Category Archives: Marriage

I have an awesome husband who’s company I love!

The Spirit of Arizona – Happy Veteran’s Day!

If you have read Welcome Company for a while, you may have picked up here or there that my husband is in the military; the Air Force to be exact. The Arizona Air National Guard to be exact – exact.

He is privileged and honored to serve with the 161st Air Refueling Wing. He has 28 years of dedicated service under his belt as a KC-135 pilot and now commander. He wouldn’t want me to tell you all of that, which is just one of the many reasons we love him and are so proud of him. He is very proud of the 161st though so if we keep the focus on them, it should be okay. It is Veteran’s Day after all.

But first, I just have to show you this picture from a few years back because I love it so much …

Veteran's-Day-2011

Daddy & Nathan at the 2011 Veteran’s Day Parade

Did I mention, he is also a really great dad?

Okay, back to the 161st …

This past summer, my boy’s and I were privileged to attend a very special dedication. The dedication of “The Spirit of Arizona”. Sara was spending time with Grandma in Washington over Summer break so she missed it. I mean, it isn’t every day that you get to stand on the flight line so close to the runway!

SWA-Arizona

There the boys are with Mizz Courtie (as Nathan calls her – it’s really Courtney).

Nathan-&-Ms-Courtney

Nathan luuuuvs his Mizz Courtie!

Mizz Courtie is the wife of Colonel Joe Wilson. Joe is the maintenance group commander who led the team responsible for getting the job done and making the “Spirit of Arizona” happen.

Spirit-of-Arizona-1

The “Spirit of Arizona” is the designation of the 161st tanker that now proudly displays the Arizona State Flag on it’s tail. From what I understand, accomplishing this was no easy task and a great deal of effort was put into getting the final go-ahead for painting the tail.

Spirit-of-Arizona-Tail-2

Countless “man”-hours went into the job. Many of the men and women who worked on the tail, did so on their own “off-duty” time. Not because they had to; they did it because they wanted to and because they have pride in what they do, in their state and in their unit.

Spirit-of-Arizona-5

The Copperhead team is pretty special. The maintainers who worked on the Spirit of Arizona did and amazing job. But they didn’t stop with the tail.

They also did this …

Spirit-of-Arizona-4

Spirit-of-Arizona-3

They painted my husband’s name on the bird he loves so much.

I’m sitting here months later writing about it and I am still tearing up. He didn’t know they were going to do it and he was a little overwhelmed and deeply humbled by the gesture.

And on the other side …

Spirit-of-Arizona-2

Colonel Wilson’s name. His name up there on that aircraft is a big deal. Why?

Okay, now I’m going to need a tissue.

Colonel Wilson is not a flyer, he is a Maintenance Officer and one of the very best! Behind his name is the name of every single maintainer who keeps these ancient birds in the air. Men and women who’s dedication to their field not only gets the mission done but keeps air crew safe. His name, a maintainer’s name, up there on that plane is a shout out to each and every one of them!

We are always happy when we get a chance to go out and visit with our 161st family. This day in particular was very exciting!

Tanker-Wheels

The only thing I can say about his picture is what my husband says just about every time a plane flies over – “planes are cool”.

Daddy-and-3-of-his-loves

Nathan-&-Daddy-SA-Day

A daddy first. Always.

Spirit-of-Arizona-Tail-2

Happy Veteran’s Day Copperheads! You are absolutely the best of the best!

And Happy Veteran’s Day to all who have answered the call.

We love you Sonny.

The Spirit of Arizona is but a symbol of the Spirit of the United States Military and all who serve. So, if you find yourself flying into Phoenix and you just happen to look out your window and see her sitting on the ramp, take a moment to reflect on what she represents.

Freedom isn’t free.

Nothing Says “I Love You” Quite Like Banana Pudding

A few weeks ago, the phone rang. All plans were set aside. The busy-ness on my ever-present “to-do” list suddenly became unimportant and I found myself hastily throwing a bag together and waiting in the airport for a seat on a flight to Oklahoma.

My husband’s Uncle Milt passed away. My Uncle Milt passed away.

We quickly decided I would be the one to go and be with the family for the funeral services and my husband would stay home with the boys (Sara is in Washington with my mom for a month). It might seem strange that I was the one to go when the loss was on my husband’s side of the family but that is the funny thing about family, love blurs the lines. And I loved my Uncle Milt so very much.

