Preparing for the Holidays

Dear friends,

What a weird year it’s been! It’s hard to believe that in just a couple of weeks 2020 will be over, and I’m praying for some sense of normalcy in the upcoming year. With the vaccines now being distributed, we are at last on the path to recovery. We will be celebrating by taking our very first family trip – Michael, me, my boys, and his two kids – to Savannah GA/Tybee Island at the start of the summer. We’ve rented the most beautiful house for a few days and are very much looking forward to the adventure!

Right now, I am battling the usual winter blues and preparing for the holidays, which for us begin this Friday. Friday night we are Christmas caroling with Michael’s parents and siblings. Then Saturday we are having our annual Christmas Cookie Swap party, although – as is the case with everything in 2020 – modified from usual. I normally have an extended group of friends in our area along with family members. But this year it just isn’t safe to have large gatherings, so we’re keeping it small – our close-knit main group of friends, which is nine of us in total – just making the limit of 10 for a gathering.

The challenge for me, being the only plant based one in the bunch, is to plan a spread that will provide plenty of options for me and still keep my carnivore friends happy as well. I’ve decided to lay out a large charcuterie spread on my kitchen island, which is a butcher block table. I’m doing the traditional meats and cheeses, plus a “pickle roll” requested by one of my friends (ham and cream cheese wrapped around pickles and cut like sushi). Then I’ll be adding crackers, toast, fruits, veggies, a variety of hummus dips, olives, and finishing it off with some chocolate covered pretzels and cracker sticks, and Christmas M&Ms.

Then of course, the cookies. I’m making my traditional sugar cookies, which are not vegan since they contain eggs. But I’m also making vegan raspberry thumbprints – not healthy since vegan butter is just a bunch of oil and of course there’s plenty of sugar and refined flour – but still animal- and cholesterol-free. Everyone else will be bringing different cookies too, so I will have a nice variety to mix and match for the family on Christmas Eve.

On Christmas Eve we will be breaking the gathering of 10 rule by one – there will be 11 of us from my immediate family. I was hoping to get to have Christmas dinner a little early and make it 30 miles north to my hometown church to sing with the choir – we haven’t been singing all of this time, but the director is breaking us into groups of about 5 to sing for the Christmas masses – but it doesn’t look like it will happen. My sister, a 21-year-old college student working part time at Walmart, has to work until 3:00 so they (her, my mom and stepdad) won’t be down until around 7:00, and mass is at 8:00. The plus side is that I will have more time to get dinner, and myself, ready.

I’m again the only plant-based one in my family, so I’m planning a carnivore friendly dinner. I’m making my usual beef roast and a pork tenderloin. I’m doing two kinds of mashed potatoes – one with vegetable broth and almond milk, and one with rosemary and white cheddar. I’m making a stuffing using vegetable broth and sourdough bread with the traditional onion, celery and sage. Then green beans and corn to pair with it. Since I do eat a small amount of meat about once per week, I will save that day for Christmas Eve dinner and have one small piece of the pork tenderloin with all of the other plant-friendly sides.

Something I’m super excited about is my Christmas Eve outfit! I like to do a little vintage-y theme each year at Christmas, and this year I bought myself a little Christmas present (which is currently delayed, but my fingers are crossed it will be here before next Thursday)…a beautiful pair of white Tory Burch booties! Which will go with a solid white sequin dress with a crinoline underneath, and a white pillbox hat I have from a past vintage outfit. Finishing it off with white nail wraps (I also ordered some red Christmas plaid ones for an accent nail, but I managed to lose them). So this year’s outfit will be white on white on white!

I will have the Nikon out for both events so I can do a post for you after Christmas to show you all of the spreads, and my complete Christmas outfit. I wish all of you the merriest of Christmases, and strength to endure the rest of the pandemic. Much love to all of you this holiday season.


In Closing — Recounting Another Year and the Ending of a Decade

Dear Friends,

Somehow we find ourselves here, propelled to the end of a year that still feels in so many ways to be just beginning. It is December; a month of celebration, gratitude, and reflection. It is a little special this year because not only is it the ending of a year, but the ending of another decade — a decade in which so many things have changed.

How do I cover so much in such a short span? 10 years ago was December of 2009. I was newly single, divorced in February of 2009 (divorce finalized in April). In November I began a new job in banking, at which I just celebrated my 10-year anniversary on November 16th of this year. 2009 was a major life-shifting year for me, and I began the new decade on January 1, 2010 with nothing but the unknown ahead of me.

