Spicy Black Bean & Lime Quinoa Salad

I went to a BBQ this past weekend and, of course, was asked to bring a ‘quinoa salad of some sort’.

Now, when you ask me to bring a quinoa salad, I get really excited. Why? Well, because I love quinoa, of course. But, more importantly I get excited because it’s a chance to introduce people to how flavorful, fragrant, and wonderful a quinoa dish can be. I get excited to show everyone that quinoa is a true crowd pleaser… I get excited to have people say, “Wow, can I get the recipe?” (And for my ladies that asked for the recipe, this post is dedicated to you ;) )

Hence, I brought this – THE salad my family and I can’t seem to get enough of right now:

Ingredients:

For salad:

  • 2 cups precooked quinoa
  • 2 cans organic black beans, drained and rinsed (always buy canned beans with nothing but beans, water, and salt on the ingredient label)
  • 2 large sweet bell peppers, diced
  • 2 cups of baby arugula
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, washed and rough chopped
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1 medium jalapeño, diced (remove HALF the seeds for less spice)

For dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 tsp diced garlic (approx 3 small cloves)
  • zest of 1 lime
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  1. Put your quinoa and beans into a large bowl.
  2. Add your argula, chopped cilantro, diced bell peppers, red onion, and diced jalapeño.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together your dressing ingredients and pour dressing evenly over the top of the salad.
  4. Stir to evenly coat all ingredients, taste for flavor, and (if necessary), add more salt and pepper to taste.

Here’s what it’ll look like:

 


And then look at the bowl of beauty you end up with:

(NOTE: this recipe makes about 4-5 full bowl servings. But, here’s the good news: it gets better as it sits! So, even if you don’t have a BBQ or a big crowd to serve, make the full batch and save the rest for the next day or two. You won’t regret it.)

Happy Monday, everyone – I’m so glad you’re here with me. (If you’re on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, connect with me there, too!)

 

YOU CAN DO IT: Gluten-Free Quinoa Honey Carrot Cake Bars

The other afternoon my 11-year old bakerella made some amazing carrot cake muffins. They were “traditional” carrot cake – the kind that’s moist, sweet, and covered in a rich and creamy cream cheese frosting. But, as with most delicious cakes, all the sugars meant they were definitely a ‘treat’ and not something we’d be eating on a daily basis.

But see, I want to eat carrot cake every day – it’s just the processed flours and sugars that keep me from it. So, with that in mind, I challenged myself to come up with a carrot cake that would still taste like carrot cake, but have NO refined sugars or flours. The result?

This:

Quinoa Honey Carrot Cake Bars with A Honey Yogurt 'Frosting'

Quinoa Honey Carrot Cake Bars with A Honey Yogurt ‘Frosting’

I made a couple batches before I had real success. While the first couple weren’t ‘cakey’ enough, when this batch came out I knew it was spot on. And, what did my expert bakerella say?

   

She said, “YUM.”

Before I tell you all that you need and how to do it, let me fill you in on a couple things:

1) You’ll need ground almonds. This means just take some almonds and grind them in a grinder (or food processor) until you have this:

2) You’ll also need ground oats, which means just take your gluten-free oats and grind them in the same grinder (or food processor) until you have this:

(I rarely have specialty flours on hand, but always have nuts and oats on hand. So, this is a great do it yourself – and you only need to grind what you’ll need for the recipe.)

With that said, here’s the recipe:

Ingredients for cake:
1 1/2 cups ground almonds
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
1 1/4 cup grated carrots
1 cup ground gluten-free oats
1/2 cup raw organic honey
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
1/2 cup greek yogurt

To make ‘frosting’:
1/2 cup greek yogurt + 1 TBSP of raw honey whisked together until smooth.

FOR CAKE:

Place your ground almonds, ground oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to a bowl, and mix by hand with a fork until incorporated.

Add precooked quinoa, carrots, honey, melted coconut oil, cinnamon, and vanilla to the mixture, and mix again. It will look like this when it’s all mixed:

Next, in a separate bowl, whisk three eggs until loose. Add greek yogurt, and whisk again until mixture is creamy.

Add cream mixture to dry mixture and still well until incoporated.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, then spread mixture into an even sheet. Do not push into corners of the pan, though.

Bake at 375 for about 18 minutes, or until golden brown and cake springs back in center when you touch it.

Allow to cool on pan, then slide the parchment and cake out of the pan and onto a cooling rack. Slice into small squares for easy storage and snacking.

