Gratitude has taken a lead role in my daily life these past two weeks, and it all started with the 3 year anniversary of my husband’s sobriety date. The week that lead up to his last drink was a very heavy one for us, and being able to look back and have gratitude for the life we live today has completely consumed me this year. About a year ago I decided that I was also in need of recovery from enabling and loving an alcoholic for as long as I did. At the time I had no idea what that recovery would look like, but I knew that I could not continue operating as I was. While I was thankful for Ryan’s sobriety, it left me confused, hurt, and angry. I desperately wanted to forgive him and myself for all of things we walked through, but I truly had no idea how. After trying a laundry list of activities (working out, writing, reading, running) I decided to bite the bullet and head on over to a local 12 step meeting for people that have been affected by a loved one’s drinking. I knew I was in the right place the moment I sat down, but I still had a hard time believing that this is where my life had taken me. Instead of leaving and trying to drown my feelings with a some retail therapy, I closed my eyes and allowed the stories of hope and experience told by other members to wash over me. I cried, I shared my own story, and I believed the words to “keep coming back, it works if you work it.”

I’ve been a member of this incredible group for almost a year now. So far I have admitted to being powerless over alcohol, have turned my life over to a higher power (which I choose to call God), and I am on my way to turning my life and will over to His care. These meetings, steps, and the people there have been teaching me how to live a life of freedom and gratitude. Freedom from the notion that I have control over anything but my own reaction, and gratitude for wherever my life takes me. Is this kind of thing always easy? Ummmmmm, no! But thankfully I know that the most important thing in my journey is the progress of learning not the perfection of my actions. This truth has saved me from feeling like a complete failure when I do fall.

Take soup making for example; remember the first pot of soup you made? It was alright, I guess. Edible but nothing worth writing home about. Did you throw in the towel, did you give up after your first failed pot of soup. No way! You learned from your mistakes, maybe listened to a more experienced soup maker, and tried again, and again, and again. Will there always be more to learn about soup? Yes, and that willingness to learn will only make you a more imaginative, brave soup maker. Lentils use to intimidate me, (what the heck are these bean like things?!) until I threw them into a pot filled with spicy sausage, spinach, and red wine. Now they are one of my favorite things, and I’m thinking after trying this soup they’ll be one of yours as well.

There are a ton of things I love about my family. We’re hard working, fun loving, understanding of the importance of a great haircut, and we’re always up for an adventure!

Ryan and I are very fortunate to have been able to travel often with our four boys. When we were a younger family, our summer weekends would usually involve day trips to a beach or lake. Since then, our boys have been to New York, Hawaii a handful of times, RV’ed all the way to Washington, and have enjoyed dozens of weekend trips to San Fransisco or Stinson beach. Ryan and I are also very fortunate that our boys have become excellent travelers. The hum of an airplane will lull them to sleep, books and an ipad full of movies have kept them content during long car drives, and snacks keep everyone patient until our destination is reached. Have I ever dealt with a fussy baby on a long flight, broken up arguments in the backseat, or tried to get an overstimulated, over exhausted toddler to bed after a long day of travel? Yes, yes, and yes! But all of the good things that come with traveling alongside our boys have outweighed all of the uncomfortable things. The experiences had, the knowledge gained, the memories made; all totally worth changing more than a few poopy diapers in an airplane bathroom!

Our latest and longest car drive to date was to Palm Springs! As Mrs. California, my family was asked to be in their annual Festival of Lights, and we were honored and excited for the opportunity! We debated on whether or not to fly (we live close to the foothills in Northern California), but the recent drop in gas prices made it hard to justify purchasing six flights. With so many recent seven hour drives to Southern California under our belt, I figured we could handle a drive only a couple more hours long. To help make things a little easier, I decided to pack lunch and other homemade treats for our journey. My least favorite part of a long car drive over the grapevine is the lack of healthy food options. Inevitably we’ll snack on chips and candy from travel stations, only to feel like garbage when we finally reach our destination. Armed with homemade muffins, popcorn, a five pound bag of local mandarines, and a stack of lunches made with love, we made it over the grapevine directly into LA traffic. Did we stress, did we fight, were we sick of sitting in the car? Maybe a little, but not enough to ruin the beginning of our trip! When we finally arrived we were happy and excited to explore our surroundings (aka, go out to dinner). As for the parade, it was amazing! So many people, lights, and even a celebrity sighting!

A few weeks ago a friend of mine asked me if I ever felt afraid. She was referring the the Mrs. International pageant I’ll be competing in this July, but so many other endeavors I have been called to came to mind.

