Steph’s favorite things 2012

Did you catch Oprah’s favorite things Sunday evening on OWN? Even though she’s done with the talk show gig, she’s decided to keep the tradition of her favorite things show. This year her recipients were all military families, which made for a tear-jerker of an episode. I’m sure they’ll replay it throughout the holiday season, so check your local listings! I love this time of year. Tis’ the season of togetherness, love, friendship and giving. I believe in a good balance of gift giving and receiving, cooking and eating, and savoring every moment the season brings.

There are so many people who I care about that I love to shop for. One of my favorite parts of gift giving is watching them tear open the paper and enjoy that first look. Although I love gift-giving, I don’t believe a holiday gift needs to be expensive or extravagant. The part of shopping for my loved ones that I enjoy the most is choosing something meaningful and special that fit their personalities. Giving shouldn’t be about breaking the bank, even if black Friday commercials tell us otherwise. Homemade gifts like herb infused oils, baked goods, or handmade crafts can light up someone’s day. Check out my Pinterest board showcasing some of my favorite homemade gifts.

My motto is most definitely “it’s the thought that counts“. I thought it would be fun to do my own rendition of Oprah’s Favorite Things by sharing some of MY favorite things this year. If you’re looking for a gift for someone like me (foodie + outdoor enthusiast), you may find some inspiration for your own shopping adventures!

(I think this list could also double as my own Dear Santa wish list, but I won’t advertise that). ๐Ÿ˜‰ ๐Ÿ˜‰

How great is this hairdryer caddy? It hangs right on your towel rack and neatly keeps everything at arm’s reach. I’m a HUGE fan of these Croc flip flops. They’re so comfortable and I literally wear them everywhere. This style comes in all colors, but I love this new camel/brown combination! One of my favorite color combinations is orange and navy blue. I just love this bedding set from Target. Have a baker in your life? These are my favorite tried and true Airbake cookie sheets. Nothing is better! I must have these reusable grocery bags in my life. Probably the most awesome idea I’ve ever seen. No need for disposable bags! These nesting bowls are great for mixing, prepping or serving just about anything. As a baker, I love my KitchenAid mixer. This scraper attachment would be a great accessory to add to anyone’s collection! I’m a big fan of crockpot cooking. When I saw this triple crockpot, I knew it would make a great gift in anyone’s kitchen! I saw these cell phone wall charger holders a long time ago, and have yet to buy myself one. This is a must-have! (PS- This particular Etsy user has them in a variety of patterns and colors! I’m a sucker for quirky kitchen tools, so when I saw these paring knives, I knew they would have to be on my favorite things list! A friend of mine bought these blue tooth wireless earphones a while back and they’re definitely a great gift for the runner in your life! I’ve been on the lookout for a handheld water bottle and it seems like this one has been a highly suggested one out in in the blog world. I love that it comes in so many colors! It took me a while to find a great pair of running socks. These Asics are so comfortable, dry-wicking and have a back cushion preventing them from sliding down! I’ve been in the market for a Garmin watch to use for running. I’ve heard rave reviews about this cute little forerunner. It’s comes in pink, green (my favorite) and black and it’s the most reasonably priced of all the forerunners. Do you have any quirky, interesting, creative or fun gift ideas that won’t empty your piggy bank? Do share! Steph ๐Ÿ™‚


Giving back to your community

With Thanksgiving just a couple of days away, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to give back.

People are always asking me about how I’ve gotten involved forming teams for local 5ks and such. Truth is, it’s super easy to form a team for most charity races and fund raise as a group. All you need is a team captain who is willing to recruit members and spread the word (social media!). It’s amazing to think that Team Judy has raised over $2,500 in the past 6 months, and cannot wait to see what we will accomplish in the future!

So with all this giving in mind, here are 10 ways YOU can get involved and give back to your family, friends or community.

1. Support local businesses. Visit your local farmer’s markets, craft fairs or specialty shops and invest in your community.

