From UNC to World Travel, Hurricanes, Surfing CA, Saving the World— to Marriage

Chapel Hill, NC-

My family and I attended a very special wedding ceremony this past April at the whimsical and enchanting Chapel Hill Carriage House on Jones Ferry Road in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. We were ecstatic to support my cousin, Matthew Duarte, (son of my mom’s sister Fran Austin Duarte) as he celebrated his marriage to his lovely bride, Ellie Bolas.

You see back in Fall 2018 the two planned to wed, but Hurricane Florence had other plans for North Carolina (and their special day). The day the two spent a year planning from their California home— dreaming of beautiful memories to be made with dearest friends and family back home in North Carolina— would have to be postponed.

True to the couple’s fifteen year partnership, commitment and independent spirit, the two fled Raleigh out of the hurricane’s path to the North Carolina mountains and eloped— as not to let Florence ruin the special union between these two strong, love-filled souls.

However, they promised their families to return from their home in California in Spring 2019 to celebrate and renew their vows among their loved ones. They held true to their promise and on Saturday, April 13th, 2019, their special day finally arrived like a dream come true.

This is a very happy Ellie being escorted by her brother Jack.

This is Matt escorting his sweet mom and my aunt Fran down the grassy aisle.

Cutest little flower girl!

Joyful couple!

It was a…

lovely day,

lovely day,

lovely day,

LOVELY DAY!

The ceremony was conducted by a dear friend of the couple who knows them in and out. There was meditation, reflection, laughter, memories, poignant handwritten vows— and passionate kisses.

Not to mention, the most gorgeous setting!

PSA- Anyone looking for a wedding or party venue should seriously consider Chapel Hill Carriage House for a multitude of reasons:

https://www.facebook.com/Chapel-Hill-Carriage-House-Farm-Gardens-231260380267235/

1) They have baby goats 🐐!

2) You get to feed the resident Alpacas 🦙😃!

3) Children absolutely LOVE this place: games, grounds to play and run, and lots of charm and whimsy!

So fun!

But let me place my focus back on the special bride and groom.

YES, I am biased because they are family. BUT, their journey is an incredible one and I’d like to brag on them just a bit.

The two began dating fifteen years ago while attending undergraduate studies at UNC-Chapel Hill— Matt, a student of Psychology and Ellie, always the over-achiever, a double major in Environmental Studies and Religious Studies. A UNC couple with dreams of the world ahead of them.

Upon graduation, Matt earned a travel scholarship which allowed him the opportunity to travel to Japan 🇯🇵 for a solitary pilgrimage across the country to visit and study Buddhist Temples and Japanese culture.

Ellie studied abroad as well and spent time in Tibet. After graduation she would go on to travel to Turkey and Japan to teach English as a second language.

Following their international journeys the two settled back in the United States and found themselves at home on the West Coast in California where they have blossomed and embraced the state’s natural beauty to include surfing those awesome California waves.

Matt has worked for Student Conservation Association, where he led young adult teams doing service work such as trail building and habitat restoration in wilderness settings. In addition, through REI’s Outdoor School, he has taught outdoor adventure classes.

Currently he teaches First Aid for backcountry enthusiasts with NOLS Wilderness Medicine. He is also a certified yoga instructor and is working toward a Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.

And if his plate isn’t already full, he carves time out to volunteer at a local prison in California where he is part of a horticultural inmate rehabilitation gardening program.

Ellie, a Graduate Group in Ecology, Master of Science Candidate, at University of California, Davis, is researching two rare carnivores, island spotted skunks and island foxes, that live on the California Channel Islands.

Prior to graduate school she performed research on wildlife living in and around Los Angeles (such as mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes) with the National Park Service, a project she is returning to for her PhD.

Ellie has also worked as an outdoor science educator and currently works with initiatives to increase diversity in science.

https://vanvurenlab.weebly.com/

These two people are amazing.

Amazing!

