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!

Posted in Our Story

Hurricane Dorian Aftermath

Two weeks ago, Hurricane Dorian passed along South Carolina’s coast late Wednesday night and through Thursday. TJ had off for Labor Day on Monday but a mandatory evacuation order took effect beginning at noon and was lifted on Friday. He went into work for an hour on Tuesday morning to prepare the shop for the storm. Then, he went in on Friday (as soon as roads were cleared) to repair emergency vehicles for the recovery efforts. Not only does he get hazard pay for the time he went in to work under the evacuation order, he also gets paid for the full week. We were thankful to have him home to prepare and it was nice to get a category 2 as our intro hurricane!

We spent Tuesday checking flashlights for batteries and inventorying the pantry. TJ went through the boards for the windows- thankfully we didn’t need them but at this point, Dorian was still a category 5 in the Bahamas. We cleaned up the yard and secured everything in our screened-in porch for the coming force of wind. We even found time to move a locker from the garage to the porch and converted it into a grilling/smoker supply cabinet. After a trip to Home Depot for screws for the boards and BJ’s for water and beer, we were ready. Mr. Dorian was so slow moving that we ended up venturing out Wednesday morning too. I knew we’d get stir crazy, so I wanted to get Annabeth out and moving as much as possible before things got bad. I made a pot of jambalaya and ended the night with a few drinks.

The storm started around midnight and we lost power by 4:30am. T.J. explained to Annabeth, when she woke up, that the storm was causing some bad weather and took out the power for the lights and TV. She declared that she did not like this weather, crossed her arms, and marched away with a “hmph.” We pulled out the camp stove and invited the neighbor over for breakfast tacos. Luckily, we were not hit hard. The day went on with lots of wind and light rain. We had lined sandbags up by the front door because water tends to pool by our front step but we barely collected a puddle there. One street over, a tree fell into the living room. Down our street, some friends had an oak tree fall on their detached garage and buckle the entire structure. Power was restored just after 4pm. I was surprised and thankful that it came back so quickly!

Annabeth getting stir crazy and running through the rain.

We woke up the next morning and T.J. went to get my car out of the back garage. A healthy branch had speared through the roof and ceiling just above the hood of my car! No damage to anything else. We felt pretty fortunate!

Annabeth and I started a game of pick-up-sticks after T.J. went into work. She preferred to attack my piles with all of her pent up energy, so I resorted to gathering all of the large branches and dragging them to the street. I also discovered smilax- a thorny vine that shoots up from the ground and wraps itself around trees or bushes. As I yanked them out of the trees, Annabeth would cheer me on, “Good job, Mom. You are so strong. You can do it!” We caught the attention of the neighbor behind us. We introduced ourselves and he came over to check out our damage. He left us his ladder because the one we have doesn’t reach the roof of the back garage. He even offered his chainsaw and assistance when T.J. got home from work.

What we learned from our first hurricane as a family: We are even more in love with our choice to move to Summerville, SC.

We are happy to trade hurricanes for winter. This was a very mild hurricane and we are well aware of the devastation a stronger storm could bring. Hurricanes bring the community together. T.J. joined a team of strangers to fill sandbags for each other. Our neighbors insisted we come spend the night in their spare bedroom, if we lost power. As soon as the winds began to die down, the neighborhood was buzzing with people checking on each other. Clean up began and it was as if the fences disappeared. It was social hour in the streets and no one was left to pick up alone.

I think it comes down to our personalities fitting in here and the timing within our own lives. We met most of the people on our street within the first few weeks of moving in. T.J. is assistant coach for Annabeth’s tee ball team. The weather is a major factor, even considering the hurricane risk. Our souls are warmed by the temperatures outside. We feel comfortable, like we belong here. T.J. hasn’t felt in place in Colorado since his 20s and I never truly felt welcome. We did not specifically choose South Carolina. We were led here by blind faith. Being far from our family and friends is tough; it really sucks at times. That’s the price we paid to follow our hearts. I would rather miss my family and friends than lose myself.

