04/10/17

5 years

If you asked me about how life would be on the afternoon of April 11, 2012, you would hear words like “hopeless”, “unsure”, “sorrowful” and “anxious” fall lifelessly out of my mouth. I had just said goodbye to my mom after a year long battle with breast cancer, and it truly felt as though my world, and my future, were collapsing around me. 

5 years ago it was difficult to look into the future and envision a normal life. I was 31 going on 32, and could not believe that my time with my mom was over; just like that. 

For weeks and months my nights would be filled with thoughts of sadness. How she would never get to see all the milestones my brother and I still needed to reach, and how my future children would go without knowing their maternal grandmother. My mind was littered with worry and until I learned to cope with it all, it would turn out to be one of the hardest times of my life. 

If you asked me that same question today, 5 years later, you would hear me describe life as “strong”, “brave”, “joyful”, and “resilient.”

The past 5 years have been anything but easy; but that doesn’t mean they’ve been bad. Because of this loss, I have been challenged in ways I could never imagine. Because of this loss, I have been able to discover and cultivate qualities within myself I never dreamed I could possess 5 years ago. I no longer look at my mom’s death as a devastating experience. Instead, I see it as an invigorating one. 

My mom’s death has revitalized my own life. Of course, like everyone who has lost a loved one, I’d want nothing more than to have her here again. But I know that death is inevitable and no matter how much I wish I could go back in time and alter her fate, or spend one more moment together, I can’t. None of us can. And when we hold onto those regretful thoughts, yearning for something we cannot change or have, we drain and damage our own spirits.

So instead of wasting my energy and efforts lost in those damaging circular thoughts, or clouding my mind with guilt and “what if’s”, I have learned to transform and transfer those thoughts into ways I can better my life and the life of those around me. 

I rest in the peaceful notion that one day we will be together again, helping me move past those thoughts of yearning for “just one more day.” 

I improve the lives of others by helping them move through their own grief journeys through this blog and social media. 

I give back to those in need by offering my time in ways that will improve their situations. 

I live my own life, unapologetically, and authentically, knowing that I am not cheating myself of taking-in every single moment I am given, as joyfully as possible. 

To this day I have people asking me questions about my grief journey. And as I approached the 5th anniversary of my mom’s death, I contemplated what I would write here on the blog. 

A few days ago I was looking at search terms that lead people here and saw that someone had searched “feeling guilty about being happy after the loss of a parent.”

While I don’t know who this person is, I can only hope that they followed or favorited my blog and that they are now reading this post. Friend, there is happiness after loss and death if we choose to see it and embrace it.

On the night of my mother’s funeral service, I wrote this post. I vividly remember sobbing over my laptop keyboard as I wrote the words “life would never be the same.” But reading that post again today I realize that I was right. Life isn’t the same, and I’m thankful for that.

5 years ago I would have screamed at someone if they had told me that I’d one day be thankful for having gone through this experience. I would have probably called them heartless (and other words I won’t write here) too. But little did I know just how positively this loss would affect my life, and how thankful I’d be to have been chosen to experience it. I am not the same person I was 5 years ago. I wouldn’t want to be. 

Today my life is richer, stronger, slower and more beautiful than I could have ever envisioned 5 years ago. My mom’s death helped me understand how much of a gift time here on earth is. I miss my mom every single day, but my mind is calm and life is full. I can only guess that my mom would have wanted us to live this way once the emotions of her passing settled. She lived life with a level of excitement and passion that some will never feel. I strive to find and own that excitement and love of life every single day. And I encourage you to do so as well.

I hope after reading this, I have given you hope and helped you to uncover faith that there is a better tomorrow when you decide to find the courage to embrace it.

Missing you today and always, Mom. I know you’re floating among the sea stars. 

04/1/17

Strawberry & Pecan quinoa oats

I’ve never been a fan of oatmeal.

Unlike my brother, who, growing up consumed (and enjoyed) bowl after bowl of oatmeal and cream of wheat hot cereal. 

When I was around the age of 13 or 14, I discovered this:

My mom had purchased a variety box of these Fruit & Cream pouches while we were staying for a week at a beach house we had rented for the week at Indian Rocks. And although I was hesitant, I decided to try it one morning when my mom said we were “on our own” for breakfast. 

It was love at first taste. The creamy oats, the little artificial squares of dried “fruit.” It was all so delicious!

Of course now as an adult I don’t buy this stuff anymore. And while I loved oatmeal back then, I once again lost the desire to whip up batches for breakfast. Truth be told I have more of a savory tooth in the morning and usually run from sweet things for breakfast (which is why I don’t do the whole smoothie/shake for breakfast thing anymore. I tried, really I did!).

