Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Worth A Thousand Words

It wasn't until recently that I realized what the saying " a picture is worth a thousand words" truly means. The following photos, a small selection of the amazing gift of a session my friend Mabby Lavoy of LouLou Photography (Alexandria, VA) bestowed upon us, contain a few of secrets.

It took many incredible people to make this, Memphis's first and only trip outside possible. In our case, when we were making end-of-life arrangements (yes, it's a thing and still pains me to say that) two of our nurses discussed at shift change how we could maximize how special his last days with us were. They were able to convince me that it would be no problem (and so worth it) to get him outside. We worked with several other nurses to make it happen, and were accompanied on our outing by two nurses, a respiratory therapist, a doctor and two child life specialists who were instrumental in entertaining Harleigh so she could be a part of our only outing as a family. Also, my friend and fellow heart-mom, Heather, pushed the wheelchair I sat in which we figured was better than wheeling him out on his bed. 

Sarah was our special nurse guest on this day. We met her when we were first admitted to the NICU at Children's National Medical Center and she came down to visit and helped to transfer Memphis from his bed to my arms.

It really does take a village! See that door on the left? That's Memphis's room. He became well known for his room decorations which almost always incorporated sloths. His sloth wall decals I'm told continue to brighten the walls of his last room in the CICU.

Something else that isn't obvious in these photos is that they were taken the day before he would pass, and although we knew at that point this would be his fate, nothing could steal away the joy we felt in being able to do something so normal as a family. 

Something I will never regret is our approach to celebrating every milestone and holiday (no matter how significant) throughout his life. Before that last week we had (validated) high hopes that he would come home one day and slowly (as a sloth does) progress. A window of opportunity in which he was stable and there was enough staff to get him down for a CT scan gave us a lot of soul-crushing information that sends a very powerful message. No matter how things may appear on the outside, it's no testament to how sick someone actually may be on the inside. Simply put, he would never sustain life without all of the support he was receiving. We decided that we had a rare opportunity to make his passing peaceful and loving and since it was inevitable we wanted to avoid the very real odds that something traumatic could happen which would claim him in a way that would not allow us to provide him the comfort we were able to.

We took a quick FaceTime break to include a few very special people in our outdoor adventure.

Many of you who know us know we aren't very religious. We are, however spiritual people and believe the universe, a higher power or whatever it is sends us signs. This is why I think Memphis knew his time with us on earth was nearing an end. He never looked scared or sad. In fact, he seemed quite content. And he left us with a gift to ensure we would be okay. That gift is yet another thing you can't see from simply looking at these photographs...

They're the only ones that exist which include our family of FIVE. Memphis may have gotten his angel wings, but that won't stop him from getting promoted to BIG BROTHER!

Memphis's story is far from over. We hope you'll follow our blog and stay tuned to his Facebook and Instagram pages. 

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Talking Through the Trauma

Privately working through anything is not my strong suit. I'm not an attention seeker, nor do I publicly share my trials and tribulations for sympathy. It's my coping mechanism. Writing brings me a kind of therapy that makes me feel productive, especially in situations where I may otherwise feel helpless. I may be judged and criticized for my lack of filter and willingness to publish information which may make others uncomfortable. But this isn't about them. And frankly, everything you do as a parent is scrutinized anyway, so I'll take my chances.

You go through a lot when your child is in an ICU. When we had Harleigh and learned of what it meant to be the parents of a preemie with a month-long NICU stay, we had no clue she was simply introducing us to all that life entailed. And I had no clue there was even such a thing as a Cardiac ICU. But enter Memphis, and our world was rocked as he wasn't just premature, but found to also have a heart defect contributing to his chronic lung disease that would require open heart surgery. And that's how we landed in the CICU. More on that in a later post.

This experience changes a person in many ways. It keeps you incredibly humble, for one. And although from the outside you may envision us sitting crib side all day and night, next to machines, cords and tubes, there's so much more to it. You form relationships and bonds when you open yourself up to taking in all this journey has to offer. It's so easy to isolate yourself and be pissed at the world during these times, but if you really want to cope, you involve yourself with your surroundings.

The Support Staff - Everyone begins to play a role in your new daily normal. It's quite honestly like going to work. The sweet homeless man on the corner when you exit the 395 tunnel. The parking garage attendants and valets. The front desk staff and security, summer student volunteers and unit receptionists. The cleaning staff, food service workers and even the kind man who transports the blood from the blood bank to patient rooms. I've sat down to meals with some of these people and learned personal details of their lives and will always remember them and appreciate the company they provided, whether they realize it or not.