I first told you a little about Uncle Milt and Aunt Peggy last fall when I shared Aunt Peggy’s delicious corn casserole recipe with you. I told you a bit about their love story and what they came to mean to me so many years ago when I was a new military bride desperately missing my own family. And I briefly mentioned the banana pudding.

This is the first chance I have had to sit down and gather my thoughts after the five beautiful days I spent in Oklahoma (that busy list didn’t go away while I was away). And I am struggling a bit. It is hard to find the words to sum up this sweet man. To sum up what he meant to me; to so many. To sum up a life lived so well that left behind is a far-reaching legacy that winds its way through an entire family, binding together a wife of 56 years, four children and their spouses, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins, sisters and brother-in-law, nieces and nephews. And me, married to a nephew but embraced as a daughter.

As I write, I remember that today is Aunt Peggy’s birthday and I am thankful that these words have waited until today. I can think of no better gift than to remind her of the blessing she and Uncle Milt have been in my life.

And it all started with banana pudding.

Banana-Pudding-11

I don’t remember the exact moment I had Aunt Peggy’s banana pudding for the first time but it instantly became my absolute favorite thing in the universe. No exaggeration. Better than French fries.

And Uncle Milt quietly took notice.

We lived about 45 minutes away from Uncle Milt and Aunt Peg when my husband was stationed at Altus Air Force base. We spent a lot of weekends playing cribbage around their cozy dining room table; always Aunt Peg and I teamed up against Uncle Milt and my husband. Those boys like to think that they won most of the time but I don’t remember it quite that way. What I do remember is feeling loved and welcome. I remember missing my own family a whole lot less because Uncle Milt and Aunt Peg became like parents to us and their four children and their families like siblings.

Milt-&-Peg-for-Blog-2

So many times I walked through their front door to hear Uncle Milt quietly say “it must be ‘That Girl’! Go look in the fridge, you might find something in there for you.” Always there was a banana pudding waiting for me. If it wasn’t Aunt Peggy’s banana pudding, it was a Styrofoam container from Ryan’s Buffet heaped full of banana pudding that he had gone and gotten for me. He was a big man with a big presence and an even bigger heart and I adored him.

We were stationed in Oklahoma for only two years and too soon, it was time for us to move to Arizona where my husband would fly part-time for the National Guard and full-time for American Airlines. I was devastated to leave and cried most of the way through Texas. Life quickly took over and we didn’t see or talk with Uncle Milt and Aunt Peg nearly enough but the bond we had forged with them in that two years remains such a part of us.

Over the years, Uncle Milt’s health declined with the onset of Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s/Dementia. He eventually had to be placed in the Veteran’s Center where his growing needs could be met. Aunt Peg was right by his side everyday. Such love. Such an example.

Milt-&-Peg-for-Blog-3

I have heard it said that while Alzheimer’s may rob your loved one of his memory, what matters is that you remember. You remember.

I remember.

I remember and was blessed to join this amazing family  to celebrate the life of a man who meant the world to me. Cousin Jim’s sweet wife Yvonne even made a banana pudding for me shortly after I arrived and I jumped off of the gluten-free/sugar-free wagon with reckless abandon. Only for banana pudding. And I did stick five spoons in the bowl and share it. The only thing better than a big bowl of banana pudding all to yourself is a big bowl of banana pudding shared with five people you love.

We told stories, we laughed, we cried, we prayed and we rejoiced in the knowledge that Uncle Milt is restored and again whole in the arms of the Savior he spent his life glorifying.

I promise you Uncle Milt, I will remember.

And I will forever remember so many things about saying goodbye.

I will remember Uncle Chuck’s story about the anger he felt when his own father passed. A man poor in the pocket but rich in all the ways that matter. How he was unable to comprehend that the sum of a man’s life could end up a few papers and documents in a shoebox. It was you who showed him that the true sum of his father’s life was not in that shoebox but was in him and his four beautiful sisters. It was you who helped him to realize just how remarkable his own father was. He remembers.

I will remember Jim’s eulogy and the stories of a husband and father’s love and strength. Your wife and your children and their children remember.

Peg-&-Milt

I will remember the internment ceremony at the beautiful military cemetery that is your final resting place. I will remember the full military honors for a man and a career that included two tours in Korea and one in Vietnam. I will remember the cry of the bugler sounding TAPS as the wind gusted mightily and it was finished. All of your family remembers. And a grateful and free nation remembers.

