This Old House

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Selling a house should be something I can do in my sleep. Well, typically I can. But, there’s one place that will always be home, even though it’s time to say goodbye.

My mom spent many years designing this home herself and once my parents could afford it, we bought the land and started building this dream. We would drive out there to see the progress and walk the land looking for arrowheads. There was so much history in those woods surrounding us and Dad loved telling us new stories about General Lee and his men camping out there on their way up north. I remember it all from the tagged trees to the brick mason. Finally, it was moving day, but the electricity hadn’t been turned on yet. We were so excited to move that we took sleeping bags and slept on the floors the first night. I was only nine when we moved, but I remember every detail. A new story began.

Now, we say goodbye. So soon. Or, so it seems. Goodbye to the Bronco I would drive up and down the dirt roads when I was 13. Goodbye to the creek where Paul and I would hunt for shark teeth. The half acre garden Dad and I would plant and pick veggies from. The salt lick in the backyard for all the deer we watched before heading off to school. The talks with mom on the back deck. Neighborhood cookouts. Watching the bunnies have babies…again and again. The bathroom where mom and I would hide during a hurricane. The playroom where I would sneak a cigarette that I didn’t inhale or hide the beers that I didn’t drink. The star stickers I gazed up at before bed every night. Goodbye to the sleepovers with best friends. First kisses. Watching 60 minutes on Sunday nights. Graduation parties. My grandparents. Surprising my family for Christmas. The owl in the big oak tree. The morning I “ran away” but only made it two houses because I was scared Bubba would bite me. Bike rides through the woods to Lauren’s house. Burnt biscuits. Goodbye to all my dolls and trophies that lined my playroom walls. Opening student gifts with mom on the last day of school. Getting accepted to NCSU. Meeting Will for the first time. Seeing my Dad hold Will for the last time.

Goodbyes aren’t something that I have ever been good at. I have my own way of coping and it works for me. Saying goodbye to my Dad almost three years ago was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but this feels like the last chapter. It was the last place we were all together and where he took his last breath. Those walls saw my successes and my failures. The good times and the bad. Family milestones and even the tears. It built me, helped me write my diary entries and kept all my secrets. My mom has started her new life in Raleigh and although I moved out over ten years ago, it is still where I call home. I’m not sure that will ever change, but for now, I look at the empty pictures online with the neutral colors and it looks just like one of the homes I walk through with my clients. But, it’s so much more. It is my forever home. And, this is goodbye.

Featured imageIMG_9045The Deck

Do you remember…

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I remember…I woke up late for my 9am Tuesday class on NC State campus and rushed to catch the wolfline for my first class of the day, Cultural Anthropology. I arrived 15 minutes late and oddly enough, they were just beginning class. An hour later, I jumped back on the bus and headed back home. People were crying. Others were comforting them and it was obvious that these people didn’t know each other. Strange, because everyone on the bus typically keeps to themselves with the same mission everyday – find your seat, get to your destination and focus only on the hustle and bustle of the day that lies ahead. Not today though. I remember seeing tears, hearing mentions of a crash and some asking questions as if they were expecting these strangers to have the answers they needed. I was too nervous to ask because I didn’t know them and didn’t want to pry into their personal lives. It obviously didn’t have to do with me or anyone I knew. It seemed there were enough people around them to comfort them. Once I get in my car, I hear the radio stations talking about it. The screams from newsrooms and the breaking news that another plane had crashed. I clinched the steering wheel and called my roommate, Jamie Pritchard to tell her. She hadn’t seen the news yet and once I arrived home, we remained glued to the TV watching this horrific accident become a historical tragedy. We cried with the rest of the world.

Fathers Day. Every Day.

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I love you more than you ever knew and I don’t think I was able to ever tell you that. There were times when you were in the other room and I wanted to spend time with you, but I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t want to talk about you dying. We only had a month to say goodbye and it wasn’t long enough. It never could have been long enough. I would have told you that I love you so much it hurts. I would have told you more. After becoming closer with you these past couple of years, we became connected. We were so much alike. I’m so proud to be so much like you. Even though you’re gone, I still feel close to you in spirit, as a part of you lives inside of me.

You were the best Dad I could ever ask for. I am so thankful to have had you in my life for as long as I did, and although it was way too short, I was lucky enough to have a Dad like you for almost 32 years. You went out of your way every single day of your life to make sure your family was well taken care of. Everything you did for us was done out of love for your family, and I know the sky was the limit when it came to any one of us. I know you still watch out for us, because caring for your family was your biggest priority in life and I know you wouldn’t stop now. Everything reminds me of you, today and every day.

