Monday, June 20, 2016

Pura Vida

A little known fact about me is that I'm half Costa Rican.  As I child, when I'd see the American Flag or sing patriotic songs in elementary school I'd get emotional and choke back tears... okay, I still get emotional during the pledge or national anthem because I'm ridiculously patriotic, but as a kid I would ponder on how grateful I am to be an American and live in the United States.  I've always had a deep love for this country I live in.  I've also always been curious about Costa Rica, which is where my mom comes from.  As long as I can remember, visiting Costa Rica has been one of my biggest goals.

Becoming US Citizens in 1964

My mom was adopted into the United States when she was two years old and her brother was just a baby.  There was some adoption paperwork, naming my mom's biological mother and saying the two kids were given to a stranger in a bar and that man's wife made him take the kids to an orphanage.  We always wondered what possessed someone to abandon their children.  My mom's adopted parents were told that attempts were made to locate the family but no one had come forward.  My mom and her brother, Ronnie, were adopted out of an orphanage in San Jose with along with another Costa Rican boy from a different orphanage.  Her adoptive parents had gone to Costa Rica to adopt a baby and ended up taking three children instead!  I have always thought that was really admirable.

Here they are with kids belonging to the family they stayed with while all the adoption paperwork was completed.
My mom's hair was red from malnutrition and they all had worms.  My mom was afraid of small animals and it was believed to be due to the rats she had been around. Years were spent speculating on where my mom came from and the circumstances surrounding the kids ending up in an orphanage.  A private investigator was too expensive and we didn't know where to get more information.

Written by my mom's father

Eventually, along came the internet and with it, the ability to connect to people worldwide.  My mom posted an ad on the Costa Rican craigslist website with the small amount of information she had about her beginnings in Costa Rica.   A man responded to her and said he worked with public records.  He did some digging and came up with her birth father's name.  A second ad was placed, and someone responded!  The email came from the secretary of my grandfather's brother!  A simple ad in craigslist led to a family reunited.

I remember the first time we made a phone call to Costa Rica.  My mom's Spanish was rusty, so one of my friends offered to translate for us.  We placed the phone on speaker and all sat around the phone anxiously as we dialed my mom's older brother.  

We learned that my mom's biological mother was separated from the kids' father and she had gone into the city with her two babies to try and find work.  Her older son stayed home with his grandparents because he was sick.  While she was in the city, the kids were taken from her by the government and placed in an orphanage.  The family tried to get them back, but with no luck.  The government felt like they weren't being taken care of properly.  We're not exactly sure the circumstances surrounding them being given to a man in a bar, but that testimony in the court documents so somewhere along the lines my grandmother must have felt like she just couldn't take care of her children.

My mom and her biological father.

My mom's biological mother never recovered.  She lived a life of depression, alcohol and men to try and drown out the shame of losing her children.  She died very young and there are no pictures of her.  Her other son, my mom's older brother, was raised by his grandparents and went to work in banana plantations as a child to help support them.  He actually still works in the plantations today.  It's a heart-breaking story for my Costa Rican family to have lost two of their babies, but I know my mom is so grateful for her life in the United States.

Marcos, Alicia, Ronnie... together after over 50 years!
My mom has been to Costa Rica several times to visit since she found her family seven years ago.  On her first trip she was thrown a party to represent all the many birthdays that had been missed over the years.  She met her biological father and brother, several half siblings and lots of aunts, uncles and cousins! Her father's sisters especially were so happy to see her because they remember when the children were taken away.

My uncle, Ronnie, was able to visit Costa Rica a couple of years ago and meet the family too.  We've been working on getting their brother Marcos and his wife here to the United States for a visit so we can show them what life is like for us!  They are very traditional Costa Ricans and think we're a bunch of rich snobby Americans!  They would definitely be in for a shock if they ever came to visit.  My mom keeps telling me what a culture shock I'm in for when I go there!

My mom and her sister-in-law at their home in Costa Rica.
 I have cousins, aunts, uncles and a grandpa I've never met!  My only living grandparent is in Costa Rica.

In a couple of days I will be leaving my "snobby" American life behind to go with my mom, my husband and my three children for a two week trip to Costa Rica for the first time. My Costa Rican family doesn't speak a word of English and I don't speak a word of Spanish, but I have so much love in my heart for these people I've never even met.

Of course as we've been talking about this trip for months we've all been getting excited about going to the Caribbean beaches, seeing sloths and eating delicious food, but really this trip is about family.  These are the people I come from and although communication will be difficult, hugs are universal!

