Merry Christmas!

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After moving to Florida, Christmas was always an odd time of year for me. I was used to the cold weather and my own family traditions from upstate New York, so the first few years were tough. I missed my sister snuggles and the yearly attempt my parents made at pop over perfection (the struggle was real!).

One year, Joe & I were talking about what to do Christmas Day. We had tried spending Christmas Day at home but it felt a little off because it was just the two of us and the weather was warm. That’s when it hit me.

We need to embrace Christmas in Florida. Instead of trying to make it feel like the Christmas I had in New York, we needed to create the Christmas we want here in Florida. Seems simple, right?

That year, we headed towards our favorite restaurant near the beach, only to find out it was closed Christmas Day (oops). Hungry and disappointed, we started driving again and passed a restaurant that we had talked about trying before. We pulled in and grabbed a table. We enjoyed a really nice meal with a wonderful waitress but it just didn’t feel right. It wasn’t quite the Christmas that I was looking for and I felt bad eating out on a day that everyone should be with their families.

After our meal, we headed towards the beach to spend the afternoon. As we sat staring at the ocean, I realized that this was exactly what I was looking for in my search. What’s more Florida than Christmas at the beach?!

And our tradition was born.  For the last five years, we have headed to the beach on Christmas Day. We grab a picnic table or two, Joe heats up the grill and we sit enjoying the ocean air while cooking chicken wings, potatoes and a yummy veggie. Some years we spot Santa handing out candy canes while walking in the sand, while other years there are barely any people around the beach at all. It’s become our “thing” and I love it more and more every year.

Last year, Jacob joined us for his first Christmas Day beach trip and this year our friends joined us as well. Though this was the warmest year yet, it was still filled with fun and laughter.

Though Christmas in Florida is not filled with snowmen or hot cocoa, it is filled with a sandman or two and love. And that, my friends, is what makes this holiday so wonderful. I hope your holiday was magical, no matter what traditions you have.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Whew, I’m back!

Sorry to disappear for a bit, friends. It was a rough week.  I was sick with bronchitis and an upper respiratory infection and then poor little man came down with bronchitis and pneumonia. Talk about scary! I’ve never seen his fever so high and it took days to go away, even with antibiotics. We canceled all our plans while we recovered and thankfully we are both feeling more like ourselves now.

This week, we are taking time to focus on our family by enjoying much needed time together. We are excited for Santa to visit little man and to spend time with family and friends, enjoying the moments together that make this life so wonderful.

I hope you all have lots of family time planned for this week. It’s easy to get caught up in the hussle and bustle of the holiday season but I am learning throughout this experience that the chores and the to-do list will still be there tomorrow. It’s the time together, spent with loved ones, that truly matters.

Have a wonderful week everyone!

The Sand Dollar

Beach day 121215Five or six years ago, about this time of year, Joe & I had lunch at our favorite spot on the Canaveral National Seashore and then headed over to New Smyrna Beach (NSB). Walking the coast had quickly become one of our favorite weekend activities and my newest obsession at the time was finding a full sand dollar on the beach. We always see pieces of sand dollars washing up on the shore but I had never actually found a full sand dollar.

This particular day we had been walking for a few hours and I kept finding piece after piece of sand dollars but nothing more. As we headed back towards our car, Joe called for me to walk closer to where he was, away from the waterline where the waves were crashing. I made my way towards him, my feet kicking up the sand as I walked. He reached out for my hand and as I held it he pulled me towards the piles of seaweed that had washed up during the last high tide. After a few steps, I noticed a light gray shape sticking out amongst the dark green weeds. I reached down and picked it up, cradling the gentle shape in my hands. It was perfect – round with five dark ovals around the center and a small barnacle attached at the top. I found it! My first perfect sand dollar. Thanks to my husband.

I’ve been searching for another ever since. With the exception of a baby sand dollar we found while on a cruise a few years ago (and left alone), I have yet to find another full sand dollar. Each time we travel to the beach, I search the waves for a sand dollar floating about.

We spent today at NSB. It’s my nadir period, so we decided to head to the beach and soak in the sand, the sea and the sun. My happy place – the beach is good for the soul.

