Creepin’ People Out

Since last week’s was so heavy I thought that this week’s challenge should be lighthearted. We filmed this in July, but I haven’t posted it yet as I was waiting for the video editing from my cousin and his paying clients must come first. I had a lot of fun with this one and though I didn’t expect to, I actually learned a lot about myself.

Challenge #19:

“Speak to strangers through spoken song lyrics!” – from Debbie Hayden

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Aunt Debbie is one of the first people I told about my project and she’s been incredibly supportive of it from the get go. Both she and her daughter, Amy, have been helping me throughout the process and have come up with some pretty fun challenges for me. Aunt Debbie and I are also working on getting through the AFI Top 100 Films and I’m thoroughly enjoying the time we spend together getting lost in classic films. She’s one of my biggest cheerleaders and I’m so blessed to have her in my life.


This challenge is inspired by a stunt they did on Ellen. You can find that video here:

Naturally, I was psyched! Not many people would willingly put themselves in this situation. Though I didn’t have a choice, I was still incredibly excited!!

My cousin Mike, Aunt Debbie’s son, and his girlfriend, Rose, joined in on this adventure, as well. After college and a stint with NFL Films, Michael moved to LA and started his own film production company, Bon Lavi Productions.  He graciously agreed to film this challenge for me, edit the footage and create a masterpiece of discomfort.  He makes me so proud and lives the COOLEST life. I’m always hearing about people he’s met, fun things that he does, and on the rare occasion when he’s home, trying some of his “California cooking.” I have yet to make it out to visit, but I promise I will soon, cuz!

Mike and Rose

Mike and Rose

Amy, Mike and Aunt Debbie

Amy, Mike and Aunt Debbie

Me and Mike

Me and Mike

Here are some teasers of the other projects he’s put together:

We selected Findlay Market for the location of our activity. We figured it was the perfect location since it is a bustling metropolis of local shoppers on the weekends. For those that aren’t familiar, Findlay Market is a large open air market where local retailers and farmers can sell their products. It’s like a really cool grocery store!

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I also really enjoyed this because I got to wear a microphone and everything! Amy had to follow me around and stay within 15 feet of me so that the the receiver for the mic could pick up the sound. After I’d walked away, she also handed out little cards I had created thanking my “victims” for their participation and explaining what had just happened to them.

Ok so Aunt Debbie and I selected “Hello” by Lionel Richie, and “Wanna Be” by the Spice Girls.

They lyrics utilized were as follows:

“Wanna Be”

Yo, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really really want,
I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want,
So tell me what you want, what you really really want,
I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna, I wanna really really really wanna zigazig ha.



Is it me you’re looking for?
’cause I wonder where you are
And I wonder what you do
Are you somewhere feeling lonely?
Or is someone loving you?
Tell me how to win your heart
For I haven’t got a clue
But let me start by saying I love you

We figured one would really amp up the creep factor and the other would confuse the strangers!

I cannot possibly describe what I experienced before you watch it, so without further ado: Singing to Strangers

Sing to Stangers from Mike Hayden on Vimeo.

So there’s that. Haha

I was super nervous at first. I didn’t know how to approach people. My parents were there to observe and my dad made the suggestion to find people that were sitting down. This made them a sitting duck/captive audience and they couldn’t escape the impending awkward situation if they wanted to. The other problem is that my nerves were so bad that I couldn’t remember the lyrics and that kept throwing me off my game. After about a half hour in, I finally got comfortable and it just game naturally to me. In fact, Mike said that we had enough footage and I wanted to keep going because I was having so much fun with it!!


Get out of my own head. It’s not ever as bad as I think it is.

Suck it up. Sometimes you have to do hard stuff. Might as well have fun with it!

Stranger Danger is definitely real.

If you see a small elderly man sitting at a table alone and he asks you if your name is Karen, don’t say yes. He could be waiting for his long lost granddaughter and this will make you feel very bad for the awkward scenario you have no made him a part of.

I get way too much sadistic pleasure out of making people feel uncomfortable.

It’s all about being comfortable in your own skin. Once I stopped caring what other people would think of what I was doing, I had an absolute blast!!

The more familiar I am with something the more comfortable it becomes.

And finally, breathe.

Aunt Debbie, thank you for making me step out of my comfort zone on this one. I spend a lot of time worrying about what kind of impression I’m making, what people think of me and how other people feel about our interaction. Once I let it go, I had so much more fun! I have taken this into my social environments and have realized how much more enjoyable life can be when you stop giving a *bleep* about how others perceive you!

Many thanks also to Mike, Rose, Amy and my parents for coming out for the afternoon. And a very special thank you to Mike and Bon Lavi Productions for shooting, editing, producing, creating, etc. the video. You are amazing!!  I owe ya one!!

Til next time!


My Favorite Little Miracle

A lot of thought went into this week’s challenge and Candice knew it would truly test me. We’ve been practicing and prepping for months and I’m so glad it finally happened!!

Challenge #18:

Switch-Hit. Switch lives with me and take care of 2 kids…one with special needs awaiting transplant.” – from Candice Sheppard

candice challenge

Candice and I had the chance to meet when we both worked at Powers Agency. She came in a few months after me and served as one of my superiors in Account Services. We worked on a few projects together, but mostly, we built an incredible friendship. She is a great role model, confidant and friend. She has also helped coach me through my job search, served as one of the best references I’ve ever had and vented with me about our year of co-unemployment. She’s one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met.

My favorite picture! Anticipating Alice's arrival :)

My favorite picture of Sophia and Candice! Anticipating Alice’s arrival 🙂


Halloween 2012


Summer vacation 2013!


Summer vacation 2013

Candice is also one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life. Shortly before she began working at Powers, Candice found out that she and her husband, Chris, would be welcoming a beautiful little bundle of joy in the spring. I was beyond excited when she shared the news and couldn’t wait to meet Baby Sheppard. On May 22, 2012, Baby Alice graced the world with her presence bringing their family to a total of five, including step-brother, Blake, and sister, Sophia.  Her arrival was no small feat and came with many complications. Since then, this sweet little angel has fought, day in and day out, to survive.

Here is a little bit of the back story, taken from the “I Heart Alice” Facebook page:

Alice Mae Sheppard came into this world fighting on May 22, 2012. Upon birth, a previously undetected heart murmur was found and over the course of two days, it began to become louder and more pronounced. Ready to leave the hospital in which she was born, Alice’s parents were told to place Alice in an incubator for transport to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center after an echocardiogram discovered she was born with three major heart defects: severe Aortic Stenosis, Mild Pulmonary Stenosis and Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy. All of which would be fatal if left untreated. Shortly thereafter, Alice was diagnosed with a genetic mutation of her PTPN11 gene causing her to have Noonan Syndrome (NS).

Sweet little Alice...

Sweet little Alice…post first surgery – 4 days old.

Candice and Chris with baby Alice shortly after their arrival at Cincinnati Children's.

A heartfelt moment at just 4 days old. Minutes after Alice was baptized and minutes before her first surgery – a balloon valvuloplasty to try to force open her narrowed Aortic and Pulmonary Valves. It is EXTREMELY rare for a person to have both of their major valves affected – even with NS. Aortic Stenosis is not necessarily a common defect with NS and the fact that Alice has this and it was considered severe makes her One in a Million.