The Caretakers - This list is longer than you may expect. In addition to the doctors (fellows, residents and attendings) there are nurse practitioners, surgeons, respiratory therapy specialists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, electrophysiologists (I like to call them the "heart electricians") hematologists, trach nurse and others who follow up often, some on a daily basis. There are social workers, case workers, charge nurses, resource nurses, nutritionists, pain management specialists and more you also encounter daily. And, of course, the most important relationships we form are those with our RN's. When you've been a patient for over 4 1/2 months like we have, in 2 different hospitals and 3 separate units, and there's a day shift and night shift, you meet a LOT of nurses. They may have seen you at your best and worst. In pjs, with unbrushed hair and teeth approaching day 2 (or 3) unshowered. They'll remind and encourage you to take care of yourself. They make discharge bittersweet. You'll be excited to finally take your little one home, but you're also closing a very stressful chapter of your life in which these people were key players with whom you may very well leave a piece of your heart.

The Other Families - Our newfound friendships have become amongst the most important. Your other friends and family are still very important, of course. But these guys "get it". They're going through it right alongside you. They feel everything you feel. You celebrate the small things together. Every. Little. Wean. Many of these are formed in the unit waiting room, where you tend to be only when there are other visitors and your child's room has reached capacity, or your little one is undergoing surgery. These relationships have been a blessing not only to us as parents, but also to our families (grandparents, aunts/uncles, and siblings) as our relatable experiences allow us pass the time sharing stories assisting with easing our anxiety about what other traumatic things may be occurring. You speak to each other in what may have previously seemed like a foreign language, using medical jargon in a way that flows freely and understanding exactly what it all means. You may cry tears of joy and sadness when you watch as family after family bring in their car seats and discharge. And you'll become Facebook friends, because like us you're probably millennials/Gen X'ers and that's what we do. You may bond over faith, hometown connections, careers or other commonalities, but you'll be forever connected as a priceless support during one of the most difficult times of your life. And if you're really fortunate, you'll stay in touch outside of social networking and watch your kids grow up together. We've been very fortunate to have gotten connected with past NICU/CICU families who formed non-profit foundations as a result of their experiences to assist other families, like us, and provide support and little treats and comforts. In this situation, it really is the little things that make a huge difference. We're so incredibly grateful for our paths to have crossed with all of these amazing people!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

And Then There Was Life.

It's obviously been quite some time since my last post. Because, well, life. Sooooooo much has happened. So, I'll be working on updating in the coming weeks. You can follow these hashtags on FB/IG for quick glimpses #thespencersadventures #harleighsutton #memphiswilliam and #lulainwonderland.

Memphis, our 4mo son, has a YouCaring site

Thank you for tuning in! Stay tuned for more!!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Snowed In? Eat This!

Wow, it's been a while since I last blogged... And a LOT has happened! So I'll have to catch up on blog posts to share all the madness with you. For now, soup's on!

Our area got hit up with a blizzard (winter storm Jonas, Snowzilla, Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon Part 2, SnowtoriousBIG...) and eating the same old things while using every dish in the house got old really fast. So I decided to throw something together in the slow cooker. And it was DELICIOUS!

Potato Corn Chowder

You'll need:
  • 2-3lbs potatoes (I used 12 small red potatoes) roughly peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1/2 onion (I used vidalia) diced
  • 1 bulb garlic diced
  • 1 can corn (I used Mexican style corn with peppers) NOTE: I would add more red bell peppers next  time I make this.
  • Salt & Pepper (I used around 1 1/2 - 2 tsp salt, 1tsp pepper)
  • 1 box chicken (or vegetable) stock

To thicken: (Read instructions for preparing without this step)
  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 1/4c flour
  • 2c heavy whipping cream (half & half or milk may also work)
  • 3/4c sour cream 

In your slow cooker, add all of the ingredients from the first list above. Cover and turn on high for 5 hours or low for 7 hours.

During the last 40 minutes, start the thickening agent. In a saute pan, melt butter over medium high heat, being careful not to brown. Once melted, whisk in flour until combined. Slowly add in cream and finally sour cream. It should form a blob-like substance that just slides around the pan. Add to the slow cooker and stir. Allow to cook for the final 30 minutes.

IF YOU DON'T WANT TO USE THE THICKENING AGENT: If dietary restrictions prevent you from using this step, you can still make this chowder. Remove about 2 cups of potato mixture and blend (or give about 5 bursts with the immersion blender if you have one, directly into the slow cooker. This will make a mashed potato substance that will help thicken it up. Add the mixture back to the slow cooker (if removed). Make it creamy by adding in your cream and/or sour cream during the last 30 minutes.

