Remembering My Godfather and Family

imageNot only am I blessed to have a family. I am blessed to have an AMAZING family. So many people to love and to be loved by.

My Uncle Lee is my Dad’s younger brother and he is also my Godfather.

For most of my childhood, My Uncle Lee and Aunt Maria and cousin’s lived “a long walk through the corn field” from my Grandma and Grandpa Hemminger’s farm. My favorite memories include our summer family reunions. My parents would bring our camper down and park it in my Grandparents front yard for a week. We would spend hours playing games there and loved playing “McDonalds” through the camper’s screen door. We would go on tractor rides, hay rides, play hide-and-seek in the corn fields, jump on the trampoline and ride our bikes everywhere. One summer we had the biggest water fight ever. There was no child or adult safe and we used anything and everything you could fill with water. imageIt was one of those moments that you could try to recreate a thousand times, but it would never be exactly the same because it was that magical. It was easily one of the best times I have ever had in my life.

When I was in middle school, my Uncle Lee and his family moved to Maine. I was so sad to see my God Family go. I was always so proud to call them that.  I remember after they left I would send My Uncle Lee and Aunt Maria cards and small gifts for different holidays and they would do the same. I really enjoyed picking out a special gift and card that said To My Godfather. One year they sent me a sun catcher with fresh pressed flowers that I just loved and I had it hanging in my bedroom in high school and in my apartment all throughout college.

imageAs I got older the cards and gifts became less frequent. I just stopped doing it one day. I went to college in Arizona and didn’t get home very often. It was even more rare that my Uncle Lee’s family would be home at the same time as me.  Our visits became fewer and far between.

When Tyson and I decided to have our wedding in Arizona, we didn’t expect everyone to travel so far to celebrate with us. I was so unbelievebly grateful that my whole God Family made the effort and long trek to be there on my special day. My one regret is that I wasn’t able to tell them. I was so consumed with all the nitty-gritty of the wedding that I barely saw any of them the week leading up to it.

imageI have so many happy memories from our wedding day, but there is one thing I will never forget—My Uncle Lee came up to me at the reception to wish me congratulations.  I was so excited to see him and talk to him. We weren’t even a few sentences into the conversation when I was pulled away by the DJ for one of the scheduled dances. When I went to look for my Uncle Lee afterwards, he had already left with his family because they had early flights out the next morning. I will forever regret that I let the formalities of our wedding take away an opportunity to reconnect with my Godfather.

When we got pregnant and found out we were having a girl, her first name came to us pretty easily. The middle name was another story. I wanted a middle name that had a connection with my side of the family because we already had a boy’s name picked out that came from Tyson’s side. We went through so many lists of names that I thought I was going to go crazy. One day I was reading a short list aloud to Tyson and I mentioned “Jolee.” I gave it a minute and went on to suggest the next name. Tyson stopped me and said “I’m still thinking about Jolee…” He was the one that recognized that it was the combination of my Father, Joseph and my Godfather, Lee. It was PERFECT!

My mom invited Qwynn and I to Florida the weekend before last to see my Uncle Lee. She was willing to pay any amount, even for just a 24 hour trip. I had plenty of excuses not to accept her offer—the flights are too expensive, the cheap flights all have layovers, it’s too much for Qwynn, I can’t go by myself because Tyson has a game. All valid excuses, but when it came down to it, I felt guilty. I felt like a hypocrite. All these years of not seizing every opportunity to see my Godfather…until he’s about to die. I didn’t want to be that person.

In hindsight, would my family have cared about those things? Most likely not. Would they have welcomed me with open arms? I’m sure they would have. Will I forever regret not taking the opportunity to go see him? I already do.

imageI have so much sympathy for my cousins. For losing their father at such a young age. I don’t think I could have handled it with as much strength and faith as they are. Watching them go through this experience has made me think a lot about my own father who will be 70 this year. Its hard to think about him not being around one day. I often don’t let myself think about it, but I know the reality is that it will happen eventually and we don’t know when. But I do know that I do not want to have the same regrets I am having now.

