An Adventurous Life for the Budgeting Family

Saying Goodbye to a Childhood Home: An Ode to Deer Run

Saying Goodbye to a Childhood Home: An Ode to Deer Run

My grandfather passed away a month ago. Papa was a beloved man, full of life and love. He had a booming voice and a big presence, yet was sweet and gentle at the same time. Since losing her husband of over 60 years, my grandmother has been busy through her grief, having to pack up their big house off the highway in rural south Georgia so that she can downsize and move closer to two of her children.

I try not to get attached to things. I believe in many Buddhist principles, such as impermanence and not having attachments. So I wasn’t sad when my parents sold their home, which I’d grown up in, last year. Despite that, it is hard for me to let go of my grandparents’ home – Deer Run.

Whenever I’ve had to write a school essay on my favorite place, I always wrote about Deer Run. Many of my best childhood memories took place there. During the summers of my childhood, my brothers and my cousins and I would all spend a week at our grandparents’ house together. It is a wonderland of an escape for children. The two staircases on either side of the house led to epic chases, hide and seek games, and pretending to be spies or monsters chasing one another around and around, up and downstairs. The 17 acres of land had a field with a pond that once housed wild horses. The land later became a grazing ground for the neighbor’s cows. A trail through the woods provided endless adventure and entertainment. Papa was a skilled engineer with a love for automobiles, so we always had golf carts, dirt bikes, miniature motorcycles, and go-karts to race and play with.

deer run pink bicycle

Across the highway is the catfish pond that Papa and one of my uncles dug years ago. We used to swim in there before the catfish bred like mad and filled it up. So it became a great fishing spot, and later a spot to watch an alligator family lounging on the banks near the swamp entrance. The neighbor who now owns all that land across the street is a farmer. Before he had the cows, his fields grew corn. I remember all us kids playing cops and robbers in the corn fields one day. The stalks were so high that you could only see the row in front of you. We ran as fast as we could from row to row, chasing one another while the stalks and leaves whipped our skin. We all had welts on our arms and legs that night, but in the moment we loved the feeling of being absolutely free and laughing hard and feeling as alive as anyone could ever be.

Two and a half decades have gone by since we started our cousins’ summers at Deer Run. We’ve all grown up now, and the visits have changed. Now, the whole family gathers for a reunion there every October. Just like in my childhood, there are no planned activities or outings. We all are simply together, and there lies the fun. My generation is marrying off and having children of our own. The house is filled again with little feet pitter pattering down the upstairs hall, racing and chasing each other. There is laughter, talking, smells of southern comfort food on the stove, and outbursts of gleeful shouts from the youngest family members.

At our last reunion, I brought my baby boy to join the fun. When his cousins and second cousins huddled around the new baby, fawning over him, my eyes filled with grateful tears. I thought to myself how wonderful it was that he will get to make memories here with his extended family just like we did. He’ll have this special spot tucked away in the country to fall in love with nature and have space to roam, explore, and play. Maybe he will be like me and love walking alone or with his dog through the woods, getting lost in a fantasy that he lives among the trees and animals. Mabe it will be his favorite place to think, ponder life, and daydream. Maybe he will adore these cows, stopping to watch them and tell them how wonderful they are as they moo in response.

low country boil in georgia

But last October, the For Sale sign loomed on the front lawn. I could never tell Patticake that it would be sad to see this house go to another family. She needs a smaller home with less property to tend to, especially now. And she will be closer to a town and essentials she’ll need, as well as closer to two of her children. Yet, unlike my childhood home, I had so much sentiment for this place. Where would we all gather now? Would it be as special? Where will my son have such freedom and wilderness to play in with his cousins and future siblings? Like the wooden sign in their garage says, “Grandma’s house is where cousins go to become friends.” I had assumed that for my son, it would be his great-grandparents home.

That evening, we unfolded metal chairs and tables into a long line and laid out paper plates. Then we sat down to eat a low country boil in the open-air garage. We all told stories and laughed together. I took a moment to look around the table at my cousins, who I’ve gotten to see grow from year to year. Callie, so gentle and graceful, with her fun-seeking husband James and their three confident, happy children. Brentice, the talented musician with a peaceful, wise soul. Mattie, who sets her own path and lives such a creative, adventurous life. Sarah Margaret, who I saw as a pre-teen pouting because she couldn’t have a phone yet or wear the same baby doll graphic tees as her friends, is now mature and career-focused. Kay is good at everything she tries and her face beams with joy when she smiles. And little Taylor, the baby of the bunch, who I wanted to hold all the time when she was a baby, has wisdom, poise, and confidence beyond her years.

deerRun3

Then there are my brothers. I used to think that we were the bad eggs of the family because we’d gotten in more trouble growing up and weren’t as devoted to religion as our cousins. But we all have our own spirituality in different ways and we all treasure family above everything else. AJ and his wife Allie and their amazing little girls are my daily parenting inspiration.

