Bright Spots

Bright spots. Those moments we look forward to in life with the person who will bring us joy, courage, comfort and light. In isolation or separation, those bright spots become rather dim to see; sometimes nonexistent. The one thing that keeps us moving forward during time and distance apart can be a phone call, a private meditation practice, a cup of coffee – something.

When we are apart from loved ones, all we can think about is time. What time is it at home? How much longer until we see each other again? When will this heartache go away?

I experienced this personally last month when I was away from my husband. We’re newlyweds. I was fortunate to have only been apart from him for 30 days, while so many others are apart from their spouses for much longer. That’s tough. Being a service member, I understood what I signed up for. Distance is inevitable; I just didn’t expect it to hurt as much as it did. The amount of negative self talk that I heard myself say was excruciating. Although I was in a class with other students, most of us didn’t socialize outside. I, at least, kept to myself with a book to read or Netflix on my phone.

While I kept in contact with my husband, I missed everything about him. I couldn’t stop thinking about when I’d be in his arms again. Every second apart from him felt like my heart would burst into a million pieces. I counted the days until I would see him again. Yes, we are fortunately in the day and age of smartphones – thank you, live video chat! But technology can only help so much. There were times when it hurt more to see him through my phone than not at all. Nevertheless, I am grateful that loved ones can see and speak to their family when they are states and even countries apart.

That was one of my “bright spots;” a live video chat with him. Just five minutes of seeing his face in real time made my stomach do a flip flop. A text message saying “Good morning” brought a smile to my face. Staying in contact with him through the distance was the best thing that propelled me forward, day by day. There were times, however, when I had to be creative and find personal joy in my solitary state.

One thing I did was set an early alarm to have a cup of coffee and dance before class. Yes…. dance. In my hotel room. Alone. In my pajamas. I put on Pandora and moved my arms, my hips, my legs. I didn’t care at all. It beat the hell out of going outside in the winter cold to go to the gym. On the weekends, I also took a drive through the country to see what was around me. I turned up the radio and explored. Google Maps failed me out there when I tried to find the nearest Bank of America and it took me to a veterinary hospital! That was part of the adventure and it was a fun story to tell my husband.

I took that trip as a learning experience. If I could go back and do it again (God forbid), I would’ve socialized and opened up more to company. I had no idea how critical human interaction was until then. I missed a friend’s wedding while I was there, and I waited in my hotel room by my phone for updates. I was miserable. All I could think to do was be patient and time would end my silent suffering. I thought updates on my phone of a wedding I wasn’t able to attend would bring me joy. It didn’t. I hurt myself more by not going out and sharing a drink or two with a classmate or fellow soldier.

Overall, January 2018 was miserable because I – not knowingly – made it miserable for myself. I am back home in Washington and feeling so much better, though. Not only am I back with my husband, I am back with a little more self-awareness in my back pocket. I know now that I found what can help me through isolation and separation.

It’s people. Good people. Surprisingly, good people are the proverbial few and far between. Good people who just want to share their humanness with one another and feel belonged. At the end of the day, soldier or not, spouse or not, we need someone to rely on or connect with, especially if you’re stuck in the same place together for a period of time. I guess everyone learns this at a younger age, but I’m not the fastest learner. Maybe I had to experience that little trip to make room for another one in the future and come home stronger, less vulnerable. I truly know now that the person to my right or left is sometimes all I’ve got to get through the day.



Welcoming 2018 Together

The idea of beginning again is like stepping onto a new Ferris Wheel.

We go around the same loop we did at another amusement park, except this ride is more grand and brings us to another vantage point we were never at before.

That’s the sense I’m getting as the morning moves on into the New Year’s Eve afternoon. My husband and I are newlyweds, and we get to enjoy welcoming the new year together. He’s playing Overwatch right now on his computer while I’m sitting in our tiny dining room, typing on my laptop. Our apartment is so small, but so befitting for our young marriage and we know we want to move out into something a little bigger when it’s right.

I am still in the army for at least another three years and he’ll be out next May. He’s already starting the job hunting process which is exciting. While we both love the army and are grateful to serve our country, he welcomes the idea of a fresh start to his career.

My new career in Public Affairs has been mediocre and not as busy as I thought it would be. In 2017, I published five articles – one in LA YOGA Magazine and four in the post newspaper. This is a huge step back from the weekly newspaper I worked for in California before enlisting. With my English degree, we’re discussing the option for me to apply for Officer Candidate School and move up in rank. If accepted, the risk of me losing PAO work is high. However, my mother-in-law was a 42A, a Human Resources Specialist, and we think that might be a good alternative for me. No matter where my career goes from here, I am grateful the army brought me to him and allowed me to get paid to write.