I am so very sad that distance and time has changed my relationships with my extended family. The family I looked forward to seeing every holiday, summer and random weekends growing up. The family that was and always has been there for me. I will forever hold dear to my heart my childhood memories with my cousins and my Hemminger Family.

I wish I could be there today in Florida with them. With my cousins and aunt. With my dad and my Grandma. I wish they weren’t so far away. But, I am very much looking forward to celebrating my Uncle Lee’s beautiful life in Ohio with all my family over Mother’s Day weekend. I think it will be even more special to be at home all together. To be on my Grandparents farm. To make even more special memories with my AMAZING family.

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Dear Godfather,

I am sorry that I stopped sending cards and gifts. I am sorry I didn’t call and write more. I am sorry I wasn’t there for your family celebrations like you were there for mine. I am sorry I didn’t try and see you every chance I had. I am sorry I didn’t make more time for you. I am sorry I missed out on truly getting to know the beautiful and wonderful person so many other people knew and loved so much. I am sorry it’s too late. I want you to know that even though I wasn’t there nearly enough, I did think about you often. And I will continue to think about you. Everytime I look at our beautiful daughter, Qwynn Jolee, I will think of you, Uncle Lee. My BEAUTIFUL Godfather.

Love Always,

Your Goddaughter

 

Valerie Anne

Trader Joe’s Tuesday: Crab Stuffed Flounder Over Harvest Grains and Sautéed Spinach and Bell Peppers.

This isn’t the post I was planning on writing today. I was going to do the one I never got around to posting last Tuesday because I was passed out on the recliner with a horrible cold. However, this past Saturday I had the itch to really cook and I wanted to use up some items in our fridge and pantry that were borderline expired. Inspired by one of my favorite shows Chopped, I came up with a dish that was pretty delicious. I was so proud of it, I just couldn’t wait another week to share it!

Anyone who knows me well, knows how horrible I am at using food that is even a little bit past its expiration date. I am super picky about my produce and recently realized it comes from a weekend job I had in high school. My mom’s friend who had cancer would have me come over to help her prepare her produce. I had to make sure everything was cleaned really well and that there were no brown spots on anything. I am trying really hard to get over this because I end up wasting so much food.

When I looked into the fridge this weekend and saw an unopened bag of spinach that had a “use by” date for the day before, I hesitated a little. Most of it looked fresh with no brown or wilting so I ignored the expiration date, overcame my OCD and decided to use it. We also had an orange and a yellow bell pepper that we bought the week before and both still looked in good shape. And I found an almost full bag of the harvest grain blend that expires next month so I wanted to use some of that too. The stuffed flounders had been in our freezer for months because I would always forget to put them in the fridge the night before so that they could thaw. Luckily, they thawed pretty quickly in some cold water. I wanted to use fresh onion and garlic, but unfortunately the ones we had were goners. Regardless, we still ended up with a pretty amazing dinner!

Crab Stuffed Flounder over Harvest Grains and Sautéed Spinach and Bell PeppersFullSizeRender_2

Ingredients:

-Pacific flounder with crab meat stuffing

-Organic orange and yellow bell peppers

-Organic fresh spinach

-Harvest grains blend

-Garlic powder, onion powder, curry powder, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper

-Organic coconut oil

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Directions:

First, I cut the bell peppers into really thin strips. I browned the garlic powder slightly in a frying pan with a couple tablespoons of coconut oil. Then I added the peppers and other seasonings and sautéed them for about 10-15 minutes. I added the fresh spinach and continued cooking until it was just wilting. I cooked the fish and the harvest grains blend according to their package directions, and I seasoned the harvest grains with just salt and pepper.

*Trader Joe’s does not pay me to write this.

Valerie Anne

The Dreaded Daily Commute and the Things That Help Us Survive It

I enjoy so many things about living in NYC. Commuting everyday from Astoria, Queens to the complete opposite side of Manhattan and then back again is not one of those things. It is long, unpredictable and can be absolutely exhausting. Our daily commute consists of approximately 40 minutes of walking, 30 minutes on the train, and 5 minutes of waiting for said train. And that’s just one way.