They’re sweet (but not over-sweet), moist, and have a wonderful texture. Eat the bars plain, or for a little extra sweetness add a little schmear of honey yogurt ‘frosting’, or with a drizzle of maple syrup or warmed honey. (They are a perfect compliment to a cup of coffee or tea.) No matter how you eat them, I know you’ll be saying ‘yum’ just like us.

Let me know if you make them… I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Peachy Quinoa Pancakes

I love farmer’s markets… but I really love u-pick farms. I love the hunt, the abundance, the quiet of the open space. I’m happy to wander… to move from bush to bush, or tree to tree, selecting the best of the bounty.

We usually start with strawberries in mid-late June - and, let me tell you: you’ve never really had a strawberry until you’ve had an Oregon Hood strawberry straight out of the field.

Then, in July we move to the berry varieties: blueberries, blackberries, raspberries… and, once I get picking, you almost have to pull me off the fields before I stop.

But come the last days of July into August, we move to peaches. When we went just a couple of days ago, the peaches were dripping off the trees. We picked, and picked, and picked – and, while we picked, we discussed all the great things we could turn the peaches into: peach smoothies, peach tarts, peach scones.

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For me, though, I was excited to get home with my peaches and make these:

Peachy Quinoa Pancakes

Peachy Quinoa Pancakes

YOU’LL NEED:

  • 2 cups precooked quinoa
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 heaping cup of finely diced peaches (or other fresh fruit)
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1 TBSP organic raw honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking powder

NOTE: Here are a few other of my favorite variations for these fruity quinoa cakes:

bananas and cinnamon
strawberries and walnuts
blueberries and lemon zest

STEPS:

Crack your eggs into a large mixing bowl, then whisk until smooth.

 

Slice up your peaches and remove as much skin as possible. Finely dice/mash the fruit.

 

Add your quinoa and finely diced peaches to the whisked eggs, then add your flour, baking powder, and vanilla – and stir to incorporate completely.

 

Heat a fry pan and lightly butter the bottom. With pan a little higher than medium heat, use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to make patties in pan. After 3 – 3 1/2 minutes, carefully flip patties.

 

Isn’t that easy? And – DELICIOUS.

Now, seriously - don’t skimp! Use REAL organic maple syrup for these… or, maybe a drizzle of some warm honey.

 

These will become a new favorite around your house… I’m willing to bet on it.

 

Visiting with My Friend Nick @Macheesmo

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I’m excited to introduce you to my friend Nick – the man behind Macheesmo and all around cool guy. Nick and I met while filming Food Fighters and, since then, have become pretty good blogging buddies. He has a beautiful site, a beautiful book, and – seriously: he’s one of the kindest, most encouraging people around. Believe me: you want to know him.

With all that said, I’m honored Nick invited me to guest on his site today and share my quinoa love with his readers. Pop over there and give it a read…. and, if you leave a comment on his post you might even win a FREE copy of my ebook, The Quinoa Habit!

READ POST HERE.

Have a great Monday everyone – and, one final thing: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” (Philippians 4:8)

I’m glad you’re here with me ;)

The Food Fight Is Over…

I win!

Well, that’s it! After a year of waiting to see it come to pass, Food Fighters finally aired and I can say with joy: this little mama threw down and beat some of the best chefs in the world!

I’ve been overwhelmed with emotion this last week as we awaited the episode. It was exciting giving interviews and seeing my story unfold in the media… but I was nervous to see how it all would come together. Thankfully, I LOVED IT.  So, thank you Electus and NBC – I am honored you chose me to be part of this amazing project.

Words cannot do justice to the experience of competing on Food Fighters. Nothing I say will ever help you fully grasp the emotions – the anxiety, stress, fear, and excitement! – I felt as each new chef walked on stage. While America watched an hour long episode, in reality the competition took hours upon hours to unfold.  The freshness I took to the first couple rounds was soon zapped by the pressure, and by the end of the day I was exausted, dehydrated, and running on nothing but pure adrenaline.  It was so hard; and, you can see the nerves started to take their toll as I began making mistakes in my last two rounds! Thank God He pulled me through and I was able to recover after that devestating loss to Marcel! UGH! I honestly didn’t think I could keep going…

I am so thankful for ALL OF YOUR LOVE you’ve poured out on my blog, facebook, and twitter. It especially warmed my heart to hear from fellow Guamaians expressing pride over seeing our island represented on national TV. Yay, Guam!!!