We are not staying at resorts, or even hotels.  We've decided to rent houses and shop at the markets and cook our own food and really get a taste for the beautiful country of Costa Rica.  I'm nervous, but I'm also more excited than I can express!  I spent my whole life imagining where my mom came from and now I'm going to see it firsthand!  

Friday, May 20, 2016

Pretty Pink Princess Party

It's always been my dream to throw myself a princess birthday party!  Why do kids get to have all the pretty princess fun?  When researching ideas for my party I found that most fancy princess parties on Pinterest were thrown for one year olds!  One?  I wanted to host a princess party for grown-up women to dress up and feel fabulous!  You're never too old to be a princess! 

These beautiful mini cakes were the party favors.  Each lady got to take home a pretty cake on a cake stand made from vintage china.

We had a couple more princesses show up after this picture was taken, but you can see that everyone princessed up!  It was fabulous to be surrounded by so many beautiful women!  Everyone was invited with plenty of notice to find a dress.  I ordered mine from Amazon.  The pink taffeta was so lovely.   Amazon also had great prices on petticoats!  I found my sparkly diamondy shoes and gold shrug from thrift stores.  Finding the perfect dress was such a fun part of the party.

My daughters teased me that all my friends are way too loud!  They said that they couldn't believe so many people could be laughing so hard all night... I say that's a good sign!  We were all having a blast!

We played an ice breaker bingo game.  It was a lot of fun finding ladies to initial the squares.  I had small prizes for the first three people who got BINGO.  Most of the people at the party didn't know each other, so the game was a great way to find out interesting facts about each other.  After the game was over I read each square out loud and had everyone raise their hand who fit the square.  I don't think there were many shy ladies at the party, so an ice breaker wasn't totally necessary, but it sure was fun!

Pink cotton candy is my favorite!  Placed in nut cups and topped with crowns cotton candy looks adorable!

Setting everything up was so much fun!  I had a couple of great friends come early to help me get everything ready.

Pink meringue cookies are so princessy!  I totally want to play with the meringue cookie idea more for other events!

I hired a friend to make the meringues, scones and mini cakes.  They came out so perfect!

I scoured thrift stores for weeks to find the perfect vintage pieces to make the 20 mini cake plates.

I dressed up bamboo flatware with pretty washi tape.  I planned to use vintage china and silverware, but my daughters convinced me to use disposables so I'd have less dishes to do after my party.

One of the most fun parts of the night was the Italian soda bar.  I ordered several flavors of syrups with pumped to be mixed and matched.  Ginger ale, 7up and sparkling mineral water were the bases.

I purchased plastic cups with dome lids from a restaurant supply company.  Everyone was able to decorate their cup with stickers.  They came out really cute, plus it was easy to tell which cup was whose.  The instructions were written along the way so everyone knew how to make their drink.  Watermelon was the most popular flavor, which was surprising!  Tiger's blood is one of my favorite snow cone flavors and I learned that strawberry, watermelon and coconut are what goes into tiger's blood.  Yummy!  

Along with the sweets, I served chicken salad, egg salad and cucumber sandwich fillings, along with ham and a variety of cheeses.  Rolls and croissants were purchased from Costco for the sandwich bases.

The cakes made a stunning display!

The cakes were lemon with a vanilla buttercream frosting.  They were delicious!

Several of my friends stayed until midnight.  My friend Cearson and I died laughing at my husband who photobombed our midnight selfie.  The whole night was magical.  It was the best birthday party ever!

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

St. Patty's Day Tablescape and Irish Dinner

We have never done leprechaun traps or other kidsy St. Patrick's Day traditions at our house, but every year I make an Irish meal and some sort of green dessert to celebrate the holiday. Instead of doing corned beef, I typically do pork and I always make Irish soda bread!

Irish Bacon and Cabbage

boneless pork roast
red potatoes

The night before cooking, place the roast into a big bowl of cold water and add lots of salt... about a cupful. Let it sit in the fridge overnight. The next morning, place the drained meat in the crockpot with potatoes and carrots. Add a bit of water. Let cook on low all day. 30 minutes before serving add the cabbage, cut into chunks.

Irish Soda Bread

4 c flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 to 1 ½ c buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425. Mix together dry ingredients. Gradually add buttermilk, mixing with a large spoon until dough is firm enough to be gathered into a large ball. If the dough is crumbly, add some more buttermilk, a tablespoonful at a time, until it all adheres to the ball. Place on a lightly floured board. Pat and shape it into a flat circular loaf, about 8 inches around and 1 ½ inches thick. Set on a floured baking sheet. With the tip of a knife, cut a ½ inch deep cross into the dough, dividing it into quarters. Bake for about 35-45 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and wrap in a clean dish cloth. Let cool about 20 minutes.

