Monday, December 28, 2015

2016 is Around the Corner

I made a comment to Randy the other day that I couldn't believe it was almost 2017. Apparently in my mind, we are already into 2016! The reality is, it's not that far away.

Looking back at my most recent post (June!), it's clear that the later part of 2015 has been a bit of a whirlwind. South Carolina as a state has been through a lot.  It was a very emotional first part of the summer with the loss of 9 lives in the Mother Emanuel AME massacre. Shock. Horror. Raw grief. That's all I felt for weeks as I watched colleagues and legislators deeply mourn the loss of such precious lives. The confederate flag debate that followed was inevitable and ultimately has brought a piece of healing that's long overdue.  And then, just a few weeks ago, the flooding that devastated lives across the state opened up new wounds. But, true to SC form, people rallied and supported each other in amazing ways.  While we are certainly not completely recovered, we've manged to get through together.

Life at the Branham household has been blur. Time moved quickly, a wedding, big birthdays celebrated, memories made. Work kept us busy but not so busy so that we couldn't enjoy a trip to the beach and Disney. Emily has gotten bigger and continues to amaze me with her sweet, smart self.  Randy struggled a bit with some health issues but I think is finally on the right path for healing. We still struggle with finding a balance at work at home.  There were highs and lows but all in all, I'm leaving 2015 in a good place.

The end of one year and the beginning of a new one is always a little bittersweet.  I have regrets from 2015 and hopes for 2016. It's hard to not look back and be disappointed by things that did not happen but also be amazed by the things that did. It's exciting to dream big for what's to come. I feel so far from where I've been and what I've done in the last 12 month. But it's time to go because I cannot come back here again.  Farewell, 2015.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Blue Apron: A Review

I was introduced to Blue Apron by a colleague and after receiving a discounted offer (thanks Zulily!), thought I'd give it a try.  As you know from one of my recent posts, I am all about making life easier through online shopping. And my parents were in town this weekend so I had a captive audience.  I got home Thursday after work and a cute Blue Apron box was waiting at the door. I unpacked immediately and all food was still cold (impressive).

I tried two recipes over the course of the weekend and here are my take aways in a quick pro/con list:

Super easy to order online 
All ingredients are measured out 
Meals took less than 30 mins to prep
Instructions were super easy to follow (with pictures!) 
They were delicious
Different (or variation) of meals we would normally eat
Not having to answer question "what's for dinner?" 
Gave me confidence in preparing a meal (I hate to cook!)
You can skip weeks or sub out meal choices

I found it to be a bit pricey
We only had a few or no leftovers (which might be a pro for some)
I ended up preparing a few additional sides to have enough food (but easy things like fruit or extra veggie)
If you have a picky eater, this is not the meal plan service for you
One of the meals we got was BBQ chicken (which is something I already make) 
I spent more time in the kitchen than I thought I would prepping and then cooking 

While the cons list was smaller the pricing and picky eater issue outweighed the pros. I might consider doing it again if we had guests or a crazy busy week. 

My advice would be to give it a try (especially if you have a promo code. On their website you can get two free meals with your first order!) and let me know what thou think.

I have to share my proudest moment...salmon with noodles and long green beans. So pretty and so good!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Why I Can't Do Cancer Fundraisers

A few weeks ago, a horrible story came out that founders of a certain "non-profit" raised money under the guise of helping individuals with cancer, only to spend money on elaborate trips for themselves.

How sick and disgusting.

There are countless honest, worthy non-profits out there doing amazing work to fund cancer research and support families. 

I've supported those organizations myself by buying baked goods, running races, and contributing to the fundraising efforts of others.   At times, I feel like I am constantly inundated with asks to support these charities. Sometimes, I just can't. And not financially.

It's always tough to see families celebrate loved ones winning their battle with cancer. A part of me will always struggle with that because we have no winning battles to celebrate in our family. In a few weeks, Lauren will have not been with us for 5 whole years. She would have been starting to drive now. Ralph never saw his grandson get married and has a granddaughter who will only remember him through photographs. 

In my head I know contributing to fill-in-the-blank cancer charity will ultimately spare someone else from that devastating loss,  it's tough to reconcile in my heart.

So, if the next time you ask and I don't respond, please understand.


