Welcome, and thank you for visiting our page! Our motto here is simple: If it bakes you happy... it can't be THAT bad!!! Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Healthy Taco Cupcakes

I don't know about you guys, but anytime I try to really focus on healthy eating I always get derailed by lunches. Breakfast is simple, lots of quick options. More time (usually) to prepare a well-balanced dinner chock full of all the important food groups and delicious flavor. But that damn meal in the middle of the day, when I'm running home from work long enough to let my dog out, it always gets me... (Between us, I may or may not have eaten microwave popcorn at my desk last week...)

I've always liked the idea of meal prepping, but I don't always feel like taking the time to do it on Sunday. I'll be honest. Sometimes, having just one day (hell, 2 hours) of absolute mindless nothing feels amazing. But, at the same time, I appreciate the genuine convenience and simplicity that meal prepping brings to my hectic workday madness. I get delicious food to refuel for the afternoon that's ready to grab and run out the door. No fast food, no delivery sandwich; Home-cooked and healthy food that I actually look forward to. 

Enter Healthy Taco Cupcakes. Full of lean protein, healthy fats and carbs, and plenty of veggies, these pre-portioned grab-and-go cups are easy to throw together on Sunday without consuming all your free time for the day. Plus the recipe makes 12-15, so 2 per lunch feeds you for the week. As an extra bonus, they're also incredibly delicious and satisfying. You can even set them atop a bed of fresh Romaine and drizzle some salsa over it all to really up your veggie intake. 
One more bonus, I'm going to give you a simple and tasty recipe to make your own taco seasoning so you don't have to use the processed, prepackaged stuff. Just one more way to eat better without sacrificing amazing flavor. Plus you can customize the heat level to suit your preferences. When you start from scratch, you're in control. 

Hungry yet? 

Taco Cupcakes
1 lb lean ground turkey or beef
1 onion, finely diced
2 bell peppers, finely diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 can reduced-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning (recipe below)
Approximately 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese 
12-15 corn tortillas, slightly warmed to make them more pliable. 

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously spray a muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. 
2. In a large skillet, brown your turkey or beef, adding in the onions, peppers, and garlic about halfway through. Add in the Rotel tomatoes, the black beans, and the taco seasoning. Stir well to combine and cook a few moments longer. You may need to add a couple tablespoons of water if the seasoning isn't mixing in well enough- you'll know. 
3. Warm corn tortillas in the microwave between two damp paper towels, working with just a few at a time and only for about 20-30 seconds per batch. Gently press the corn tortillas into the muffin tins, then fill each with about a half cup of the meat mixture. Top each with 1-2 tablespoons shredded cheese.
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. Cool and enjoy immediately, or refrigerate for lunches.

Homemade Taco Seasoning (1 recipe's worth)
1/2 teaspoon EACH chili powder, garlic powder, and paprika 
1/4 teaspoon EACH salt and black pepper
1teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste 

What are your favorite meal prep recipes? 

In other news, it's almost the weekend!!! Hooray, and Happy First Day of Autumn, folks!!! 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Snickerdoodle Cream Cheese Blondies

If you follow my blog at all, you know that I am an avid fan of all things autumn... As much as I love summer, my favorite season officially starts in 4 days. Welcome back crisp mornings and chilly evenings, crackling and colorful leaves, pumpkin, apples, football, and cozy everything. *Insert happy, contented sigh here.* 

I am pretty confident that the Fall Fever hit me even earlier this year than normal; I found myself eagerly seeking out pumpkin, only to be disappointed in mid-August, and have been on a baking frenzy for about 2 weeks already. My husband thinks I have an addiction, and I am inclined to agree. And... Yep, I'm good with it!

Last year we celebrated fall on If It Bakes You Happy (although a bit late) with Chai Snickerdoodles, and they perfectly captured the essence of the season with the well-balanced sugar and spice combination.
Snickerdoodles are just another one of those things that are best enjoyed during cooler weather, when anything with a hint of warmth in its flavor profile satisfies in indescribable ways.

When we decided we were going to be tailgating prior to the University of Wyoming football game last Saturday, I thought that would be yet another awesome excuse to fuel my baking addiction. Of course we need to have some sort of delicious treat to tailgate, I mean, why wouldn't we? (I have since been told that tailgating is really more about burgers, brats, and beer. What sort of nonsense is that??? Any occasion for food is also an occasion for dessert... Psshh...)

Snickerdoodle Cream Cheese Blondies are possibly one of my best innovations yet. Inspired by obsessive Pinterest perusing and the famed Season of the Hour, these bars are sinfully blissful with every damn bite. Basic Blondie batter is elevated by a sweetened cream cheese swirl and then topped with the well-known and always beloved cinnamon sugar. Not even joking - pure heaven.

