Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Can WE Change Facebook?

 

We have all witnessed Facebook taking a turn for the worst in terms of content. After the election was over, I was SURE that the posts would lighten up, but they seem to have only gotten worse - louder somehow, angrier and more divisive. Just when I think that it can’t get uglier, it does. 

As I quickly scroll through the posts, looking for the little nuggets of family updates and funny animal videos, I am overwhelmed by the hatred that people currently have for each other, and slightly confused by the need to “stand up for what we believe in” on FACEBOOK.

I had the thought the other day as I felt myself reacting to someone’s post, what are these statements actually doing? Why do we feel the need to virtually throw our opinions out for all of the world to read without context or explanation? Can the reader understand in any way where we are coming from when they are on the other side of a screen? 

We seem to be done attempting real conversations about hard things and rather, throw a fast ball right into someone’s face and instead of asking if they’re alright, we just walk away. That’s the luxury of the computer screen. 

It’s inhumane, y’all, and we’ve all done it. But, when did we lose our sensitivity to others? At the end of the day, we’re all people - maybe with differing viewpoints - but all just people. 

Maybe we should all take a hard look at not just what we are saying, but how we are saying it?There seems to be no difference in the tone of the posts that Christians make and non-Christians make; no difference in the right side or the left side.

The bible is clear that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves - even the virtual ones - but is t also clear that WORDS are important in accomplishing this? Actions certainly speak louder than words, but let’s be real - words do speak. And they stick. They can’t be unsaid or erased, even when forgiven. They tend to linger. 

Sharp words, even deeply felt, only serve to make the gap between “us” and “them” wider, not narrower. Speaking Truth in love is designed to be within intimate conversations one on one, allowing sincerity and genuine love to come through to those on the receiving end. Harsh words on a screen are just that - harsh. 

So let me ask this of us: are we building each other up as much as we are tearing each other down? Do people know us for what we are for or for what we are against

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the ned of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:29-32

This tells us that it in fact is important to the Lord how we talk - even on social media. Now, let’s not get all technical here and say that the words aren’t spewing from our mouths but instead our fingers, because God always deals with the heart issue and out of our heart comes our words. “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart.” Matthew 15:18. The words we say, the words we whisper and, yes, the words we write

Lord, let us be women known for building others up, not tearing others down. Let us be the ones that change this divisive environment into a beautiful forum for love and admiration. 

God created us each with different ideas, bents and circumstances so that we can think for ourselves and form our own opinions. We shouldn’t be surprised that we will never agree on everything - we just won’t. We live in a broken world, and a free country. What if we celebrated the idea that we get to have an opinion instead of getting angry that “theirs” isn’t like “ours”. 

We can choose to focus on places of agreement instead of places of argument. When something comes into view that makes our hearts break, makes us see that there is terrible injustice in the world and maybe even moves us to anger - let’s be women who put down the iPhone and DO something about it.

Gather people - your actual people - and make a plan. Visit your local representation, write letters, make phone calls - but let’s be the ones who stop throwing stones across a computer screen. The world - our country, especially - will be better off and WE can be the ones that start making a change! Let's not be absent from social media, but be uplifting on social media - replacing words, articles and comments of hatred with love. Can you imagine the movement that we can start? 


Thursday, March 16, 2017

5 Things to Take to a New Mom


If you're like us, you find yourselves in a season of life where everyone is having babies! Your neighbors, your sunday school class people, your friends, your siblings. One of my favorite ways to love on a family is through food, I mean, I grew up in a Baptist Church - that's just what you do. I thought I'd put together a little wrap up of my five favorite things to take to a new momma! What's your favorite thing to take to a new mom? What was your favorite thing to receive?! 

Beth’s Italian Wedding Soup

This is one of the easiest things to package up and give to a new momma for her lunch that is solo. This doesn’t go with my “meal” but it’s super comforting - just what this sweet woman will need to carry her through those long days after the sleepless nights! It lasts for several days, only getting better, and I dream of the day I’m able to throw some homemade bread in there with it. 


