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This time last week was full of forced rest and desperate attempts to keep a toddler still and full of fluids. Madison caught a respiratory virus that seems to be going around so we practically removed ourselves from society, with the exception of a doctor's visit, in effort to get her well as quickly as possible. Lots of puzzles, several bedtime stories, and more television than is probably deemed acceptable by most parental standards and she seems to be feeling much better. However, she never lost her sense of humor. I'm not sure if these are amusing to anyone else or just Allison and me since we're her parents, but I have a feeling we'll look back one day enjoying that we captured some of Madison's random little comments. (Click here for more.)

Waiting at the doctor's office...
MADISON:  What's this room about?


The doctor walks in...
MADISON:  Hello.  No shots!  Okay?
DOCTOR:  Got it.  There will be no shots.
MADISON:  Thank you. Whew. (wipes hand over forehead)


ME:  Anything specific you want to pray about tonight?
MADISON:  Socks.


MADISON:  I want a yellow cake with purple polka dots.
ME:  Where do I get a cake like that?
MADISON:  The freezer.
ME:  We don't have cake in the freezer.
MADISON:  Well, call Strawberry Shortcake.  She'll make it.


I put my hand against her neck, just under her chin...
MADISON:  Daddy, your hands are like ice creams.
ME:  They are?
MADISON:  Yes.  I want a Popsicle.


January 30, 2014

The last time Allison and I were snowed in by North Carolina standards (which means accumulation in excess of 4 inches) was early 2004.  We spent the evening in my apartment with our legs and arms weaved together under a blanket on my couch watching season after season of a popular crime drama until we were completely caught up on the series.  We ordered pizza and ate our weight in cheese, bread and pepperoni. We were young, we were in love and we only left the apartment over those 48 hours in effort to return the seasons we watched (in a time before Netflix invited itself into every home) and exchange them for the next collection of the series.  We never wanted the marathon to end, we never wanted the pizza box to be empty and we never wanted the love between us in that moment to change… yet it did.  The marathon ended, the last slice was consumed and that love between us evolved into something we never could have imagined. 

When the snow piled up outside our home last night, we immediately found ourselves mentally returning to that couch in the living room of my first apartment craving junk food and a blanket to disappear under. Regardless of the rings we exchanged signifying the love that unites us and the house we bought to shelter us while we chase our dreams and raise our daughter, two tasks that are essentially one in the same… regardless of everything we’ve grown to be, it doesn’t take much for us to refocus.  It doesn’t take much for us to tap into those moments, the landmarks of this journey we’re on that hold pockets of time we spent together along the way; it doesn’t take much at all to love this hard and to fill these walls with the memories that make us, to make this house our home sweet home full of warmth amidst the piles of snow that surround our foundation. They just may have been on to something when they said all you need is love.


January 29, 2014

Last week, our area of North Carolina saw its first snow of the year... and it seems the two inches we received may be a preview of more to come should Mother Nature serve the weather as the forecast predicts. We watched the flakes glisten in the moonlight as they started falling once the sun set that evening. Allison and I made a quick wish that the snow collecting in our yard would decide to hang around until morning allowing Madison the opportunity of getting her mitten covered hands on the cold rarity.

While last February marked her first experience with snow, this year saw the launching of her very own snowball. With a case of the sniffles (that would unknowingly turn into a respiratory virus later in the week), we didn't allow our bundled joy to stay outside for very long even though she would have preferred otherwise.  We ran circles in the yard with our footprints leaving a trail with every step, we attempted to create snow angels and collected a bowl of snow for making cream later.  It's impossible to get used to, that light in her eyes revealing itself whenever she's having the time of her life; a light warming me to the bone every time I catch it, even in a snow covered setting.


January 26, 2014

The making of snow cream is subjective and varies from home to home I've discovered.  We prefer the less is more approach and tend to let the snow itself be the star of the dish in that we don't add but a few ingredients and in fairly small amounts.  If you were to stop by our house on a random snow day we'd serve you a bowl of the following snow cream recipe and ask politely that you leave your winter boots at the door.