For example, every time I am asked to speak I am afraid. Every time I tell someone my story, whether it be on stage or over a cup of coffee, I am afraid. Every time I make a phone call to tell someone that I am Mrs. California, and I want to help, be apart of, or donate my time to them, I am afraid. Every morning when I wake up, I am afraid of not being able to do the things I have been set out to do. Thankfully every night before I fall sleep I thank God for giving me the courage and strength to accomplish whatever it was that I was afraid of.

My answer to my sweet friend was simply “Yes”. But don’t let me fool you into thinking that I am some super strong gal that just loves to eat fear for breakfast, because I’m not! I know what it feels like to become a victim of fear and all of it’s lies. In the past my fears have kept me from living a life I knew I wanted, but was too scared to live. Fear told me I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, or cut out for the job. Luckily, God was relentless and continued to put people in my life that told me that I was more than enough. That in fact I was perfect just the way I am, and to believe in myself regardless of what my fear was telling me. Now, every day instead of letting fears hold me back, I enjoy grace which has given me freedom. Freedom to go for it whole heartily, to make mistakes, to live.

I also enjoy baking! Fear used to tell me that I was bad at baking, that I should leave it to someone with a better oven, and a lot more experience. After making two batches of these awesome (and easy) muffins, and watching my boys gobble them up as quickly as they did, I laughed because I feared that they wouldn’t come out that great. Take that fear, these pumpkin muffins are definitely a winner!

What if for an entire year you were given center stage to share your story and message with others? Would you fight for this chance, and jump in head first once it is officially yours? Would you get a little nervous, and pray that the Lord will continue to give you the wisdom and courage to speak? Would you be thankful for this opportunity and make every day, all 365 of them count? My answer? “Yes” to all of the above! Very recently I was lucky enough to be crowned Mrs. California International 2015 (Eeeeeek!!!). I was given a dozen roses, a crown, a banner, and an amazing opportunity to share my story and message of hope that I have experienced. I have mentioned before that my beautiful family has been through a lot. There has been pain, struggle, and nights full of tears. With our faith, and our families we chose to fight for hope. My very brave husband’s decade long battle with alcohol almost had it’s way with us, but because of hope we won (and continue to win) the battle. This year I want to be vulnerable and honest about what it took to reclaim our family. We’re not perfect, and I have a long (loooooong) way to go! My mission is to share what I have learned so far with the faith that it will help someone else hold on to hope. Without the hope for a different life, my family would not be where we are today.

This next year will be life changing for me, and I am so happy to share it all with you! Don’t worry, this girl still loves to eat so I won’t be jumping ship here! When the eyelashes, crown, and sparkly banner come off, I am still the same woman who loves taking care of her brood of boys with easy-peasy pasta concoctions!

In my humble option, the best foods are always served in bowls.

A luscious, savory bowl of cheese and potato soup, creamy bowls of ice-cream topped with chocolate sauce and a cherry. Bowls of pasta brimming with chunky, spicy tomato sauce, and my personal favorite, a big bowl of chocolate Chex drenched in plenty of ice cold milk.

Did you know there is a bowlful that is equal parts nutritious and delicious? If you haven’t already caught on to the acai bowl craze, let me introduce you to this versatile, lovely snack. All you need is a blender, a couple packets of frozen acai berry blend, a handful of toppings, (sliced strawberries, bananas, blueberries, granola, shaved coconut…) and you’ll be well on your way to a guilt free, bowlful of bliss!

Please excuse the crickets around here, but this summer vacation has gotten the best of me!

We started our vacation with a bang, a big Hawaiian bang that is. Here’s how it all happened; our boys last day of school was on a Thursday, we hopped on a plane that Friday, and we’ve been living island style ever since. No, we haven’t physically been in Hawaii this entire time, but the laid back easy attitude found there has definitely stayed with us.

Aside from relaxing and goofing around on the beach, this particular Hawaiian family vacation held a deeper meaning for us. Ryan and I decided to celebrate our upcoming 15 year anniversary by renewing our vows on the beach in Oahu. With just our boys, our dearest friends, Matt and Shannon, and a photographer, we recommitted, renewed, and reclaimed our union. At the end of our ceremony, the six of us held on to each other and allowed our tears to wash away any residue of the past we all needed to say goodbye to. You see, this resilient, loving family has been through a lot together. Three years ago, after my husband chose sobriety, we slowly started a healing process and began to restore a beautiful life together we thought we had lost. This vow renewal was more than just a celebration of an anniversary, it was a declaration of a new beginning.

Don’t worry, Hawaii wasn’t all tears and seriousness! We snorkeled, sunbathed, and ate our weight in shaved ice. After 12 days of enjoying all that Maui and Oahu has to offer, we were sad to leave but excited to get back to all of the adventures and endeavors that were waiting for us at home.

Since it’s the end of  the school year, I feel like I need to make a confession.

Are you ready for it? Ok…. Here I go…

I do not make school lunches for my boys!!! Not a single one! Ahhhh, that felt good.