I have seen several different variations of Snickerdoodle Blondies and Cream Cheese Blondies. However, after tasting these, I truly feel, with all the feels that I have, that it is the combination of the cream cheese with the Snickerdoodle topping that make these so sensational. All the feels. Trust me. I am sure that Snickerdoodle Blondies are delicious, and Cream Cheese Blondies, too, but Snickerdoodle Cream Cheese Blondies.... For. The. Win.

Snickerdoodle Cream Cheese Blondies

For the Blondie batter:
- 1 cup melted butter
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the cream cheese swirl:
- 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Snickerdoodle topping:
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously coat a 9x13" pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Make the Blondie batter: In a medium bowl, mix together melted butter, brown sugar, and vanilla. Stir in eggs until well-combined and glossy. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt. Fold dry ingredients into wet until fully incorporated, being careful not to over-mix. Spread half the batter into the prepared 9x13" pan.
3. Make the cream cheese swirl: Mix cream cheese, egg, sugar, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Spoon mixture over the base layer of Blondie batter.
4. Top the cream cheese layer with the remaining Blondie batter, using a spatula to coax the batter to the edges of the pans. Use a butter knife to create swirls in the batter.
5. Make the Snickerdoodle topping: Mix together the sugar and the cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the Blondie batter.
6. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, until the batter is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The Snickerdoodle topping should be crackled. Cool completely and cut into 24 bars.
7. Swoon a little bit, and enjoy. You've earned it! Hide at least 3 bars somewhere only you will find them.

What do you look most forward to about fall, or did a different season steal your heart? 

Until next time...  

Much love to you all! 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Chili Lime Flank Steak with Cold Asian Pasta Salad

When the weather starts to get warmer, it is really hard to want to be inside doing ANYTHING. In my part of the world, we get 4-6 months tops of outdoor-friendly weather, usually from mid-May to mid-October. Even then, a fair share of that time frame is filled with either winds or mosquitoes that will pick you up and carry you to the next county. This week has been absolutely beautiful! Running right around 75 degrees with afternoon and evening thunderstorms, that's my happy place. Not too hot, not too cold, it's just right. 

We went camping two weeks ago over Memorial Day weekend. We have a gorgeous State park about 25 minutes away filled with fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and more. We packed up the camper and headed up on Saturday, returning on Monday, and the little escape into the Great Outdoors was just what the doctor ordered. Work has been really stressful lately, and it felt incredible and freeing to just get away and unwind. We ate typical camping food while we were up there, of course including hamburgers and hot dogs. I have been going crazy on Pinterest lately with camping pins... I look forward to putting them to good use throughout the remainder of the summer! 

When Monday rolled around and we were back home, getting unpacked and relaxing, I wanted to switch up our grilling routine and mix it up a little bit. I perused the latest Food Network magazine, which had a Memorial Day grilling feature, and found some inspiration. I ended up creating a Chili Lime Flank Steak with Cold Asian Pasta Salad, and it really delivered. It was different, refreshing, and full of flavor. It came together really quickly, too, which is always a bonus. I really enjoyed the fact that this was a "cooler" dish and that we didn't eat it while it was piping hot, plus it was full of fresh ingredients. We let the steak rest before cutting and serving it, and the pasta salad was refrigerated for an hour before we ate. The flavor pallet was all-encompassing; acidity cuts sweetness with a hint of savory spice. 

Asian Lime Flank Steak with Cold Asian Pasta Salad

For the steak: 
2-3 lb flank steak
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Dash or two of ground ginger
1-2 teaspoons garlic paste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 

For the pasta salad:
1/2 lb spaghetti, cooked al dente according to package instructions
1/2 lb whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente according to package instructions
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
1-2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup julienned bell peppers (red, yellow, and green)

1. Combine lime juice, lime zest, brown sugar, low-sodium soy sauce, sesame oil, sea salt, ground ginger, garlic paste, and olive oil in a small mixing bowl. Place flank steak in a large, resealable zip bag, and pour marinade over steak. Seal bag and shake well to coat steak.  Marinate for at least 1 hour in the fridge, removing 15-30 minutes prior to grill time. 

2. Make the salad "dressing." Combine olive oil, reduced-sodium soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic paste, ground ginger, red chili flakes, Thai sweet chili sauce, and sesame oil in a medium mixing bowl. Mix well and set aside. 

