Oh, Jamaica…

We awoke Wednesday morning to the boat rocking heavily and the windows being pelted with a bit of rain. The wind was intensely whipping about the balcony as well. The sky was a little angry but it all faded quickly and the sun came out from behind the clouds.

We ventured off of the boat and chatted with a few people but didn’t love the tours being offered just yet. We wandered outside of the port and started chatting with a man about what our goals were for the day. We ended up meeting a man named Dwight and having him show us the island.

We rode through a bit of the rainforest, traveled up the mountains and saw the spectacular views looking out over the ocean. Stopping to smell the leaves of different plants (all spice and lemongrass grow freely!), we also learned about the different fruit trees growing around the island. We stopped by the local Dunn River Falls and peeked at the water cascading over the rocks.

Next, we headed to Bamboo Blu beach and set up – Jacob couldn’t get into the water fast enough! It was that beautiful, crystal blue again and our sweet boy couldn’t wait to run into the small waves.

Joe & I left Jacob to play in the waves for a bit while we went on an adventure. It’s something that I put on my list of things to do before turning 30 but never actually did. It’s something I’ve seen pictures of and thought – someday I will! Well, today was that day. Joe & I went horseback riding. 

I remember a week long trip in Girl Scouts when I was young. We went to a farm of sorts and one of the activities that we did a few times throughout the week was horseback riding. I remember feeling as if I was high off of the ground and a little afraid of the height but truly enjoying the experience. 

Dwight took us to two local guys just up the road from the beach. We received a great price for the hour that we wanted to ride. We hopped on our horses, Crystal and Cindy, and I had a moment of panic when she first started moving.

What are you thinking?! This is so high! What if you fall off?!

But I swallowed those fears, put on a big smile and braced the moment. I will do this! So off we went.

Joe & I traveled up the mountains through the town where the locals live, saw goats – young and old – eating the tall grass, saw a community garden where anyone can grab fresh fruits or vegetables for their meal, they simply need to replace it with a seed or two and Joe even picked me a bright pink hibiscus. Our guides told us stories about the town and shared the different things they do to keep busy. At the top, we saw the breathtaking view of the water below. We headed down the mountain through the town and into the some of the wooded area by the beach. We learned about the trees that only grow in the shade and I may have bumped my head on a few branches along the way, despite the warning of doing just that.

Eventually the trees opened up to show the dazzling blue waves of the ocean. Our guides stood back while Joe & I rode our horses into the water. It was clear that Crystal & Cindy love the water as much as we do. They trotted through the waves, the water lapping up over our thighs. They stopped to play in the water, flicking it up over their heads and onto us. I don’t think the smile came off either of us the entire time.

After riding in the water a bit and learning about local fishing, we headed back. I trotted up ahead of Joe & turned around to see him racing up the trail behind me. His grin was from ear to ear. The trip was amazing. It may have only been an hour of our time but the memories are completely priceless.

Dwight brought us back to the beach where Grandma & Grandpa were playing amongst the waves with little man. He wasn’t too interested in chatting with us upon our return, as he had his own ear-to-ear smile from the ocean. I sat with him in the waves, while we picked out the big & little waves and braced ourselves for when the water rushed over us. We said “ew!” at the seaweed floating in from the reef and dug holes in the sand. The hours flew by and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the ship.

Dwight met us and drove us back, telling us more about the town on the way. He was a wonderful tour guide and I would absolutely book him again if we return. (And you should too if you head to Ocho Rios!).

Once on the ship, Jacob took a bath overlooking the water. Despite his shower before leaving the beach, another pound of sand may have come out of his bathing suit. He loved holding the spray shower head over him and “wash my chest and wash my legs and wash by tooshie…”. Seriously, just too cute!

A nap before dinner was needed after such a fabulous day.

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My Daddio

One of my all time favorite memories with my dad is from when I was finishing my last semester at school in Albany and Joe was living in Florida. Though I had spent the summer in Florida, it was hard to leave there and head back to the cold, even if it was only for a semester. 

