Big news in our family – something happy for a change

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My boy and his girlfriend

My boy and his girlfriend

Yesterday I used a word I have never used before.

It was a word I prayed I would use one day.

Like, I really did pray to Jesus about using this word.

I remember praying with my son throughout the years

When I tucked him in at night or

During casual conversation in the family room and

Around the kitchen table before dinner

This word has always provoked a sense of wonder and anticipation in our boys.

My boy and his fiancée

On Sunday at a fancy restaurant in San Salvador, El Salvador, my oldest olive shoot, my Soldier, my West Point graduate, my Ranger, my Sugar Boy asked his beloved to marry him.

She said, “yes.”

So yesterday I no longer referred to Lu as Nate’s girlfriend

Around 4pm during a very serious meeting in Raleigh, the Hubs and I spoke about a very happy moment as we were talking about a very sad one

Then these words flew out like a butterfly in the sky,

“my son’s fiancée.”

The air in the room grew lighter for an instant

photo copyAnd I felt a smile in my heart

A fresh and joyful moment, most welcome and healing to my soul

Their love story is such an adventure, your heart will smile as well

That incredible day, the one we have prayed about for so many years has finally arrived

My son has a fiancée, I have a future daughter-in-love!

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Sew far away – Guinea Pig Girl doll memoirs

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So many beautiful faces just like this one

I had to go to the bathroom.

#1

in the outskirts of Lima, Peru

Dust-covered village, not a porta-potty in sight – understatement

so I ask my translator and soon we’re following a man to his house

Dirt steps, hollowed out rooms, feels kind of like the Flintstones

The father tells his family someone is here and they come out to briefly greet us

Yes it’s awkward

because I have to go to the bathroom

#1

Over to the side is a makeshift curtain

And I step inside and observe a hole on the ground

which I use

This was the common landscape in Lima

And soon I thank the family who has graciously offered a stranger into their house

But in the corner

over to the side

So many moments like this meeting people and sharing the love of Christ – I will never be the same

I see

a doll

that looks like it belongs in a dumpster

but it is in a house

Is this filthy doll a little girl’s toy?

That image has stayed with me, humbling me many days

Years later, I sew and I pray sometimes

“God, use my simple sewing skills for others, keep me open to your ways.”

I wish I had been making Tess the Guinea Pig Girl dolls back then

because I would have given her one

or two

or a dozen

Tess and Esther, Joy and Leah hang out together. On Friday, Tess’s friends will begin their journey to live in Madagascar.

I want the Guinea Pig Girl dolls to go places

Near and far

Mission trips

Operation Christmas Child boxes

Regular places too

To be loved

and hugged

Three of them go to Madagascar on Friday

Esther, Joy and Leah will meet the Mahafaly people 

On Saturday, Tabitha, another Guinea Pig Girl doll,  goes to Nepal with an anti human-trafficking advocate

Can you imagine?!

Although Tess will miss her greatly, she’s excited for Tabitha and her big move to Nepal.

To bless a little girl or a hurting soul

In my own comfortable land or continents away

My sewing machine feels happy, just wish “we” would have started sooner.

“Heavenly Father, mightily use my human brothers and sisters in Christ. Protect and anoint every aspect of their journey. And for my fabric friends, Lord, whoever receives one of these little dolls, may she receive it with the love with which it was made and sense the everlasting love which only comes from you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

Read more about my friends’ travels here and here, I hope to have some pictures of the GPG in their new homes.

To order a Guinea Pig Girl doll, check out my website at oliveshootinstitute.com.

Cooking in a Restaurant

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a pupuseria in El Salvador, doesn’t that look pretty? 

It was Saturday afternoon and Nate and I were on a mission. Much like the special training missions he goes on at West Point, my OS and I were focused and ready, steely-eyed and single-minded. Our task was significant. Nothing was going to stop us.

