Mission Cantina - The Best Mexican Ever

So I’ve been meaning to do a blog about this amazing place for quite some time. Truth is, when I go, the only thing I’m thinking about is tacos. #foodieproblems So finally, here it is.

Starting out, this place was firstly a food truck. You can see their truck parked right behind the restaurant. Apparently it was such a hit, no surprise there, that the owner decided to try a standing spot. Best.Decision.Ever.

Now it’s not a big space and it’s connected to some sort of tiny sandwich shop, but it is every part of the word amazing. On this particular visit, Easter day at 4pmish which is when they open, we were able to get right in and get a table. This never happens. Of course by 4:45 there was already a wait for a table, so today we were the lucky ones. Every other time we have ever come to Mission Cantina, there is nothing short of a 45 minute to an hour wait. And as crazy as this is going to sound, Carlos and I have actually waited 2 hours to get a table. Sorry people, it’s just that darn good. 

It’s a dark little place packed with candy skull decor. Because they open later in the day the staff is the same and they’re just as awesome. The menu is small, which I love, there’s nothing more aggravating than going somewhere to eat and trying to decide between 3 pages of options. All the options are fresh and you can’t go wrong no matter what you choose. 

My recommendation would be to start out with the queso fundido appetizer. It’s packed with cheese, onions, peppers, chorizo (the best part), and other veggies. It comes with chips and is so delicious! I generally could eat one of these myself. Safe to say I don’t hold back when it’s Mission Cantina night. 

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For my meal I usually get 3-4 loaded tacos with chorizo, I love chorizo. Their tacos come with chopped onions, tomatoes, and what seems to be pickled cucumbers along with your usual lettuce and crema. You don’t need the beans and rice to fill yourself up, this will do the trick. The flavors are fantastic, you can taste the freshness of everything. 

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Their drinks are great as well. I typically stick to a bottled beer but Carlos really enjoys their margaritas. There’s never anything left to take home and you leave feeling super satisfied with life. I could gloat about this place all day. We typically go to eat here just about once a week. I love mexican food and I have never found a place more delicious than this. There’s even a happy dance that occurs once my tacos have arrived - you would have to eat here to understand. This is hands down a must try if you are in the Amherst, MA area. 

Easter Brunch

For a blended family, holidays require a little more effort if you want to make memories and keep traditions. This year, the boys were set to spend Easter with their bio mom. For us this means they will stay the evening before Easter with her and we will get them back the evening of Easter. We wanted to have a family get together so to accommodate the schedule we chose to have a brunch Saturday morning with Easter festivities to follow. Keep in mind we had just gotten home from the Hospital Friday afternoon for Carlos’ neck surgery and had to pick the kids up the same evening along with a grocery store run for Saturday’s brunch menu - so the house was a little hectic. 

I chose to make a super yummy breakfast crescent ring that I’ve made only once before and something new I hadn’t tried, a french toast bake that everyone loved. The adults indulged in tequila sunrise mimosas and the kids enjoyed fresh fruit cut into bunny and egg shapes. The brunch was an all around success - which is crucial to my southern roots of perfectionism and hospitality. Plus we got to use our newly built table that comfortably fit everyone including the food. 

After stuffing ourselves with tequila and breakfast we retired to the backyard for the traditional easter egg hunt. This year was a lot more fun because Dex, who is almost 3, was able to run around on his own and find his egg colors without too much help. 

I always categorize the colors before the kids go out to the yard. Everyone gets a chance at a basketful of eggs plus it makes the hunt a little harder since you can’t grab the first egg you see. The kids love it.
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Once everyone had found all their eggs and the adults did a walk through of the yard for stragglers (which turned up hours later when the kids went to play outside) we went inside to unveil the goodies.

I’ve always had a hard time trying to fill these tiny eggs. This year seemed a bit easier. I wanted to spend the least amount of money. To me it’s about the experience and not so much what is inside the eggs. Additionally my oldest, Vince, is not much into candy so I have to be creative. Here’s what we had this year:

~ We spread out $7.50 in quarters between the eggs
~ Gummy bear candies in different shapes. For the girl I did ring and cherry shapes and for the boys I did regular bears, snakes, and bottle shapes. This all came in one small gummy bear bag that was $1 at Walmart
~ Bouncy balls for the boys, 98 cents at Walmart
~ Tiny jeweled rings for the girl, 98 cents at Walmart
~ Neon balloons, 98 cents at Walmart for a bag
~ What was left we filled with Easter Hershey Kisses and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that I had bought anyway as after breakfast sweets for everyone

As the kids emptied the eggs, we blew up all the balloons which kept the kids entertained for a couple hours popping them, hiding them, and trying to see who can keep their balloon up the longest. It was also Carlos’ mom’s birthday so we did cake and candles. We got blessed with some beautiful spring weather so of course we went back outside to take advantage of that. Around here you never know when another snow storm will pop up. It was so nice being out in the sun while the kids played in the yard. 