2. Donate your gently used, clothing to organizations like The Spring or League of Mercy.

3. Volunteer at a local soup kitchen. See people who are just happy to have a full stomach. You can offer to serve, prepare or donate food items.

4. Become a mentor by volunteering with Big Brothers and Big Sisters.

5. Give blood. There always seems to be a greater need for blood around the holidays.

6. Offer to help out a friend and their busy family by grocery shopping, babysitting or running errands for them.

7. Volunteer at a local underprivileged school tutoring students, helping teachers or organizing projects (like cleanups and fundraisers).

8. Lend a hand at your local animal shelter. Donate towels or blankets, food, walk dogs or help with clean up.

9. Spend time at a senior center or hospice. Some don’t have families nor friends that visit. A little companionship goes a long way.

10. Write a letter or send a card or care package to a soldier overseas. Check out this site for a list or organizations to help with this.

How do you give back to your community, family or friends? Please share! ๐Ÿ™‚


Keeping traditions alive

It’s the most wonderful time, of the yearrrrrrrrrr.No seriously. It is. I’m the kind of person that will not TOUCH a single speck of Christmas until turkey is digesting in my belly. I’m all about the food, the togetherness and the lack of presents. It’s a holiday that brings people together before the craziness that December brings and gives you an opportunity to just be with family and friends (and enjoy good food, of course). ๐Ÿ˜‰

I LOVE Thanksgiving!

I knew there would be major milestones to overcome the first year without my mother. I survived Mother’s day, my birthday, my kid brother’s birthday, Halloween and her birthday. I considered all of those events to be practice ones for the major upcoming holidays.

I wasn’t exactly sure how I was going to celebrate and remember my mother over the next couple of months. At one point, I almost told myself I would just skip it all, but I knew that wasn’t the right decision. My mom LOVED the holidays; especially Thanksgiving. She had a tried and true favorite turkey recipe and we would get up in the wee hours of the morning to prep and get the birds in the ovens (yes, we usually made two and filled her double ovens with all that gobble-y goodness. When my grandmother passed away in 2005, we knew we’d keep her spirit bright by continuing to make her delicious sausage and sage stuffing. I knew my mother would not want me to skip Thanksgiving. I know she would want me to cook in her honor. Mr. KKM’s family is cooking this year, so we would be going over there to celebrate with them. I had decided that I would go through the motions and prepare a small bird and a dish of Abuelamom’s stuffing for the two of us and my brother and dad at our house, just as a way of keeping my mom’s favorite recipes alive.

Friday morning I got a phone call from my cousin Glenn telling us that he wanted to get as much family together for a Thanksgiving dinner. He purchased a lake house a while back, making it a great location for any kind of get together. He said that his girlfriend and I could divide the cooking and that anyone else that wants to come could bring a covered dish. I didn’t hesitate. I knew that this was important to him, and that it was his attempt at bringing us all together. My mom was always so good at that, and although I try, I’m nowhere near as good at it. Of course, I told Glenn that I would cook the turkey and stuffing, using those same traditional recipes from Thanksgivings past. Suddenly, I had real Thanksgiving plans.

So today I decided to go do some shopping and figure out what I needed for Thursday. I dropped Mr. KKM off at his brother’s house for a day of football (yes, I’m totally an NFL widow), and swung by the new Whole Foods Carrollwood for a quick jaunt. I saw this friendly face as soon as I walked through the door…

It’s Anna! She has been SO busy these past few weeks with the grand opening of the store, and Thanksgiving orders. She’s been a trooper though, and has done SUCH an awesome job making the new store feel welcoming and a fun place to be! We chatted a while, then she got some customers so I decided to peruse around and see what was on sale. I wasn’t planning on buying a turkey that day, but at $2.09/lb for a free range, antibiotic free turkey, with a $10 off coupon, I couldn’t resist!

I also purchased the ingredients to go with the turkey recipe I mentioned above. My mother was a big Barefoot Contessa fan and swore by her perfect roast turkey recipe. It’s DELICIOUS. Moist, flavorful and amazingly simple to prepare. If you’re looking for a new go-to turkey recipe, you have got to give Ina’s a shot!