1 large bowl of (clean / fresh) snow
pure vanilla extract
milk (or condensed milk)

Collect snow in a large bowl and while outside add sugar and vanilla to taste then mix in milk until desired consistency is met.  Some prefer an ice cream consistency while others prefer more of a slushy texture, if the latter is the goal add more milk.  (For a sweeter tasting cream use condensed milk instead of regular milk.) In our experience, the most important detail is to mix the ingredients outdoors as the snow tends to melt fairly quickly once inside.


January 23, 2014

Nine years ago today the world welcomed a tiny black Chihuahua into its canine population; over the next three months he found himself on a journey that would ultimately land him in the fold of our household. He could fit in the palm of my hand then and, to date, doesn’t weigh more than three pounds. He enjoys lengthy naps under blankets or upon your lap or buried in a pile of warm laundry. He fancies carpeted floors and barks relentlessly should his precious paws touch any other surface. In his own way, he helps make our house a home.

Happy Birthday, Benson.

Read more about this little guy here.


January 21, 2014

I walked through the doorway stopping just over the threshold allowing my heels to catch the weight of the door before stepping forward and letting it click behind me.  I quickly glanced around noticing candles as the only light source flickering and dancing upon their designated tabletops, each one in rhythm to a beat I couldn't hear.  My eyes scanned the room for some sort of familiarity where there was none and no one and landed on a sign that read please wait to be seated.

A young lady quickly walked over, made eye contact and shoved the gum she was chewing in her cheek with her tongue then asked “party of one” with a forced smile.  I lifted the corners of my mouth slightly, a half smile in return, and asked if she knew where I was.

She released the gum from the left side of her mouth, gave a loud smack and shoved it into the opposite cheek replying sarcastically “I’m not sure where you were but now you’re here and I need to know if you want a table, a booth or the bar?” motioning like an exhausted stewardess in the direction of each option then repeated the same release, smack, tuck of her gum as before.

I chose the bar and followed her as she demanded.  I hoisted myself onto the cracked leather barstool and gave a quick thank you while the clicks of the high heels from the hostess faded gradually in the other direction.  A man turned around with a glass in one hand and a rag in the other, the shadows of the room made it hard to see his face.  He nodded in my direction and  wiped a spot on the wood surface, avoided eye contact, continued circular motions with the rag trapped under his paw and inquired “what would you like to drink” in a voice much softer than I imagined him to have.

I responded with whatever was on tap, I’ve never been much of a drinker.  He shoved the rag in his back pocket, filled the glass with a dark liquid capped with a half inch of foam and slid it across the counter. I reached for a cardboard coaster sitting nearby and placed it under my beer, judging by the torn edges of the cloth hanging from his pants I could tell he spent most of his time cleaning this place.

I lifted the glass closer to my face and inhaled the bitter aroma of musky wheat and took a swallow then another in quick succession to wash down the first.  He asked “what brings you here” as he reached for a bowl of mixed nuts behind him plucking a cashew from the top of the pile before passing it my way.

I wasn’t sure and I told him that.  I told him the truth of the matter was I didn’t know how I got here or where here really is.  I tried looking back to retrace my steps, but it was all a blur.  Somehow I took a blind turn oblivious of the consequences and ended up right where I am… here.  No where. 

He said the same was true for him and he grabbed another glass, filled it up and took a long drink emptying half the contents almost immediately.   He said he stumbled through the front door just as I had, lost and confused and exhausted from following a road well-traveled.  Somewhere along the way he took a detour choosing a lesser known path, gave up and ended up in this place, behind this bar, serving me a drink.  He said everything happens for a reason and while I wanted to believe him, I found it hard to.  Then he asked “what is it that you do” and he seemed genuinely curious to know and wasn't just asking in effort to make small talk.  

I picked through the bowl of nuts in front of me and decided I didn’t want any then took another swallow from my glass followed by another for the chase and started replying with the details that fill my Mondays leading to my Fridays when he interrupted... "not where you work, what is it that you do" he insisted.