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We finished up our early Easter by dying eggs. Dex really enjoyed this, he was so fascinated by his eggs I could barely get him to look into the camera with the others. Before the kids left to go to their moms, their aunt and grandma surprised them with easter baskets. What a day!

My heart was so full. We couldn’t believe all the stuff we were able to accomplish in a few short hours but everyone had such a great time. These are the things I look forward to and hope that the kids always remember and cherish. Happy Easter! 

Neck Fusion - Adventures at Mass General

Carlos has been a proud member of the United States Air Force for approximately 12 years. However, as with most military jobs, the wear and tear of required gear and the job tasks in general can result in many physical problems. For Carlos, 2-3 of the vertebrae in his neck had worn down and begun to rub and squish against his spinal cord. After months of physical therapy and shopping around for a good doctor that actually cares, we chose a neurosurgeon at Mass General Hospital in Boston (Best.Decision.Ever)

You never know exactly what to expect when you’re planning your stay at a hospital. We knew we would be staying at least 2 days but of course it could always be more. I packed for simplicity about as possible as a female can. Same pair of jeans, 3 different sweatshirts, one pair of sweats and shirt to sleep in, and of course the hygienic necessities. 

The night before we couldn’t sleep and in no time 4am was upon us. It took about an hour and a half to get to Boston and we shuffled into the quiet empty hospital expecting to be the only ones there for surgery. We immediately burst into laughter, we turned the corner to the room and standing in a long line were about 30-40 other people apparently also having surgery that morning. Thankfully the line was moving along pretty quick. We were checked in with a little hand held pager that was something out of Texas Roadhouse and found a little spot in the massive waiting room to sit.  

Before long he was taken back to change and prep for surgery and I was left to the adventures of exploring the ginormous maze that is Mass General. There’s a surgical family waiting room set a part for those who want to wait comfortably and stay up to date on their loved ones status. This quickly became my home for the next 8-9 hours. The room is ran by a nurse and two volunteers. Once you check in, they let you know when your loved one’s surgery has begun, when it ends, and when you can request to see them. I picked a space on a long desk with a privacy window and plenty of outlets so I could do some of my work. I am definitely blessed to have a job I can literally take with me anywhere. I also brought a book for any work downtime and I made a couple trips to the cafe down the hall for coffee, water, and a muffin. The cafe was uber cheap which is great when you’re stuck waiting for so long. Plus you’re in the middle of downtown Boston, you don’t want to have to go anywhere. 

Carlos was in surgery for a little over 2 1/2 hours. His doctor came down to tell me everything went great, which was awesome. A couple hours after that I was told I could finally go see him. I followed a volunteer through winding halls and about two elevators until we had finally arrived at his recovery spot. I say spot because that’s just what it was. The teeniest of spaces with just enough room to fit a stretcher. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I would see him so my nerves were a little wrecked right before I walked up to him. He was obviously very tired and in a lot of pain. All in all, his incision looked great and I squeezed into the space, popped open my book and let him rest until we could get into an actual room. There was no phone signal in the recovery area and I had been updating friends and family for the past 8 hours, but it was nice to know he was ok and enjoy the quiet alone time we had for a couple hours. 

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He finally got a room and so began the treck through more halls and only one elevator this time. The room was amazing. Because we were in Boston and in such a huge hospital, we assumed he would be in a shared room and that was if he got a room initially at all. That wasn’t the case, he was given a beautiful private room with plenty of space and not too bad of a view. Not like that mattered since the only direction Carlos could see was straight. 

The next three days was spent trying to get back to a new normal. Carlos would take little walks that felt like refreshing 5 minute escapes and we experimented with what he could actually swallow. So far it’s been yogurt, broth, and lots of ice water. It’s taking him a bit to get used to help. He and I are very independent people and so needing help with shoes, pants, and anything that requires bending down can be frustrating. He’s stuck with a very fashionable neck collar for the next two months and will begin physical therapy after that to learn new posture and movement techniques. 