Over these last 10 years I have done so much that I never dreamed I would do. When I was growing up I always thought that I would get married, have kids, live the traditional life with the bread-winning husband and fill a role as mother, wife and care-taker. I never really knew there was another option for me as a woman. It was not until this last decade that I navigated the realities of life and shifted my perspective. I am a mom, but I learned that “mom” is not my identity. It is something I do; the most important thing that I do. But it is only one piece of who I am. My identity does not come from being a mom, or from being a wife/girlfriend, etc. It comes from being true to who I am and living for myself just as much as for those I love.

I learned that I should have stuck to my original dream of becoming a writer, as I am now, finally, nearing the end of my degree in journalism. I have become a freelance writer and had pieces published in a local newspaper and local magazine, I’ve built this blog to both fulfill my longing to write and share my passion for diet and health, and even started writing a book. But the journey to get here was long.

I got an associate’s degree in Early Childhood Education because I got pregnant right as I was starting college and was completely lost on the direction I wanted my life to go. So I chose Early Childhood Education because I thought it would help me become a better mother, and because I greatly value education and literacy. But a teacher I am not; after teaching at the preschool level for a couple of years I knew that it was not the career for me. As a single mother, spending all of my days surrounded always by small children left me feeling stressed rather than fulfilled.

So I left teaching and went into banking. It was supposed to be a temporary move until I figured out what I wanted to do. And it turned out — I really liked my new job! I enjoy (nerd alert) economics, especially macro economics, and my new job related very much to that. So I decided to seek a business degree for my bachelor’s. What I learned in the process is that the only part of business I actually like is economics! The rest of my classes I hated, and as soon as I started business stats, I knew it wasn’t for me. I am not a mathematical person, I am a linguistic and artistic person. It was like trying to force my right foot into a left shoe; it just didn’t fit.

In my job, I work processing SBA (Small Business Administration) loans, which means I get to help small business owners make their dreams come true — without having to spread financials. A lender has to do that, and I get to do the work of preparing documents for closing, booking and maintenancing loans, submitting reports to SBA, and constantly keeping up-to-date on new and changing SBA mandates and government regulations. And I love it!

I also worked my way into this position, which requires either a 4-year-degree or the equivalent experience in banking, with my only completed degree being in Early Childhood Education. I am here, in a job that requires a bachelor’s degree in some sort of business or finance, without the degree in business or finance. Which means I am free to get my degree in whatever I want. And a couple of years ago that is exactly what I decided to do. Right before I started this blog I was accepted at UMass Amherst University Without Walls, and have been studying there part-time ever since. As of the end of this semester, I have four classes left to complete my degree!

It took about eight years to get from being lost about my future, to knowing exactly what I wanted for myself and taking the steps to make it happen. And I didn’t get there by accident.

What I mean by that is, in order to reach the point of focusing on my writing and studying journalism, I first had to find myself. Yeah, I know, “find myself”. What a cliché. But oh, how real that is. I married my high school sweetheart and had my first child at 19, and my second at 21. I grew up in a family where not one single person in my immediate family, on either my dad’s or mom’s side, had been college educated. Plenty of them were smart enough to — my dad and my maternal grandfather both are incredibly intelligent and talented in so many ways, they could have moved mountains had they lived through different times, grown up in a different family, or lived in a different place.

In fact, my father never even finished high school. And yet he is himself now a small business owner and has done very well for himself in life, and I am proud of him for that. I am also extraordinarily proud of my grandfather for managing to build a future for himself and his family on a high school diploma and a career in a coal mine, where he dedicated countless hours and worked his way through to a financial security that I hope and pray to repeat after him in my own life endeavors.

Now here I am, the first on either side of the family to have a college degree, and soon to be the first to have a bachelor’s degree. This journey has taught me so much more than I ever knew possible, and has given me deep respect for education. It is about so much more than just learning math, science and literature. It is about exposure to the unknown, and embracing the unexpected. It is about gaining knowledge in areas that are not our expertise, and allowing that knowledge and that experience to shape and change us.

I have discovered countless things that I never received from my upbringing, diet and a healthy lifestyle being only a part of it. All of those things have changed my views and perspectives, and have allowed me to learn on a much deeper level, who I really am. Not all of that discovery, however, came from education. A great deal of it came from facing my demons.