I saw my parents, my aunts and uncles, and my grandparents eating at the table too. And that’s when I realize the truth. We are not losing anything when Deer Run is no longer ours. A house is only a house. It’s the people that gather there that are the true blessing and joy. Everything that was special about this place we will be taking with us – the memories, the people, the stories. We will all continue to make memories together, just in a different setting. My son and future children will have their own grandparents’ house, in Charleston, to grow to know their cousins in. The sale of those acres of woods does not mean we’ve lost wilderness and freedom. I will keep that with me, and make sure that my family seeks those wide open spaces. I’ll let my children spend time in nature, have space to daydream and come up with their own pretend worlds and games. And we’ll all continue to gather, tell stories, share meals, and be forever grateful to have one another.

deerRun1

In the end, it was never Deer Run that brought us together. It was Papa and Patticake, their love and their devotion to keeping the family close. Thank you. I love ya’ll. Rest in Peace Papa. And Goodbye Deer Run.

Video footage from October 2015

First Year Monthly Photos

First Year Monthly Photos

First Year Monthly Photos

Like many new parents, I wanted to document my baby’s first year of life with monthly photos. It has been a joy to see him grow, learn, and change from month to month. It’s crazy how life works. You don’t notice a change from day to day, but over time you see that everything is different. At month one, Auggie nursed, pooped, and slept all day and night. Now at one year old, I’m chasing him around the house all day and he makes me laugh all the time.

For our photos, we kept a consistent background and outfit for continuity and so August’s growth would stand out. When I chose his crib as the photoshoot location, I didn’t take into account how hard it would be to get him to lay down or even sit still in the crib for photos as he got older and more mobile. So if you’re thinking about doing this with your new baby, take that into account. We will be switching to a big orange chair for the next year of monthly photos. It’s a little easier to get him to sit for a moment to take a photo there, even if I need to be ready to grab him at a moment’s notice before he tries to leap off.

12 month Photo Orange Chair

12 month Photo Orange Chair Funny

We’ve been using a cute letter board from a company called Letter Folk. I’ve been seeing these boards pop up everywhere in the past year, so you could also get one on Amazon or at Target. But it is cool to support small businesses and Letter Folk is family-run which is even more special. So check them out. This is not an ad, by the way, I just like their product.

August is wearing Honest diapers in a different design in each month’s photo. We have a subscription to the diapers and wipes. This is a bit of a splurge for us, but we have good reason. These diapers and wipes are the only ones that don’t give him bad diaper rash. Plus, the designs are mega cute and we never have to remember to run out and buy new diapers since they come in the mail. It was fun picking out designs each month that corresponded to what was going on. For July we had fireworks, for December we had candy cane stripes, and so on.

Have you done a cute monthly photo for your child/children? If so, send me the website or Instagram photo link because I would love to check it out!

 

Easy and Inexpensive Outings with Your Infant

Easy and Inexpensive Outings with Your Infant

Most people can’t remember anything from before they were three years old. Still, it’s important to expose our babies and toddlers to the world and all its sights and wonders. Plus, what we do with our children now has an impact on them even if each moment doesn’t last in their memory. If we don’t show our kids love and affection until they’re three, we will have scared and insecure children that don’t have a warm, loving relationship with their parents. I say all this semi deep stuff to get to a lighter point – outings and experiences are important for your baby.

Getting out of the house and the daily routine on a regular basis is important for the parents, too. I go stir crazy if I spend more than one day shut inside my house. I have to take a walk or get out into nature or the world at least once a day with my baby in order to feel sane and happy. It’s not affordable to go to children’s museums or go shopping every day, so I’ve gathered a repertoire of easy outings for parents and babies.

The Park and Playground

This is an obvious choice. Kids love playgrounds! Try out a new park or playground once or twice a week until you find your favorites. For a pre-walker, it’s best to find a playground that has a baby swingset and the games they build into the play set. For instance, a lot of playgrounds feature a spinning match game. This is fun for your baby to spin and look at the colorful pictures.

10 month old at the playground

baby feet in the grass at the park

It’s always great to find a shady spot at any park and lay out a blanket. You can let your little one explore nature and have a picnic lunch. Bonus points if the park has a duck pond, like Audubon Park in New Orleans. Those ducks and other wildlife make for great baby entertainment.

