Learning to Laugh

I’ve built my personal brand around “Jess Knows Best.” I like to teach and people often seek me out for advice.  The brand will definitely continue, but I wanted to clarify the scope of my blog.

Learning to Laugh

AppleOrchard2017(33of84)One of the most curious things I’ve had to understand with Nicholas is his general lack of laughter.  The most glaring aspect of most kids with autism is their social skills.  Now, of course, this isn’t a gold standard.  Some kids with autism have a great social skills and lack in other areas.  He has always giggled when he was tickled but never expressed  humor outside of that.  I never struck me as weird, until he started imitating laughter.

Since the end of April 2017, I’ve realized just how little I know about being silly, smiling, laughing, and enjoying myself.  Six years were spent bending over backwards for kids that weren’t mine, relatives that didn’t respect me, and a man who twisted my every thought and word.  Life was a challenging, if not downright awful.  I lost myself.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t know if I ever knew who I was in the first place.  I’m a very flexible person, so I melt from situation to situation, learning how to blend because it helped me to be likeable.


What I lost was individuality and my own way.  I began a journey over a year ago toAppleOrchard2017(70of84) find myself.  It didn’t sit well with my significant other.  He bucked against my individuality with gas lighting, accusations, inconsistencies, and manipulation.  As I reached into deep corners of myself, finding motivation and strength I never knew before, he got more manipulative in his tactics.  Finding ways to make me feel less than human, a failure as a mother, an absolute failure as a wife, unable to earn through my own avenues.  I felt more defeated than ever, but felt more determined to do what was best for Nicholas and I.

I had to learn to laugh again too.

IMG_20180120_143350_983And I am still learning.  We are rapidly approaching the first anniversary of our world changing irreparably.  And as I sit here on Leland and I’s 6 month anniversary, I can’t say I wouldn’t change anything.  There’s plenty of things I’d change.  I’d do sooner.  Would do better.  But what I can tell you is I am learning to laugh right alongside my baby boy and that is something I wouldn’t change for the world.

Its worth it.  Every crappy thing you have to go through leads you to something better, if you manifest it for yourself.  Stay strong and love hard.


Bereavement, End of Relationships, Relationships

The First Year

It will soon be a year since everything changed.  One year since the person I thought was my husband left this world.  One year since my life ended up in a blender, and came out a beautiful smoothie.

I don’t regret things in my life.  Its not how I live.  I make choices based on calculated, conscious decisions, and then accept the consequence.  A year ago, a choice was made that altered mine and Nicholas’s life dramatically, and like I always say, it was a blessing in disguise.

In the early afternoon of April 26, 2017, the state police came to my home to inform me that they found my husband in his vehicle up in Warren County.  The room spun; I couldn’t breathe.  I couldn’t think.  I couldn’t speak.

I will eternally be grateful to the people who rushed to my side.  Alicia, who probably broke more than a few laws racing to me.  Sandi, who sat with me while I took wild phone calls that brought more mind-blowing information each time it rang.  Renee, who set up a GoFundMe that allowed Nicholas and I to find a place to live and stay on our feet while we were reeling.  Kelsey and Kyleen, who connected us with more help than I could have imagined.  Tina, for reaching out and being a voice of reason, even when I didn’t want to hear it.  My parents, for forgiving the grudges and being there for us.  Every single person who sent food, clothes and supplies for Nicholas, even stuff for me.  Even the people I don’t talk to anymore, for one reason for another.  I am grateful.

I’m sure each passing year will get easier and less confusing.  I didn’t expect to be “alone” this year though, and its making it a little more challenging for me to navigate.  My emotions have already bubbled up a few times, and we are still a bit away from the anniversary.  Keeping busy and focused are my only options right now.

Screenshot_20180411-162142Nicholas has come further than I could have ever imagined.  We have a secure, stable home; stable income; I don’t feel threatened that life is off-kilter and unpredictable this year.  Last year, I didn’t know if we’d have a place to live or food to eat each month.  Last year, I was stressed that health insurance was a question.  I’m stable.  That’s what matters.  I have a blossoming business.  I have a greater desire to be creative and continue growing personally.


There’s a knot in my throat, but I know it means we’re alive and making it.



End of Relationships, Relationships

Bruises Heal

Let me preface that this will be an emotionally charged post. If you want the WHOLE story, feel free to ask for it.  I’d also like to state for the record, if we became friends while Leland and I were together, I see no reason for us to not continue to be friends.    The mature decision is to make an informed one.

I am bruised.  Don’t mistake that with broken.  About 8 months ago, I allowed myself to open my heart again.  To love again.  And I’ve lost again.  This time, though, its different, and it hurts very differently.  Going from looking at houses to buy, rings, wedding dresses, talking about long term plans, to being single in a week’s time is mind blowing.  I was told I read too far into it, but refusing to talk and wanting space doesn’t spell out “lets work on it.”