Joe & his brother Mike visited Albany just a few weekends later. Joe had lived in New York for years before moving back to Florida but it was Mike’s first time. They spent a good bit of their time hanging out on the back porch of my parent’s house. The weather was perfect, a mix of warmth from the sun stealing it’s last few days of summer and the breeze that was refreshing & pulling in the fall…and all its wonderful scents.

One day in particular, Joe & Mike were sitting out back with me and my parents. We were laughing at a story that my dad shared about the Red Ryder BB Gun. He disappeared into the garage and reappeared a moment later, BB gun in hand. For the next few hours – yes – hours!  – my dad, Joe & Mike spent time trying to aim at the various bugs flying about the flowers that surrounded the porch. Though their aim was poor, the memories and laughter were priceless. 

Mike always talked about that day and how fun it was to embrace the moment, my family and New York.

My father is a man who would work the night shift and sleep during the day but would somehow find time to coach his 4 daughters softball games and show up at their cross-country meets.

When I was younger, my dad would return from work in the wee hours of the night and sneak in my room to wake me up. He would help to remove the bar from my feet, carry me to the living room and I would sit with him for an hour or two. We would enjoy a midnight snack and watch episodes of Quantum Leap, an absolute favorite of ours. I would often fall asleep on the couch and he would carry me back to bed.  They are memories that I hold dear in my heart even now.

Happy birthday to the man who helped raise me into the woman that I am today. To the man who showed me how to load the dishwasher, the proper way to set the table (even if I needed to write a report for it!), how to not hide from the ball during softball, how to ride my bike and that it’s ok to cry (I imagine he has a pocket full of them by now!).

I love you, Dad.

Mesmerized…

Joe & I booked a cruise last minute for our honeymoon. Booked just a week or so before it was set to sail, a friend of ours asked what boat we were taking for our first ever cruise. “The Norwegian Epic. Apparently our room has a balcony so that’s cool.” My friend stared at me blankly. She then explained that not only was it in its first year, this ship was also the biggest ship in the Norwegian fleet. Well, then. I suppose we made a good choice!

We have been on a few cruises since then but this was Jacob’s first – and it was only fitting that he joined us on the Epic once again. Joe’s parents joined us too – and memories are already being made!

Jacob was Mr Cool Kid from the start of the morning – complete with sunglasses, his first pair of Sanuk flip-flops & all. After a small tour of the ship and lunch, Jacob took a mini nap so he was ready for the evening.

We were treated to dinner & a show at Cirque du Soliel. Anticipating a large theater, you can imagine our surprise when we walked in to a cozy room and were seated at a table with front row seats. If I moved my head the wrong way, it might have been knocked when the acrobats swung from the ceiling!

To say that Jacob was mesmerized is an understatement. A small fright at the music initially, he sat up in his chair with his jaw dropped the entire time. He barely ate, he was so in awe of the show! He danced to the music, stared in awe of the incredible artists and even gave a high five to our waiter at the end.

It was a remarkable first night of our cruise. After the show, we all sat on the balcony and stared out at the bright moon rising in the sky and the stars twinkling all around the sky. It was perfect.

My baby sister…

I remember being just 7 years old and waking up at 6 am every weekend. My baby sister was just a few months old but her crib was in the room next to me so I heard her cry before anyone else in the house. I’d wake up, walk to her room and open the door to her huge smile. I don’t think there was a better way to wake up.

I’d change her diaper, grab her milk out of the fridge and bring her into the living room. We would snuggle on the couch together and watch Saturday morning cartoons. She would smile brightly and hug me as tight as she could.

Today that baby sister celebrates her 26th birthday. Growing up with 3 sisters, we had our fair share of fights. We were close one minute and not the next…and yet we were always the best of friends.