It’s not the same without you here, and I know it will never be the same. My heart is still aching for you, and I know it will never go away. I see your face, your smile and hear your voice in my dreams and sometimes it feels so real that I wake up and the entire day is sad because you aren’t here. I know you are happy and watching Will grow up from above. He loves you and sometimes it is hard to watch him laugh because I want you to be able to share those moments with us. It brings me peace and comfort that you’re doing okay and you’re already reunited with so many others we’ve loved and lost.

I will continue living my life as you’ve taught me, and trying my hardest to never give up, because I’m capable of doing anything I put my mind to. You will endlessly be my motivation to achieve my goals, keep my head up and make smart decisions.

I am forever grateful to be your daughter, to love as you did and to care for others as you did. You’re my hero. I miss you today and everyday. Happy Fathers Day!

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The C word.

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Cancer. Sure, I’ve heard people talk about it and I have even known people who knew people who have died from it. But, until it is a part of your world, you never know how dreadful that word can be. It puts the fear of God in you and challenges you to dance with the devil.

After six years of living life as a gypsy, from Vegas to Austin, I had something pulling me home. My nephew was growing up and I wasn’t there to see it, my long distance relationship was becoming more serious and most of all my heart couldn’t stand being away from all the joy my family was experiencing watching Will grow up. I wanted to be closer.

I began packing my life into boxes and planning my departure back home. When I moved away six years ago, I swore I’d never be back. I viewed moving back as a step backwards. But, my daddy always taught me that NC is the land of the free and there’s no better place in the world. I always begged him to come visit me in Vegas, but he said he wasn’t coming unless he was driving a Uhaul back with me. So six stubborn years later, back to NC I went.

As Reese and I drove home, we talked about our lives. Her mom and Dad were both battling cancer, her dad was getting better but her mom’s brain cancer was slowly taking her away from us. I promised that since I was going to be in Goldsboro for a few weeks, in between my move to Raleigh, I would spend all my free time taking care of her mom so that her dad was able to take care of himself. She lived four hours away with a demanding job…this was going to help ease her worries.

On August 14th I arrived home. That was the day we found out. My dads ‘gym injury’ was stage four kidney cancer. Kidney, bones, liver and spine. My dad was a rock. How could something be taking over his entire body and he never know? For over two years? This disease has been there for two years eating away at him and we’ve been completely clueless. I was in shock. I had so many questions but there were no words.

The day we found out, my dad asked my mom to get a blank notepad. He wrote in that every day. He said his goodbyes, he planned his funeral, and he mapped out my moms best interests and everything else that only a loving husband, great provider and caring father would think to plan out for his family’s future. They gave him a few years. We had time.

They started him on medicine immediately and we had to be with him at all times. During the days, we would go grab breakfast and drive around Goldsboro with the top down. We bought Will a lifetime membership for hunting and fishing. He drove me by places he wanted mom to buy if she wanted to ‘downsize’ after he was gone. We looked at SUVs for all the driving she would be doing to Raleigh after he was gone. Many days we would stay home and I would stay upstairs because I couldn’t stand hearing him talk like he wasn’t here. I wasn’t as strong as I appeared to be around him. Once my mom would get home in the afternoons, I would go to the hospital to stay with Reese’s mom and be back home in the morning by sunrise. Once she moved to Duke, Reese came home so it was easier to split our time. So much at once.

I needed a break. So did Reese. I had not dealt with any of the emotions and it was wearing on me. I came to DC for the week to unwind. My mom took over all doctor appointments, milkshake dates and even cruised around town in my convertible like two love struck teenagers. The medicine was starting to show side effects – swollen mouth, nausea and for two days he had nothing to eat or drink. Not a single sip. He had a doctors appointment Friday morning and as mom told him at dinner the night before, “If you don’t eat something, they’re going to put you in the hospital”. He had never been in the hospital and it was hard enough to get him to a doctors appointment.

Around 7:30 that morning my mom called me. I’ll never forget that moment – four hours away, just as I feared before moving home. I was so far away. I should have been there. So many emotions ran through me that morning as I tried to pack quickly and get on the road. The entire ride home, I wasn’t sure I heard her right so I kept convincing myself that it wasn’t what we thought. Laney was vomiting in the back the entire way so I kept climbing back to clean up her mess and to help forget about mine. Over and over, I kept replaying my moms phone call in my head and since she was so upset on the phone, I probably just misheard what she said. Maybe he was just being admitted to the hospital or his symptoms were getting worse. But, then one of my family friends texted me her condolences and I knew I couldn’t just pretend to hear what I wanted this time. Reality started to sink in and for the rest of the drive, I just hid my phone as we rode down 95 South for what seemed like eternity.

