Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Stories After the Storm: A Lesson in Love

This past weekend I had the privilege of being part of a group of women from Austin, Texas that journeyed to Moore, OK to bring "Stories After the Storm". My friend, Meghan Davies woke up one morning with a burning desire to help the victims of the EF5 tornado that demolished a large portion of Moore, OK on May 21, 2013. She wasn't sure what she was being called to do, but the idea to bring stories, and a chance to escape the harsh reality around the victims might be needed. From there, she created the mission: Stories After the Storm. For nearly two weeks, Meghan, this group of ladies, and a large part of our community worked hard to collect nearly 6,000 books! Yes, 6,000!! Meghan's original goal was merely 100 books....but God had much bigger plans in mind!

Our trip began on Friday, May 31. We left town around noon (not including the much needed Starbucks stop) that day, anticipating getting to the Norman, OK area around 7:00pm to meet with our host families. There was a chance for severe weather, but on any given day in the Spring, there is almost always a chance for severe weather in Oklahoma. I grew up in the Edmond area, so I remember these warnings well! Growing up, my hero wasn't Superman or Miss America, it was Mike Morgan, the weatherman. :-) I still love him. I can't tell you how excited I was to see him on TV when we got there! Weird, I know. I love me some feisty weather. However, my adrenaline rush was about to get a rude awakening. As we crossed the Texas/Oklahoma border and made our way into Ardmore in our caravan of two minivans and a UHaul, we started to get calls from family members that it might not be a good idea to drive into Oklahoma City that evening. With storms brewing and tensions rising, we were all pretty scared and decided to stop. Half of our group ended up in a casino in Pauls Valley, some had family to stay with in Ardmore, and myself and another lady checked into a Best Western in Ardmore that smelled like an ashtray and dog pee. Regardless, we were all safe and sound and out of this storm. We watched from news from the security of our hotel room and saw another large tornado, this time an EF3 hit Oklahoma City and El Reno, and kill several people. As of this morning, I heard the death toll from this particular tornado was 19. The previous tornado that devestated Moore killed 24.

The next morning we were supposed to be at a storytime to read to children at 9:00am. We woke up unsure if it would still be on from the events the previous night. However, it was! Our group drove up from Ardmore, and we were so touched to find the children that ventured from their homes that morning to attend our storytime. It wasn't a huge crowd, but we were able to laugh and share with these children and their parents. We also formed a bond with the workers at the library! This was just the beginning of the wonderful people we would meet along the way, that none of us are soon to forget. From there, we decided to finally check in with our host families and get prepared for our next event, which was supposed to be a movie in the park in which we would hand out books. Keep in mind, God had much bigger plans for this trip than we did. We checked in with our host families, which I have to mention. Each of us felt so welcomed by these people that really didn't know any of us. One person in our group, Brittanie Fox grew up with one of the couple granddaughter's, and that was the connection. Four of us stayed with another family that went to church with the other. I could have been staying at my grandmother's house...we all felt so welcomed. I've never opened my home to strangers, but the warmth and willingness to share their homes with us without hesitation, was so awe-inspiring. The generosity of these people was truly amazing. Okay, back to the story....while getting ourselves ready for the movie in the park, we learned it would be cancelled. There was no power, and all generators were being used for, well...more important things. So, our moods declined as one more thing on this trip didn't go as originally planned. We were able to contact the lady that we were donating the books to, for an earlier drop off that day. At that point, I think most of us were pretty upset that aside from the story time that morning, our mission wasn't turning out quite as we had expected. Again, God had much bigger plans that were soon to be revealed.