This sweet girl has been by my side since the day she was born. She visited me in Florida and stayed for a week at a time, she took a leap of faith and moved to Georgia a few years ago to create her own dreams and she has grown into an incredible young woman.

We have met each other for quick trips in Savannah and Myrtle Beach more times than I can count. We have visited each other regularly and won’t leave each other without the next trip planned. Every Thanksgiving for the last 4 years we have spent together. She has jumped in the car to lay by my side in the hospital when I had brain surgery, she drove down to celebrate my double mastectomy with a trip to the beach just 4 days later, she planned a week long vacation to spend with us last year and she traveled down to meet her nephew right after he was born. The miles don’t matter.

We call each other just to say hello, with no agenda in mind. We ask advice of each other regularly, knowing that the other person is listening intently for an idea of what to do. We laugh so hard together that we cry helplessly and breathlessly. I am not afraid to call her crying to vent or with exciting news to share. I was beyond honored to stand by her side on her wedding day. 

We have had a lifetime of memories together…and they are no where near finished. She is one of my very best friends and I am so blessed that God chose her to be my baby sister. 

I love you, Katerdid. Forever and for always. 

The last sunset…

A Facebook memory popped up today. This is not unusual, of course, but they typically involve pictures of Jacob. They always make my heart swell, as he continues to grow so much each day. Today’s reminder was different though and it made me pause.

In 2012, Joe & I spent New Year’s Eve at the beach. We enjoyed dinner, a glass of wine and a walk down the beach at sunset. I have always been anxious to be off the roads early on a night like tonight. The picture was of us, smiling broadly, the beach behind us. The very last sunset of 2012 going down in front of our eyes. 

This year, we unintentionally did the same thing. Jacob woke up with a bit of a cold so we changed our plans. We ventured to the beach, enjoyed appetizers at the same restaurant and visited the beach. The sunset in front of us, closing down on 2016.

The amount of things that have changed in 4 short – or long – years is astounding. The restaurant itself went through a massive renovation and was closed for months last year. It was more of a hole-in-the-wall then than now but still just as good. The ocean has remained constant, with its waves crashing loudly, though I can just imagine what has changed beneath the surface. The sunset is equally as gorgeous and glowed brightly against the blue sky as the sun lowered itself down.

Then there is us. My mom joined us this year, which is the first time in over a decade that I’ve spent this night with her. I’ve gained and lost a few pounds over the years and the lines on my face have deepened with age, stress and tears – of laughter and sadness. I’ve been through many hairstyles – straight, long and bald.

We didn’t have the blessing of Jacob back then and little did we know, a year later I’d be proudly holding my belly as we watched the ball drop…struggling to stay awake.

I started a new job since then. Though the same company that I’ve been with, it has been both rewarding and challenging as I learn new things.

We bought a new-used car and our parents (my inlaws) bought a boat to keep us all busy and enjoy the water.

We have traveled to the Caribbean to celebrate my big sisters 30th birthday, visited Georgia countless times to visit my baby sister and her husband, had multiple trips to my hometown for visits with the people we love and trips around Florida to visit friends and local parks.

Life is relatively the same in terms of where we live and yet it is so very different. It’s hard to imagine life before cancer and even harder to remember life before Jacob. Our routines are so different than they were back then and our priorities are very, uniquely different.

We have made more new friends than we can count and though we lost touch with a few, we all found our way back to each other over the last year.

I have rediscovered my faith in God. Though I never lost in entirely, it has strengthened exponentially and I remain steadfast in my faith and love for our Lord.

Though the sunset is similar, the years between are memorable for so many reasons. Our blessings are unique and huge. We are loved by so many and love hard in return.

As this year comes to a close, remember all the moments – big & small – that you are so incredibly blessed with. This year comes to a brilliant end while 2017 lingers, waiting anxiously in the distance.

Happy New Year, everyone. I hope this year is filled with love, laughter and overwhelmingly wonderful memories. Keep spreading the love, my friends. Now & always.