Botanical Garden and Sculpture Garden

Does your town/city (or one nearby) have a botanical garden or a sculpture garden, or any nature preserve? Usually the price to enter is fairly cheap, and there is a lot to look at and teach your child about. Smell the flowers, discuss the colors of different flowers, and practice crawling and walking on the lawns.

Bookstore and Library

Here in New Orleans, the Latter Library branch has a cute children’s area. It is carpeted, has low bookshelves for your child to browse, and has a bunch of large stuffed animals and some toys to play with. At first, I brought Baby A to the library in our neighborhood. To our disappointment, the children’s book area was mixed into the rest of the open floor plan of this Carrollton Riverbend branch and had hard floors and no toys. Needless to say, we got out of there quickly.

If your library isn’t conducive to baby play, Barnes and Noble sure is! They always have a separate kids area with tons of books to browse, a reading area with small tables and chairs, and a toy section with age-appropriate toys to look at. Some of them you can get away with playing with inside their packaging so you don’t have to buy anything. Sorry, B&N! I promise I have spent plenty of money in your stores over the years.

The best part about spending an hour or two in Barnes and Noble is the Starbucks coffee in the store. Enjoy yourself a latte, moms and dads!

Coffee Shop

Speaking of coffee, you can always waste a little time at a coffee shop. Coffee shops always have customers, so there is plenty of people-watching opportunity for you and baby. Many folks will wave and play peek-a-boo with your little one, too. If I’m desperate to get out of the house and can’t manage to get dressed in normal (aka not what I slept in) clothes, the local coffee shop is my saving grace. You can spend pocket change on a small coffee or splurge on your favorite caffeinated beverage, while giving your baby something different to look at. Bonus points for switching it up and trying the hippie coffee shop, the hipster coffee shop, and the weird one with zombie drawings all over the walls, on different trips to really change up the atmosphere and clientele vibe.

NYC SOHO coffee shop with toddler

Pet Store

You can find a lot of strip malls that have my big three favorite chain stores – Marshall’s/TJ Maxx, Michael’s Crafts, and PetCo or PetSmart. So when you’re out running errands, stop by at the pet supply store and let your little one explore. Babies and toddlers will love to look at the birds, small rodent pets, and fish that are on display and for sale. There are also usually cats up for adoption that you can play with through their cages and dogs milling about the store with their owners. Ask if the dogs are friendly and if you can pet them (if you’re comfortable with that). You can let your kid walk around and touch things because the workers there have seen worse – they have to clean up poop and pee from the animals.

baby with guinea pig at pet store

Zoo/Aquarium/Butterfly Garden

This one doesn’t sound affordable at first. However, your city’s zoo, if you’re so lucky to have one, probably has great family membership deals. Our family received an Audubon membership for Christmas last year, and it has served us well. An Audubon membership gets you and your family into the zoo, aquarium, and insectarium for free. I looked up the price and worked out that after only two visits to one of the attractions, the membership is paid for. So it is definitely worth it! And once you know you’re getting in for free, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal to head out to the zoo. You don’t have to feel pressured to make a day of it. In fact, we have covered the aquarium in less than an hour and headed home satisfied. There is so much to look at and learn about, so these animal adventures are wonderful for any child or adult.
mother and son with butterflies baby and orangutan

My Natural Birth Story

My Natural Birth Story

If you’re squeamish about medical stuff and women’s bodies, stop reading now.

Some friends have recently asked me about natural birth because they’re considering it for their own labor. So I thought it might be helpful to share my story here in case there are other curious mothers-to-be who want the nitty gritty details.

During my pregnancy, I saw a group of midwives. I rotated which midwife I saw so that I would get to know each one who could potentially be on call when I would go into labor. I liked all of the women, but did have a favorite. She was the most earth mama hippie-ish of them all, and really made me feel like my pregnancy and labor was in my hands and that I could have a lead role in the care of myself and my baby.

When I was past my due date, I had a scheduled checkup at the midwifes’ office. I had been leaking and thought maybe my water broke a few days prior, but when I went to the hospital they checked and said it was just regular vaginal fluids or maybe I had accidentally peed myself. I was a little embarrassed and went home. Anyway, at my appointment a few days later, my midwife Esther said she’d check the liquid again. She came back from using the microscope, calmly looked me in the eye, and sweetly said, “Summer, you’re going to have this baby today.” My heart stopped. Since I was past my due date, I knew I’d be going into labor sometime that week. But I was still shocked that it was time. I didn’t feel any contractions at all. I said, “Okay, so I guess we will go home and get our overnight bags packed and bring the dog to daycare.” But she said, “No, we don’t have time for that. You need to be induced right away. Everything is great, though.”

