The Story of Samson

By Natalie

All my life I had longed to have the companionship of a dog. Believing that dog’s were simply too much responsibility my mom always seemed to settle with cats. The cats were alright, but they just weren’t what I had always wanted. Brandon had grown up with dogs around and promised that the day we got a house we could have a dog. Disclaimer: there is a certain quality in me that I’m not necessarily proud of, but I cannot deny. When I’m given hope for something in the future I want it as soon as possible. The closer it gets the more frustrated I get, and beg to have it sooner than anticipated. B calls it ‘light at the end of the tunnel syndrome’.

When the offer was accepted on our house we began our search for our new family member. One sunny Sunday afternoon we decided to go to Petsmart where the Orange County Animal Shelter was holding adoptions. That’s were I fell in love with our Samson. I had taken a particular liking to him, and the volunteers must have noticed, as they asked us if we’d like to take him for a walk. We stepped outside and this big goof of a dog strolled about like he was the happiest dog in the world. There was no doubt in my mind that he was the dog for me. I couldn’t resist his adorable big head that I could kiss all day long.

We went home and thought about our decision to adopt him. The closer we came to closing on our house the more we felt like he was the dog for us. Immediately after signing papers to close on our house we drove to the Orange County Animal Shelter to adopt our boy. The whole time we were there I was giddy with excitement.


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Our first family photo  was taken the day we closed on our house. I couldn’t have been more delighted. He was my first dog in our first house.

Dog ownership was even better than I had envisioned. I loved having Samson around when B was out so I didn’t have to be by myself. I loved the way he had to lay behind me while I cooked and washed dishes. I loved seeing his excitement when we arrived home from a long day. I loved how cuddly he got when he was sleepy at night. I loved waking up with blurry vision and seeing him there laying beside me, not a care in the world. You could see in his eyes that he was grateful to have a new happy home.

We gave Samson a chance, which is more than most people would have done. We did our research, and we found that we were up to the task of caring for a fun loving muscular dog. That’s one of those things that I continually try to remind myself. We rescued him, and loved him with no judgement. I wouldn’t ever change that even if I was granted the opportunity. I had my sweet boy for under a month when he was taken. It’s a wonder how in under a month I was able to grow so fond of him. He had a chance to meet family and friends. He had numerous nicknames including Sammy Sosa which just kind of came out one day, and stuck. He was spoiled by my friend Chloe who saw no fault in him. He enjoyed multiple firsts with his new parents. Moments I’ll never forget like his first bath, which was more of a wrestling match between the three of us…

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Look at that smile!!

So often we read the news articles and sympathize with the victim, with good reason. The innocent deserve to be sympathized. It is rare to ever hear the other side of the story. I feel as if it’s time to tell it. Not just for me, but for all those who are on the other side. We sit in shame, and guilt, all the while accepting punches from others for fear of what they might say if we defend ourselves. Samson ripped a metal stake out of the ground right before my eyes, and bit another dog. It was a moment that will forever be stained in my memory. I understand the victim. Trust me I do. But I’m tired of pretending like I wasn’t hurt in this situation. As B put it “How must the parents feel of the children who orchestrated terrifying school shootings, and threats. Parents of the victims are angry, and grievous. but the parents of shooters… how must they feel?” Will you sit back and deny the fact that they are grievous as well? For losing their own children, and feeling responsible. What I went through was so minuscule in comparison. I don’t expect you to understand, I honestly don’t. It’s a difficult thing for people to accept the fact that those people are suffering as well. I do however urge you to take these words to heart.

We enjoyed every bit of this dog leading up to that traumatic day. My mind is full of ‘If onlys’ . It is full of regret. Not regret of adopting Samson, but regret for bruising his breed name. Regret of being in the front yard that day. Regret of not protecting Samson. Never did I ever believe I would have to go through such a difficult series of events. Until I find the strength to capture the memory of that day I will leave you with all I have left of him. My memories.

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Minestrone Soup

By Natalie

I’m a huge fan of one dish meals, which makes soup one of my favorite easy go to dinners. I just so happen to be making this soup tonight, as it’s an excellent soup to have on a rainy day with a sick hubby.


  •  1 can Great Northern Beans
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 3 Carrots (peeled & chopped)
  • 3 Celery Stalks (chopped)
  • 1 Onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 oz Bacon
  • 3-4 Large Potatoes
  • 1 Garlic Clove (minced)
  • 1 can Diced Tomatoes
  • 3.5 cups Chicken Broth
  • 1 cup Water
  • Fresh Pesto



Serves 6-8

Heat oil over medium heat in pot. Add carrots, celery, onion, and bacon. Cook for 10min or until onions begin to brown, stirring occasionally. Add potatoes and garlic (Zucchini, Cabbage; optional) stir. Add chicken broth, tomatoes with their juice, and 1 cup of water; heat to boiling over high heat. Reduce heat to low; Cover and simmer 30min or until veggies are tender.