The nurses and staff at Mass General were beyond more than we could ever have asked for. They are genuinely dedicated to their profession and really love what they do. Since we’ve come home, Carlos has posted up in the basement recliner that we moved into the living room and I’ve taken up on the couch. Things like this sometimes make you do an inventory of your relationship and how far we’ve come. Things could have been worse or gone badly, but they didn’t and for that I’m very thankful. For now we’re looking forward to less pain and some rest and relaxation at home. 

The Best Grilled Cheese

Having to get up at 5:30 in the morning on a non working day is not my idea of excitement unless I’m going on vacation. Carlos had a doctor appointment in Boston for his neck, and being the supportive team member I am, I gladly accompanied him on the 2 hour road trip to the big city. After leaving the appointment and running on what fumes we had left from our coffee stop we were ready to eat - one of my favorite things to do. 

Since we don’t typically find ourselves in the Boston area very often, we wanted to eat somewhere super yummy that we can’t get close to home. I did a quick search on my Google maps to see what was nearby and saw Cheesy Street Grill. The reviews were great, almost 5 stars and everyone had something awesome to say about the food and staff. I was sold. I mean c’mon, gourmet grilled cheese that’s amazing…who just passes that up? 

I plug it in and we end up at a gas station stop off the pike. First I was thinking no way this is right. Carlos even suggests we go somewhere else because this wasn’t what he had in mind. If you’re not aware, the pike offers rest stops that are less than appetizing. It’s usually overcrowded, semi dirty and your food choices are generally Mc Donalds, some sort of pizza place and a sandwich shop. It’s not your ideal place to stop and get a bite unless you’ve been trapped in the car for 8 hours, have to pee, and going to start eating your fingers if you don’t see a drive thru stat. But, at 4 . 8 stars and awesome reviews I was more curious than anything to find out what was really going on inside this rest stop. 

We walked in to find the Cheesy Street Grill right next to a pizza place and a Mc Donalds. The menu is simple but amazing, which I love. Carlos ordered an Italian sandwich which was a delicious mixture of cheese, prosciutto and red peppers with some other yummy ingredients and I had the chipotle chicken, which was recommended by Lisa the owner. The food was nothing short of everything you could ever hope a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich would be. I have to say that given the location I was happily surprised at how delicious these sandwiches were. 

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Lisa was awesome. She started her yummy sandwiches out on a food truck and then moved into a solid location. She has two other places in the eastern part of Massachusetts but was looking to put her next location into the soon to be opened Springfield Casino. This excites me, that casino will be 15 minutes from me and I can’t wait to add another local place to my picky list of places you just have to eat at! I’m so glad we found this little gem, and Lisa is just the sweetest. I’m looking forward to checking her spot out in Springfield soon.  - Check them out at https://www.cheesystreetgrill.com

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Axe Throwing

So my younger brother saw a place in Brooklyn, NY on Facebook that had an axe throwing bar. We all thought this could turn into a really cool trip out to New York, but as it turns out, we have an axe throwing bar right here in Massachusetts called Agawam Axe. Well it’s not a bar, more like axe throwing with a snack bar. Either way, the thought of throwing around axes as a method of fun sounds…well….fun! 

We gathered a few friends and off we were to throw some axes. Honestly we had no idea what to actually expect. We pulled up to a small warehouse and walked in to be greeted by some really awesome staff. I believe they were all from Canada and were more than stoked to get us in and show us their stuff. 

I have to say, this was the most fun I’ve had in a bit. Probably due to the fact that I was somehow a complete natural at throwing axes (who knew!) and was kicking everyone’s butt! There were 4 throwing lanes with 2 wooden axe boards in each lane so you could compete against your friends. Everyone had so much fun trying to get a bullseye and trying out small and large axes to see which one was better. 

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You get an hour of play and it seems to pass by perfectly. By the time we were all axed out we had about 3 minutes left before we were done. The price wasn’t bad at $20 a person. If you compared this to doing an escape room, which is also $20 a person, I would say your money is far better spent axe throwing. I am totally looking forward to going back. I personally think this place would be spectacular if they had a sports bar type of place connected to it, but it seems to be just enough on its own. It’s a totally fun idea for girls night, date night or hell, even if you want to go alone and let out some frustration. It’s plain good, clean fun and has Carlos and I considering something of the like in our backyard for the summer. 