While I Breathe, I Hope
Posted in Our Story

Hurricane Prep

I just want to send out a quick update. We’ve had some of you asking about our safety as Hurricane Dorian approaches. We are not in a mandatory evacuation zone. The image below shows the zones in our area. We have not even been assigned a zone but our neighborhood is bordered by two. The pink, yellow, and blue zones are under the mandatory evacuation. South Carolina is not flat (like the plains of Colorado) and the landscape varies greatly in this coastal terrain. We are surrounded by lakes and rivers, hence the several different zones. We are fortunate enough to have a massive drainage canal running along the perimeter of our neighborhood too. This has the potential to be a blessing and a curse, if it overflows.

T.J.’s shop is in the pink zone, so he will be home until the order is lifted. He will be going in tomorrow to help ready the shop for the storm. The park where Annabeth plays tee ball and soccer will have fill-your-own sandbags, so he will go there to get some for our house and our neighbor’s house.

We are confident about our decision to stay. Our neighbors will be here to help us if needed. We really did luck out with this house for countless reasons but our neighbors have quickly risen to the top of the list. Our neighborhood is also in an excellent location, even our street is on a high spot. The house is a solid brick ranch on a concrete foundation, so the towering trees around us are really the only concern. We are expecting to see Dorian as a Category 3 hurricane Wednesday into Thursday. That can change at any moment. Last I checked, the storm was moving at 1mph. We expect tons of rain and wind. Our main focus is being prepared to lose power. We stocked up on water, food, and batteries today. I am washing as much laundry as possible and keeping up on cleaning. We do have boards for our windows that were left from the previous owner. I do not think it will be necessary but we do have them. We will put sandbags in front of our door to divert water because we have a low spot right at the front step.

I will keep in touch when possible. Until then, we will be picking up any lose items from our yard and fighting to keep Annabeth entertained. Like caging a wild animal…

Posted in Eats

Colcannon Bake

I love our C.S.A. (Community Supported Agriculture). I know some of you are sick of hearing me talk about it, so I thought I’d start sharing some of the dishes inspired by our weekly boxes. Here are a few reasons why I am addicted to our local C.S.A.:

  • In-season produce picked fresh the day before pick up. This means each bite is vine ripened and coated in nothing other than a little dirt.
  • Supporting local farmers, the land they cultivate, the bees they nourish, and lessening dependence on foreign food
  • Flavor. Fruit and vegetables are not fresh when they ripen in a shipping container. Eating produce that soaks up every drop of sun and soil possible quickly turns into a taste you crave.
  • Experimenting with new recipes and foods we would otherwise pass up for our same old choices. I make it my goal in life to use up every bite of food in the box, which has led us to discover new favorites. And learning to plan for the occasional back-up replacement side when that grilled eggplant tastes like a sour bar of soap.

Colcannon Bake was a result of a random search for a recipe to use up potatoes and cabbage. Basically, it’s a smashed potato and fried cabbage casserole. I had my doubts but the combination of textures and savory flavor made my mouth happy. It does take one and a half hours to cook but that’s mostly while the potatoes boil and the bake time. If this is taken into account, it works well with a planned meal. You can use the open time to mix a salad and prepare your main dish.

Colcannon Bake Recipe

  • 5 medium red potatoes
  • 6T butter, sliced
  • 1/2c plain Greek yogurt, whole or low fat
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/4c milk, not that skim garbage but whole/cream/nut is good
  • 1T avocado oil
  • 3c cabbage, shredded
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1t Better than Bouillon, chicken
  • 1/2c sharp white cheddar, shredded
  • salt & pepper
  • garlic powder + smoked paprika or dill + rosemary or Cajun seasoning

Put the potatoes in a pot and fill with water until covered at least an inch. Boil until they slide easily off a fork.

30-45 minutes

Meanwhile, prep ingredients:

Shred cabbage and cheese

Dice the onion

Measure milk and yogurt in same measuring cup. Add in egg and sliced butter. Set aside.

