My First and Last Political Post

I never talk politics. Ever. Politics scare me. Even if my skin wasn’t made of paper, I have never had an interest in the topic. I took AP U.S. History in high school and scored a 1 on my AP exam. The highest possible score is a 5. I probably deserved a 0, but I don’t think that’s a valid score. When my family went on a summer vacation to Washington D.C., my brothers, both of whom participated in Model UN, were interested in the political monuments. My goal was to see Dorthy’s ruby slippers at the Smithsonian.

However, I am breaking my political vow of silence to talk about an article I read on after the recent Britex vote. The article discusses how questions such as “What does it mean to leave the EU,” and worse, “What is the EU” were the top Google searches in the U.K. AFTER the results of the E.U. Referendum. What bothers me about this is that it reveals many people voted in the referendum while clueless about what they were voting for. This was not a vote on par with allowing wine to be sold in grocery stores (here’s to you, Tennessee). This vote determined whether or not a country would remain a member of a major economic and political union. And you know, have serious economic and political ramifications. Seems like you would do your homework before voting for something of that scale.

I’m not writing this to insult the intelligence of the British voters. In fact, I visited London my senior year of high school and thought I would fit right in if I ever moved there. People walk fast and don’t talk to you on the Tube. My kind of people. Plus I’m a ginger of Welsh and Scotts-Irish decent. My maiden name is Hughes, like Mrs. Hughes on Downton Abbey. I was born in the U.S. to American parents, but I’m practically British.

What worries me the most is that I can absolutely see this article being written about the U.S. in November. I consider myself a reasonably smart, rational woman, but even I voted for a candidate based on the political opinions of friends my first election. In the subsequent presidential election, I didn’t even vote. I failed to learn about either candidate out of apathy. In both instances, I made a poor choice. Exercising your right to vote is important, but so is understanding the values of the candidate you are voting for.

So, my fellow Americans, I urge you to learn from my mistakes and the Britons before you. Be an educated voter. Read about each candidate’s stance on important issues from reputable, bipartisan sources (if there is such a thing). If you need a few examples, this article features a graphic showing where various news sources land on a continuum of the political spectrum. Articles posted on Conservative or Democratic blogs don’t count. Do not vote for a particular candidate based on an exaggerated meme your friend posted on Facebook. I shouldn’t have to say that. Do not vote just because you really want one of those “I Voted” stickers to post on Instagram. I shouldn’t have to say that either.

Vote because it is your right and RESPONSIBILITY to elect a quality leader for your country. If you are eligible to vote, please do it. But know who and what you’re voting for.



Motherly Love

For the last 8 years, Mother’s Day has been a rough holiday. Losing my mom to cancer has been the toughest heartache I have ever endured, and that feeling doesn’t really go away. Days like Mother’s Day just seem to magnify it.

My mom was a spectacular woman. She was compassionate, sympathetic, kind, patient, and fun. She also had a wonderfully cheesy sense of humor. She once wrote a poem for my grandmother’s birthday and made her 3 siblings rap it with her. It was the whitest rap you’ve ever heard, and it was awesome. She enjoyed helping and loving people. One of her favorite activities was shopping, and she usually left a store with at least 10 things she hadn’t intended to buy, but they were all for other people. She would find a t-shirt or a knickknack and think about how perfect it would be for this person or that. Then she would buy it and put it away somewhere until the next birthday or holiday came around. And then she would forget about it, but the intention was still honorable. I think one of the highest compliments is just to be thought of. To know someone loves you, cares about you, and thinks about you at the smallest and most random moments.

She loved my two brothers and me to Pluto and back. The moon wasn’t far enough. Mom put herself through chemo treatment after chemo treatment just to spend one more day with her family. And we did anything and everything we could to help her stay with us. The insurance company refused to pay for certain chemotherapy drugs, but with the help of my uncle, we fought for it. When the oncologist suggested beginning Hospice care, which would mean stopping treatments, Mom refused. She was going to fight for that one more day with us. When chemo stopped working, she sought help elsewhere, applying as a participant in a research study at Vanderbilt and ultimately flying back and forth to The Cancer Treatment Center of America in suburban Chicago for alternative therapies.

She kept fighting until her liver began to fail, roughly 16 months after her stage-4 diagnosis. After that, she turned her efforts to preparing herself, and us, for when she left this earth. Having those conversations with Mom were gut-wrenchingly hard. My way of coping was denial, so I often changed the topic to something more lighthearted. When Mom wanted to talk about planning my wedding (I had no boyfriend, mind you), I refused. I didn’t want to think of her not being there. But I know she wanted to do it for that very reason. She knew she wouldn’t be there. Mom would have planned a beautiful wedding.

