Back to a Healthy Routine

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It’s a weird thing having more than two weeks off of school after only getting three weeks under our belts, and going back feels a little bit like starting all over again. More than ever, we’re craving routine, healthy habits and a normal rhythm in our home. While adventures away from home allow us to learn new things and make meaningful memories, living out of suitcases, climbing in a messy road-trip car and indulging in “When in Rome” splurges (caramel apples, donuts, Lucky Charms, ice cream–uughh) eventually strips away the feeling of stability that helps anchor my parenting. Yes, I’m all about the YOLO, but it means nothing if it isn’t well balanced with responsible routines that keep our home base safe, calm and restoring. As much as I complain about things like doing laundry, cleaning the house, helping with homework and making school lunches, I find myself actually enjoying those things when our life gets busy or our schedules get out of wack because those are the things that recalibrate our routine and give me the satisfaction of knowing I’m nurturing my family in a good way. Nurturing is my jam.

So when we returned home and I had to completely rebuild my refrigerator supply (we threw out everything after 7 days of no power), I took great pleasure in filling my cart with nourishing food that somehow represented the feeling I want to restore in our home after having it disrupted by crazy ol’ Irma. Fresh produce. Soup ingredients for cozy fall dinners. Lunch box foods that say “Let’s pick right back up where we left off”. While we switch up our lunch box choices a lot to keep it interesting, one thing that always works for my kids is yogurt. But if you’ve been down the yogurt aisle lately, you’ll know that there are officially 546 kinds to choose from which I simply can’t handle because too many choices shut me down.

Here’s where you go–the #1 organic kids’ yogurt on the shelf is Stonyfield® YoKids® yogurt, and it features between 25% to 40% less sugar than the leading kids’ yogurt. Stonyfield recently announced a sugar reduction across its yogurt portfolio – and it started with YoKids. And because Stonyfield YoKids yogurts are certified organic, that means each cup is always made without the use of toxic persistent pesticides, artificial hormones, antibiotics and GMOs. Organic Certification matters because just calling something natural isn’t a guarantee.

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It comes in cups, pouches, tubes and smoothies, so it’s super convenient for grabbing on the go and tucking into lunch boxes.

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We also use ours to make our smoothies creamier…

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…and God forbid you pull out the blender in our house without asking the little ones to help.

While I like to add a lot of fancy things to my smoothies, the kids like theirs pretty basic–a little apple juice, frozen strawberries and/or pineapple, spinach and yogurt.

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Dash fights for the rights to the on switch.

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We always keep a box of squeeze tubes in the freezer as well. My kids love to eat them like frozen yogurt, and they work great for lunch boxes because they stay colder longer.

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Also–great for sharing…even with dogs.

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Now that my fridge is stocked, we are restoring all the good feels around here with music, cleaning and fall decorating.

Feels good to be home.

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Irma Evacuation Part 2: North Georgia Magic

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It was still dark by the time we drove out of the Blue Ridge Mountains early yesterday morning, and as the cloud of fog that hugged our van slowly thinned and mountains shrunk into hills and finally flat land, I felt a little bit like we were leaving Narnia, the magical world we accidentally stumbled upon when we walked into the wardrobe–er, um–peeled out of our driveway and sped away from a catastrophic hurricane.

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We are happy to be home now, emerged into a little more normalcy, and school starts again next week. We’re hosting a family dinner Friday night, simply to collect and retell all the stories we’ve made these past two weeks. It’s sort of evolved into a Little Miss Sunshine-ish movie, and we’ve already cast the characters of who will play everyone in our imaginary script. At one point, we were attempting to transfer messages to and from our people in Naples because, with limited cell phone service, they weren’t getting messages to each other. Imagine how hard I was laughing when I was conveying to Brett that my dad was attempting to get back to him, but his car got flooded and stalled along the way, so–get this–he was riding a bicycle with a dog in a backpack, trying to make his way home. Another night he was walking on a pitch black street with a flashlight ten minutes before county curfew while Brett and his Dad tried to find him, dodging fallen tree barricades along the way.