With pan on low heat, mash drained potatoes partially.

Move to a large bowl. Add the milk, yogurt, egg, and butter. Season with salt and pepper. Mash until desired smoothness. Lumpy is our preferred texture.

Preheat oven to 350 F

I’m all about less dirty dishes, so I reused the pot I boiled the potatoes in.

Add oil and onion to pan over medium heat. Cook until onions are translucent.

Add cabbage, bouillon, seasonings and fry until tender.

Combine cabbage and potatoes until evenly distributed but not mushy. Butter or spray a 9″x13″ pan with oil (preferably propellant free).

Bake for 40 minutes and the top is golden brown.

Top with cheese and return to oven until melted.

Serve with extra plain Greek yogurt, chives, or Parmesan cheese.

It turned out a little too dry for us, so I smothered extra plain Greek yogurt on top. I cut back on the milk and yogurt in the mashed potatoes to try and account for extra moisture from the cabbage. Turns out, the cabbage released it’s excess water while it was frying or evaporated in the oven. Make the mashed potatoes the way you like them. My cabbage was not soupy before I added it to the mashed potatoes- it was cooked through with a slight crunch and maintained this texture after baking.

We enjoyed this with smothered pork chops from my Instant Pot but I see it working well with meatloaf, oven-fried chicken, or grilled fish. I will also doctor this next time with diced red bell pepper, finely minced mushrooms, and/or shredded carrot. I love to sneak all sorts of vegetables into every single dish possible. Seriously. I have kale, spinach, mushrooms, and zucchini in the freezer just waiting to be hidden in my next meal.

Posted in Our Story

Summerville Summer

I feel like we haven’t done much this summer, until I scroll through the photos on my phone. We started the season with joining our local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) instead of rushing to start a garden. That in itself has been an adventure! My new toaster oven/air fryer has certainly been put to work. One of our favorite new snacks is toast with pimento cheese topped with fresh tomato slices. It’s been a long while since I’ve tasted a tomato with such an intense flavor and do not get me started on this Dutch potato bread Annabeth found. We also enjoyed air-fried sweet onions and green tomatoes on burgers, sandwiches, or simply dipped in homemade yogurt ranch. One thing we couldn’t seem to perfect is eggplant. We sadly sent quite a few Fairy Tale eggplants to the compost. Oh well, we’ll try again next year.

Annabeth joined a soccer team! This was the first season with 3-4 year olds for the town recreation, so we all enjoyed trying something new together. From the day we first asked if she was interested, she was more excited to make friends than play soccer. Practices were fun because she got her own ball but as soon as the game started, she lost interest. Let me rephrase that: She lost interest in the ball and channeled all of her focus into making friends. She chased others who were lacking motivation and attacked them with hugs or holding hands. On the first day of practice, she slapped a little girl who refused to hold hands with her. We were later told a story about a bug being on her face but who knows. When we ask why she refuses to go after the ball, she told us that no one is being nice and sharing with her. Tee Ball starts at the end of the month. Maybe having her own chance to hit the ball will spark her interest more than elbowing kids to get to kick a soccer ball.

Uncle Jason came out to spend a week with us in July! Having him there meant more to me than I expected. The moment he got into my car at the airport, I was overwhelmed with emotion. It feels good to be loved. Annabeth savored the entertainment and still calls our guest bedroom “Uncle Jason’s room.” We shared our favorite restaurants with him and spent the weekend in Charleston being tourists. The trip ended with testing out the reverse sear technique on some rib eye cap steaks and loaded baked potatoes (cooked in the Instant Pot and crisped the skin in the air fryer). Dessert was peach cobbler topped with Turkey Hill Triple Vanilla- the brown sugar bourbon vanilla was the perfect touch! We even invited the neighbor who watched Cooper while we were in Charleston to join us. We really enjoyed the horse drawn carriage tour and Patriot’s Point, which we have already planned to do again next time.

