Give thanks

“To express gratitude is to put into words a beautiful sense of wholeness. Recognizing the people, the experiences, and the extraordinary gifts of life which feed our souls.” 

Life is empty when there is no purpose. Everyday I ask myself what I’d like to accomplish that day to improve some aspect of life. 

Whether it’s a small task, like routine chores to help make our house a home, or a significant task, like giving  my time to improve the lives of others, I try to assign meaning to everything I do. It may not make sense to you, but it’s how I live. 

I know that life can be cut short. Therefore I will continue to live a meaningful life. These day to day experiences make me who I am. They fill my mind with memories and moments that I will cherish until I can no longer remember them, and hopefully make a difference in the lives of those I interact with. 

For the week of Thanksgiving, I got an opportunity to give back to my community in two ways. On Saturday, I rounded my chicas together for an afternoon preparing and cooking dinner for the families currently residing at the Ronald McDonald House. Read more about our experiences volunteering at the House here.


On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, I was invited by Denise, the organizer of The Tampa Bay Bloggers, for a day of giving back at the Metropolitan Ministries Holiday Tent in Tampa. I had never volunteered for MM before, so I was excited to see what it was all about. I was able to bring some guests with me to help out for the 4 hour shift. Volunteering is always, ALWAYS better with friends 😉


The Metropolitan Ministries tent is located at 400 West. Palm Avenue in Tampa (behind Blake High School near the Hillsborough River). It is set up seasonally, to aide families during the holiday season. Additionally, there are donation tents set up in Largo and Holiday. However, MM accepts donations and assists families and individuals in need all throughout the year, not just during the holiday season! Read more about their mission and services here.  


We spent our shift directly working with the clients receiving services at MM. When clients qualify for assistance, they are able to come directly to the holiday tent to “shop”. We acted as personal shoppers for the clients, and it was such a rewarding experience getting to interact with them on a one-to-one level, instead of behind the scenes. Metropolitan Ministries is extremely organized, and has a seamless system paying attention to even the smallest details. The shopping area was divided into about 10 identical aisles and the volunteer would stand at the end of the aisle with a cart and a box, waiting for the client to be sent down to us. When they arrived, we’d guide them through their shopping experience, directing them to the different sections and telling them how many of each item they could choose. The quantity of the items they could choose depended on the size of their family.



The shelves of each aisle were divided into sections: cereals, starches (rice, pasta, potatoes), stuffing, yams/pumpkin, canned vegetables, beans (dry and canned), canned fruit (including applesauce), cranberry, sweets and miscellaneous items. As they chose their items, we would bag them, then walk them to the area in the front of the tent to pickup either their turkey or chicken (individuals and couples received a whole chicken). Then we would return to our assigned aisle to meet another client and help them shop once again! IMAG3814


I helped close to 20 clients during my shift. Some quietly shopped along, while others engaged in conversation with me. Some were nervous, some were teary, claiming they had always given before, but they just couldn’t this year. Some were embarrassed, hoping to not be seen by someone they knew. Some were pregnant, some were immigrants experiencing their first Thanksgiving. Although they were all very different, the one thing they had in common was the fact that they were grateful for the help they were receiving this year from Metropolitan Ministries. They were grateful for the kindness of the volunteers, and the generosity of their community.


My experience at Metropolitan Ministries was such a rewarding one. I’ll be returning to volunteer some shifts before Christmas. If you’d like join me, please let me know! The tent will also be open for donations throughout the remaining holiday season. For more information on the drop off locations in the Bay area, click here.

In addition, here is a list to refer to regarding the items that are needed the most for the holiday season.

Shopping-List-2This year I’m thankful for so many things. I’m thankful for the experiences that mold and shape my own life.  I’m thankful for my family and friends who are always there for me to lend an ear or provide a laugh. I’m thankful for my career, and my education, for it has given me a way to make a difference in the lives of students and teachers each and every day. I’m thankful for my health and my strength. I’m thankful for our home and yes, even our cats. 😉 I’m thankful for my parents, for they never let my brother and I do without; even when times were tough. I’m thankful to have 32 years of memories of my mother that forever live in my mind. And most of all, I’m thankful for Brian; my love and my best friend. The first person I see when I wake up in the morning and hear “I love you” from.

Wishing you a wonderful holiday and a happy Thanksgiving!

PicMonkey Collage

How do you make life meaningful? What are you most thankful for this year?

PS- Read all about Christy’s experience volunteering at Metropolitan Ministries. 🙂


The Oxford Exchange (and a sweet lil’ giveaway)

‘Twas the 14th of November, and all through downtown
The Oxford Exchange was preparing, for a grand event to go down.


The decorations were hung by the windows with care
In hopes that the Tampa Bay Bloggers soon would be there.