That didn’t sound great to me. My eyes started tearing up. It didn’t cross my mind that something might be wrong because she was so calm. But being induced, in what I had read and watched in my many hours of labor research, was more likely to lead to an epidural and c-section. That wasn’t how I had envisioned things. My heart had been so set in keeping everything natural.

But Bobby held my hand and Esther reassured me some more and we headed to Labor and Delivery.

Ready to have a baby

I had planned on having an unmedicated water birth using hypnotherapy birthing techniques that Bobby and I learned about in childbirth classes. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the class that seriously. We were the ones giggling and writing notes to each other in the back of the classroom like naughty school children. It was hard for us to get serious about the visualization exercises, and I always ended up going home, taking a bath, and fulfilling my need to read cold hard facts about what really goes down during childbirth.

The good news was that Esther decided to start me with a half of a pill’s worth of Cytotec, which ripens the cervix to get you ready for labor. The plan had been to wait 4 hours, then take the other half of the pill, then wait another amount of hours, then take Pitocin. After only half an hour to an hour after taking the pill, my contractions began. And they ramped up quickly. My parents had already arrived in town from South Carolina to be there for the big event, so they helped out with the dog and brought our hospital bag. We had loaded up our iPad with movies, and we were just getting ready to watch one together when my contractions suddenly got really painful and only about 3 minutes apart. So we didn’t get to do any of the fun stuff I had planned. Ha! How naive.

I asked Esther if I could get into the tub now. She said my cervix had to be dilated at least 5 inches before I was allowed to be submerged in the water. So all we could do was have the hubster hose me down while I sat in the jacuzzi tub in our hospital room. Yes, hose me down like a big elephant. How glamorous. But the hot water hitting my back felt amazing. As the contractions became more and more painful, it was the only relief from the pain. I am a water person and baths heal all of my aches and pains, physical and emotional, which is why I yearned for a water birth. As the afternoon turned into evening, the pain was more and more intense. I kept throwing up, and the only position I could stand to be in was with my legs folded under my chest, fetal position style without being on my side, with my chest and arms propped up on a squatty potty looking plastic step stool.

My midwife left Bobby and I to do our thing most of the time. During the daytime hours, she had meetings and appointments that took her away from our section of the hospital. At times I wondered where the heck she was and why she wasn’t doing something to help. But in retrospect, I really liked that I had privacy and the empowerment to get through this on my own with Bobby’s help. Of course, she and nurses were on hand if anything were to go wrong, but I enjoyed the darkness and quiet of our room without people in and out the whole time. Esther did check my and the baby’s heart rate every once in a while, and brought me popsicles. They were the red, white, and blue kind that people eat on the 4th of July. I had never tasted anything more glorious. In one of her visits, Esther persuaded me to try a different position, saying that a lot of women find relief sitting backwards over the toilet. I slowly, carefully, painfully got out of the tub, dripping water down my back, and tried the toilet position, Rocket Pop in hand. As soon as I squatted over the toilet, any minor relief I had felt in the water fled and I was in agony. I went to lick my popsicle, and the whole thing slid off the stick and landed on the bathroom floor. I cried for my loss, and then puked. Thankfully, she led me right back to my tub and hose-down.

Bobby was an incredible coach. It was really cool to experience this with him. He hosed me down like a champion. However, at one point, I looked up and he was scrolling through his phone. I grimaced and said to him through bared teeth, “If you are looking through Facebook right now, so help me…” He turned his phone around to show me he was looking up calming classical music to play. Divorce averted. The music was helpful to keep my mind off how much longer I had to do this.

Later in the night, probably around 11pm, though I can’t be sure as I had no concept of time during all this, Esther came in and the pain was almost unbearable. It felt like there were no breaks between the contractions anymore. She still hadn’t checked my cervix to see if I could submerge in the tub. This made me think that we were nowhere near even halfway to the end point and meeting our baby. I sobbed and cried out, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this!” Later, I would remind Bobby of this and ask why they didn’t listen to me and get me drugs. He said that I never said I wanted drugs, so he thought I was just letting out my pain verbally. In the moment, I truly didn’t think I could go on. As much as I wanted to do a natural labor for a multitude of reasons, I felt like I did not have the strength to go on like this for hours and hours more. Esther was by my side for part of this time, and she said in her pleasant, calm voice, “But Summer, look at you. You are doing it.” That quieted me down. I went inside myself and found strength to keep going. But when she left the room again, I told Bobby that I really wanted her to check my cervix because I had to go into the water for some relief.

