My Brother’s Keeper

One month ago today, I received a Facebook DM that changed so much for me and my family. The message read, “Jennifer- Please call me. It’s urgent.” That urgent message was that my brother Victor, possibly, had a stroke.  He was on the phone with a business partner who became concerned with my brother’s speech started to slur and he became incoherent.  That person was based in another state, but sent an ambulance to my brother’s apartment. I left work, quickly packed clothes for my family and I, picked up RJ from school and we all headed to Charlotte, the dog included. Ralph, RJ and Bailey dropped me off at the hospital and headed to house of friends of ours.

It turned out he did have a stroke. Expressive aphasia, to be exact. Basically, he could understand everything, but was sometimes unable to get out responses or respond appropriately. He was taken to the hospital on a Tuesday, by that weekend he was starting to regain more and more language. He’d even called me on his cell phone Friday morning from his hospital bed and we had a little conversation.  My brother is single with no children. Our parents are deceased. So, my two other brothers and I began discussing what to do about his financial obligations, healthcare and rehab once he was released.

Then, nearly a week after he was admitted to the hospital, he fell somehow and loss most of the language he’d regained. Exactly one week after the initial stroke, instead of him getting ready to go to rehab, he was sent back to ICU due to a blood clot that caused a 2nd stroke. This stroke drastically increased the affected area of his brain and pretty much encompassed the entire left side of his brain. For perspective, the 1st stroke was contained just in the language area of his brain. A relatively small section.

After a few days of aggressive efforts to reduce the brain swelling, he was stable enough to be moved back to a regular room. However, there was a big change in him this time around. He was sleeping a lot, and seemed to not want to try to communicate as much. It could be due to the fact that simply could not speak, but I think some of it was that he was depressed.  Depression is common in stroke patients.

He was still in this regular room on Christmas Day.  My family and I went to visit him before joining other family for dinner.  It was also RJ’s first time in a hospital since he was born. This was the first time RJ saw him since he was ill. I had been travelling back and forth solo for the most part and staying with our framily in Charlotte. Ralph and RJ stayed back home as they still had work and school. RJ absolutely adores his Uncle Vic. They have a really special bond. So, I think RJ was a little nervous about seeing him in the hospital. He asked if Uncle Vic would have lots of tubes on him. I assured him he would not, but I told him Uncle Vic wouldn’t be able to say much to him.  During our visit, my brother wasn’t very expressive, but he did recognize RJ and smiled at him as he rattled off what Santa brought him for Christmas.

That Wednesday, a doctor came in to do an exam and had a hard time waking Victor. A CT scan revealed he had increased brain swelling and they did an emergency craniotomy. Back to ICU he went and back to Charlotte I went. After a couple days, his vitals stabilized and he was moved to a recovery room. I went to visit him on New Year’s Day. He slept most of the visit and his breathing sounded horrible. The doctor and nurse said a respiratory therapist was going to come in and try to break up the congestion in his chest.  When I left to go home, that was the plan.  I hadn’t been home for an hour when I got a text that the chest congestion was pneumonia and they were moving him to an intermediate room.

As of today, his pneumonia is clearing and he has become more alert. We still don’t know for certain what his future will look like.  Our family is just taking any victories we can get and trying not to let any setbacks crush his spirit or ours. When my anxiety and stress levels creep up, I remember to count our blessings. I’m thankful the person he was speaking to that day in December sent an ambulance to his apartment, that we were able to sign him up for ACA by the deadline (by the way, getting my brother healthcare and his outlook without it deserves its own post), that after years of wanting to, he finally hosted Thanksgiving this year and we spent several days with him and had a wonderful time, that I have flexibility at my job and could just leave and be with him and not worry, that he has fraternity brothers and friends who love him deeply and continue to visit and check on him, that after days of not really saying anything, when I told him I was going home after spending all Tuesday with him, he looked at me and said, “Boooooo”.

Needless to say, it has been a roller coaster month and this is not a life turn I was expecting. I can only believe that we all will come out of this better and stronger individually and as a family.

6 Questions to Consider When Going Apple Picking

Last year, during RJ’s Fall Break, we made our first trip to an apple orchard.  That trip started a tradition and last week we kicked off his Fall Break with some apple picking fun! I’m still figuring out the dos and don’ts of this orchard life, but here are 6 questions you should consider if there is an apple picking adventure in your future.

Did I Check the Weather Forecast?

If you’re like me, you think apple picking and the thought of cool, crisp mountain air pops into your head. Well, that hasn’t been the case the two times we’ve gone to the orchards. Each year I’ve whipped out my boots and button down shirts, only to get there and realize shorts and a t-shirt would have sufficed. My suggestion to you, check the weather and dress in layers.

Do I Have Cash With Me?

Sometimes the orchard don’t take cards for whatever reason. You can’t go wrong with cash. About $30 has been enough to cover apples and treats for our family.

Are the Apples I Want Available?

Visiting the orchard when the apples you like/want are actually available is kinda important. I never go with a certain apple variety in mind, but if you want granny smiths for a pie, it would suck to go when their season is over. Don’t let the grocery store fool you into thinking all apple varieties are available year round. You can check the websites of most orchards for availability calendars.

Do I know How to the Pick the Ripest Apples?

Equally as important as knowing when the apples you want are in season, is knowing how to pick the perfect apple! This is definitely something I need to do more research on. You don’t want to pick a 1/2 bushel of apples only to find they are gross because they weren’t ripe. Now, the orchards do tell you which varieties should be ready, but that doesn’t mean every apple on the tree is ripe. Knowing the characteristics (color, firmness and ease of picking it from the tree) of a ripe apple based on the varieties available can help a lot.  Honestly, I’m a little suspect of some of the ones we picked, but RJ is eating them so…


Is U-pick Still Available?