Of course in an LDS home we have root beer with our St. Patty's Day dinner!

Happy St. Patty's Day!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Me and My Girls: YouTube episode 1

My teenagers and I have an amazing relationship.  It's tricky to balance being a mom with old fashioned beliefs and values and having teens who are very much of the modern world.  We totally make it work though!  If you missed my Best Piece of Parenting Advice for Moms of Teens, be sure to read it here!

As I was pondering on what kinds of videos I'd like to film for my YouTube channel I thought about recipes or crafty ideas, and although I may include those now and then, my greatest passion is women and relationships so that will be my main focus.  I hope you enjoy watching this video as much as I enjoyed making it! 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Tropical Crab Salad

We totally love fake crab at our house.  We can sit and eat a whole pound of it right out of the bag!  I love using crab in salads and main dishes as well.  Here's a simple but yummy tropical crab salad recipe!

Crab Pasta Salad

8 oz whipped cream cheese (in a tub)
1/2 c. crushed pineapple
1/4 c. milk

1 lb imitation crab meat
1 can mandarin oranges
12 oz pasta shells, cooked

For the dressing mix together cream cheese, crushed pineapple and milk.  Stir in remaining ingredients, chill before serving.  Enjoy!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

My Favorite Downtown SLC Hole-in-the-Wall Restaurants

Bruges Waffles and Frites

When we travel it's all about the food for me!  I love local hole-in-the-wall type restaurants and rarely eat at chains.  The same goes for eating out in our own state!  You won't catch me eating at a chain restaurant unless I have to!  We find ourselves in the downtown area of Salt Lake City quite often, and have found a few treasures over the years.  Bonus, they're each $20-30 for two people to eat!  Here are a few of our family's favorites:

1- Rich's Burgers n Grub: This is a great downtown place for burgers.  It's small and there is rarely more than one employee working at a time, but we've never had a problem getting a table.  They have quite a few burgers on the menu and you can choose any of them with a hamburger patty, chicken breast or a veggie patty (they make the veggie patties in house).  My daughter is a vegetarian and loves having so many choices.  My favorite is the Mac & Cheese Burger with a side of fried green beans.  Their sweet potato fries are also a delicious side option.  We've never been disappointed at Rich's.  The staff is friendly and the food is fabulous!  They're located at 30 E. 300 S. (Broadway).

The Blue Nile Special

2. Blue Nile:  We originally found the Blue Nile restaurant on Groupon and decided to be adventurous.  We had never tried Ethiopian food and didn't know what to expect, but it was amazing!  I highly recommend getting the Blue Nile Special.  For $25 you get to sample many of the menu items plus an appetizer.  It's plenty of food for two people to share.  One of the interesting things about Blue Nile is you eat your food using a delicious spongy bread to scoop everything up instead of silverware.  Service is usually quite slow, so give yourself plenty of time, but it's always friendly.  This is one restaurant we'll actually drive to Salt Lake specifically for!  They're located at 755 S. State.

Bruges Waffles and Frites

3. Bruges Waffles & Frites: Oh Bruges, how do I love thee?  If you're familiar at all with the Belgian waffle craze in Utah aka the Waffle Love truck, you have to try Bruges.  They have amazing Belgian waffles, but they also have delicious Belgian french fries with flavored dipping mayos!  The salty perfectly compliments the sweet.  I love the liege waffle with whipped cream and strawberries and a side of frites with a good spicy mayo.  The downtown Bruges has very little seating and most of it is outdoors, so be aware if the weather isn't great.  There is nothing healthy about Bruges, but it's one of those places that's worth the calorie splurge!  They're located at 336 W. 300 S. (Broadway)

4. Toasters:  We found Toasters for the first time a couple of years ago during Comic Con.  I was researching good sandwich places with vegetarian options within walking distance of the Con and Toasters got great reviews.  It has now become tradition for my girls to go to Toasters every single time they're at Comic Con (twice a year).  It's a great lunch option with healthier options.  I love the Turkey Avocado.  It has balsamic vinegar and swiss cheese on it which makes it unique and yummy!  They have three downtown locations: 151 W. 200 S, 215 S. State and 30 E. 300 S. (Broadway).

Siegfried's Delicatessen

5. Siegfried's Delicatessen:  This German deli was another Comic Con find.  It's unique and fun!  They have a gift store (with German chocolates!) and a full deli with sliced meats and cheeses.  I like to order the traditional bratwurst with spaetzle w/gravy and red cabbage, but everything I've tried has been delicious.  Just a heads up, my teens are not impressed with German food, so this may be a grownups only type place to visit!  They're located at 20 W. 200 S.