She passed away March 8, 2008, just two weeks shy of her 56th birthday. Her initial prognosis was 1 year, and she outlived that by 6 months. I am eternally grateful to my mom for the struggles and pain she endured just to stay with us one more day. That to me is selfless love.

As Mother’s Day comes around again, I will remember how hard she loved me, my brothers, my dad, and her parents, siblings, nieces, nephews, and friends. She was one of those human-beings who would die to save her children, but she would also fight to live for us. I pray for all who are hurting this Mother’s Day, whether you’ve been without your mom for a few months or 20 years. It will probably always suck. But I also pray that you have found other strong women to hug you through it. No one will ever replace your mom, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feel that motherly love again. I have found that in my aunts, my stepmom, my mother-in-law, and other strong, supportive women that have entered my life, and I hope you do too. Everyone deserves to feel that kind of love.

Ch, ch, ch, Changes

My stats page, and a few friends, have reminded me that it has been 4 months since my last blog post. What you don’t know is that I actually had 4 drafts written, so really I have averaged 1 blog post per month, you just can’t see them. I would post them now, but 3 out of 4 aren’t really relevant anymore, so I’ll just sum it all up in this post. Let’s just pretend it is January 1st and not February 11th.

It’s hard to judge an entire year since so many things, both good and bad, can happen over the course of 365 days. I would make a pro and con list, but that’s a little too type A for me. I’m high-strung like a type A, but I have the chaotic organizational skills of a type B. According to my husband, I am a type B+.

All in all, personally and professionally, 2015 was a difficult year. My job was stressing me out, my family life was not what it used to be, and despite paying off our debt, money was still a concern. The hardest part of all was what I learned about myself. For what seemed like the first time in my life, people were honest with me about my faults, and it stung. I actually got a real sting from a wasp at Dollywood in September, but this sting to my ego hurt worse.

I learned I was a Debbie Downer. Or if you didn’t watch SNL in the early 2000s, Negative Nancy. I was so stressed out and unhappy at work that I spewed out my frustrations like word vomit at my co-workers, my husband, and close family and friends. I thought I was letting off steam with people who would sympathize, but I was really just bringing everyone down with me. My husband had been telling me for a while that all I did was complain, but I thought that was a typical husband response, so I didn’t take him seriously. It wasn’t until I was told by someone at work that my negativity was affecting the people around me that I realized I had become someone I never thought I was or wanted to be.

I was angry at first. Only my husband had ever told me I was too negative. I even considered myself an optimist. But as I began reliving conversations from the past few years in my head, I realized that person was right. My husband was right. I did complain a lot, and I wouldn’t want to hang around me either.

I didn’t want to be Debbie Downer. I don’t believe God created me to be a negative person. I became one in response to my frustrations about my job. That meant I could change.

The way I looked at it, there were two changes I could make. I could stay at my job and try harder to be positive, or I could leave my job and try something I might be happier doing. I went with option B. Not because I didn’t think I could change my attitude, but because I knew the circumstances that caused me so much stress in the first place were not likely to change. I could alter my outward persona, but would I really be any happier inside?

Despite 2015’s hardships, I came out a better person on the other side. I really am thankful for those honest individuals who allowed me to see what I couldn’t. We need well-meaning people like that in our lives. People who love you don’t criticize to hurt you. They say it because they care about you. They care about the people your actions affect. They want you to learn from your mistakes. And they are rooting for you to succeed.

After a couple months of job [and soul] searching, I began pursuing a career as a real estate agent in November. I am currently waiting for my application to be approved by the Tennessee Real Estate Commission before I can begin my new career. With the exception of getting married, I have never felt as excited about making a change in my life as I do about this one. I am in a happy place now. My husband can attest to that.




I Want to Be a Pirate When I Grow Up

A week before I left my job as a Pre-K teacher, I had to tell my class of 3-year-olds that I was not going to be their teacher anymore. I told them that sometimes when you’re an adult, you start out with one job, but then you decide to try something different. Then I asked them what they wanted to be when they grow up. If you have never asked a 3-year-old this question, you need to, because their answers are awesome. The first boy I asked wanted to be a pirate. See? Awesome. Then I heard soccer player, construction worker, Spiderman, and Queen Elsa. I listened to each student’s dream and encouraged each one. I was not going to squelch a 3-year-old’s aspirations of becoming Spiderman. Imaginations and dreams are important.

