Pensacola Mom Collective Guide to Pumpkin Patches

Nothing says Fall quite like a pumpkin and with the countdown on for Halloween, now is to time grab one.  If you have not made it to your closest pumpkin patch yet, we have rounded up a list of locations in our area.

Do you have one to add to our list? Let us know in the comments!


St. Luke United Methodist Church (1394 E. Nine Mile Rd.)

  • Monday – Saturday 10am-7pm
  • Sunday 11am-7pm

Cokesbury United Methodist Church (5725 N. 9th Ave)

  • Daily, 10am-6:45pm

First Baptist Church of Beulah (5805 Beulah Church Rd)

  • Daily until 3:00pm

Gulf Breeze

St. Paul United Methodist Church (4901 Gulf Breeze Pkwy)

  • Monday-Friday, 12:30pm-6pm
  • Saturday, 10am-6pm, Sunday, 12pm-6pm


Allen Memorial UMM (1275 N. Hwy 29)

  • Monday – Saturday, 9am-7pm
  • Sunday, 12pm-7pm


Holland Farms (2055 Homer Holland Rd)

  • Monday – Saturday, 8am-6pm
  • Sunday, 9am-6pm

Sweet Season Farms (2260 Horn Rd)

  • Saturday, 9am-5pm
  • Sunday, 11am-5pm

*Please check ahead for any time changes or weather closures.

Foodie Friday: Taco Tuesday!

It’s Taco Tuesday!

Hi Friends! Remember my post about Bean Stew? Well, here is the best way to use your leftovers. It’s all about TACO’S!

What I love most about Taco Tuesday is that it is a healthy meal where you can either go all out, if you have the time, or keep it simple. My kids love to build their own tacos too. It’s messy but fun!

Refried beans (made from already stewed beans):

You can use them as they are but to make the flavors stand out I recommend that you:

  • Sauté 1 small onion and 3 garlic cloves until translucent.
  • Pour in the beans.
  • With a fork smash the beans, and with a wooden spoon stir constantly. 
  • Once your beans get a thick texture, they are ready to be served.


Buy a roasted chicken at your local grocery store and shred the meat. You can also use leftover grilled protein and/or vegetables. 

How to repurpose your grilled protein :

Slice or cut your protein in cubes.

2 large onions sliced

1 bell pepper sliced

2 garlic cloves

2 tbsp of soy sauce

Drizzle of EVOO

  • Sauté the onions, followed by the pepper and garlic, on high heat.
  • Once they are translucent add 1 tbsp of soy sauce.
  • Keep tossing on high heat until caramelized.
  • Toss in your protein and add the rest of the soy sauce.
  • Let all ingredients char together quickly but be sure not to over cook the protein. 
  • It should only take you about 10 minutes.

If you want to go all out with your protein:

2-3 red bell peppers sliced

2 -3 large onions sliced

12 boneless skinless chicken thighs

1 envelope of Sazon (or 1tsp paprika, 1tsp chili powder, 1tsp cummin)

4 garlic cloves sliced

Adobo to taste or 1 tsp. powdered chicken stock (optional)

2 shot glasses of beer or more

  • Season your chicken.
  • Sear it on a hot pan with oil and remove to a separate plate.
  • In the same hot pan toss in your vegetables and leave the garlic for last (prevents burning it)
  • Once they start caramelizing add your chicken and the rest of the ingredients. 
  • When the chicken is fully cooked it is ready to serve. 

How to serve:

Plate one: Use your largest serving plate for your protein.

Plate two: Shredded cheese. I like the Mexican cheese that’s located by the sour cream in your local grocery store. It is easy to crumble with your hands.

Plate three: Homemade or store bought salsa. I usually make my own and freeze it in small containers. Recipe coming soon!

Plate four: Sour cream mixed with hot sauce, salt, cummin,  and 1 grated garlic clove.

Plate five: Flour or corn tortillas. Store bought is the way to go! If you choose soft ones, put them in the microwave for 20 seconds and wrap with a moist paper towel; keep warm with aluminum foil. 