Debris and trees line many of our streets, and grocery stores still have some empty shelves, but for the most part, the community is moving along, anxious to clean up. We’re headed to go shopping and help make supply bags today for some other communities east of us that are struggling to get back on their feet, and it feels good to part of the relief efforts. Before we move along though, I wanted to share some of the magic of this little part of the country we might never had explored if Irma wouldn’t have given us the nudge.

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Welcome to Blairsville, Georgia, a mountain town that offers all the elements of a Narnia-ish experience–fall colors, morning fog, mountain creeks and waterfalls, and a charming little downtown square with a historic courthouse perched right in the middle.

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Family friends so generously offered for us to stay in their second home on Lake Nottely, and it quickly became the heart of all the magic, where we drank coffee and listened to records in the morning and retreated to late afternoon for movies and wine, cozy dinners and sunsets, and–if we were lucky–Dash’s naps.

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One of my favorite things about the little town of Blairsville and something the kids were completely charmed by was its fierce dedication to the tradition of hiding painted rocks around town for kids to find. Apparently, several U.S. towns do this, but Blairsville is ALL IN. We spent an entire afternoon walking around downtown, in and out of shops, looking for rocks, and each kid was delighted to find a few–on a coffee shop window ledge, hidden under plant leaves, tucked in a stack of pillows for sale at a home shop.

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They loved it so much, we stopped and picked up some art supplies to make our own rocks to paint that night, and then returned the next day to hide them.

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If you’re wondering who enjoyed it more–me or the kids–I think we both know that’s a hard thing to determine.

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We found our Fall which, as I’ve recently professed, is what fuels my cells and gives me happy superpowers. In just the 13 days we were gone, we watched the colors begin to shift a little more golden and, on our last day trip along a route we took earlier in the week, we couldn’t believe these glorious pockets of red foliage that had suddenly erupted. If there was a fall thing we could do, we did it.

Apple orchard? CHECK.

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Mercier Orchards: oh my God, their apple cinnamon donuts. 

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Caramel apples? CHECK.

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Lakeside campfire with cider and popcorn? CHECK.

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We even met up with some of our dear friends from Naples who also evacuated to the area for a day of apple picking.

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Hillside Orchard Farms, Tiger, GA.

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Bonus: We got our baby fix.

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Other North Georgia gems we found…

Meeks Park (Blairsville) where we enjoyed two different creek side picnics.

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…how cool is this tandem swing?

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Sunrise Grocery. A family owned country store that I’ve now added to the unrealistic list of things I dream of owning and running someday. It’s full of local goods, art, pottery, handmade soaps, jams, candy and is just about the most charming shopping experience we’ve ever had.

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There’s a little brass monkey the owners hide in the store everyday for locals to find (these Blairsville people and their hiding things magic–I love it!), and they sell the most amazing spicy peanuts that you eat shell and all.

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Happy Goats Trading Company. We were driving along one day and passed this darling little trading post and then saw chickens, some goats, and finally my mother-in-law said, “Wait–they’re on a trampoline!” Family Rule: WE U-TURN FOR GOATS ON TRAMPOLINES. Totally worth the U-Turn.

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And then–wait for it–we drove by A LIFE-SIZE FAIRY GARDEN. You heard me, a MAGIC FAIRY GARDEN FOR REAL PEOPLE. It’s true: North Georgia is where the unicorns live.

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Sleepy Hollow Whimsical Fairy Garden.

There wasn’t a day we weren’t laughing, watching all these weird little magical adventures unfold on their own, saying to ourselves, “What is happening?” I mean, one minute we were evacuating for a hurricane, and the next we were taking pictures of the kids in a bird house in the mountains.

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Then there was Clayton, Georgia, this darling mountain town with a hip Main Street, great restaurants & bars and fabulous shops–less mountain Trading Post-ish and a little more on trend (but I like both!).