I served this with Texas garlic toast and sprinkled a little cheddar on top. YUM!

If you make this and enjoyed it, please comment here and share on Pinterest, Facebook or Instagram! #TheSpencersAdventures ;-)

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to join my crazy little girl to warm up in front of the fire!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Freezer Meals (AKA Saving Time, Money AND Sanity!)

JWe have officially been in our own home (first time on our own!) for two years now. 25 months, to be exact. Just a couple months after moving in we got engaged and spent the next year and a half planning a wedding. With both of us working full time, coming home to tend to the needs of our very energetic pup, maintaining a house & lawn, budgeting and providing dinner for more than just one mouth, we found the unhealthy and financial pitfall that is eating out.  A couple weeks ago, I found out about the fabulous world of freezer meals. Mind BLOWN.

That Sunday, I spent a couple hours on Pinterest and searching blogs for good recipes that weren't JUST pinned, but also attempted. I picked the ones that received the best reviews that also sounded good to us. I made a shopping list after scouring the cabinets for things I already had on hand (i.e. spices, sauces, canned goods), paired up what I could with coupons and headed off to the store. The initial research was the biggest time consumer. I look at it as an investment that was WELL worth it. And now YOU can benefit from me having done all the research for you!

If we both were purchasing lunch at work just three times a week, that's at least $60. And if we ordered out or went out for dinner just twice a week, that's another $80 easy! That's $140 for three lunches for each of us and two dinners. Not to mention the weekends, or groceries for breakfast and other dinners/lunches, another $100/week, for a grand (minimum) total of $240. The end result of my freezer meal trial run was $108 (I saved $62 by using coupons and buying sale items!) for everything needed to create 8 freezer meals. Each meal was enough to serve both of us a hefty portion for dinner and leftovers for lunch the next day. Still with me? So one dinner and one lunch EACH. Meaning $108 would feed us EACH eight dinners and eight lunches. Over one week's worth of yummy, healthier food for less than half as much as we were spending before. Some meals even produced enough for us each to have 2 lunches!

So what were our favorites? The following are recipes we will definitely put into regular rotation! If forgot to take pictures, so I'll update this post next go 'round!

Creamy Italian Chicken


Creamy Ranch Chicken


Chicken Rigatoni Alfredo


Chicken Taco Bowls


Honey Teriyaki Chicken


Chicken Fajitas


***If you don't have a programmable slow cooker, you may want to consider using chicken thighs instead of breasts for less dry chicken when cooking times are longer than suggested.***

Creamy Italian Chicken (LOW 4-5 HOURS cooking longer makes chicken dry)   
Label and add in the bag:
4 chicken breasts
1 (8 oz) regular cream cheese, softened 
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 dry packet of italian seasoning
Serve over rice with a veggie side

Creamy Ranch Chicken (LOW 4-5 HOURS, cooking longer makes chicken dry)
Label and add in the bag:
4 chicken breasts
1 (8 oz) regular cream cheese, softened
2 cans cream of broccoli
1 dry packet of ranch seasoning
Serve over rice with a veggie side

Chicken Rigatoni Alfredo (Low 4-5 HOURS)
Label and add in the bag:
3 Chicken Breasts
1 Jar Alfredo Sauce (after adding sauce, fill empty jar with water half way, shake and pour in bag.
half bag frozen mixed bell peppers
2 cans mushrooms
During last hour or two of cooking, add half a bag frozen chopped brocolli
Added to slow cooker during last 30 minutes:
1 box rigatoni (boiled al dente on stovetop) 
8oz block of cream cheese.
Shred chicken in slow cooker with two forks, will fall apart easily.
Sauce will thicken if left to stand 20 minutes with slow cooker turned off and lid removed.

**OUR FAVORITE** Chicken Taco Bowls (Low 7-8 hours)
Photo credit from original recipe source, Budget Bytes.
Label and add in the bag:

3 chicken breasts
1 (16 oz.) jar salsa
1 can black beans, drained
1 can (or half bag frozen) corn
1 Tbsp chili powder
½ Tbsp cumin
½ Tbsp minced garlic
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp salt
to taste cracked pepper

Shred chicken in slow cooker with two forks, will fall apart easily. 
Cook on stove top 1 bag Saffron (spanish) rice (or 2 bags to make this recipe feed up to 8)
put rice in indivudual bowls and top with large scoop from slow cooker, top with cheddar and fresh cilantro (and hot sauce, sour cream/guacamole if desired)
This is also amazing in tortillas or without the rice atop tortilla chips for nachos!
**You can easily feed 10-12 with this cheap meal by adding 2 chicken breasts and 1 each salsa, corn, black beans. GREAT for gameday nachos!!
If you don't have all the spices, just buy a package of taco seasoning ;-)

Honey Teriyaki Chicken: (Low 4-5 HOURS, cooking longer makes chicken dry)
Label and add in the bag:
3 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
1 cup honey teriyaki sauce
1 cup water
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 cloves garlic, minced
a few sprinkles of ginger
We serve on brown rice and broccoli
I personally think this recipe is better with thighs.