In case you haven’t known me long enough, let me explain what happened almost a year ago.  I was in a tumultuous relationship that was rapidly coming to an end.  It wasn’t where I saw myself – in my 30’s with a 3 year old child – a special needs child, at that.  I don’t believe in marriage till you’re tired of trying, I believe in marriage till death do you part.  I was unhappy.  I also realized that I was spending my life just fulfilling someone else’s desires.  My husband died by his own hand on April 26th of last year.  He left Nicholas and I with no money, no where to live (our lease ended the following month, we weren’t listed on it, and the landlord refused to rent to me), no insurance to speak of, I found out our marriage wasn’t even legal, and a whole lot of unanswered questions.

I opened myself back up to dating pretty quickly, if you look at things chronologically.  However, for many months, I had been working on myself and contemplating my next move.  It wasn’t something I approached lightly.  His death is still something I have struggled with daily, regardless of whether I felt like our relationship was ending.  It was different to deal with death, no matter how sudden.  It wasn’t like a bad breakup.  It was like a lightning bolt, disintegrating the other half of the relationship.  There was plenty of turmoil with family.  There were plenty of tears shed.  But lets be honest.  There’s no pretending he didn’t exist, like the end of most unhappy relationships.  He just ceased to.  There was no custody fight.  No courts.  Nothing but picking up and carrying on.  I realized the incredible chance I had been given to start over.

This breakup is different.  I was thoroughly uninterested when we met.  I was open to dating, but I felt set up.  I wasn’t being set up, but I couldn’t help it all feeling too “falling into place” for my history.  Things moved fast.  It was terrifying, but I was constantly being reassured, built up, cheered on, not just by him, but by everyone around me who was thrilled.  We had family photos.   We went to events together.  We went on a real vacation together.  We shared secrets that no one else knew.  I thought there were no secrets between us, and I was wrong.

The bottom line is, I know what I bring to the table.  I know and am open about the fact that I am about as stubborn as they come.  And I am open about the fact that I’m crazy passionate.  Not just about topics that matter; but in particular, about my son, about whomever I’m with, health care, my family in general, and anyone I consider family.  I require evidence to sway my opinion, and I don’t concede just because someone wants me to.  Provide me a valid argument, and I will be happy to listen, but don’t ever expect me to give up just because you say so.

Does that make me impossible?  Probably.  Does it make conversations challenging? Yep.  Here’s the thing though – it means I don’t walk away because things are hard.  It means I don’t quit on someone because things didn’t go my way.  It means I know myself well enough to stop allowing someone else to sway me for their own purposes.  It means I love hard.  It took me a long time to embrace my life and make the most out of it and I will be damned if I find any need to change out of the blue to conform to what someone else thinks they want or need.  I don’t apologize for not changing for people.

You’re supposed to fit like a puzzle piece with your forever-person.  Maybe sand off a few rough edges, relax a bit, but you’re both complete together.  No one is ever perfect. And eventually you find a person whose flaws coordinate with your own.  I probably lied to myself a lot, believing I could bend to fit what he preferred.  But I also think he lied to himself a lot about what he really wanted.  And in the end, nothing is left but my hurt little boy and restarting this whole dating process all over again.

I’m bruised a lot from this one.  My soul hurts in such a different way, I can’t even explain. Mentally and emotionally, I’m far from being ready for a relationship.  I don’t ever close myself off to meeting someone though, I’m just scared to get hurt again.  Should someone grace me with their presence anytime soon, they need to read this (so direct them for me if you know them, haha), and know that its going to take a hell of a lot of love and patience to be with me.

I’ve always been bad at this part.  Social anxiety and spades of awkwardness keep me from approaching people. So don’t be afraid to approach me – just keep in mind, its mine and any woman’s right to turn you down.

Eventually, the person who I get to annoy for the rest of my life will find us!


– Jess

Mental Health, Relationships

When its over…

Its still really raw.  I am hurting like hell right now. My heart is broken all over again.  received_10213671262954793But like everything else in my life, I hope that someone can gather something from what I’ve learned.

I give everything that’s in me when it comes to love.  I love my child with every fiber of my being and I give every relationship 110%.  I will never stop doing that till the day I take my last breath.  Fatal flaw?  Possibly.  But I know that when the right guy finds me, he gets it all.  The good, the bad, and the no-makeup and messy hair.

Disclaimer: I am annoying – I challenge stuff.  Norms. Values. Beliefs. Standards. Ethics.  You. Myself.   I’m not tidy, but I’m not gross.  My passion is


infinite.  My son is absolutely everything to me and I’m tired of seeing him hurt.  I do things different and I’m completely unapologetic about it.  I deserve the world and so does my baby.  But I also give the world; negotiate; compromise; I will fight to my last breath for a relationship that is worth it.