Everyone says the next few days are typically a blur, but I remember the smallest details. Everything. Every word spoken, every person present, every single thought. For the next week, we planned the goodbyes for my dad and then, a few days later, Reese’s mom passed as well. I hope they watch over us everyday and are always so proud. Because there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish he would call me when I’m on the road or when Carolina Girls comes on the radio or just to tell me he misses his little miss magic. I’m sure it gets easier…I’m just not there yet.

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I’m coming home…

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I had built the life I wanted. After leaving Vegas, I settled in Austin and found the job that  not only gave me the desire to grow professionally, but also personally. Within weeks, I had made so many friends who I knew would always be in my life. Things had changed. I had changed. For the better. I worked a lot, traveled a lot and smiled a lot. After the first two years, I knew there was more to life than working, so I started to explore this great city and grow my friendships. There were many more adventures and memories made. As I approached year three in Austin, my nephew was born. Following his arrival, came many more visits home to North Carolina. One visit in particular was the last one. It was July of 2012, a summer that will forever be a blessing etched in my heart.

Every year since we were little, my brother and I would load up in the car and head to Myrtle Beach with my parents. We met four other families who all had children our ages for a week full of fun in the sun. Our parents were the best of friends. For 51 weeks of the year, we looked forward to that 52nd week in July. As kids grew older and began having families of their own, it became harder to get everyone together. I hadn’t made it to the beach week in years. But, this year was different. It was Will’s first year at the beach. My dad knew that there hadn’t been much time spent on anyone but Will since his birth and he asked if him and I could spend a day together on Bald Head Island. He worked on that island with my Uncle Mike before there were even houses built. I learned so much about his own adventures and the ‘good ole days’. It was a special day. The pictures and memories made that week in Myrtle will never leave me. But, as I left for Austin, I knew I’d be back. Just wasn’t sure when.

As I sat at my office desk, I had a vision of someone calling and telling me something had happened to my dad and I needed to come home. He was gone. I wasn’t sure why I would think such a terrible thought. All I could imagine was trying to leave work, book a flight, pack and sit at an airport all day while trying to make it home to my family. But, nothing had happened. It was just a terrible thought that crossed my mind. A week later, I was driving home from work and it happened again. Stuck in traffic and all I could think about is “what if”. My eyes filled with tears and I quickly dismissed the horrifying thought. Only a few weeks had passed when I called my parents to tell them I was coming home. I was finally moving home. But, I was now 31 and how could I move once again with no job. I was leaving everything I loved, but I knew I needed to be closer to home. My dad questioned me a lot, but I could hear the joy in his voice. “I’ll support whatever you decide to do.” I had no plans for when I arrived, nor did I know that this was all part of God’s plan. It didn’t make sense. At least not yet. And, so it began.

Teresa had enough on her plate. Her mother and father were both diagnosed with cancer in December of 2011 and she had been dealing with a downward spiral of events for the entire year. But, she was ready for me to be closer, too. So, she flew to Austin and we drove home. We decided to take our time and enjoy the sights along the way. But, it was an exhausting haul and after 8 hours of driving each day, there wasn’t much energy left to explore. My convertible was packed to the top with a little Yorkie who only likes to sleep behind my shoulders during long trips. This was a long trip. But, I couldn’t wait to arrive at my parents. They had been waiting over 6 years for me to come back home, and I knew it made them just as happy as it made me. After dropping Reese off in DC, on August 14th 2012, I headed to Goldsboro. I called my mom from I-95 and she said that she was with dad getting an xray because he pulled a muscle at the gym. They thought it was a herniated disc but were waiting for the results and would probably beat me home. I had my own car pulling in the driveway, it felt real. But, nobody was home. This was what they had wanted for so long, but nobody seemed excited enough to run outside before I could get out of the car, as they always did. Something wasn’t right.

I called my mom and she said she would be there shortly. I told her if she needed help, I could throw my stuff inside and come to them. But, she assured me to stay put and she would see me soon. I was sure she meant “we”. We will see you soon. About 30 minutes later, she walked through the door. Tears of excitement ran down her face. But, when I looked behind her and asked where Dad was, the tears didn’t accompany a smile. I knew the tears meant something else. From that moment, my world was forever changed…