Esther said she was afraid I’d be disappointed if she checked me and I wasn’t ready yet. But I told her that I could handle it. As she gripped my elbow to help me out of the tub, Sploosh! my water fully broke and a puddle of green-yellow liquid was all over the ground. Once I was on the bed and she inspected me, she called in some nurses and told me that it was about time to push. She told Bobby he could definitely start filling up the tub. He plugged the drain and turned the hot water on full blast.

Esther asked me how much time there was between my painful contractions. I told her the truth – there was zero time between contractions, it was just wave after wave of pain and seizing up of my uterus. Tears were streaming down my face. She hooked me up to the stationary machines to monitor me and the baby and told me it was time to start pushing. I immediately went to work. I pushed so hard and put everything I had in me and more to push and be done with this pain. She actually told me that I was pushing too hard and to hold on a second. Then, she called in a team of NICU doctors and nurses and suddenly an oxygen mask was on my face and I heard all sorts of beeping noises and pitter pattering of extra people’s feet rushing into the room. I looked up at Bobby, who was holding my hand at the side of the bed. He looked really scared as he stared at the heartbeat monitoring machine. For some reason I thought maybe I was dying and that just drove me to push harder because I wanted my baby to be born so I could look at him or her before I passed. For some reason it didn’t cross my mind that the baby was not okay. I think because I just could not bear for that to be reality. I just had to get my baby born and then the doctors could take care of the baby and they could figure out what was wrong with me later.

Then, our baby was born. The tub was just about full and a nurse ran over to stop it from overflowing. Suffice it to say, I did not get my water birth. But I got the most amazing gift in the world. Our baby had arrived. For a moment, I didn’t hear anything. Then, after a beat, we heard the miraculous first cry. I started to cry tears of joy that my baby was okay. I actually kept shouting, “My baby! My baby!” The NICU doctors took the baby away, but only to the other side of our room, where they had a table and all the tools they needed. Bobby went over to look at this new little life. He came back smiling and said that everything was okay. I asked the important question – “So is it a boy or a girl?”

“Oh. I don’t know.”

“Oh my gosh go check!”

“It’s a boy!”

We both were so happy. Our little baby boy. We hadn’t decided between our top two boy names, but he was here and he was beautiful and healthy. Thank you Lord, the NICU staff gave the baby the okay and handed him back to Esther. She placed the baby, wiped down but not washed off yet, on my stomach and I watched him wriggle, eyes closed, instinct leading him, up to my bare chest and find my breast and begin to eat for the first time. It was the most amazing thing. All of the pain from the hours leading up to this was well worth it to have feeling in my body and clarity in my head to be present for this moment with my son. It was the happiest moment of my life and one I will never, ever forget.

——

Our baby was born at 12:59 am the day after I went in for my normal midwife checkup. It turns out, Esther had seen meconium – a baby’s first poop – in my water leakage. She couldn’t be sure how long I had been leaking amniotic fluid, and a baby pooping inside can be very dangerous because it can get into his lungs and cause big problems. That’s why she knew I needed to have the baby that day. I’m grateful that she didn’t give me all these details, knowing I would be in a panic. During my transition period and the time that I was pushing, the baby’s heart rate slowed to a dangerous level. That is why they put an oxygen mask on me, to try to get more air to the baby. I am glad I pushed him out so quickly, too, because the cord was wrapped around his neck. Esther skillfully unlooped it with her fingertips as he came out of me, which allowed him to breathe perfectly once he was out in the world.

Thank you to the midwives and nurses at Ochsner Baptist, to my parents, to my amazing supportive husband, and to God for our most precious blessing and biggest joy being born a year ago.

If you’re considering a natural birth with a midwife, I suggest you begin your journey by watching The Business of Being Born.

Midwife Led Natural Birth Story

How to Be a Fit Mom Without a Gym Membership

How to Be a Fit Mom Without a Gym Membership

I’m nowhere near a swimsuit model or anything, but I’m in fairly good shape for having a baby in the past year. I’ve thought about getting a gym membership to a facility with childcare, but it would be a big strain on our already tight budget.

That leaves me with needing to get fit at home. Here are the ways that I stay in shape and take care of my physical health as a stay-at-home mom.

 

Fit in Tiny Bits of Exercise

When I’m playing on the floor with my baby, every once in a while he will be really absorbed with a toy and I have a minute to be still. This is when I’ll do push-ups, lying down leg raises, or some sort of ab workout like planks or sit-ups. Don’t worry about doing a certain amount or thinking you need to do a full half hour to an hour workout; every little bit of movement helps!