The walking part is easy. I could walk for miles. Qwynn is secure in her stroller and easily distracted by the sights and sounds of the city.  She loves to people watch, and is constantly pointing dogs, birds, green taxis, yellow taxis, school buses, city buses, ambulances etc, etc, etc. She gets so excited!

Keeping Qwynn distracted on the train is another story though! She has always been pretty good at entertaining herself, but the older she gets, the harder it is becoming to keep her busy on the train. We have tried really hard to postpone the TV watching and iPad/iPhone exposure for as long as possible. (A topic for a separate post 😉 ). Luckily, Qwynn has yet to show a ton of interest in these things, and although we know it won’t last forever, we are going to keep riding this train as long as we can.

For now, here are four “old school” things that help us get through our daily commute:

1. BOOKS

FullSizeRender-8Qwynn LOVES to read! Which means we don’t leave the house without at least a couple books in her stroller. She used to enjoy looking at the books on her own, but lately she’s all about Mommy and Daddy reading to her. I really enjoy reading to her, but there are those days that I need a little me time on the train to recover from my day with my 9 other babies. So, we have a rule. I can read her the book if I have a seat, but if I am standing then she needs to look at the book on her own. I can’t say that I haven’t politely declined an available seat because of this rule. It’s ok for mom to be a little selfish every once in awhile.

2. PAD OF PAPER AND PEN/PENCIL

IMG_7603Qwynn received a pad of paper and mechanical pencil from her grandparents for Christmas and has been loving to doodle ever since. FullSizeRender-11She can only draw circles, so of course she asks Tyson and I to draw for her most of the time. Our doodling skills can be pretty hilarious. Her favorite things to ask for are “Qwynnie, Mommy, Daddy and coffee.”  Pretty much sums us up. She has also been really interested in her letters lately, so recently we’ve been writing out words and spelling them, too.

3. STICKERS

FullSizeRender-10What kid doesn’t love stickers? One day, Qwynn spent the whole train ride piling stickers on her nose. She thought it was absolutely hilarious! I have a love/hate relationship with stickers because they stick to places you don’t want them to (like strollers and hardwood floors) and they can be a b**** to get off. So we have a rule for these, too. Qwynn can stick them to paper, her clothes or her body, but as soon as we get home all used stickers go right into the garbage.

4. CHEERIOS

IMG_9644Well, technically we buy trader Joe’s Multigrain O’s, but they are still just as magical. Qwynn doesn’t eat on the train too often in our daily commute because we want her to be hungry for her lunch and dinner. On the rare occasion that we don’t have time to feed her breakfast at home, we can give Qwynn a bag of cherrios on the train and she will sit there the whole ride chowing down and people watching. It’s like she’s at the movies. And you know what the means. Mom and dad get to rest and zone out a little before the work day ahead. Hooray for cheerios!!!

Valerie Anne

Trader Joe’s Tuesday: Knotted Challah Grilled Cheese with Avocado and Vegetable Bird’s Nests

In my later high school and early college years, I was overly restrictive about what I ate, especially when it came to the amount of fat in my food. I wouldn’t eat any food with more than a couple grams of fat and anything that said fat-free was a winner. This meant that too often I would turn to foods considered empty calories like salty crackers and sugary cereals. The problem was, I was always hungry and always thinking of the fatty delicious foods that I wouldn’t allow myself to have. And then I would feel guilty anytime I caved.

I eventually realized that if I stopped stressing out about it so much, I actually craved healthier foods most of the time because I allowed myself to indulge every now and then. I learned when it comes to food (like most things in life), it’s all about balance.

So this week’s meal might not be the healthiest if low-fat is what you are looking for, but avocado is good fat, right? Plus, the veggie bird’s nests are a quick frozen side with a short ingredient list of mostly vegetables. I try not to eat a ton of bread and if I do I’ll usually go for wheat or multigrain, but sometimes I just can’t resist a good challah bread.

This is comfort food at its finest! Grilled cheese with a twist knot.

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Knotted Challah Grilled Cheese with Avocado and Vegetable Bird’s Nests

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Cut the Challah roll in half and toast the flat side of each half in a buttered skillet until golden brown.