Daddy with his girls, Sophia and Alice.

Daddy with his girls, Sophia and Alice.

Noonan syndrome (NS) is the most common syndrome you have NEVER heard of! NS is a variably expressed, multisystem disorder with an estimated prevalence of 1 in 1,000 – 2,500 births. People with NS may experience bleeding issues, congenital heart defects including hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (thickening of the heart muscle that forces the heart to work harder to pump blood and if untreated leads to cardiac arrest) and/or pulmonary valve stenosis (narrowing of the valve that controls blood flow from the heart to the lungs) lymphatic abnormalities, small stature/growth issues, feeding and gastrointestinal issues, failure to thrive, hypertelorism, learning disorders, unexplained chronic pain, chiari malformation, hypotonia, ptosis, skeletal malformations, chiari malformation, laryngomalacia, tracheomalacia, opthamology issues, orthopaedic issues, oncology issues and much, much more. Because of the variability in presentation and the need for multidisciplinary care, it is essential that the condition be identified and managed comprehensively.

Alice has endured multiple surgeries to repair her heart issues including an open heart procedure at just four weeks old on June 21, 2012. During this painfully long 9-hour surgery, all three of her defects were addressed. Her native Aortic Valve was removed and a human donor homograft piece was attached to the roots replacing her diseased valve. Her Pulmonary Valve was repaired by way of a Transannular Patch and lastly, her thick, dysplastic heart muscle was trimmed back to alleviate the pressure for the heart to more efficiently pump blood to her other vital organs. Alice recovered remarkably well, but with minor complications including a blood clot formation in the right atrium of her heart and the inability to thrive and gain weight. She returned to the hospital several times throughout the first few months of life.

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Due to NS-related feeding difficulties and delayed gastrointestinal motor development, Alice was given all of her nutrition through a feeding tube. Infants with NS often display issues with eating due to sucking problems because of weak muscles in the mouth and sometimes a high-arched palate, a weak chewing action that can mean mealtimes take longer than expected and projectile vomiting during or after meals as a result of severe reflux and motility problems. Initially Alice was released home with an NG tube (Nasogastric tube): A tube that is passed through the nose and down through the nasopharynx and esophagus into the stomach. After several months with an NG tube the risks and complications such as irritation of the esophagus, sinus infections and interference with the lower esophageal sphincter which cause reflux of stomach contents, often leading to aspiration pneumonitis became evident. Not to mention… a very curious 6-month old baby can pull the tube out herself! After extensive research, GI testing and with the recommendations of Alice’s team, everyone decided it was best to switch her NG tube to a more permeant solution since she was not making little if any progress eating by mouth. Alice arrived for gastrostomy tube (G-tube) placement on November 16, 2012. This procedure was a simple and routine one requiring anesthesia and a 48-hour stay inpatient, but in true Alice fashion….things became complicated quickly after she went into her second cardiac arrest upon intubation. She was unresponsive for over 10 minutes and doctor’s feared the worse. Once they revived her heart, they began damage control putting her into an induced hypothermic state to attempt to preserve her vital organ function of the kidneys, liver and brain. She was quite literally freezing when miraculously she began to move her fingers and kick off blankets just as she normally would! As they warmed her body back up and began testing her brain function for seizure activity, the medical staff were reassured that she had not suffered any life-threating damage…to her brain or other organs. Her heart, however, took the worst of it. The function of her heart was severely decreased and to this day it has not fully recovered.


And this is where our new journey begins….

Alice is listed for full organ replacement. She is in need of a new heart. One must understand, that all of the surgeries have been and will continue to be palliative, meaning that they seek to relieve the symptoms of her disease without ever providing a cure. Simply put, there is NO CURE FOR HER DISEASE.

So, now that you’ve got the background on Alice’s situation, you can understand why this challenge is so different from any I’ve had before. There is literally a small person’s life in my hands and I was BEYOND terrified that I’d screw it up some how.

Candice and I have spent time over the past few months practicing and prepping for this week. I have learned how to administer Alice’s medicine, read up on infant CPR, learned how the machines work and familiarized myself with all necessary information. I have also spent time with Alice as she has a level of discomfort with “stranger danger” and making her as familiar with me as possible was really our only hope. On previous visits, Alice would begin crying the moment Candice left the room and it was just me and her. But this time, I was greeted with a big, beautiful smile the second I walked in to see her.

Hi, sweet girll! I'm happy to see you too :)

Hi, sweet girll! I’m happy to see you too 🙂

Alice also has a big sister named Sophia. Soph is 3  (going on 13) and is a ball of energy. She is incredibly smart, incredibly sweet and loves her little sister like crazy. She is currently in “word police” mode so I had to be VERY careful about what I said. For the record, God and Shoot are off the table. She picks out her own clothes, loves shoes, and doesn’t hesitate to provide you with instruction if she thinks you’re doing something wrong.  But it’s all soooo adorable. She reminds me sooo much of Candice.

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I would be responsible for these two for the day while Candice and I traded lives. Now, I thought about booking a Pure Barre class, or having her spend time with Gus, but this was a challenge for me, not Candice. I decided that instead of all of those things, I’d give her a break. I also knew that if I didn’t give her a reason to, she might not leave the house. I booked her a massage at Mitchell’s and sent her off for a day of relaxation and personal time. I got this.

Alice is hooked up to a G tube through her abdomen. This is a blessing because before it ran through her nose and down her throat. She would rip it out from time to time. This one goes directly through her belly and doesn’t seem to be as uncomfortable. She also has the largest accessory I’ve ever seen for a baby. This lovely wheeled pole follows her around, with the exception of four-hour breaks between feedings, every where she goes.


Candice and I went over the meds right when I got there. She receives three different medications via syringe through her G tube and they go directly into her stomach. She gets blood pressure medicine, acid reflux medicine and heart rate monitoring medicine to ease the every day stress required for her heart to function. She also receives a flush of water to push everything through her system.

Three medicines and water flush.

Three medicines and water flush.


The next step is to clamp up Alice’s feeding tube. If you do not properly clamp these before opening or closing a port, both the contents of Alice’s stomach and the food entering it will pour out through the tube. I did pretty well the first time, but learned that the hard way upon closing her back up. Whoops.

So…Clamps closed. Syringe Inserted. Clamps Open. Push Syringe. Clamps closed. Remove Syringe.  Repeat until all medicine has been administered and tubes have been flushed.

Clamps closed. BOTH of them.

Clamps closed. BOTH of them.

Syringe inserted.

Syringe inserted.

Clamps open, push meds.

Clamps open, push meds.

Clamps closed, remove syringe. Repeat.

Clamps closed, remove syringe. Repeat.

Sophia was coloring and having some breakfast so Alice joined her at the table for some rice Krispies. I’m so excited that she can finally enjoy solid food, within reason.


Her monitor beeped and she could be removed from her feeding tube around 12:30. From the moment of that beep, Alice gets a 4 hour break where she can roam free from wires. At this point, Candice usually takes them to the park, for a walk, runs errands, etc., but she has not always had this opportunity. For awhile, Alice needed to be connected almost all the time. The family had spent the previous day at King’s Island for Andy Dalton’s King for a Day and the girls were wiped out.  Alice went down for a nap and Sophia and I prepared to play outside on the swing set. I braided her hair and got her dressed and ready to go.