Guest Contributor:  Kairym Yvonne Lisch Peña

Kairym was born and raised in Puerto Rico to Venezuelan and Austrian parents and is fluent in Spanish, English, and German. Kairym studied Public Relations in Boston and Salzburg, Austria, as well as French at La Sorbonne in Paris. In 2005 she began a career in mobile marketing where she traveled 100% of the time and visited over 40 states until she met her husband while in Puerto Rico in 2009. A few months later, wedding bells rang and the newlyweds set sail to New York City where Emmanuel did his residency, followed by three years of active duty service as a Primary Care Physician at Wright Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio. They moved to Pensacola in 2015. Kairym and Emmanuel are the proud parents of Juliana (9) and Marco (6) who they are raising bilingual.

Kairym loves to travel abroad, go to the beach, dance, paddleboard, brunch, cook, and entertain. But, what she loves most is dedicating her time and energy to her husband and kids. She is the CEO of her family and no matter how crazy mom life gets, she always finds time to whip up nice dinners from scratch. Since the pandemic began in March, she has cooked more than 270 decadent meals and taken up food photography. You can follow her culinary adventures @frommykitchentotheworld on Facebook or on Instagram at Chateaucruzlischpensacola. Kairym’s mantra is: “Cooking is easier than you think!”


Trapped Behind ADHD

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) impacts a person’s ability to focus, control emotions, and control impulsive behavior.

Check, check, and check. My son, almost eight years old, was given this diagnosis when he was six years old.

Many factors led us to the decision to seek medical help for my son. Between the ages of two and four years old, our family experienced many common and uncommon characteristics of ADHD.

My son frequently had “crazy time,” in which he would just run around, screaming for no reason other than he clearly needed to release energy. When he was learning to talk, he frequently stuttered, unable to speak as fast as the words were forming in his mind. Not to mention, the endless tantrums filled with defiance and aggression. On a daily basis, I had to assure other people, “I did not raise my son that way,” in reference to his impulsive, often defiant, and rude behavior.

I watched on as he struggled in VPK, a teacher even stating, “he makes me want to quit my job” because his behavior had reached an overwhelmingly critical point.

Trust me, we did everything by the book. If there was a book on how to manage your child’s behavior effectively, we read it. We were consistent with consequences, routine with our schedule, posted behavioral charts on the fridge, watched his diet, lathered him down with oils – you name it, we tried it! But as the years stumbled along, I had to come to grips with the fact that there was more to my son’s behavior.

As school began, I observed as he struggled to sit still, frequently missed directions, was often not doing what the teacher asked, constantly made noises (and I do mean constant), and rarely completed even a simple task, let alone his work. But, deep down, I knew my son was in there. I knew he was smart, that it wasn’t because he didn’t know how to do it, but that he wouldn’t do it. My son was locked away behind his ADHD.

Because let’s be honest, when your child has ADHD, that is all people notice.

They notice your child being “uncontrollable”, “hyper”, “annoying”, “emotional”. My heart broke for my son, knowing from personal experience with ADHD of my own, how difficult it was going to be for him growing up with symptoms of ADHD. The struggles he would have in school and with friends, ultimately laying out a path for the rest of his life.

So, after months – well years – of guessing that my son had ADHD, at six years old, we made the arduous decision to move forward with medical help. Weeks of tears were shed over the prospect of giving my son medication. Then my prayers for answers came in the form of a colleague, who is now a close friend.

“You’ll never know unless you try. It’s important to understand all your options and have all the necessary information, in order to make an informed decision on something as serious as giving your child medication.”

Therein lays the second leg of our journey.

Instantly, I noticed the calm that settled in on our family. Without realizing it, my son’s ADHD symptoms were affecting the entire family. My boys, who frequently struggled to play together, suddenly spent hours together on an activity building a brotherly bond I so desperately wanted between them. My husband, who frequently found himself the disciplinarian, was now able to enjoy spending time playing with our sons. Myself, who was frustrated with feelings of inadequacy as a parent, realized that my son could be the child I was raising him to be.