I don’t remember what I wanted to be when I was 3, but I’m pretty sure somewhere along the line I said teacher. I also wanted to be a magazine editor, radiologist, astronaut, and a back-up singer. That last one tells you a lot about me.

When I was in drama club in middle school, I actually told the director of our play that I wanted to be in the chorus. Normally those roles are given to the actors who try out for a larger part but don’t make the cut. I was so afraid of failing, I didn’t want to try out and took the role I figured I would get anyways. Middle school insecurity at its finest.

I’ve always been a shy girl, and unfortunately shyness has not been a quality that has helped me thrive on the job market. I have not found a job description looking for someone who is quiet and reserved. I went to a career transition group recently and heard more than one person say that you can’t just submit a resume anymore to get a job. You have to make yourself known. Make phone calls. Go to companies and hand out your resume. Network, network, network. Hooray.

Clearly I have never enjoyed putting myself out there. That’s one reason I didn’t start a career in Public Relations after I got a degree in it. I became a teacher because that’s something I’m comfortable with. I’ve always been good with kids. I got my first teaching job as a preschool gymnastics teacher when I was 14. Unfortunately, the joy of teaching has slowly fizzled out as it has become increasingly stressful in and out of the classroom. I hope to have children one day and continue my work with youngsters as a mother, but for now, I am ready to venture into an unknown career field.

So how do I pop my comfort bubble and take a chance at a job I have little background in? I am still figuring that out, but I know this. I will strive to be Spiderman, Queen Elsa, or a pirate. Maybe not a pirate. But I will dream, and I will achieve.

It’s CSA Day, Y’all!

Thursday, October 1st. Today’s date is exciting for 2 reasons.

#1. It’s the first day of October, which may not be the official first day of autumn, but it is the first day of the only month that feels like it. September is an extension of summer without the vacation and November is just a precursor to winter and winter is evil with the exception of Christmas. With this first day of October, we welcome light sweaters, hot apple cider, Harry Potter movie marathons, and an excuse to be Batman.

#2. Thursdays are our CSA pick-up day. What is a CSA and why is that exciting, you ask? Read on, my friends.

Backstory: Over the summer, the hubby and I started going to a nearby farmer’s market in an attempt to eat healthier. We were loving the quality of the food, but we were spending over $20 each week on what seemed like enough food for a day. If you remember from my debt story, one thing we cut way back on was food, so paying $5.50 for a dozen eggs hit me right in the gut.

We loved what we were consuming but needed a more economical way to get it. I recalled my friend Heidi telling me about joining a CSA a while back, so I asked her about the one she participates in, and within a couple weeks, we were in.

In a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), the consumer buys a share of a local farmer’s crops. Our CSA lasts for 28 weeks beginning in mid May. You can pay in one lump sum at the beginning or pay in monthly installments. Every Thursday, we get 3/8 of a bushel (about 3 or more gallons) of the produce that was harvested that week from the farm. The share comes out to about $18 a week, and we are getting way more food than we did when we bought produce individually at the market.

Picking up our CSA share is like Christmas every week. Farmer Andrew is our Santa Claus. He writes a letter most weeks to let us know how the crops are growing and what will most likely be ready for picking, but we still don’t know exactly what will be in that beautiful CSA gift box until we open it.  Some of the produce I have no clue what it is, but it has been fun to try new foods. Who knew there were so many varieties of squash?

The only downside to so much fresh produce is that you actually have to use it. I can get kind of lazy when it comes to cooking, and some of the produce spoils fast if it isn’t used within a few days or cut up and frozen. Keeping your thermostat at 79 degrees in the summer helps the electric bill, but it does not help the longevity of your vegetables. I may have shed a tear or two over a tomato, onion, squash, and/ or watermelon. A girl gets tired of chopping and scooping out pulp and membranes after a while. But on the upside, I spend less money at the grocery store because I know I have this delicious fresh produce at home that I need to use up.IMG_8324

The taste and color of the fruits and vegetables we get are pretty remarkable. Farmer Andrew is hosting a day at the farm in a couple weeks, so we will get to see where our food is grown. I highly recommend joining a CSA if you enjoy cooking with fresh produce. You can see a list of CSA programs in Tennessee here. Our CSA ends in November, but Farmer Andrew also offers a 12-week winter CSA when greens, lettuces, sweet potatoes, carrots, and winter squash are in season. We are considering the winter session also because the produce is just that good. Who doesn’t love a good sweet potato?