My parents separated when I was 11 and divorced when I was 12; right as I was hitting adolescence and learning the skills that would carry me into adulthood. Neither of my parents knew the “right” way to handle things, and for that I most definitely forgive them. But it took a very long time to reach that point. I spent the remainder of my childhood essentially raising myself. My mom moved away, and I was left with my dad who was never much of a touchy-feely type and became focused on new girlfriends and finding his way in a new life he hadn’t expected to be living.

gma gpaI had my maternal grandparents, who I had always been close to but had quickly become my rock and still hold that role to this day. They will always be my guideposts for everything that I do, and as I round out this decade they remain one of the things for which I will always be most grateful.

Due to a disagreement with my father’s relationship choices, I left my hometown to live with my mom when I was a sophomore in high school. I was back with my mom, stepdad, and brand new sister who had just turned a year old. I had fallen off the educational wagon during junior high, but by the time I made the move to my mom’s, I had gotten myself back to being an honor student and remained there for the rest of high school. It is something that I can proudly take credit for myself, and also give credit to my grandparents for since they drilled the value of education into my head constantly from the moment I was old enough to speak.

In spite of improving my grades and giving myself a chance for a future, I still carried a great deal of anger, hurt, and animosity toward my parents and the way they handled things with me following their divorce. I felt that after they divorced, they forgot about me. They each turned to their new lives and left me to fend for myself. I carried that with me for many years, until 2015.

In 2015, I finally faced those demons. I had been very lost, and also had become very good at hiding what was going on inside, for a long time. I always thought “I know what is wrong with me, I can fix this by myself”. But I was wrong. I finally reached a point where I was tired of feeling lost, broken, insecure, undeserving of love, and like I wasn’t enough. I was exhausted from trying to win the battle on my own, and I finally sought out someone to help me navigate it all. Her name is Brenda, and she is a licensed counselor in my hometown. It might have been my choice to seek her out, but it is she who deserves the credit for where I am today.

img_0773Working with her changed me. Just 10 minutes into my first session she pinpointed the reason for everything that I felt, everything I had done in my life up until that point, even the reason I ended up repeatedly in the same type of unhealthy romantic relationships. We spent the remaining few sessions working through that reason, which was a combination of my parents divorce and my relationship with my mom.

I am happy to report that my mom and I have a good relationship. I have no more anger or resentment towards her or my dad, and all of us are now in places in our lives where we are happy and thriving. The three of us made missteps in the aftermath of their divorce that we have healed from. And my healing came solely because I chose to cast aside the stigma of “needing therapy”, and I got that damn therapy! I needed it, and I am a die-hard believer in it because I’ve seen the power behind it. So if you are still reading this far in — please, I urge you to remove any stigma you might see in this. If you are struggling, please reach out for help. It will be the best thing you ever do for yourself.

img_0777As a quick side-note before moving on, I made another transformation in 2015, about a week after my first counseling session at the end of October. My whole life I always wanted to be a redhead, but I was afraid to make the change because it would be hard to undo if it didn’t turn out right. But I took the plunge and have never regretted it!

2016 was a new year, and a new start, for me. I had reached a place where I finally felt like I could stop dreaming of who I wanted to be, and start actually being that person. I stopped looking ahead to the future, hoping and waiting for things to be better sometime down the road, and started really living. I began a journey of self-discovery, trying new things, travelling to new places, taking on every new experience I could find. In the process I learned who I am, I learned what I love, I gained confidence and lost my depression and uncertainty. I finally knew that I was enough, and for the first time in my life, I loved myself.

img_0778Since that time my life has blossomed so much. I took the boys on a trip to a favorite place of mine, Wilmington NC, in October 2016 and came home ready for a change. I had the opportunity to relocate to a larger town 30 miles south and work with the rest of my SBA team from the Southeast Market, and it was a welcome move. I had always wanted to get out of my small hometown and get somewhere that had more to offer. I thought this would be on hold until my boys graduated from high school, but the chance came sooner than expected.

Much to my surprise, both boys were excited for the change as well. I was thrilled to know I was raising children who are not afraid of change, but actually embrace it and look forward to it…because like it or not change is a guarantee in life and it’s so much easier when we flow with it rather than resisting it. With the three of us all on board, I listed my house and started shopping for homes in Cape Girardeau. It took just a couple of short months to get my house under contract, and get an offer in on our new home in Cape.

img_0205During the few weeks between going under contract and closing on the new home, a fluke winter tornado struck my hometown on February 28, 2017. It ripped right through the heart of my grandparents neighborhood and what I had come to know as my childhood home since I spent as much time there as my own house growing up, and left my grandparents homeless, but alive. The place of our family’s roots and foundation was gone, taken away in a mere 20 seconds and left scattered for miles across field, forest and river.

img_0780Two weeks later I closed on the sale of my Perryville home and then on the purchase of my new house in Cape. It was the second home I had bought all on my own in my adult life (the first was in 2014), and it was the home that I knew was more than just a starter home. It was a home I could stay in for a lifetime. It’s the home I knew could become for my boys what my grandparents’ home had been for me.