When asked what the secret is to their incredible journey and relationship, Ellie answered, “I don’t know any secrets to a long lasting relationship, for us, it’s just that we really like being around each other and we like to make each other laugh. Also, we both love being outside, which is part of why we love living in California- there are so many great opportunities to adventure outside and we love it all, from surfing on the coast to hiking in the mountains to wandering in the desert.”

How fortunate the world 🌍 is to have two mindful, intelligent, fun-loving, and holistic souls to share their passion for betterment of the planet and humanity as well as a sincere commitment to each other.

I’m proud to call them family.

Here’s to many more years of happiness, adventure, and travel!

Cheers to y’all, Matt and Ellie!

– Alison Paul Klakowicz

Author of Mommy’s Big, Red Monster Truck

https://www.amazon.com/Mommys-Big-Red-Monster-Truck/dp/1525530178

http://www.alisonpaulklakowicz.com

Host and Creator of Hodge Podge Blog and Podcast

Alison Paul Klakowicz is an Eastern North Carolina native, children’s book author, blogger, podcaster and creative writer. She is a military spouse who resides in Fayetteville, NC with her husband, Adam, and son, Mak.

Prayers for Grand Bahama Island

On Easter weekend 2018, my husband and I took a much needed vacation to Grand Bahama Island where we stayed in a lovely resort in the port town of Freeport.

The island was recovering from years of abuse from the tropics as well as the island’s damage from Hurricane Irma which wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and left much of the businesses and amenities inoperable months before.

Despite this our spirits were not dampened one bit as the natural beauty of the island was captivating, and the people so lovely and kind.

Lucayan National Park stole our hearts with its white, pristine sandy beaches and aquamarine tide. The natural underground caves were like visions straight out of fairytales. Captivating and breathtaking to say the least…

On Easter Sunday 2018, we attended an Easter service at the resort officiated by a local church whose congregation were so kind and welcoming to us. Their faith and joy was infectious.

After the service we felt compelled to introduce ourselves and we were received with open arms like one of their own.

The pastor told me he would be traveling to Charlotte, North Carolina (two hours from our home) the following month for a mission trip to spread their message of Christian faith and perform outreach in the community. We hugged and instantly established a true and meaningful bond.

My husband and I had found ourselves smack dab in the middle of Paradise with the nicest of God’s people and pondered not returning home… just playing on those lovely shores forever.

It was a nice dream for the moment. But alas, our responsibilities and life back home beckoned.

When weather reports started to roll in a week ago of the development of a Category 5 Hurricane named Dorian which had set its sights on the Abacos, my heart sank.

As a native of Eastern North Carolina who grew up on the Coast, I am no foreigner to hurricanes and tropical weather. Storms have always been a part of my life.

When I was a freshman newspaper reporter—20 years ago — during my first month on the job in September 1999 my native home community in Beaufort County, NC fell victim to the devastating floods from Hurricane Floyd. I spent the next year covering flood victims’ stories and the multitude of relief efforts in my home state.

In my then 23 years of life, I had never been more aware of the travesties hurricanes leave behind than at that time. It was a time of self-growth for me and the realization that nothing in life is permanent. Each day a gift and without community to help one another in time of need, humanity will drown.

It seems storms have occurred more and more over the years and are now annual cringeworthy, commonplace events along the Atlantic.

It was no wonder after spending so much of my life beach-combing and adventuring through the marsh, surviving one storm after another only to witness the beauty of humanity and communities in the aftermath, I would feel at home in the Bahamas.

Grand Bahamians are strong people. I pray now in the days after such devastation has ripped their lives apart they will continue to witness to the world their strength and faith. I know I was blessed to meet them and visit their home.

I am praying for you all and those gorgeous sugary shores to return to glory.

But, I know you will need more than just prayer to rebuild your community and heal.

If you would like to donate to the Bahamian people, please do so here at the Grand Bahama Disaster Relief Fund:

https://www.gbdisasterrelief.org/donations/

– Alison Paul Klakowicz

Host and Creator of Hodge Podge Blog and Podcast

Author of Mommy’s Big, Red Monster Truck

https://www.amazon.com/Mommys-Big-Red-Monster-Truck/dp/1525530178

http://www.alisonpaulklakowicz.com

Alison Paul Klakowicz is an Eastern North Carolina native, children’s book author, blogger, podcaster and creative writer. She is a military spouse who resides in Fayetteville, NC with her husband, Adam, and son, Mak.