3. In a large bowl with a lid, toss together both kinds of cooked spaghetti noodles, the carrots, the red cabbage, and the bell peppers. Pour  the salad dressing over the noodles and vegetables. Place the lid on the bowl and shake salad until the noodles and vegetables are evenly coated with the dressing. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 

4. Grill the prepared flank steak, low and slow, over direct heat, to your desired level of done. (You can also start grilling on a higher temp to get a nice sear, then reduce to low to finish cooking.) Let meat rest for 10-15 minutes, then slice. 

5. Serve steak slices alongside the cold pasta salad and enjoy!

My husband and I both loved this dish, and it was great for leftovers, too- no need to reheat! 

What are your favorite summer grilling recipes? Do you enjoy sticking to the tried and true or do you like to mix it up a bit and go on culinary adventures? 

Happy Summer! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Trail Mix Cookies and A Lesson in Self-Acceptance

Do you ever struggle with practicing what you preach...? Sometimes real talk is hard, and sometimes it's raw and vulnerable. 

I constantly reiterate to my children how people come in all different shapes and sizes, everyone wrapped in their own uniquely beautiful skin, and that no one type is better than another. And I find myself applying that ideology in my own life to everyone... Except myself. Why is it so hard for us to practice love and acceptance towards ourselves the way we do others? 

I've gained a few pounds lately, and even though I *know* this isn't the end of the world, there are days it still *feels* like it. There is a big part of me that wants to not care, to embrace the little bit of weight, because I can acknowledge that a big part of those 5 pounds comes from things that bring me genuine happiness: baking, cooking, and making memories in the kitchen and around the dinner table with the people I love the most in this world. Delicious homemade food is one of my languages of love.

Does anyone else ever feel conflicted in this way? Wanting to not obsess about your weight or another aspect of your appearance but feeling like it's wrong to not be perpetually trying to somehow make yourself more attractive and pleasing to the outside world?  I do, and it's really hard sometimes. I get so frustrated because there are days I find myself incapable of offering the same love and acceptance to myself that I do to everyone else. I am lucky to have many people in my life who see my beauty as something that is so much more than my outer shell- they see me in the same nonjudgmental way I see others. My husband and my family are my saving grace; I'm so thankful for them and try to embrace their affectionate thoughts as my own. I know I'm not the only person who struggles with this- I think it's probably more common than we want to admit. But it's real, and sometimes it's refreshing to be real and honest and express vulnerability. 

It's almost time for cookies... But first, I have to confess to you that my heart is broken just a little bit as I type this post. In perfect accordance with the theme of this post so far, I was watching TV with my husband and daughter when we saw a commercial for Cool Sculpting. (If you haven't seen this yet, it's basically a new procedure that freezes your fat away, a supposed stand-in for liposuction.) Upon seeing this commercial and understanding what it was, she then immediately said she wished she could have that done to her belly. I had to fight back the tears as I asked her why and told her that she was perfect and beautiful just as she was, that skinniness wasn't the only way a person could be beautiful. She got quiet and the conversation ended, but I felt as though this was a small opening into what will inevitably turn into a lifelong battle. I wondered how I can help her overcome the media's misguided perception of what beauty is. And in that moment I knew... Lead by example. By showing her that even though I may not be a size 2, I can still find inner confidence and radiate beauty from (most importantly) the inside as well as the outside. By pointing out examples of beauty all around us that comes in all shapes and sizes. By showing her that intelligence, humor, compassion, and creativity are traits even more desirable than appearance. This is my new challenge, my new passion. Everyone says that there are moments which define your life; this seemingly innocuous conversation with my beautiful 6-year old daughter was one of those moments for me. As a society, we have to be better about teaching love and acceptance of EVERYONE, not just those who fit a cookie cutter version of what someone's ideal person looks like, believes, or loves. Beauty is everywhere, and truthfully, beauty is in diversity and in acceptance.

My daughter is actually the one who chose this recipe to make for a family BBQ over the weekend. She loves trail mix, so when I let her thumb through my favorite Joy the Baker cookbook and helped her read titles as she looked at pictures of amazing food photography, it was love at first sight when she saw this recipe. We love Joy the Baker in our house- she never disappoints. We made some tweaks and got busy in the kitchen and had a wonderful Friday evening baking and creating lifelong happy memories.

These cookies are seriously amazing. They are fun and full of spunk and originality, just like my daughter. Take an oatmeal base, add in M&Ms, Chunky Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, peanuts, and raisins, and you've got one hell of a cookie. Everyone at the BBQ loved them, too, and there were many recipe requests. We will definitely be making these again, maybe sooner than later as camping season is quickly approaching. (HOORAY!)