Once upon a time (about 6 months ago) I did pack their lunches. Every morning I would slap together 4 turkey (or pb & j) sandwiches, throw some pretzels or sliced apples in a bag, and top it all off with a juice box. I don’t know who hated those lame-o, uninspired, riddled with exasperation school lunches more, my boys or I? I continued to dutifully fulfill my mom obligation day after day, until I found one of those terrible school lunches tucked into the outside garbage, totally untouched. Did I get mad? No. Did I blame my oldest son for not wanting to eat a meal that didn’t want to be made in the first place? Nope. Did I stop making boring school lunches, and instead fill our fridge and pantry with fun and easy ingredients for my boys to make their own lunches with? Yes! Allowing my boys to have complete authority over what they eat for lunch has given them a new found confidence in the kitchen, in themselves, and a deeper appreciation for the meals I do make them.

Because of this bold decision I figured I would step up our after school snacks, just in case one of their lunches fell short that day. Smoothies that are filled with spinach and chia seeds, but taste like chocolate and peanut butter help to fill any nutritional void that may happen when a 9 year old is allowed to pack his own lunch. Cheese crackers, chocolate milk, and an apple sauce? Yes Ewen, that looks like a wonderful meal. Yikes!

I thought I would share one more pot of soup with ya’ll before we become obsessed with summer salads, smoothies, and boozy popsicles! Have I mentioned before that I love, love, love, ridiculously adore, am head over heels with summer? Well I am, but before I jump into the pool, let’s sauté and puree a few spring veggies into a super yummy (crazy easy!) soup.

Making an awesome pot of soup is a mystery to some and a natural gift to others. I fall in the middle somewhere using pre-made chicken stock and doctoring it up with my own creative concoctions. This spring minestrone can be made vegetarian by using vegetable stock and vegan by skipping the cheese. Want to up the veggie count? Stir in a handful of chopped kale or spinach at the end!

Bathing suit season is calling, and this tasty, nutritious, guilt-free soup is a great answer back!

It would take more than a few paragraphs to describe how wonderful my weekend competing for Mrs. California was, so I’ll spare you every detail and just share the highlights!

No I did not win the crown, but I did place second runner up, (!!) won most photogenic, (!!!) and also won the swimsuit competition (!!!!!!). I was blown away by how far I have come since competing last year, but I still have some work to do. While I am much more comfortable on stage, I still need to learn how to let go and allow myself to tell my story. Understanding why I have this desire to put myself out there, on stage, with nowhere to hide, (in 5 inch heels) is the first step in that process. I’ve prayed about and asked myself this very question, and the answer finally hit me on the long drive home from Malibu, California.

I’ll keep you in loop as I become more confident in my journey, but for now allow me to dedicate these spicy, fried drumsticks to my fellow contestants. During competition weekend it’s hard to sleep or eat because of all of the adrenaline and excitement. Fortunately there is plenty of moral support, under eye concealer, and chit chat about what we’re going to indulge in after the pageant. My go-to guilty pleasure meal has always been fried chicken, and I love it even more when it’s a little spicy!

After months of clean eating, and kale salads, this fried chicken was the perfect reward for a job well done!

When people find out that I compete in pageants, I get one of two responses. The first (and most common) is usually, “Wow, that sounds like fun! What’s your talent?” (Thankfully Mrs. pageants do not require you to have a talent!)  The second response isn’t so positive, and usually consists of a raised eyebrow and maybe even a snarky comment.

I never take offense to the latter response. To be quite honest, I had no idea how much work and commitment went into pageants until I competed in my first one last year. If your only experience with pageants is what you see on TV, you would never know about the sacrifices, the determination, or the confidence it takes to get up stage and literally be judged.  It’s easy to only notice the hair and makeup, and assume that pageants are based on physical beauty alone. Trust me when I tell you, they are not!

My personal journey to the Mrs. California stage has be life changing to say the least. Aside from learning how to gracefully walk in heels, the biggest challenge I faced this year was the way in which I regarded myself. Physically I knew I could go through the motions, walk on stage and smile, but mentally I wasn’t sure if I could fill the heels of the Mrs. California title. I am proud to say that after a lot of work, and with the help from my faith, family, and coach I have overcome any self doubt. This April 13th I cannot wait to show my family, friends and the judges what this woman is really capable of!

It goes without saying that pageant prep also consists of super healthy eating! Kale has been my go-to super food with it’s dark green leaves packed with vitamin K, A, and C. It works in smoothies, juices, salads and my new favorite recipe, sautéed in fried rice! Just like having beauty and brains, it’s the perfect combination of healthy and delicious.

At the end of the day, when the makeup has been washed off and the gown put away, true beauty is when the inside is just as, (if not more) beautiful than the outside.