Meanwhile prepare pesto. My pesto recipe is here.

Blend 1/2c beans with 1c of soup until pureed. Stir salt, bean puree, & remaining beans into soup. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover & simmer 10min. Garnish with dollops of pesto. This soup pairs well with fresh bread. If you’re feeling up for it this is the recipe I use.

Bon apétit!

My Top 10 Suggested Reads

By Natalie

If you asked me where I was when I read a certain book I could tell you. If you asked me how I felt at a climactic moment in a book, I could tell you. Books have this way of capturing a point in time, almost like any other sense that brings you back to a moment. A sound, a smell, a taste, a feeling, a story. I owe my love for reading to my sister Nadir. It started with her offering to help me read a book for school. The very next day she admit to me that she had finished the book because it was so captivating. Of course I had to see what she was talking about. I made myself comfortable in our big wingback chair and cracked the book open. For the very first time I fell in love with reading. When I say I fell in love I mean I fell in love with all of it. I love cozying up with a book, not knowing what to expect next. I love turning each page, and getting excited for how close I am to the end. I love the first sentence, to the slow middles, to the satisfying endings.

Oftentimes I would find Nadir entranced in a book. Once she really got into one you wouldn’t see her for a while. If it happened to be a Nicolas Sparks book forget it, don’t speak to her until it’s over. I knew she was nearing the end when there were soft sniffles coming from her room. When she was ready she would emerge, clutching a few tissues, with glassy tearful eyes. She would wrestle with that moment when you feel so accomplished for finishing your book, but so sad that it’s over.


What I love most about reading is that no reader will have the same top 10 List. The books we choose change within different stages of our lives. This is why I stress suggested reads. These books may have been my favorite, but they certainly are not for everyone. For example The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold may be on someone’s Top 10. I however have never been more aggravated or disturbed by a book like that one, and would never suggest it.

My Top Ten:

  1. Memoirs of a GeishaArthur Golden
  2. The Time Traveler’s WifeAudrey Niffenegger
  3. The HobbitJ.R.R Tolkien
  4. The HelpKathryn Stockett
  5. Water for ElephantsSara Gruen
  6. Secret Life of BeesSue Monk Kidd
  7. Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandLewis Carroll
  8. Pride and PrejudiceJane Austen
  9. The Bean TreesBarbara Kingsolver
  10. Esperanza RisingPam Muñoz Ryan

Happy Reading!

A Humerous Email

By Natalie

I often feel the urge to write when I’m at work. It’s much like feeling a craving come on that needs to be satisfied. So what am I to do when I’m at work and feel the urge to write? I look for inspiration around the office, and occasionally express my writing in email form. The following is an email I typed up to my manager.

Subject: Potential Heart & Soul Award goes to… Kristen Suchocki!


While you were away it came to my attention this Thursday night that around 5:30pm Kristen was really getting into her therapy. I stepped out of the front office to find another thing to add to our burdensome Thursday. A broken stool. She has been so dedicated to her patients, wheeling all around them.. Stabilizing them, mobilizing them, making them feel all better, you know. She thought all was well in the world of Kristen until suddenly to her dismay the wheel of her stool broke off! Shattered might I add. It’s ok, don’t fret, our beloved PT was just fine finishing her session in crouch position. However, we can’t stand aside and expect her to be able to meet her full therapist potential in uncomfortable positions. She is a bride to be! You remember the stress, right? We must make her comfortable.

Our poor Kristen now desires a nice new long lasting stool. We know the expenses for Stafford are great. We also want you to know that we greatly appreciate all of the therapy materials you have provided us with. Do you think that maybe there would be any way we could get our poor Kristen a new stool?


A very bummed out Kristen, and Natalie

Wasn’t that much more entertaining to read than Kristen broke the stool? Ok now go run out into the gym and take a look at it!

Happy Friday!

Coping With My Sister’s Illness

By Natalie

In the fall of 2012 I discovered that my oldest sister Nem was diagnosed with Lupus. I hadn’t heard much about the auto immune disease but I knew it would be something very difficult for her to live with. All my life my sister has been this high energy, tightly scheduled, organized woman. She has always eaten healthy, and taken care of her body. How on earth could some illness come in and fight against her body the way that Lupus does? It’s called the invisible illness, with good reason. She appears to be just as normal as anyone else, but inside she feels pain, weakness, and fatigue. She may not feel able to smile much anymore, or laugh as often, which breaks my heart. But I know that she is trying.