Trail Mix Cookies (adapted from Joy the Baker)

- 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup softened butter
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup roughly chopped Chunky Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
- 1 cup chocolate M&Ms candies
- 1 cup roasted & salted peanuts
- 1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, both flours, baking powder and baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, using a hand or a stand mixer, cream together the softened butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and vanilla extract, mixing well.
4. Pour all of your dry ingredients into the bowl with your wet ingredients, mixing on medium speed until just incorporated, then add in the chopped peanut butter cups, the M&Ms, the peanuts, and the raisins. Continue mixing until fully incorporated. (Note: This is very thick cookie dough- you may need to get a sturdy wooden spoon to finish the mixing job.)
5. Roll heaping tablespoonfuls of cookie dough into balls and place on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart.
6. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheets for 5-7 minutes, then place on wire cooling rack to finish cooling completely.
7. ENJOY! Delicious with a fresh glass of milk.

Remember, some of the best cookies don't even need cookie cutters... don't worry about what society tells you is beautiful. Be you, be kind, be original, and THAT is beautiful!

Much love always - Amber

Monday, April 18, 2016

Loaded Banana Bread Oatmeal

In typical Wyoming fashion, while the rest of the country gets blissful springtime weather with budding flowers and blossoming trees, we get a foot of snow and high wind warnings. We had 60 degree weather last week, followed by heavy snowfall on Friday and Saturday. Sometimes I ask myself why we choose to live here... Then I remember the small-town western feel, the good people, and the low crime, and I decide the weather is a small sacrifice for all of the other elements I love. Anyone else nonchalantly argue with themselves in their heads? No? Okay then, moving on...

The good news is that our second (or is it third?) winter gave me an excuse to make one more warm, hearty breakfast before lighter meals dominate spring and summer. I mean, really, who wants a piping hot bowl of oatmeal when it's 80 degrees outside? Not this girl. 

I have sort of taken on the role of the baker where I work, and I happily take responsibility for ensuring everyone in our department has freshly baked birthday treats when their special day pops up on the calendar. My boss requested simple, fudgy brownies with toasted walnuts back in February for her birthday, and ever since then I have become sort of obsessed with walnuts. It used to be all about the pecans, pretty much all-around, but there is officially a new nut in town.

So there I am on Saturday morning, snow falling incessantly out the kitchen window as I sip my morning coffee, trying to decide what to have for breakfast. I notice the perfectly overripe bananas on the counter and suddenly remember that we bought more walnuts the night before. The rest just fell into place, because seriously, what pairs better than bananas and nuts? I never have time to make stovetop oatmeal during the week, so I take advantage of the extra time on the weekends. 

By combining overripe bananas, toasted walnuts, hearty old-fashioned oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, and just a smidge of dark chocolate, we have banana bread for breakfast in a bowl and life is good. And in all reality, while it feels like a naughty indulgence, the recipe is all-around pretty healthy. Eat dessert for breakfast like a boss and do it without a trace of guilt. 

Loaded Banana Bread Oatmeal

- 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup vanilla almond milk
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- dash of nutmeg
- dash of salt
- 1 small banana, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons toasted walnuts
- dash of pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar (or more to taste)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped dark chocolate
- drizzle of pure maple syrup (optional) 

1. Combine old-fashioned oats, water, vanilla almond milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring well. Put about 1/3 of the sliced banana pieces into the saucepan and stir again. 
2. Cook over medium heat until oat mixture thickens to your level of liking, approximately 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The banana slices should have broken down almost completely during the cooking process, and your oatmeal will be a little more creamy than normal. 
3. Once the oatmeal has cooked and thickened to suit your tastes, remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the vanilla extract and brown sugar. 
4. Line the bottom of your serving bowl with another 1/3 of the sliced bananas, then top with prepared oatmeal. Top with the remaining sliced banana pieces, toasted walnuts, and dark chocolate pieces, then drizzle the top with just a hint of pure maple syrup. 

At this point, you can either stir and get a hint of maple syrup and dark chocolate swirled throughout your bowl, or you can enjoy the layered effect and enjoy each element a bit more individually. Either way, it's a win. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Project Semicolon: Keep on Keepin' On

When I opened my blog as a forum for individuals to speak about their personal experiences with anxiety, depression, suicide, or anything else related to mental health awareness, I never truly thought anyone would take me up on the offer. These subjects are still so taboo in our world, in spite of the staggering numbers of people worldwide affected by them. Needless to say, when not just one but several people bravely offered their voice, I was so excited at an opportunity to share, learn, and support one another in a fundamental way. 