I will see you again Uncle Milt. I know you will have the cribbage board waiting and I will smile to again hear “oh, here comes ‘That Girl’ – go look in the fridge, you might find something in there for you.” Until that day, I will remember.

Aunt Peggy’s Banana Pudding

Banana-Pudding-14

It isn’t a fancy recipe. It isn’t a complicated recipe. But it is how someone very special shared with me just how much I meant to him. How he reminded me how much I was loved. I am happy to share it with you and hope that you will make if for someone you love.

Banana-Pudding-1

Ingredients

  • 1 – 3.4 ounce package of instant vanilla pudding
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 cups cold water
  • 2 cups heavy cream, whipped
  • 3 bananas, sliced
  • 36-48 Vanilla Wafers

Banana-Pudding-2

Directions

Whisk together the sweetened condensed milk and water. Add the instant vanilla pudding and whisk again until smooth and well blended. Chill the pudding mixture for 5 minutes.

Banana-Pudding-3

The pudding mixture will be starting to set. Fold in the whipped cream.

Banana-Pudding-4

Begin layering the ingredients …

Banana-Pudding-5

Start with pudding,

Banana-Pudding-6

add a layer of vanilla wafers

Banana-Pudding-7

and then a layer of sliced bananas.

Banana-Pudding-8

Top with more pudding, wafers and bananas and finish with pudding.

Banana-Pudding-9

It is always pretty to have some of the wafers peaking through a glass bowl.

Banana-Pudding-10

Top with crushed vanilla wafer crumbs. You can garnish with a few fresh banana slices and vanilla wafers just before serving.

Banana-Pudding-12

Or dress up individual serving bowls. You can also eat it right out of a Styrofoam container. Whatever works for you!

Banana-Pudding-Gift-3

When I got home from Oklahoma, I whipped up a batch for the girlfriends who had stepped up to take care of my boys for the two days I was gone and my husband had to work. One batch fit nicely into two 8×8 disposable pans.

Banana-Pudding-15

Just layer in the same manner as above.

Banana-Pudding-16

Banana-Pudding-17

Banana-Pudding-18

Top with vanilla wafer crumbs and pretty up the packaging and you will have a gift that is well received.

Banana-Pudding-Gift

Banana-Pudding-Gift-2

It is simple but it is my absolute favorite banana pudding. For many reasons. I hope you love it too!

Banana-Pudding-13

Happy Birthday Aunt Peggy. I love you so much!

One final note, I am working on a gluten-free/sugar-free version. Right now, as we speak. I’m having a little trouble with the vanilla wafers but I am determined to eat this whenever I wish. Well the bananas will still be a splurge but not the end of the world. Stay tuned …

Welcome to The Hacienda

This is the story of how I ended up in my Hacienda, a 1960’s era block constructed rancher. A desperate fixer upper on two acres of neglected Sonoran Desert.

I have had several people ask me to talk about my house so today is the day.

I might think it was strange to imagine that anyone would be interested in my house were it not for the fact that I am somewhat addicted to the HGTV show House Hunters and am completely addicted to House Hunters International.

I love houses. I love to see where people live and how they decorate. When driving at night, I strain to peek in the dimly lit windows of stranger’s homes just to see what paint color they chose for their walls. And I know I am not the only one.

If I come to your home, I will never ask you for a tour (I think that is a little rude, probably because I am always terrified someone will ask me for a tour when I have clean laundry piled all over my bed and unclean laundry piled on the floor waiting to be washed and my bathroom mirror is splattered with toothpaste – which is pretty much always) but know that I am secretly dying inside with the hope that you will offer one.

Nope, it is not weird at all for me to share my home with you. I’m thankful you are interested. So come on in, pull up a chair, grab a cup of coffee and a I’ll tell you all about the Hacienda (as we lovingly call it).

The Hacienda

The-Hacienda-After-2

If you have been reading my blog even for a short time, you are probably aware that I live in Arizona in the beautiful Sonoran Desert with my husband, three kids and a very sweet golden retriever mix named Gracie.

You may also know that we live on a little bit of land and I like to grow stuff. Oh, and I like to cook. And bake. And eat. And take pictures of the desert, the husband, the kids, the dog and the stuff I grow and cook and bake and eat.