Here are answers to some of the questions I’ve received (and that you may be wondering about):

Q: How did the morning show in Seattle go? 

I kicked off yesterday in Seattle where I appeared on New Day Northwest. We talked Food Fighters, and I made a chocolate quinoa pudding – a ‘healthified’ version of a traditional Guamanian dish called ‘champulado’. Here’s the segment:

Q: When are you going to Guam?

Good question! Lord willing, it will work to go this December. My hope is to be there for about a month. It takes almost a full 24 hours to get there – and airfare alone will be close to $12,000! So, if we’re going, the plan is to stay as long as we can and make the most of it. We have tons of family to see. PLUS I really want to work on a Guamanian food series while I’m there. Guamanian food is exceptional… and I plan to continue sharing our food and culture with the world.

Q: What happened to your finger?
Ohmygosh – my finger! At the beginning of the second round my nerves had me shaking so bad! I had to cut open the plastic bag the fish was sealed in and, while I held it in one hand and sliced at it with the other, the tip of the exteremely sharp pearing knife knicked me just enough to cause a small problem. Thankfully it took just a minute to wrap it up and I got right back to cooking. Thank God it didn’t jeapordize my round!

Q: Can you share your recipes?
NBC has all the recipes HERE.

Also, check out the ‘extras’ from the NBC website:


Q: I missed the show… where can I watch it?

NBC has the full episode posted HERE.

Anyway, while I don’t think I’m fully processing anything in my brain just yet, I couldn’t let today go by without saying THANK YOU for your support, encouragement, and for cheering me on! Food Fighters was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done in my woman skin… and, I am grateful for every minute of it.

So, again, thank you for being here with me… and I hope you’ll watch every week and make Food Fighters one of the summer’s best new shows!

Much love to you, my sweet friends.

 

It’s Finally Here: NBC Food Fighters!

In less than 12 hours, millions of people will be watching as I battle against five of the best chefs in the world on NBC’s brand new culinary competition, “Food Fighters”.

I’ve been sitting at this computer for over an hour trying to figure out what to say about it… and, to be honest: I’m speechless. Even though it’s happening, I can’t kick the feeling that this is too good to be true. Me? Really? Am I really going to be on NBC? Really?

I’m humbled.

I’m excited.

I’m nervous.

I’m honored.

I’m grateful.

And, more than anything, I give all glory to my Heavenly Father for bringing me to this place and to this opportunity, for I am nothing without His grace and mercy over my life.

Wow. Wow. WOW.

I guess the only thing left to say as we push forward to 8pm tonight is… LET THE FOOD FIGHT BEGIN!!

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Photo Credit: Food Fighters, NBC Universal

TUNE IN!

Watch Food Fighters TONIGHT (Tuesday, July 22nd) @8pm ET/PT on NBC

Grilled Beef Bone and Quinoa Kadu Soup

One thing my nana frequently said as I walked into her kitchen to eat was “All I had was ‘x’, but look… I made something real good.”  She’d say it as she was pulling the lid off the pot of steaming yumminess, or removing the napkin from the plate of freshly fried beauty. I’d sit at her tiny table, roosters crowing outside and mosquitos on my legs, and she’d serve me ‘all that she had’.

Nana with the ever present kitchen towel over her shoulder

Nana with the ever present kitchen towel over her shoulder

If ‘all she had’ was a coconut milk and some flour, we’d end up with some handmade tortillas that would blow your mind.

Nana making her homemade tortillas

Nana making her homemade tortillas

Or, if ‘all she had’ was overripe bananas off our tree, we’d get buñelos aga (banana donuts). Most of the time, though, ‘all she had’ was a potato and a small piece of beef (or even beef bones) out of the freezer, or a couple pieces of chicken from the neighbor and some pumpkin tips out of her yard. And, when that was ‘all she had’, we’d end up with kadu.

Kadu is the Chamorro variation of a broth soup and it’s what I was raised on. It would be 85-90 degrees outside; I’d be sticky from the heat, yet I couldn’t wait to get off the school bus and let nana serve me a bowl. Almost every day I ate kadu over rice with a generous helping of finedene and ice cold rain water to wash it down. And, while I don’t have my sweet nana anymore, every time I make kadu I do it with her heart and feel her right her with me.