A few weeks ago while traveling for work in Virginia, my co-worker and I stopped for breakfast before our training session began. It was cold- bitterly cold (temps in the teens!)-and I just could not get warm. I was craving hot coffee, hot eggs and bacon, hot ANYTHING. I ordered a breakfast sandwich, but then something on the menu caught my eye- quinoa oatmeal. 

I was intrigued. I love quinoa and I *used* to love oatmeal, so would I like this? I decided to give it a try. If I didn’t like it, at least it was hot and hearty! 

Well it was pretty damn delicious. Steel cut oats, creamy quinoa, sliced almonds, cinnamon and honey. Good stuff!

Today, as I was thinking about that trip, an oatmeal craving hit me for the first time in probably 20 years. 

And lucky for me, I had all of the necessary ingredients AND some delicious toppings- hello Florida strawberries!

Chances are you may have the ingredients on hand too! If so, here’s how you can whip up this bowl of strawberry & pecan quinoa oats! If you don’t like strawberries, you can make this with blueberries, apples, bananas or even peaches! (Just like the box) 😉

Strawberry & Pecan quinoa oats
Write a review
Print
Ingredients
  1. 1/4 cup steel cut oats
  2. 1/2 cup quinoa
  3. 1/2 cup half and half cream
  4. 2 tbsp. coconut sugar or honey
  5. 1 tsp. cinnamon powder
  6. 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  7. 1/4 tsp. sea salt
  8. 3-4 sliced strawberries (hulled)
  9. 2 tbsp. chopped pecans
Instructions
  1. Follow the directions to prepare the oats and the quinoa on the corresponding packages.
  2. Combine 1/2 cup hot cooked oats with a 1/2 cup hot cooked quinoa in a bowl.
  3. Stir in half and half cream, coconut sugar (or honey), cinnamon, ginger and sea salt. (add extra cream if you like your oatmeal a bit creamier).
  4. Top with chopped pecans, strawberry slices and a drizzle of honey.
http://orangespoken.com/

03/26/17

12th Annual Taste of South Tampa is THIS WEEKEND!

A scrumptious event is about to hit Tampa this weekend! On Sunday, April 2, the 12th annual Taste of South Tampa is coming to the beautiful Tampa Garden Club on Bayshore Blvd! The Taste of South Tampa is the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce’s signature annual event, presented by Older, Lundy & Alvarez Law.  This has become one of my favorite local events of the year and I’m SO happy it is happening in early April this year as the weather has been SO beautiful!

This food-filled event will run from 1-4pm. Local restaurants will be offering samples of their best dishes for guests to taste! Beer, wine, spirits and sodas will be offered as well to wash it all down.  The tickets are all inclusive and include: Unlimited food and beverage samples, live entertainment presented by Breezin’ Entertainment, give-aways from exhibitors, opportunities to win prizes by participating in the canned food drive and voting for the “Best of South Tampa” awards. This is going to be such a fun event that you won’t want to miss out! General admission tickets are currently $50 online, and will go up to $60 on the day of the event (Tickets for Military= $35 and kids 10 & under are FREE!). Want to become a VIP? Purchase VIP Tickets for $75 and get: access special indoor & air conditioned space, a swag bag, additional food options, upgraded beverage selection, and entertainment! Click here to purchase your tickets!

WANT TO WIN A PAIR OF GENERAL ADMISSION TICKETS? Follow me on Instagram (@orangespoken) for details! 
The best news? A portion of the proceeds from the event will benefit Metropolitan Ministries, an organization that I had experience working with a few times over the years, and know how amazing they truly are. Interested in helping even more? Pack a few non-perishable items to bring with you to the Taste of South Tampa to help stock their pantry, and be eligible to prizes from the featured restaurants!

MMhopelivesLOGO
Here is a list of some of the restaurants guests will be able to sample at Taste of South Tampa! 
Assorted beer varieties provided by 81Bay Brewing Company!
Acropolis Greek Taverna
​Bayshore Biscuit Company
Blue Chair Bay Rum
Boca Kitchen Bar & Market
Brookdale Bayshore
Cakes by Nikki Mobile Sweets Cart
Carabba’s Italian Grill
Cask Social Kitchen
Centre Club
Chef Inspired Popcorn Company
Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants
Crispers
Florida Cane Distillery
Food Hustlers
Hooters
Inside the Box Cafe
Kahwa Coffee
Kona Grill
MacDintons Irish Pub & Restaurant
Nothing Bundt Cakes
Remedies Coffee Bar
Roy’s Tampa
Square 1
Tampa Palms Golf & Country Club
The Blind Goat Food & Drink
Yard of AleAdditional Restaurants Available in VIP!
VIP – Bonefish Grill
VIP – Cheese Please
VIP – Chocolate Pi
VIP – Cru Cellars
VIP – Del Frisco’s Grille
VIP – Elite Events Catering
VIP – On Swann
VIP – Seasons 52
VIP – Silly Monkey Cookie Company
VIP – Toffee To Go
 
For more information and updates, visit:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SouthTampaTaste 

Hope to see you there! 