The books were nestled all snug on their shelves
And goodie bags were packed by stylish little elves.

1441183_10152087710282474_1108685531_nThe food was all prepped and the drinks nice and steamy
The whole atmosphere was so festive and dreamy.

1468696_10152087709742474_94935225_nAt the stroke of 6:30, there arose such a chatter
The doors opened up and welcomed the pitter patter,

Of little blogger feet all sparkly and bright
All ready for an evening of holiday delight!

They mingled, and greeted each other with glee
They ate, and drank, and were definitely merry.

1469768_10152087709527474_577583658_nFor two glorious hours they took in the sights
They shopped, and they toured; it was a fabulous night!

They feasted on butternut soup and cheesy figs
Nibbled on fancy chocolate, and took coffee and tea swigs.

1471193_10152087709272474_836064496_nTwo lovely ladies spoke all about their creations
Their family’s hand made candles are cause for celebration!

The night ventured on; the bloggers perused around the shoppe
While others learned all about the commerce club spaces atop.

969255_10152087708912474_1250592873_nWhat makes the Oxford so special is it’s uniqueness and style,
It’s beauty and charm will make you want to stay a while.

With floors of reclaimed wood and a retractable ceiling
And lots of comfy furniture to give guests a warm and cozy feeling.

1459091_10152087709347474_10312683_nThe shoppe is jam packed with trinkets oh so sweet
It’s the perfect place to holiday shop…and maybe by yourself a treat!

1424453_10152087703042474_1726207019_nThe lights, how they twinkled!
The cookbooks stood neatly!
The candles’ aroma swirled around
And made the room smell so sweetly!

1451495_10152087705492474_920937294_nAs the evening wound down, and the bloggers grew tired,
They reminisced about all the fun that had transpired.

They wrapped up the night, and expressed grateful words,
And were shocked at the news they had just overheard!

Not only did they leave with a bag full of loot,

But a gift for our readers! An offer none of us could refute!

Thumb-1The evening was fabulous! So glad it was arranged,

I can’t wait to come back to the Oxford Exchange!

Would you like to win a FABULOUS 11oz 7th Avenue Apothecary 100% soy hand poured candle? Leave me a comment below telling me what your absolute favorite thing about the holidays is! I’ll pick a winner on Thursday, 11/21! 

Mine would have to be twinkle lights! 🙂


Disclosure: I was invited to visit The Oxford Exchange as part of the Tampa Bay Bloggers. Giveaway prize is provided by OE. All festively festive opinions are my own.



Chocolate dipped cones

When my mom first passed away, it was all I could think about.

I could barely say her name, or look at her picture. It was too devastating.

As you learn to live life after the loss of a parent, difficult thoughts don’t consume your life as much. You learn to replace constant grief with events, activities and memories. You return to work, revert to normal daily habits, and just, well, go on.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about or speak of my mother. But since her passing I have learned to deal in ways I never imagined I would be able to a year ago. Life doesn’t seem as hard as it once did because you’ve accepted the fact that you have no other choice than to continue living. No matter how much you cry, scream, yell, mope, or blame, it won’t change what happened. And so your brain learns to deal. And it does a surprisingly good job at it.

I have my moments though. Those quiet moments of sheer solitude where you think about your loved one and freak the fuck out when you realize that yup, they’re gone, and it’s quite unbelievable. I still get those moments of deep panic where I feel like my body has forgotten how to breathe. And then you begin to cry and can’t even pinpoint the cause of the tears. Do you miss them? Are you scared? Are they tears of anger? Disbelief? Guilt? Utter sadness?

Tears came out tonight as I shut the television off and prepared to head to bed. I just sat on the sofa and reflected on things for a moment. Staring up at my wooden plank ceiling I thought about how happy I am to live here with Brian, and how much he loves me. Those feelings and thoughts made me miss my mother desperately. She only came to visit us once, when we had just moved in. She was weak, and could barely climb up the stairs to the porch. She sat in our front living room. I can still see her there. I had cooked crab legs for us, but my mom insisted on having ice cream for dinner, so when we finished, we loaded up in the car and headed over to Bo’s; the local ice cream shop.

We ordered chocolate dipped cones and sat on picnic tables outside the shoppe enjoying our treats on that cold January evening, waving to my mom who remained in the Green Suzuki, eating her cone from inside the warm car. I can still picture her sitting in the passenger seat, bundled up with her jacket, with her bald head and glasses on. Chocolate dipped cones were always her favorite.

Although I don’t like to keep memories of my mother during her illness in the forefront of my mind, I don’t mind keeping this one in my pocket. It’s the only memory I have of my mom at this house, and its comforting to know she was here.