We went to drop off the books at the Eastlake Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and met their wonderful pastor, Pastor Leslie Johnson. He showed us the unbelievable amount of donations they had collected for the people in their community, and they were just looking to get the word out that they had things for people in need. Their entire church was literally full, with food, clothing, donations, and most definitely love. Since we didn't have plans after that, we asked Pastor Leslie what we could do to help. He instructed us to load up our vehicles with water, and drive through the destruction offering people water and telling them that donations were available to them. So, not really knowing what we were going to find, we set off! He gave us a map of where to go to find the most damaged areas. As we began to drive through, we saw houses with minimal damage, then homes that were missing roofs, then eventually we drove into complete destruction. When I say complete destruction, I feel it is almost an understatement. Where homes once stood, there was merely rubble. The destruction was so wide. It was literally as far as the eye could see for what seemed like miles. The tornado was 1.5miles wide, and went on for 17 miles. While 24 were killed in this monster storm, I am truly still amazed that more people survived after the devastation we witnessed. As we drove through in complete shock, we came across one family going through the remains of their homes looking for pictures, or any other memories that they could salvage. We got out to offer this family water, and ended up sharing the fresh fruits and veggies we had in the car with them. (Most people have been living off crackers and unperishable foods since the storm hit, so I think these were welcomed). Besides the sustenance, we were all shocked at what this family provided for US. One of the men, who told us to call him Numero Tres, started to tell us about his testimony. He was a preacher's son, and said this event was just one more example of a long line of Divine protection in his life. This particularly hit home for me, because my far from perfect self has absolutely no right to be alive after some of the stunts I've pulled in my day. We sat there surrounding him for nearly 30 minutes as we listened to him share his testimony of the night of the monster storm, about how the small bathtub they found shelter in at the back of the house was the only thing left standing in the entire home, and about how they walked away without a scratch. He spoke of the Holy Spirit, and even though I know God is always with me, I have never been so unbelievable sure of His presence as I was in that moment. Here we were, all in tears, in the midst of nothing but rubble, yet completely and totally surrounded by love. Our friend Numero Tres reminded us with his unbelievably positive spirit, that we have all been blessed greatly. He was thankful that he was alive for another day to spread the love of God....which he no doubt did with the nine of us in what was left of his driveway. Our group was not a group from a church, and not all of us are even church-goers, but I do think all of us were changed by that conversation. We came to serve the people of Oklahoma, but they served us! Our hearts were filled with the strong spirit of the people we met. The following morning, we went to the Red Cross to volunteer and met even more people that were impacted by this storm. I feel like my words will fall short of the impact of this trip, because there are certain things you simply cannot describe unless you've seen or experienced it.

The infamous "Numero Tres"

I can't thank Meghan Davies enough for organizing this. I can't thank the group of ladies that I got to experience this with enough. I can't thank Austin, TX enough for your generosity. I can't thank Hal and Grandma Helen and the Romero's enough for opening your homes to us and loving us. I can't thank Numero Tres enough for sharing the love of God with us. I can't thank Pastor Leslie enough for praying with us. I can't thank GOD enough for the things I learned, for the Divine protection that He has always had over me, for teaching me things in a way that He only knows a way for me to learn, for loving me without end, for my new friends, for always providing a light in the dark, for showing me the goodness of His people, for EVERYTHING.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Red Chile Chicken Tacos

 It's so true that necessity is the mother of invention. I had planned to make tacos for dinner tonight, but I was really not interested in the regular boxed taco kit. I decided to play around with some enchilada sauce, cilantro and other fun flavors...and this is what I came up with!


Meat Mixture:

1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 lb ground chicken breast
1 can red enchilada sauce
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 packet of low sodium taco seasoning
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped


Cheddar Cheese
Black Bean, Corn and Tomato Salsa
Black Olives
Anything you like!

I really can't get over how simple this recipe is!  Start by sauteing your onions in the olive oil. Then add the chicken, and make sure to brown it until it's cooked all the way through. Once chicken is done, add the can of enchilada sauce. Any brand will do!

Then add the taco seasoning and just a little bit of water...maybe 1/2 cup to 1 cup. Turn the heat down and let it simmer. You'll get a really rich, deep red sauce. I let it cook down about 45 minutes. You certainly don't have to, but you get a really nice flavor if you let it cook down a bit.

Chop up your beautiful cilantro right before you serve it, and stir it in.

So simple...yet so good.

Serve it any way you like it! As you can see here, my husband put it on a taco and on top of some rice. 

Good stuff, my friends. Good stuff.

Monday, April 01, 2013

A Great Lesson for Kids on Honesty and Grace

Love this! I was on Pinterest the other day and found this article on the Over the Moon blog about a lesson for your kids about lying.  