Get a Jogging Stroller

I quickly found out that most moms in New Orleans have jogging strollers, whether they run or not. The sidewalks here are jagged and uneven from hurricanes and huge oak tree roots growing beneath them. At least that’s what my guess is for the reason. Having the proper stroller makes it easier to go on runs or long walks. That way you aren’t struggling to try to lift the stroller and navigate around potholes the whole time.

My baby boy doesn’t like to sit still for long, so I wait until the end of the day, when he needs a body rest, to go for a jog. Sometimes I get the courage and energy to drive to our lovely nearby Audubon Park for a great running path, but it can be tricky. It’s better to not risk your child getting fussy in the car ride and just leave for your jog straight from home. That way, you get more bang for your buck and fit in more exercise before a potential meltdown! I also make sure I don’t go too far from home before circling back for the same reason. You can always do your loop again if your child is still happy to be riding along.

Be Creative with the Jogging Stroller

On the way back from my jogs, I do calisthenics on the last couple of blocks. These strollers have a strap for your wrist, so you can take your hands off the handle. You can do high knees, lunges, cherry pickers, and other exercises that really work your muscles while still moving forward towards home. You’ll really feel like you did your body good by the time you conquer those last couple of blocks home!

Have an At-Home Workout Plan

There are plenty of apps that are available to help you work out from the comfort of your home. This way, you can do workouts while your kids are sleeping or napping. I know there are usually a bunch of other things to get done, and sometimes I opt to rest as well instead of being productive, but if you decide to make exercise your priority then you can let the laundry be dirty just a little longer some days.

My favorite exercise plan is from Kayla Itsines. I downloaded her PDF of quick HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workouts that you do over the course of 3 months to get in shape. She now offers an app called Sweat with Kayla instead of the downloadable file. It’s a little pricier, but I can attest to how good these exercises are. I used them to get in shape before my wedding, and it was the most toned I’ve been since my high school sports days!

Play with Your Kids!

This is the most fun and important way to fit exercise into your busy mom life. Play with your kids! It’s quality time that is good for you and your children in many ways. It’s tons of fun to have dance parties and run around outside. My baby loves when I do squat jumps while holding him when we listen to music. His added weight makes the move even more effective on toning my legs.
Best of luck to you ladies. And remember, your body is beautiful no matter what. Do what makes you feel good and healthy!

Why You Should Go to The Angola Prison Rodeo

Why You Should Go to The Angola Prison Rodeo

The Angola Prison Rodeo is a wondrous thing. Although many of our friends here in New Orleans have heard of the infamous rodeo, we discovered that none of them had actually ventured to Angola to witness it. Bobby and I went together and had a lot of fun, and have been almost every year since. This October, we hope to bring our tot with us!


Fun Facts

When you first drive into the grounds of Angola, you’ll see signs to tune your car radio to the prison’s channel. A booming voice tells you a bunch of interesting facts about the prison, starting each fact with “Did you know…?” We got a kick out of it and often quote it randomly to make each other laugh. And the facts really are interesting! For example, did you know that Angola sits on 18,000 acres of farmland, and inmates grow their own food? The scary information about Angola, like those I found here, are not included in your welcoming ride. A not-so-fun fact for a blogger is that cameras aren’t allowed at the rodeo. Dang.

Carnival Food

There are booths where you can purchase food and drinks once you park and enter the rodeo grounds. There are zero healthy options, so if you’re a stickler to health foods or have food intolerances, make sure you eat before arriving. You can have funnel cake, ice cream, fried oreos, frozen slushies, and a variety of other fried junk. Hooray! And ouch my stomach hurts just thinking about it.


The Crafts and Home Goods

If you don’t want to watch the rodeo, you can purchase a ticket just to get into the grounds and see all the goods for sale. The inmates make and sell their woodwork, furniture, paintings, jewelry, and all kinds of knick knacks and tchotchkes. So far I have purchased a leather keychain with my name engraved on it, a pair of silver Spongebob earrings, a beautiful wooden secret box (where you have to take the box apart like a puzzle in order to open it), and a cute guitar bookend. The real prize items seem to be the very impressive paintings and patio furniture. There are perfectly whittled and stained gliders, rocking chairs, dining room sets, and we even saw an intricate working grandfather clock for sale on one visit.

