Summer Road Trip Series: Part VII “You Have Arrived at Your Final Destination”

By Marianna Boyce

Our departure from Sedona took place on a beautiful, sunny day—quite a contrast from the turbulent weather we experienced the previous night. After driving 2,100 westward miles from the Palmetto State of South Carolina, it was time to turn south toward the U.S.- Mexico border. Phoenix and Tucson stood in the way of our anticipated destination.

The thriving metropolis of Phoenix covers about 519 square miles, making it physically one of the largest cities in the United States of America. The layout is incredible and easily navigated, but there’s no gentle transition when exiting this urban complex. One moment, the view is grandiose, architecturally interesting buildings. The next, it’s back to a vast, inhospitable desert. The abrupt contrast is startling. We were suddenly left with nothing to see but swirling dust devils in the distance as we continued our remaining three-hour sprint to the finish line.

Sierra Vista, our ultimate destination, lies seventy-five miles south of Tucson and about twenty miles north of Mexico. This little dot on the map was our prime location goal for one reason only: our precious family lived there.

Tiffany is my bonus daughter (I’m just not fond of the term, stepdaughter). She married Bill, an Army Major at the time, now a Lieutenant Colonel. In 2015, Bill received orders to report to Fort Huachuca (pronounced wah-CHOO-kah) for a two-year stint.

image 4Abby, Emma, and Avery are our precious granddaughters. We also have a beautiful Belgian Malinois (pronounced mal-un-WAH.) grand-puppy named Leo.

As we turned onto their street, the gorgeous mountain range behind their house majestically stood in the distance. Situated on the opposite side of the mountainous terrain lies Mexico.

Little Avery is three. When she spotted us entering their driveway, she rushed outside immediately. Her arms flailing with excitement, along with her pretty blonde hair bobbing up and down as she sprinted toward us, was a wonderful sight to see. Many amazing landmarks we’d seen on our road trip were extraordinary, but this little princess took the prize. This family reunion was sheer bliss.

After a tasty spaghetti supper, we enjoyed each other’s company as we caught up on everything going on in our lives. The girls were thrilled to have an extended bedtime that night.

The following day, we ate lunch in a small town about twenty miles northeast of Sierra Vista. You may have heard of it…

image 3Tombstone is pegged as “The Town Too Tough to Die.” About 450,000 tourists visit each year. Its dusty streets are lined with rustic buildings and landmarks from the 1880s. The infamous gunfight at the OK Corral is re-enacted daily. It’s quite a surreal experience wandering the streets where Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday roamed—two of Arizona’s most popular “ghosts of North America.”

We spent one more night in Sierra Vista before embarking on our journey back to South Carolina. The most exciting news was all our girls were traveling back to the Palmetto State for a two-week stay. Bill remained in Arizona with Leo.

Tiffany drove her garnet-colored Explorer packed with enough stuff for a three-month vacation. Cody was in his comfort zone driving my light sage-colored Lincoln MKZ, so we let him drive. He’d passed the test a few nights earlier after driving in the monsoon weather from Flagstaff to Sedona.

I traveled with Tiffany, Abby, and Avery. Gerry and Emma rode with Cody. It was the perfect setup separating Abby and Emma. They were nine and seven at the time, so sibling rivalry was intense.

A year had passed since Tiffany had been home, so she was anxious to get there as quickly as possible. There would be no cool stops along this route, but the fun was just getting started.

Our travels took us about 1,050 miles that day, a little more than halfway. The decision to stop for the night on the outskirts of Houston was a good call. We were all exhausted, but I was one proud GiGi. We heard no complaints from any of the girls.