Walking around the market collecting all of the Thanksgiving necessities wasn’t easy. In fact, I felt very alone knowing that I was the one that was in charge of making my mom’s turkey this year. She wouldn’t be around to clean it and prep it. We wouldn’t be going to the local party store to but pans and supplies. She wouldn’t be up basting it. We wouldn’t have Cuban coffee and crackers in the morning while we watched it brown. I felt very overwhelmed with the whole thing as it would be the first time doing this all on my own. However, I know my mom would be in my own kitchen with me in spirit.

I have so much to be thankful for this year. I have 32 years of memories of my mother. I have the most amazing boyfriend who loves me for me. I have a great network of family, friends, bloggers and co-workers who are supportive and positive influences in my life. I have a job that I look forward to doing each and every day. I have a beautiful home that I share with the man I love (and a pup and two cats) and I have my health. I’m strong, and working on becoming stronger. Although I miss my mom terribly, I can’t forget and overlook all the good that is going on in my life, and if she can see me, I know that she would be thankful for that.

What family Thanksgiving traditions do you hold dear to your heart?


Judy’s tales: Spring break break

My mother was SO clumsy.

Oh, no. It wasn’t alcohol induced either. She was a natural.

So many times we’d see her tripping, falling or tumbling down something. I mean, remember the first installment of Judy’s tales?

Here’s a poem I wrote way back in once upon a time time after my mom broke her ankle, just 30 minutes into a weekend camping trip. Obviously the trip got cut short, as it was a pretty rough break, but of course, I had to document the event to lighten up the mood my mom was dealing with at the time. She got the biggest laugh out of this!

Twasโ€™ The First Night of Spring Break
Twas’ the first night of Spring Break,
As we headed up to camp,
We were all driving fast,
Up the Tillis Hills’ Ramp.

The rain was falling lightly,
As we set up at our site,
Hooked up hoses, opened chairs,
Ready for a weekend of delight.

When what should our wandering eyes and ears here,
But a very noisy Judy falling down onto her rear.

She tumbled and she fumbled,
Right down the camper steps,
Broke her ankle in a few places,
It was her worst accident yet.

“Aye Dios Mio!” yelled Abuelita,
“What the HELL!” screamed my dad.
We ran down the stairs to see,
If it really was that bad.

She had twisted, she had turned,
Got her poor foot mighty stuck,
From the looks of the situation,
We all knew my mom wasโ€ฆ not good.

When the ambulance arrived,
They put her on the stretcher bed,
The yelling and the crying,
Was a sound of dread.

At the hospital they twisted,
At the hospital they turned,
As they adjusted the bad ankle,
Our minds filled with great concerns.

Our camping trip was shortened,
Because my mother’s horrid fate,
We drove home the next morning,
Broken ankle and a dislocate.

The next day brought more hospitals,
More doctors and waiting rooms,
Not enough medicine was given,
To remove that feeling of “doom”

No more jet skis, No more Wal-mart,
Mom was the image of despair,
But even cast to her knee,
She got compliments on her hair.

Spring Break was spent delivering,
Ice cream, cokes and Krispy Kreme,
Even though the bones were broken,
Mom’s appetite was non unseen.

Nights and nights were restless spent,
Mom could get not much relief,
Tossing, turning, crying, aching,
Getting help to go pee pee.

Days and days my mother waited,
Until surgery day came,
They added plates, and lots of screws,
Terminatorโ€ฆ a new nickname.

So now my mother waits patiently,
With casts and screws and boots,
She rolls around the house,
You better move when she’s en route!

If she does her weekly therapy,
And follows doctor’s rules,
She’ll be running around at Wal-Mart,
Before the start of next year’s school.

Until then well count the days,
Until mom can dance and twirl,
We all know she’s just not normal,
Unless her feet are in a whirl.

The end.


Happy Birthday, Mom

Today is my mom’s birthday. She would have been 58 years old.