Chicken Fajitas (Low 4-5 hours)
Label and add in the bag:
1 bag frozen bell peppers
1 onion cut in strips
3 chicken breasts
1/2 cup chicken broth
taco seasoning packet
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
shred meat in slow cooker with 2 forks and serve on tortillas with cheese, sour cream, guacamole, rice, whatever you'd like!

To recap, I spent:
3 hours doing initial research, creating a shopping list and couponing
45 minutes at the grocery store
$108 at the grocery store (and earned $.40 off each gallon of gas!)
1 1/2 hours labeling/stuffing bags, cleaning up prep items and putting away groceries.

All in all, this process should now take no more than 3 hours on a Sunday to get my list, coupons, shopping and freezer meals done and in the freezer! 3 HOURS on ONE DAY and I can now reclaim my weeknights!

I'm hosting a freezer meal workshop on November 2nd. If anyone is interested in starting their own journey to eating better and having more time to spend with your family after work instead of slaving away in the kitchen, let me know and I'll send you the info! I'll need to know by October 18th at the latest!


These recipes were originally found on the following blogs, although I've tweaked the ones above based on how they originally turned out.
Making Our Marx
Budget Bytes

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Honeymooners!

Yes... This post is coming before the wedding post. Mainly because our wedding was in April and reception in May, and I have SOOOO much I want to say about the whole experience that I haven't been able to find the time to put it into words! (Not to mention the thousands of pictures to sift through!) But since we JUST returned from our honeymoon, I'm going to lay this out while it's fresh in my head ;-)

Originally, the plan was to honeymoon in November at the Hard Rock Resort in Punta Cana. However, after the excitement and emotional and physical exhaustion of the wedding trip and reception (and craziness that the end of the school year brings) we decided kind of last minute to cruise the Caribbean (yet again) and treat ourselves to some fun and relaxation. So we browsed some itineraries, found one we loved and contacted our TA, Jen Crivelli at Cruiseweb ( to book it. We were all set to hit the western caribbean from July 5th-12th!

This time, we embarked from Miami on the Carnival Glory and visited Cozumel, Belize, Isla Roatan (Mahogany Bay, Honduras), and Grand Cayman.

We were at sea Saturday evening and all day Sunday. The first thing we did when we boarded the ship was head to Guy's Burger Joint for lunch and then grabbed an ice-cream cone.

We filled up our cups and headed off to our room. If you've never cruised, this is what an ocean view room looks like on the Carnival Glory. (Ours was room 1301).

We also decided to try the ship's steakhouse the first night to get our free bottle of wine. I am now forever an advocate of the steakhouse experience! Yea, the food in the dining room is great, but where else are you ever going to spend $35 and get a 4-course 5 star meal that includes an 18oz beautifully cut and cooked steak?! The appetizers we each got were wonderful, the salad (spinach and mushroom) was delicious, the steaks were THICK and melted in your mouth! And the dessert... oh boy! A 14oz slice of AMAZING cheesecake! I was very uncomfortable that night, but it was well worth it!

Sunday's full day at sea started with breakfast in the dining room, where Brian got Fruit Loop crusted french toast! It sounds ridiculous, but is super yummy (and way sweet!) 

We hit the hot tub and instantly missed Sinbad Gump and the rest of the drunken pirates that previously accompanied us in the hot tub! Apparently, once you cruise with 20+ people, you'll never cruise the same again! So naturally, we took a selfie for our distant amigos! Then, we hung out at a shaded table behind the hot tub overlooking the water trail left behind by the ship.

The rest of our night consisted of tea time, (which was cute) dinner in the dining room for the first of two formal nights with the fabulous wait staff and new friends we had the pleasure of dining with every night (SHOUT OUT to Brittany, Wes, Davor, Kristy, and fellow honeymooners Ryan and Dan!). We capped the night off with a Dive-In Movie (which we found is now one of our favorite relaxing activities on cruises). That night's movie was Grown Ups 2. The movies are poolside, which is the perfect place for honeymooners to learn how NOT to parent. 