We departed the western edge of Houston early the following morning with the potential of being home by midnight. We had 1,000 more miles to go, but our aggressive plan just wasn’t meant to be. After an extended traffic delay, our plan simply fell apart. The back of an overturned poultry truck was on fire blocking all lanes on I-10. The driver was fine, but I’m sorry to report that many of the chickens didn’t make it.

image 1We exited the great state of Texas at mile-marker 880 later than we’d expected, and only traveled 400 additional miles after our long delay. Our sibling drivers, Tiffany and Cody, were both exhausted. Tensions mounted, but they merely needed to rest, stretch, and relax. Abby and Emma weren’t the only rivals in the bunch.

We stopped to eat supper in Slidell, Louisiana. We should’ve found a great Cajun restaurant, but Southern homecookin’ at Cracker Barrel is what we chose.

There was no need to push the envelope, so I devised a new plan. As I ate my chicken fried steak, rice and gravy, and fried okra, I made what my bonus daughter calls, a “Mama Bear” move. There was a newly built Hampton Inn and Suites directly across the road, so I asked Tiffany to book two rooms for us, and she did.

image 5The heated, salt-water swimming pool was calling our name. We basically all stepped into a nice, long, Epsom salt bath. This place was perfect, and exactly what “Mama Bear” ordered. Everyone loved each other again.

The following morning, June 16, 2016, was a Thursday I’ll not soon forget. Eight more hours would officially end our remarkable road trip. Unknown to me, at the end of this time span, I would begin my next journey deep into a dark, unfamiliar place that I often refer to as my alternate universe.

We quickly left Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in our dust. We crossed the South Carolina state line about 3:00 p.m. About thirty miles from home, Avery began crying uncontrollably. She told me her tummy was hurting, so I cautiously removed her from the car seat and held her tightly in my arms. I know I shouldn’t have, but I did it anyway. Any great GiGi would’ve done the same.

As I silently prayed for her, a tingling sensation started in my feet. I thought they were asleep, just as Avery now was. As we got closer to home, a perplexing coldness began to overwhelm them. Trying not to disturb her as she slept, I haphazardly tossed my sweater over my feet. An odd gesture, given South Carolina in mid-June, is usually a hot, humid, 100-degrees.

Tiffany drove to her Mom’s house where they’d be staying for the next several days. She hadn’t seen her in a year, so it was reasonable for them to spend time together before heading back to Arizona in two short weeks. I jumped in the car with Gerry and Cody anticipating the arrival at our final destination. Bill selflessly planned to fly to the Palmetto State and drive back with them so they wouldn’t have to travel cross-country alone. I know—he’s great, right?

Four-thousand, six-hundred, and fourteen miles after our journey began, Gerry, Cody, and I pulled into our driveway and opened the garage door—home sweet home!

As soon as my feet touched the ground, the intense cold sensation in them immediately changed to insanely hot. It was as though a high fever spiked, but only in my feet. I stopped dead in my tracks not knowing exactly how to react. I’d never felt that type of pain.

My new journey had officially begun.

image 2I told my husband I couldn’t walk on my own, so he assisted as I hobbled along beside him. I literally watched my feet and ankles swell beyond recognition. Gerry instructed me to sit, relax, and prop up my throbbing, fiery-hot feet. I was horrified at the time, but we actually had a good chuckle about it later in the evening. In our infinite wisdom, we thought riding in the car for an extended period contributed to this unfortunate event. Were we ever wrong!

I am; however, thankful my symptoms stayed at bay until our arrival home. Leaving my driveway eight days earlier, I didn’t realize a life-altering illness was lurking inside my body. Stepping out of my car ignited a chain of events that maniacally unfolded and completely unraveled life as I knew it. Not only was coping with extraordinary pain physically debilitating, but it was also mentally grueling. I didn’t recognize myself after two short weeks.

My 2016 summer road trip served as the catalyst that ushered me from my normal life into an alternate universe. I straddled two worlds on a mission to control them both. Horrible symptoms relating to rheumatoid arthritis ruled my life for an extended period, but I was determined not to go down without a fight. I had a great life. I wasn’t willing to give it up to this vicious disease.