I could tell from his tone he was judging the button up under my sweater, the creases ironed into my pants.  I cleared my throat and poured the rest of my drink into my mouth in one swift motion then startled myself with the force I set the glass down with.  He asked "what do you do, who are you" repeating himself and rephrasing the question undoubtedly due to my hesitation in answering.  He leaned in to retrieve my glass and I responded...

I write.  I'm a writer.

He leaned in further with the candle lighting his face and for the first time I could see who he was. Behind the tired blue eyes, beneath the overgrown facial hair and the stained tee shirt and the abused condition of his pants holding the torn edges of an overused rag was me.

Suddenly I opened my eyes to see my wife asleep at my side, I could hear our daughter through the monitor on the nightstand, I could taste the bitterness of truth at the back of my throat and it was then I realized I had a dream.  I realized I have a dream.

image source unknown


January 19, 2014

Sometimes we allow Madison to play with her food, but not before we get our hands on her plate first. If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen a few images of what our little one has been eating from time to time... let me explain.

One of the goals most important to Allison and me is that we always have dinner as a family.  I grew up in a house where everyone was present and sitting in their designated seats at the table when the last meal of the day was served.  We blessed the food and shared the highlights (and low-lights, if applicable) of our day as a family in effort to take a break from the hustle and bustle of life, to reconnect with each other, to refocus and reprioritize... together.

Allison and I agreed before Madison was born that this would be something we implemented in our own home.  Every night we make an effort to sit down, all three of us, at our kitchen table and enjoy each other’s company over warm dishes.  More often than not, the television is turned off and instead the house is filled with conversation and delicious aromas rising from our plates.  We’re a one meal house in that Madison eats the same thing her mother and I do for dinner as we try not to invite the habit of preparing something for ourselves and then another meal entirely for her, if we can help it.  

That being said, breakfast and lunch are a completely different story.  For the first and second meals of the day, Madison can have whatever she wants (within reason… no cookies for breakfast).  Because of the one meal rule we silently reserve for dinner, Madison usually eats vegetables she doesn’t consider to be fun or aren’t quite as colorful as she would like.  Purple is her favorite color, not green with the exception of asparagus or Lima beans (we call them butterbeans) -- she loves those -- so occasionally we’ll perk up her plate a little bit for breakfast and/or lunch.

Her favorite so far has been the Monster Toast (the pink plate).  I always serve a side of additional bananas, blueberries, strawberries, etc. so she has a full serving which usually means she eats a little and redecorates the face a little and then eats a little more.  Most importantly, she’s eating and it’s proven to be a reliable yet easy method to ensure she gets fruit in her diet.


January 16, 2014

Her tiny hand is barely the width of my face so it takes both of her palms to cover my eyes.  She leans in completely unaware of how loud she is or how close she is to my ear and she asks where’s Daddy? to no one in particular as it’s just the two of us in the room, unless the numerous stuffed animals count and if we’re being completely honest… to Madison they do.  This is a game of peek-a-boo meets hide-and-seek where she holds her hands over my eyes until she doesn’t anymore then suddenly I’m found.

It’s her turn.

I can cover her eyes with one hand, but I choose to block them instead of letting the weight of my palm rest on her face.  Watching her squint her eyes closed with an ever so slightly crack in her lids as she peeks to see if I'm looking at her is what makes this game fun for me.  She opens her eyes and screams because I’m still here and I assure her I always will be even though this moment doesn’t call for such deep thoughts, I seize the opportunity in hopes she subconsciously soaks it in.

Then it’s my turn again.

She instructs me to close my eyes and I do as I’m told.  I can feel something sticky on the underside of her left ring finger, the one with the freckle where her knuckle bends; I mentally retrace her snacks and meals of the day assuming it’s the strawberry jelly she had earlier when she ran off before scrubbing her hands clean. I can smell the remnants of peanut butter from that same sandwich mixed with the faded scent of her baby lotion from a previous bath.  I can hear the giggle she's holding in her cheeks like a chipmunk with a tree nut, trying with every bit of self control to save it for later only to give in almost immediately.  I can see her smiling with my eyes closed.  We could play this game forever, the back and forth of hiding and finding and sharing our smiles will never get old.