Thursday, June 4, 2015

Short Cuts for Busy Moms

My last post was at the end of April and was basically just an acknowledgement of how crazy life is these days. Not much has changed since then but I've wised up a bit and want to a few things that have really helped me to managing this hectic life as a busy-working-out-of-the-home-mama.

The answer is quite simple. Online shopping.


I spend most of my days managing my professional life via a computer or other electronic device. So it only make sense to try it for my life after 5pm Monday-Friday.  I don't have time to run all over town doing errands and who wants to spend their weekend doing that?!

Here are the top websites that have repeatedly saved me time and money on things we need:

Zulily has the cutest kid clothing, possibly ever. Every day they post new deals with great brands (including toys and home furnishings). I've found it to be a great place to buy Emily's shoes. The down side is it always seems like it takes FOREVER to ship and no returns. Warning: downloading the app is super dangerous to your wallet. Because everything is so. stinking. adorable.

I used Groupon when it first came out but kind of lost interest in it after awhile. I got back into it recently because I've found great deals in the "Goods" section.  For instance, I have been looking for black legging capris for the longest time. A quick search on Groupon, and I found a 3 pack for less than $15 in a week. Exactly what I wanted. Bonus on Groupon, you can return most things AND great place to find deals on local restaurants. We buy half off gift certificates for restaurants we visit often and it takes the guess work out of the "what's for dinner" decision at 4:45pm.

Love me some Amazon! Everything from trying new beauty/fitness items I see recommended in Women's Health to finding obscure items that you can't find anywhere else (like the original "Parent Trap" movie. Yes, I wanted it and yes, I found it on Amazon).  Great varied selection and try Amazon Prime to get free two-day shipping. Ya know, for those times you procrastinate ordering your daughter a leotard for her new ballet class and need one like, next week. But who would do that?

Finally. Now I know what to do with the 800 pictures taking up storage on my phone. Make cute stuff out of them on Shutterfly!  Creative ideas and designs...there's so much to chose from. I've done personalized note pads, photo books of family vacations, and Emily's latest birthday invites. They have good promo codes and quick shipping!

Your Local Grocery Store
Hopefully you are lucky enough to have one of these bad boys in your neighborhood. Grocery stores that let you pick up curb side...or even better, deliver online. Piggly Wiggly is that place for me. Just off the interstate on the way home from work and the BEST service.  I have been waiting in-between meetings and ordered my groceries online. For real. They always call to let me know if they need to substitute an item I've requested and have added items for me after I called because I forget to select them online (like, say a 6pk of Corona and lime after a long, long, long day).  No more waking up baby to run in and grab milk or fighting a toddler grocery store tantrum.

There is a new online service I'm trying and will have to keep you posted. I got a discounted offer (through Zulily) for Blue Apron. All the ingredients you need for full meals shipped right to your home. You can select what types of food you do and do not eat, select how many people you want it to serve and when you want it delivered.  My parents are in town next weekend and they are going to by my guinea pigs for this one.

If you have time/money saving tips, I'd love to hear them. It's always nice to find new ways to make these hectic days a little bit more manageable and to spend that extra free time just enjoying family time.

Happy shopping!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Life These Days

It’s 7:47pm on a Tuesday night. I’m still wearing my work clothes. But have traded the high heels for bare feet.  My hair is long overdue for a cut and color. I’m on my second glass of wine. Dishes are piling up in the sink and the laundry has been neglected. The time since we got home from hectic work days has been such a blur. Soccer ball kicking, swinging high in the backyard, neighbor chatting, work e-mail checking, leftovers reheating, Modern Family watching, Let it Go singing, bath time playing. 

It's hard to imagine by life before these moments. And it’s hard to impinge them without them. 

The days are a blur and they are long. They are exhausting and try my patience. They are filled with love and warmth and lots of giggles.

My house is a mess and my to-do list is shot.

But it’s ok. I’m doing alright. I’m raising a beautiful, sweet little girl. I’m supporting a loving spouse who gives back 10x what I give. I’m a working mom who’s doing her best to make a difference in the lives of others. 

These moments are fleeting. I will make it through today and so will you. Tomorrow will come and we will do it again. And we’ll look back in a few years and be relieved that we survived these moments and proud of what we accomplished in them. 

But for tonight, let’s unplug for a minute, cuddle up with those who hold our hearts, and soak up these fleeting moments. 