All our circumstances differ, but one thing is constant for everyone: change. Life adjustments are constantly transforming our lives. Many changes are subtle and can easily be absorbed with our fighting human spirit, but as in my case, significant negative transitions create utter chaos.

As I conclude my lengthy road trip series, I want to express my gratitude for those who chose to ride along with me. Enjoy your ride in life. What you don’t enjoy—endure. Remember who’s in control of it all. Come what may, God is good, all the time.

Once Upon a Time…

By Rhonda Woods

Hello Everyone!

“Once upon a time…” is a game my granddaughters like to play while riding with me.  We all take turns adding to the story, and as you can imagine, their stories always include a mermaid or princess.  What fun and memories we are making!  The older three were with me this past weekend for some Nana spoiling.  The sleepover included running, squealing, laughing, playing, and ice cream cones.  I even took them bowling.  Yep, that’s right, I took them bowling by myself!  Adventurous, right?  None of this would princess-869721_960_720have been possible without my constant prayers for peace and God’s merciful grace answering those prayers.  I have faith that my life story will have a ” …. and she lived happily ever after” page.

My family, friends, and students have been happy to see me as I once was- energetic, confident, and “large and in charge!”  With two weeks of school left in the first semester, my tasks included finishing up quizzes, tests, and exams and a faculty/staff lunch.  The students stayed busy helping me freshen up the commercial kitchen for the new semester and preparing foods for practice labs.  Between the two classes, the students made Waffle Iron Brownies, Cinnamon Rolls, Buttermilk Biscuits, Chocolate Covered Strawberry or Red Velvet Cheesecake Bites, Shrimp Scampi, Crab Cakes with Red Pepper Remoulade, and Low Country Boil.  I bound their final projects: a cookbook complied of recipes used during the 18-week course. It was a proud moment for both the students and I when I handed each of them their own personal creation.  Most will keep this special memento for years to come and will use the prized standardized recipes.  Former students from my 18-year culinary arts instructing career still have theirs and keep in touch.  I thank God several times a day for this peace and renewed spirit that makes life enjoyable again after a year and a half of sadness, anxiety, exhaustion, and overcoming regrets.

So, let me share some of the recipes prepared by my students the past two weeks.  I hope you will enjoy them as much as they did.

May God bless you and your family as He continues to bless ours.

 Chef Woods

Cheese Cake Bites

Yields 30-36

Tools and Utensils:

  • Gallon-sized plastic freezer bag or food processor with blade
  • Large metal spoon
  • Medium mixing bowl
  • ½ sized sheet pan
  • Waxed/parchment paper
  • Measuring spoons
  • Microwavable container
  • Fork

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb sandwich cookies (30 large cookies)
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 8-12 oz. chocolate candy coating, (bark), melted
  • Garnishes (as needed):
  • Chopped nuts, sprinkles, melted white chocolate

For Chocolate Covered Red Velvet Cheesecake Bites: 

  • 20 oz. vanilla sandwich cookies
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 T cocoa powder
  • 1.5 t. butter flavoring
  • 2 t. red food coloring
  • 10 oz. chocolate candy coating, (bark), melted

For Chocolate Covered Strawberry Cheesecake Bites: 

  • 1 lb vanilla sandwich cookies
  • 8 oz. cream cheese
  • 1 T. + 2 t. sugar free strawberry jello mix
  • 1 t. strawberry extract
  • 8 oz. chocolate candy coating, (bark), melted

Procedure:

  1. In a food processor or gallon freezer bag, crush sandwich cookies to make crumbs.
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, combine cookie crumbs and cream cheese to form soft dough.
  3. Line a half-sized sheet pan with waxed/parchment paper.
  4. Portion dough into 30-36 pieces with a tablespoon.
  5. Roll each portion into balls.
  6. Place formed dough on the waxed paper lined pan, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until firm.
  7. In a double boiler, or microwave, melt chocolate candy coating.
  8. Dip chilled cheesecake bites in the melted chocolate and place back on waxed paper lined pan.
  9. Sprinkle with optional chopped nuts or sprinkles before the chocolate hardens, or drizzle with melted white chocolate.
  10. Place the finished cheesecake bites in mini muffin papers.
  11. Refrigerate finished cheesecake bites in a covered container until ready to serve.