Here's a link to the original article...  http://www.overthebigmoon.com/an-object-lesson-for-kids-on-honesty/

An Object Lesson for kids on Honesty

honesty An Object Lesson for kids on Honesty
The other day I was thinking about how I could help my kids understand honesty better. While they understand what it means to be honest I think as kids their little minds think that lying can actually change the truth. I came up with this idea for a Family Home Evening lesson to help illustrate how a lie doesn’t cover up the truth.
For the lesson you need:
Vanilla ice cream
chocolate syrup
3 bowls
a big bowl of water
DSC 0681 An Object Lesson for kids on Honesty
To prepare in the morning I put a little water in one of my bowls and then I added a bunch of salt. I let it dry and also used a blow dryer on it to help the salt harden in the bottom. I added another layer when the first dried and did the same thing to make sure it was thick and hard.
DSC 0682 An Object Lesson for kids on Honesty
That evening I took my tray out at lesson time and the boys were so excited to see ice cream and chocolate syrup for our lesson! I dished a scoop of ice cream in a bowl and handed them each a spoon and asked them who liked ice cream.  They were so excited! I said that sometimes we make bad choices. What about putting salt on ice cream, would that be a good choice? They said no and I took about a teaspoon of salt and sprinkled it all over the top of the ice cream. I made a big deal out of it saying oops!
Then I said sometimes we are embarrassed about the choices we make so we try to cover them up with a lie. At this point I took the Hershey syrup and covered all the salt with the ice cream. I then asked them questions like, can you see the salt anymore? How does it smell now? How do you think it would taste? I took their  spoons and gave them each a spoonful of the ice cream and syrup. I made sure to take shallow bites so there would be lots of salt. I asked who wanted to try it and shockingly they all did. I really think they thought you wouldn’t be able to taste the salt. Be prepared to laugh at some funny faces!
I said that’s how lying is. We try to cover up what we did that was bad but it doesn’t really go away. The only way to get rid of the salt is to start over and go back and make our mistake right.
I took the second bowl and added a little salt to it. I told them that when we tell a lie we can go back and make it right. I had them take a paper towel and had them easily wipe the wet salt out of the bowl. Then I took the bowl with salt dried in it and said sometimes we have told a lie a long time ago and everyone has forgotten but we don’t. Sometimes the lies build up because we have to tell more lies to cover the first one we told. I talked about how the longer you let it go the harder it gets to tell the truth. I let them try to swipe the dried salt away with a paper towel but it wouldn’t come off.
I took the big bowl of water and talked about how we need the Savior to help us make it right through repentance. Then I took the bowl with the hard salt in it and put it in the big bowl of water and swished it a few times and the salt dissolved. We talked about taking the sacrament each Sunday and how that reminds us of our baptism and how each week we can be washed clean.
The boys were mesmerized during the whole lesson – no fighting or whining! Yea! After we were done we dished up ice cream with syrup and had that for our treat. They have referred back to it a few times so I know it made a difference for them. Yay! I love when a lesson actually gets through!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Spicy Buffalo Black Bean Tostadas

It's true that necessity is the mother of invention. I found myself in need of lunch this afternoon. I also found myself with a nearly empty refrigerator, and a napping child....therefore a trip to the store just wasn't going to happen. (We all know it would have a been a trip to Chipotle, anyway.) So, a big thank you to my favorite kid for forcing me to look outside the box and come up with what turned out to be a very yummy, healthy lunch.

So what did I have on hand? Well, corn tortillas, black beans and red hot sauce. From that base, I expanded a little. Here's the recipe:

Spicy Buffalo Black Bean Tostadas

-2 corn tortillas
-cooking spray (about 1-2 seconds on each tortilla)
-sea salt
-1/2 avocado, mashed
-1/2 cup black beans
-1/2 cup romaine lettuce
-4-5 chopped cherry tomatoes

First I sprayed two corn tortillas with the cooking spray, and popped into a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes. They crisped up perfectly! I just found a recipe like this for tortilla chips on Pinterest, which is what made me try it like this. It really turned out great! 

Once you've got your tortillas all crispy, spread your avocado evenly over both. Top with black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and hot wing sauce. 

This was extremely simple and VERY filling!! I mean seriously, just look at all this food! (No, I did not eat an entire container of hummus. I had exactly 2 Tbsp left in the container). 

Nutritional Info: Calories: 370 Fat: 14 grams Carbs: 48 grams Protein: 13grams
(Information from myfitnesspal.com

Monday, January 07, 2013

Spicy Tuna Pita

I made up the YUMMIEST tuna sandwich I think I've ever made for lunch today. It really started with the idea of doing an open-faced tuna sandwich. I skipped the mayo entirely, so I could have my yummy pita bread. :) I added lots of flavor with the delicious hot cherry peppers found in the deli section. If you haven't tried these yet...go buy them right now. I add them to almost everything, and they add so much flavor! Not to mention, at 5 calories a serving you'll hardly notice it in your calorie intake.