Our task – to procure ingredients and learn how to make a traditional Central American dish worthy of the fine country from which it hails. (Proclaimed in a loud, official voice with great gesticulation) A country whose name is on our lips more than I ever expected. A country I visited on a true mission trip from the Lord and while there serendipitously met a beautiful girl with whom my OS is now in love. The girl is Lu. The country is El Salvador, the dish, mi amigos(cue dramatic music)

a pupusa
a real pupuseria in El Salvador

the adorable couple in El Salvador during Christmas

Nate had announced his desire to make pupusas for the family prior to arriving home for a brief visit. With two trips to San Salvador under his belt, he has embraced both his girlfriend and these thick, hand-made tortillas with gusto. A few months ago, Aaron and I happened upon a local Mexican restaurant that makes pupusas. A coincidence? I think not. Aaron was getting his driver’s permit and this restaurant is literally next door to the DMV! How convenient that it is only ten minutes from our house!

So my Soldier/OS and I drove to Tarascos Restaurant and went inside. 

Good salsa, great pupusas, lovely people!



Without hesitation, we each ordered a pupusa. A casual conversation began between us and the employees. Nate practiced his Spanish per my prodding. I think it’s so important to speak another language! As a French major, I actually understood some of the conversation. These people were warm and friendly especially when Nate explained that his girlfriend was Salvadoran. It appeared that they weren’t used to Americanos coming in and ordering pupusas.


Nate making his first pupusa

We inquired about how to make the perfect pupusa and before we knew it, the cook had invited us back to the kitchen. We had personalized instruction from Lillia who showed us how to make pupusas! Honored that she was taking the time to demonstrate the technique, Lillia invited Nate to try to make a pupusa himself. Pupusas aren’t hard to make at all but seeing her skilled hand prepare them was invaluable.

I predict that one day this guy’s gonna open up his own
pupuseria in the States! 





My little cutie-patooty and his pupusas!

So how did OUR pupusas taste? Aaron and Ike were rather unimpressed. Nate felt as if he was tasting play-dough. I didn’t think they were that bad. They were definitely better than the pupusas the Hubs tried to make a few weeks ago. Can you say “blech!” 

We did everything according to her instructions. I was a keen observer and despite the lack of flavor when we tried to make pupusas at home, we need to not give up. There wasn’t a secret ingredient mixed into the corn flour but maybe it was the seasoned griddle Lillia used, I’m still trying to figure it out.  I’m not giving up on mastering this dish though, I assure you! I just finished the book The Art of Eating In and feel more compelled than ever to master tasty, interesting, economical meals for my family. 

We are praying that one day, Lord willing, Lu and her family will come here for a very special cooking demonstration.  

Even though our pupusas weren’t as good as the ones in El Salvador and at Tarasco’s, we remain blessed and optimistic about the future of cooking and of love. When the world feels so close and people get along, it is cause to rejoice!

Chicken broth for the soul

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Chicken broth and me have a thing. I’m not sure when it started but I’d say we’re pretty hot and heavy. Perhaps it began (cue dreamlike music) to the time when I went to Lima, Peru and helped in a local soup kitchen.

It was 2007, I was on a mission trip and one day our team went to a very poor village where, among other things, I chopped fresh herbs for the local ladies as they made chicken foot soup for the villagers. We were told not to try any food so I don’t know how it tasted but the local village men gobbled it down before they returned to work.


I am a fan of DIY chicken broth and I very much dislike canned soup. Now that I have mastered making my own chicken broth, the Hubs knows he skating on some very thin ice anytime he brings in a can of (HORRORS) soup!


Here are some reasons I like making my own chicken broth.

Healthy – I know what I put into it. Using local, in season vegetables I often get at the farmer’s market means I selected the ingredients my family is ingesting.

Easy – Basically I just dump a bunch of veggies, a chicken or a chicken carcass, garlic and spices into a pot of water, turn the heat up and just monitor their progress. I don’t measure anything and that’s something because I almost always use measuring spoons. You wash the veggies, cut off any yucky parts and let all the goodness cook and simmer together. Simply cut a head of garlic, cut the onions in half and leave the skin on, don’t peel the carrots and go on with your bad self! You will be popping your chicken broth collah in no time at all!