We moved in, painted, redid the kitchen cabinets and counter tops, and made the place our own. The boys left St. Vincent, the private Catholic school where they’d spent their elementary years after I was confirmed into the Catholic church and joined the choir in 2012, and started school at Cape Central. They loved their new school, we loved our new home, and I loved my new working location. As time went on I developed and strengthened friendships, so even though I was 30+ miles from my nearest family I still had a tribe. I had a new family all of my own making, and I am still so incredibly blessed to be a part of that circle.

Perhaps my biggest struggle in the last decade has been dating. So much of this was due to my unwillingness to really deal with the underlying things that kept me from finding a healthy relationship. Once I reached out for help and tackled my demons in 2015, things changed dramatically in that arena as well. I finally knew my worth, and I knew to stop settling. When I saw red flags, I stopped ignoring them. When I knew that something wasn’t going to work, or knew that my needs from a romantic partner were not going to be met, regardless of how interested I may be or how I may have felt about that person, I cut it off. Time had become valuable to me and I didn’t want to waste anymore.

In fact, when I made the decision to move to Cape, I was a couple of months off the end of a brief dating experience, and I made the decision to stop dating altogether. I had so many changes going on in my life that dating was not a priority. I was also admittedly fed up — very fed up — with the disappointments and feeling that no single men out there shared my same values: commitment, closeness, connection, family; something deeper than just a fling. I was tired of the disappointment and the back-and-forth, so I stopped dating. And I didn’t start again until the summer of 2018.

What I got out of that dating experience was more disappointment, more aggravation, and the realization that no matter how kind and sincere someone seems, they can most definitely be dishonest and deceitful. He and I were never meant to be, because his heart was elsewhere. My only wish is that he had been honest with me about it and not pursued me, rather than pursuing me anyway while secretly carrying on with his ex behind my back. Finding out that truth was a bitter pill to swallow.

As much as I can fault him for his dishonesty, I must also credit him with this: he pulled me out of my place of hiding and contentment, and pushed me forward. He opened my eyes to the one thing I did not yet have, that I hoped I would someday find — a partner. A real partner that I could trust and depend on, who would be there for me through everything and not always have one foot out the door (as most men I’d come across always seemed to). A partner who shared my faith, my values, and my idea of a relationship.

Being lied to sucks. Having someone choose someone else over you sucks even more. But in the aftermath I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let that discourage me, and I would not go back into hiding. I was officially back in the dating world, and that’s where I was going to stay. I may not have been actively searching, but I was open. I knew what I wanted, I knew what I wouldn’t accept, and armed with that knowledge I let myself be present to whatever should come.

And that brings me to 2019; the final chapter of the decade. I entered 2019 with a full life and a happy heart, open to possibility. I didn’t expect to find that partnership I dreamed of anytime soon, and maybe not even at all, but I was equally open to it and satisfied without it. As fate would have it, what I was hoping for came so much sooner and more suddenly than I ever could have guessed. It came on April 4th, 2019, when a tall man with a short beard and a red pullover sat down beside me on a couch at an event at my friends’ workplace. I said, “well hi there,” and a conversation began that would never have an end.

Now, eight months later to the day, that man is my partner. We have the same values, we have the same faith, we have the same idea of what commitment means, and we have the same dedication to the relationship and the future that we are building. We communicate, we share, we compromise, and are kind to each other. It is the type of relationship neither of us has ever had. One thing that he and I agree on is that neither of us, both divorced single parents, knew what we were missing before we found each other. We didn’t even know that a relationship could be like this, and now that we know we never stop being grateful for each other.

While I am blessed to have Michael, and for my grandparents to still be here after a tornado, there has also been loss and hardship over the last 10 years. A cousin was killed in a motorcycle accident. My grandmother was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (which is responsible for my road to discovery in diet and health). My uncle passed away from kidney cancer. My boyfriend was diagnosed with Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma (incurable, but with treatment and monitoring he is expected to have normal life expectancy). And another uncle, brother to the uncle with kidney cancer and father to the cousin who died in a motorcycle accident, just passed away suddenly this past Friday and was laid to rest yesterday.

