Nobody Said It’d be Easy

July.  I cannot believe it is July already!  So much has happened in the last few months…

Back in April our family dynamic changed – we now have a 16yr old boy living among us.  I know that sounds odd, but 16yr old boys are odd creatures!  We’ve been thrown into parenthood quite abruptly and we’ve had to kind of learn as we go.

On April 3rd we drove to Charlotte to pick our soon to be adopted son.  It seemed fitting to be Good Friday.  At first there was a lot of walking on eggshells trying to gradually get more familiar with each other but now that’s not the case.  It took some time to learn our rules and get into a routine.  It’s a lot like starting a new job – you’re excited and nervous and really don’t know what you are supposed to be doing yet.  It’s hard to know what to expect, all we knew was that things were changing and quickly.

44One of the first struggles was school.  Most teenagers don’t like school but it’s even more difficult when you’ve been moved around so much.  Trying to get a teenage boy to understand how important school is at 16 is more challenging than I had expected, but luckily we made it through that last semester….barely!

Now, think about all those things you use or consume every single day – cell phone, internet, soda, fast food… Imagine never having those things and then all of a sudden having them right at your finger tips.  Boy, it’s a like a kid in a candy shop.  Actually, candy is another one!  As Americans we enjoy those vices all too often and it’s hard to explain to a 16yr old that’s never had those things that there has to be a limit to it.  We’re slowly but surely getting there.

Don’t take for granted all those basic manners your mom taught you growing up.  You’d assume a teenager would know better than to act a certain way – especially in public.  Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.  Behavior (good or bad) is learned.  This particular teenager with ADHD was never been taught the proper way to act in a restaurant, grocery store, etc.  Or, why it’s not okay to use certain words or say certain things.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves the behavior comes from what he’s seen and heard and he doesn’t always understand what’s appropriate and what’s not or why.images.duckduckgo.com

Another issue has been money.  Of course we want to give him all the things he’s never had, but at the same time we aren’t rich and we want him to appreciate what he does have.  A dollar will burn a hole in that’s kid’s pocket!  At least now he understands the difference between wanting something and needing it.  No, you want a king-size candy bar, you don’t need it.

There have been some rough patches and every day it seems there is a new challenge, but regardless of what we’re faced with, I’m determined not to give up.  This kid has been pushed aside all his life and I refuse to be another person that throws in the towel.  We don’t always know what we are doing and we will make mistakes but we will continue to support him and love him no matter what.

He is our son and today was a good day.

“The child who knows unconditional love has the greatest give the world can offer.”

Spicy Shrimp n’ Grits

I don’t really claim to be a ‘southern’ girl – although I was born and raised in North Carolina, I don’t do all the country cooking… I hate collards, butter beans, field peas and the like.  I’ll never forget the first time I heard of this thing called ‘fatback’!  I’m still not exactly sure what “chit-lins” are and don’t really care to find out.  Any who… the one southern food that I absolutely love is grits – and the more cheese the better!  Throwing in the jalapeno gives it a nice kick and of course you can add whatever else you like.

BBBANow, if you want to try the best grits on the planet, you’ll have to go to the Bourbon Barrel Beef & Ale in small town USA, a little town in the NC mountains called Waynesville.  Their Creole Shrimp & Grits (grilled shrimp in bacon creole sauce over creamy smoked gouda grits & melted green onion) were phenomenal!

Ingredients

  • IMG_09132 jalapeno peppers, seeds removed and diced
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 cups chicken broth, low-sodium
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/2 cups white corn grits, quick cooking
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups shredded white cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup green onions, for garnish (optional)

Preparation

In a medium sauce pan, bring the heavy cream, chicken broth, and water to a boil over medium-high heat. Once boiling, slowly whisk in the grits. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 5-7 minutes, or until grits have thickened and absorbed the liquid.

Stir in the jalapenos, salt and 1 1/2 cups of the grated cheese.  Transfer the grits into the cast iron skillet and top with the remaining 1/2 cup of grated cheese. Place skillet under broiler for 3-5 minutes, or until cheese on top has melted and grits are light brown in color. Garnish with green onions (optional).