It has been too hot for the past few weeks to take a walk most evenings. My favorite time of day was chasing Annabeth on her bike around the neighborhood. I think we’ll be back at it in a couple weeks- things seem to be cooling down. We are still adjusting to our new schedule. TJ gets off work and 3:30pm and it takes him 10 minutes max to get home! Our days seem to fly by and he’s home before we know it. We tried story time at the library on Friday. I don’t know why it took so long for us to get 0.4 miles down the road to check out the county library. We had been there for 3 minutes and Annabeth asked to go sit up front. By herself. Without me. I cried. We’re going to try Toddler Time at the brand new recreation center next! We’ve never had this much freedom with TJ’s schedule and being so far away from things to do. I’m having to retrain my thinking. That’s something I can get used to!

Posted in Adventures

First Family Camping Trip

We decided to take the leap and bring Annabeth camping! T.J. and I have been waiting for a chance to start exploring South Carolina’s 47 state parks. With the furthest being only 4 hours away in the Blue Ridge Mountains and 6 state parks within an hour of our house, we have been looking forward to this for months. That’s right, we’ve got mountains out here. The tallest peak is Mount Mitchell bragging about his 6,683′ stature. Considering that he rises from sea level versus a mile high, perspective is probably not too different from a mountain back in Colorado. We shall see. I’m sure that will be one of our future adventures.

The weekend after Memorial Day, we reserved 2 nights at Givhan’s Ferry State Park. 17 miles and only 25 minutes away. Being so close, we could easily head home in a worst case scenario. Annabeth and I spent all day Friday packing the car. Dad came home and she was pumped to see what all the hype was about. We headed straight there, stopping only for a bag of ice and a pre-dinner taco. The site was described as “hike-in only.” A little scary when booking blindly but it just meant that you couldn’t pull your car straight up to the site. There was a parking lot at the end of the loop and we carried our gear along the sandy path to our site #32. Now that I think about it, that was T.J.’s high school football number.

We set up camp in a pit of sand, cooked chili cheese dogs, and headed to bed. The next morning, we made breakfast burritos and set out to explore the park. Annabeth is a magnet to water, so it’s no surprise that she found the river immediately. Turns out, this state park is located at a bend in the Edisto River. Our camping trip morphed into a water weekend the very moment Annabeth set eyes on the shoreline. We ran into a park ranger who told us that the river was unusually low and we could walk across! T.J. and I took turns letting Annabeth drag us down river. Cooper isn’t fond of being wet, so he sat this one out. People started showing up with elaborate floats and coolers. We found out that alcohol is not allowed in the state park but once you’re in the water, the rules are lifted. One guy plopped his chair and cooler down right on a sand bar and popped a top. It was fun watching groups of people celebrating a birthday carrying an inflated peacock with seating for 6 into the river or college kids tying together inner tubes. They sure did take special care of that rectangular float escorting their precious Natty Light down river.

We could not get Annabeth out of the water. She cheerfully greeted every person she came across and befriended a family who shared a floaty with her. It had been about 4 hours, so T.J. ran back to the campsite to grab lunch supplies. Annabeth graced us with her presence to grab a chip and a sip of water a few times but the river was her home now. The beach started to crowd and Annabeth was wearing thin despite her unaltered enthusiasm. No amount of coaxing could stop the tears that streamed down her face as we pull her away. We ran to the store to look for beach gear, a fresh bag of ice, and a Bojangles fried chicken dinner. We were back in the water less than 2 hours later. Annabeth made a friend within seconds and we sat on the beach until the sun began to set.

S’mores and a camp fire were next up on our camping adventure. Dad enjoyed one with a Reese’s thin peanut butter cup but Annabeth preferred plain graham crackers and a raw marshmallow. I ate mine as God intended. Annabeth made a firm request to sleep in her own tent for the night. We tucked her in and sang ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ crouched down on our knees. She beamed with pride and confidently sent us away. As Dad and I got ready for bed, she asked for a story that eventually led to her cuddling with us. I am glad she did because my night would have ended in some silent tears if she’d fallen asleep alone in that little orange fox tent.