If you ask people what they want in life, the most common answer is “to be happy”. Reality is, happiness isn’t permanent. Life is filled with ebbs and flows; ups and downs. They say that happiness is a state of mind, and I sincerely believe that is true. It isn’t possible to stop hard things from coming. Everyone will experience tough times; that much is inescapable. I think the greatest mindset I’ve developed over this decade is that it isn’t what happens to us that determines our happiness; it’s how we respond. There will always be a silver lining. There will always be something to be grateful for. In order to achieve the blissful days, we must also endure the difficult moments. Life is a blend of both.

With that, what I’ve learned in this last decade is this:

Time is an illusion. We think we have plenty of it to waste; we don’t.

When we hide from our problems, we only prolong the ability to resolve them and find inner peace.

There is more strength in reaching out for help, than in dealing with things on our own. Most people refuse counseling because of the fear of how they’ll be perceived by others, and this fear unnecessarily prolongs the struggle.

The key to happiness is to disregard the opinions of others, and instead be honest with ourselves about who we are and what brings us joy. Try as we might we can never please everyone. But we always have the ability to please ourselves if we are true to ourselves first.

Being healthy is about so much more than what we put into our mouths. Diet is only the start of health. The rest is a state of mind, and that can be much harder to get in tune with than changing what we eat.

We should never stop learning. No matter how much we know, there is always a lot more that we don’t know, and the opportunities to learn something new are endless.

Open-mindedness is everything.

My original intent for this post was to do both a year and decade recap, and talk about my goals for the next year and decade. But 3500 words later I realize that there was so much to talk about (and to be honest I’ve only hit the bullet points) regarding these last 10 years, that my goals for the next year and decade need their own post. I will have that coming up later this month, including an assessment of how I faired with the goals I set for myself at the end of last year.

I hope this finds you well, and I wish you and yours a very blessed holiday season and year-end. I will see you back here again soon ❤








Welcome, Fall! Here’s What I’ve Been Up to Lately

Dear Friends,

Hello again! As much as I enjoy organization, structure and planning, now that Get Healthy Month is over I admit it is really nice to have a whole month ahead of me with nothing specific planned for the blog. The one thing missing from the month of sharing health and diet information was the details from my personal life that I usually include in all of my blog posts, and I can’t wait to share what we’ve been up to at my house over the last few weeks!

Just before the start of Get Healthy Month, and just before the start of the new school year, Michael and I celebrated the end of our summer with a special date night. I got to do the planning and surprise him, which I loved doing. He had to make the seven hour drive to take his daughter home, so while he was gone I set to work shopping, preparing some yummy food, and decorating his back porch. He had just done a lot of work cleaning it up, washing furniture and cushions, and installing carpet squares. So I picked up some string lights and candles to make it cozy.

I borrowed his staple gun and hung, re-hung, then re-hung the lights one more time, until I had them perfect. I brought over a patio cart from my house, then made us some charcuterie, a caprese salad, homemade salsa and tortilla chips, and chocolate covered strawberries. I also put together a fruity sparkling water drink that was pretty darn delicious!

On August 31st, I took my boys to St Louis where Hunter participated in an event called Paint Louis. Artists from across the US and Canada come to paint murals and graffiti on a mile-long stretch of the downtown river wall, and Hunter got to design and paint a mural…with a little help from Logan and me as well! It turned out wonderful, and someone who saw his work on social media reached out to me to hire him to do a mural for an arcade room at her house, which made Hunter feel super proud! He will get to work on that project in November.

Next up was a short weekend getaway for Michael and me on the last kid-free weekend we would have until October 19th, which came the weekend after Labor Day. We drove up to Chicago on Friday night, dropping my boys off with their dad on the way. Michael’s brother lives in the suburbs outside of the city, so we stayed Friday night with him, then went into the city on Saturday. We hit the aquarium, walked back up to the Magnificent Mile and saw the infamous Bean and Buckingham Fountain on the way, had dinner at Purple Pig, then a drink at the 360 bar on top of the Hancock building with views for miles. We had a hotel right downtown on Michigan Avenue, so we went back to our room for some downtime to ourselves, with a window seat looking out over the commotion down below. The next morning we met his brother and sister-in-law for breakfast before making the trek back home.