Place the rolls on a baking sheet toasted side up and put a slice of Muenster cheese on each half. Heat in oven until cheese is melted.

Cover one side with sliced avocado and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

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If you like onion rings, you will love these Vegetable Bird Nests! They are lightly battered  and the soy dipping sauce goes perfectly with them. I bake them in the oven, following the package directions.

Valerie Anne

DIY Saturday: Cardboard Kitchen Center

I have been crafting and creating things since I can remember. Back in the day I was a Girl Scout, in 4H Club and I took art class until I graduated high school. Growing up, my dad’s philosophy was always “Why buy it if you can make it yourself?” I follow this philosophy a lot.

Most people know or have heard about NYC’s shoe-box-sized apartments. We are very blessed to have something a little bigger than a shoe box, but our apartment is already bursting at the seams. Everyone who has kids is aware of how much space they can take up.

So when Tyson’s parents asked what they could get Qwynn for her 2nd birthday, I had to think very carefully before giving them an answer. Qwynn LOVES playing in the kitchen center at school, but we definitely do not have enough room for a whole play kitchen in our apartment. I figured that even though we didn’t have space for the whole shebang, we could at least make room for a small kitchen set. So that’s what we told them to get her.

Of course, Qwynn’s favorite spot to play with her new kitchen set was on the floor. In our kitchen. While we are cooking dinner. Not ideal.

After tripping over her one too many times, I had to come up with a better option! Qwynn also received an easel for her birthday (don’t ask me how we found room for it, but I’m glad we did!), and the box it came in was the exact same size as our ottoman. Cue light bulb over my head!

Using the cardboard box, poster board left over from Qwynn’s birthday party, and craft paint from my craft box, I created the perfect solution. And the best part is, it slides perfectly behind our couch. Success!

Kid’s Tabletop Play Kitchen

Supplies:

– Large piece of cardboard
– Poster board (optional)
– Craft paint (or magic markers, colored pencils, etc.)

Steps:

1. Cut cardboard the size you would like for whatever table you would like it to fit on. I made this one to fit on our ottoman.

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2. If you are a Type-A person like myself and like things to be extremely neat looking, you can wrap the cardboard in poster board. This gave me a nice white blank canvas to paint on. But you could also paint or draw directly on the cardboard.

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3. Sketch out a counter, sink and stove top and use craft paint to paint your masterpiece. You could also use markers, colored pencils, crayons or even just a sharpie. If you do not have faith in your own drawing skills, you can Google image search “stove top graphics” and “kitchen sink graphics” to find images to copy or cut out and glue onto the cardboard.

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This has been an amazing alternative to having a store bought kitchen center! Plus, when we flip it over, we have a great surface for block play as well!

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Valerie Anne

Trader Joe’s Tuesday: Eggplant and Quinoa

I would LOVE to be able to make delicious, organic and healthy meals from scratch every night of the week for my family; but let’s be real. After working all day and having an average commute of an hour and fifteen minutes one way, that’s NEVER going to happen. And I’ve learned to be okay with that.

I do enjoy cooking, but there are so many other things I like to do more. I don’t want to spend all weekend in the kitchen prepping for the week ahead, especially with the nicer weather finally getting here. And during the week, sometimes we don’t get home until 7:30pm or later. That means a very limited amount of time to get dinner on the table.

Trader Joe’s is a God send on these days!

Every Tuesday (I hope!), I will share the easy and mostly healthy meals, snacks and desserts that save us during the week and let us play more on the weekend.

Not everything is organic. Not everything is fresh. Not everything has a short ingredient list. But everything we prepare from Trader Joe’s is free of preservatives and artificial flavors and colors. And I try for the other things as much as possible.

This week I present to you:

Eggplant Cutlets with Quinoa, Veggies & Mediterranean Feta Cheese

This is one of my go to meals when Tyson is working late at Rangers games. It is a pretty healthy frozen option that only takes about fifteen minutes to prepare, costs less than $8 and is the perfect size meal for our small family.

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The Eggplant Cutlets have more ingredients in them than I prefer, but (1) it is a vegetable, and (2) my picky toddler eats them. Mom 1, Qwynn 100. Woohoo!