As my husband hooked up his fishing pole, I told Jacob about his parents’ walk on the beach years ago. I shared my excitement about finding this sand dollar and explained that I’ve been looking for another ever since. Jacob and I decided to spend the day looking for our own perfect sand dollars.

Within just a few minutes of starting our search, a sand dollar floated in on the waves, caught in the small pond that formed. I reached down and picked it up from where it was floating in the water. I handed it to Jacob excitedly. He held it in his little hands and yelled “Dada!” excited to share our find with him.

We found a sand dollar! We set the sand dollar near our chairs and then Jacob & I continued playing in the surf. We walked where the water met the sand, picking up shell after shell to explore. We even found a jelly fish float up, wiggling its tentacles about as it tried to make its way back to the ocean.

As we walked back to where Dad was fishing, Jacob’s little hand in mine, the waves crashed again and a round, gray form caught my eye. As it floated freely in the surf, I reached down and picked it out of the cool ocean water. Another perfect sand dollar.

My excitement spilled over to Jacob and we both excitedly ran up to Dad to show him our find. He smiled brightly. What are the chances?!

I’ve decided our little man is good luck. Today has proven that.

*No sand dollars were harmed in the making of this post. All sand dollars were dead when found, also known as “tests”.

The Love Jar Project

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They are complete! Although simple in their design, I hope that they will have a positive impact on the lives of those who take them.

Joe & I were not alone in this creation -they are made by Team Red Phoenix! The jars and fabric were both donated and my amazingly artistic friend painted the Red Phoenix symbol on them (which she created). She switched the ribbon out for other types of cancer too!  Even the stickers were bought with money donated just for these jars.

Each Love Jar is filled with sheets of folded paper.  Every piece of paper has a sentence or two that is meant to inspire positivity and hope.  Joe and I cut each saying, folded it and tucked it into the jar for someone to enjoy.

I am thrilled that one was taken almost immediately! I cannot wait to see how long it takes before I need to make more. I just love that they have the potential to brighten someone’s day, when they may need a smile.

If you are reading this and have one of the Love Jars – YAY!! Welcome!  Please share your thoughts on what it is like to have one. I would love to hear from you!

Spread the love, my friends!

A great day to be alive!

Some days I wake up with a song in my heart.  Today’s song is “It’s a great day to be alive”.  This song has always made me smile and I have lots to smile about today.

-Treatment number 5 has begun! While this week was a little crazy, I am glad to be here today. I have made it to the 5th treatment, something that seemed so far away in August.  The fact that I am here today means that I am almost done with this part of the journey!

-Tomorrow brings two of my sisters and one of my nephews! Yay! Although it isn’t a carefree weekend of festivities, it is time with my family to laugh and smile.  That, in itself, makes me feel better.

-I’m going to beat this. My best friend messaged me yesterday and told me that this treatment is going to be one of the hardest because it is going to be the one that takes over the cancer and kills it off, making progress on this tumor & lymph nodes. Ya know what? I believe her. And with all of the people supporting me this weekend, even if it is the hardest one, I know I’ll get through it.

-I dropped off the Love Jars today!!! It took a little longer than I anticipated but I was so excited to drop them off this morning. Everyone loves them and within 30 minutes, someone had already taken one. Yay!  I hope it brightens someone’s  day the way it brightens mine.  I’ll post pictures later!

-At the end of this year, I’ll be able to ring the bell to indicate that I am done with this portion of treatment! Just typing those words brings tears to my eyes!  How awesome is that?!

-Did I mention I won’t be sick on Christmas? My 6th treatment will be the Monday after, which means I should feel good that day!

So today, my friends, is indeed a great day to be alive! Enjoy this beautiful day  and hug someone you love for me today.

New traditions

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Over the years, Thanksgiving has taken on many different forms.  When I was a child, my family would sometimes spend the weekend in Rhode Island & Connecticut with my father’s side of the family. All of the cousins would stay up late the night before, sharing stories and giggles. We would sleep in on Thanksgiving morning and wake up just in time for appetizers at noon. The adults would sit at the main table and the kids would have their own table or two.  We would eat all day, having second and even third dinner, with naps & snuggles on the couch in between.