I wish we’d taken a couple more pictures but the weekend will always warm my heart. T.J. and I have enjoyed camping since before we met. The joining of our camping bins was carried out in a ceremonial fashion. Passing on our love for the outdoors and sharing our first South Carolina camping adventure was the highlight of our summer so far. We are so proud to be a part of your story, Annabeth Elise. You have made our lives the grandest of adventures.

Annabeth taking another opportunity to assert her independence.
Just being silly
Posted in Our Story

Living in a Dream Come True

We are in love with our neighborhood. You guys… I guess I should start saying y’all but I never was able to in the 9 years I spent in Louisiana. I don’t think I will this time either. No one notices because the military and local industry bring people from all over the world to Charleston. It’s been really nice to blend in. We haven’t had a single person comment, “You must not be from around here.”

Back to our neighborhood. You cannot access it without going through a separate neighborhood first. Homes that were built decades later surround our brick ranches from the early 1960s sitting on minimum 1/3 acre lots. It feels like you are entering a magical secret as you pass by houses that consume the land they were built on to reveal our neighborhood situated with nature in mind. Mature towering trees wrap you in their branches and tuck away homes with shutters and front porches that seem to smile. The houses relax on generous plots of green that invite you to open your window and put your hand out to catch the breeze. We even have our own soundtrack that varies with the creatures brought to life by the sun and moon. I would scout out houses before we scheduled a showing to get a feel for the area. I distinctly remember my first impression as my jaw dropped and I whispered to Annabeth, “We have to live here.”

We fell in love with the house instantly. The previous owners lived here for 24 years and the husband’s name was Thomas with middle initial J. The wife had his belongings marked “T.J.” Walking through the front door, you are greeted by a floor to ceiling brick fireplace with a cut out into the kitchen. They added on a stunning sun room plus an oversized screened-in porch that take full advantage of the landscape. The rooms were stuffed with antique furniture and the windows hidden behind lace curtains. The house sat on the market for a few days, which is unusual in this hot market. We see why people could not get past the half bath in the master, smaller closets, and clutter. Instead, we felt the joy and tears that the house remembered. We saw an entire half bath more than we had in Colorado along with almost double the square footage and an attached 1 1/2 car garage! More than that, I was brimming with emotion at the potential memories the house inspired from that very first moment.

We continue to be impressed with this house and the neighborhood. I have discovered a few treasures in my kitchen. The stove is a Jenn-Air with an automatic exhaust vent that separates the burners, which are interchangeable with a griddle, grill grates, and hot stones. It even has built-in grease catchers! I opened the cabinets to find a full spice cabinet, pull out drawers, and a massive lazy susan. T.J. has a garage that not only provides a bedroom for his Iroc but also has enough space to line the walls with cabinets, shelves, and tool boxes. Even filled to the brim, he still has more than enough room to work and walk around his car. Oh, there’s a 20’x24′ detached garage in the backyard too. We plan on converting that into a guest house.

There are 3 entrances to our neighborhood and each one drops you onto a major road that escorts you to a unique area. One takes you past the locally owned Sunrise Bistro, with a man selling boiled peanuts in the parking lot, straight into a shopping center. Another offers 3 options: a direct route across the Ashley River, one to the airport and outlet mall, and the other takes you straight into the historic downtown. Summerville is best known as the birthplace of sweet tea. Prior to the American Revolutionary War, citizens of Charleston and the surrounding plantations spent summers here to escape the harsh season. The last entrance crosses over the beginning of the Sawmill Branch Trail and into the heart of the city, just off the interstate leading into Charleston. The Sawmill Branch Trail is a 6.5 mile 10′ wide paved trail that follows the Sawmill Branch Canal.