Qwynn has yet to try the quinoa medley, but I really, really enjoy it! It is so quick to prepare in the microwave and the ingredient list is GREAT! Lots of veggies!

All this dish is missing is cheese. I love cheese! I mean, who doesn’t? So I add feta to the quinoa after it is heated. The Mediterranean Feta Cheese is really yummy and goes perfectly with the flavors in the quinoa!

FullSizeRender_2I bake the eggplant on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and heat the quinoa in the microwave in a bowl covered with a wet paper towel.

When it’s time to serve, I like to layer the quinoa and eggplant in a bowl.

Absolutely DELISH!

 

 

 

*Trader Joe’s does not pay me to write this.

Valerie Anne

We Are The Parents That Bring Their Toddler Everywhere

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I love good beer. Especially a really good IPA. So when Tyson’s brother invited us to The First Annual Coney Island Homebrew Competition last month, we did not hesitate to say yes.

Actually, that’s a lie.

We ALWAYS hesitate when we are invited anywhere because the first question we have to ask is “Can Qwynn come?”

That’s right! We are THOSE parents. The parents that bring their toddler everywhere.

Okay, not really everywhere. But almost everywhere.

Since she was about a month old, Qwynn has tagged along on most of our outings and adventures. She’s been to more professional sports games than I can keep count of and has come to every wedding we’ve been to since she was born. Don’t get me wrong. All parents need their adult time. But these are 5 reasons why we share a lot of ours with our daughter…

1. We don’t have family nearby.

This is probably the biggest reason we take Qwynn almost everywhere with us. There are definitely times that I envy those that have grandparents nearby to babysit for free or those who have weekly babysitters, but you just have to make do with what you’ve got. I think taking Qwynn with us most places definitely has its benefits and it teaches her how to adapt to different environments and situations.

2. GOOD babysitters are really expensive.

Really, really expensive! I should know because I used to be (and kind of still am) one. Since I work at a preschool, I am very fortunate to have many wonderful people in my life that would happily babysit. And some of them offer to do it for free. BUT I really hate taking advantage of my coworkers too much, so we often only use them for very special occasions. We don’t want to be THOSE friends!

3. We only have ONE child.

We are still on the fence about having a second child, so I figure we should take advantage of the fact that we only have one kid right now. And she’s generally a pretty good kid. That is if we plan everything out right…the long nap on the train, lots of snacks and fried Mac n cheese bites were a lifesaver.

4. We want her to learn to “go with the flow.”

My Type A side absolutely, 100% feels that consistency and having a routine is EXTREMELY important (and the earlier you start, the better), but I also understand that being able to adapt to changes in that routine needs to be practiced as well. I think it is a good idea to break the routine here and there, so we can teach Qwynn how to handle those situations. Plus, since we have worked hard in our everyday life to keep her in a good routine, we don’t feel guilty about giving her extra snacks/treats to keep her happy when we go out!

5. We enjoy having her around!

We genuinely have fun with Qwynn. And other people seem to have a good time with her too (I think even more than they do with Tyson and I). She makes us laugh and she keeps us young! Who wouldn’t love that?

Part of our parenting philosophy has always been, “Qwynn lives in our world, we don’t live in hers.”

Wait! It sounds worse than it is.

Qwynn is definitely OUR WORLD, but we want her to learn that she is not the center of the universe. That sometimes we need to go with the flow and do things that we don’t want to do and be in situations that aren’t always comfortable for us…AND we still need to act in an appropriate manner. All things I am still learning myself!

We probably towed the line with this specific event because the venue ended up being more of a bar than a restaurant and Qwynn was the only kid there. To be fair, it was proposed to us as a festival (FESTIVAL=KID FRIENDLY, right?), and we really did not have a clue what we were getting into.

Although I questioned our decision the minute we walked through the door and saw all these young childless people chatting and drinking beer, no one seemed to be bothered by Qwynn and most even welcomed her with a smile.

Regardless of anything, Qwynn was a trooper and she allowed her mom and dad to have a good few hours of fun.

For that, we are ever so grateful!

Valerie Anne