I have had the pleasure of working with Charles for 8 years now, and believe me when I say he is good people. He is genuine, heartfelt, generous, and compassionate. I am thankful to know him and consider him a friend, and I am even more thankful that, despite the many obstacles he's faced in his life, he chose to keep fighting. He chose on so many different occasions NOT to end his story. Below, he courageously shares the battlefield of his heart and soul and offers encouragement to those who can relate to him all too well. 

"Where to start? Where to start? Where. To. Start.

I guess going back to my earliest recollection of feeling depressed is as good a place as any. I was probably only 15-16 years old when I first had any serious thought of self harm or self hatred.

I can honestly say that this came about from the taunting and teasing that kids that age give each other, but I also have to say that mine was compounded by my father's drunken tirades against me as well as the rest of my siblings as to how none of us would ever amount to anything and me hearing from my own father how much of a "worthless motherfucker" I was and that I was an "ugly piece of shit". So, needless the say, getting taunted and teased at school, then coming home to hear the same things or worse from your own father just made me think, "Well, if everyone is saying it to me about me, then it just has to be true, right"?

So taking all of that into account, I figured if everyone at school hated me and my own father hated me, why should I be any different? So I started hating myself. My grades started suffering, my health started suffering. I started to be less and less involved in anything that would normally make me happy. This was around the time I started thinking that killing myself would be the best recourse for myself and everyone else. 

My first actual thought of suicide came at that same early age as well. I first thought that taking a bunch of pills would be the way to go, but being the over-thinker that I am, I read stories about how people suffered with severe health issues after being found and resuscitated before the pills could do their job. Of course at this young an age I was unable to purchase or own a firearm, but I figured that this would be the way for me to do the job, so to speak.
So for years I suffered with the self hate and anger, and did my best to try and fit in, but the constant taunting and teasing from classmates and my father made it so I ended up quitting school at  the age of 16, the bright side of that was that the school principal at the time saw that I enrolled in classes to get my GED, which I did.

I was a social outcast, never good looking enough to have a girlfriend, or for any of the girls to even be interested in me. I wasn't Kool enough to hang out with all the other Kool kids, I didn't have a car, and at the time I didn't have a job.

I eventually got a job part time washing dishes at a local drive-in restaurant and that's where I first started hanging out with the beer drinker and stoner crowd, and at last, I felt that I fit in.Now I know that alcohol is a depressant, but to me at the time it helped to quell the voices of the demons that taunted me, telling me to take my life and "make everybody happy". I also know that people insist that marijuana isn't considered a gateway drug, but to me it was, for the simple fact that I thought, "If mota makes me feel this good, what will the other kinds of drugs do for me?"

So I began seeking out other ways to make myself keep the Black Dog at bay, the only problems being, while I was high and or drunk, I was fine, but once I came down and sobered up, my problems were still there and sometimes the demons were even more tormenting. Now I want to clarify that I never heard voices per se, I am speaking of the terrible thoughts that a very depressed person keeps playing and replaying in their heads. My years of drug and alcohol abuse lasted for 17 or so years and during this whole time I constantly and consistently wanted to end my life, if only to make everybody who hated me happy. I figured that by doing this one act, I would finally do something that not only everyone would surely approve of, but that my mental anguish and suffering would end as well. A messed up way to think, but at the time it sure seemed like the proper thing to do.

I eventually started dating an older woman around the time I was about 28, she was 9 years older than I and at first, I was totally wary of her or anyone else who said they cared for me. No one, other than my own mother had ever expressed selfless love for me, and I sure wasn't going to believe someone who I barely even knew. Anyway, we dated for about a year or so before I had a terrible bout of depression that I was sure would be the end.

A really close female friend of mine had been diagnosed with cancer and her prognosis did not look good, I took it very personal because in my minds eye I could not fathom how God could try and take the life of someone so beautiful and wonderful and leave me here on this earth, suffering with this mental anguish. I went out and got filthy, stinking drunk that night and ended up with a friend who was able to score us some crack. We ended up partying until the sun came up and I had no intention on going to work that afternoon so I got a motel room to hole up in while my high went away. I remember getting my last $20.00 for the motel room. I remember telling my friend that I would park my truck on the farthest end of the parking lot and if anyone came looking for me, I left my truck parked there and left with someone. I remember going inside my room and because of all the beer, whisky and cocaine I could not go to sleep. I remember turning on the ac on high to drown out any other noises. I eventually went to sleep and was awakened some time late by someone beating on my door, I was more startled to find a fully loaded 9mm pistol on my chest!

That, I did not remember! After I stashed the pistol, I answered to door to find my mother near hysterical and asking me what was wrong? I explained about my friend and how I just needed to sleep it all of right now and to not tell anyone where I was, so I could figure out things for myself.