Divorced ~ Not Broken

I could go miles on this subject but to spare you the 300 pages I’ll keep it as simple as I can. :)

Getting a divorce these days is seemingly just as easy as getting married, and sometimes can cost just as much. It’s nothing I think that any person is proud of doing and certainly not anticipated in the beginning of the marriage. Divorce is a very emotionally and mentally tough thing to do no matter what the circumstances. It is a public declaration to everyone around you that your marriage didn’t work, you were wrong about her or him and now you have to start all over again. In so many cases it leaves a person feeling used up and broken. You now have this metaphorical baggage that you have to carry with you everywhere. You have this “thing” you have to break to every new relationship which can be a deal breaker in some cases. 

Then let’s say you’ve been divorced more than once. Well, hang up your shoes and put in your cat lady application because you’ve officially ruined your relationship future. Now every time someone asks, it becomes a long drawn out story to rectify that you’re not actually crazy.The thing is, this is so far from the reality of your actual life. This is what society makes you feel, how they see you. Now you have to settle for someone half as good or someone else who is divorced because you’ve already bought your train ticket. Then the second or third marriage becomes a teeny tiny ceremony that no one knew anything about because well it’s not the first so no need to send out those second round of wedding invitations. It’s like divorce strips you of the rights and happiness you actually deserve. 

I know there are plenty of people out there who can agree with me when I say that some of the most awesome couples I’ve ever met were divorced. Now, that doesn’t mean I think you have to get divorced to have a great marriage. It is possible to get it right the first time. But, if you don’t, all hope is not lost. I could offer you some amazing relationship insight based on my relationships that didn’t work out. You see, when you got a divorce you got this second chance to be more picky. You experienced something you didn’t like or maybe you did something terrible and your own actions ruined your marriage. Now you’ve learned a valuable lesson for the next relationship. A good relationship becomes so much more to you than it was the first time.

I will share something that I for sure never imagined I would let the world see. After my second marriage failed, I asked myself what I really wanted. What was I actually looking for? I needed to know what I wanted so that I wouldn’t settle for anything. This is important. Below is the actual message I wrote on August 1, 2015. I met Carlos (friends first) 11 days after I wrote this. 


The Man I Want Is….

Educated
he has college/degree just like I do.

Clean
he maintains a clean home, car, bathroom, bedroom, and no one else does it for him.

Respectful
to his family, his friends, and most importantly to himself. He is not afraid to say no to something he may want because he knows it is not good for him in the long run. He takes care of his body internally and externally, he is not obsessed but enjoys feeling good and healthy.

Ambitious
he always has a goal, is always trying to better himself, he has a positive outlook about his future

Sense of humor
he isn’t afraid to laugh at himself, isn’t snobby, and can laugh at almost anything

Confident
but not cocky, he believes in himself and his abilities and in turn does not feel threatened by others who are competing with or against him. He can stand against a crowd with his own judgement and opinions and not waver.

He knows what he wants
he knows himself, what he likes, what he will and won’t tolerate, and what he does and does not want in life. He is not easily swayed or influenced into anything other than what he has decided for himself.

He can stand alone
he doesn’t need a chef, a maid, a mechanic, a yard man, or his mother. He can do for himself just fine and does not see a problem with it. He views taking care of himself as a part of being a responsible adult and not a job that he complains about.


He makes me feel beautiful, I don’t have to feel self-conscious around him. This guy makes me want to be the best me, I can literally tell him anything without fear of judgement. He doesn’t want to change me, he’s in love with who I am at that moment and is genuinely happy for my accomplishments and the good things that happen in my life. This guy is my teammate, I feel free with him, free to speak and act and think all on my own. I don’t have to ask for permission or a go ahead on anything, I do it simply and freely out of the deep respect I have for him as a person. There is no feelings of ownership or expectations - we just love being with each other and working together.

Since Carlos and I have been together it has been nothing short of amazing. Yes we have our rough times but it’s easy to work it out when you have someone who is reaching for the same goals you are. 

Divorce does not ruin you. It gives you a chance to have a do-over. I would rather be the person that takes my second chance than to be the person who dies miserable in a marriage they hated that held them back from a good life all in the name of morals. Do not allow others to make you feel less than you are. You are still a person, you will still be happy and you deserve a good life. 

House to Home: Dining Room Table

One thing that I love so much about Carlos is his ability to just make it happen. We work perfectly together, I’m the one that says “I really want to do this” and he is the one who actually makes it happen. I jump in and help where I can but the credit is due to my love. 