I carried the video monitor with me, but it really didn’t provide me with much comfort. You can’t tell if a baby is breathing through a small video screen.


Sophia showed me the ropes around the new play set. She’s so cute! I was terrified she’d fall and hurt herself while doing pretty much everything. I’m going to have to work on that before I have children of my own or they’ll all end up encased in bubble wrap for extra protection.

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Sophia wanted head in after awhile, deciding it was “too hot to play outside” (debatable). We watched some alphabet movies, made lunch and Alice joined us for a “picnic” in front of the TV.


At this point, I’m thinking the day is going realllllly well. Everyone is full, happy and safe. Sophia went down for a nap and I spent some time with Alice, cleaning up and playing with her toys.

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And then this happened:



Alice began crying out of nowhere. A lot of crying.  If I put her down or stopped moving – crying. I had a flash back to babysitting Belle when this exact thing happened. The only difference there is that feeding her eventually made her stop crying. I couldn’t just feed Alice. She’s on a schedule and there is a machine that feeds her with a set dose at a set rate. We were still an hour away from when feeding time could begin again. Do you know how hard it is to unload a dishwasher with a crying baby on your hip!?  They say sometimes you’re supposed to just let a baby cry, but it doesn’t feel right when it’s not your kid. So essentially, I never “just let them cry” as I do not have children of my own.  Eventually, after pacing around the room and talking to her softly, I got her calmed down. She napped on me while I watched Orange is the New Black. (You were right, Candice. I’m hooked.)


Success!! Crying stopped! Sanity resumes.

She woke up after about a half hour when it was time for her to feed again. Candice left me very thorough instructions and walked me through the process before she left, but I was still nervous. I had to clear out the rate and dose and input them to the new numbers. It took me a minute, but I figured it out. I also remembered to clamp and unclamp the tubes properly this time, thank God.

Thorough Instructions.

Thorough Instructions.

This thing is confusing.

This thing is confusing.

I put her down for another nap with her feeding tube and she slept for almost the entire feed. Sophia and I played memory and then began making dinner so it would be ready when Chris and Candice got home.

Sophia was VERY helpful. It was actually very nice having someone to talk to that understood what I was saying and could respond. She is so very polite. She knew the answers to the questions I had about Alice so I actually only had to call Candice once for something little.  We laughed a lot and it made my day each of the 50 times Sophia told me she loved me. Heart. Melted. After a nice family dinner I headed home and crashed, completely exhausted, but inspired. That little miracle has beaten the odds, literally died TWICE and pushed through SO much. And she’s only 15 months old!


I was a difficult kid. The ADHD made it nearly impossible for me to regulate my volume, temper, anxiety levels, thought processes, patience- basically everything that keeps a kid composed in any way, shape or form. I used to fear whether or not I’d be able to handle it if my children were born the same way. I never even considered the other possibilities that could happen until I met Miss Alice.

She is making so much progress every single day!  She has biweekly speech therapy and physical therapy at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.  Speech therapy consists of a therapist teaching her how to swallow, drink from a cup, taste new flavors, and work on sensory issues and aversions to food taste and texture.

Physical therapy is generally working with sounds right now. It is a series of cognitive and physical development through activities, like playing with toys and stretching, that encourage fine and gross motor skills. Developmentally, from a physical standpoint, she is that of half her age. She can sit up and skate, but cannot crawl or bear much weight on her legs and is nowhere close to walking. Many kids with Noonan Syndrome have this issue due to early surgeries and problems developing as well as low muscle tone which is associated with the disease.

She also goes to the hospital for a 24 hour inpatient stay once a month called IVIG.  This is a blood byproduct that is given to her via a 12 hour IV infusion. As the product goes into her body it attempts to find and destroy any of her built up foreign antibodies. She has an astronomically high number of these foreign antibodies due to the fact that she was given a human donor aortic valve at four weeks old as well as about 10 blood transfusions from her various surgical procedures. The problem with finding a new heart for her is that she cannot accept a heart to which her body has built up antibodies against. This could lead to serious rejection issues. More importantly, if her antibody levels do not come down then they will not be able to find a negative crossmatch heart for her. We have to find a positive size and blood type as it is. If they can’t get these things under control, there is a good chance that Alice’s body will reject the transplant she is given, thus defeating the purpose.


I learned a lot about myself. I am more patient than I thought I was. I’m not sure if that’s something I’ve learned in the last few months since I babysat Belle or if it’s just a sense of comfort and confidence I’ve developed, but I am pretty proud of myself. Both kids survived. No major issues. Brilliant. Obviously, I only had the girls for a day. I didn’t have the full experience of countless hospital stays, extensive surgeries, watching the heart monitor and listening to the doctors explain what they think might happen. I don’t have the endless medical bills or biweekly trips to Children’s for therapy. I also didn’t have to do daily chores while making sure Alice doesn’t miss a feeding or dose of medication. That being said, I also don’t get to wake up to that little miracle to remind me how lucky I am, every single day. A few days have passed since I watched the girls and this has really stuck with me. I cannot get her out of my head. I can’t help, but think about all the time that I’ve spent with her and how inspiring she really is. It’s kept me up at night that there is literally nothing I can possibly do to change the situation and I’m not even family.  I am however honored to say that she is no longer afraid of me 🙂 Little victories, right?

Well...almost not afraid of me...

Well…almost not afraid of me…

I have asked Candice to contribute some of her thoughts on raising Alice, as there is no way I can possibly explain it through her eyes. Careful, it’s a tear-jerker.

“In a normal day I use Alice’s breaktime to go to the YMCA to swim, the Zoo, the park, meet with other Mom’s who will accommodate our crazy schedule. It often sounds like the BEST JOB EVER. I have been home with my kids (not including multiple hospital stays) for 15 months. But…you have to understand that we are “living it up” this summer since we spent last summer hospitalized and Alice’s health can really become compromised during flu season, which spans from October – April! A simple cold can and did land in her in the hospital and lead to a respiratory/cardiac arrest during a routine procedure last year! Also next summer (it is so unknown) we may be back at Children’s again post-op from Transplant. The future is so unpredictable so one thing Alice has taught me is you have to live every day to the fullest and never take little moments for granted. Chris and I have focused more on her quality of life than anything and that is subjective…yes. However, we know that Alice thrives at home surrounded by family. This environment provides lots of natural light, a nice comfortable crib as opposed to a hospital bed and we can hold her all day when we can. Hospital life is not like that. The CICU rooms are probably the cleanest I have ever seen in my life, but you just feel dirty there. The air is dry and cold. There is a tiny window that sometimes you don’t even feel like opening since you are stuck, missing out on fresh air and sunshine with your baby who deserves to see and feel that. Nature doesn’t surround you, but rather beeping sounds and alarms for heart monitors and oxygen and children that have coded in the room next door.