Lastly, there are our neighbors. The guy a couple houses down gave us a general lay of the land. Most people are related to someone in the neighborhood. His wife’s parents live on the corner across from his cousin and he has a friendship gate into the backyard of his best friend’s house. He instructed us to keep an eye out for the several bars throughout the neighborhood, as most people have kids but still like to party on occasion. I’m pretty sure his best friend threw a Kentucky Derby party at his backyard bar- complete with a giant outdoor TV. We also have bunches of elderly people mostly living alone. I was with a friend when we saw a man who had fallen at his doorstep. He was significantly injured but she was able to help him into the house while I called dispatch to come check on him because he refused our offer to call an ambulance. We even love our trash service. You pile your yard debris on the curb and it is picked up weekly. Furniture and other bulk garbage are picked up monthly. The service is managed by the city and paid for with your property taxes.

We originally planned on being in the Charleston area for a couple years until we figured out where we’d like to be long term. Turns out, we can’t see ourselves anywhere other than Summerville, SC. Who knows if that will always be true but we love it here more and more each day. T.J. started his new job at Cummins Diesel as a service technician on Monday. It now takes him 5-10 minutes to get to his 7:30am-4pm Monday-Friday job. 2 weeks vacation and insurance benefits were available from the moment he started. He’s excited to be back in the blue collar and eager to pursue his new dream of becoming a technical trainer.

I’m off to paint the sun room a cheery blue while Annabeth follows Dad around tending to the yard and Cooper keeps an eye on those menacing squirrels. Come out for a visit some time. We’ve got a mason jar of sweet tea itching to meet you.

Annabeth in her princess, unicorn, fairy, mermaid, rainbow, grass and dirt bedroom.
Posted in Our Story

Our Little Piece of Heaven

We are officially home owners again! We closed on our house in Summerville, SC on April 12th. We spent 7 weeks in a condo living out of suitcases. The same things we’d brought with us on our road trip from Colorado. I expected it to be trying but I quickly grew to enjoy the simple purpose in each day. The complex was serene with abundant ponds, fountains, and greenery. Then came the landscape crew every morning at 7am blasting leaf blowers. Hmph… There goes our peaceful rental condo. We did enjoy trying a meal kit for the first time, taking Cooper for regular walks, and Dad coming home for lunch. I’m glad we chose to take in the experience rather than focusing on what we were missing; we flourished in the possibilities found within the emptiness.

Needless to say, we have counted the moments to Closing Day on the same hand that we scratch our head with doubt. We have been balancing between hopeful and hopeless so often here lately. Through it all, we were blessed with a good dose of humility. We found ourselves grateful to be in a condo stocked with dishes and towels. It even had a washer and dryer! I pray that we never forget being humbled by our circumstance. In that space, I remember thanking God for my family’s health. Just taking a minute to recognize something we take for granted that in a second could be taken away and turn comfort into chaos. This modern life shoves you onward, so focused on what you should be accomplishing. Take a full 60 seconds to smile at the memories and appreciate your current circumstance.

Annabeth woke up to rain and just had to take it all in!

It has been three weeks since we closed on this house. T.J. and I feel like we’ve won the lottery. We spend our days in the sun room and evenings in the screened-in porch surrounded by our little oasis while Dad tries his hand at grilling with charcoal. I am in a dream come true being able to decorate each room piece by piece. I’ve either 1) had no clue how or 2) not been able to afford or 3) been too cheap to buy anything full price. I still cringe if I pay full price. We have discovered a couple really neat re-purpose and antique markets. Annabeth loves going through the old books, purses, and toys. She’s started her own collection of treasures. I call them bribes because she earns them by staying next to me and only pointing to things that interest her. I’ve been taking my time digging deep to uncover my style.

We are so happy. T.J. is a breath of fresh air. Can you believe I just said that? He changes into shorts and sandals when he gets home from work. (I promise I’ll take a picture of that for you.) I guess he’s been inhaling too much salty sea air with those T-tops down. I’m sure there will be challenges ahead but in this moment, we are enjoying ourselves.

Reclaimed bowling lane coffee table