Unique Bargaining

I know this is a little voyeuristic of me, but I find it fascinating to speak with the inmates. I also find it really great that they have this opportunity a few times a year to spend quality time with their families and friends who visit. Many of the prisoners mill about amongst all the paying customers, hanging out by their goods in case anyone wants to purchase something. And then you walk into the covered area of the fair and see long lines of fence. Inmates are on the other side of the fence, open to bargaining with you. I couldn’t help but wonder if these men had done most atrocious acts and couldn’t be amongst everyone else. It’s pretty intimidating. Bobby was bold enough to ask flat out why some inmates had to stay behind a fence. The man he asked said, “Well, most people here are guilty of bad things like murder, but a lot of us are not guilty, like me. Wrongfully accused. The guys behind the fence are new or got in trouble so they haven’t gained the trust to come out here.” So, there you have it.

The Rodeo!

And now for the main event – the rodeo! If you’ve never been to a rodeo before, then you need to see it for yourself. If you have been, this one has some fun tricks up its sleeve that you don’t want to miss. There are monkeys that ride on dogs! There are amazing horseback stunts! There are bull games where inmates compete to be the last one sitting at a poker table with a bull charging at them! It’s fun and silly and outrageous and entertaining. We like to sit right up in the dirt around the perimeter of the ring, where usually little kids have seats. That way you can really feel a part of the action and get some dirt on your cowboy boots.


The Scenery

After our first rodeo, we hung behind in the parking field so we would miss all the traffic leaving. We eventually got kicked out by a guard on a four-wheeler, but before that happened we enjoyed sitting in the grass, watching the cows in the distance. That’s when we took these cute photos. Then, after leaving in our car, we followed a sign on the side of the road that said “Waterfalls”. I’m happy we did this, because it led us to a wooded trail that did indeed have lovely waterfalls. I’d like to pack some hiking clothes next time so we can spend longer exploring the forest. There were also some farm animals on the road to the trailhead. Awesome.

Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls Angola Rodeo and Waterfalls
Tickets for the Angola Rodeo are on sale now for each Sunday in October. They also hold the event one weekend in April each year. We hope to see you there!

 

 

 

Why I Love Being a Fire Wife

Why I Love Being a Fire Wife

I’ve read many a blog post and article, and even one self-help book (ain’t no shame in it!) about the struggles of being in a relationship with a firefighter. After all, firefighting is consistently in the top careers with highest stress, and stress can really affect a marriage. I’m even part of a Facebook group about helping fire families with all the struggles they face.

Despite all this, there are many positive aspects to loving a firefighter. I am going to keep it on the positive and share with you why I love being married to mine. Here are some of the struggles on fire marriages, flipped around to see the positive side.

The Alternative Schedule

Different cities have different schedules for their fire department. In New Orleans, they work 24 hours and then are off for 48 hours. When I worked full time on a regular 9 to 5 schedule, this could be very frustrating. He would be off during the week when I had to be in the office, and then we would barely have time together on the weekend while we were both off. And a lot of times, he would get overtime to work an extra weekend day, so we’d go weeks without a full day and night together. But there is a flipside. Now that I also have an alternative work schedule, we can enjoy weekdays together when we are both off. If we decide to go on a two day trip or do some outing in our city, the prices are lower to stay overnight and restaurants and downtown areas are less crowded.

The best part about the fire family schedule is mutuals. Mutuals are, in my simple way of understanding them, when firefighters trade work days with each other so they can take off on days that are more convenient for them and then make up for it later. This means that if an important event is coming up, it’s possible that my firefighter can get the day off for it (and then work an extra day sometime later).

Time Apart

Although I treasure our time together, every couple needs some time apart. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved my alone time. I loved to pretend and play alone for hours in my bedroom. As I got older, I continued loving my alone time to recharge, work on creative personal projects, or just veg out watching my guilty pleasure shows or taking long baths. Most married couples have their usual routine of coming home after work and spending the evening and night together. I actually like that every third night I can have my “me” time after I put the baby to bed. I open up my coconut La Croix and watch some old episodes of Dance Moms. Party time.

The Firefighter 

The best piece of relationship advice I ever received was this: Remember what made you fall in love with your spouse in the first place. Those same qualities will end up driving you crazy, so you need to remind yourself that you love them. Okay, I did not put that eloquently at all. But let’s say, for example, you love that your boyfriend is always on time and very responsible. Years go by, you get married, and he freaks out on you when you are getting ready for a social gathering because he fears you might be two minutes late. You get frustrated. But guess what? This is what you loved about him, so remind yourself of that and see the greatness of it again.