What you may not know is that I also like to renovate, decorate and push my husband to the limit of his sanity with my crazy ideas and projects; “honey, I’ve been thinking, what if we …”

I love to have a project. I need to have a project.

Which is precisely how, just about three years ago now, we ended up moving from a nearly new, neat and tidy suburban home in a nearly new, neat and tidy suburban neighborhood to The Hacienda.

Our nearly new, neat and tidy house was finished. It was decorated, landscaped and required little more that a bit of general household maintenance and a weekly mowing of the teeny tiny sliver of a backyard.

It was only a few years old. It was done. It was pretty low maintenance.

Pffffft. Who wants that, right?

Probably most people but this is my story.

So one day, out of the blue, I said to my husband, as he sat comfortably watching golf in his easy chair, relaxing, lawn freshly mown, not project in sight; “you know that great area you’d really like to live in? Well, let’s sell this place, look for a fixer upper on some land and move up there. Whadda ya think?”

He thought I was crazy. He still thinks I’m crazy. I can be a little crazy.

But he also loves me and after the initial shock and a little bit of time to absorb and consider the thought, he could see that my idea was not entirely without merit. My ideas are never entirely without merit.

We would take a huge loss on our suburban house (we all know what happened to the housing market a few years back) but if we could weather it, the benefit would far outweigh the cost. It would take some sacrifice and a lot of hard work but isn’t that what life is all about? The greatest rewards ALWAYS come from sacrifice and hard work. They also come from listening to the whisper of the Holy Spirit, “I have something better for you, something good waiting for you. Ask me for wisdom and guidance. Follow where I lead.”

You must be wise. But sometimes you also need to be brave.

So we staged and listed our suburban two-story just to see what would happen. It sold in five days. FIVE DAYS! Oh.My.Heck. We are really moving!

What followed was a mixture of panic, drama, unsavory sneaky buyers, unpleasant sellers, unscrupulous Realtors (not ours, we love ya’ Patty Jo), headache, heartache, almost everything we own packed and stored in PODS (I now ♥ PODS by they way – they saved my life or at least my sanity), two-weeks in a tiny furnished vacation rental in between closings trying to keep my children from killing each other or breaking anything that wasn’t ours, a hemorrhaging bank account and a few visits from Monica.

Ahhh, Monica, she’s who I sometimes turn into with just the right combination of stress, exhaustion and low coping reserves; affectionately and appropriately named after the often neurotic, obsessive, controlling, over reactive character of Monica from the TV show friends. I’ve talked about her before in A Mary, A Martha or A Monica? . Yeah, it was that bad.

But it was worth it as we now have a beautiful sprawling Spanish Mission style home on 2.2 acres of breathtaking Sonoran desert. A fabulous home we call The Hacienda.

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it?

Oh, that is spin, my friend.

It is beautiful, it is sprawling, the desert is breathtaking. All true.

But there is more to the story.

In truth, it is sort of Spanish Mission in style. It is actually more of a 1960’s interpretation of Spanish mission. Which is a little bit Spanish mission, a little bit mid-century modern, a little bit funky, a little bit outdated and a whole lot wonderful.

Okay, a lot outdated.

But it gets better! I haven’t told you everything.

In the frantic search for a place to live – did I tell you we sold our house in five days? – we looked at several houses. We had even been looking throughout the consideration phase of this process; but nothing was just right.

Then I found The Hacienda. I knew it was the one the moment I walked through the front door.

The-Hacienda-5

When I told our Realtor it was the one, she thought I was crazy.

“This one? Really? Are you sure? It’s big and old and needs a lot of work!”

Undaunted, I called my husband and we put in an offer before he actually ever saw it.

Then our Realtor thought my husband was crazy.

He isn’t crazy though. He’s busy and he trusts me and he knows this is my thing. He knows that I would never choose something he wouldn’t approve of.

So we made the offer and then he saw it …

The-Hacienda-1

“It’s big and old and a lot of work. This one? Really? Are you sure? And it’s PINK!”

It was indeed, pink. It may look tan in the pictures but I assure you, it was pink.

The-Hacienda-3

The-Hacienda-7

The-Hacienda-4

He had just gone under contract on a big, sprawling, 60’s era pink rancher with a landscape that looked like a wasteland, a garage that his truck wouldn’t fit into and a mental project list that was growing by the second. But it was in the location he wanted.