And quality of life also means being able to eat and move. These are two things Alice cannot do. It didn’t seem quite as hard to accept that she was “behind” even 4-5 months ago. She still seemed average size and despite all she had been through, was really doing quite well! Now that she is 15 months, I feel pangs of hurt that she looks half her age and cannot even crawl – let alone stand or take steps. Nor can she enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures – food! She has so much trouble eating and drinking and it’s frustrating to put that spoon up to her mouth 1,000 times and never really see her be capable of finishing even a quarter of a baby food jar. But that is also what makes her “little victories,” as we call them, so special. Even big sister Sophia gets in on the action. She cheers her on right along with us while she helps to try to feed her and show her how to drink from a sippy cup. It’s amazing.

What I really have come to appreciate with Alice is how unknown all of our futures are. I am sure you can relate. One day things seem like they couldn’t be better and one doctor’s appointment can turn your world upside down.  It is universally true that people are so lucky to have their health. There are so many things in the world that money can buy, but it can’t buy health and happiness. It rolls off the tongue so easily when talking about the impending birth of a child – “I will be happy so long as it’s healthy.”  I don’t think I ever knew what I was saying. I got caught up in the gender game, too – hoping for this ….wanting that. You never consider what that means until your baby isn’t healthy. The thought of saying goodbye to your child at a young age is excruciating and knowing it’s a real possibility will keep you up at night. I haven’t slept in 15 months and I mean that. My mind races. I have had panic attacks for the first time in my life. I have cried myself to sleep on a weekly basis. The hardest part is waiting. Waiting for bad news – waiting for good –-waiting for a life changing surgery – waiting for that phone call – waiting in a waiting room – waiting to say hello again – waiting to say goodbye. But what is so different for me – for you? None of us know what the future holds- nobody. Life is so precious and I am so happy that Alice reminded me of that. You have to LIVE. I suppose I thought I was living before, but now I know that I wasn’t because I didn’t appreciate life in the same way. And some days I am truly just surviving…others I am conquering the universe. I never said it was easy or glorious, but it is real life and I will never regret a single day I spent living for my girls and for myself. And I have a lot of help. One thing that Alice does best is bring people together. People have come out of the woodwork to write, call, cook, visit, support and love us. People I never imagined. One little being who cannot say more than two words did that! She resurrected friendships and connected me with moms all over the world on the NS Support Group on Facebook. If I could take all of the pain away from her – of course I would. If she didn’t have to be sick of course I would want that for her, but then she wouldn’t be Alice. She is just Alice. The girl has died twice in year and came home in 3 weeks each time. She shouldn’t be gaining weight and thriving, but she is. She wouldn’t be waiting for a heart at home on limited medication and no oxygen, but she is. She shouldn’t possibly be this happy, but she IS! Expect her to throw you the change-up. Every. Single. Time.

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Alice's 1st birthday in May!

Alice’s 1st birthday in May!

If you’re interested in contributing to the I Heart Alice Fund, donations can be made here:

If you’d prefer to send a check, it can be contributed to the I Heart Alice Mae Foundation through WesBanco.

If you’d like to reach out to The Sheppard family personally, contact me and I’ll provide you with their information.

Candice and her family have worked tirelessly to research, discuss and prepare for every possible scenario. I have had many conversations with her regarding Alice and what could happen down the road. Every single time we speak about it I am completely amazed. I walk away with the same exact thought. “I do not know how she does it.” She keeps a positive attitude and makes sacrifices every day to make sure that her children are in the best possible hands. She doesn’t let the circumstances change her outlook on life and she doesn’t ever seem to break. Sure, they’ve cried and grieved over the possibility that Alice might not make it, but I truly feel that their unconditional love is saving this child every single day. That’s why Alice Mae Sheppard is my favorite little miracle.

How beautiful is that face!!

My favorite little miracle!

Dog About Town

This week’s task was more of an adventure for Gus than it was for me, but I enjoyed it just the same. My mom playfully filled out a challenge card from my beloved little rescue pup so that he could be a part of the project, too!

Challenge #17:

Take me for a walk in a different neighborhood every day so I can explore all of Cincinnati!” – From Gus Hayden


The day I met Gus!

The day I met Gus!

He's always been a happy dog!

He’s always been a happy dog!

Gus is my three year old yellow lab mix. I got him in August of 2010 and he has completely changed my life. He has lots of personality, loves everyone and follows me around like he’s my shadow. He puts up with me mildly tormenting him and gets into things every now and then, but he’s the best dog in the whole wide world.

Happy Birthday, Gus!! Don't mind the hat!

Happy Birthday, Gus!! Don’t mind the hat!

Me and Gus at Walloon Lake last Labor Day

Me and Gus at Walloon Lake last Labor Day

He did a little light reading while I went to the gym...

He did a little light reading while I went to the gym…

Sleeps like a person...

Sleeps like a person…

He smiles whenever I take his picture!

He smiles whenever I take his picture!

It is important to note that Gus HATES riding in the car.  He does all that he can to hide his eyes from windows and shakes uncontrollably at the mere mention of getting into a vehicle. It’s actually kind of funny because we go to my parents’ house fairly frequently and when it’s time to leave, I ask him “You wanna go home?” Every time I ask the question he runs and hides because he knows what that means.  I was somewhat surprised to see he “selected” this challenge as it requires extensive car travel and unfamiliar territories. Way to step outside of your comfort zone, buddy. 😉

Doing everything he can to avoid looking out the window.

Doing everything he can to avoid looking out the window.

HATES the car. Must say something about my driving...

HATES the car. Must say something about my driving…

Hiding in his cage so that he doesn't have to get in the car.

Hiding in his cage so that he doesn’t have to get in the car.

In effort to make this more pet-friendly I did some research on pet-friendly environments for Gus. Outside of Hyde Park and a few OTR spots, there aren’t too many establishments in Cincinnati that publicly state they accept dogs. I did however find that if you show up with your dog, they don’t always turn you away.

One of Cincinnati’s best features, in my opinion, is the fact that there are dozens of little villages scattered around the tri-state area. Each one, lined with sidewalks, offers a different atmosphere with a variety of restaurants and small businesses adding their own little charm and atmosphere. Gus and I strolled through Mariemont, Old Montgomery, Newport/The Banks, Ludlow/Clifton and Over the Rhine. This will likely read like a visitor’s bureau brochure, but I assure you, Gus had a great time!

I would be doing a disservice to my sweet little neighborhood if I didn’t brag about it first. I live in Hyde Park. We typically stay pretty local whenever Gus and I go on walks.  We are familiar with the Area and Gus loves to see all the sights. He is not, however, a fan of school buses and trucks. They send him running, tail between legs, clear to the other side of the sidewalk.  When I was a child I remember I always wanted to live in a place that had side walks. It seems silly, but growing up in Anderson, there aren’t many places that actually had them. Now, I am surrounded by them. And they are constantly packed with locals running, walking their dogs, riding their bikes or simply enjoying the weather.

Hyde Park Square

Hyde Park Square

Hyde Park Farmers Market

Hyde Park Farmers Market

Hyde Park Square

Hyde Park Square

Tellers - killer everything - specially brunch!!

Tellers – killer everything – specially brunch!!

Indigo - lovely Italian!

Indigo – lovely Italian!

Dutch's! Bottle shop is walk-up and Thursday's are Burger Night, featuring a specialty burger every week! yummm!