For nana, kadu was typically beef or chicken, onions, garlic and water since that was usually ‘all she had’.  While I often make it just as she did, this has become one of my favorite versions:

Grilled Beef Bone Quinoa Kadu

When you have leftover BBQ bones, this is a beautiful way to use them. I mean, even when you cut off all the meat you think you can, look how meaty they still are!

leftover porterhouse steak bones

So, next time you BBQ and have leftover bones, gather these ingredients and turn those meaty bones into a beautiful summer kadu:

INGREDIENTS:

  • 6-8 cups of water
  • a couple pounds of beef bones
  • 1/2 pound or so of any cut of steak (fat trimmed)
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 3 stalks of celery, chopped
  • 1 bunch of parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 TBSP apple cider vinegar (Braggs is the best)
  • Black pepper and salt to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Place all the ingredients in a pot and bring to a rapid boil.

Once it boils, cover, and turn heat down to just above simmer. Allow soup to simmer for 3-4 hours on stove top until the bones are dry and the meat can be pulled apart with a fork.

Remove the bones. Serve over precooked quinoa; and, when you set it before those you love, I hope you’ll say, “All I had was leftover bones, but look – I made something real good.”

(I miss you, nana.)

This photo was taken a handful of days before my sweet nana passed away.

This photo was taken a handful of days before my sweet nana passed away.

 

 

 

Pepper Boats Filled With Lemony Quinoa Tuna Salad

Growing up, my mom didn’t cook often.  She could cook – and when she did she filled our house with delicious Puerto Rican inspired food – my favorite being her famed tostones with a sprinkle of sea salt. But, since my nana lived with us and my nana lived to cook, over time I think my mom just leaned into nana’s love and was happy to let the responsiblity of cooking regular meals out of her hands.

With that said, my mom was our snack queen. It was my mama that took our armfuls of just harvested avocados and whipped together the guacamole we’d devour by the spoonful; it was my mama that mixed our over-ripe papayas, bananas, and mangos into cold cottage cheese; it was my mama that would take our just-picked calamansi lemons and squeeze warm juice over green pepper boats filled tuna. Yep, it was my mama that welcomed us in from the mid-day, sticky island heat and made in-between meal snacking something of refreshing delight.

So yesterday, as I retreated inside from the 90 degree weather craving something light and refreshing for mid-afternoon sustenance, I spied these two things…

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and, as a vision of my mama flashed through my mind, I knew what I had to make: pepper boats filled with lemony quinoa tuna salad.

All you need is 5 minutes and:

  • 1/2 cup of pre-cooked quinoa
  • a can of tuna (I like the tuna in olive oil because it’s less dry)
  • 1 sweet bell pepper
  • 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 TBS of soy sauce (or liquid amines which taste almost identical)
  • 1 TBS of olive oil
  • 1 tsp of black pepper

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Put the quinoa, tuna, and black pepper into a bowl, then drizzle with olive oil...

Put the quinoa, tuna, and black pepper into a bowl, then drizzle with olive oil…

drizzle with soy sauce...

drizzle with soy sauce…

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squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the mixture.

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Next, slice the cheeks off the pepper so you end up with pieces like this…

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and, after you’ve mixed your tuna salad really well, fill the cheeks like this.

Since there’s no mayo or sticky binder in the salad, yes – the filling might be a little loose as you eat. But hey – it’s summertime! Make up a plate, head outside in the shade, and don’t let a little mess get to you. The kids with popsciles dripping down their arms don’t seem to care… :)

Crowd-Pleasing Golden Potato Honey Citrus Quinoa Salad

 

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Last week while we were in California, my man’s little hometown had a pre-Fourth of July potato salad contest.

“I’m going to enter,” I announced the morning of.

“You don’t make potato salad,” he said with a laugh.

He was right. Potato salad isn’t something in my normal repertoire of food. I didn’t grow up with it, I’ve never been a fan of store-bought versions, and I’m not a big user of mayonnaise in many things. None of those facts were going to stop me from trying, though.

“Hey, but I do know quinoa,” I announced with a confident smile. “So I’m just going to make a quinoa salad that’s heavy on the potatoes.” We high fived and I was off to the kitchen.

The key for quinoa (and most any salad, really) is it only tastes as good as the things you put in it. So, I asked my mother in law what’s typically in a potato salad then decided simple and ‘traditional’ ingredients would be the base for my quinoa: potatoes, hardboiled eggs, celery, and green onions. Regardless of the ingredients, though, I knew what mattered most was my dressing – and I needed something that seemed traditional even though I was going against the grain and not using mayo. Hmmmm….