The revelation that ADHD had trapped away this compassionate, smart, well-mannered, and creative child of mine was paralyzing. While I finally had what I felt to truly be my son, I also had to deal with the fact that he was taking a simulate drug, presumably long-term, that could have harmful side effects and long-term developmental consequences.

What did I do?

I have to admit that I question my choice every day. We’ve even gone through periods, for various reasons, of not giving the medication to my son. Within days though, my son transforms into another person, one that is impulsive, unkind, and frankly an emotional wreck. So again, no matter how much he begs to not take the medication (“it tastes bad”), I look into his tearful eyes and force him to take it. As much as I want to believe he has a choice, the heartbreaking truth is that he does not.

As parents, we hold the choice in our hands. The choice to give our child medication or not, just as we do in what goes into their lunchbox or the house that they live in. I’ll never be sure that I made the right choice for my child. All I know is that right now, my son has friends, enjoys going to school to learn, and last year was placed into the gifted program at school. When I look into my son’s eyes, I see what I know to be my altruistic, creative, tender-hearted, loving child who was trapped by his ADHD.

Tell Anxiety to Shove It

If you and I have met, you may not know the superpower I hold as one of my most extraordinary talents. It helps me achieve my goals, conquer my fears, and smile day-to-day. I genuinely believe that cultivating this skill has allowed me to begin living a more fulfilling life.

What is this skill you may ask?

I can tell my anxiety to “shove it.”

In 2018, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It became worse while I was pregnant, including pre/postpartum depression as well. It is something that I am dealing with daily, and most of the time, you would have no idea it’s happening. Whether it is deciding to go to a meeting, talk to a new person, or even post a picture of my daughter on social media. Everything is over-analyzed and consumed with worry. There isn’t a moment of the day when there isn’t a battle going on inside of my head.

However, I choose to let my anxiety enrich my life and not diminish it.

As women, we often let these labels in mental health define what we can do and how much effort we put into something. I could not take chances because of the worry I know I may feel, and yet it is because of it that I do. I am aware that in a room full of women in various stages of life, so many of them are grappling with their own struggles and fears. We don’t want perfection, we just want acceptance from others, and it can make us want to shrink back and wait for someone to embrace us.

How do we become the women we want to be through our anxiety and depression?

We have to embrace the part of us that isn’t ideal.

As a mother, dealing with anxiety and depression makes for a tough time. I question if I’m doing the right thing, cry in the moments where I felt inadequate, and sometimes fully shut down when it’s all too much. It’s not pretty, and having my daughter only highlighted more of those shortcomings. However, over time I have found that I am okay in showing those vulnerabilities to the people around me.

I want my daughter to know that her mom deals with anxiety, and I tell women whenever they ask. Why? My mental health is the battle that I continuously work to overcome. My day-to-day tasks and accomplishments do not come easily, and because of that, they mean even more to me. I make the choice to do what that voice inside tells me I can’t. I tell it to shut up and take a back seat, and then love on others who may struggle with the same.

If you are like me, and you are dealing with your own mental health struggles, then here is your virtual (social distancing) hug.

You are not alone.

You are stronger for it.

Your anxiety or depression gives you an understanding and empathy for others who are dealing with the same struggles. You are capable of so much and are able to accomplish all you set out to do. If that means tacking on the battle in your head that you’re facing, then you are so much stronger for it.

Pensacola Mom Collective Halloween Tags

Check out these FUN Pensacola Mom Collective Halloween Tags created for you by MalWest Design

Make sure to download below and share with your friends

Rain or Shine, It’s College Planning Time

As moms, we do a ton of planning as our children grow through the stages. We search for the best childcare, neighborhood, and school district. As our kids enjoy their high school years, the planning does not stop. One of the biggest and most expensive decisions made is where they will go to college.

I don’t believe attending a college or university is a good fit for every child. As a society, we send the wrong message that a college degree is required in order to be successful and earn a lot of money. I know many people without a college degree who are financially stable and successful. There are so many great choices for “life after high school” – career training, military service, vocational trade, and community college. If the university route is right for your child, some serious planning needs to take place to ensure the “right fit.”