This is just one of the many reasons I love him; he trusts my vision, even if he doesn’t always see it at first. He trusts me. He is not a push-over and I trust that when he is firmly against something it is probably for the best. I trust him. We are very different but we are complimentary and we are a team. And so far, that has worked out pretty well for us.

Fast forward three years.

No longer pink. We love the caramel/milk chocolate combo that it took me forever to pick out. Leave it to me to paint my house the color of dessert.

No longer pink. We love the caramel/milk chocolate combo that it took me forever to pick out. Leave it to me to paint my house the color of dessert.

The-Hacienda-5

The Arizona version of the Brady Bunch’s Digs! Someday, the entry will have a walled courtyard with an iron entry gate. But for now the mid-century modern vibe is alive and well.

The-Hacienda-After-3

Speaking of someday … someday, the flat roof of the garage and/or family room will be fitted with a railing and a spiral staircase, making it an observation deck which will offer some spectacular views of the city.

The Hacienda has been a tremendous amount of work and there is a lot of work that remains to be done. We have the craziest 1970’s disco master bathroom with a toilet I hate and a bidet I have no idea what to do with (sorry, you probably didn’t need to know that), septic not sewer, electric not gas, hours of yard work, trees that always need to be trimmed, miles and miles of house keeping, ugly power lines that I would LOVE for the city to bury, a broken fountain, creaky iron gates and a rusty old Chevy truck that we call Mater in the neighbor’s backyard.

Rusty-Old-Truck

I’ll take “Mater” over a Home Owner’s Association any day!

But we also have some room to breathe. Our kids have room to run, build forts, ride bikes and be loud. We have a beautiful natural environment that we adore, a fantastic view of the city, the best school and teachers a parent or a kid could hope for and we have a home that is uniquely us.

We have taken something that was neglected and unwanted and made it something special. We have made it into a home. A home that we can see ourselves in for a long, long time. A home that we can see our children grow up in and eagerly come back to.

Most importantly, we have the peace and satisfaction of seeing our hard work – our teamworkevolve into something that we love and are so thankful for. Yes, my husband has come to love The Hacienda as much as I do.

The-Hacienda-After-6

I knew he would. It’s my job to know.

We are so thankful for this home God has blessed us with. We will always seek His council and follow where He leads. And I am so happy, as crazy as it was, that He led us here.

So that is how we came to live in The Hacienda.

Thanks for reading and for indulging me. And, if you are still interested, tomorrow I will share a little more of my home with you.

How about the backyard? We’ll enjoy a little lemonade under the Palo Verde tree.

I promise, you can’t see Mater from there.

No More Bird Watching in my Pajamas!

My sweet husband, apparently unimpressed with my Ninja skills and tired of my less than socially acceptable early morning wild life photography in my PJs, called me in from the backyard this morning to have the kids give me my Mother’s Day present early.

A new 55-300mm lens for my camera. How did they know? You’d think I’d been talking about this lens for months. They know me so well, it was just what I wanted.

You see you have to get VERY close to your subject to get a great picture with an 18-55mm lens. Which is fine when your subject is a cake but when it is a quail, well that’s when Ninja stealth is required.

Giddy, I popped that lens on and raced out the back door; still in my PJs. Here’s what I got …

Quail

I love quail and we have them everywhere!

Dove-&-Quail-2

This may be an indication that we are getting old but we love to sit on the back porch and watch the birds as they come to the feeder hanging from the Palo Verde Tree in the center of our back yard. We each have our own chair. Side by side. We always sit in the same spot. We are old.

Warbler-1

Pretty soon we will have bird watching books and I will be able to tell you every species of bird that comes to visit.

So very old.

Bird-Feeder-1

I can tell you that these visitors are Peach Faced Lovebirds and a Mourning Dove who have landed to enjoy breakfast at the just filled feeder (it will be wiped out in only a couple of hours). There is something in the mixture that the Lovebirds are partial to, you should see the seed fly as those sassy birds fling it out in search of their favorite snack. We joke that they are picking out the cashews – mixed-nut reference, no body wants the Spanish peanuts. I know you know what I’m talking about.

We make bird jokes and laugh at our “cleverness”. We are old.

Dove-&-Quail-1

Luckily, there is quite a cast of characters gathered below just waiting to clean up the mess.