It's her turn again.


January 15, 2014

She climbed onto the bed her mother and I use to collapse in at the end of every day. She took full advantage of her two-year-old limbs and the loose sheet as a rope to help her over the side until she landed face-first on the mattress. Almost immediately she was on her feet with her arms over her head much like the congratulatory stance one would take after conquering the climb of a tall mountain, then she jumped. She jumped again making sure all ten of her tiny toes left the surface of the bed before crash-landing in the maze of wrinkled linens created by her leaps. She squealed with excitement, a smile took over her face and a laugh rumbled up from her belly… perhaps she’s never been happier than in this moment. Maybe the same is true for me.


January 14, 2014

Whenever I want chicken noodle soup, there's only one recipe I go to... and that would be Paula Deen's recipe. Regardless if you love or hate her, the fact she can cook her face off remains to be true or at least it does regarding this particular pot of soup. One could follow her recipe verbatim or stray from it a little as we do occasionally (by leaving out the italicized ingredients/directions below), either way the end result is nothing short of delicious. Oftentimes we double the recipe so we have a ton of leftovers; I encourage you to do the same. You're welcome.

2 to 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
4 quarts of water
1 onion, peeled and diced
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 bay leaves
3 chicken bouillon cubes

2 cups sliced carrots
2 cups sliced celery, with leafy green tops
2 1/2 cups uncooked egg noodles
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/3 cup cooking sherry
1 cup grated Parmesan
3/4 cup heavy cream

Add all ingredients to a soup pot. Cook until chicken is tender, about 35 to 45 minutes. Remove chicken from pot and set aside to cool. Remove and discard bay leaves and onion. You should have approximately 3 to 3 1/2 quarts of stock. When chicken is cool enough to touch, shred it and set aside.

Bring stock back to a boil, add carrots, and cook for 3 to 5 minutes. Add celery and continue to cook for 5 to 10 minutes. Add egg noodles and cook according to directions on package.When noodles are done, add chicken, parsley and rosemary. Add sherry and Parmesan and cream, if using. Cook for another 2 minutes. Adjust seasoning, if needed, by adding salt and pepper. 



January 9, 2014

Originally I intended to share a post about Madison's first snow from last February, but given the current weather conditions freezing the northern part of the country it feels a bit insensitive. Instead I'm posting another installment of Chatty Patty (click here for more). I'm not sure if these are amusing to anyone else or just Allison and me since we're her parents, but I have a feeling we'll look back one day enjoying that we captured some of Madison's random little comments.

MADISON:  I want a pizza pocket.
ME:  A hot pocket?
MADISON:  No, a pocket pizza.
ME:  What's that?
MADISON:  Pizza you eat later... put it in your pocket.


ME:  I love you.
MADISON:  Well, I love Tinka Bell (Tinkerbell).


Someone pooted...
MADISON:  Peeyucky!  Poots are silly.


Allison combing her hair after a bath...
MADISON:  Mama, I want mermaid hair.


She gave me her empty cup, I refilled it with milk and handed it back to her...
MADISON:  Hey Daddy, no tricks give me the oinge (orange) juice.


January 7, 2014

This week has to be my least favorite week of the entire year.  The week following the holidays when everything returns to normal… back to 40 hour work weeks, back to three cups of coffee before 9am, back to stalking the clock watching a countdown of the hours until I can wrap my arms around all the joy a tiny toddler can provide which turns out to be much more than one could ever try to imagine.

Speaking of, the tiny toddler mentioned isn’t so tiny anymore.  It seems she’s growing a little more every day.  Who knew?  I mean, obviously children grow but it feels like our time with Madison is gaining speed and this ride we’re strapped into is gaining momentum; this movie flashing before our eyes doesn’t have an option to pause and one innocent blink could cause you to miss a moment entirely.  There’s never a chance to tap the breaks or rewind, so we’re forced to hold on with everything we have trying to remember all that we can from every phase that has passed while preparing ourselves for what lies ahead yet attempting to live in the moment all at the same time. 