Cheap – Before I started making my own chicken stock, the Hubs would often have the dubious task of running to the store to get me chicken broth just as I was in the middle of cooking. Now I have frozen bags of chicken broth on hand, made from the scraps in my kitchen. I feel frugal!

Fun – It’s satisfying to create something good for my family. There have been times when I have gone a little overboard and the Hubs will say, “Hon, we have PLENTY of chicken broth!”

So here’s the recipe, if you can call it that. My OS love my chicken noodle soup and all the credit goes to the broth.

Yesterday I roasted two chickens and then put the chicken carcasses in a heavy pot. Other times I just put uncooked whole chickens into a heavy pot.

Then check your fridge and cupboards. Get some onions, a whole garlic, carrots, celery, leeks, turnips, parsnips, parsley, green peppers and onions (you don’t need all of these) and put whatever you have on hand into the pot.


Add enough water to cover all the ingredients inside. Generously add kosher salt or sea salt along with fresh ground pepper into the pot. Turn the heat to high and when it all starts to boil, turn the heat down and let the broth simmer until the veggies are nearly mushy.

Get either a large bowl or another large pot and with a colander, strain the solid ingredients from the broth. Once you have separated the liquid, you will see how rich and savory it is!

Once cooled, if you notice a layer of fat on top of the broth, simply remove it. You can freeze the broth to use later or immediately in soups, etc. The aroma of soup is permeating my house and I can’t wait to feed the Hubs and the OS tonight!

A breath of fresh air

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I loved the people and the landscape but one of the things I loved the most about El Salvador was the breezes. You know how the wind gets really strong and blustery just before a drenching rain? Well, minus the rain, that’s what the November breezes were like in El Salvador. Simply wonderful!


And during my mission trip, we did laundry, pined it on the line and in mere minutes the fresh air dried the clothes. There is nothing better than the smell of laundry warmed by the sun. So many incredible experiences during my 10 days in El Salvador but the simplest one for me was the tropical breezes.

If my camera would have cooperated, I would have much better pictures, but here’s a tiny slice of life.
Today is blazing hot and in an effort to capture those moments and faraway feelings, feeble as it might be, I asked the Hubs to install a clothesline in our garage. Yes, it’s a farrrrrrr cry from what I enjoyed in El Salvador but I longed to bring those moments home with me.

Since we have covenants in our neighborhood, I can’t hang the clothes line outside. It has to be in the garage. If anyone saw a clothesline in the backyard we’d get a charming notice from the Covenant Police

which is something I’d rather avoid.

This idea might be an epic fail but it was worth a try, right?

Being on the mission field, part one

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Prior to going to Guatemala, I gave my middle OS a project. A crafting project. Most 14 year old boys don’t really like doing crafts. My 14 year old boy is no exception but with constant prodding on behalf of his mom, my son made these…

Aren’t they pretty? So simple and cheap but I just know that God is going to use that boy and these necklaces in a powerful way. How do I know? Because two years ago I had a similar experience. Not with a craft item but with a simple bottle of shampoo.

In July 2007, I went to Lima, Peru on a mission trip. Prior to leaving my hairstylist, (the one who puts pink highlights in my hair), gave me a big bottle of Bumble and Bumble shampoo to use there. Not for my head, there would be no vanity on this trip, but because we were going to be washing children’s hair. In certain areas of Peru, people can’t even afford shampoo, it is a luxury they often do without. I packed it eagerly curious as to what the Lord had in store.

Weeks later, to my astonishment, I found myself washing children’s hair on a filthy, dirt-covered street. The kids would just line up and with nary a peep, we would pour cold water from a hose on their head. With plastic gloves, I would squirt a dollop of shampoo on their little charcoal black heads and proceed to wash their thick Peruvian hair. We used buckets to rinse the water and their attentive mothers would just look on and act so grateful. It was rather amusing because there were even adult men lining up for our hair washing services but we had to decline and concentrate just on the kids.