Waffle Iron Brownies

Tools and Utensils:

  • Waffle Iron
  • Medium mixing bowl
  • Small mixing bowl
  • Small microwavable bowl
  • Dry measuring cups
  • Measuring spoons
  • Whisk

Ingredients:

  • 1 ¼ c. Flour
  • ¼ c. Cocoa
  • ¾ c. Sugar
  • ¼ t. Salt
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1 T. Water
  • ½ c. Melted margarine
  •  1 t. Vanilla
  • Pan spray
  • Toppings:
    • Ice cream,
    • Chocolate or Caramel Syrup,
    • Powdered Sugar or Whipped Cream/topping,
    • Maraschino Cherries

Procedure:

  1. Preheat Waffle Iron to 350°
  2. In a medium mixing bowl, measure and combine flour, cocoa, sugar, and salt.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, measure and combine eggs, water, melted margarine, and vanilla.
  4. Stir liquid ingredient mixture into the dry ingredient mixture, until smooth with a whisk.
  5. Lightly spray waffle iron with pan spray.
  6. Portion batter on the griddle, ¼- ½ c., depending on the size of your waffle iron.
  7. Bake the brownie batter for 1 minute or until firm enough to remove.
  8. Server warm with the suggested topping.

 

It Takes a Village. And a Double Grandpa.

By Kate Morrow

When agreeing to write for this blog, I knew one of the posts would be about the sudden and traumatic loss of my father. I dreaded writing this one. But, it needs to be told and I want to get this one out of my mind, off my plate, out of sight.

I recently read an article that was entitled, “The Unique Hell of Losing A Parent When Your Kids Are Small.” As I read the article, a few lines really struck me:

“As taxing as it was, I put on my brave face and did what I had to do at home. Then I put on my brave face and did what I had to do at the hospital, and they were none the wiser.”

 I remember exactly what I was wearing, what I was doing when I found out about my father’s unexpected and quick death. My brother called me. He didn’t even have to say it. I just knew. It was 4:45 p.m. on a Tuesday. I was still in the midst of my maternity leave. My husband Cam was about to leave the office and head home. William, my brother, uttered the word, “I hate to have to tell you this, but Dad…”

I instantly started screaming, “No. You’re lying. No.” I ran onto the front porch. I cried. I felt helpless and panicked. And then the twins started crying as they woke up from their nap. I remember having to hide my pain, my tears, my anguish, when all I wanted to do was sink into the floor. I could barely breathe. But they needed me.

 “If there is one absolute truth, it is that death and grief and small children do not mix. Life as I knew it changed forever, but my circumstances and responsibilities did not. I was waist-deep in naps, meal prep, butt-wiping, art projects, the flu, paying bills, loads of laundry.”

 I often wonder how I would have handled my grief differently if I were not a mother yet. I probably would have spent a lot of days in the bed, under the covers, with a pint of ice cream, and the television on Netflix to get my through my sadness. But as a new mom with infant twins, that was simply not a choice.

I remember telling my husband often, that I didn’t even have time to appropriately grieve my father because I was so busy being a twin mom. There are days I still feel I haven’t grieved him adequately and it’s going to hit me even more immensely when time slows down. Even though my husband was there every step of the way and my in-laws fly down the interstate any time I am in need—babies are babies and they still need Momma.

“Intense waves of grief periodically stop me in my tracks, take my breath away and force me to sit down and say to myself, “Holy shit, that happened.” Those waves will crash in the rest of my life, and if time is able to do anything for me, it will give me longer stretches between each one.”