Parenting.  It’s probably the most exhausting of all jobs, but the reward is far greater than the rest.

The photos above are from preschool pictures of Fall 2013... I'm just really late posting them.


January 5, 2014

My resolution this year came to me while I was browsing through my Instagram feed selecting pictures to turn into magnets.  Just before Christmas, StickyGram gifted me one of their sheets containing nine individual magnets; a company that allows self proclaimed Instagram addicts like myself to take our picture obsession one step further by ordering various products using those very square images that capture important milestones and all the random bits in between.

It’s brilliant, really, and quite easy.  The last step is perhaps the most difficult part of the entire process though... how does one begin to narrow down hundreds of their favorite snapshots to a select few?  You can’t.  It’s impossible!  Yet somehow I managed to pick nine, rearranged them several times before ultimately refusing to change them again convincing myself that if I liked them once they arrived I would simply come back for more.

Which is exactly what I intend to do.

In person, each magnet is about the size of the picture as it appears on your phone like you plucked the image directly from your feed.  As for where my wife and I put the magnets, we stuck them to the magnetic chalkboard in our kitchen.  We prefer the look of bare refrigerator doors so we have a large framed chalkboard on one wall that houses random thoughts written in messy chalk script or displays Madison’s current crayon masterpiece or an appointment reminder or an ever-growing grocery list, but now it’s home to some of our favorite moments from the last year in picture form with all the luxury a magnetic back has to offer.   I’m sure we’ll be adding more soon, maybe we’ll abandon the chalk writing aspect and simply use it as one large frame displaying a hundred or so sticky little pictures… at least we won’t have trouble selecting which ones to get if we just get them all.

EDIT:  Use code FRIENDQKR9 when placing an order with StickyGram for $2 off your first purchase.

I received the aforementioned product in exchange for writing a review, but the opinion is my own.


January 2, 2014

Last night I sat with Allison and Madison tangled in a sea of limbs upon our couch as we bid farewell to 2013.  We flipped between channels offering glimpses of cold strangers laughing themselves toward the start of something new, a joyous horizon full of promise and potential.  Allison and I consumed champagne from the flutes used the evening we wed making a toast to be better partners, better parents and better people effective immediately upon the clock’s official timestamp of midnight. Madison and I made a banner earlier in the day from paper and crayons to hang from our mantle, a visual declaration reminding us of what we already know or at least hope to be true… that the New Year will be nothing short of happy.

After all, this life journey is ultimately our individual pursuits of happiness.

We make resolutions in effort to improve ourselves yet a few weeks later those hopes and wishes reveal themselves as empty promises and failures added to a rather annoying mental list.  It can be such a counterproductive cycle, the whole lose weight/get healthy/smile more/stress less mentality that attaches itself to the back of the New Year’s ushering only to abandon us and return 12 months later.  But we’re all guilty. We all do it.  We’re all on that path, that pursuit of discovering a happy we convince ourselves will be revealed if only we were 20 pounds lighter or ate an apple a day.  

So this year while I certainly want to become healthier, I’ve decided exercise and eating habits should be a consequence of the main goal instead of the primary focus.  Instead I want to avoid stepping away from the camera when pointed in my direction and make more of an effort to get out from behind it so the lens can capture more of my interaction with Madison.  It’s sad to think she’ll look back one day at the numerous pictures of herself and think she was alone when in fact I was there for every milestone except I was the one framing the moment in my viewfinder or worse cropping myself out.  I read a post a while ago that made me realize it’s better to see ourselves for who we are than to never see ourselves at all.  For the better part of two years, my biggest regret has been avoiding pictures and dodging the camera; sometimes the overall picture we see is so much bigger and worth so much more than our own negative internal commentary.

I’ve seen a quote appear in my Instagram feed multiple times over the last 24 hours:

And that’s exactly what I intend to do.  Pray more.  Laugh more.  Love more… and literally write about it all along the way with a few more pictures of myself thrown in the mix.  Happy New Year!

HAPPY 2014

January 1, 2014

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