Financial Planning

The cost of attending a college or university is expensive. It is probably the second most expensive purchase for a family after buying a home. By working with a financial professional, your family can develop a plan for children at any age, keeping in mind your retirement savings, life insurance needs, or disability insurance protection. An easy way to include your children in their savings habits is to save monetary gifts from birthdays and holidays into a College Savings Account, 529 plans, Prepaid College plans, or Education Savings Accounts.

Searching for the “Right Fit”

I have had the pleasure of working with families who took extreme measures to ensure their child(ren) found the best college home. I have also worked with high school students who woke up in June and decided they wanted to go to college. Offering assistance, tips, and advice for those who want to plan for this exciting “next step” is my jam!

Start Early

Parents should have conversations as early as a student’s 9th-grade year about “life after high school.” By doing this, you begin the dialogue for what they may want to do. Families can start even earlier by attending camps, sporting events, and theater shows on a university campus. These experiences can expand their knowledge.

Encourage Family Search Time 

Sit on a comfy sofa with the laptop and start viewing your own college Alma Mater’s website. Ask your son or daughter what colleges they want to know more about. This is a great family activity! Allow them to have some time to do this on their own as well.

Prep for the Tests 

As a sophomore, they may be eligible to take a pre-college entrance test such as the P-SAT  or PreACT. This is a great way to begin to understand the testing process for college admission.

NOTE:  This is a hot topic among universities. As you move through the college search process, you may discover “test-optional” universities.

Sign up for Mailing Lists

Universities go to great lengths to communicate with your child and your family. There are people on a college campus that specialize in doing just this. Sign up on their website to receive more information. Once you do, please encourage your “pre-college” student to answer their phone, reply to text messages, and return phone calls. We know students do not like talking on the phone, but if a university administrator calls or texts you, it is for a reason. Maybe we are calling to offer you a scholarship!

TIP:  Develop a college search specific email used only for the search process. This email can be used on inquiry forms and used for communicating with colleges only.  You might want to work with them to develop an appropriate one. Selecting “hottygirl” or “sexybro” may not give the best impression!


THE most important part of the search process. Would you buy a house or car without seeing it first? The campus visit will either keep or drop a university from the list. Many universities have virtual campus visits due to COVID-19. This is an efficient way to “see” several universities without traveling. This is also a good way to get more information about universities you know little about, which expands your college search. Make sure you visit in person your top three choices in your junior or summer before your senior year. A follow-up visit before making a final decision can be made in the fall of your senior year. Get your questions ready!

TIP:  Universities have ramped up their virtual events! This is a bonus in the college search process. Google meets, Webex, and Zoom events are free and easy to attend. I recommend searching on a university website for “admissions events“.

Establish a Tracking System or Checklist

Whether it is a file folder for each college or an electronic system, develop a system to keep your family organized. Also, if you get to the application process with a university, you will want to document all of the items you have sent and track what is needed. Documenting who you spoke with and recording a summary of the conversation is also helpful. Try to develop a relationship with one admission counselor/recruiter for the entire search process. That person can also be valuable if you decide to attend that university.

Etiquette is Important

Finally, help your student learn how to represent themselves in writing and on the phone. Learning how to respectfully advocate for themselves and how to problem solve are valuable skills.

These tips will get you started on your college search journey. Searching for a college home is important to do as a family. I recently helped guide a wonderful young woman, two outstanding parents, and two grandparents who provided encouragement and support. Without a doubt, this family found the best-fit university for their student. By starting the search process early and following the tips listed above, a great decision was made!

The Dickerson family worked together, and Laurel found the best-fit university!




Six Sneaky Green Food Solutions: Picky Toddler Approved

Meal time used to be a walk in the park in our house. I mean, my child even enjoyed broccoli.

Then he turned two. For the past sixth months, he has not even picked up a vegetable in its pure form. Talk about being humbled.