 In the weeks and months after my father’s death, I would find myself so busy between caring for the twins, being a wife, keeping up with the house, learning my new job, that I would sometimes forget for split seconds at a time that my father had passed. I would randomly think of him and how I should “call to tell him something” or “the next time I see Dad.”

And then it would hit me. And I would force myself to think about it. Really think about it. “This is forever.” “I will never see, hug, or talk to him again.”

There is no feeling in the world to describe that pain. None. There is no amount of time or level of busyness that can get you through that.

But honestly, being Jack and Lilly’s mom has given me so much inspiration and gotten me through some of the toughest days. People often ask me how I have been so strong through this. It is partially because I am so busy with life, but also part that I saw so much life and death during our hospital stay. I know the world has to end for some for others to begin.

The hardest part about my father’s death? Not getting to see him be a grandfather. He only got to be a grandfather for the twins’ first six months of life. He visited them in the NICU frequently, FaceTimed with us often, held them for the first time on Thanksgiving Day. It hurts the most because he would have been one of the world’s best.

He was so proud of them. After he died, I was the family member in charge of clearing off his phone. I found a photo log full of every single picture I ever sent him of the twins. I found text message after text message of him beaming with pride about his twin grandchildren to his family and friends.

What makes it better? A man that often gets overlooked because he is quiet, but humble. A man who I can simply not find enough words to tell how much I love, appreciate, and am grateful for not ever intending to take my dad’s place but intentionally makes the pain less deep because he is always there. A man who had to balance the difficulty of being overjoyed to be a new grandfather without overshadowing my pain in losing another new grandfather, my dad. He is sincere, loving, and giving. The epitome of what it means to be the protector of one’s family. Losing my father was breathtakingly, stop you dead in your tracks, painfully hard, but having someone I consider my second father made it easier.

He, my father-in-law, has the hardest job of all—being Jack and Lilly’s double Earthly grandfather. I have watched him these past eight months in awe and wonder as he has been there for all of their firsts, putting in overtime to make them feel the love of having a grandfather.  The world’s best.

I know Dad is honored to give you his Grandpa moments that he is watching from Heaven with the same awe, wonder, and pride.

Thanks for being in our village, Ed. We love you.

Front Porch and Kitchen Memories

By Chaunte McClure

By now, you know I love to reminisce about growing up with Grandma. I was scrolling Facebook on Sunday night and came across a meme with an image of peas in chipwood baskets, and of course, my mind traveled back to summer months sitting on the porch at Grandma’s.

On occasion, she’d shell peas or butter beans while we, the grandkids, frolicked in the yard. Some days I didn’t have that privilege or thought I was “too grown” to play with the others, but my time wouldn’t be idle because I’d have to get a bowl and help shell peas. Geez, if Grandma could’ve seen the eye roll I imagined upon her demand. Of course, she always knew whether or not I wanted to do what she asked. I’ve heard her say, “If you can eat ‘em, you can shell ‘em.” That meant get your fingernails ready to open the seams of 2,000 pods. (Clearly, I’m exaggerating.)

fresh-peas

It just seemed like it took forever to see the results of my labor, for I thought my bowl would never get full and the pile of unshelled beans always looked so large.

We snapped beans too. I’d much rather the snapping because it was much easier to break off the tips and snap the stems and that was easier on the fingernails, thumbs and index fingers.

Those are classic moments because today I don’t eat fresh vegetables often enough nor do I have a garden like many families did during my childhood. Food was better for you and oh, the memories we made just with food. Picking, peeling, cutting and bagging tomatoes. Canning peaches, apples, and beans. And making biscuits from scratch. I only watched Grandma knead biscuit dough and even at 42 years old, sadly, I’ve never made homemade biscuits nor have I canned fruits and vegetables. But some of my fondest memories were made on the porch and in the kitchen at Grandma’s House.

What are some of your fondest memories growing up in the South?

In-Laws or Out-Laws?