Baby-Birds-1

I have to tell you about these little guys. I have no idea what they are other than absolutely adorable; remember, I don’t yet have a bird book.  They are still babies but are old enough to fly and are starting to forage for themselves yet are still little enough that they make quite a fuss for their mom’s attention, fluffing up their feathers, flapping their wings and sqwaking for a nibble. Watching their antics is so much fun; could it be because their demands are somehow so very familiar.

Old people use the term “antics” when referring to the actions of the young.

Morning-Doves

This one is my favorite. Mourning Doves, perched just outside the back gate, waiting patiently for me to move away from the bird feeder. Incidentally, I have always thought they were “Morning” Doves until a google search just revealed that they are in fact “Mourning” Doves; boy do I need to get that bird book. I find that somewhat depressing and much prefer “Morning” Doves.

Cottontail-Rabbit

Ooooh, and there was a bunny too!

So for now, I will no longer need to build the “blind” I had planned or sneak around in my jammies and slippers disturbing the wildlife.

Hummingbird-1 Hummingbird-2

These two pictures were shot a few weeks ago with my smaller lens. I was crouching down taking a picture of a hibiscus blossom when this little guy came in right next to me to get a drink.

I simultaneously heard him and saw him out of the corner of my eye.

He didn’t even know I was there.

Ninja.

Pretty good for an old lady.

Disclaimer: This post was in no way intended to offend the aged. I have three young exhausting children. I am tired. Don’t judge.

She’s in France Celebrating her Six Month Blog-iversary!

Today is my 6 month Blog-iversary. Do you think the term Blog-iversary will ever make it into the dictionary? Ginormous has if you didn’t know. Anything’s possible.

Six months. Already.

I feel like I have been blogging forever but at the same time I can’t believe six months has passed since I clicked the “publish” button for the very first time. Boy was that an equally thrilling and terrifying mouse click. Anyone?

And yet click I did; despite the uncertainty, doubt and nagging little voice saying “what are you thinking?” Thankfully, I’ve gotten pretty good at discerning the voice of truth and ignoring the other one because as it turns out, Welcome Company is exactly what I needed.

Six months of writing, stretching my limits, finding me again. So much to be thankful for.

Pansy

I told you a while back, in a post titled What is Love, about a book I had started but had been unable to finish.  A book about giving thanks and finding joy in all aspects of life; “One Thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp.  A journey of writing down one thousand things I am thankful for and in the process, learning to pay attention to all of the ways God shows me everyday that He sees me, that I matter to Him as a unique individual creation, “all the ways He whispers, ‘I love you.'”

“He who is grateful for little is given much laughter … an it’s counting the ways He loves, this is what multiplies joy.” – Ann Voskamp

I know I have a lot to be thankful for and I am thankful for a lot. Big stuff. A God who loves and sustains me. My husband. My children. My home. My health. Their health. We have been through some tough stuff (Beauty from Ashes), desperate heartbreak and difficult battles. But we are a season away now and there is so much laughter and joy. So much and yet still, I am so often stressed, tired, irritable, anxious, edgy, self-pitying. In need of escape.

Why? One of the ongoing jokes around here is that whenever a kid is yelling “mommy, mommmmy, mooooommmmmy … where are youuuuu?!!” The answer is quite often “France.”

She’s in France.

About ten years ago, my husband and I went to France and I fell completely, utterly and hopelessly in love. The food, the wine, the landscape, the history, most of the people. You name it. I love it. Vive La France! So, we joke that whenever the stresses of everyday life become too much, I go to France. Closing my eyes and escaping to cook and hike and shop in the open markets, study at the Le Cordon Bleu Paris, drink a good burgundy on a picnic blanket in a lavender field, restore a provincial farmhouse. Free from the mundane, the routine, the demands.

Don’t worry, by escaping I don’t mean that I am actually going to abandon my life and run for the airport. I am really not trying to be dramatic. I love my life. My husband. My kids. I am blessed. But I am also honest. And yes, in the midst of sassy back-talk, pre-teen door slams, housework, laundry, homework battles, endless kid fights over you name it and a mounting list of all that demands my attention, France sounds pretty good sometimes. And besides, my passport is expired.

A mom can get lost. Lose herself in the day to day. In the mundane, the routine, the demands. Before she knows it. Just ask one. Any mom. Ask her. Your heart can be filled with love to bursting. You can know that every sacrifice is worth it. But you can still feel lost.

But what if I didn’t have to escape.