I say all that because most firemen have a wonderful innate quality of wanting to help others. It’s easy to fall in love with that personality trait. It’s so noble and romantic and brave. Until you are deep in love and can’t sleep at night while your significant other is on shift because you fear he/she is putting their life in danger for complete strangers. You need them to come home to you the next day, can’t they see that?

Of course they do. And your family is their number one priority. If your firefighter will put their life on the line for strangers, imagine what they would do for you and your children. And if your firefighter is like mine, he’ll help people without a second thought outside of work as well. Any time someone looks distressed on the side of the road, we are the first car to pull over. My husband is so selfless that he will take time out of whatever he has going on to help someone who is hurt or in need in any way. He doesn’t expect anything in return and has no ulterior motives behind helping. He’s just a good person. And that makes me incredibly proud. It also pushes me to try to be more like him in that way.

The All-Encompassing Lifestyle

Firefighting is more than a career. It often is the major part of a firefighter’s identity and also social life. Although my husband and I are homebodies and not big on night-life, others spend all their work time and then their social time with their coworkers. It might feel limiting and closed off, but it’s also a really wonderful thing. Your fire department compatriots truly become like a family. Even as uninvolved as we can be in the fire social scene, we still call many other firefighters and their wives our good friends. I feel very blessed that some of the fire wives I know became pregnant around the same time as me. Our friendships have blossomed a lot more from the shared experience of becoming mothers. I feel comforted, especially since I live far from any other family, to know that my kid(s) will have these built-in family friends to spend time with and feel safe around as they grow up. I also know my husband needs his coworkers as friends. Who else could understand what they see and go through day in and day out at work? It’s hard for him to openly talk about his job with people outside of the profession, and I’m sure it’s good for him to have people to vent to and joke around with that “get” it.

I imagine the lifestyles of military and police families are somewhat similar to the firefighter one. I pray that all of these families will stay strong, stay close, and see the positives through all the stress.

 

Free Fun: Food Truck Thursdays in Mount Pleasant, SC

Free Fun: Food Truck Thursdays in Mount Pleasant, SC

Free fun alert!

Last week, while visiting my parents in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, I went to the first Food Truck Thursday of the summer in the lovely I’on neighborhood.

This idyllic – almost freakishly so – neighborhood has gorgeous houses, a town center with restaurants and shops, and plenty of green space. There is a wonderful tennis and swim club in the planned community, and you see kids on bikes and families in golf carts driving to it and the shops all day long.

We hopped on the golf cart bandwagon and drove a borrowed one to the big lawn where the event was held.

Baby A in golf cart

There were already lots of chairs, umbrellas, and blankets set up when we arrived. A band of youngsters, probably in the early years of college, were playing rock and alternative cover music. I was pretty excited to hear some 311 and Sublime. Baby A totally loved that music, too, as he could not stop bouncing and doing his cute little baby dances!

There were a lot of families out here for this chill night. Now, I stay positive on this blog, but I just have to say that one thing I don’t like about this amazing neighborhood is the lack of diversity. It was very striking to my husband and I. It really seemed like him and our baby were the only non-white people around. But that’s some social commentary and issues for another blog.

Food Trucks Thursday

Anyhow, we set up our blanket and chairs and popped open some bottles of wine. We didn’t realize that you need to get on the food truck lines early, however. I suggest you get there right on time and hop on that line if you want to eat anything from the trucks. Of course, you can bring your own food, too, but the food trucks had really interesting options. One was a lobster truck with a ton of variations of ways to eat lobster, and the other was the same but with pork. By the time we got on the long line towards the end of the event, most of the food items were sold out and we were so hungry that we had already called to order a pizza to bring home.

Lawn Chairs in I'on

The lovely spring weather and being outside with loved ones and new friends made the night really special though. And the band was really good! It was nice to have some fun live music without being cramped in a bar with no kids allowed, or at a music festival that’s overrun with scantily clad youth on Molly. Oh gosh I am such an old fogey!

Uncle Taylor's Hat

Baby A in big hat

So if you’re in Mount Pleasant or Charleston on a Thursday this summer, get some fresh air and chill tunes and head out to the I’on Food Truck Night!

First Birthday Doljanchi and Doljabi

First Birthday Doljanchi and Doljabi

As you read about in my last post, we recently threw our baby’s first birthday party at the beach. While it was tons of fun to plan all of the beach-themed food, decor, and entertainment, the most special part of his celebration was the injection […]

A First Birthday Beach Party

A First Birthday Beach Party

Since my family was already gathering for our annual beach trip to Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina, we decided to celebrate Baby A’s Birthday a few weeks early so everyone could attend. It also turned out that my best friends from NY could come as could […]