By: Crissie Miller Kirby

I’m fortunate, today, to have a fabulous relationship with my mother-in-law and my father-in-law.

Wait, Crissie, aren’t you divorced?

The simple answer is “Yes.”  The more complex answer would be that when my marriage ended, only that relationship ended; my relationship with my children’s grandparents and other extended family members did not end.

I did not always have this great and wonderful relationship with my in-laws, however.  Going back 13 years, I’m sure that all of us could enumerate the many different things that irritated us about each other.  The long and the short of the situation, the problems were rooted in misunderstanding, miscommunication, and lack of communication regarding many different situations.  There is little reason to go back and place blame or to recount every single mistake and misstep made; all we can do is look at what we did to correct the situation, move forward, and live in peace and friendship.

The basis of this new relationship is honesty, open communication, and boundaries.

First, we are all honest that this relationship is not always easy.  There are differences in parenting that are created by our own pasts and typical generational differences.  Personality differences must be recognized and you have to accept that; accepting a personality trait does not mean that you take it on yourself, it simply means that you understand it and respect it.  There are also differences created simply by the dynamics of this relationship; my role as the parent and their role as the grandparent.  Parenting is and always has been different than “grandparenting;” much like the Las Vegas tag line, we all know that what happens at Mimi and Poppie’s stays at Mimi and Poppie’s.  Understanding this and just simply letting go of some of that parental structure and those finite rules and allowing some of those fun moments to occur can actually lead to less stress, relaxation, and great memories for your children.

Keeping the lines of communication open also goes a long way in making that in-law relationship much better.  And it goes further than just actually answering the phone when they call; I don’t just mean physical lines of communication.  Remembering that you are all human and are in this together, for better or worse, and are experiencing many of the same situations and emotions and then leaning on each other can help shore up shaky waters.  Often just opening yourself up once is enough to create a strong bond.  This is part of how my relationship has been strengthened with my mother in law; once I opened up in regards to certain issues and situations, I learned that some parts of my life were not so different than things she, herself, had experienced in her own past.  She is no longer a “Monster-in-Law” she is my mother-in-law and she is my friend; a person I can call on when I’m feeling down or need someone to read over a graduate school paper.  And I think that she feels somewhat the same way about me.

Lastly, create boundaries.  Everyone hears the word boundaries and immediately goes on the defensive, but we forget the old adage that “good fences make good neighbors;” this is also the case with relatives.  After my oldest son was born, I often felt like what I wanted no longer mattered, if my parents or my in-laws wanted to see the baby, they just stopped by or came up, regardless of our plans or desires.  Really what it amounted to was some poor planning, structure and lack of boundaries on all of our parts.  None of us recognized what the other group needed and wanted, and, in truth, deserved.  Now, if I go visit my in-laws, they recognize that I might want some time alone, to myself, or some time to just do something with the boys, alone, and even often, that I might want to spend some one on one time with my boys, individually. We work together to make all of those situations take place when desired.  But, I’m also keenly aware that they desire time with the boys as well.  They want to take them places and “show them off” and spoil them some.

We also try to make plans for holidays and special events well in advance so that all of our needs and desires are met the best they possibly can.  A few years back, I invited both my parents and my in-laws to my home on Christmas morning; however, I indicated to everyone that the door would not be opened until a specific time.  This was both for me and them.  It provided recognition that they wanted and deserved to see their grandchildren on Christmas morning, but yet protected my time with my sons on Christmas morning.  No one’s feelings were hurt or made to feel uncomfortable, and a good time was had by all because we took the necessary steps beforehand.

Will this type of structure work for every single family?  No.  However, the first step is to be honest with all parties.  Yes, it might mean sitting down and talking and this might, initially, be uncomfortable, but if the end result is more peace and harmony, with a slice of compromise thrown in, then it is worth it in the end.

In-laws or Out-laws?  Which would you rather have?  The choice truly is your own.