What if I chose to write about all in my life that I have to be thankful for? All that I have to offer. To further explore and expound upon my gifts, my heart, my joy. To create a place that is me. A place to share this unique person God made. To find her again. Not an escape but an outward extension of who I am beyond the blessed role of wife and mommy. I am wife and mommy and I love being her, she is who I was born to be but she is not all that I am.

When I am lost, I am caught up in the stress of the moment, of the day, of the world. I have dropped my focus from the one who offers me peace. The one who reminds me who I am in Him. The one who’s whisper says don’t listen, you have a voice, a story – I have given it to you … click the mouse.

And as I write, and photograph, and create I find so much to be thankful for. There will always be stress but nestled among the challenges and frustrations, I find His blessings just waiting for me to see them. Right in my own backyard. No escape needed.

And I begin to notice. And write them down starting with one, heading to one thousand.

Red-Geraniums-1

1. A bright red geranium.

Orange-Marmalade-1

2. Orange marmalade.

3.Black coffee.

4. Breakfast on the patio.

Gracie

5. My furry child. My son’s best friend.

Love-Birds-1

Love-Birds

6. Noisy, colorful Peach-faced Love Birds who visit to dine on the seed block.

Fountain-1

Fountain-2

7. A broken fountain filled with fresh herbs.

Quail-EggsQuail-Eggs-2

8. A clutch of quail eggs laid under the lawn mower.

Rock-Trough

9. An old rock water trough on the back of the property just waiting to be filled with flowers.

Peaches

10. Peaches growing, ripening.

Sunrise-2

11. The Arizona Sky.

Sunrise-3

As the sun rises over the mountains and peeks between the branches of the mesquite.

Arizona-Sky-2And as it sets, lighting the sky ablaze with color.

Arizona-Sky-1

The most beautiful sky in the world. Right in my own backyard. No escape needed.

I am so thankful.

In six months, I have published 73 posts, watched my readership grow and been overwhelmed by the encouragement and support I have received and the friendship and connection I have found in the blogging community. I really love you guys. I have been so inspired by your work and look forward to your visits and comments more than you could ever know. You are incredible.

I love this blog and the creative outlet it has given me. I love that I am compiling a story for my kids to look back on and that I am preserving precious family history. I love that I am finding me again and I would write even if it was only my mom who was reading. That being said, I am blessed by all of you – each and every one – who have graciously followed along, who read regularly or even just visit once in a while. I am so thankful for you.

Ginormously thankful.

“As long as thanks is possible, then joy is always possible. Joy is always possible.” – Ann Voskamp

Beef in Stout by the Fire in an Irish Castle

Beef in Stout … seriously does it get any more Irish than that?

Can’t you just picture yourself in the library of an old Irish castle

JohnstownCastle55843220Photo from advertising for Johnstown Castle, Ireland

(now a cozy hotel with every creature comfort imaginable, delightfully historic but with indoor plumbing, central heat and no ghosts or banshees or sieging Norman invaders), curled up in an overstuffed chair in front of a roaring fire, (yes, my post title was shamelessly misleading) soft tartan plaid cashmere throw draped over your lap.

A polite knock at the door, your dinner has arrived and just in time; that massage in the spa followed by several hours of reading by the fire have left you with quite an appetite. The handsome waiter, let’s call him Seamus, sets a large silver tray on the weathered walnut table by the window overlooking the lush green glens and rocky cliffs that lead down to the sea still glistening in the fading evening light.

CliffsMoher290x200_1

Yes, exactly.

Image from Discover Ireland.

Seamus ladles out steaming, heavenly scented bowls of rich stew topped with wedges of perfectly crusty bread. He flexes slightly as he pours two generous glasses of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, placing the yet to be finished bottle gently back on the table.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking … wouldn’t Beef in Stout, in Ireland, go great with an oh, I don’t know, Irish Stout? All I have to say to that is, I’m creating this travel fantasy so there will most certainly be French wine. Besides, a good French red goes with everything. Everything. And there are currently no invading Norman hordes, so we’re good.

Oh, and Belgian chocolate, that’s on the tray too. It also goes with everything. Truly.

And who is that second glass of fragrant red wine for?

Well, in my case, it is for my sweet, handsome husband who just came in from 36 straight holes of golf. Who did you think it was for?