The morning after our wedding, we wrote down some short term goals we have that may stretch out into long term ones. However long it takes for us to accomplish them is however long it takes. There is no sprint in getting out of debt unless we miraculously win the lottery… knock on wood. We are in this marathon together. Our mantra is “we will get there,” or “we will make it.” I honor and respect that about us. We will work our butts off, and continue to work when we get there. One thing I admire about his family is that they don’t have to work, but they choose to. They are hardworking Midwest people, and I love them. I grew up seeing my parents work, work, work, and they still made time to love and care for each other and for me and my brothers. Lord knows it wasn’t easy for my parents; neither came from wealth. They made their own fortune which still wasn’t a bunch, but it was more than enough. My parents golfed together, they owned a business together, they raised three kids together, they traveled together – never wavering in love, responsibility or commitment.

I see that being us in thirty years. Still working, still dancing, still worrying, still laughing, still praying, still growing, still loving. I would be lying if I said it will be easy; it’s going to be tough. It’s going to take work. But with that hard work comes reward.

We will ring in this new year and welcome the ride.








Reborn as Amanda Baker

Four days ago, I woke up as a Baker and cuddled my husband and our dog. The wedding was a success – small, intimate and perfect. Matt and I made it to the church in the morning where we had close friends and family join us. We went to brunch at a local saloon and enjoyed our first official dance that night at the studio where we first met.

The following morning, a wave of emotions overcame me as I stood in the shower and I realized that I was no longer a Ridder. I remembered how one of my female friends told me when she got married that she would hyphenate her name and keep her maiden name. But I always thought that was ridiculous. If you’re going to change it anyway, change it completely. It’s less work and it’s less confusing, but that’s just my opinion.

Still, I felt something change within me. I wondered if every woman in the history of name changing by marriage felt this way. Did they feel that sudden tear in identity? A letting go of who they knew or who they thought they knew for 27 years? I took a moment to honor her – Amanda Ridder. She had done so much. She had fought so much. She loved so much. With the black ink of a pen and a few raw vows, she was gone.

I felt her soul linger a moment in the reflection of my foggy mirror of the bathroom. Glancing back at myself, the old self I knew so well – I was with her, and then without her.

I was reborn.


What 2017 Taught Me

I swear I was just on a plane to Joint Base Lewis-McChord, a shy little Specialist Amanda Ridder straight out of airborne school traveling to her first unit, unsure of practically everything you could imagine. I blinked and here I am: Specialist Amanda Ridder about to become Specialist Amanda Baker, a young woman open to a new chapter of her life once again.

2016 was the year I graduated basic, AIT and airborne school. Before joining the army, I was a 25-year-old college graduate living at her parent’s house waiting tables. I took the leap and joined the 1%, and no regrets ever since. And I’m just getting warmed up.

After the whirlwind of 2016, I wasn’t sure how I was going to be ready for 2017! I had conquered my biggest fear yet by volunteering to jump out of five perfectly good airplanes! I set the bar pretty high for myself.

In 2017, I grew to understand that time would open my eyes to even bigger challenges that I never predicted; that Google never told me; that a manual could not teach me. I fell in love and got engaged. I am planning not only one, but two weddings: one here in Washington in 18 days and another in  Missouri on my fiance’s family property next year. This alone goes to show how blessed I am. And yet again, I have set the bar higher.

I can only imagine what 2018 has in store.


The fire cracks and pops in our fireplace at our apartment in Lakewood, Washington. Outside, the sun is hidden behind clouds and the evergreens, leaving a gray cast upon our neighborhood. Trees sigh with relief as their red, yellow and brown leaves fall to the wet sidewalks. 

I am comfortable and cozy in my warm socks, drinking a cup of coffee, thinking back on Friday night when Matt and I danced a solo Foxtrot to Michael Buble’s “Moondance” at the studio where we first met. He surprised me at the end of our dance and dropped down on one knee, presented a gorgeous ring and asked me to marry him!

I said yes!!  

Love has been pouring in from friends and family all across social media. I am feeling grateful to spend Thanksgiving in California with friends and family, and share the wonderful news.

I am moved beyond words by this man. There is so much about him that I am grateful for.

It was difficult to come up with only 10 things, but here are 10 specific things that he does that I’m thankful for…

  1. He dances with me spontaneously, anywhere at any given time.
  2. He brings me a glass of wine after a long day.
  3. Cooks the best steak and potatoes, ever!
  4. Tucks me in and kisses me goodnight when I turn in early like an old woman.
  5. Calls me on his way to and from work just to hear my voice, until he walks in the front door.
  6. Accepts me for all of my silly, “Damn it, Amanda” moments.
  7. Inspires and encourages me to write.
  8. Shares my love of doing absolutely nothing on our days off but cuddle in our PJ’s with our Australian Shepherd, Titan.
  9. Despite our adoration for being lazy, he shares the same ambition as mine to get outside, play around the park, welcome adventures and one day travel outside of the states.
  10.  He embraces life to the fullest and spreads joy to everyone around him.