Adapted from:  Food Fanatic

Pumpkin Cheesecake & Caramel Pecan Cheesecake

With the help of Facebook, I’ve been able to reconnect with some of my friends from high school.  I’m about an hour away from my high school and several of these chicks are somewhat local as well.  We try to get together for lunch every few months just to catch up – those lunches usually end up lasting about three hours!  The other day, when discussing plans for the upcoming holiday meals, someone mentioned they wanted to try a pecan cheesecake recipe.  I have a fabulous caramel pecan cheesecake that I apparently never posted, so here it is – along with a new pumpkin cheesecake I tried for National Pumpkin Cheesecake day last month for work.  I love, love, love cheesecake and I’m always looking for new toppings and flavors and these are two of my favorites, especially in the fall/winter.  They’ve both been big hits at family dinners and potlucks.  Enjoy!

Pumpkin Cheesecake

Ingredients

Crust:
  • 1 and 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 T granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
Cheesecake:
  • 3 (8 ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 and 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed
  • 1 and 1/2 cups pumpkin
  • 3 and 1/2 T all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ginger
  • 4 eggs, room temperature

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix the graham cracker crumbs and sugar together. Pour melted butter over the crumbs and stir until moistened. Press the mixture in the bottom of a 9 inch springform pan. Bake for 8-9 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 325 F. In a large bowl, beat together the cream cheese and brown sugar until smooth. Stir in the pumpkin, flour, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. Break the eggs into a small bowl and lightly beat with a fork. Add the eggs to the cream cheese mixture and stir just until well combined. Don’t over beat the mixture, or the cheesecake may crack. Pour on top of the graham cracker crust.

Bake at 325 F for 1 hour. At the end of the hr, turn off the oven and leave the oven door shut for another hour and a half before opening the oven door. The long cooling period, will help minimize cracks. Remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool completely.

Source:  Chocolate with Grace

Caramel Pecan Cheesecake

Crust:

  • 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 3 Tbsp melted butter

Filling:

  • 20 caramels
  • 3 Tbsp milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 16 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 2 eggs

Crust:
Mix crumbs, sugar & butter; press into the bottom of a springform pan. Bake at 325 for ten minutes.

Filling:
Microwave caramels and milk in a small bowl on high for about two minutes or until smooth. Stir at least every minute. Mix in pecans and pour into crust. Refrigerate for about 10 minutes.

Mix cream cheese, sugar and vanilla with electric mixer on medium until well blended. Add eggs; mix until blended. Pour over caramel mixture.

Bake at 350 for 35-40 minutes or until center is almost set. Cool. Refrigerate three hours or overnight. Garnish with pecan halves and drizzled melted caramels.

What a Whirlwind!

whirlwindUsually this time of year is busy for everyone, but there’s been some extra hustle and bustle for us.  I’ve posted about our first adoption event, but haven’t found the time to put down into words anything that’s happened since then.  The young man we met back in August (we’ll call him “D”) was on our mind and in our hearts that we felt we couldn’t ignore it, we were being led to see where this goes…As with any other child in foster care, we learned that “D” has had some struggles in his short life – but nothing that we didn’t think we could handle.

After lots of consideration we made the decision to move forward.  milesIt seemed to take forever, everything was moving at a painfully slow snail’s pace.  Finally, we get word that his social worker would like to interview with us!  Now, “D” is from the western part of the state, a good 4.5 hours away so the interview was via Skype. Neither of us enjoy getting pictures taken so we certainly don’t like the idea of video chatting but if this is what it takes, that’s what we do. So we ‘skyped’ with his social worker, his recruiter, administrator, supervisors, the whole team. They had several questions for us and we were able to ask questions as well. In fact, our social worker made sure to tell us that nothing was off-limits, she suggested we ask anything we wanted to know – I mean, you need to know what you’d be getting into before making a life-altering decision, right?

We felt like the interview went well but several weeks went by without a word.  There was another family being interviewed as well so we were getting anxious.  The same recruiter anxietythat facilitated the the first event we attended had organized another Thanksgiving event the weekend before the holiday and we were invited to attend – we were told “D” would be there.  My initial thought was ‘will the other family be there as well because that could be awkward’ but of course I never actually asked that question.  We decided we really wanted to see him again so we drove several hours back to Charlotte for the event.

As soon as we got there a cute little boy walked up and introduced himself to us, let’s call him “N”.  He immediately started talking about what he liked to do, liked the eat, he was making a point to sell himself. As I came back from the bathroom a girl (“B”) asked me to come sit and talk with her and well, it’s not like I’m going to say no.  She was quite funny.  Although we were there to see “D” in particular, that doesn’t mean we couldn’t pay attention to any of the other kids and these really are great kids.  The event included a dinner and afterwards some of the kids stood up to speak about how thankful they were to have us there to spend time with, etc.  Oh, to hear these kids talk so eloquently about strangers spending a few hours just talking, playing games and sharing a meal with them… heartMy husband felt the urge to stand up and speak too. He’s not the most articulate guy, but he spoke from the heart and I just broke down into tears, along with a few of the other potential parents.