The Last Week of Summer

Here we are in the last week of summer. The last summer my son will be a seven-year-old as he approaches birthday number eight in September and will be starting school next week.

I am experiencing highs and lows. I would be lying if I said I was not eager to regain my daily freedom and that I do not enjoy structure and routine the school year brings to our home. Early bedtimes, early rising, and knowing my child is in good hands and learning all the things to prepare him for life.

But I see and hear him voicing insecurity and thoughts of the unknown.

Will his teacher be a good match for his wildly curious, easily bored, silly, and vocal personality?

Will he make new friends?

All the “what if’s” and “what nots” we have all experienced as children and in adulthood.

We are preparing to attend the back-to-school bash tomorrow night where he will find out who his second grade teacher will be and meet new classmates— and reconnect with the old friends and teachers from school. An exciting time of nervous butterflies that will couple with realizing it’s not all that scary…. I am reminding myself.

He’s growing up.

He’s got this.

He’s a good kid.

He’s a smart boy.

He’s friendly and outgoing.

He’s imaginative.

He’s funny.

He’s my awesome boy.

So if you are like me and worry over your children and want to watch them succeed and have a place in the world, set your mind at ease.

You’ve got this.

But while other parents are preparing their kids already with routines and early lights out, we will be enjoying the last moments of summer.

Holding onto the fun and whimsy.

Leaving a sparkling trail of memories behind us.

– Alison Paul Klakowicz

Author of Mommy’s Big, Red Monster Truck

https://www.amazon.com/Mommys-Big-Red-Monster-Truck/dp/1525530178

http://www.alisonpaulklakowicz.com

Alison Paul Klakowicz is an Eastern North Carolina native, children’s book author, blogger, podcaster and creative writer. She is a military spouse who resides in Fayetteville, NC with her husband, Adam, and son, Mak.

Carolina BBQ… Beach Road Pit Stop Heaven

Kenansville, North Carolina-

When traveling through historic Kenansville, North Carolina byway of NC Hwy 24 just off I-40 East make sure to make Carolina BBQ your lunch or dinner destination!

Wonderful Eastern North Carolina style BBQ and Seafood Buffet

My husband and I were recently traveling through on our way to the Crystal Coast of NC, when our tummies started rumbling and we made it our mission to seek out a good ole Eastern NC barbecue spot to quench our soul food Sunday craving.

Well, I can tell you we were thrilled to happen upon this awesome restaurant.

It has all the makings of your grandparents’ Sunday dinner table— pork barbecue, fried chicken, fried shrimp and flounder, chicken and pastries, collards, lima beans, Brunswick stew, sweet tea, banana pudding, hush puppies— you get the drift.

If you are in need of comfort food, this is your spot.

Not to mention, the staff go out of their way to make you feel welcome and satisfied with your visit.

Ample seating in the spacious dining room

This kind fellow, Jimmy (pictured below), went out of his way to greet two unfamiliar faces and make them feel a part of the Carolina BBQ community.

He instantly connected with us and took time to learn of the new folks wandering in on a late Sunday afternoon.

He was congenial, kind and quite the conversationalist— told us stories of days long ago when he served in the US Marine Corps, his retirement from the state of North Carolina as a probation officer and his pride of his wife and daughter who are both doctors.

Southern hospitality at its finest.

Thanks, Jimmy. You made our visit even more of a delight.

If you find yourself near Kenansville, go ahead and set your GPS to direct you straight to the door of Carolina BBQ and Seafood.

Good news… there is a second location of Carolina BBQ in Wilmington, NC too!

You will be living high on the hog if you give this barbecue joint a try.