I tried changing up my cooking methods: steaming, roasting, seasoning, even adding some cheese. No dice. Eventually I realized, changing the flavor was a moot point if he wasn’t even going to taste it.

So I turned to subterfuge.

Right now, “sneaky greens” are the only way I can ensure he is getting those nutrients. And that is ok. There are plenty of experts and Judge Judys out there who shake their heads against this, but at least I know he is getting the nutrition his growing body needs this way.

I still offer him vegetables in their pure form daily, but at least this way I know he is getting to vitamins until he decides to pick a green bean up off his plate again. It works for us, and that’s what matters.

Below are some of the tried and true methods that I have been using lately.

Green Applesauce

Peel and chop four medium sweeter apples, such as gala.
Steam and soften the apple chunks and a large handful of spinach. Blend together with 1/2 tsp. cinnamon.
A. Use a baby food maker that steams and blends all in one.
B. Combine apple chunks, cinnamon, and 3/4 cup water in a saucepan until apples are softened. Put baby spinach in a colander, and pour the hot mixture over the spinach. This will wilt the spinach. Blend until smooth.
C. Once cooled, store in reusable pouches.

I’m a fan of  the Go Go Squeeze pouch just like everyone else out there too. They have veggie blend options. I just know that once I make a big batch of these, I can freeze them and have them handy when I know my kid needs good dose of iron and vitamin A.

Green Muffins

This one I adopted from blogger, Seersucker and Saddles. They have been a hit not only with my toughest tiny critic, but also with my husband.
Use Kodiak Cakes Pancake and Waffle Mix. We typically go with the Whole Wheat, Oat, and Honey option. Make the mix as instructed on the box, but add a handful of spinach and a really ripe banana.
Add a couple of dark chocolate chips on top.
Bake as instructed.

Spinach Scramble

This one was a hit until yesterday, when for the first time ever he picked out the greens and proclaimed “I don’t like pin-ich.” I promise he loved this for at least the past year. Simple as pie- just scramble eggs with cut up baby spinach and a little shredded cheese.

Turkey Burgers with Grated Zucchini

This is a recipe from Skinnytaste that is beloved by both the adults and occasionally the toddler in this house. One day he likes them. The next he feeds it to our dog. At least one of my children is getting fed this way.

Spinach Pizza

Scenario A- You are doing a homemade pizza night, building the pizza from the dough up. Chop some spinach up into the sauce, layering the cheese on top in order to make the greens less visible to discerning eyes.

Scenario B- It is a Thursday night and your energy well is running dry. Add some chopped up baby spinach on top of a frozen pizza and sprinkle another thin layer of cheese on top.

Either way, my son is all about this.

Smoothie Popsicles

I am not sure why, but my son won’t drink smoothies. If your child does, then that in itself is a great way to blend in some greens. Instead, I make the smoothie and add it to a popsicle mold and freeze them. Dessert is served.

Easy Smoothie For Popsicles:
1 cup frozen mixed berries
1 ripe banana
1 big handful of baby spinach
1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt
Water – add as you go to reach desired consistency

What are your “sneaky food” solutions??

Using a “Safe Phrase” to Protect Your Child

I couldn’t sleep once again. I turned over to look to see what time it was. The clock said it was 2 am, it was going to be a long night. I had been tossing and turning for hours. I didn’t see any sleep in my future, so I grabbed my phone.

I turned it on, adjusted the brightness, and went on Pinterest to look at home décor and recipes. Pinterest wasn’t keeping my attention, so I switched to Facebook. After a few minutes of scrolling, I saw a friend had posted a news story about her hometown.

The headline read something to the extent of “Grandfather arrested for molesting his granddaughter’s friend.”

I stopped in my tracks. My heart started pounding. I immediately prayed for the little girl. I opened the article to find out how this could happen.

It was simple. The two girls spent the night at her grandparent’s house. They were all watching a movie, and the granddaughter fell asleep, and then the grandfather proceeded to molest this girl.