Other years, my family would spend the day with my mother’s side of the family. We would all gather at my grandparents house for dinner promptly at noon. There were so many aunts, uncles and cousins that we ate buffet style. We would line up with our plates and serve ourselves heaping helpings of food and then sit wherever we could find the room. Sometimes the table, sometimes the couch and sometimes the stairs going up to the second floor.

The first Thanksgiving after I met Joe, he wasn’t planning on celebrating the day because his family was in Florida. Him and his roommate were going to stay home and order a pizza. I immediately invited them to my grandparent’s house and after a little hesitation, they both agreed. “The Joe’s”, as my uncles called them (something they laughed at for years), were welcomed into my family gathering without question.

After moving to Florida, we spend the first few Thanksgivings at my in-laws, with the exception of the year we bought our house when we hosted for the first time ever.

The last four years though, we have taken on a new tradition that has been named the Brown-Hall-Rivers-Thanksgiving-Extravaganza. It started with my younger sisters coming to spend their first Thanksgiving in Florida with the windows open and wearing tank tops. This first year was also the infamous year that I dropped the freshly baked apple pie that my little sister made for dessert. The following year, we decided to head to Georgia and experience a cooler fall Thanksgiving, where we were able to bundle up and snuggle to keep warm in the chilly air.

Last year, my baby sister and her (now) fiance traveled back to Florida to spend little man’s first Thanksgiving with us. Jacob, despite only eating milk at the time, was the head of the table (something that seems rather fitting!).

This year, we caught an amazing sale on plane tickets early in the year and we are back in the beautiful late fall that Georgia offers. Though, instead of celebrating today, we are waiting until tomorrow so that my soon-to-be brother-in-law can join us. Today, he is in uniform protecting this wonderful city.  Tomorrow ee will join his aunt & uncle, who are kindly hosting us in their home for a feast and celebration.

So today, though we won’t have turkey and fixings, we are thankful. We are thankful for all of the amazing Thanksgivings that we been blessed to have, for the incredible family & friends who love and support us more than we could ever have imagined, for it being a “good” week that allows us the ability to travel and eat well, for this gorgeous fall weather, for each other and for each year that brings a new spin to our Thanksgiving traditions.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Enjoy this beautiful day with loved ones! I’d love to hear what traditions you share!

Pumpkins

Behind their yard, my grandparents grew a vegetable garden. My grandfather would plant rows and rows of all types of vegetables and they grew like weeds, thanks to the love and care that he gave them. I’ve never seen such a massive vegetable garden. My grandfather would send home anyone who visited with a basketful of the freshest vegetables. Toward the end of the vegetable season in New York, he would grow pumpkins.

Every year, a few weeks before Halloween, all of the cousins – dozens and dozens! – would venture over to my grandfather’s house and pick out their absolute favorite pumpkin. The one that would be theirs this year. There were dozens upon dozens of pumpkins to choose from; more than enough for everyone. But there was always that one…the one that we each knew was perfect for us because we were able to pick it out ourselves.

I remember running amongst the rows of pumpkins, determined to find the one that I loved the most. Sometimes it was small and round, other times it was fat and heavy. I would move it around in the dirt to see if it had any imperfections. I would try to lift it and it would take all of my might to pick it up – and it wasn’t even done growing yet! Once I was convinced that I found the perfect pumpkin, the one that was just right for me, I would let my grandfather know. He would pull out his pocket knife and carve my name in it. Not too deep, as to pierce through the pumpkin, but just enough for my name to be visible. Over the next few weeks, the fresh carving would start to heal and the pumpkin would continue to grow with it.

When it was time to start carving our pumpkins for Halloween, my sisters and I would return to the vegetable garden. We would run through the pumpkins once again, past the names of all our cousins etched into the bright orange skin, trying to remember exactly where our perfect pumpkin sat. By this time, our names had become a part of the pumpkin. No longer an open wound but instead a brown scar, healed by time.

Today, we cut open one of the pumpkins from our hayride (late, I know). We scooped out all of the seeds and set them out to dry overnight to bake tomorrow. The other pumpkins? They’ll be placed out on the side of the house to decompose, with the hope of growing new pumpkins next year. Perhaps one that is just right for Jacob’s name.