-Alison Paul Klakowicz, BA, MS

Author of Mommy’s Big, Red Monster Truck

http://www.alisonpaulklakowicz.com

Podcast: anchor.fm/jalisonpaulyahoocom

Instagram @alisonklak

Twitter @KlakowiczAlison

Alison Paul Klakowicz is an Eastern North Carolina native, children’s book author, blogger, podcaster and creative writer. She is a military spouse who resides in Fayetteville, NC with her husband, Adam, and son, Mak.

Joann Yost: Gold Star Wife, Breast Cancer Survivor, Mother, Business Woman, Guiding Light

Joann “JoJo” Yost, Perruque Boutique Founder and Owner

Take a LISTEN to our inspiring, and motivational conversation on Hodge Podge Podcast here: https://anchor.fm/jalisonpaulyahoocom/episodes/Joann-JoJo-Yost-Survivor–Warrior–Inspiration-e4d7ol

Fayetteville, North Carolina

Perruque Boutique Owner and Founder, Joann “JoJo” Yost, came up with the vision of her business while sitting in a chemo chair while fighting her own battle with stage two breast cancer in 2015.

https://www.wigsfayettevillenc.com/

Photographs of JoJo’s breast cancer treatment journey

Her mission: to make Fayetteville, North Carolina and its surrounding areas feel beautiful one WIG at a time.

JoJo assisting a customer choosing a wig due to hair loss from chemotherapy

Various high quality wigs, headscarves and accessories available for sale at Perruque

Private wig fitting rooms available allow customers privacy

Not only is JoJo a breast cancer survivor, but she is also a Gold Star Spouse. 🌟

https://www.goldstarwives.org/.

Her late husband, US Army Special Forces MSG Anthony Yost, was killed in action during a deployment in Iraq in 2005. He was the love of her life and father to their son, AJ, who was a toddler when his father passed away.

United States Army Special Forces MSG Anthony Yost

Anthony and JoJo

https://www.greenberetfoundation.org/memorial/anthony-r-c-yost/ https://www.fallenheroesproject.org/united-states/anthony-ray-charles-yost/

I had the pleasure to sit down with this extraordinary woman and chat about her struggles and triumphs after surviving her husband‘s death in combat, her transition to single-parenting, then beating breast cancer which inspired her to open her own business in order to create a safe harbor for others fighting for their lives— to provide them hope and help them feel beautiful on their journey.

Take a LISTEN to our inspiring, and motivational conversation on Hodge Podge Podcast here: https://anchor.fm/jalisonpaulyahoocom/episodes/Joann-JoJo-Yost-Survivor–Warrior–Inspiration-e4d7ol

-Alison Paul Klakowicz, BA, MS

Author of Mommy’s Big, Red Monster Truck

http://www.alisonpaulklakowicz.com

Podcast: anchor.fm/jalisonpaulyahoocom

Instagram @alisonklak

Twitter @KlakowiczAlison

Alison Paul Klakowicz is an Eastern North Carolina native, children’s book author, blogger, podcaster and creative writer. She is a military spouse who resides in Fayetteville, NC with her husband, Adam, and son, Mak.

Do unto others and reap the rewards.

Over the past several months since publishing my first children’s book, I have had to ask others for help and support.

I’ve had to reach out and ask people to trust in me and my little book— and allow me to visit their elementary schools, libraries, bookstores, as well as other venues.

Not to mention I’ve annoyed friends and family with my constant posts on social media while asking them to share the news of my book.

Placing yourself on front street can be so scary. It’s much easier to hide behind the scenes, but I knew if I wanted to get my book in the hands of children I was going to have to work hard and get out there. Out of my comfort zone.

Sure, there have been some minor disappointments and rejections along the way. However, more than not, people have been EXTREMELY supportive of me; and given me (and my book) a chance.

To my delight and surprise, I have been shown so, so, so much kindness.

It truly amazes me.

Thanks to everyone who has shown me kindness and helped me to believe in myself.

Thank you.

I’m a firm believer that if you show someone an unexpected act of kindness it will pay off tenfold. I have certainly been the recipient of this as of late and feel it’s affects rubbing off on me. Not only from dearest friends and family, but also from complete strangers.