Names were hidden to protect the innocent. The grandfather told her not to worry. This has happened before, and they wouldn’t get caught. The news article also said that once the girl reported this horrible grandfather to the authorities, two things happened: She was questioned why she didn’t tell anyone sooner, and other people came forward saying he had molested them too.

I read the article all the while I had tears flowing down my face. I felt my heart start to ache in my chest. I prayed for all the kids out in the world that needs someone to help them.

I went down the internet rabbit hole and learned that more kids than you think get sexually abused every day, and most of the time, it’s happening by someone they know.

Did you read that? Please read it again.

Most children sexually abused are abused by someone they know.

It continues to happen day after day because the child abuser threatens them. At that point, the victim is too scared to speak up, and when they don’t speak up, it allows bad things to keep happening.

We have to give our children a voice that allows them to be comfortable enough to blow the whistle.

  • They are scared
  • They are ashamed and feel guilty
  • They don’t know how to start the conversation

A Safe Phrase

A way we can give our children the voice to come forward is by using a safe phrase.

What is a safe phrase?

A safe phrase is a phrase only you, and your child knows. It’s a phrase that can be used anytime they do not feel safe but do not want to alert anyone else. A simple text of the safe phrase from your child to you would let you know something is going on or has happened, and they need to let you know about it. It also allows them a way for you to make contact without the abuser knowing what’s going on.

An example of a safe phrase and how you would use it: “I saw a cloud shaped like a turtle today.”

If they are abused or still with the abuser and the abuser oversees their conversation with their parents, the child could work the safe phrase into the conversation so the abuser wouldn’t think anything about it.

Older children that are able to attend parties or go on dates could use the same phrase to help them out of an uncomfortable situation without having to be bullied by the fact they want to leave.

If your child is not currently in a situation of abuse but wants to talk about something that happened before, a safe phrase would allow them to open up to discuss what may make them feel uncomfortable.

As mentioned earlier, the girl in the article abused by her best friend’s grandfather said she couldn’t text anyone for help because he was watching. However, she did text her parents that she was okay and having fun at her friend’s house. If she could have talked about her day and worked in the safe phrase, her parents would have known right away, and her abuser would have been none the wiser. The grandfather was arrested, and he had been abusing children for nearly 40 years. No one ever felt safe to come forward.

Let’s give our children a voice. 

A safe voice to help protect them. 

A safe phrase to help protect them sooner.

Parents and guardians: please remember when someone is abused, a lot of times, the abuser makes the child think it is their fault that bad things happened to them. Please remember love and patience and allow your child to talk to you about these things.

Choosing to Remember

The house phone rang. I hesitated to answer it. 

A voice on the other line introduced herself as my grandmother’s friend I had met a time or two. 

“I hope I’m not bothering you.” 

So began a conversation that joined us in pain and healing. 

 The call came a few weeks after the stillbirth of our longed for, prayed for daughter.

Our Story

Diagnosed with her Turner’s Syndrome and severe heart defect at our 20-week prenatal ultrasound, we proceeded with the pregnancy with the knowledge that the next flutter or kick might be the last felt; the heartburn would stop, the vague nausea and fatigue of pregnancy would cease, and we would go in for a tragic delivery. But one more week turned to two, and two more turned to a month, and hope emerged over the possibility that we might actually meet our baby despite having to say goodbye to her in a hospice birth setting. 

We formulated two birth plans, one for each possibility, quiet strategies for how my husband and I might emerge from an unthinkable experience with a shred of ourselves intact. 

Six weeks later, realizing she had died, arrangements were made for the delivery of our daughter we named Isabel. 

Not strangers to loss, our desire to start a family was meeting hurdles, and Isabel was herself an answer to a prayer following an earlier miscarriage

We departed Sacred Heart Hospital feeling loved and supported by the staff, buoyed by our families, and lifted up by our friend and priest who had baptized our tiny girl in the quiet hours of the night as we held her. 

And knowing our God loved us, we loved one another, and we held on.

Friends and family with good intentions gave us space, but I floundered in the expanse of aloneness during the days and the heavy silence of the nights.  