I will admit that I have been a selfish sister. Questioning why she no longer has the energy for small outings, or spontaneous get togethers. She has always been someone I looked up to and love dearly. How is it that this person I care for so much can be in so much pain? Through all of my questioning, and frustration with her I began to realize that she is strong enough for this. If anyone were to cope with Lupus it is her. She is selfless in her sacrifices. She has enough strong will to fight. She has enough discipline to keep the healthy lifestyle her body needs. When God places obstacles in our way it’s so difficult to understand why. There is no doubt in my mind that my sister was chosen to fight this illness because she is strong enough. She has always been an inspiration to me, and that will never cease.

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This past year I have struggled with finding a way to support Nem. What words would be pressing enough to give her comfort? There is not much that I can say to make her feel any better. She has had to sacrifice her diet, lifestyle, and put her future dreams on hold. . The best thing I can do, and anyone can do is teach people about this illness. Spreading the word is just the beginning. Last year our family stood around Nem in the busy streets of D.C. at the annual Walk to End Lupus. We raised money for the foundation to help find a cure. I’m happy to say that we had a blast last year, and we will be walking again this April.

My sister, I know you struggle in your classroom, grasping any bit of energy you can to teach a pack of 4th graders. I know you struggle as a wife, which carries so much weight and responsibility in a home. I know you struggle as a sister, and daughter feeling as if you have not given us enough. But let me tell you today, you are most possibly the strongest woman I know to date. You have never been more inspiring, or beautiful to me. I nub you!I love you in our sister language. Yes we have a language that only the three of us understand. We are extra special.

To learn more about Lupus visit this webpage.


Motherly Love

By Natalie

When I was younger I had the worst migraines. They would come on so suddenly. I’d be sensitive to light, food, and scents which left me feeling nauseous. Though my younger dramatic self was convinced I needed to seek medical attention my mom was always able to patch me back together. She’d lay me down with a few saltine crackers, and turn on a funny movie for me. I’d lay there for hours until I felt better. All the while she would come check on me. She’d refill my ginger ale. Check my temperature. She’d make me feel cared for and safe. There was a time as a teenager that I slid down a gravel driveway, and scraped both of my knees. I was at a friend’s house and managed to laugh it off as blood poured down my legs. When I got home and saw my mother I crumpled in her arms. Full of emotion and pain I burst into tears. I couldn’t hide my pain from her. She sat me down, with a glass of water and bandaged my wounds.

The next day my mom took me to the doctor where they cleaned and bandaged me up. The nurse showed my mother how to wrap my knees properly, and she watched very intently. I squirmed a bit during the process but didn’t make a peep. The next day when it was time for her to clean and re-bandage my knees she made me as comfortable as possible. She propped a pillow and towel under my knees, and began the cleaning process. She did so in a very cautious manner, but goodness did I scream. She looked at me confused. “You didn’t make a sound when the nurse did it.” She said. “But you are my mom.” I thought. I can be vulnerable around you, and you will still love me. I screamed, and cried, and begged her to stop, but she knew best. When it was done, she patted me on the leg and said “Jah” like she always does when she wants me to calm down and realize something is over. The simple translation for it is essentially an abrupt “done!” I’d always feel embarrassed after I’d make such a scene. Yet I’m not sure if I ever thanked her for all she’d done for me when I grew up.

How a single mother was able to raise three sane girls is beyond me. We gave her some struggles I’m sure. Trying to keep up with the oldest, but also needing her support. Keeping the middle and the youngest from pulling hair, yelling, and clawing each other to death. She must have had the most difficult time with us. But she always kept us safe. She always made us feel beautiful. Ultimately, she tried her very best to give us everything she could.


I still marvel at the healing power mothers have. I will never understand it until I am one myself. I watch my sister-in-law Ashley with my two nephews, and how they adore her. Any little bump or scrape she can make better with a kiss, and a squeeze. To all of the young mothers out there I encourage you to fill your little ones with love, and positive words. Your words hold so much weight in your child’s heart. What you think of them is what they will think of themselves. Teach them to stand up when they fall, and learn from their mistakes. Comfort them when they are at their worst. Be patient with them when they are disobedient. You are your child’s comforter, and caretaker. Take pride in your role as their mother. Not every woman is blessed with the chance.

Bingleberry Finn

By Natalie


This little guy. He is my blessing. Proof that good things can come of hard times. Sweet Bingley boy was hand delivered to us from a friend of a friend all the way in Louisiana. We had just gone through the hardest series of events we had ever gone through. We lost our Samson boy.

Though imagining having any other dog was difficult, we couldn’t cope with the new eeriness of our house. Inside the walls of our home there was a vast amount of silence. A dog had been an extension of our home since the first night we stayed in it. Someone to lick your face in the morning, and be overjoyed when you come home. Someone who is dependent on you. You are his world. His everything. We knew we wanted to give a loving home to a new puppy, we just didn’t know where to begin. Then Brandi Garrie, the most generous, and compassionate dog lover came along. She offered us a baby boy from her recent litter if we would have him. She may have seen it as a small sacrifice, but it has meant the world to us.