I love how the entrepreneurial world embraces one another. I’ve found myself being so affected by this empathy that when I meet new people whether here in my home state or across the country or world, I cheer for them and their pursuits toward their dreams. Because they are doing the same for me. And it feels good to my soul.

The world is the most connected it has ever been— thank you, Bill Gates. Through my interactions with other creatives and dreamers online, I am thrilled to connect with folks who hold a similar zest and zeal for chasing after dreams. And, it’s all the more sweeter when people— who do not even know you— can recognize the time, energy and struggle of your pursuits; and, applaud your efforts and encourage you.

How cool is that?

So, if you are out there thinking about your next steps in life, I want to cheer you on.

KUDOS!

I want to encourage you.

You can do it!

I want to give you some good, sound advice:

Keep a level head.

Don’t worry about the “what if’s” and “”what nots.”

Just put one foot in front of the other and keep your eyes on the prize.

You don’t have to be the best. But you do have to at least try.

TRY.

And if you fail, pick your ego up off the floor and try again.

Humility equals empowerment.

To know oneself and where you want to go in life is powerful.

Accept your faults. Strive to be a better person— be a loving, humble, kind, helpful person.

Be a determined and passionate human being.

You got this. I promise.

I am proud of you.

You ARE worthy.

Go for it!

Dream those big and little dreams. Put a plan into action.

The world is holding you up and cheering for your successes.

-Alison Paul Klakowicz, BA, MS

Author of Mommy’s Big, Red Monster Truck

http://www.alisonpaulklakowicz.com

https://www.amazon.com/Mommys-Big-Red-Monster-Truck/dp/1525530178

Instagram @alisonklak

Twitter @KlakowiczAlison

anchor.fm/jalisonpaulyahoocom

Alison Paul Klakowicz is a North Carolina native, children’s book author, blogger, podcaster and creative writer. She is a military spouse who resides in Fayetteville, NC with her husband, Adam, and son, Mak.

Serendipity, Inspiration, Fellowship, AND Stephen King, Found at the Automotive Shop

I’ve been putting off going to the mechanic to have my rear passenger side tire looked at— the one I’ve been putting air in for the past month due to a slow leak. Undoubtedly, victim to a stray nail left behind in my garage or along the roadway somewhere.

My usual mechanic here in Fayetteville, North Carolina has been swamped this week. No luck on a quick fix there. So, I chose to wander further down Yadkin Road to a shop I’ve never visited before. Made an appointment to take it back in the next morning following my son’s usual school drop off time.

Honestly, the next day I woke with a stuffy head (from the new sea of Spring pollen flowing over North Carolina) dreading taking the car in because I had a thousand other things on my mind I wanted to accomplish. I put air in the tire {again} the day before and would have been fine a few more days. But, I sucked it up not wanting to find myself stranded along the highway due to my own procrastination and went on my not so merry way— I had not had my morning’s coffee quota.

When I walked through the door into the small, neatly kept waiting area, I was greeted again by the friendly woman I’d made an appointment with at the counter of the Meineke Car Center the day before. We exchanged the usual information and conversation you do at the car shop and she had the mechanic pull the car in to take a look. There were a few early birds who beat me there so it would be a hot minute before they could diagnose my tire problem which left the woman and I alone to chat to pass the time.

It is always a relief when you actually ENJOY talking with a person in a place out of your area of comfort. Someone whom you share things in common and they have a genuine desire to connect with you. Not some forced, awkward conversation. Fortunately, my experience was the latter.

Come to find out, Sherry Cochran, is the co-owner of the Meineke franchise alongside her husband and son (both mechanics for the business) and she does an impeccable job of running the office while providing excellent customer service. I watched as she answered calls and dealt with difficult customers with the ease of a saint. All this while carrying on real, meaningful conversation with me.

We found things in common such as she is the grandparent of an only child and only grandchild which is identical to my family. We philosophized the joys and hardships of parenting and grand parenting. She’d visited places dear to me along the Carolina Coast that we could agree were special. I even found out I had been following her daughter-in-law, a talented area photographer, on social media for some time now. Such a small world we live in at times.