This also sounds a lot more like a dating application than I expected.

My reality is that I’ve been through circumstances most people don’t even want to fathom.  Death, displacement, loss, betrayal, hate.  I’ve allowed it to propel me, shape me, make me into someone I don’t even know yet.  But I certainly love her!  This is when you say “Oh well, duh, you shouldn’t be dating if you’re not stable yet.”  I’m not un-stable. Just like every human who knows ‘what’s up,’ I am growing.  A work in progress, destination yet to be determined.  I know precisely what I want and desire, but sometimes it evolves, just like every single human.  I was fooled by falsehoods and fraudulent promises.

IMG_20180316_143621_130I’m still a dreamer.  A romantic. Hopeful. I know the right person is out there for us, because that’s what we need.  Some women prefer to do it all alone.  Some men prefer to do it all alone.  Its not my preference.  While I am an introvert to the core, I still very much need companionship and I don’t apologize for that!  I know what I want and my optimism means eventually I’ll find it.

Whole 30

I Survived Whole 30… So Can You!

Ok Guys – I made it. I Survived.

I can’t lie though – it was barely a crisis situation.  It really wasn’t that hard!  I used Pinterest to gather recipes and make my shopping list.  I practiced intermittent fasting, so I only ate 2 times per day, about 7-8 hours between meals.  That helped me steer clear of temptation.  I even ate out a few times and did awesome.  I’m patting myself on the back for wholeheartedly sticking to my commitment to the month.

Those first few days were tough, fighting those sugar cravings.  I learned quickly that I crave the act of eating far more than food itself.  You know when you don’t know what you want to eat but you feel like eating? Yup.  Its that, and its worse when you are fully conscious of abstaining.  My office time is during my son’s nap time, so from approximately 3-6pm, my cravings are in FULL FORCE.  That first week was positively brutal.  I had to distract myself or I’d be sitting on top of my fridge hiding out with oreos and a bag of shredded cheese.

By the end of the first week, I learned where I was weakest, and was prepared.  I drank extra water.  I had a mental pep talk ready to go – “you don’t need food, you’re bored.”  If I was really desperate, I’d start some dinner prep, or start planning what I wanted to have.  No, I am not that uber organized Pinterest mom.  I am mentally incapable of food prepping.  Mostly because I’m about as indecisive as they come!  I could make 5 meals for the week and be annoyed I have to force myself to eat them.

Whole 30 has a few main components.  Here’s what you need to know: for 30 days, you’re eliminating craving-inducing foods from your life – Sugar, Dairy and Grains.  That means no wine or beer, but you can definitely have coffee!  I found it to be more of a fun challenge to push myself this month than a tedious chore to deprive myself.

There is sugar in darn near EVERYTHING.  Reading labels is your new favorite pastime.  But, it is avoidable.  I never realized how much I was ending up consuming every day!  Same with dairy – cheese is akin to salt in my house.  I was shocked by how often I went to reach for some.  This is not a carb-concious plan, necessarily, so if you cannot fathom Keto (I already know that style of eating does not work for my body) this is a fabulous alternative.

Here’s the beauty of this plan though:

  • my overall cravings for anything (aside from chocolate, a girl needs chocolate) are down to insignificant if at all
  • I don’t feel the need to even add these things back into my diet
  • My skin is clear for the first time – you read that right – FIRST time in just shy of 20 years
  • I lost 16lb!
  • I was willingly eating healthy stuff – double the vegetables, smaller portions
  • My nails are super strong, my hair is cooperating

So, needless to say, through all of this, I’ll be doing my best to stick to this plan for good.  I’ll be trialing the three areas almost like an allergy protocol to see which effects me the worst and what I can have in moderation.

If eliminating Sugar, Dairy, and Grains fits in your health plan (I can’t imagine there’s any ailment that requires any of these areas!), I strongly encourage this plan.  Give it the 30 days, really commit, go all in.  You will learn so much about yourself and your health! I highly recommend it for anyone who’s been struggling to lose weight and get healthy.

Here’s my Whole 30 Pinterest Board

Best Wishes and Delicious Dishes!



Relationship Gut Check

Twin Flames. Soul Mates. Best Friends.AppleOrchard2017(70of84)

Whatever you call it, you’ve found your person.  Save the cutesy “they complete me stuff.” The right person doesn’t complete you – they accept you completely. Ever experienced the wrong relationship that you thought was right at one point?  You think they’re just right for you, but your gut knows its not.  Maybe its a harmful relationship.  Abusive, mentally, emotionally, or perhaps even physically.  And somehow you feel so attracted to and stuck with that person.  I want you to know right now that you are NEVER stuck with the wrong person, no matter how hopeless it seems. Trust. Your. Gut.

Trust your gut.  It knows what you need better than you do.