The summer before my mom passed away, we spent a week renting a beach house. She loved the beach. Out of all the places in the world, the sand and the shore were her second home. My mom would share stories of renting old shacks with my grandparents at Indian Rocks Beach, just a little west of Tampa. I was fortunate enough to create similar memories growing up with my cousins at those same beach shacks year after year. My mother adored the water, and even if no one else was swimming, she would be. We’d bob in the Gulf for hours day in and day out, until nothing but tan lines and pruned toes defined us. Even as an adult we kept these traditions alive, renting beach houses or taking the RV down to Turtle Beach for a week of beachfront camping. Salt water ran through my mother’s veins. She loved fishing, she was SCUBA certified, and would even be out there with the big guys trolling for lobsters in the Keys. Florida living was in my mother’s soul.

That last summer together, my mom sat under the canopy by the shore watching the sunset. She had finished her chemotherapy, was about to undergo a double mastectomy, and was in the middle of radiation, yet she’d wrap herself up, throw on her bandana and enjoy a few minutes of the fading sun each evening. We’d talk about the good ol’ days of vacationing on Indian Rocks and reminisce about years past when my cousin Ryan and I were babies, playing on the shore. She loved that beach. It’s bursting at the seams with memories. And it was then that she told me about her final wishes.

Everyday, with every breath of my being, I honor and remember my mother. It’s the true spirit of Team Judy, and I will continue to rally our team toward great things. My mom would be proud of us.

Today, on a cool November morning, my father, brother and I honored her memory and her request.

Indian Rocks beach was empty. Just a few walkers and shell combers here and there. As I walked closer to the shore, I could feel my mother there with us.

There were thousands upon thousands of shells all up and down the shoreline. The salty breeze blew our hair and the sun rose behind us.

We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful morning.

We stood on the shore and placed Mom on the water’s edge. Within seconds a gentle wave embraced her and carried her into the sea, leaving a heart behind.

With each wave, thin pearl-colored threads of mom would gracefully glide into the blue-green water.

The three of us watched in silence until the very last fleck of dust could no longer be seen, and all that was left behind was sand and shells.

We said our goodbyes to Mom, and as my father and brother walked back to their car, I decided to stay for a while. I wasn’t ready to leave. I sat and watched the waves for a long time, thinking about my mother, and recalling so many vibrant memories of those beach vacations. I yearned for just one more weekend. Just one more second. I could hear her voice with each wave. I could hear her talking about what she was planning to cook out for dinner, or if she’d rather walk across the street for a slice of Pajano’s Pizza. I could see her black sunglasses sitting on top of her head as she avoided “raccoon eyes”. I could see her running up and down the beach with my brother, chasing ghost crabs with flashlights. I could smell her suntan lotion and her perfume.

I know each time I visit this site, my mother will be there. She’s in sand, she’s in the water. She’s in the sea breeze caressing the sea oats. She’ll be lapping at my toes as I walk along the shore, and embracing me each time I swim. My mother is now a part of what she loved most, and I know she’ll be happy dancing among the starfish, reliving those childhood memories with her own mother. And because we shared that love, I’ll be visiting her often.

Before I left, I collected a few mementos to remember the day. If my mom was a part of the beach now, then I wanted some to take home. And I as walked back to my car, I noticed something on the boardwalk’s railing I hadn’t noticed before.

I understood this as a sign of my mother’s presence, acknowledging my seashell gesture.

Happy Birthday Mom. Although our hearts ache, I hope you only look down on us and see the good that is happening. I miss you terribly. Life isn’t the same. But with each day I learn to cope a little easier, with friends and family there to help me keep your memory alive. Please keep visiting me in my dreams. I don’t ever want to forget your voice. I wish you were here to celebrate your birthday, and the holidays to come. I don’t know how I will get through them, but just like today, I will find new traditions and ways to remember the amazing 32 years of life I got to spend with you.

Your daughter,

The space between your heart and mine is the space we fill with time. -Dave Matthews