It was our last day on the mission field. The big bottle of shampoo I was given had been too cumbersome to lug around for our hair washing projects so I still had it in my possession. I certainly wasn’t going to be taking it back home with me. I trusted it was meant for someone else so I placed big bottle in my backpack determined to give it to someone deserving.

We arrived at an impoverished village. The ramshackle homes spoke of a hard life bereft of most creature comforts. I helped prepare chicken foot (yes, chicken FOOT) soup and served hot chocolate to the scads of children milling about.
Another group washed hair and when we were nearly all done, a mother approached me. Through the help of a translator, she asked me if we cut hair. I knew I didn’t cut hair so I went the easy route and said we didn’t have any scissors. Then she told me, not to worry, she had scissors.

Because I’m so quick on my feet (HA!), I presumed someone could do it and I told this mama we could probably do that. I went inside the bus and asked if anyone cut hair. No one listened to me and then it occurred to me that she wanted ME to cut her child’s hair…something I have never done before, not in my own country and certainly not in South America…


I’ll write another post and tell you what happened next…

Blogging friends meet at last

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Woke up on Monday morning with nothing to do. Considering the Monday a week before was, shall we say, eventful?? I was happy but a little disappointed because I don’t like feeling unproductive.

I was checking my facebook aka my lifeline 😉 and I had a message from someone very special. It was from my friend Sharon and she and her family were coming to visit! I really love entertaining so naturally I was thrilled but what was even cooler is that this would be the first time I would be meeting this person I call my friend!

Sharon and I met through my blog. A year ago, the West Point Alumni Association placed a link to my blog of their online newsletter. My post was about the fateful day when Nathan began his journey at West Point. The day they posted my blog, I got 1,000 hits on my blog which blew my ever-lovin‘ mind, y’all!

So that’s how we met. We have kept in touch since that time and it’s been neat finding out we had a lot in common.

Mom, me too!
Wife, me too!
She blogs, I blog!
She loves Jesus, so do I!
I went to El Salvador and Peru on mission trips; she and her family are moving to Papua, New Guinea to serve the Lord!
I have an OS at West Point; her husband is a grad!

We both used to work with teenagers and teach them healthy life skills! Jazz hands!
And the list goes on and on…

This year I have met several new friends and it’s kismet when I meet someone and there is this connection as if we have known each other for a long time.

Suddenly the day went from nothing to do, to having something very special to do! I rushed to the farmer’s market and put the OS to work straightening up the house. 
I am such a housewifey kind of girl, I set the table pretty which is seriously one of my fave things to do in life. My serotonin levels soar when I am decorating, especially when I am putting special touches around my dining room table, you have no idea. 

With my OS’s help, (I am determined to raise three sons who know how to cook!), I prepared shepherd’s pie, a fresh salad of ruffly, purple lettuce, ripe orange cherry tomatoes and fresh beets and then a bowl of freshly sliced peaches and blueberries. We enjoyed pleasant conversation throughout the night and Nate and Paul discussed WP things. I observed they used acronyms a lot more than non-Army people. 😉 If they weren’t moving to PNG, I’d want Sharon as a neighbor and close friend. Why, we could do girly things together, she could teach me about letter boxing and geo-caching. I have no idea what I could offer her except a few laughs, but it would have been fun.

After dinner, we treated the Bowers to Goodberry’s which is home to the world’s most delicious frozen custard

If you are ever in the area, come over to my house and we’ll take you to Goodberry’s as well!


In this great big world we live in, as vast and busy as it is, we carved out time to connect face to face with some wonderful people. We got to know each other via the internet but had some precious time together in person. Check out her blog and you’ll see why I’m glad to have this new lady in my life and heart!