Where there’s a Will…

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My older brother and Jenny, married in August of 2010, and on my 30th birthday (May 23), they called to tell me I was going to be an aunt and a Godmother. I was beyond excited – that’s the best birthday gift I could ask for! It seemed like no time had passed when I got this phone call saying that Jenny might have the baby early at only 27 1/2 weeks. With lots of prayers and love, we hoped that Jenny would make it to 30 weeks (October 31st). She did, and a few days later she gave birth to a very tiny William (Will) Joseph Hammond, weighing 3 lb. 4 oz. Days later, he dropped down to his lowest weight of 2 lbs 15 oz. but soon, was gaining weight and able to go home.
It’s been five weeks and I still haven’t met this little guy but after much anticipation, I will be going home for the holidays and finally get to hold my little man. It’s amazing how this kid, whom I haven’t even met, can’t talk and barely opens his eyes, has already made me want to make myself the best person I can be. The purpose of life has been defined. I cannot wait to spoil and love this kid unconditionally.
Much more to come in many future years, including soccer games, myrtle beach days and fishing excursions with this little guy.

To meat or not to meat!

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When I moved to Austin, this country girl looked like she would fit in just fine with all the steakhouses, cowboy boots and cow pastures. However, I soon learned that everyone here was on this fitness life path – daily runs, marathons and lots of green consumption. I was in favor of the healthy life but I would just watch what I ate and run in a 5k every once in awhile. It’s gotten me this far. Then, I turned 30…life does get better with age. But, your body will only be good to you from here on out, if you are good to it in return. You get what you give!
It’s only been a week since I watched the documentary, Forks Over Knives, and one week since I completely gave up all red meat and dairy. I’ve done a lot of research this week to make sure I’m educated on the benefits and concerns of this and yes, there are both. Many of you are interested in giving this a try and have been asking me a lot of questions. I am still new and naïve, so please don’t base anything solely on what I say below.
Most people have asked if this is more expensive – no, it really is cheaper. Sure, you can go buy a family size bag of chicken nuggets, fries and pizza rolls and that could last a week for $15. But, without dairy and meat, you can go to the store and get all the basic staples and make meals for the entire week as well. The first trip may be a little much because you learn that spices are your friends and you will need many of these – lemon juice, veganaise (like mayo), cilantro, and garlic, LOTS of garlic. After you get over that hump, you’re golden – you’re really only purchasing the veggies and fruits weekly because everything else lasts a bit longer and won’t be used as frequently. Tofu is only a buck fifty for a block. You learn to experiment on your own and it is fun and exciting!
There are substitutions for everything now – milk, cheese, meat, bread, eggs – everything! Going out to eat will be slightly difficult because I can’t have egg or butter, which includes anything cooked in butter so only steamed veggies and no fried foods. Steamed and baked are always safer bets. I’m really excited to be heading down this path. I have nothing but heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure running through my veins already, why not stop the trend beginning with myself. I am not, nor will I ever, push this on anyone else. This is my way of life and I am excited for it – I still have a lot to learn but as for this week, my body feels cleaner than ever and I have so much more energy. Recovery time for my muscles is also much faster. I still haven’t decided completely, but I think I will probably still allow myself sushi since fish, in moderation, is good. Egg may be in my diet on occasion, too. To be honest, the pesco-vegetarian seems to be the safest and healthiest lifestyle diet – it allows fish, dairy and eggs. I am basically this except I won’t do dairy but this is because I need to limit those in my diet so that I am not tempted to eat the junk that can be so very tempting, ie – cookies, sweets and snacks. I don’t mind the substitutes for milk, butter and cheese so I’m ok with that.
Green Smoothies:
2 cups of water
Handful of Ice
3-4 big strawberries (and half of a banana or mango) – just don’t use too much seeded fruit because you will have a gritty smoothie
8 oz. green kale
8 oz. spinach leaves
8 oz. Italian parsley
half-whole cucumber (you will learn that this taste sticks out and you can choose how much or little you use)
Drink these cold, right away and fast or else it won’t be as easy going down. The first few will be tough but they become addicting fast!
Some tips for shopping:

Most vegan and vegetarian products will use soy, which is great for reducing cholesterol and has cancer-fighting compounds. However, too much soy can be bad for you, especially women’s fertility and reproductive development, due to its large amounts of estrogenic compounds. You would have to consume large amounts for it to be harmful, but since most foods contain some amount of soy-something, make sure you keep your diet balanced and healthy and you’ll be fine. Also, instead of eating soy cheese and milk, choose almond cheese (which melts) or rice cheese – same for milk. This will help the balance. One more thing, vitamins that are a must: B12, Calcium and Iodine DAILY. Make sure you take B12 and a multi-vitamin daily to keep all the nutrients in your body, that you aren’t getting as frequently as you were before.

A few favorites: 
Vegannaise – much like mayo, but can be used in almost everything
Tofu – Love to scramble this in the mornings with seasonings and at night in a wrap with soyrizo
Edamame Hummus