After these events the kids usually get goodie bags; “N” had made a monkey out of play dough.  He came over to give it to me.  I knew if I took that play dough I would be making a commitment that I couldn’t keep and I didn’t want to break his little heart.  I explained that he was very sweet but I couldn’t take his play dough.  His response, “but I don’t know when I will get to see you again and if you don’t pick me then I may never see you again”.  Oh. my. God.  How on earth do you respond to something like that?  He then came over and gave both of us a hug.  He was breaking my heart!  Then, as we were leaving, “B” said “so, you guys wanna take me home?”.  Seriously, if they’d let me I would’ve taken all three of them right then & there.

good news

Fast forward another week or so…I’m at work and I get a call from our social worker – they’ve made a decision on a family for “D”… and they picked us!  I was so shocked and immediately overwhelmed with emotion that I nearly dropped the phone.  So what now, what happens next?  Well, the adoption committee won’t meet again until January so we have to wait some more.  But… yes, there’s a but… joy“D” requested to spend Christmas with us and would we be okay with that.  YES!! Of course we would!  So we still have to work out the logistics and it’ll only be for a few days, but that’s okay.  We are beyond excited, I have to keep pinching myself because it’s all so surreal.  We’ve known for several days now, but I don’t think it’s truly sunk in yet.  I’ve caught myself driving to work and it hits me – I’m going to be a mom!  And of a teenager!  Oh boy…

Sweet Potato and Kale Pizza with Balsamic Drizzle

If you are a pizza traditionalist you probably won’t like this – actually you probably wouldn’t try it anyway.  We eat pizza, but we enjoy trying different variations and toppings.  I know, it sounds weird but surprisingly this combo worked really well together.  The mozzarella is great, but I think next time I’ll replace it with goat cheese.   Usually we use naan for our homemade pizzas, but for this one I wanted a thinner crust so I used a gluten-free whole wheat crust.
Ingredients:
  • 1 pizza crust
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped into large chunks
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 3 cups kale, washed, dried and stems removed
  • ½ medium onion, sliced thinly
  • ½ cup mozzarella cheese
  • ½ cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoon coconut sugar (optional)

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the sweet potato. Allow to boil for 20 minutes or until the sweet potato is fork soft. Remove from heat and mash with almond milk, salt and pepper until spreadable.  Spread onto the pizza and top with the kale, onions and cheese.

Bake pizza for 10 minutes or until kale begins to crisp.  While the pizza is baking, prepare balsamic drizzle. Heat the balsamic vinegar and sugar in a pot over high heat. When it becomes to bubble, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 2 minutes, stirring. The vinegar should get thicker. Remove from heat and watch carefully so it doesn’t get hardened.

Remove pizza from oven and drizzle with balsamic drizzle.

Source:  Jessica in the Kitchen

Dancing on Broken Glass

I cannot begin to describe the emotions I felt while reading this book…

dancingMeet Lucy – her father, a police officer died in the line of duty when she was only five.  At 16, her mother passed away of cancer.  On her 21st birthday she met Mickey.  Both Lucy & Mickey have struggles and both have to be strong to overcome them.  In the years they’ve been together Lucy has battled and beat cancer and Mickey continues to battle with his bipolar disorder.  No matter how difficult it is, they are determined they can fight it together.  However, they decide with their issues that having a child would not be in their best interest so Lucy gets her tubes tied.  When Lucy becomes pregnant their plan goes haywire.  Just as they become comfortable with the idea of having a baby, Lucy is diagnosed with lung cancer.  The doctors tell her that she may not survive and encourage her to have an abortion, including Mickey.  Lucy can’t fathom losing her miracle baby but her sisters and all those close to her can’t stand the thought of losing her, especially Mickey.

Characters are onions. The most interesting ones reveal themselves layer by layer right down to their naked core.

While reading this book I was in awe of Lucy’s strength and determination.  I empathized with Mickey and the doubt in his ability to raise a daughter with his condition and without Lucy.   I could feel the love Lucy & Mickey have for each other and the love and support of those around them.  By the time I finished reading this book I was a mess, tears streaming down my face.  Even after it was done, I found myself crying a little for myself and the tough decisions that life has thrown at us.