Making Strides…

Some breast cancer fighters don’t like walks. And that’s ok. Last year when I did the Making Strides walk, I was still fighting this disease and anxious to be cured. This year, I debated on going. I wasn’t sure if I should because they celebrate survivors and I’m not sure how I feel about that. And I debated because I tire easily and it’s a long walk on my feet.

As I thought about it more, I remembered how much I enjoyed the company of fellow fighters, survivors and those who support us because they love us. I remember the tears that I fought back at being surrounded by thousands of people that are there in support of a cure.  And those memories of the people who stood by my side. That’s why I went. To feel pride that I fight to survive every day. And that people near and far support me – in so many ways.

It was an early morning that resulted in us forgetting to bring a stroller. That’s right, we are totally the family with a toddler that forgot a stroller for a 5k. Oops! Thankfully were able to share with Jacob’s BFF from the womb. They both wanted to walk most of the way anyway, so it worked out well! Plus they love copying each other. 😉

It was a wonderful day filled with love and support. Friends traveled to walk by our side and we had the chance to hug friends that we didn’t expect to see. I am so incredibly glad that we went and walked. Though my feet need a serious rest, it was absolutely worth the laughter, fun and memories that were made today.

My weekend…

There has been a lot of travel, a ton of appointments and a bit of overall craziness these past few…weeks? Months? I’m not even sure. I can’t remember the last time I went to the beach just to be. 

Somehow the stars aligned and this weekend was beyond beautiful. We finally had our Florida fall weather and it was an incredible 75ish degrees outside as the high! Windows open? Oh, most definitely! 

Yesterday we spent the day with our dear friends and Jacob’s BFF from the womb (who is only a week away in age!). We ventured back to the pumpkin patch we visited together last year and my goodness, what a difference a year makes! The boys ran wild of course but had such a blast. They went to the petting zoo, checked out all of the pumpkins (seriously, I think they touched each one), and of course (Mom’s favorite) the hayride. It was gorgeous outside and such a blast!

Next up, we traveled back to the Choo-Choo train we rode in July and did a special ride that included a pumpkin patch visit. The boys adored the train and had fun running around the (relatively small but perfect for them) pumpkin patch. They had tons of energy (thanks to Jacob’s first Halloween cookie) and used most of it up in the playground afterwards. I am not entirely sure how that many laughs, that much fun and so many memories are allowed in just one day!

Then today. Jacob has been asking for the beach every single day this past week so we knew it was a must – it wasn’t just me getting antsy for a beach day! We enjoyed an awesome lunch with amazing company at one of our favorite places overlooking the beach. Somehow I forgot to take a picture with my in laws and Uncle Tyler. Jacob had so much fun with them and running away from the waves.

After they left for home, we drove down the beach for a bit. It wasn’t packed at all, which was super exciting for us. Though windy, the sun was shining brightly and the day was ridiculously gorgeous. I walked Jacob around for a while, looking for seashells and sand dollars. We found lots of jellyfish and made sure to stop and check each one out. He loved all the little birdies (tweet tweet!) so when he saw a big white bird, he wanted to stop and check it out (oohhhh!). This age is amazing to me. This little man loves to explore & learn and I am not quite sure who enjoys it more…Jacob learning about the world or Momma teaching him about it. It might just be one of the very best feelings ever. Especially when I get to share my own stories with him while teaching. ❤

Eventually he fell asleep, literally trying to hold his head up while his eyes were closing, my poor sweet boy – so tired!  While he slept, Joe & I enjoyed the ocean and each other. The smell, the sounds, the birds grabbing fish out of the ocean right in front of us…perfection. Just being there is calming and relaxing, especially on a day like today.

(Yes, little man totally stole my hat and wore it all day today!)

This weekend was perfect. It was exactly what I needed. A chance to enjoy this beautiful weather, make memories with family and friends and just…be. True perfection. 

Here’s to a fabulous week ahead! 💚