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Our little Bingley was brought to us in early Dec. when he was just a couple months old. He’s been a beautiful light to me ever since, allowing me to be the dog mom I always wanted to be. I couldn’t thank Brandi enough for her generosity. It was her understanding through our whole situation that really made it all easier. This complete stranger to me didn’t question Samson’s actions. She didn’t question if we could handle another dog. She didn’t question why we got a pit bull in the first place. She had complete compassion for us. How is it that so many close to us were harsh with their words, and incredibly judgmental? Yet she was a stranger, and she understood that what we needed in the moment was for someone to say I’m so sorry for your loss. How can I help?

Brandi, you gave us the most handsome little man. You gave us hope, and happiness again. All in one little bundle of energy named Bingley. Best breeder in the world award goes to you..


Living With the Lugos

By Natalie

If you are a Lugo you have dark hair. If you are a Lugo you know your home cooked meals. If you are a Lugo you tilt your head back after a good meal and say “Uhh”

You’ll have to ask my uncle how that one got started. I have no idea where it came from, I just knew that when I was little and I ate at the Lugo table it was second nature to tilt you head back and say “Uhh” It signifies a satisfied belly, and compliments to the cook.

  • When you lived with the Lugos, you tried your very hardest to tiptoe around after 9pm, and keep the giggles under control for those who have to wake up very early for work.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, you had to either make it to the shower before Emmanuel, or risk having a cold shower.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, you learned to live with boys.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, you had a designated parking spot.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, you’d wait eagerly for the flan in the fridge to be flipped, and ready.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, you’d run out to grab the groceries like it was a family event.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, your eyes grew bright when you saw new dixie cups of Limber De LecheFrozen dessert consisting of Evaporated milk, coconut milk, cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar in the freezer.
  • When you lived with the Lugos during hurricane Isabel, lots of ice cream was eaten, and charades were played.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, pranks were pulled.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, you had to get used to things like embarrassing stories being told over and over again, and monkey masks.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, many cousins ran from room to room.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, you looked forward to Saturday morning pancakes on the table. And maybe, just maybe there would be sorullos too.
  • When you lived with the Lugos, you always felt safe. You always felt loved.
  • When you don’t live with the Lugos, you miss all of these things just a tiny bit.

We lived with the Lugos a number of times growing up. Every time carried a new batch of memories. I’m so grateful that we had, and still have family nearby to depend on. Thank you Lugos, for taking all of us crazy Rodriguez girls in. We would have been lost without you.

DIY: Not Your Average Door Wreath

By Natalie

When we bought our house I was anxious to decorate and organize our new space. It was something I had dreamt about from the second we made an offer. Once we were moved in and had put our furniture where it belonged it was time to tweak the smaller details. The holidays were coming up so I began searching for ideas on how to make my own front door wreath. I found a lot of pretty seasonal ones, but I figured if I’m going to spend the money to make it why not make one that I can keep up year round? Then the hubs might be a little more willing to give his blessing for the project.

I found that I liked the idea of using an empty frame instead of the typical circular wreath. I knew what I wanted to make, and how to do it, all I needed were some supplies and a shopping buddy. Luckily for me time spent with my beloved friend Chloe was well over due, so we set up a time to meet.

One thing you have to know about Chloe is that she is the best/most dangerous shopping buddy. She thinks everything looks good on you, and makes you think you are a million bucks. Every girl needs a friend like her. This is what I turn into when I go shopping with Chloe…

all the things

We decided to go to Hobby Lobby, where I found the perfect wooden frame. Then I grabbed some fabric triangles to turn into bunting for the top of the frame. I thought I was done when I chose mini clothespins to attach the fabric triangles to a string. However since I was with the best shopping buddy in the world, she assured me that adding a few fabric flowers would surely complete the piece. A little hot glue and a staple gun is all I needed to finish this sweet touch to our home.

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Oh and a handsome handy man of the house to hang it straight of course.

Homemade Pesto

By Natalie

photoI came across a recipe in one of my cookbooks for Minestrone Soup a while ago that seemed perfect for the rainy cold day that it was. It’s an easy soup to make, and it’s very satisfying. The recipe called for pesto, and it didn’t seem to big of a task to take on, so I tried it. The recipe is very simple, only calling for a few ingredients that are most likely sitting in your kitchen this very moment, waiting to be used.


  • 2/3c packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4c grated parmesan
  • 1/4c olive oil
  • 1tbsp water
  • 1tsp salt

All you have to do is blend  all of your ingredients together until smooth. I used a Ninja which I would highly recommend. The smaller piece worked perfectly for the pesto. I’m sure a magic bullet or small food processor would work just as well. That’s it! Easier than you imagined right? If you plan on making extra, it stores well in the fridge. The only trick is to put a generous amount of olive oil at the top of your jar to keep it fresh. Try it in soup, with pasta, or on bread. Bon appétit!

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