We ate at Union Joint (super kid friendly with a whole kid toy area outside) and Fortify (the FOOD! so good!).

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Favorite shop: Wander North Georgia. Super fun hipster/outdoor adventure vibe, but what I really loved was the back of the shop, this big area they turned into a faux outdoor camp space, complete with twinkle lights, a big screen movie playing and a bocce court.

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And the best for our last day–Tallulah Falls, where we climbed 324 steps to walk the suspension bridge across the falls.

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I was so proud of the kids–even Nella did the climb back up without being held.

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Could not have done this trip without my mother-in-law…how cute is she?

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We won’t soon forget this corner of the world and the gift it has been to our family these past two weeks–and the family who was so generous to us in sharing their home and their beautiful state with us.

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These three added North Georgia to their list of favorite life adventures.

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And the little house? I did one last sweep through before we left early yesterday morning, and right before I turned off the light and closed the door, I thanked the little house–out loud–for what it gave us, and wished it many more happy memories for others who are lucky enough to walk through its door.

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Time for some storm clean up and more stories to be written back home in Florida.

Irma Evacuation Part 1

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Before I even begin, I have to preface this with the fact that this is an evacuation story, not a hurricane story. There is some real devastation happening in the state of Florida right now–not to mention Houston’s residual heartache after Harvey–and ours is more of a flee-the-scene-turned-wild-adventure that, yes, involves some anxiety, inconvenience and a few tears, but it ends okay. I mean, our frantic exit landed us in a Georgia lake house where we’ve been sipping coffee watching the news at a very comfortable temperature (FALL!) for the past five days which is more than my friends who stayed back home can say right now and certainly nothing compared to those whose homes were destroyed this past weekend. So, we’re good. Our home was spared. The pool cage is ruined, and there’s a broken window and crap blown everywhere in the garage, but that’s less than what I expected. Our home itself is intact, and once the power is back on, roads are cleared and gas stations are restocked, we will make our way back to where this all began…in my kitchen last Friday morning when I lost my shit.

Maybe it was when I woke up to check the latest projections on how Irma was shifting and watched Jim Cantore take his finger through the map on the screen and practically draw the exact route from my favorite beach to our house.

“It could change,” Brett said calmly, “Nobody can really predict this.”

“BRETT. JIM CATORE’S FINGER IS BASICALLY TOUCHING DASH’S TRICYCLE IN OUR DRIVEWAY WITH THE CAPTION “Will Be Catastrophic.” DUDE, I’M OUT.”

Or maybe it was all my friends who, a day earlier, assured me they too were riding it out–I could count on them–and then I woke up to find out they all escaped and left me in the middle of the night. So, yeah. The trauma of childhood rapture nightmares revisited.

“Oh my God, Brett. We’re the only ones left. We’re those people you see on the news when everyone says “WHY DID THEY STAY?”

“We’re going to be fine. Stop panicking,” he said. But it got to a point where we have very different comfort levels with–oh, I don’t know–CATEGORY 5 HURRICANES COMING RIGHT AT US.

While I knew Brett would be safe (he studied elevation maps, had a plan with my dad and his dad along with a shelter back-up plan), I couldn’t take worrying anymore, not to mention the idea of riding through the storm with three scared kids, one of whom is terrified of storms. In fact, Nella’s little school friend’s mom called me after the hurricane and said that during the storm, her daughter said, “But Mom, is Nella okay? She’s really scared when there’s a storm at school.” Friday morning, I was picturing those horrible dreams I’ve had of who will grab which kid in an emergency, and I finally decided entertaining it all was insane when I still had time to get out. We knew there were gas shortage issues and mass exodus traffic, but Friday morning the news reports were telling people, “The time is NOW. Get out.” Thankfully, my wonderful mother-in-law (lucky to have two of them–this is Brett’s dad’s wife) was equally anxious and uncomfortable and offered to come with me and the kids. So we hugged the boys who were holding down the fort (and our dogs!), and left early Friday morning with no plan or destination. It was surreal–packing my kids’ baby books and keepsakes, running through the house knowing time was running out, throwing things in bags, reassuring the kids everything was fine. Also, I’m a bit dramatic, so I shine in these moments. Like, I threw out the term “evacuation” as much as I could that morning for effect.