Thoughts with my younger me

If I could transport back in time and speak to my younger self, my seven-year-old self, I’d tell her how beautiful she is and to never lose that imagination. She loved pretending to be Pocahontas and run on the front lawn barefoot as if dashing through the forest. She played in a kiddie pool with her neighborhood friend. She loved dancing in her backyard to her boom box that played Britney Spears CD’s.

I would travel back to middle school and whisper to thirteen-year-old me that I shouldn’t insist that dad buy those boots that I’d never wear to the school dance.

To my seventeen-year-old self, I would tell her that her boyfriend would not be the man she’d spend the rest of her life with and to thank the heavens for that. I’d tell her that she will spend the next ten years of her life with all of the wrong boys.

“The man you’re going to spend the rest of your life with,” I’d say, “is with the wrong ones, too. Be patient, and continue on. He’ll find you when God knows you’re both ready.”

If I could check in with the woman I was five years ago, I’d tell her to be prepared for her life to take a giant turn.

I’d tell her, “The storm will come in and it will be fierce. But like everything, it will die down and you will find an even greater strength within you. You will be braver than you have ever been.”

Checking in with the woman I am now, I am telling her not to crumple up this page and throw it away. I am telling her to keep writing and believing in herself, because I know my seven-year-old self would tell twenty-six-year-old me to do what I love and get my feet dirty.

Seven-year-old Amanda is my guide as much as I am hers. She reminds me to embrace the imagination within me, dance when I think no one is watching, and stay in touch with old friends. Thirteen-year-old me whispers, “Dad will always have your back.” She tells me that in his eyes, though, I don’t need boots in order to be beautiful. Seventeen-year-old Amanda is on the verge of finding love and tells me to never give up on it when I have found the right one. I reassure her that I have indeed found him.  Twenty-one-year-old me reminds me that every day is a gift. Live it as though tomorrow won’t come.

Time collapses upon itself to reveal an untold story: the one I am living now and the one I will continue to live. I honor what me at seven, at thirteen, at seventeen, at twenty-one went through to get here.

This is where I am meant to be.











Balanced, Swedish, Fall Eating

Lately, my palate craves recipes that would allow me to experiment with seasonal flavors and reconnect with my Swedish roots.

I hunted around online for a dish that would suit the fall season and would be linked to my culture. Articles everywhere featured all kinds of autumn-inspired ingredients with rosemary, chili powder, carrots, apples, pumpkin, cinnamon and more. When I typed in “Swedish fall dishes,” I was excited to find something simple.

The recipe appeared on my scroll, introducing me to the history of Hasselback potatoes, a dish that dates back to the 17th century at a tavern in Stockholm that is now a high-end restaurant in a hotel.

Side note: this is one place I would love to visit someday! If not the restaurant, then definitely Stockholm.

I couldn’t help but to feel warm and fuzzy inside, remembering the story my mother told me about my great grandmother, Christine, which is my middle name. As the story goes, Christine traveled from Sweden to the United States through Ellis Island in New York City and then to Chicago where she married my great grandfather who also traveled from Sweden. My family and I know their travels to be true, because we visited Ellis Island when I was younger and found documents of their arrival.

My family history has inspired me to try out the Hasselback potatoes, but because I like to maintain a somewhat healthy eating regiment, I put my own spin on them with the ingredients below.

According to the recipe, Hasselbacks are traditionally baked with butter and breadcrumbs, but I decided to replace the butter with extra virgin olive oil and left out the breadcrumbs altogether. The recipe also called for using an oven to bake the potatoes, but because our oven is currently under repair, I used the stove to saute them and it worked just as well.

Give it a shot and let me know what you think!

Connecting with my family history has been one part of my journey towards optimum living and wellness. There is nothing more satisfying than sharing a piece of my family history with others, and what better place to do that than at the dinner table?

Leave a comment:

Do you have any traditional family dishes you enjoy making? What fall flavors do you incorporate into your cooking? What healthier options do you turn to in the kitchen when your culture is notorious for its sweets, carbs and wine?!    


Amanda’s Autumn Swedish Chili Potatoes

Servings: 4

Preparation: 5 minutes

Cooking: 55 minutes

Total: 60 minutes


-1 tsp chili powder

-4 potatoes

-1 tsp salt

-1 tsp pepper

-1 tsp rosemary

-2 crushed garlic cloves

-extra virgin olive oil (or coconut oil)

-4 carrots

-bacon bits (eyeball amount)

-(option to add meat of your choice; sliced pineapple and bacon flavored sausage links work really well)

Rinse and peel potatoes and carrots; slice into thin, round discs. Place potatoes and carrots into a bowl. Heat and coat oil in a large skillet. Top and mix all other ingredients with potatoes and carrots. Place potatoes and carrots (and any added meat) into skillet, mix all ingredients with oil, and let simmer for 45 minutes. Continue stirring to avoid the potatoes from burning and sticking to the pan. Potatoes and carrots should be slightly mushy, but firm.

Serve and smaklig spis!