If picking your own apples is a part of your plan and the main reason you’re making a trip to the orchard, make sure it’s still an option. We took a trip to, Sky Top Orchard, the same orchard we visited last year around the same time or year, only to get there and find their U-pick season was over! They had bags and bags of already picked apples, but we couldn’t pick them ourselves. We were flexible and able to go to Justus Orchard about 30 minutes away. If time is not on your side, don’t be like us, check the orchard’s website or social media first.

Should I Leave the Orchard Without Apple Cider Doughnuts?

NO! Don’t get so caught up in apple picking that you forget the star of the orchard. If read that and said the apples are the star, that means you haven’t gotten your entire life and had apple cider doughnuts.  These doughnuts reign supreme at apple orchards with apple cider slushies coming in at a close second!  If you go to an orchard on a busy weekend, be prepared to stand in long lines for the doughnuts. However, it will be worth every bee dodging minute (bees run rampant at orchards, watch out). Make sure you get enough doughnuts to eat right then and there hot out the grease and to take home! Thank me later.


Are you planning an apple picking trip this season? 

Fall for Greenville One Bite at a Time

A shortage of restaurants does not exist in the Upstate. New ones are constantly popping up and I can’t keep up.  Like most cities we have Restaurant Week as a way to try out new spots, but my favorite way to experience our food scene is through the 3-day food festival, Fall for Greenville. Our family has been attending the festival for years and we’re never disappointed. There is a wide variety or restaurant choices from Greenville classics like Larkin’s on the River and Soby’s, newcomers like The Anchorage and everything in between.

It’s so much fun, we even have a family member who has been joining us every year for the past couple years. Fall for Greenville has something for everyone.  In addition to the food, there is a kids’ area that RJ loves, a line up of live bands throughout the weekend and wine and beer are available.


Each menu item from the restaurants are worth a set number of tickets, anywhere from 2-8. The tickets can be purchased at various locations along the street and are $5 for a sheet of 8. Our family of 3 ran through 64 tickets, some of which were used for RJ to ride the rides in the kids’ area.



Do you and your family attend a food festival in your city? 

Washington DC: So Many Sights, So Little Time

I was going through my drafts folder and found this post from several years ago about our first trip to DC.  We were still pushing RJ in a stroller, I had short hair and Obama was in the White House. Indulge my walk down memory lane.


We took a road trip to visit my in-laws in Pennsylvania and stopped in DC for a couple days on the way back home.  It was just a 3 hour drive from PA that took us deep through Amish country. *After this trip, I’m really intrigued by the Amish.*  Anyway, we arrived at our hotel, The Beacon & Corporate Quarters, dropped off our bags and hit the pavement. When planning the trip, we’d debated about whether to stay in DC or an outlying suburb.  Staying in the city had its benefits. Hotels outside of the city weren’t going to be that much cheaper, our hotel was in a great location and we could walk to a metro station and most sightseeing attractions.

We would have benefited from one more day in the city, but it was a great vacation.





Prepping for the 50th Anniversary March on Washington.



We visited the National Zoo but had to rush because we needed to make it across town to the Nationals game. This lovely ape was catching her urine and drinking it. Yes, this is the image I decided to capture. It was awful, but I couldn’t look away.


Our little baseball lover’s 1st Major League game!



We were, recently, back in the DMV to spent time with friends, take in an Orioles game and visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture. I’ll cover that trip soon.


There’s so much to see and do in DC and so much of it is free. What’s your favorite DC attraction? 

Travel Baseball Is A Whole New Ballgame

Our introduction to organized sports began here when RJ joined his first baseball team. We’ve been full steam ahead every since.  We typically play baseball in the spring, and he chooses to play soccer in the fall. This year he decided on baseball again this fall. My motto of one team, one sport each season fell through and now he’s also playing on a travel ball team for the first time.  Two baseball teams which have our weeknights and several weekends on lock down.

The first of about 3 or 4 travel ball tournaments was last weekend. This team will only travel to tourneys 30 mins or so away.  The kids on his team are 5 & 6 year olds. However, all the other teams we play have kids who are 7, 8 an almost 9. The coach let us know up front we probably would not win any of the games. A year or two age difference make a huge difference on the field.  The objective this year is to get the kids use to playing together and expose them to a higher level of play.  That’s great in theory for adults, but not easy to relay to kids.


The coach knew what he was talking about. We played four games last weekend, 2 Saturday and 2 Sunday and loss them all. BIG TIME! The balance of exposing the kids to the higher level of play and not totally crushing their spirits is a delicate one. There were tears, frustration and anger from my kid.

Side note: I’ve never been more exhausted from literally doing nothing than I was last weekend. Once we got home and I sat down, I could not will my body to move without taking a nap first.

There is an episode of blackish where Miles is great at basketball until he joins a team at the next level. He then discovers he was great at the level where he was, but needs LOTS of work in the new league. Well, that’s RJ. He’s great in his rec league. His team last spring went undefeated and won the championship. His fall team has one more game, but right now they are undefeated and clinched the championship last night. With all of this winning, my child is not a graceful loser.

I’m a dugout mom on his rec team. The mom’s just watch from the stands and the dads handle the kids on the travel team. It’s tough for me to watch his frustrations from afar. Plus, I get too nervous to just sit and watch. So, I would go over to the dugout every now and then to offer encouragement and Skittles. He appreciated the candy more than my pep talk.

Despite the results of the games, I have a feeling that travel ball is here to stay for us. I’m preparing myself now by stocking up on Skittles, a few encouraging words and coffee so can survive it all.


Does your kid play a sport? Has he or she ever played on a travel team?