Saturday, February 21, 2015

10 Years and 10,000 Memories

Last weekend, we loaded up the car and made the trek to Wilmington for my 10 year college reunion. 10 years. It seems like a lifetime and a blink of an eye.

When we got there, we were joined by three of my closest college friends. We keep in touch via regular e-mails but the four of us have not all been together in several years. They are the kind of friends that everything easily falls into place when we are around each other. It's like we've never been apart for more than a day.

The four of us got to know each other working in Housing and Residence Life at UNCW. We spent countless hours together in trainings, dealing with undergraduate shenanigans (like the time the boys on my hall managed to flood the entire 4th floor), and kept each other company during late night/early morning front desk duty. We worked hard and we partied harder. (We were in college. That's what you are supposed to do!) We did silly things. They made me laugh harder than anyone else could.   And they loved me even when it was hard for me to love myself.  No guy ever came between us and we didn't have time (or patience) for pettiness. We supported, encouraged and stood up for each other.

Ten years of post college experience have taught me that friendships like that don't come along every day. These are women who have really shaped the person I've become since college. Each of them have contributed to pieces of what feels like the complete puzzle that makes up me. I've learn from them that there is a softness to being tough, that true commitment to making family a priority is not always easy, and how to be comfortable in my own skin.  I owe a tremendous amount to these women.

I'm looking forward what the next 10 years has in store for us.


And now.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Hello 2015 and Hello Puerto Rico!

It's been an amazing start to the new year. I enjoyed almost two weeks at home over the holidays visiting with family, resting, eating and playing with Emily! I came back to work refreshed and re-energized.

This past week I had a disruption in my "normal" work schedule. I have probably mentioned before, but I am fortunate to have been chosen as a policy fellow with the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Every other month, I meet with 14 other advocates across the country to discuss how we can better  use child well-being data to drive policy and results. This program will last until February 2016 and each time we will travel to a different city/state where the participants live and work. Luckily for us, one of our classmates lives in PR. So on Monday, I left freezing cold and rainy South Carolina for warm and sunny San Juan, Puerto Rico! 

Most of the week was spent in a hotel conference room over looking the ocean. Inspiring but also a little frustrating because here we were working hard and the beach was RIGHT there! But on Wednesday, we got out of our little container on a bus. We ventured about 45 minutes east from San Juan to Loiza to visit the Boys and Girls Club of Loiza. The trip there showed a stark comparison of the fancy tourist areas to the real life, impoverished areas of the island. 

At the center we had a tour of the beautiful center and participated in a data walk (child well-being data is printed on large posters on the meeting room walls. Participants walk around the room and discuss their observations and reflections on the data). In terms of child well-being, it’s one of the worst areas in Puerto Rico: 60% of children under the age of 5 live in poverty, the infant mortality rate is 9 per 1,000 births, 63 out of 1,000 children are victims of child maltreatment and almost 47% of children are being raised solely by grandparents.  After the data walk, we had the chance to talk with the Executive Director as well as teens at the club. There were three things that struck me:

1. Eduardo, the Executive Director, is passionate and has been instrumental in taking the Boys and Girls club from 30 staff and almost to the point of having to close their doors due to lack of funding to more than 300 staff and 11 clubs across the island. But he said, despite the success they have had with the club and the programs they provide, he has seen things in his community get worse not better. It was his realization that these programs alone are not enough. It takes passionate people willing to come together to advocate for wide spread change that will improve these numbers and the lives of these children. Passion and also a little bit of faith. 

2.   The similarities in both the data and in talking with teens. I could have easily been sitting in a Boys and Girls club in South Carolina. The personal stories, the challenges, the desire to connect and belong, and the hope for a better future resonant regardless of our geographic location.

3.  One of my colleague on the trip said it so well “the kids are alright, it’s everything around them that is not.” Shaqui, one of the 16 year olds we talked to, wanted us to take back and tell others that “they (the teens) are ok. We have friends, we do normal teen things. We like art and we are happy.” They don’t all see (as we see looking in) the poverty that they are born into or the lack of opportunity that may lie ahead of them. It’s our responsibility to tell their improve the systems around them.

It's hard to leave a place like this without my eyes being opened a little wider and forever feeling changed. I'm grateful for the experience and returned to South Carolina a little emotional but with a renewed passion and a full cup. The challenges are tough and the solutions aren't easy.  It's up to all of us, as advocates, to find them and make this world, whatever area we find ourselves in, better off by us having been there.