Interestingly enough, I am picturing him in traditional Irish golf attire …

I think it goes without saying, this is not one of my original photos, but I'll put it out there - just for the record.

I think it goes without saying, this is not one of my original photos, but I will put the disclaimer out there anyway – just for the record.

Just. Like. That.

No, I’m not poking fun. He could totally pull off the look. And besides, you don’t make it to seventeen years of marriage if you can’t laugh at each other together.

Incidentally, I am also picturing him preferring to have an Irish Stout with his stew. And darn it, he is just too full for Belgian chocolates. But what to do with that second glass of wine? Good thing I’m on vacation.

Yes, that was a lot of set up for a Beef in Stout recipe. The laundry I have to do, dishes waiting in the sink and errands I need to run may have something to do with my need for Calgonesque travel fantasies.

Poof. Back to reality. At least there’s still the stew. And Calgon.

Beef in Stout with Herb Dumplings

from Irish Pub Cooking, Parragon Books, serves 6

Ingredients

Stew

  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 8 carrots, sliced
  • 4 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 lb braising beef cut into cubes, I used chuck
  • generous 1 3/4 cups stout
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
  • salt and pepper

Herb Dumplings

  • generous 3/4 cup self-rising flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup shredded suet – I know, use butter
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley, plus extra to garnish
  • about 4 Tbsp. water

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Heat the oil in an oven-proof cast iron casserole (like Le Creuset). Add the onions and carrots and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, or until the onions are softened.

BIS-2

Meanwhile, place the flour in a plastic bag and season well with salt and pepper.

BIS-1 BIS-3

Add the beef to the bag, close the top, and shake well to coat. Do this in batches.

Remove the vegetables from the casserole with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the beef to the casserole, in batches, and cook, stirring frequently, until browned all over.

BIS-4 BIS-5

Return all the meat and the onions and carrots to the casserole and sprinkle in any remaining seasoned flour. Pour in the stout.

BIS-6

Add the sugar, bay leaves, and thyme. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook in the preheated oven for 1 3/4 hours.

To make the herb dumplings, sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Cut in the butter and stir in the parsley and add enough of the water to make a soft dough. Shape into small balls between the palms of your hands. Add to the casserole and return to the oven for 30 minutes.

BIS-7

Remove and discard the bay leaves and serve, sprinkled with parsley.

BIS-8

I have yet to visit Ireland and I gave up wine for Lent (well the second half of Lent anyway) but even so, I got to enjoy this wonderful stew with my sweet, handsome husband and the three little people who make reality (laundry, dishes and errands included) far better than any fantasy escape to a distant land could ever be.

Now where’s that Calgon.

Today, I Will Share the Cake Because It’s Valentine’s Day and I Love You!

God has certainly had my heart focused on Lent but I do LOVE Valentine’s Day. I know it is hard for some. It has been hard for me in the past too. Maybe you don’t have a Valentine as the world defines the term but know you are deeply loved.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

I have been blessed by love in my life and I can’t help but celebrate it. I am loved as a daughter. I am loved as a sister. I am loved as a friend. I am loved as a wife. I am loved as a mother.

So much love, but it is my “Valentine” in the true sense of the word that I am thinking of today.

Anniversary-Blog-1We were married on a cold and snowy January day, seventeen years ago.

Anniversary-Blog-5b

Surrounded by the people that we love the most.

In the presence of our Lord and Savior.

Anniversary-Blog-8On that day, we stepped out into the world together.

Anniversary-Blog-4As Husband and Wife. For Better or Worse. My forever Valentine.

Anniversary-Blog-2Oooh and there was cake. I’m sorry, I have mentioned before that I am not the most romantic person. The mushy stuff is not so easy for me and that was all I had so naturally, I turned to cake.

How about this, love is life and life is always better with cake. Sorry.

A quick side note on cake: If you are in the market for cake, in the Spokane, Washington area, you must check out Just American Desserts and let them make you your very own cake to die for. If you don’t live in Spokane, you may want to plan a trip there, just for the cake.

Someday, I may tell you about how I ate the entire wedding cake-top, meant to be shared on our first anniversary, ALL-BY-MYSELF. The WHOLE thing. Just me. Alone.

But for now, I just want to wish my sweet husband a Happy Valentine’s Day!

He still loves me. Even after I ate all of the cake.

I have embellished all of the photos on this post with overlays but all original photography was done by Kim Price, Spokane Washington.