Long story short, the woman I was seeing was the one who got me to seek out a therapist to get help for my suicidal tendencies and possibly try and get my drinking and drug use under control as well. I was placed on Zoloft and for the first few months, did not want to quit drinking. I eventually found it in myself to quit for a whole 120 days, not a single drop. 
One night, while my girlfriend and I were talking about what we wanted to do when we were younger, I explained to her how I had heard of a school that taught auto body and paint in Wyoming and how I had always wanted to build Kustom Kars. I was able to get financial aid and we moved to Laramie, Wyoming and I went to Wyo-Tech and eventually graduated from their collision-refinishing program and ended up disappointed with their Hot-Rod program and dropped out before completing that course. Molly and I ended up getting married on the 30th of May, 1998, and I thought my life was really turning out for the best. I got depressed after I got out of Wyo-Tech when every body shop I went to in town turned me down for a job stating that they needed someone who had been in the field for at least 4-5 years! I did odd jobs here and there and eventually settled for a decent job detailing cars for the local Chevrolet dealership. It was during this time that my wife suffered a heart attack and nearly died. She went through very bad bouts of depression at this time herself and I did my best to help her get through it. Several months passed and after not being very careful, we got pregnant and due to her previous health problems due to obesity and diabetes, and the fact that she had recently suffered a heart attack, we made the very hard decision to abort the child so that we could save my wife's life. The day before we were due to be in Boulder, Colorado for the procedure, the Columbine Massacre happened and needless to say, we postponed her appointment for a few days later. This was a terrible time in both our lives, but together we got through it.

My wife ended up getting a job working the front desk at City Hall in 1999 and suggested to me that I apply for a job as custodian there, which I did. I got this job and have currently been with the City for the last 16 years.

It was during this time in late September of '99 that her son was diagnosed with leukemia and was taken to Children's Hospital in Denver. Needless to say, this was a very terrible time for the both of us, being that she was justifiably worried for her sons health, but here I was worried for hers, seeing that she had just had a recent heart attack and an abortion.

Now, being the loving mother that she was, she wanted to drive down to Denver to see her son everyday after she got off work, but I could see that this would not be financially feasible. She and her son's girlfriend eventually found a way through Children's Hospital to get some financial aid and got an apartment in Denver and she would go down and stay on weekends and stay there for any procedures that he had to go through. Late in October of that same year, my wife's step father passed away, and I was asked to be a pallbearer. I was honored and readily accepted and the night before I was to drive down to New Mexico for the funeral, Molly called me and seemed very out of breath asking me if on my way down, could I pick her up so that she could go with me to the funeral? I of course became concerned, hearing how out of breath she sounded and asked her if she was alright, she stated that she had been feeling very tired the last few hours and felt she was coming down with a cold. I told her to lie down and try and get some rest but if she was still feeling out of breath and tired that Monica had better take her to the ER and get her checked out!

That next morning I drive down to Denver and stop by the apartment to pick up my wife and she greets me at the door, her skin is grey and ashy and her lips are purple! I of course am furious that she didn't go to the ER the night before, so Monica and I get her down to my vehicle and I drive her to a hospital and as I feared, she's having another heart attack!Now I have a wife in a hospital in Denver as well as a step son very ill with leukemia in another, not to mention that I was so scared driving around trying to find a hospital to take her to, I didn't even know where I was!

It turns out my then wife had to have bypass surgery, her son was eventually released and his cancer was in remission. Molly was eventually released and we all made arrangements to get back home to Laramie. Molly was recovering rather quickly, Edward (her son) was doing well and had lost a huge amount of weight and had declared to us both that he had planned on moving back to New Mexico to get a job with one of his uncles and try and get his own place and live on his own. I myself was very proud of him, but Molly was of course concerned that her "baby boy" would be leaving. Edward did eventually move back home and this did not seat at all well with Molly, and she fell into a very deep depression and I did my best to comfort her and care for her but she was inconsolable. Her supervisor at the City told her that it would probably be for the best if she took an extended leave of absence from her job and "go get things sorted out" in New Mexico then come back and her job would still be here.
The day her sister came to pick her up for her trip back home, I knew then and there I would never see her again in Wyoming.

We were separated for 10 months before I finally gave her the ultimatum to come home and try and make this marriage work, or I will be filing for divorce. She decided that she wanted to stay in New Mexico. I was granted a divorce in January of 2001.