Disclosure: I have partnered with the South Tampa Chamber of Commerce to promote and participate in Taste of South Tampa. I was provided with tickets. I was not compensated in any other way. All opinions are my own.
03/25/17

So much to say!

Hey Friends! 

Boy have I missed blogging on the regular. Life has been jam-packed with awesomeness and once the glitter settles at the end of April, I will reconnect by sharing stories, recipes and more! 

And, of course the 4-1-1 on all things WEDDING! 

As you know, last summer my main guy popped “THE” question and since then we have been in planning mode! We have had so much fun wedding planning and cannot wait to celebrate with our closest family and friends. We are keeping things very small and intimate, but the celebration will be fun and beautiful nonetheless! I will definitely be sharing pictures and stories from the big day with all of you here so stay tuned! (Including details about my dress, which I am head over heels about! Spoiler alert- it’s NOT white!) 🙂

One thing I can divulge are the details of my bridal shower last week! 

My godmother Nina, my future mother-in-law, and my nearest and dearest chicas came together to shower me with wedding LOVE! The theme was orange (naturally) and all things chicken (double naturally!). I mean, do they know me or what? There were also TONS of gifts and surprises! I feel so lucky and thankful to have all of these ladies in my life! 

I’m usually on the giving side of a party, so it was a little awkward for me to let loose of the reigns and focus on being the guest of honor. But I truly had a WONDERFUL time enjoying delicious food and spending time with those whom I care about the most- all here to celebrate the love between two people. I could not have asked for a better day! (PS- see those candles on the table? At one point during the shower there was a small incident involving tissue paper from one of those gifts towards the back of the above picture and the flames. After some deft maneuvers towards the door, and some vigorous stomping, the flaming crisis was adverted! Luckily the place didn’t burn down and no one got seriously hurt, but it was an adventure non-the-less! **No pictures, sorry. We really thought 911 was about to be called! LOL)

I also had my hair and makeup trial courtesy of the very talented Ciah from Salon Ciah in Ybor City! I’m SO happy with how it all turned out and cannot wait to see everything put together! 

Next up, THE BIG DAY! Check back soon for more! <3

02/14/17

What matters most

Have you ever felt invisible?

Like people were looking right through you- eyes piercing past you to the other side as if though something better, more interesting, more important was there beyond you.

And I’m not just referencing people we pass by on the sidewalk, or those we sit by on the bus or see at the grocery store as we’re stocking our carts. I’m also talking about people you come in contact with every single day. Your co-workers, acquaintances, friends, and yes, even family members.

Do you ever feel as though you don’t exist? 

While the fact that the person in the grocery store who stared past you as they headed to the produce aisle may not have a long lasting affect on you, that co-worker, whom you see everyday, who enters the office and walks past you without muttering a “good morning” to you might sting a bit- or might go unnoticed because the behavior has been accepted as the norm.  

Do they know your name?
Do they care to?
Do you matter to them?
Would they notice if you were absent that day?

What I really want to ask you though, is, how often are you on the giving end of this scenario? How often do you walk by your co-worker without muttering a “good morning” as you walk by their desk?

Do you know your co-workers name?
Do you care to?
Do they matter to you?
Would you notice if they were absent that day?

How often do you go through the routines of the morning ignoring the human spirit and instead go straight to life’s hamster wheel? Are the first words that you speak to your child each morning “Get up! And hurry up we’re going to be late!” or the first phrase you say to your spouse as you wake up next to them in bed is “Don’t forget to pay that bill today!” 

Do they feel invisible? Do they matter? Do they know they matter? 

I have early memories of invisibility. I was a shy child, at times hardly able to carry conversations with family members or at school. At four years old I attended a prekindergarten at a small neighborhood day care. I was in a class of around 15 other children my age, yet I didn’t have a single friend. My grandmother would make me a lunch every single day and pack it into my prized metal Strawberry Shortcake lunchbox filled with treats she thought would make me happy. Every single day I’d eat alone, in total silence, on a small bench away from the rest of the group, facing a wall in the lunch area of the school. 

I’m not sure if anyone knew my name. I felt completely invisible during what should have been a time to laugh and play and trade lunchbox treasures. My daycare teachers accepted my shyness and never tried to engage me or try any strategies to include in me the group. I was just shy Stephanie, and that was it. 

Even at the young age of 4 I felt invisible. I felt as though I didn’t matter. And if I were absent, I’m not sure anyone in my class would notice. And the memory of that experience has stuck with me all this time. 

How many people (kids AND adults) feel like this on a daily basis? How many people feel this way because of you? 

We all want to feel as though we are important to someone. That we matter. That someone can SEE us. That we are valued. That we are important. That we would be missed if we were absent. 

