as if losing the decoration demanded an end to the celebration. I shared in her sadness and promised to take advantage of the next opportunity to bring back that magic. She chose a Fairy Flower design and I suggested she select a flower crown to complete the look. The tiny rhinestones embellished by shiny pinks and purples won her over instantly. Impressed by how patiently she waited, we were on our way to the free circus in minutes.

Purple sno-cone kept her busy waiting for the show to begin.

Next we took a ride on the 150th Celebration Wheel in a private air-conditioned gondola. Annabeth got a little nervous the first time we passed the top but anticipation washed away her fears the second go-round. She held on to that bravery and begged to ride on the most daring attractions. Pizza and an Icee distracted her long enough to take a quick break before venturing to the show animals. The pigs won her favor and we stopped to empty shavings from her shoes before going in to see them for a second time. She tried to use her pouty lip to coerce Dad into carrying her on his shoulders for a third pass but the threat of rain trumped her request. We made it over to the carousel instead. I had been eyeing the log ride since I spotted it on our eagle view of the grounds from the ferris wheel. Fond memories of Six Flags Arlington brought a warm smile to my face and a determination to share the fun with my own family. We pushed pass the more intimidating rides coaxing Annabeth onward with the promise of a grand adventure for our little thrill seeker. No one left disappointed. Or dry. We stopped for a bag of cotton candy on our way to one last ride. The Baby Shark song perked her ears and led Annabeth to a fishing for sharks game. With the promise of a prize for every turn, I handed over $5. Annabeth caught three sharks with ease and chose a rainbow striped lobster as her reward. Staying true to the theme, we found ourselves at a whirling sea ship ride. Just like that, our day came to an end.

Annabeth’s star-filled eyes and toothy smile vanished when she noticed we were heading back to the car. It was only 7pm, so I suggested we grab something for dinner before going home. “Pizza?” I met T.J.’s eyes and saw a reflection of my own tilted head and gentle smile. It was as if she was clutching to suck a few more precious moments from this special day. Before we made it to the car, I had found a local pizza joint two miles down the road. Annabeth passed up a basket of fries in anticipation of her pizza but as soon as she caught sight of the blanket of bubbly cheese concealing my chicken parmesan, the pizza was forgotten. With content bellies and full hearts, we were home before we finished reminiscing about our little adventure.

Unlike the countless nights prior, Annabeth’s eyes closed before her bedroom door was shut but she managed to ask one last question. “Can we go back to the fair tomorrow?” Don’t worry, sweetheart. I’m already planning our next adventure to the Coastal Carolina Fair just down the road from our house at the end of the month!