I have to apologize for the long winded story, but I guess what I wanted to do was give everyone a condensed version of what I have gone through and that my story hasn't ended.
I still do suffer from depression and I do have some very, very bad days where I feel I cannot continue to go on, but I think that by going through what I went through in such a small time frame kind of forced me to fight even though I felt that I could not continue to fight.

My suicidal thoughts have been more manageable and are very few and far between, I still occasionally think that "wasting a bullet" would be the better thing to do, I still do continue to suffer from self hatred and anger, especially when I am overwhelmed and am having a bad day or am going through an emotionally trying time, but for the most part, my story continues on.I have become accustomed to using a favorite saying of Mother Teresa's that says something to the effect, "I know that God does not give us anything more than we can handle, I just wish he didn't trust me so much."

I hope that this story isn't too long and drawn out, but I also hope that by writing it down and sharing it, that I can give some comfort and help someone else who suffers as I do.

Let your story continue on, if only for the simple fact to be stubborn!

As one of my musical icons, Lemmy Kilmister used to say, "Don't let th' bastards grind ya' down!!"

Be Well and God Bless." 

Charles- thank you for being a kind-hearted soul and an all-around awesome human being. And thank you, too, for baring your soul for all the world to see in the hopes that you can help inspire others to continue on in their journey. 

To all those out there fighting the good fight, day in and day out, know your worth. Stay strong; life is beautiful, even through the pain. 

Project Semicolon: German Chocolate Cupcakes for my Gramps

Image result for images with inspirational quotes about defining moments

There are some moments in your life that define your future, forever influencing the person that you are and the person that you will become. For me, one of those pivotal moments took place on June 13, 2011.

It was a Monday, a beautiful summery day. I took a half day off from work because my brother and sister-in-law and their children were visiting from Colorado, and we planned to have lunch and hang out with them that afternoon. We went to the best local Mexican restaurant , and everyone was conversing and laughing over delicious food.

I always kept my cell phone set to silent while at work, and that day I forgot to switch it back to ring after I left for the day. When my husband's phone rang and it was my mother trying to get a hold of me, I was confused at first. I took a quick peek at my cell phone and saw several missed calls from my mom and my brother. That is when the pit in my stomach began to grow, and I knew in my heart that something was wrong as I took the phone from my husband and walked outside of the restaurant to speak with my mother.

As I said hello, I could hear the pain and anguish in her voice as she told me that my grandfather was dead. The tears immediately began to trickle as I asked what had happened. I felt the hesitation through the phone as she carefully chose her next words, knowing that we were two and a half hours apart and that we couldn't be there immediately to comfort and console one another. She drew in a deep breath and told me that he had killed himself. The tears turned from a trickle to a waterfall and I screamed. The kind of scream that only a true mix of horror and agony can bring about. Profanities sputtered from my mouth as I tried to find words, but one syllable questions were all I could muster as my mind tried to wrap itself around the devastation that had infiltrated my heart. How? Why?

In that moment, my mom could sense my vulnerability and instability and, to protect me, told me she didn't know. I knew she was lying, but I am not sure I was ready to process the rest of the information anyways. She told me I needed to go back inside the restaurant while she stayed on the phone with me and put my husband on the phone so she could speak with him. I followed her instructions, completely unaware of what awaited inside the restaurant.

I walked back in, sobbing uncontrollably amidst the stares of strangers. I wondered if any of them had heard my screams, not caring either way. I needed my husband. As I came into view of my family, my husband rushed to me. I blurted out in almost nonsensical gibberish that my grandpa had killed himself and buried my face into his chest as I gave him the phone. My sister-in-law wrapped her arms around me as my mother calmly told my husband what had transpired early that morning. I remember that, in the midst of the turmoil that was eating me alive from the inside, I was so incredibly thankful that I had been in the company of loved ones when this bomb was dropped.

After I calmed down, I finally learned the details myself. My grandpa had woke up that morning, had a few bites of a cookie for his last breakfast, locked the front screen door to keep loved ones out, retrieved his .22 pistol, and, in what I can only imagine as being an excruciating descent for a man who suffered from chronic back pain, sat down in the bathtub. He had removed his shirt and was wearing only his jeans and his silver cross, which he rarely took off. At some point, he raised the gun to his forehead, took his last breath, and pulled the trigger.

I can't tell you how many times I have relived those moments in my mind. No, I wasn't there, but it feels like it nonetheless. It feels like I was right there with him as he lived his last moments, invisible and muted with no way to stop him. I have imagined it so many different ways. He has been happy, relieved almost, at the thought of being reunited with his beloved wife who had passed only four short months prior. He has been crying hopelessly, thinking of how much he will miss the family he was leaving behind. No matter how my mind plays it out that day, it is one of the single most debilitating thoughts I have ever had, and the tears begin to freely flow again, just as they did that day in June, just as they are now.