Honey and Lime Chicken Enchiladas (plus frozen taquitos if they have little ones already)

This is one of my very favorite recipes to make for a dinner party or to take to anyone who needs a warm meal. It is so tasty and so simple to make. The recipe is here, but I have begun to make a few changes over time. I like to use whole wheat fresh from the bakery section at my grocery store. They add a little texture, but are still soft unlike gritty corn tortillas. I also add 1 teaspoon ancho chill pepper to the marinade because that is my favorite spice of all time. It adds a bit of heat too, but you can add red pepper as well if you want to add more! I also like to use monterey jack cheese when it’s readily available. 

Prep all of it in an aluminum pan and wrap it up and foil. I like to write in sharpie on top the directions to baking so it’s super easy for them to just grab out of the fridge and put in the oven and bake it. 


Chips and Homemade Salsa

My very favorite thing to make - especially in the summer time - is homemade salsa. It makes two pint size jars and seems fancy but is, in actuality, extremely easy. I use to be so good about having a jar or two in the fridge at all times (cold salsa is totally my jam) but in recent years - perhaps since I’ve had Landry - I haven’t been as faithful. If you don’t have time to make homemade salsa, our family’s very favorite store-bought salsa is called Texas Texas Restaurant Style. We don’t like the chunky kind. 

Author Note :: Have you ever tried guacamole salsa? I don’t love guacamole, but this is one of my friend’s very favorite things to bring to a chips and salsa party, and it doesn’t disappoint!



I cannot rave about these cookies enough, and man I wish I could take credit for these. (I will take credit for telling you about them, though!) We make them all. the. time. AND they make a TON of cookies and the dough freezes quite well. I used my smaller scoop last time and they made 75 cookies (and it would probably make more because we ate a bit of the dough… oops!) Chocolate chips, butterscotch chips and toffee chips. Need I go on? You need to get to the store right now and make these cookies. Take them to your neighbors…. freeze extra balls of dough and make them a few at a time (not that I have ever done that). You and your new momma friend will be thanking me profusely by the end of the day for introducing these cookies to you. 


Homemade Gift

This is one of my favorite things to add to the little package. I typically add a painted sign (duh!) or even something I have sewn… burp cloths, a little blanket, even some onesies. This doesn’t always happen - so when I don’t have time for something handmade, I like to add diapers or even a candle to the mix, something a little extra to make this momma feel super loved on. If they have siblings, I try to get something tiny for them too… think hot wheels, bubbles, crayons, etc. Just something a little extra, y’all, goes a LONG way. 


I typically package up my meals in a Central Market (or Trader Joe’s) paper grocery sack, tying it - if possible - with ribbon or a scrap of fabric or twine… whatever I have on hand. I stick a bagged salad in there with everything, because they’ve got to eat their veggies, and it sort of rounds out the meal!! Who can you bless this week with the gift of food? (Now I'm hungry and need to go make myself some enchiladas!)

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Choosing Obedience


"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation." 2 Corinthians 1:3-6a

Holding my steaming hot cup of coffee I sat on my sofa and had a familiar revelation. I am a weary momma, and I suppose that in some way - all women find their souls weary in various moments. Swollen eyed and foggy headed, from lack of restful sleep, I still dug into the passage before me and the Holy Spirit graciously met me where I sat.

When I am afflicted, it is so that God can comfort me. If I never needed comfort then I wouldn't need comforting. Being afflicted, experiencing failure and dead end after dead end is the way to experience God's grace and mercy at it's finest.

The times in my life that I've experienced God's hand most profoundly are the same times that anxiety, brokenness, loneliness and tiredness was most the prevalent, not the least. There has rarely been a time that I daily saw Him working miracles when I wasn’t in the middle of deep discouragement. When I am forced to depend on God to meet my emotional, physical and spiritual needs, I am stuck clinging to even the smallest ray of encouragement.

Are you uncomfortable today? Are you grasping for the hope that God provides or struggling to experience His perfect peace? There is hope today, sweet friend. He sees you. He's got you. He is, indeed, walking right with you. 

Often I find myself weary, I do, but sometimes I wonder if we should begin questioning if we sometimes we can actually be too comfortable.

We can all agree that there are times in our faith journey that we can choose whether to trust God, stepping out in faith, or instead choose to stay in the safe zone.