Dutch’s! Bottle shop is walk-up and Thursday’s are Burger Night, featuring a specialty burger every week! yummm!

Some of our favorite pet-friendly hotspots are the patios of Dutch’s, Indigo and Cock and Bull.  The lovely firefighters of the Hyde Park Fire Department always have a large bowl of water and a plethora of dog treats ready for passers by. Like owner like dog, Gus likes to look at his reflection in the store windows. If you are out for a stroll, most shop owners will let you bring your pooch pal in while you shop. It would be silly for them to discourage it as there are so many dogs in tow.

Places like Arthur’s, The Echo and Teller’s are also restaurants and bars I frequent. They are all in walking distance from my house and serve up delicious bites!  I’d also like to point out that rumor had it Hyde Park Meats was closing. It did in fact close, but has since reopened under new ownership. Stop in!! If they don’t have something they used to carry, the new owner is taking suggestions to satisfy the clientele!

Onto the challenge…

We’ll start with Mariemont.  Gus and I parked off of the square to that we could walk around and do a little exploring. The architectural style is one of the things that I love most about the area. The square is surrounded by tudor styled buildings that house specialty shops, cafes and a quaint little movie theater. The National Exemplar is a little restaurant in the Mariemont Inn that has been around since the early ’80s. They have a delightful Sunday brunch and I have never had better French Onion Soup in my life. Seriously. It’s amazing.

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The Mariemont Movie Theater shows old classics and some new releases.

The Mariemont Movie Theater shows old classics and some new releases.

Dilly Cafe and The Quarter Bistro are two of the other fabulous restaurants in Mariemont. With fantastic menus, outdoor seating and great wine selections, they are the perfect place for delicious evening out!  Tucked in between are shops like Pomegranate and Lime,  a great little gift shop, or The Top Drawer, a needlepointer’s paradise.

The patio at Quarter Bistro

The patio at Quarter Bistro

Dilly Cafe and Wines

Dilly Cafe and Wines


We just so happened to arrive on the day they host a little farmers’ market in the parking lot! An organic pet food store gave Gus a treat, but he didn’t seem to enjoy it.

Next we will visit Old Montgomery. It’s a smaller area and if you blink, you’ll miss it, but it boasts a sense of familiarity and longevity, welcoming all who come through. The streets and brick-paver sidewalks are lined with lamp posts and hanging floral baskets that make for a pleasant backdrop to a stroll through the neighborhood.  Restaurants like Montgomery Inn (the original location) and Germano’s have been delighting the tastebuds of locals and visitors alike for decades.  Just outside the village is Carlo and Johnny’s, part of the Jeff Ruby’s family of restaurants.  The European Cafe has a patio that is in fact pet friendly, but if you’d like to grab a coffee to-go, you must leave the pooch outside. Lesson Learned, haha.

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For baseball lovers, a members-only museum called The Green Diamond Gallery offers some incredibly rare and highly coveted memorabilia in a place where “baseball heroes never grow old. ”

The Green Diamond Gallery

The Green Diamond Gallery

Montgomery is also home to one of my favorite places in the city, The Woodhouse Day Spa. As a connoisseur of spas around the world, we are lucky to have one of this caliber in Cincinnati.  Woodhouse, a favorite amongst my friends, offers a variety of treatments that are sure to make your stresses drift away. If Gus wasn’t with me I’m sure I’d have dropped in for a visit. Sadly, it is not a doggy spa.



On Sunday, my Aunt Debbie and her dogs, Bonnie and Clyde, joined Gus and I for a three-hour tour of Newport, Kentucky and The Banks of Cincinnati. Both she and my parents have recently taken up residence in the SouthShore condominiums and we thought it would be fun to do a little exploring. We strolled along the river bank, across the Purple People Bridge, through Sawyer Point, up to Smale Riverfront Park and onto The Banks.

Our route

Our route

Bonnie and Clyde, on a mission. Gus, distracted, per usual.

Bonnie and Clyde, on a mission. Gus, distracted, per usual.


Gus in front of the Ohio River


The Purple People Bridge was redesigned as a pedestrian path across the Ohio River.


Gotta love that skyline! I’ll be in that river come September…ick.

Sawyer Point and Yaetman’s Cove, recently host to Bunbury Music Festival, semi-weekly Party in the Park, and a variety of other pubic events is a mile-long stretch with tennis courts, volley ball courts, playgrounds, stages and Serpentine Wall.  There is literally so much to do there you can’t accomplish it all in one visit.

The pups on Serpentine Wall

The pups on Serpentine Wall

Sawyer Point

Sawyer Point

Smale Riverfront Park is part of an ongoing project to spruce up the Cincinnati Riverbanks, one of our greatest assets. Due to the effort of many private donors and LOTS of hardworking people, especially the Women’s Committee, this place is really taking shape. Here’s a flyover of the Smale Riverfront Park vision:

They have recently added large swings for relaxing and taking in the view.


Gus having a leisurely swing!

Gus having a leisurely swing!

After that we headed up to Wine Guy at the Banks. They do not regularly accept pets on patio, but since we were there and it wasn’t very busy, they let us come in for a beer and a flat bread! Jenna joined us briefly for our break before we headed back to the Southbank.

We spent a day alone strolling around my old stomping grounds in Clifton and Ludlow. I spent 5 years here while I attended University of Cincinnati and the growth the area has seen since 2007 is insane.  They recently constructed U Square at The Loop between Calhoun and McMillan. This is home to apartment buildings, restaurants, bars and shops. UC is really turning into a fantastic place and I’m quite jealous we didn’t have these amenities when I was a student there. Naturally, we walked past Uncle Woody’s (my very own Cheers during my undergrad years) and Gus tried to go in. Closed and not pet friendly.


Gus wanted to go to Woody's. Sorry buddy, they're closed.

Gus wanted to go to Woody’s. Sorry buddy, they’re closed.

We strolled past Tri-Delt, my old sorority house. He tried to go in there, too. It’s like he knows the places I love 🙂


Gus visiting T-Delta!

Gus visiting T-Delta!

After that we headed down to Ludlow. I know there are so many eclectic shops so I thought I’d see who would let us in. To my surprise, none of them open until noon! What is that about!? But since we were in the area we walked around anyway. If you are looking for foreign cuisine, this 4 block stretch has more to offer than any other area in the city.

I mean like wow. We’ve got Indian, Mexican, Thai, Ethiopian, Mediterranean, French and the list goes on. They also have Skyline and Graeters, two Cincinnati staples.

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Sorry kids. They turned The Golden Lion into a hookah bar...

Sorry kids. They turned The Golden Lion into a hookah bar…

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My favorite aspect of the Ludlow area is the Esquire Theater. If you want to see an indie film, something completely obscure, a good viewing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show or a small handful of new releases, you should check it out. They offer a full bar and a wide variety of snacks. It’s owned by the same people that run the Mariemont Theater and the Kenwood Theater.  It’s old and doesn’t offer new high-tech reclining seats, but it’s awesome. Sometimes you can even bring in carry out from local restaurants.