Target: A Forever Friend

Target is a faithful companion through every stage of life’s journey. You may not know it, but your love for Target actually begins in the womb. Your nervous but excited mother takes you on a journey through the baby department with a mysterious red laser toy in hand, registering for the crib sheets you will rest upon, bibs you will spit up on, and the lovey blanket you will scream for when mommy or daddy forgets it at home. After birth, you become the envy of your nursery friends with your stylish, yet secretly affordable, baby clothes that your mommy bought from Target.

As you get a little older, the Target toy department becomes your playground, bringing much joy, excitement, and begging. The selection may be slimmer than Toys ‘R Us, but that’s because Target knows exactly what you want. And it doesn’t even matter to you that the signs aren’t gender specific because with fewer aisles and well-organized shelves, it won’t take you long to locate those Barbies and Monster High dolls or the Matchbox cars and Tonka trucks.

In the preteen years, the media department lures you in with the latest video game systems and accessories. The 3DS set up for trial use becomes a holding station while mom or dad shops for toothpaste and Windex in uninterrupted peace, until they must return to pry your little fingers away from the game controller to take you home.

A short time later, you’re officially a teenager, and no longer dependent on your parents to take you to Target. With the little money you have from your minimum-wage after-school job in your pocket, you turn your attention toward the music and movies section. Target invites you to be one of the cool kids by offering exclusive Justin Timberlake vinyl records. You can’t buy vinyl at Walmart.

When you graduate high school, the scanner baton is passed to you as you register for all your dorm room essentials with Target’s college registry. Just as Target made you the envy of your nursery school,  it will help you impress your new dorm pals with your stylish $10 desk lamp and $20 twin extra long comforter. You’ll also begin a new relationship with the grocery department as you buy ramen noodles and dream of the day you will no longer be confined to a mini fridge and microwave.

As a young, college graduate, Target welcomes you to the working world with hip, environmentally friendly cleaning supplies, socially conscious personal care items, and 30 roll packs of ultra soft toilet paper. Until you realize your entry level salary and student loan payments do not allow for such frivolous spending on Method dish soap and SheaMoisture shampoo. But don’t fret. Target offers you a $5 gift card as consolation for purchasing the less trendy, but respectable Tide laundry detergent and Garnier Fructise shampoo and conditioner.

And then one day you meet the yin to your yang, and you get to feel that magical red laser gun in your hand once again. Your lips curl up into a smile as you hear the scanner beep approvingly at your choice of lemon zester despite your spouse-to-be telling you that you will never use it. Unlike the college one, you have to share the wedding registry, which is the first trial you will face as you become one.

After the wedding, the husband explores a new Target territory where no bachelor has voluntarily gone before: the tampon aisle. One day, the wife may also have to explore a new aisle, one that may bring excitement and joy or utter terror. That pregnancy test you purchased with your Target debit card will soon bring you back full circle. Before you have even seen the OB/GYN, Target is congratulating you with diaper coupons at the checkout. A few months later, you are reunited with an old familiar friend, now a red beacon guiding you through the baby aisles and introducing you to the breast pump, the Boppy pillow, and Sophie the giraffe, just as your mother did before you.

Everyone’s life journey with Target will look differently. The order of these events may change and some may never happen, but Target will be there to guide your arrow through the aisles of the path you choose.


Cut out Gluten, But Keep the Dough

Going on a gluten free diet would have been much easier if I had never tasted birthday cake. I spent a quarter of a century devouring pillowy breads and creamy macaroni and cheese. With one short phone call, I was told I would never be able to enjoy those things again. At least not the kind with gluten.

As the gluten-free diet has risen in popularity, more gluten-free products have come out on the market. If there is a way to make a product without gluten, it has been done and put on the shelves for double the price of its glutenous fraternal twin. I have tried many products, and they are close, but definitely not the same.

So how do you cut out gluten, but keep the dough? You don’t eat the dough.

I apologize. That probably wasn’t the answer you were looking for. But with any diet, you have to sacrifice something. I sacrifice the specialty gluten-free products so I don’t have to give up the Benjamins. Seriously, one loaf of gluten-free bread, one frozen pizza, and one tub of cookie dough will cost you $20.

These are the gluten-free foods I buy so I don’t have to give up two kinds of dough.