This recipe is so easy! I can't stress just how easy it was to put together! It was also very filling. You can thank the pita bread and hummus for that. :) 

Spicy Tuna Pita

-1/2 can (about 2.5 oz) of albacore tuna in water
-1 tbsp mustard of your choice
-1 Tbsp hot cherry peppers
-2 Tbsp roasted red pepper hummus
-1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese
-3-4 kalamata olives, diced
-1/2 cup sliced cherry tomatoes
-1 soft pita (white or wheat)
-more hot cherry peppers for topping (optional)

In a bowl, I mixed the tuna, mustard and hot cherry peppers. Trust me, you won't miss the mayo! Spread the tuna mixture on top of a pita. Crumble goat cheese over tuna, and broil for about 5 minutes or until the cheese starts to melt. It won't take long, so keep an eye on it. 

Top with diced olives, tomatoes, hummus and cherry peppers. Delicious!!

Calories: 471, Fat: 17grams, Carbs: 43 grams, Protein: 31 grams

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Pinspiration! Living Room Mantel Redesign

I'm an avid Pinterest fan...okay, that's an understatement. This is how I really feel about Pinterest.

....or endless hours of college football.

I digress.  Since taking down all of the Christmas decorations, I've just felt like my living room mantel looked....well, naked. Perhaps I feel that way because I'd gotten used to the grandiose of Christmas decorations sprayed all over the room, but it just felt like something was lacking. Unfortunately, I 'm terrible about taking before pictures...but picture an empty mantel with a black mirror on it. That was it! You're not missing much.

I came upon this little ditty on Pinterest, and I thought...now THERE is something I can recreate! Here is the original pin from camilleroskelly.com.

I had everything. I changed a few things here and there...but here is my finished product! What do you think?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Halloween Freebies!!!

By Marisa Pullan

So Halloween is right around the corner!! It's a really exciting and fun time for most people. Are you planning a party or maybe an extra artsy craftsy project? Maybe you're just looking for coloring pages for your kids. I've been compiling a list of Halloween freebies to help you out with your Halloween d├ęcor! Enjoy!!

How would you like a ton of free children's Halloween songs and poetry? It's a great way to have some ghoulish fun around the house! You could even have these playing out of your window on the night of Halloween! There isn't anything scary about them; they're all kid-friendly!

This site is probably one of the best out there for free Halloween ideas. There are over 600 pages worth of stuff for children, teachers, parents, you name it! Everything from coloring pages to puzzles can keep you all enjoying every minute of Halloween fun!

I love online games just like this one! You can carve a pumpkin without the mess! I'll bet your kids would thoroughly enjoy it and it's so easy, even a 4 year old can do it!

If you have a party coming up and you need to do some planning, this is a great site to check out! There are so many free Halloween recipes! Imagine your party looking every bit the zombie pantry!

This isn't technically a freebie, but it's a great deal from Disney! You can get 25% off all Halloween costumes and 40% off of accessories! If you order by October 21st, you'll be guaranteed to get the costume of your choice in time for Halloween!

Here is more fun stuff from Disney! They have so many great Halloween downloadables over on their main site! Everything from coloring pages to treat boxes and so much more! It has enough stuff to keep your kid busy for a good long while!

How about a free recipe book? If you need even more food ideas, you can get this free download from Mr. Food! It is a pretty nifty book with lots of great recipes!

Discovery Kids is one of my personal favorite brands because of all the great kids' stuff they have. They have a great downloadable Halloween activities booklet. There are arts and crafts along with really interesting ideas and information. It is really cool!

If you have any other Halloween freebies that you'd like to add, feel free to add them in the comments! See ya later, alligator!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

No Small Moments

As a new school semester starts and a routines are formed,  I am reminded of just how fleeting time can be. My daughter is growing so fast, and becoming more and more independent each and every day. I know that one day there will come a time that she no longer needs my help to do the small things, or even the big things. I am so proud to see each and every milestone she passes. She is so intelligent, and has the sweetest little disposition. She understands so much more than you would expect from a toddler her age! I am just so very proud and so thankful that God gave me the privilege of being her Mommy.