The subject of books came up and I nonchalantly told her of my own children’s book I authored, Mommy’s Big, Red Monster Truck (www.alisonpaulklakowicz.com). I just happened to have a signed copy with me in my carryall I’d brought along and gave it to her to share with her five-year-old granddaughter whom she mentioned enjoyed reading books. She was kind and thanked me and studiously read the pages while speaking with customers on the phone and whispered over to me that she thought it was a very good book.

Throughout our conversation a mechanic (the one checking out my tire along with working on additional cars) would interrupt us to ask Sherry a question or provide an update on the status of a vehicle. The man was quirky and talkative, a playful and spirited jokester who acclaimed to be “nosy” and inquisitive.

I was wearing a tee-shirt with the lettering “Boston Strong” printed on the front. He inquired what I knew of Boston. I replied that I knew very little other than general knowledge and the shirt had been a souvenir brought to me by my husband following a work trip.

He then replied he had lifetime tickets to see the Boston Redsox. I asked how he came by this good fortune and this is where our paths were brought to quite a jolt. Before I knew it he sat down and began to tell me his bittersweet tale of Boston and how he received the favor of major league baseball tickets for life.

The serviceman whose name is Ken King lost his sixteen-year- old son, Jonah, years ago in a tragic skateboarding accident that resulted in a fatal traumatic brain injury because the youth was not wearing a helmet. Ken shushed me as I reacted in shock; wanting to tell him how sorry I was. His desire to not tread on his son’s death was as if to say, “I know, I know you are sorry. I’ve heard it a million times before. It’s okay. It can’t change time.”

He carried on to tell me his son was an organ donor and his lungs were donated to a young man up North which saved the life of the young boy whose father just happens to be the estate caretaker for none other than the most famous modern writer of horror fiction novels, Stephen King.

He said Mr. King heard of the transplant and donation of lungs that saved the boy’s life and wanted to do something special for Ken in his time of despair following his son’s death. So, THE Stephen King— a loyal and devoted Boston Redsox fan— gifted Ken with lifetime seats at Fenway Park.

How strange life is. The loss and lessons life teach us all. How we are all human and have undergone our own horror stories. And how odd that of all people, Stephen King would be there to provide this man with some thanks and comfort during what must have been a living nightmare.

But, I could see this situation had provided Ken with some faith in humanity and a reason to continue on living. To right a wrong and provide safety education and equipment to area youth, he established a non-profit organization called JKK Helmet Foundation:

http://www.jkkhelmetfoundation.com/

And there I was sitting in the automotive shop— the one I’d dreaded hours before completely enraptured in these knew relationships, inspirations and fellowship unfolding before me.

What Ken did not know was that my husband and son are HUGE skateboarding fanatics and frequent all of the local skateboarding parks… and drive me crazy from time to time for not always wearing helmets. The other thing Ken did not know about me is that for years, I worked directly with individuals who suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries through the counseling field. A subject that had a major impact on me and I had been an advocate for these individuals and their lives post-injury.

He enthusiastically provided me with information about JKK Helmet Foundation and encouraged me to spread the word. So, I told him I would make sure to write about his story and efforts on my blog site.

I am always amazed by the path of life and where God places me. I was glad he placed me at Meineke Car Center.

So, if you’d like excellent service on your vehicle and some inspiration, you should visit The Cochran’s family owned business and ask for Ken if you’d like to know more about his story and organization.

I know I will go back for sure!

Alison Paul Klakowicz, BA, MS

Author of Mommy’s Big, Red Monster Truck

http://www.alisonpaulklakowicz.com

Hodge Podge Podcast/Blog: anchor.fm/jalisonpaulyahoocom

Instagram: @alisonklak

Twitter: @KlakowiczAlison

Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Artisan, Milspouse and Proud North Carolinian

Alison Paul Klakowicz is a North Carolina native, children’s book author, blogger, podcaster and creative writer. She is a military spouse who resides in Fayetteville, NC with her husband, Adam, and son, Mak.