Time is supposed to heal all wounds, and while the wounds are not as deep as they once were, they are still very much there, present in everything that I do and everything that I am.

I was lucky enough to grow up as part of an amazing, loving, supportive family. They were always at the center of everything I did, and I hope when my own children grow up they look back on their childhood with that same sentiment. My family has been my greatest blessing in this life, both the one I fortunate enough to be born into and the one I was lucky enough to marry into. Family is EVERYTHING. Family is my heart, my soul, and every breath I take.

My grandfather and I shared a very special bond- he was one of my best buds and probably my biggest cheerleader. My parents obviously loved me with every fiber of their being, as did my aunt, my brother, and all of my other grandparents and family members., and I loved them just as much. But in my grandpa's eyes, I walked on water. "Proud" doesn't even begin to describe how he felt about me; I could literally do no wrong in this man's eyes. Family was everything to him, too. He was a great man, full of love and mischief, and as humble as they come. I still don't know exactly why he decided to take his own life, but I do know that it doesn't change how much he loved us or how much we love him. And it never could.

I know that many people believe suicide is cowardly and selfish. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But as I have imagined his last moments so many times, dreamed about that day over and over again, no matter how different the "story" may be that day, the underlying tone is always the same: Hopelessness. And to try to relate to the fact that one of your most beloved family members is feeling that hopelessness so much that  there is simply no other choice in their mind... How that can be anything other than heartbreaking and devastating is unbeknownst to me.

Rather than judge, let us find empathy and compassion. We are all human, and we all face our own individual struggles in our journey through life. Be a friend. Lend an ear or a shoulder to someone in need. Smile. Be unnecessarily kind to everyone you meet. You never know when you might have an opportunity to brighten someone's day or their perspective on life. Practice love for your fellow man, but equally as important practice love for yourself. You are worthy. Keep loving, keep fighting. Through all of the ups and downs, life is a beautiful gift, and we only get one.

Gramps- I know you are still here with all of us in everything that we do. I hope you know how important you are to us and how much you are loved still, just as much in absence as in presence. I baked you some cupcakes this week- your favorite. German Chocolate. Grams would have loved them, too, and I would give almost anything to be able to share them with you now over laughter and a cup of coffee. You would have had a pretty good chuckle when I showed you the pictures of my first cupcake attempt, which literally fell victim to our high altitude. Until we meet again, Gramps... cupcake cheers to you.

German Chocolate Cupcakes

(If you do NOT have high altitude issues, get the recipe for German Chocolate Cupcakes from Saving Room for Dessert - the batter was absolutely silky and delicious, it just did not rise to the occasion at 7200 feet- you can see pics of my failure at the bottom of the post- ha! For simplicity's sake, after failure #1, I cheated and used a box mix.)

- 1 box of German Chocolate Cake mix plus ingredients required (eggs, water, and oil, and additional flour for us high altituders)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F and line 24 cupcake tins with paper liners (or 36 if you're at high altitude, too!). Prepare cupcake batter according to instructions on box. Using an ice scream scoop, fill cupcake tins with prepared cupcake batter 1/2 to 2/3 full. Bake for 14-18 minutes, or until the top of the cupcake springs back when lightly touched. Let cool completely.

In the meantime, make the Coconut Pecan Frosting (aka, the best damn frosting I have ever had in my life).

Coconut Pecan Frosting (adapted from Saving Room for Dessert)

- 2 1/2 cups chopped pecans, toasted
- 1 12-oz can evaporated milk
- 1 1/3 cups sugar
- 3/4 cup salted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
- 6 egg yolks, beaten
- 2 1/2 to 3 cups sweetened, shredded coconut
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1. In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, sugar, and butter over medium heat, stirring until the butter is melted. Slowly stir in the egg yolks until fully incorporated, then cook for approximately 12 to 15 minutes, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened into a caramel-like color and consistency.
2. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla; mixture will bubble intensely during this phase- just keep stirring. Mix in 2 cups of the toasted pecans and 2 1/2 cups of the coconut to start, adding more as needed to reach your desired consistency and thickness in the frosting. For me, I liked how thick and crunchy the frosting was using the full  amounts listed above of pecans and coconut, but some may certainly prefer less. You do you.
3. Transfer the frosting to a clean bowl to cool, then spread some coconut pecan love over your German Chocolate cupcakes. Share with neighbors, friends, and coworkers, and feel the love that you've given come back to you.

Beautiful Cupcake

Not So Much...

Much love and peace to you all, my friends. Stay happy.