Because our dining room is small, square, and right in the middle of the home, we needed a table that could fit more than 5 people if needed and not take up as much space. Initially I wanted to build the coveted generic rectangle farm table that everyone loves. But honestly it would have been a pain for anyone sitting on the ends or trying to walk through one room to get to another. So I settled for a round table design that would fit the room perfectly. 

Carlos found some plans on Pinterest and used these plans to create the round top and a portion of the legs. Once he got the basic layout for the legs, we used spare pieces of wood to create the bottom design. The table top per the plans was set to be at 70 inches, which to me felt far to big. However, when the table top was finished it came out to about 68 inches, which was still too big to me. Carlos ensured me it wouldn’t be too big, but mostly because it was a lot of work to get that far and he wasn’t about to re-do it. :0)  After the table was put together we sanded and stained it with a gray stain from Home Depot. I was looking for an old finish so gray felt perfect to me. I believe we only did two coats of stain and then four coats of lacquer to seal everything in. 



During the lacquer portion I was getting antsy, you know how you get when you just want something to be done so you can move on to the next thing!? This is always how I am, I don’t know how Carlos deals with it. The time finally came, we could officially move the table into the dining room. I was super nervous, feeling that the table genuinely was still going to be too big despite what Carlos was telling me. Once it was in, it was big, it was really big! But in fairness we had been sitting at a table that barely fit four people for a long time, so I guess it would be dramatic to suddenly have a 6-8 person table sitting in your dining area. After a trip to hobby lobby for some table decor I realized that the table and its size were perfect. I guess you could say it grew on me.

We plan to put some protectors on the bottom to keep the table from scratching the floors and potentially a rug underneath for both added protection and decorative reasons but we will see. We also plan to sand down and stain the chairs in the future. Our next project will be a buffet table that will sit in the same room. But for now, I am enjoying the fruits of Carlos’ labor and my idea. *Cheers*

Friday Night Freak Out

If you’ve been granted the blessing of being in a blended family where the ex wife/husband is a mature adult capable of maintaining a healthy and functional co-parenting relationship - well then this post ain’t for you.

I and my love haven’t been so lucky. But looking for the positive we’ve learned a lot about the power of patience and being the bigger person. Now that the boys are getting older, it is starting to reflect in their ways toward us. 

But let’s get to the point here. We were supposed to pick up the boys last night, as we do every other week and we were merely 20 minutes away from the pick up time when Carlos receives a phone call from the ex. Then comes a message through the text app stating that the youngest had fallen off of a chair he was standing on and she was waiting to hear back from the pediatrician. < insert Jen’s response yelled out from the other room, "tell her to get him to the ER - and what the H - E - double hockey stick was he doing standing on a chair!" > Of course Carlos calls back immediately and to our shock - but not surprise - the littlest one had indeed fallen from a chair that he should’t have been standing on in the first place had he been supervised, but that’s not where this story peaks. No see, it’s when she informs Carlos that once he had fallen he passed out and apparently was out for quite a bit. It never occurred to her that she should call 911 or rush him to a hospital. She proceeded to try to wake him up, which included her smacking him on the face until he came to. Again, it never occurs to her to do much else other than call the pediatrician and wait for a response, which of course who knows how long that could have taken. In a controlled rage Carlos tells her to get him to a hospital immediately and he will meet her there. Very long story short, he is ok and thankfully it wasn’t bad. Of course once the night is over and Carlos is back home, he receives another app messages from the ex. She is thanking him for meeting her at the emergency room along with a bunch of other bogus things that didn’t happen. So now she attempts to back pedal through the app to clear her reputation. Not to mention she never uses the terms “thank you” or “I appreciate” in any way towards Carlos for anything and is everything but cordial when they communicate. I know I’m not alone in this absolutely bogus behavior. All I can do is sigh and roll my eyes here….

 

I can’t begin to explain the urge I had inside to run into that emergency room and shake her senseless. There are so many questions that ran through my mind, what if he hadn’t woken up or what if this had happened on a weekday, maybe she would have never told us anything. But of course, as this game goes, we must sit back and be patient. All we can do is document and wait….document and wait. I feel so bad for the kids. I feel bad for other couples who have to go through these same fiascos. It feels like you’re fighting a constant battle of good just waiting for the day of redemption. This is one small pebble in the sea of chaos we’ve put up with over the past two years. It’s draining, it’s frustrating and sometimes it's hopeless. Thankfully they are here with us this week and we know they’ll be safe. I hold on to the hope that one of these days they’ll be with us full time and we won’t have to worry about them so much.