Cute mini German chocolate bars from Siegfried's

6. The Robin's Nest:  This is another healthier lunch option.  I've always gotten salads at The Robin's Nest, but their sandwiches look delicious too.  I love the Nutty Flora with chicken added.  The ingredients are fresh and their salads are filling.  The staff has always been friendly and the service is quick even when they're busy.  They're located at 311 S. Main.

We're always looking for fun new local spots to eat and I'm sure our downtown list will continue to grow!  How about you?  Are you a hole-in-the-wall type person or do you like to play it safe with chain restaurants?

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The BEST piece of parenting advice for moms of teens

When our children are young we can shelter them and keep them in a bubble, but as they get older we have to give them freedom and the ability to make their own decisions and their own mistakes, even though it's hard for us.  We have life experiences and we know what the outcome will be when our kids make bad choices, but we have to let them make those choices and deal with those consequences.

Our Heavenly Father feels the same way about us.  He has more knowledge than we do.  He knows what will happen when we make decisions, but He allows us the agency to make our own choices, both wrong and right.  Sometimes we pray and ask and even beg for things that He doesn't provide.  We feel like He isn't listening, but really He IS listening.  He just knows better than we do.  How often do our kids beg and plead and cry for something that we have to say no to because it isn't in their best interest?  It may be staying up too late, wearing immodest clothing, going to an inappropriate movie or dating too young. From the time our kids can walk we are telling them no.  Don't touch that, don't climb on that, don't eat that; these are all things little kids don't want to hear, but we know better than them, just like our Heavenly Father knows better than us.

WE are His children.  And just like our own children make mistakes, we make mistakes too.  As our kids get older those mistakes can become wedges in your relationship with them.  Teenagers often pull away from their parents, especially when the teenagers are doing things they know their parents don't approve of.  A lot of that pulling away is because our kids think that we won't love them anymore if they don't fit into the mold of what we think they should be.  How often do we pull away from our Father in Heaven because we feel like we aren't being the person He wants us to be?

The greatest thing I know about my Heavenly Father is that He loves me no matter what.  He loves me even though I'm not perfect.  He loves me even though I make mistakes.  He loves me even though sometimes I cry and whine at Him and beg Him for things that He just isn't going to give me.

Because unconditional love is offered by my Heavenly Father to me, I KNOW that I must offer unconditional love to my kids as well.

It sounds easy to just love them and yet I see so many parents with young teenagers who are kicking their kids out of the house, treating them badly or shutting them out of the family because the kids are doing things they disagree with.

I have three teenagers.  In our family we've experienced eating disorders, cutting, depression, anxiety and suicide pacts with friends.  We've had girls with hair every color of the rainbow and girls with heads shaved completely bald, along with mo-hawks, death-hawks, bi-hawks and clothing I would have never in a million years picked out for my daughters.  My daughters have dated boys who are nothing that I would have wanted for them.  We've experienced kids who've decided they don't want anything to do with church, kids who don't want anything to do with God and kids whose religious, political and social beliefs go against everything I've ever taught them.

But through all of this I have an extremely strong and personal relationship with each of my children.  My 18 year old, who is now living on her own, texts me every single day and comes home for a couple of days at least three times a month.  My 16 year old asks me to sit and do collages with her and to "go on adventures" with her.  She tells me about her life and complains when I say I need to go to bed at night.  My 14 year old son hugs me every time he sees me.

 I may not agree with my kids' beliefs and choices, but I love them and THEY KNOW IT.

When you have teenagers you realize that they are their own people.  Yes, they still need you, but once they leave the walls of your home to go to school or out with friends then you have no control over what their actions are.  You can be a good example, you can teach them, you can lecture them, you can discipline them, but essentially they are who they are and they will make the decisions that they want to make.  All you can do is just love them.  No matter what they do, just love them.

They need love more than anything.  They need to know that whatever they do, whatever mistakes they make, whatever friends they have, whatever causes they believe in, whatever person they are, you will love them.  This doesn't mean that we ignore bad behavior.  A parent is still a parent, but make sure that they know that although you may hate their actions, and sometimes need to disciple them for those actions, you don't hate them as a person.

Being loving, truly loving, parents is something we should all strive for, however young or old our children are.  We know that our Heavenly Father will always have His arms outstretched for us, even if we feel we don't deserve it and I strive to be the kind of parent who always has my arms outstretched to my children as well.

The best piece of advice I can give to other parents of teenagers?  Just love them.