Since then, things have pretty well been chaos! We’ve had at least one of our kids, even on the weekends that were supposed to be kid-free (this coming up weekend included, as Hunter has to stay home from his dad’s for his very first high school Homecoming). The weekend after Chicago my boys and I had a camping and hiking weekend. The next weekend Mia, Michael’s daughter, came to town for a visit and joined my friend Erica and I at the theater to see Downton Abbey. Then last weekend we had a family day at the St Louis Zoo. Mia didn’t get to come but we had all of the boys…I was definitely outnumbered!

It took a three week wait after we got home from Chicago, but Michael and I finally got to squeeze in a date night (we normally have them once a week!) this past Sunday night at Top of the Marq for a glass of wine and some one-on-one time. It was so nice to get a little dressed up and have some uninterrupted time to talk, flirt, and focus only on each other in a beautiful historic building with a rooftop bar and restaurant.

And now here we are, back in the midst of a work-week. Michael usually has his son every other week, but he has him this week since his mom is out of town for work, which means we’re each operating on a full house for the second week in a row. My mom is also in town visiting and staying with the boys and me tonight. Tomorrow night Hunter has his confirmation at St Vincent de Paul. Thursday night Hunter gets his hair cut and I get my six-week color — which is actually at eight weeks because my stylist was all booked up and it is desperately in need of a touch-up!

Then Friday is Michael’s birthday (and also our six month anniversary), but Logan has to go to his dad’s for the weekend so I’ll be traveling to meet his dad and won’t see Michael until 9. But Hunter and I will stay the night with him and I’ll get to celebrate his birthday with him on Saturday. Hunter will be home for his homecoming dance, but while he’s at the dance I’ll make dinner for Michael — he requested crab legs, so I’m doing a seafood boil with crab legs, shrimp, red potatoes and corn on the cob — and a birthday cake.

On Sunday I will finally get a day of rest, then next week will be mostly back to normal for me — no more weeknight events on the calendar at least! But next Saturday Michael’s sister gets married, and Michael and both of his kids are in the wedding so it’ll be lots of dressing up and running around all day, followed by dinner, drinks and dancing all evening. The night after that Michael and I will get our next date night, and our schedule will finally go back to normal. That following weekend, October 19th, will be our first kid-free weekend since September 7th, and neither of us have any obligations, which means we have some time to ourselves to enjoy life for a couple of days and for that, we cannot wait!

Are you exhausted from reading this?! I think I got a little exhausted just from writing it! Life has been very full lately, and while I’m definitely ready for some downtime, I also have to admit that I’ve been enjoying the heck out of all of it. It’s finally October, my favorite month of the year, and I’m ready for the cooler temps (90’s still today, but 70’s finally coming this weekend!), the pumpkin patches and orchard visits, the baking and apple cider, and playing dress-up at the end of the month. This will be the first time ever that I’ve been able to do a couples costume and I’m pretty pumped about it! Michael and I already have our costumes picked out and ready to go!

After that comes the holidays and it warms my heart just thinking about it. I can’t wait to share so many things with you over the last few months of 2019. I wish all of you well, and will write again soon!



How We Spent Our First Summer Weekend + Natural Sunscreen and Bug Repellent Reviews

Dear Friends,

We’re still a little more than three weeks from the official Summer Solstice, but the unofficial start of sweet summertime is here! If this past weekend is any indication of what’s to come this summer, then I am over the moon excited for the upcoming 10-12 weeks. I truly can’t remember a more fulfilling and invigorating Memorial Day Weekend than the one that is now behind me.

Our weekend was busy and nonstop on-the-go, but in all of the best ways. Michael and I both had to work on Friday, but we kicked off the weekend on Thursday night by getting three of the four kids (he didn’t have his son until Monday afternoon) together for the first time. I met his daughter on Wednesday, so Thursday all five of us got together at my house. Michael and Hunter piddled around on the guitars for a bit, then we all moved to the dining room table to play Trivial Pursuit. Hunter won that game, and Mia was begging for some ice cream – a love shared by both of my boys – so we made a spontaneous trip to Andy’s Frozen Custard. We got the kids some late evening ice cream, then went home so I could go to bed and get ready for the last workday of the week.

It was the first evening we all spent together, and I couldn’t have asked for it to go any better. Michael and I had a seamless connection from the moment we met, but there’s no guarantee that the kids will all get along well with us and each other in these situations…especially when there are four kids between the two of us. But, every single one of the kids gets along great, my boys took to Michael immediately, and his kids both warmed up to me easily too. Mia especially has taken to me – female solidarity since we’re grossly outnumbered by testosterone – plus a shared love for crafts, singing and Gilmore Girls! It is difficult to express in words how it feels to have everything come together so effortlessly. It has been completely uncomplicated and definitely feels kismet.