I encourage you to think deeply about your daily interactions with people. Whether it’s at the market and the mall, or at school or at home. What can you do to spread encouragement and hope to another person? What can you do to help someone feel as though they are visible? What can you do you to inspire others to do the same?

If we each made a conscious effort to reignite that human connection, to ensure that those that we come in contact on a daily basis feel important and valued, we can make a positive shift in our culture and strengthen our relationships with others around us. You never know when something you notice (and point out!) will change a person’s day for the better. 

Extend a handshake, share a greeting, ask someone how their day was, reach out, offer help, pass along a genuine compliment. 

It’s not about being the perfect parent or spouse, co-worker or teacher, family member or friend.
It’s about being present and noticing the souls around us.  

Here is a great place to start.

And if you are interested in diving deeper into this work, I encourage you to explore Angela Maiers’s website even further!

 

12/31/16

Bring Comfort Home this holiday with Scotties #Giveaway

Disclosure: I was provided with product and a gift card in exchange for this post. All opinions are my own. 

Back in early December we loaded up my SUV and drove north for a weekend in the Appalachian mountains of north Georgia. Three of our travel mates had been fighting colds, so I made sure to pack a few boxes of Scotties tissues for the trip. Scotties have always been my go-to product for quick and soothing relief from allergies and colds and I knew my friends would also love these “soft as a kitten” products! 

And boy was I glad I packed these little boxes of comfort, because once we arrived at our mountain cabin, the coughing and sneezing began full force!

Luckily Scotties has unveiled some gorgeous new designs for winter, which made runny noses a bit more bearable…. 😉 Plus they fit in perfectly with our vacation scenery! If we had to be sick, at least we had festive tissues boxes and views like this to comfort us!

scotties5

porchKeeping a supply of Scotties tissues to take with you on trips is the perfect way to bring a bit of comfort with you, especially when traveling with a cold. With boxes of every size (including travel packs!) you can always be prepared. It’s the perfect combination of affordable softness and strength that can provide comfort to you and your whole family.

Scotties has everyday comfort that you need, but also the strength and softness for when symptoms are at their worst. Scotties 2-ply tissues keeps it simple without compromising softness or quality and for comfort seekers, 3-ply tissues offer an added layer of softness. This product is perfect for sensitive skin, allergy sufferers, and definitely for cold and flu season.

I especially love the 3-ply aloe tissues as they are the perfect solution for those overworked Rudolph noses. <3logo

Would you like to win your own sampling of the new Scotties boxes? Enter the Scotties Bring Comfort Home Sweepstakesfrom now until December 31 for a chance to win!

scotties2

Want to win a $25 gift card to purchase even MORE Scotties tissues (or anything you heart desires?). Leave me a comment below telling me how you bring comfort to your home and you’ll be entered to win a $25 Amazon Gift Card! I’ll draw a random name on January 1, 2017. Good luck! 

signature

12/1/16

The Wine Shoppe in Blairsville, GA

A few months ago a group of my nearest and dearest got together and planned a week long trip up in the North Georgia mountains. Back in 2004 my mom and I were looking for a place to go camping during our winter school break. I can vividly remember sitting at the kitchen counter at my parent’s house scanning a map of the southeastern United States looking for a place that would be a) A day’s worth of driving distance and b) A change of scenery from our regular beachy Florida views.  Continue reading

11/2/16

Happy Birthday Mom!

When I think about my mother, what I remember most was her love of celebrating.

She would celebrate anything and everything. 
Life itself was a celebration.

Birthdays, promotions, anniversaries, daylight savings time. She’d find ANY reason to cook a meal, bake a cake and have people over. It’s just who she was. 10511352_10152651390667474_3098322061653697010_nWhat I remember most about all of those get togethers was how they made us feel. My mother always made sure everyone was well fed and having a good time. And if it was your birthday, you were sure to feel special.  Continue reading

10/20/16

Winn Dixie Hyde Park- A foodie’s dream! (And a Giftcard GIVEAWAY!)

Disclosure: As part of the Tampa Bay Bloggers, I have partnered with Winn-Dixie to help promote the Re-Grand Opening of the Hyde Park location in exchange for a gift card. All opinions are my own.

I’m a self-proclaimed grocery store fangirl.

There is nothing quite as satisfying as moseying around a market, coffee cup in hand, taking in the sights, sounds and scents of a good store. 

It makes my heart go pitter-patter.  Continue reading

09/30/16

Career changes

After a teaching career of 13 years, 3 of which I worked as an coach supporting teachers in a high needs school, I left. 

It wasn’t an easy decision. I come from a family of educators and my inner circle of friends is filled with amazing teachers, administrators and support staff who are some of the most dedicated people I know. Kids are their business, and it shows through their passion and commitment to the field.  Continue reading