The Esquire Theater

The Esquire Theater

On Tuesday, Aunt Debbie and the pups joined us again as we ventured to OTR.  If you’ll remember from one of my previous posts, I loooove Over the Rhine.  It is also one of the most pet-friendly areas of the city. Washington Park has created a dog park specifically for Gus to run around and play in. He absolutely loves going down there and exploring. Many of the shops will let you bring your (well-behaved) dogs in for a quick browse. Not likely to turn away business, most patios will let you enjoy a quick bite, as well.  My favorite hot spots are Lackman, Rhinehaus, A Tavola, Bakersfield, Anchor and Senate.

The Washington Park Dog Park

The Washington Park Dog Park

There is a shop called Pet Wants on Vine Street and it is awesome! They make all of their products, especially organic canine cuisine, in-house and have a shop at Findlay Market.  Also, their sidewalk is actually painted to look like wooden planks! Check ’em out!!

Gus wants Pet Wants: The Urban Feed Market

Gus wants Pet Wants: The Urban Feed Market


OTR Storefronts

OTR Storefronts

They have all kinds of shops like Switch ( a high-end lighting store), Mica (a fun gift shop mostly consisting of locally handcrafted wares) and Joseph Williams Home (a furniture and decor wonderland) that draw in a variety of customers.

Mica 12/v on the corner of 12th and Vine.

Mica 12/v on the corner of 12th and Vine.

Joseph Williams Home

Joseph Williams Home

My favorite hot spot in the city, also notoriously known for their acceptance of the canine crowds, is Neon’s, or The Famous Neon’s Unplugged. They offer craft beers and very creative cocktail specials. In the winter, they have fire pits and hot apple cider = heaveeeen. Gus also loves going to Neon’s and he just so happens to be a dude-magnet. Thanks, pal 🙂

The Famous Neon's Unplugged outdoor beer garden

The Famous Neon’s Unplugged outdoor beer garden

Gus has gotten SO good at walking that I no longer need to hold his leash. I simply wrapped it around his collar and he walked himself.  I’m not sure if it’s because he’s terrified to leave my side or if he just knows that’s what he’s supposed to do.

Gus walking himself.

Gus walking himself.

He came home completely exhausted every day, but I think he really enjoyed his little tour of the town. Now go visit all of the places I talked about because they’re FABULOUS. Many of the masterminds behind these small businesses are friends or friends of friends that took big risks. Buy local! Support them!

Clean Eatin’

This week’s challenge was two-fold and while I was not exactly looking forward to it before, I’m very glad I did it now that it’s over.

Challenge #16:

Wake up every morning and say something positive about yourself. Spend the week eating like Jen!” – from Jen Jura


As mentioned before, Jen is my personal trainer turned friend that I’ve been working with for years. She’s been trying to get me to read this book, The Beauty Detox Solution by Kimberly Snyder, for as long as I can remember and take on the lessons and teachings it delivers. I have downloaded the audio book and am listening to it, bit by bit. This chick’s voice is relatively (read as incredibly) annoying so I might just buy the actual book.

This involves eating clean foods, nothing processed and mostly vegetarian. Let’s get one thing straight. I like meat. Like could be a full on carnivore for the rest of my life and be completely content. I am not an herbivore. If I was meant to consume only plants, evolution wouldn’t have given me these delightful teeth intended for chewing. That being said, I accepted the challenge as I had no other option.

The first portion of this challenge was to say something positive about myself at the start of every day. I gotta tell ya, starting your day with daily affirmations or positive thoughts, alongside the expressions of gratitude I’ve carried over from The Secret, make for a fantastic mood in the morning, regardless of when you wake up.

This video circulated around the internet a few years ago and I immediately thought of it when I was beginning this challenge. Now, I was not exactly standing on my bathroom counter singing about all of the wonderful things about myself to my reflection like Jessica does, but you get the gist. Take a look:

I strongly encourage you to give this a try. I am fortunate to have many people in my life that constantly remind me of how “awesome” I am and how much I am capable of, but sometimes fail to see these same things in myself. I needed this especially this week as I was waiting to hear a response to a very exciting job interview. After a few days of the phone not ringing I got a little down and this positive thinking helped me turn things around. Whether it was about how much I like my eyes or my intelligence or my hair or my laugh or my kindness and thoughtfulness or my sense of humor, it tuned me in and made me think about the good things as opposed to the fact that 29 year old Katie does not look the same as 23 year old Katie.  C’est la vie…

That being said, I can confidently say that 29 year old Katie is way more awesome than 23 year old Katie.

Ok. Onto the food. So Jen and I went to Whole Foods to get the ingredients needed for the menu that she had put together. I also purchased a Vitamix as most of the items I would be eating can be quickly made in this magical high speed blender!

Jen picking out assorted organic produce

Jen picking out assorted organic produce

I had several options to choose from to hold me over for the next 7 days.  I thought I’d provide the recipes in case any of you want to try them yourselves!!

Green Drink:

  • 1 handful power greens
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 whole lemon
  • 1/2 head romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 cup frozen mango
  • 1/2 cup frozen pineapple
  • 1 slice ginger
  • 1 and 1/4 cup water
  • 1 handful parsley
  • ( I added a squeeze of local organic honey, don’t get mad Jen. It fights allergens.)
Green Drink

Green Drink

Blueberry Smoothie:

  • 1 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 scoop Vega One vegan protein powder
  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 tbsp Almond Butter
  • 1-2 cups 365 Vanilla Almond Milk

Hemp Seed “Cereal“:

  • 1 cup hemp seeds
  • 1 tbsp Chia seeds
  • 1/4 Goji Berries
  • 365 Vanilla Almond Milk to your heart’s content
Hemp Seed Cereal

Hemp Seed Cereal


  • 1 head of butterhead bib lettuce
  • 1/4 Red Beet
  • 1/4 Yellow Beet
  • 2 radishes
  • 1 avacado
  • 1 tomato
  • olive oil
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper


Equipped with all I needed to get me through the next 4 days I went home, Jen and I cleaned my veggies and did some prep work to make assembly of the recipes easier. I started with the green drink the following morning. Now, I wrote the recipe down wrong and accidentally put blueberries in instead of pineapple which made it look like this…

not green drink.

not green drink.

Into the Vitamix!

Into the Vitamix!

All the ingredients for my Green Drink!

All the ingredients for my Green Drink! (except pineapple…not blueberries.)

This drink is really not that bad!! I did add the honey though to sweeten it up a tiny bit. I put too much ginger in it so it had a little kick to it that I wasn’t prepared for. Jen eats/drinks this for breakfast every single day.

I chose between either the smoothie or the hemp seeds for lunch each day. I was definitely hesitant to try this, but I was incredibly surprised to find that it is actually really, really delicious!!  You get the Hemp seeds and Chia seeds from the grain bins at Whole Foods. You serve yourself and can take as much or as little as you’d like!

Serve yourself!

Serve yourself!

I tried the salad for dinner, but found myself starving so I added raw almonds or almond butter in as a snack. Justin’s makes these little almond butter packets that make the perfect snack to carry in your purse.


I have also discovered that my new favorite mid day small meal or snack is an avocado. I cut it in half and eat it with a spoon, like it’s green yogurt.