Friday evening was originally going to be our date night, because Mia was going to spend the night with her grandma so they could go to the 100 mile yard sale early the next morning. But it turned out she wasn’t going to go until later, so we decided to take all of the kids with us for Tunes at Twilight, an outdoor music event downtown on Fridays in the summer. Sugar Chic Creamery is right around the corner from the courthouse and the gazebo where the band plays, so the three kids, who are stair-steps in age at 14, 13 and 12, walked down to get ice cream while Michael and I enjoyed some music under shade trees on the courthouse lawn (where a new natural bug repellent worked like magic – more on that at the bottom!).

I also took my camera along to get some pictures of our first outing with the big kids:

Mia ended up wanting to come with Michael to our house after Tunes at Twilight, so they both came over and stayed the night. The next morning he took her to his mom so they could go yard sale shopping, then he came back over for breakfast. I made us the omelets from this week’s Mediterranean Monday post, then he headed home so we could both get some house work done before our afternoon at the beach.

We live close to Trail of Tears State Park, which has a small lake with a beach, and the boys and I frequent that beach in the summer. We packed towels, chairs, our inflatable kayak, plus a cooler with watermelon, pineapple and strawberries, some mixed nuts, pistachios, and three kinds of cheeses. Then we joined Michael and Mia and the five of us spent the afternoon at the lake.

Of all the things we did last weekend, the beach day was our favorite. We inflated the kayak and the three kids took turns paddling around the lake on it. Michael and I lounged on the beach and soaked up the sun…or tried to, because my sunscreen honestly worked a little too well and I didn’t even get the start of a tan (more on that later)! The kids took frequent breaks to raid the cooler, and Michael went to splash around in the water with them a couple of times. The kids were eating that up, because I don’t spend much, if any, time in the water when we go. He had all three of them on him in a group effort to dunk each other. The kids definitely ganged up on him, and I watched from the shore, my heart as warm as the summer sun. It made me so happy to watch them all having fun together!

That night we spent the night at Michael’s house, ordered pizza and ate way too much ice cream, and watched some Jeff Dunham, which was Hunter’s pick for us. On Sunday morning, Michael made us all pancakes while Mia and I painted our nails. Then the boys and I went home to get things ready for their departure for the summer. They spend their school years with me and their summers with their dad, and we switch every other weekend in between. Sunday afternoon was their time to go for the summer.

Sunday evening I had an outing with a few friends at El Sol for fajitas and a couple of beers, while Michael and Mia had a daddy-daughter movie night. I got a good night’s sleep, and was up and ready to tackle projects on Monday. Michael and Mia came over and helped with the gutters and blowing out the carport, then I packed up my tanning stuff and went to their house for the afternoon.

The boys were gone to their dad’s, but Gabriel came back from camping with his mom and I hung out with Michael and both of his kids. Mia had some craft projects she was working on – painting and cleaning up some new frames and mirrors for her room – and I helped her with those. She was talking about painting her room, and painting is an area of expertise for me. Originally I suggested that we work on that the next time she comes to visit. But then I sat back and thought about it, and realized it was only 3:00 and we should be able to knock out the bulk of it that evening.

I asked her if she wanted to go ahead and redo her room right then and there, on a whim, and she jumped at it! We cleaned out her room, moved her bed to the spare room, put a few things she’d outgrown into storage, then made a run to Menards for some paint and roller pads. When we got back Michael had the outlet and light switch covers off, had vacuumed the floors and filled in some holes. So I ran the sandpaper over where he mudded, then Mia and I teamed up to get the painting done. I can do the edging without taping it off, so I tackled that with the angled brush while she did the rolling.

We got one coat done, then called it quits for the night and I made plans to come back over on Tuesday to get the last coat on, and then get her room back together. I went home to shower and take care of my dog, and Michael got some fresh salmon ready for the oven in a glass dish with lemon slices, salt, pepper, garlic and thyme. I grabbed my bag of rice since he was out, then cut some cilantro from my back yard because Mia wanted cilantro lime rice, and then I went back to their house for dinner. We got the salmon in the oven and I made the rice, then we all sat down to a healthy and really delicious dinner, complete with a glass or two of chardonnay. It was the perfect ending to a full, exhausting and very well-spent weekend.