Hotels were booked all over Florida, and there wasn’t really a city free from Irma’s wrath, so we just kept driving north, tracking gas availability on gas apps and stopping whenever we could to top off our tank. We drove for 19 hours straight amid this eerie scene–all these cars headed north with the south traffic practically non-existent but for an occasional parade of National Guard trucks.

So many of you reached out on Instagram, offering your homes. Good Lord, it was comforting–so much love in this community. I had reached out to a few friends who I knew would take us in, but shortly after we crossed the Georgia line, my cousin texted me that her best friend who I met once when I was in college offered her empty lake house in Blairsville, Georgia for us to stay as long as we needed–the kindest gesture we will never forget. So we kept driving north until 3:00 a.m. when we landed in the driveway of the home that’s been the most wonderful retreat for us this week.

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And then we waited, calling back home and tracking the storm every second until we knew it was time. And when it was? Well, let’s just say Sunday is a day we won’t soon forget. “It was unreal,” Brett says of the winds. “The house was shaking, and at one point the sliding glass doors literally bowed in. That’s when we ran.” The worst winds on the east wall of the eye lasted for about an hour, and during that time, we watched the news live (so weird to see national news talking about your neighborhood during a time like that) and made as many calls to the men back home as we could. And yeah, it was a little scary.

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Our people are safe. Our house survived (“It’s just a house,” I told myself many times), our friends’ houses survived, and though our town looks like a war zone, we are so thankful that what could’ve happened didn’t (our town didn’t get the surge that was expected, praise be). But for many people, it did happen, and my heart breaks for so many losses I’ve seen on the news these past few weeks due to the hurricanes. There’s a lot to be done to rebuild both Florida and Houston, and it’s going to take time. I’ve felt so helpless being away, but I’ve done what I can from where we are–donating to the Red Cross, families that have been hit harder than us (my friend and fellow D.S. family, the Eichers, lost so much in Harvey) and registered with Volunteer Florida to help when we get home (if you live in Florida, it’s quick and easy to register).

And the rest? Well, we ride the storm in our own way, searching for adventures and memorable moments on this crazy adventure.

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We’ve tucked away so many stories and look forward to a big family get together when we get home where we all get to share our hurricane stories and laugh (that time we got pulled over at 2 a.m. after 18 hours of driving) and hug and feel grateful.

The best part in all of this is witnessing the incredible human spirit of togetherness and love and support. The little town we’re staying in is full of evacuees–Florida license plates as far as the eye can see, and everywhere we go, people are so welcoming. I checked out at a little shop the other day, and the store owner–in her southern drawl–said, “Honey, we’re glad you’re here. We’re glad we can make ya’ll feel safe away from home.” And it makes me want to hug the entire state of Georgia.

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There are still massive power outages at home (our house has no power, but Brett’s at his dad’s with a generator), the roads are impassable in many places, the water and sewage systems are a mess, and school’s been canceled at least until next Wednesday (we’ll have to make it up this summer). So we’re waiting until we know it’s a good time to go home. Inconvenient? Yes. But, man, have we ever had fun on the journey. The memories we’ve made will be tucked in a special place, retold for years to come.

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And our friends who’ve been so generous to let us use their place?

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 photo print 14_zpsstv72vtq.jpgWe listen to records all day–Bing Crosby and Count Basie–and have fallen into a little Irma routine with memories I know my kids will cherish.

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We make lemonade…that’s what we do. And when you’re given the Georgia mountains, a lake, a beautiful home and a lot of love, you can make some damn good lemonade.

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Thank you for all your sweet comments and love this past week…we really are okay, so you can send some of that love to those who really need it by donating to the Red Cross or help my friend, Lisa.

More from Blairsville, Georgia soon.

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