Until that call. 

Her Story

She told me of her seemingly healthy pregnancy, but her early labor; she spoke of her husband, alone in the hospital waiting room when she went back for delivery, “how it was done in the 1950s.” She told me about the gas they gave her to relax, the deep sleep, and the vivid dreams of her baby boy. 

But she awoke. There had been complications. He had passed, and they had taken him away. 

She never saw her son. 

Never held him through the night like we did our tiny girl. Never bathed him like my husband bathed our daughter. No chance to christen him, or wrap him in a hand sewn blanket she made as I had done. 

It was a different time, she said. They had named him and buried him and mourned him, and they had gone on to have other children. 

But she had missed much on that long ago night in the heavy ether fog; gaps in the story plagued her even still. 

“Can I ask you some questions?” 

She asked me about things we had otherwise been private about, details that she craved. So I shared. Understanding and relief filled her voice as pieces of my story slipped into place for hers, a 50-year-old puzzle a little closer to complete. 

Her “thank you” was gentle punctuation on our final sentences.

Fifteen years later, my own family is complete, and this lady, living to a lovely age, has since joined her infant son in eternity. 

But I remember. 

Choosing to Remember

While life has in fact “gone on” for me too, I choose to remember the details of the night.  I replay its events in my mind with near perfect recall of sounds and sequences, not because I’m trying to torture myself, but because I learned that remembering is a privilege. 

I can remember the night that broke my heart, but not my soul; the night that clouded my future, but did not occlude my hope.

The world today is more open to vulnerability made public and shared, recognizing that knowledge and remembrance contain healing powers. 

Generations before mine didn’t share— much less post publicly— their stories of loss or pain, and surely there were plenty. But I’m not sure that was because they were stronger. In many cases, like this elderly friend, it was because they weren’t even given the chance to live their own story in that “different time.” 

That phone call–the harbinger of other phone calls and conversations with other mothers–has repeated itself in various forms over the last fifteen years. Women–known to me or through my friends who needed someone to listen to their story– called, speaking details that felt safe in the comfort of shared experience. Others called needing to know what to expect as their own tragedy loomed. 

Out of that first call an unintentional and informal ministry grew, and I realized how absolutely critical it was for the unspeakable to be said. 

Fifteen Years

For me the details are still in place with near-perfect recall. Fifteen years now sounds like such a long time, and sometimes it feels silly to look back from my perfect picture into the times of painful loss, but my remembering is not seeded in wallowing

The privilege of having my memories of that night provides me the joy of recognizing myself in “the after”– the woman who picked up the shred that remained of her that night, the wife who held onto the arm of her beloved, and the mother who was made even without a child to bring home.

Sometimes I see little Isabel in the haze of a beautiful dream, in the place between heavy sleep and real waking life. In my dream, I hold her, still small and pink faced, still wrapped in my hand sewn blanket. 

I choose to remember because I can. 


Finding Your Way Home With Rachael Johnson


If there is one skill that military families are famous for honing, it’s moving. My family, for example, averages less than two years in a given location before having to pick up and find a new nest. Anyone having that much practice with moving has learned some valuable lessons along the way. Chief among them: if you’re buying a new house, a good Realtor like Rachael Johnson of Levin Rinke Realty is worth her weight in gold.

Born and raised in Pensacola, Rachael has a literal lifetime of experience with our stretch of the Emerald Coast. She has loved real estate for as long as she can remember, and has been investing in Pensacola properties since 2004. Rachael was kind enough to sit down and talk with me about her top five tips for prospective buyers planning a move to or within the Pensacola area.

1. Get pre-qualified with a lender.

According to Rachael, Pensacola is a very competitive market for buyers. We’re not seeing any slow-down in buyers, so properties are in high demand. Getting pre-qualified for financing is a great way to make sure that you are a competitive buyer, especially in a multi-offer situation. In fact, Rachael says that some sellers are requesting to see proof of funds or loan pre-approval before even agreeing to show their properties. This assures the seller that the buyer is serious and qualified to purchase the home. Having this information in hand is also a smart move for buyers to make sure they’re less at risk of a contract falling through due to a lack or loss of financing.