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Now I ate most of these things every day, but I needed a change of pace. Over the weekend I spent time at my best friend Abby’s and didn’t have time to put together a clean meal. I did, however, try to pick a healthier option for dinner than usual. We had Jimmy John’s Unwiches (a sandwich wrapped in iceberg lettuce as opposed to bread) and while I know the deli meat probably isn’t anywhere close to clean, it was better than like pizza or something. I realized that this challenge forced me to really think about the kinds of foods I’m ingesting and what kind of effects they’re really having on my body.

On Sunday, I visited the farmers market for some fresh, handmade pasta. Jen said this is ok to eat so I jumped on the opportunity! They have all different kinds, but I got basil and whole wheat. I paired this with some homemade cilantro lime pesto and cilantro lime shrimp. is the website for the company that makes the pasta!

Cilantro-Lime Pesto: 

  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 bunch of cilantro, trimmed stems/roots
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (more if it’s too thick)
  • 1.5 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsp lime juice

Combine in Vitamix and blend!

Cilantro Lime Shrimp:

  • 1 lb shrimp, deveined and peeled
  • 1 lime
  • 1 tbsp fresh minced garlic
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • olive oil

Sautee the garlic in the pan, then add shrimp, when it’s almost pink add crushed red pepper, black pepper and cumin, stir til fully cooked. Add cilantro, lime juice and chopped tomatoes.

I put the pesto on the pasta and the shrimp on top of that! SOOO delicious.

Lime Cilantro Pesto Shrimp Pasta

Lime Cilantro Pesto Shrimp Pasta

Pesto in the Vitamix!!

Pesto in the Vitamix!!

I also acquired a new temporary roommate this weekend! A coworker of my friends Braden and Sofocles just got transferred from Gillette in Boston to P&G in Cincinnati.  Her apartment isn’t ready for another month, but her job started this Monday! I had an unoccupied guest room and she had no where to live so Braden put us in touch with one another and she’ll be living with me for a month! Her name is Beryl and she’s super sweet! I wanted to give her a little welcome dinner, my best friend Courtney was in town and I got tired of eating clean alone so I had some of the girls come over for a lovely meal! I also wanted to use my new grill! I put together a completely organic menu.

We had grilled marinated locally raised flank steak, tricolor roasted potatoes, quinoa and heirloom tomato salad and balsamic glazed grilled asparagus. The marinade requires raspberry vinaigrette and I usually use store-bought but this time I made it from scratch. It looked like pink runny sorbet because of the raspberries. This makes me wonder what’s in the stuff I usually buy that has a more clear consistency. I also made the balsamic glaze reduction with local honey and organic balsamic vinegar. Delicious!! Jenna and I have decided this will be a more frequent thing since I love to cook so much!

Grilled marinated locally raised flank steak, tricolor roasted potatoes, quinoa and heirloom tomato salad and balsamic glazed grilled asparagus

Grilled marinated locally raised flank steak, tricolor roasted potatoes, quinoa and heirloom tomato salad and balsamic glazed grilled asparagus

This made for great leftovers, as well! I started sprint training with Megan’s husband, Drew, last night and the asparagus and a couple of slices of flank steak made for the perfect post-workout dinner.

After it’s all said and done, I fully intend on continuing to eat clean. It’s actually really easy. With a few exceptions, I discovered that I generally prepare clean meals without even knowing it. The smoothie is delicious and kind of reminds me of blueberry pancakes! The green drink is not delicious, but it keeps me full for HOURS.

I lost 6 pounds in 1 week! I’m sure it’s all water weight, but still!! I have so much energy, my body feels better and my skin is softer!  I have no plans to become a vegetarian, but I will definitely be limiting the amount of meat I am eating.

Next up on the menu…I’m making my own almond milk!!! I told Jen and she said “Who are you!? What have I created?!”

I’ll let you know how it tastes!!

Interested in trying your own clean-eating challenge? Check out these sites for more tips:


An Eye-Opening Experience…literally.

I have been looking forward to this challenge since I first opened up the envelope. It is one of the more unique challenges I’ve been given and I was incredibly anxious to do it!

Challenge #16:

“Lady Kathryn, I would like for you to go to a public place (with a buddy) and blindfold yourself. Navigate the space (with the buddy close by) for 1 hour.

Since my mom is blind I feel strongly about people understanding this disability and how folks manage with it.” -from Meredith Comin


Meredith is another friend of mine from Junior League. We had the pleasure of meeting when she stepped in to fill a roll in a fundraiser we were planning, Cinsation 2011. We became friends pretty much from the moment I met her. But how could I not? This girl is the sweetest southern belle, both inside and out. I bet she bleeds sweet tea. 😉 And we wear the same size shoes. And she has awwwesome shoes. Bonus. I can count on her for level headed advice, a great laugh or just plain pleasant company.



Meredith’s mom, Peggy, is blind. I asked Meredith to provide me with some background on Peggy so that I could share the experience with you.

She was blinded at the age of 2 in a horribly unfortunate accident. Some people would let this define them. If anything, I’d say she defined it. She attended public school until 9th grade, when she enrolled in a private HS and learned to read and write Braille beginning in the 2nd grade. Throughout her childhood, she had several attempts at a corneal transplant which were unsuccessful.

When Meredith was 1, Peggy gave the corneal transplant another go and it gave her back the ability to distinguish between light and dark and very bright colors. Then, about 5 years ago, she had another transplant that provided a great deal more vision. Meredith has told me this before and it never occurred to me to that body language was so visual. She explained that she thought people spoke like porcelain dolls – that only your mouth moved. She had no idea how animated people are or that you use your hands, your head moves, your eyes blink, etc. Her incredible independence can be attributed to Meredith’s grandmother raising her as though she did not have a disability. “Plus, Peg is just as fierce and motivated as can be :)”

Speaking of motivated, let’s talk about all that she has accomplished!! She received her undergraduate degree in English from Florida State (GO NOLES!) and Master of Elementary Guidance Counseling, Master of Rehabilitation Counseling from Georgia State University. She is currently expected to complete her Master of Creative Writing in 2013 from Kennesaw State University. She works as a Rehabilitation Counselor for the Georgia Department of Rehab. She is a long-standing member of the Junior League and has been a Sustainer in the JL of Atlanta for over 20 years. She has been married to her husband Bill for 36 years and raised two incredible children. I mean. WOW! Talk about impressive!

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I also asked Meredith to tell me what it was like growing up with a visually-impaired mom.