It took a bit for the flavors of the dressing to come together just right. I tasted, amended, tasted again, amended a little more, and then, when I felt it was done, I called in the big guns: my girls. They are my thumbs up, thumbs down critics – and I can always count on the truth and nothing but the truth when it comes to my food.

“What are you making,” Kenna asked with Selah in toe.

“Here, it’s the potato salad I’m taking to enter in the store’s contest,” I said as I maneuvered a bite into her mouth.

Three, four, five seconds passed as she let the flavors fall on her palate. She was looking me in the eye the whole time she chewed.

“Mmmmm, I’ll have another bite,” she said as she grabbed a new spoon and dug into the bowl.

“I want to try it, too,” Selah said, almost as if she was being left out of something spectacular.

Now I had both of them chewing… both of them saying ‘mmmmm’ as they looked at me and each other… and both of them asking for their own little bowl to take out by the pool for lunch. I was pleasantly surprised, to be totally honest – surprised I got them to eat potato salad! But they did – and they loved it – and it was time to get it to the store.

I walked my quinoa potato salad to the back of the market hosting the challenge and threw my proverbial hat in the ring. I was told they were only expecting 5 or 6 entries for the contest, but when I arrived there were close to 30! I didn’t have high expectations. I recognize with food that ‘good’ is subjective… and dressing my quinoa potato salad with a non-mayonaise, non-traditional dressing in this All-American town was a stretch. But, we can’t win if we don’t try, right?

Did I win? …no. And, that’s okay. When they announced the winner it was a gal a little older than me – a local mom that screamed a little when she heard her name then called her daughter with the news. She was so excited for the $500 prize I got a little teary-eyed seeing that blessing fall down on her and make her day. “It was my grandma’s recipe,” she bubbled as I congratulated her – her face was bright and her eyes were beaming. Her joy warmed my heart.

was declared a ‘Crowd Favorite’ made it to the top 5 judge off, though. And you know what else? While I wasn’t the champion of the store’s competition, the fact I got my girls to not only try this salad but ask for more… well, that’s all the win this mama needs to feel like a champion.

So, in case you’re looking to please a crowd tomorrow with your potato salad and you love quinoa and you love going against the grain of ‘traditional’, I highly suggest giving this a try. :)

Ingredients for Salad:

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5 pounds gold potatoes, chopped into small cubes and boiled in salted water until soft
3 cups cooked quinoa
5 hardboiled eggs, diced
1 cup finely chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped green onions

Ingredients for Dressing:

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3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2  cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/4 rice vinegar
2-3 TBSP fresh dill, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, diced and smashed
1 TBSP mustard (yellow or dijon)
1 TBSP honey
1 TBSP lemon zest
1 TBSP + 1 tsp sea salt
1 TBSP + 1 tsp black pepper

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Dice your potatoes in little cubes then place them in a pot of salted water to boil til soft

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While your potatoes boil, whisk all your dressing ingredients together, and set aside.

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When potatoes prick easy with a fork, drain them and put them into a large bowl. Add your diced hardboiled eggs, celery, and green onions.

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Pour your dressing over the mixture.

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Stir the mixture until all ingredients are evenly coated, then add your quinoa and stir again to incorporate.

Then…. ENJOY!

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(NOTE: This recipe will feed 20-25 people.)

Have a wonderful and SAFE Fourth of July! As always, I’m honored you’re here with me…

 

Going Back Home

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…We also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame… Romans 5:3,4

 

We just returned from our annual summer kick-off road trip from Portland to Acton, California. We spent two days driving down, spent seven full days with our family, and then took two more days to drive home. For the last three years we’ve skipped town the week after the kids get out of school because you can never, ever count on Portland weather til after July 4th… and, so, we’ve learned: no reason to sit around wasting the first couple weeks of summer in June gloom!

While we typically journey the I5 for ease, this time we took the ‘scenic’ route and headed down the 101. We made a journey through the Redwoods – a journey my man and I last made when we were 21 and just out of college. Back then, it was just us – holding hands, hiking through the massive trees, making stops along the way to picnic and savor ‘dating’ in the ancients. This time, however, we saw it through our babies eyes… eyes that said ‘wow’, and then about 15 minutes into it said, “now how much longer to grandma’s house?”

