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.

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!

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.

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!

I rely on skillet meals when my life feels like it’s in overdrive. Dinner is on the table in 30 minutes or less, the clean up is quick, and the possibilities are endless.

A few days ago, (before t-ball practice and after homework time) I had a pound of ground turkey, some random veggies, and a jar of marinara sauce that was begging to be thrown into my cast iron skillet. With the help of some mini farfalle and a few dollops of ricotta cheese, I had a meal so worthy of seconds, my boys were fighting over the last few bites. No joke! Little did they know this baked, cheesy dish was packed with veggies, (spinach AND carrots) and I didn’t even have to negotiate a dessert to get them to clean their plates. Thank goodness for dinners that help make my families’ life healthier and my life easier!

If you do nothing, nothing will ever happen.

Nothing good, nothing bad, nothing exciting, nothing terrifying. Absolutely, positively nothing.

Do you have a something in mind? Something that you would like to do or carry out? Maybe you feel that you don’t have enough time, patience, money, knowledge, or resources to do whatever it is you are wanting to accomplish. My advice to counter that would be to take the closest step in the direction you are wanting to go. Running around the block can lead into running a marathon. Writing in your journal can turn into writing that novel. Reading a recipe might push you to host (and cook for!) your first dinner party and four measly strips of bacon can inspire a new favorite family dinner.

You don’t have to have it all figured out today, you just have take that first small (yet very BIG) step. To get somewhere, you need to start somewhere because doing nothing at all will always get you nowhere!

I’ve been looking forward to my 35th birthday since I turned 30. Not that I wanted to hurry up and fast forward through my early thirties! I just had a feeling that 35 would be the year when it would all start to make sense. When I could finally be totally comfortable with the girl I was and with the woman I am suppose to be. When I with assurance would start to recognize my strengths and begin to walk confidently in them. When I without question understand that the strength and love found in my family, friends, and faith is all I need in this world to make me beautifully whole.

Last but not least, when I without apology can share a casserole recipe with you! Here’s the deal, I’m really good at throwing an awesome casserole together. Call it a talent, a skill, or just a weird sense of knowing what combination of ingredients will taste good topped with cheese and baked together for 20 minutes! Whatever you want to call it, I’ve got it.  This brussels sprout casserole I made a few days ago, it’s a keeper. It has all of the qualities a casserole requires; a starch, a veggie, a sauce, and of course cheese! Add a little crispy bacon and my family was in casserole heaven! It’s not the most innovative or cook book worthy dish, but we loved it and I think you will too!

Happy New Years to you, and happy 35th birthday to me!

I think it’s silly that cranberry sauce is served almost exclusively around the holidays. While it’s an important part of a very traditional meal, why should we save this lovely, tart condiment for just two dinners a year?!

Along that same sentiment, why does the act of giving seem to be more important during the holiday months than any other time?  It’s great to recognize how blessed you are during a season filled with so much, and to give when you are lead. Why do we reserve this selfless, loving act to just two months out of the year?

Don’t feel bad, I am guilty of saving both cranberries and giving for the holidays. What if we decided to change that? Instead of waiting all year to enjoy these beautiful traditions, let’s continue to give (and eat cranberry sauce) throughout the new year. I know, easier said than done. I completely understand how quickly everyday life takes over. Luckily giving can be as easy as checking in on a neighbor, making sure your child’s teacher has the supplies she needs, or even asking a stranger how her day is going. Giving doesn’t have to be big to be effective. It just needs to be needed.

As for cranberry sauce, I personally enjoy it more on this simple pork dish instead of trying to find a place for it on a overflowing holiday plate!

My favorite Thanksgiving memory did not happen on turkey day itself, but a few days afterward. A handful of our friends had the brilliant idea to Christmas tree hunt in the woods instead of taking he usual trip to the Christmas tree lot. Unfortunately we were not talking about a tidy Christmas tree farm. Instead we ended up in the snow, up a hill, somewhere in Tahoe, trespassing with a chainsaw. Our friend Mark said it best when he declared that this could be the best idea that we’ve ever had, or the absolute worst.

None of us are huge fans of the snow, so of course none of came prepared with snow jackets, boots, or gloves. Two shivering hours later, Sarah (the most adventurous in our group) marched down the hill proudly dragging behind her a very wild looking Christmas tree. The rest of us were perfectly ok admitting defeat and heading home empty handed.  Thankfully the whole day wasn’t a bust! Earlier, before our group headed out Sarah’s mother-in-law filled our bellies with bowls of her homemade day-after-thanksgiving-soup for lunch. We all thoroughly enjoyed a few bowls of golden turkey broth full of stuffing, veggies, and of course turkey. So even though our Christmas tree adventure (disaster) didn’t turn into a tradition, this Thanksgiving leftover soup did!