Rachael suggests starting by figuring out what type of loan program you’re planning on using. Military families using VA loans, for example, sometimes have the option of putting down as little as 0% at closing whereas conventional loans typically require a down payment of roughly 20% of the purchase price. Once you know which kind of financing you’re looking for, talk to your Realtor about potential lenders. This can save you a lot of time and research by narrowing down your search to lenders who are most likely to fit your particular needs. Rachael prefers to work with local lenders who really understand the dynamics of Pensacola-area real estate, so having her expert advice in that area can be a huge benefit.

2. Ascertain your priorities to help narrow down your search.

So many variables factor into each home buyer’s housing decisions! For parents, this might include anything from school district choices to proximity to playgrounds, daycare, or even the beach. Your Realtor will want to know what type of home and features you’re looking for: a condo with a gym? The pool you’ve always dreamed of? How about a neighborhood that allows a backyard chicken coop? Leave nothing out!

It will also be helpful to discuss with your Realtor just how much effort you may be willing to put into renovations. Do you want something turnkey or does a fixer-upper get your creative juices flowing? With Hurricane Sally still fresh in our minds, you may want to talk to your Realtor about how much risk you’re willing to accept by looking at factors like flood zones and home features like hurricane shutters. The more you can hone in on your personal preferences and their relative weight, the easier it will be for your Realtor to find you your perfect fit.

3. Go see houses that meet your criteria.

Once you’ve hashed out what you’re looking for, it’s time to check out some properties! In our current Covid climate, Rachael stresses that there is more than one way to see a house. She offers traditional walk-throughs with her clients but is also more than willing to do virtual showings. This is a great option for house hunting while social distancing and can also be a lifesaver for those buyers trying to purchase a house from afar. As someone who once had a Realtor and a friend walk me through a house in Rhode Island via video chat while I nursed a baby in a hotel in Ukraine, I can truly appreciate that level of service and flexibility!

Rachael says it’s important to keep an open mind when looking at prospective homes. Some properties may surprise you! But equally as important is to continue to refine your priorities as you go through this part of the process and to clue your Realtor in so she can accurately filter her search. What may have seemed like a deal breaker at the outset might begin to feel less important as you see more properties. It’s always possible, too, that looking at more homes makes you aware of something you hadn’t factored in before. Let your Realtor know!

4. Be ready to put in an offer.

Rachael says that in this market, buyers should be prepared to act quickly once they find a property they want to pursue. This is where the negotiations and contracting come in, so having an expert in your corner to guide you through these decisions is essential. Are there repairs you should think about negotiating? How will you handle inspections? Should you ask for a home warranty? These are all questions to work through with the advice of a great Realtor.

Realtors like Rachael really understand the ins and outs of contracting and negotiating and can help put together a compelling offer, which will both entice the sellers and protect the buyers with good parameters to support them in the home buying process. Rachael also has a good handle on current timelines for things like repairs and inspections, so she can make sure you allow for adequate time in your contract to ensure that things go smoothly.

5. Sign a contract, and let your Realtor handle the rest!

Thanks to HGTV, many people think that a Realtor’s primary purpose is to be a sort of personal tour guide. While they are certainly there to walk you through that portion of the process, Rachael says its after you sign the contract that the Realtor really gets to work. This is when she will navigate the process for you to make sure you are bringing in the right, trusted people and covering all of your bases to get you to HOME plate. Rachael wants her buyers to feel included in the process but not burdened by it. That’s her job: to hustle through all of the behind-the-scenes work get you to closing and hand you your shiny new keys.

If you’re planning a move to the Pensacola area, WELCOME! And if you’re planning a move within the area, CONGRATULATIONS! In either case, Rachael is here to help you find your way home.

We have partnered with Rachael Johnson of Levin Rinke Realty to bring relevant and important information to Pensacola Mom Collective readers through this sponsored post.



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