Once you’ve been through the wrong ones, its time to be open and ready for the “right” one.  Being open to the experience sounds ridiculous, but its the key.  If you’re closed off to the possibility that your other half will walk into your life, it simply won’t happen.  That means not making snap judgments about the people who come into your life.  That means not ruling out people because they didn’t immediately appeal to you.  That means being open minded to people you previously would have instantly “friend zoned.” That doesn’t mean everyone gets an opportunity to take a shot at you.  It does mean you stop making yourself crazy worrying about who might be right for you and just let it happen.

You’ll know you found them when…

Your heart feels at home with them.  It literally doesn’t matter where you roam; when you’re together, you feel at home.  You understand each other on a level deeper than you’ve ever imagined. You connect – you don’t necessarily always agree – but you are on the same wavelength.  Maybe your attraction began with your eyes.  You might have been initially attracted to their looks but now their physical beauty is secondary to the attraction to who they are.

In the past, your ability to empathize and feel others’ emotions might have caused you trouble.  Perhaps it ended up trapping you in a toxic relationship or caused you to become entirely overwhelmed.  Now, you’ll find that you can sense and adapt to your partner’s emotions with sensitivity and they can in return. You’d do anything to ensure their happiness, except for sacrificing your own – you don’t have to do that with the right person.

You’ve got goals in life, and so do they.  And you each challenge and encourage each other to reach for them.  None of this placating apathy.  You push each other to achieve your goals and work together to get there.

AppleOrchard2017(75of84)I’m getting teary just thinking of all this.  If you’ve ever looked at relationships before and thought “that’s a fairy tale” or “I bet its totally different behind closed doors” (we’ve watched too many Lifetime movies, amiright), you haven’t found the right person yet.  I’ve been there.  I’ve sacrificed everything but living and breathing for the wrong person.  When I came to my senses, it took my whole being to get out.  I got lucky.  I came to my senses.  I got out, via hell and high water. And then I found someone who my heart and soul is at peace and at home with.  All in less than a year.  You need it, you deserve it.  Be open to it.


Happy 6 months, love!


Photos by Kristin With An I Photography

Whole 30

Day 10… not so bad!

Day 10 – you’d probably imagine tearing your hair out at this point.  I for one never expected to feel so good or see so much dramatic change in a little over a week!

The first few days were exhausting, waging a mental battle against meaningless cravings.  It was easy for me to pinpoint when I wasn’t hungry, just looking for something to do.  I had 2 specific times a day where it was BAD.  When Nicholas naps, the first thing my body wants is to eat.  Why?  Who the heck knows.  Probably because its the first time all day I have to sit in peace without demands aside from my own.

Nighttime cravings are my second biggest enemy.  You can relate, right? Those cookies calling to you, that sliver of cake, that chunk of chocolate…. UGH.  I’m not hungry.  Its habit.  Now that I’m aware, I can talk myself off the ledge.

Here’s the real kicker (Gross Alert if you’ve never had to deal with the horrifying

day 10 whole 30
No makeup.  No filter.  I haven’t even brushed my hair yet!

effects and humiliation of acne)

I have struggled since I was 13 with horrible acne of varying types.  There was ONE stretch in TWENTY, yes 20, years, where my skin was clear.  I used a specialized cleanser that cleared my skin but made it so dry I couldn’t move my face.  So obviously that wasn’t really a great solution.  Then they got in trouble with quality inspections, the FDA or someone, and stopped making that particular cleanser. Doh!  If you’ve ever struggled with your skin, you know the pain.  Guess what.  10 days in, my skin is almost completely clear.  Clear of the hormonal crap around my chin.  Scabs from recent breakouts are healing faster.  No new breakouts.  My nails are actually strong and long for a change.  My hair is less oily.

Of course, now I begin to panic. Everyone was right all these years, and I’m practically devastated.  What does this mean for my future dietary restrictions?  Can I never enjoy a pizza or a donut occasionally again??  Well, at this moment, here’s my outlook:  I will reintroduce each removed category (dairy, grains, sugar) one at a time, for two weeks and see which is affecting me the most, and then work around it from there.

This has been a major step for me, and I’m sure other people are having big revelations as this month goes on too.  My eating has been extremely lax over the last 8 months, but has never been super under control prior to this.  I have never had a horrible diet as an adult.  I enjoy a large variety of foods and eat reasonably well most of the time.

Whats disturbing to me, is how we have accepted that all these ingredients are “normal” and safe

This is just “life” as Americans.  Prepackaged food.  Preservatives.  EVERYTHING has sugar in it (try reading labels real closely for a few grocery trips – your head will spin).  We take food shortcuts because our lives are busy.  Food planning takes extra time and effort that most people don’t have.

The bottom line is cost. It might cost you some extra time to plan a grocery list, retrain your tastebuds, and actually cook. But not doing it can truly cost you your health.

Hugs and Delicious Wishes,