When life gets busy, it is so easy to get lost in the "small moments". I cherish these times. I cherish the times that my daughter reaches up from her crib after a nap and just wants to relish in a long hug. I cherish those little wet kisses. I even cherish each and every tantrum, because I know those are just an opportunity for me to teach her patience, grace, and maybe even wisdom. There will come a time when those values are harder to teach because she may refuse to listen. It's easy to get lost in all of the things you aren't getting and forget what a great privilege and blessing it is to be able to give. I am blessed beyond measure to be able to have this time getting know my daughter and forming a beautiful bond. That bond may not always be pretty. There may be plenty of screaming fits (from both she and I), tantrums, and tears, but there will be hugs, kisses and lots of love.

My daughter is such a blessing, and it is my greatest privilege to be her Mommy!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Girls' Weekend and the Coffee Bar

Recently my very best lifelong gal pals decided to come down for the weekend and visit me. We had a great time, we went tubing on the Comal River, played around on 6th Street and had some seriously good eats along the way! We were all in need of a kid-free, diet-free weekend. It was fabulous! I wish we could do that once a month. A girl can dream, right? Maybe once every 2-3 months.

After a night of serious partying on Austin's famed 6th Street, we needed a some breakfast and a big cup o' joe. On a side note: When I was a few years younger and single, I absolutely loved 6th Street. Now that I'm a few years older and not an Austin tourist anymore...I wanted to just say, "Can't we just go to a winery?".

We stayed in downtown the previous night, so we were certain we could find some place better than IHOP. After driving around aimlessly for thirty minutes trying to find something, we stumbled across Halcyon off of 4th and Lavaca. I have driven by this place at least one hundred times, but I figured it was just another eclectic Austin bar. Seeing as it was open for breakfast that morning, we decided to give it a try.

We were all very pleasantly surprised when we walked in. It wasn't a bar at all, but a very charming coffee bar! They even sell specialty cigars, if that is your thing. (I don't think you can smoke them inside...THANKFULLY.) I first was delighted to see that I could order Cafe Au Lait. If I had to choose my last meal, it would be a Cafe Au Lait and beignets from Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. So, I got my pretty little Cafe Au Lait, which Halcyon served with two little animal crackers...how charming!! I never knew coffee and animal crackers went together so well, but they certainly do. One of my friends decided on the bottomless mimosas that morning for a little hair of the dog. They were delicious, too!

My friends and I were just as impressed with our meals as we were with our beverages. I got a delicious panini with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. My friend Anne got french toast. Lauren got the Breakfast Panini, and all I remember Danielle getting is tanked on mimosas. Giggle. :)

WOW...was the food good! I wish this place was just a little closer to where I lived because I would have to go there at least once a week. If you haven't been to Halcyon off 4th and Lavaca, I highly suggest you make a trip.

Skinny Apple Tart

The original French apple tart from Barefoot Contessa
You know that question, "If you could have anyone over for dinner that is currently living, who would it be?" For me the answer to that question is simple...Ina Garten of Barefoot Contessa. That is, as long as she is cooking. That woman has the absolute best recipes I've ever made. Almost all of which are very high in fat, which is probably what makes them all so darn tasty. Random fact: Did you know that Ina's husband Jeffery, who frequently appears on the show, was the Undersecretary of Commerce for International Trade and former Dean of the Yale School of Management? Let's just say the Barefoot Contessa shop didn't move them to the Hamptons.

My dearest Ina makes this delicious French apple tart that is just soaked in butter. It is SO good. I could eat it for dessert every night. I decided to try and lighten up this recipe and see if it even turned out to be edible. Sure enough, it was pretty tasty. Don't get me wrong, Ina's version is better. Butter makes everything better, right? However, if I can't have the real thing and lose thirty pounds then I will settle for the skinny version. All joking aside, the skinny version turned out to be delicious in it's own right! If I wasn't comparing it to Ina's then I would think this little tart is the bee's knees.

  • 3 granny smith apples, sliced thinly
  • 4 sheets phyllo dough
  • 1 Tbsp apricot jam
  • 1 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 spray cooking oil
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a tart pan with oil. Lay out phyllo dough very gently in the tart pan and allow the excess to hang over the side. Using 1/2 Tbsp of apricot jam, spread across the phyllo dough. I like to mix the jam with a splash of water and microwave for about 10 seconds. This makes it really easy to spread and helps the jam to go a little further. Layer apples as decoratively as you like. I like to do a circular pattern. Fold over phyllo dough to create a top crust. In a ramekin, mix together remaining apricot jam and butter. Brush on top of the apples and phyllo dough. Bake for 35 minutes, or until golden brown. 

This is really delicious!!

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