Day three (Monday) took us to our first port of call, Cozumel, Mexico. We planned the Turtle Cove and Cavern Snorkel in Playa Del Carmen, so we had to board a ferry to get there. We learned a lot about the Mexican Riviera. You won't see any rivers because they're underground (and referred to as Cenotes (suh-noh-tays). (From "a deep natural well or sinkhole, especially in Central America, formed bythe collapse of surface limestone that exposes ground water underneath,and sometimes used by the ancient Mayans for sacrificial offerings.") The Mayans believed these sinkholes were physically and spiritually cleansing. The fresh water was crystal clear and amazingly refreshing! On the way to the cenotes, we passed by a small school house where children were playing outside, holding a rope in a circle. It was a quant little school house back in the woods, and the sign for the school was informal, nailed to a tree, and simply said "escuela", spanish for "school". I wish I'd been quick enough to snap a picture... I can't even find anything comparable on Google!

After swimming through two caverns and caves (where there were bats who thankfully left us alone!) we hopped back in the van and headed to Turtle Beach (Akumal). We snorkeled shallow water and observed sting rays, sea turtles and coral directly beneath us (and undeterred by our presence).

After an amazing and exhausting afternoon, we were transported to another beach where these was a beachfront hut and buffet waiting for us. Everything tasted fresh, authentic and wonderful. With full bellies, we headed back to the ship.

I really wanted a nice bottle of tequila, but the shopping was ridiculously crowded and had no real structure, so we were herded back to the ship. We sailed off from Cozumel and enjoyed yet another delicious dinner in the dining room.

Day four found us in Belize. The coral reef is so high that the ships have to dock out in the ocean and we had to be tendered in. We were so excited to be here and see the tropical paradise where our friend Kim Ware got married. 

We were also excited for our excursion, The Belize Zoo and City Tour. Consisting of only animals native to the country, the Belize Zoo is actually more of a refuge, a shelter in the rainforest, and is one of the only places in the world to observe jaguars in their natural habitat. It was started by a woman in 1983 who was n Belize filming a documentary and found herself with 12 animals needing homes upon finishing. You can read more about the awesome destination and learn about ways to help and adopt native animals at 

We had a blast getting in touch with nature in Belize, but ships do sail... After another fabulous dinner and Dive-In Movie (Frozen - and the dad beside us sang EVERY song ;-) ) we retired for the night and awoke on day five in Isla Roatan, Mahogany Bay, Honduras. We decided to hang out at the beach and bought a package from Carnival for $49.95 for the two of us that included unlimited rides on the "Magic Flying Beach Chair" (a ski lift), two lounge chairs in a clam shell (we welcome the shade at this point in the cruise!), two floats, and snorkeling gear. 

We took in another Dive-In Movie that night (Noah) before heading to bed.

Day six brought us to our last port of call, Georgetown, Grand Cayman, another tender port. Our excursion wasn't until 12:30, so we got off the boat early and did a little site seeing. We found a KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) where there were, ironically enough, live chickens roaming around the walkway out front.  

We made our way back to where we had to meet for our excursion, an adventure to the Stingray City Sandbar. And an awesome adventure it was! We held, fed, kissed and got back massages from sting rays! They enjoyed splashing us, too!

This poor little lady below must have had a rough life!

And an ode to my wedding cruise crew, although I must confess... It's only fruit punch!

We arrive back to the ship and prepare for our second formal night. We missed the dance show since dinner service seemed to be running a little slow, but still had a great time complete with a champagne toast with our new friends. And when we returned to our room, our room steward left us a monkey :-)

Ofcourse, we topped the night off with a movie (The Vow) and with about five minutes left in the movie, the skies opened up and it poured! Brian and I remained in our lounge chairs and laughed as everyone else retreated under the awnings of the poolside bars. Even the kids who were in the pool... Good times!

Day seven, our last day and we were at sea all day. It was a nice, relaxing day spent in the steam room, reading poolside, soaking in the hot tub, savoring our last burgers from Guy's and enjoying a few frosty Hurricanes (paying homage to the pup we missed so much!). We also enjoyed tea time , dining room dinner (where our wait staff had a honeymoon surprise for us), chocolate melting cake and Dine-In Movie (Gravity). Our room steward left us a stingray this time!

We took in an amazing sunset just before the movie started. 

We made it off the ship pretty effortlessly after enjoying our last breakfast on board and made our way through US Customs, found  taxi, and headed for Miami International Airport. Our plane ride home was relatively uneventful as we were serenaded by the harmonizing screams of babies. Hurricane was so excited to see us, he peed in the seat of his auntie Mantha's car (HAHA!) We had a wonderful time and can't wait until it's time to cruise again!