The weekend also gave me an opportunity to put some new products to the test. I shared with you the new, safer-for-your-skin, mineral sunscreens I picked up at Target in my summer skin care post, and also mentioned wanting to try a natural bug repellent. I’d tried out the mineral sunscreen while gardening in the back yard, but last weekend gave us the chance to put it to the test in the highest UV index of the day, and in the water.

I’m honestly not even sure why mineral sunscreens aren’t the standard, because I have to tell you that they work infinitely better than any metal-filled sunscreen I’ve ever used. I have both the Babyganics SPF 50 sunscreen lotion, and the Bare Republic Vanilla Coco SPF 50 spray. I put them on myself and the boys, then I laid on the beach to tan while they spent the entire time in the water. We were at the beach somewhere between two and three hours, I did not reapply one single time, and it blocked the sun so well that I didn’t even have a tan line! I thought by the time we left I’d have the start of a tan, but I walked away just as ghostly white as I was when I first touched the beach. The boys had the exact same result, even thought they spent their time in the water.

Friends, this stuff has made a believer out of me! A lot of times I’m just not a fan of natural products, no matter how much I’m dying to use them – like deodorant and conditioner, for example. Those are two things that, no matter how many brands I try, they never work well. This sunscreen, however…it’s made a believer out of me and I’m never looking back!

On Thursday, before our Friday night on the lawn at Tunes at Twilight, and my Sunday morning getting outside projects done, I stopped at Target to pick up some Babyganics bug repellent. This is something I was skeptical about, because the only thing that has ever seemed to work well for me is Off, or the equivalent, that is swimming with deet. I know it isn’t good for you, but neither are mosquito-born illnesses, and I can’t stand the itching. So I’ve continued to use Off in spite of knowing it’s harmful for the skin, because it was the only thing that provided relief from the blood-sucking little jerks. This natural stuff, in all honesty, I didn’t have high hopes for:


I figured sitting out in the grass on a summer evening, this was about the best place I would find to test out the effectiveness of the natural repellent. As soon as we got there, the first thing I did was spray down my arms and legs and rub it all in. It’s oily, and definitely smells of citronella…but even so, it’s a far more pleasant smell than the chemical shit-storm that is Off. We sat on the lawn for an hour, and I left with not one single bug bite! Honestly, I was shocked. I had already told myself that if I only had a couple of bites, I would consider it a success. But I was definitely not expecting to have zero!

On Sunday, I sprayed it on again before I went out to mow, clean out my shed, and clean gutters. I was outside from around 8:00 until 11:30, only applying it once when I first went outdoors, and I had only two mosquito bites by the time I went inside to shower. I did spray my back yard down with Cutter repellent for the grass to help with the mosquitoes this year, since we have a large concrete drainage ditch on the other side of my neighbor’s house that always has standing water in it. Mosquitoes are always bad in my yard. But between the Cutter spray and the Babyganics repellent for my skin, it seems I might have discovered how to peacefully use my back yard this summer, and I’m SO excited about it!

With that, I’m off to do some work in the garden. I will have another garden update coming soon. Sneak peek: my Spring garden still doesn’t get enough sun, so more changes are coming.

Happy Summer!




Thanksgiving Wishes to My Friends and Family

Hello Friends,

Today is Thanksgiving, and I wanted to write a special holiday note to let all of you know how thankful I am for YOU!

Writing is my passion, and this blog is my creative outlet. Without you, my readers, I would not have anyone to share that passion with. So I want to take a moment to let all of you know that I appreciate you, and that I am sending up many thanks and well wishes for you on this holiday. I wish that I could visit with each and every one of you, share a glass of wine or some coffee and pie, chat about life, and sing a Christmas Carol or two to bring forth the upcoming holiday season!

For anyone who may be struggling right now, for whatever reason, you are in my thoughts most of all. I know that for some the holidays are a difficult time, especially if you are missing loved ones. I wish you strength and courage to face whatever is challenging you. I pray for your peace, and for happiness to find its way to you this holiday season. May you be deeply blessed today, and throughout the coming weeks.

For anyone embarking on Black Friday events tomorrow…please be safe, spread kindness, and have fun! I myself will be embarking on Small Business Saturday, since I’m a strong supporter of small businesses. Some of you may not know this, but my day job is processing SBA (Small Business Administration) loans for a local community bank that is a preferred SBA lender. Not only is it a job that blesses me with the ability to own my own home, pay all of my bills, and raise my children as a single mother, but it also allows me to help small business owners make their dreams come true. I love watching our small business customers in my town blossom and succeed!

Cheers and many blessings to you all!