If we want our faith to grow, we have to give it opportunities to do so. Staying comfortable is not one of them. I can read my bible all day long about who God is. I can even believe that He is who He says He is. But I cannot fully experience the faithfulness of God while remaining in my own comfort the way that I can experience Him while stepping out on the edge of all things reasonable and secure.

I am not at all suggesting that I should intentionally do things that make me miserable and uncomfortable. I am simply pointing out that perhaps I should take a look at the choices I make on a daily basis and why I make them. Am I willing to sacrifice anything for the Kingdom - safety, comfort, time, pride, money, reputation?

For  me, I have decided that I have been safe long enough. I have guarded my comfort and my time long enough. I have stayed silent long enough. Has it been long enough for you, too? Are you ready to step out in the big and small too? 

What does this look like, practically, though?

Maybe it means walking across the street and asking your grouchy neighbor over to dinner. I know you’re thinking that he will most likely shoot you down and probably holler at your kid for walking on his grass, but perhaps there is something deeper behind his grouchiness? This will be uncomfortable. There will be a million reasons why you don’t want to do this - and can’t do this today or the next day or the next - but is this what you’re called to do? Is this the nudging inside your soul that you keep ignoring for the sake of time and pride? Do it. Say yes. 

Maybe it means signing up to mentor someone else. Yes, this will take time and maybe even some money for coffee each week. Of course you feel like you have nothing to offer, but don’t you actually have a whole bunch to offer? Is this the call God is placing on your heart - to bring up the next generation of women for Him? Say yes, friend. We need you to say yes. 

Maybe it is going on a mission trip, sharing your faith with your coworker or going to a marriage conference. Maybe it’s giving money, taking a meal down the street or reaching out to the Muslim families in your community, getting to know them on a personal basis and letting them know they are loved. None of this feels like it’s a fun idea, but God stretches us so that we can see Him work in and through us. 

Maybe you need to physically move. Perhaps God is asking you to switch jobs, or quit your job to stay home with your kiddos or pursue your dreams. Is He asking you to go back to work full time? Maybe He's asking you to sell your car, or sell your house. Maybe he's asking you to open up your home to a foster child or a down and out family. 

Whatever it is that you are on the fence about, whether it’s big or small or sort of in between, can I just encourage you today to say a resounding YES to the Lord? We will not regret it because we will see Him come through in ways we would not believe before. He tells us in scripture that He rewards those who are faithful in the small. What small steps of obedience can we take today to make an impact for the Kingdom? 

When we say yes to God, relationships will be fostered, bridges will be built, new adventures will begin but most of all our faith will be blessed. Choose to get uncomfortable today, friends, because we will get to experience the Comforter in all of His glory together. 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Chicken and Black Pepper Pizza


I have long been a fan of the white pizza. Even growing up, CiCi's Pizza Buffet was a big after sports games stop for our family and wouldn't you believe that I would order their Alfredo pizza just for me. It was simple, cheesy and hands down my favorite.

I love a good red pizza sauce, but in case you haven't heard, not all pizzas were created equal. There is just something comforting about the creaminess of the Alfredo sauce that has me going back for seconds (and thirds) every single time and I know it will be doing the same to you too.

Jeff and I have weekly pizza at-home date nights when he's in town, which is probably not the best choice for our diets but you only live once, right? This is BY FAR our favorite pizza to make and hits all the comfort food loving parts of our selves.




Chicken and Black Pepper Pizza 

INGREDIENTS

1 recipe for your favorite pizza dough - or Boboli does just fine too. 
1 cup cooked, shredded chicken breast
1 cup Alfredo sauce
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup pecorino romano cheese
1/2 tsp Ancho Chili Pepper
Red Pepper flakes
Lots of freshly ground pepper
Fresh Basil, julienned

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven according to crust directions. Usually 425.

Top your pizza crust with Alfredo sauce and mozzarella cheese. Chop chicken breast and add to cheese. Top with pecorino romano, ancho chili pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Add TONS of freshly ground pepper.

Cook pizza according to crust directions, usually 10-12 minutes.