154343_10150103988162474_671897473_7351353_5295781_n (2)


Sunday markets and baking with almond meal

When I met my boyfriend, he was just about to sell the house he was living in and start shopping for a place of his own. Just a couple of months into our relationship I was tagging along with him looking at houses throughout his favorite spots in Tampa. Our love was new, and no one really knew what the future would hold. But there’s one thing he made clear: his future was with me. He knew it early on (and so did I), and we’ve been inseparable ever since.

At the time we met, Brian was living in Temple Terrace. There were some perks to living there (a nearby favorite golf course being one), but he also had his eye on the Forest Hills area of Tampa, another decision driven somewhat by the fact that most of the houses are near a golf course (can you tell he loves golf?), and the fact that the price range of houses in that area are fantastic. However when the decision was finally made, he chose a house in the Seminole Heights area; his childhood neighborhood.

If you’re from Tampa, you know the area I’m speaking of. It’s a place where time has stood still. Most of the roads are still paved in brick, many of the houses are wrapped with wide porches, graced with swings and creaky wooden floors. Yards are spacious, and nothing is cookie cutter. Each house has its own charm and uniqueness. Seminole Heights is definitely a hidden gem.

After living here for a bit of time now, I’ve grown to love the area. It’s where I work. It’s where we play. It’s where I shop, dine out and explore. There are so many hidden spots sprinkled throughout Seminole Heights, and one of my all time favorites started back up for the 2013-2014 season: the Seminole Heights Sunday Morning  Market.

SHSMM_New-LogoThe market is held the 2nd Sunday of the month from October to May, on the front lawn of Hillsborough High School on Central Avenue and Hillsborough Avenue from 9am-2pm. There are dozens upon dozens of tents, food trucks and farmer’s market booths selling everything from fresh produce and soap to local art and baked goods. Today as I walked around the market I noticed local vendors offering samples of freshly squeezed juices, homemade beef jerky, lotions, body scrubs, smoothies and more. Some of the local art featured things like metal sculptures, hand made quilts and jewelry. I love the feel of the market. Hillsborough High School is such a beautiful setting for something like this.

I was hoping to be able to score some #NSNG goodies at the market. Luckily I had some cash in my pocket because one of the first booths I stumbled across was one that featured a HUGE variety of dried fruits, vegetables and dry roasted nuts.

IMG_9037As I chatted with the owner about the market, he let me sample a few of the products. We talked a bit about NSNG and he introduced me to some delicious products that would definitely make life easier while eating this way. I walked away with THE most amazing dried pears, dried bing cherries, dried dates and dried apple rings. I also purchased some beet chips, a bag of almond meal, a bag of coconut flour, and some dry roasted pecans.

On the way out, I also purchased some fresh produce from the farmer’s market. Check out some of these veggies! I think those are hands down the largest carrots I’ve ever seen!



Here are a few more shots from the market. I’m already thinking about my next trip in December!






I couldn’t WAIT to get home and start working with some of the goodies I purchased. Today marks two weeks on No Sugar and No Grains, and now that I’m into a pretty good routine of what’s compliant and what’s not, I’m excited to get cooking and start experimenting with some recipe creations.

Now although #NSNG means no “bread” type items, I decided to try my hand at baking with different types of compliant flours, like coconut flour and almond meal/flour.

Now while I don’t know much about the science behind cooking with these alternative flours, I did some reading up on them tonight and realized that almond meal (ground up almonds) seems to be an excellent replacement for grain based flours. Check out this post to learn more about this versatile product.

So about those recipes… I decided to whip up two of my favorite “carbs”: fruit muffins and drop biscuits!

Oh drop biscuits. You taste so good.

You can purchase almond meal at any of your local health food stores, Whole Foods, Nutrition S’mart or places that sell bulk bin items.

Apple & Date Cinnamon Muffins
2 cups almond meal
2 eggs + 2 egg whites
1 tsp. vanilla extra
8 dates (at room temp), pitted and pureed (you can use a food processor)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled a bit
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice

Preheat oven to 350. Line a cupcake tin with paper liners. Add all ingredients, except for dates, into a bowl. Using a mixer (hand mixer or standing mixer), combine all ingredients well. Add dates and mix to combine. Pour tablespoon fulls of batter into the cupcake tin. Bake at 350 for 20-22 minutes, or until toothpick test comes out clean. Enjoy with butter or nut butters!


Cheesy Drop Biscuits
2 1/2 cups of almond meal
2 eggs
1/2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cracked black pepper
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 cup unsweetened apple sauce
4 tbsp. melted butter, cooled
1 cup shredded cheese (I used Parmesan)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine all ingredients using a standing or hand mixer. Drop spoonfuls of biscuit dough onto greased (butter) baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until firm and golden brown. Enjoy!


Have you ever baked with almond meal?

Steph 🙂