We spent the night not too far from the Redwoods and the next morning continued down the 101 to the 5 – a route that took us smack dab through my childhood hometown of San Leandro, California. San Leandro was home for me from when I was about 3 ’til I was 8. It’s where my dad had his gyms; it’s where I tap danced; it’s where I had a best friend Beth; it’s where a neighborhood boy took me home on his bicycle handlebars and hit a bump so hard I went flying and scraped off the entire side of my face; it’s where I picked raw sunflower seeds out of the huge sunflowers that hung over the fence two doors down. And, since I hadn’t seen the house since we left over 33 years ago, I knew I couldn’t drive through without going back home.

I had no clue what our old address was, so I called my dad. “It’s on Corvallis St,” he said. “I don’t remember the number, but for some reason 356 sticks out in my mind. I think it must be 356.” I mapped it – we were less than 5 miles away.

As we routed to Corvallis street, I didn’t recognize a thing. I drove slowly with hopes something would jog a memory, but even as we drove down Corvallis, nothing seemed familiar. I remember a tree-lined street, yet the street was very sparse on trees. I remember a quaint little road, but Corvallis had a double yellow line down the middle and was obviously a main thoroughfare. I remember kids playing in fronts of houses and swings on trees and kids on bikes, but I didn’t see one child – just aging folks on slow missions. I started to think maybe my dad had it wrong… but then I saw it. I slowed – and then I stopped right across the street to take it in and make sure. The skin on my arms stood up and announced loud and clear I was officially on the sacred ground of my childhood.

It was so much smaller than I remember… much, much smaller. I didn’t remember it sat on a corner, either. The fence was gone – the big fence that held us kids and all our problems hidden from the world. The big tree was gone – the tree that sat just beside our front door where I’d swing for hours as my nana would cook our meals on her outside wood burning stove. It was not everything I remembered, but yet my heart knew the instant I saw it that I was home.

My eyes welled with tears and I fought the urge to weep. “That’s it. That’s my house,” I said through my tears. “That’s it…” I just sat there, window down, hoping the little man of the house painting the front concrete wall wouldn’t turn and notice me. I didn’t want to be noticed.

Being there instantly overwhelmed me. I felt a rush of anguish from the pets my young heart loved and lost there: two dogs we put down because of a rare skin disorder, a kitten that died in my lap on our front porch, a rabbit that my dogs got to and played to death, and numerous hamsters to who knows what. I could see my Holly Hobby bedspread on my hand-me-down antique brass bed; my plastic yellow record player that sang to me when yelling filled our halls; nights in front of the TV watching Hardy Boys (and my heartthrob Shawn Cassidy); and, I could see my nana – my rock. (Oh, how I miss that old lady.) I felt the pain of being told on my 6th birthday, “If you’re always this bossy you’ll never have friends“; my mind’s eye saw my parent’s fights and struggles in those early years, and the ackwardness and angst I felt in that home.

Seeing my home created an emotional whirlpool and I simply couldn’t hold back the tears.  “Are you okay, mommy?” my little guy asked as he reached his little hand over my seat and touched my neck.

“Yes, honey, I’m okay.”

As I sat there staring at the new life that corner was obviously living, my tears fell, not because of hard memories (although there were many), but because of the realization of the new life I live today. I cried not because I hurt from remembering – I cried because, by the grace of God and nothing else, the little girl who lived there made it out. I cried because, by the grace of God and nothing else, my babies have a better life than I did. I cried because, by the grace of God and nothing else…

He has given BEAUTY for the ashes of my childhood

He has given STRENGTH for the fear of my childhood

He has given JOY for the mourning I once felt

He has filled my life with PRAISE instead of the despair I was destined for.

While I don’t revel in the trials of my 41 years, remembering where I’ve come from (and what I should have and could have been had my Father not saved me) humbles me and fills me with gratitude and thankfulness. That’s why I cried… because by remembering where I’ve come from, I am overwhelmed by the kindness, grace, mercy and love of my great big God.

Life will never be easy or perfect – even though Facebook wants us to think it is and should be. No, there are struggles, and misunderstandings; we hurt people, and people hurt us – often unintentionally; and, every single one of us comes from a past with disappointments, failures, and things we wish we could just wipe away.  No matter where we’ve been, however, every day is a new day… a new day to love, to forgive, to let go, to appreciate.

Every day is a new day to choose joy and find HOPE in this Great Story we are part of… every new day is a new day to be thankful.