“Growing up, I certainly had to do things such as read the mail, double-check the stove and burners, help coordinate outfits and act as a chauffeur. However, I don’t know any different so while I understand this is not what most people experience, it’s all I know. You learn to keep floors and hallways clear, though my beloved mother is forever misplacing her shoes and sunglasses! She’s never had a guide dog and has always done it on her own. She is truly my hero and I feel as though I’m a better person for having her as my mom.”
Well, she raised you so I’m darn glad she was your mom, too!
So I have been thinking about this challenge on and off since February. It was one of the first cards to come back in and I’m so glad it happened when it did. July has been an exceptionally gorgeous month. From the sunsets over Walloon Lake, to the fireworks on the 4th of July and the splendor that is the Missouri country side, I’ve been in awe for the past 31 days.
Jenna and I just came back from an incredible weekend visiting our best friend Courtney in St. Louis. While we were there, we took a party bus around to a bunch of different wineries in the area of Augusta. I am not exagerating when I say this. It literally could not have been a more perfect day. Blue bird sky, scattered with a few clouds, 75 degrees. Perfect. Jenna and I drove home on Sunday through the hills of the midwest on another equally gorgeous day. The thought that I was returning to Cincinnati to complete this challenge never left my mind. The beauty of everything I saw was a constant reminder of how lucky I am to be able to see it.
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Meredith and I decided to complete this challenge at Washington Park, a newly renovated green space in the heart of OTR. I headed down early to snap some photos and reacquaint myself with the lay of the land. They host a farmers market on Mondays and I thought this would be the perfect spot. It would have plenty of people, I could buy something, I was familiar enough with the area that it made me feel comfortable, it is full of commotion and, finally, the sounds. There are so many sounds. Every time I’m there I notice all of the different things going on.
Meredith did what is called “Sighted Guide” with me around the park. I held onto her arm, based on which side was more comfortable, and she walked around the park for about an hour and a half. Christy was with us for most of it, as well. We ran into people I knew, but I could not distinguish who they were. One gave me a surprise poke on the rear end and scared the living daylights out of me.
I brought my GoPro camera to record the whole experience, but the footage didn’t turn out so great. I had it positioned on my head, but it was facing the sky most of the time. Also, just to prove how bad I am at being blind, I thought I turned it on, but I didn’t. Hahah…big surprise there… In another example of my undisputed brilliance, I forgot to bring a blindfold. Thankfully, Christy just happened to have one in her office that was a block away. We went to 3CDC, got situated and headed back out to the park.
I decided to test my strengths and see if I could manage enjoying a frozen treat from Gerry at Chill, an organic shaved ice vendor at the farmers market. Meredith read the flavors to me and naturally, she ordered the Georgia Peach. Sadly, they were out of it so we both settled on Strawberry Limeaide. Eating without being able to see is difficult and relatively messy. I couldn’t find the straw with my mouth and kept missing the cup when I tried to jab at it to break up the chunks. I guess I need vision for depth perception. The most interesting part about this experience was paying. I realized that I had no way of distinguishing which bill was for which dollar value. Thankfully, Gerry was very nice and told me, but I can see how people could get ripped off all the time. After that, we tried to wash my hands off in the fountain. Thankfully, Meredith was great at directing me and I didn’t get soaked.
We went up and down the steps of the bandstand, crossed intersections, and wandered all around the park and surrounding areas. We met people, played with dogs, purchased some local honey (the best medicine in the world for allergies or a cough), and even spoke with some local press. A guy from Local 12 was interviewing park visitors on their thoughts on NSA. I promptly said, “No I don’t want to answer your questions. I’ll end up on Jimmy Kimmel Live in the segment about people that don’t know what they’re talking about.” He asked about my blog too (maybe because I was standing there with a bright red blind fold and a GoPro Camera on my head). Maybe they’ll call and want to do a segment! Who knows…
I noticed a few things in particular and some others that Meredith pointed out to me. The rest of my senses became significantly stronger. I was hearing things I’d never noticed before. I enjoyed trying to identify them, as well. I also noticed that people really do treat you differently. For example, whenever anyone would approach us to see what was going on, they would always ask Meredith what was happening instead of talking to me. I just wanted to shout “I’m BLIND not DEAF!” Also, my sense of direction was totally thrown off. As we wandered through the park I listened for familiar sounds, felt around and checked out the grounds to try and evaluate where I was or what direction I was facing. I was wrong 99% of the time I checked for clarification. When talking with people, I had to ask Meredith for confirmation that I was, in fact, looking at them or at least in their general direction. People generally moved out of my way and a lot of interest was generated in what I was doing. One little boy was, however, incredibly disappointed that I was not actually blind. Sorry to let you down, dear…
To accompany the physical portion of my adventure, Peggy sent me a little package! Enclosed were my name typed in Braille, the Braille alphabet and a little message for me to translate. It took me a little bit and I made it through the first half without peeking, but admittedly cheated on the second half. It was unintentional, but I had to know if I was right!! I believe it says “Have a marvelous summer and stay cool…try swimming.”
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I’ve been anticipating this adventure for awhile now and in the last few weeks I started thinking of all the things I would have missed out on if I weren’t able to see. I would have no idea what my niece looks like. I wouldn’t be able to get myself ready to go places. I happen to love doing my makeup and I attempted to do it without opening my eyes. Let’s just say that was a disaster and leave it at that. And while this may sound fairly narcissistic (because it is), I LOVE looking at myself in the mirror. Not every one, specifically every woman, can say they look in the mirror and like what they see. I happen to enjoy it. I like to know that things are in place and that I look presentable. Sue me.
Beyond that, I am a very visual person. Specifically, I am a visual learner. I like to see things to understand them. I imagine things in my mind that I never would have been able to imagine had I never seen them before. I never would have gotten through high school. I pictured the loose leaf pages of paper that I’d scribble notes all over every time I took a test. I could tell you exactly what they looked like and where everything was written. I remember what people were wearing or what their faces look like. I don’t know how I’d ever remember who anyone was if I couldn’t see them. Meredith said something to me that struck me the other day. She said that her mom doesn’t know what she looks like. It broke my heart. I cannot imagine what that must be like.
Most importantly to me on a personal level, my love of photography would be non-existent. I absolutely cannot imagine living life without the ability to capture it on film. I get a lot of grief for how many times I snap photos of things on my phone, but that is because the moment meant something to me and I wanted to share it with the world. I wish everyone got as excited as I do about clouds and sunsets and flowers and trees. In fact, I can’t understand why they don’t. It’s magnificent. Nature is really freaking awesome. And I want to take pictures of all of it. All of these breathtaking adventures I’ve been on would have been a whole lot less enjoyable without my sense of sight…
Here are some of the photographs I’ve taken along the way…
A bee pollenating some Alaskan Fireweed

A bee pollenating some Alaskan Fireweed

A Bald Eagle perched on some old pylons

A Bald Eagle perched on some old pylons

Alaskan fireweed with Saginaw in the background

Alaskan fireweed with Skagway in the background

A Bald Eagle in flight

A Bald Eagle in flight

Humpback Whale breaks the surface

Humpback Whale breaks the surface

Sunrise over the boundary waters in Canada

Sunrise over the boundary waters in Canada

A glacial melt waterfall in the Tracy Arm Fjord

A glacial melt waterfall in the Tracy Arm Fjord

Sunset in Boca Grande, FL. Easily my most favorite thing to watch in the world...

Sunset in Boca Grande, FL. Easily my most favorite thing to watch in the world…

I'd never know what this beautiful face looked like.

I’d never know what this beautiful face looked like.

My sister, Abbey, paddle boarding into the sunset

My sister, Abbey, paddle boarding into the sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

Walloon Sunset

I learned some pretty valuable lessons on this little excursion! I will never again take advantage of my ability to see. I am clumsy enough as it is. I’ll leave you with a quote…
“I hope I never become so used to the world that it no longer seems wonderful.”
Open your eyes. Take a look around. Really enjoy what you’re seeing because not everyone can.
See you next week!