Regular Buys
1. Vegetables and fruits– In their raw, natural form, these are gluten-free. Don’t let the “gluten-free” label on a banana throw you off. It does not mean other bananas are not gluten-free. Silly marketing. However, any vegetables that have been seasoned, like the Bird’s Eye and Jolly Green Giant frozen veggies, could contain gluten, so read the labels carefully. I can tell you from experience that the Jolly Green Giant steamable honey carrots that come frozen in a box have wheat in them. Lesson learned.
2. Beans and lentils– Dry beans are cheap. The Crockpot and dry beans are best friends, and they have graciously let me join their club.
3. Meat– Like veggies and fruit, meat is naturally gluten-free if it has not been processed. Deli meats and prepared meats that have been seasoned might have gluten in them, so read the label. Boar’s Head meats from the deli counter are all gluten-free. I buy the Everroast chicken, which is often on special, and roll it up with a piece of cheese.
4. Nuts and Seeds– Once again, naturally gluten-free in their raw form. If you buy flavored varieties, read the label for ingredients like modified food starch, which can be made from wheat (gluten) or corn (no gluten).
5. Cereals– All varieties of Chex (except the Wheat Chex..duh) are gluten-free. I tend to buy the Kroger brand if Chex is not on sale. If I’m in a sugary mood, I prefer the Safari Cocoa Crunch from Mom’s Best Cereal. Fruity Pebbles and Cocoa Pebbles are also an option. Be careful with Rice Krispies. The original blue box has barley malt as an ingredient, which has gluten. The GF kind is in a yellow box that states “Gluten-Free” on the front and should be the same price as the original.
6. Pasta– There is a plethora of gluten-free pasta on the market. Trader Joe’s sells corn pasta for cheap. Rice pasta costs a little more, but the texture is better than the corn. Barilla and Mueller Pastas each have a gluten-free version made from corn and rice blend and are usually decently priced. Target and Kroger have their own brands of GF pasta, too, but I haven’t found it to be much cheaper. Fair warning: gluten-free pasta is very starchy and usually ends up extra chewy or overly soft.
7. Rice– Cheap and goes with everything. Chinese food? Rice. Mexican food? Rice. Caribbean food? Rice. Greek food? Rice. I eat a lot of rice. As per usual, if you buy a seasoned rice mix, read the label for hidden gluten.
8. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa)- A seed that cooks like rice but has a nuttier flavor. It’s expensive if you buy a small bag in the grocery store, but I have bought it at Costco and Sam’s in larger quantities for less.
9. Yogurt– My favorite is Chobani. Always read the label, especially if the yogurt has an add-in like granola. These often contain wheat.
10. Cheese– If you are not lactose-intolerant, cheese is generally safe. The only exception I am aware of is blue cheese.
11. Gluten-free oats– Oats are confusing. They don’t naturally contain gluten. They do contain avenin, a protein similar to gluten. Oats also have a high risk of cross contamination during harvesting and processing. I buy large bags of gluten-free oats from Trader Joe’s ($3.99) or Chex Instant Oatmeal.
12. Soups– Inexpensive gluten-free canned soups are few and far between. Progresso Soup has a few gluten-free options that have a “gluten-free” label on the can in teeny tiny letters. Watch out for modified food starch in the ingredients. The “cream of” soups are not gluten-free, so keep that in mind when you are eating casseroles made by other people. Unless it is some top-secret recipe, the person who made it should be happy to tell you what the ingredients are.
13. Crackers– Rice or nut crackers are pretty cheap and my alternative to buying expensive gluten-free breads.

Occasional Treats
1. Frozen pizzas– Usually between $8 and $10 for a small one, I would rather order fresh gluten-free pizza from Pizza Perfect for a couple dollars more. However, the Udi’s frozen pizza is decent, and Publix recently had it as a BOGO deal.
2. Cake mix– Most are at least $5 a box, but the new gluten-free Funfetti cake mix is $2.99 and tastes great!
3. Cookies– The cheapest “cookies” I have found are the Kroger brand gluten-free animal crackers. I actually kind of prefer the taste to the original.
4. Frozen entrees– If I was rich, I would eat EVOL’s gluten-free bacon macaroni and cheese every day. Unfortunately, it costs around $4.50 a bowl at Target, and as yummy as they are, no individual frozen entree is worth that much.
5. Granola bars– The prices are finally coming down on GF granola bars. If you don’t mind the chewiness or seeds in your teeth, the KIND granola bars are $2.99 for a box of 5 at Target and occasionally go on sale.
6. Bread– I have probably bought three loaves of gluten-free bread in the last two years. It is over-priced and usually comes frozen. If you are a big sandwich eater, it might be worth it, but I am satisfied with rice crackers.

This is how I choose to live gluten-free. The more expensive gluten-free products may be worth it to you if it fits your lifestyle. Explore your grocery stores, discount stores, and farmer’s markets to see what is available, compare prices, and make a food budget that meets your needs.