When it's hot and bubbly, top with more ground pepper and fresh basil.

Enjoy!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Dig in Your Dirt : Prep Work

 
Alright, y’all. So now that you did a little homework and caught some inspiration, let’s discuss prep work! Depending on what you’re planting and where you live, it’s most likely too early to get really planting, but it’s never too early to get prepping. Please remember that I, too, am a novice gardener and this is all based on knowledge through experience.

CUTTING BACK

Now is a great time to cut back all the dead stuff in your yard, including hedges that need trimming, sticks plants hanging out in the pots from last summer, and vines that need to be cut down. There are so many dead spots in my yard, but as the weather warms up, I can already see green poking back through!

If you don’t cut things back - not withstanding the actual dead plants that you need to pull - you will still get green plants coming back in, but they won’t look as neat and put together because there will be the dead looking parts underneath all the green. That is a totally unsophisticated way of saying - it will look ugly if you don’t cut things back down they start growing back in!


TO MULCH OR NOT TO MULCH

Jeff and I argue about which way is best every single year. Should we mulch before we plant in our beds or after we plant? We’ve done it both ways and I think it comes down to personal preference. I find it hard to dig through mulch to plant flowers, but I also get irritated when the wheelbarrow plows over my existing plants as well - not that I have any experience with that at all. 

We typically do mulch in a weekend at our house. Check with your local dump to see if they provide truck loads of mulch. It’s generally very inexpensive and you can pick your color.  A handful of neighbors combine wheelbarrows, shovels and man power to get it done quicker - and have more fun doing it. Our kids love Mulch Weekend - and this year I think they might do more of the heavy lifting! 

CONTAINERS

This is my favorite part, y'all. Start to gather (or make) containers that you want to use when it comes planting time. Containers can be ANYTHING, all you need to do is make sure there are enough holes in the bottom for adequate drainage (not that I have ANY experience with that mistake!) If there aren't enough holes just take a drill to the bottom of the container and that will fix it right up!

One of my favorite containers for veggies are large whiskey barrels that you buy at Home Depot or Lowe’s. These are great if you don’t have a lot of space. I also have one of these from Williams Sonoma, but it’s several years old and is quite worn. The other disadvantage of this guy is that it’s not very deep. BUT, you can find tons of stuff just like it on Pinterest and amazon!

Two years ago Jeff built me this vegetable garden and last year I added the gate around it (again, the dang rabbits!) It was SUPER EASY, y’all. If you have pretty much any kind of saw and a drill you can do it. Just remember to line the bottom with weed liner. We actually did it twice. We did it before we laid down the wood and then we did it inside the frame as well, a little bit up the sides. We have never had a problem with weeds in here (now, I am sure we will that I said that).



BEDS

It's time to get those stubborn leaves out of your beds and begin to weed. If you have a lot of weeds, look into getting a weed killer at your local nursery. If you need to dig beds, begin to plan out where you want them and how deep you’ll dig them, what you will use to line them and what you will use to edge them. Get your beds prepped and ready to go prior to purchasing plants, seedlings or seeds!

SOIL and COMPOST

Two years ago, we purchased a truck load of compost from our local dump (where we also purchased mulch). I did not have a fertile garden that year so I think I am a bit jaded when it comes to purchasing compost. I like to purchase something local. For those of y’all who are in Texas, this is my favorite. I only use this for my fruits, vegetables and herbs. For all of our flowers, I use miracle grow potting soil - because it truly is a miracle. 

You might have to do a bit of research to find compost that is local to your area. I know that Miracle Grow has a Nature’s Care brand of compost but it would most likely not be local to your area. Just type into google “Best compost for _______” and then fill in your city or state. Something awesome will pop up because it's Google. 

There are also a lot of fancy people “blending” their soils and compost and vitamins (who knew?) together. That’s not how I do it. Maybe one day, I’ll get that knowledgable, but for right now straight soil and straight compost get me to where I need to go, so don't let all that fancy talk scare you away. You can do this!


FERTILIZE

Okay, let's talk fertlizer. This is a hot button topic for many gardeners, but I LOVE to fertilize. For all of my perennials that are beginning to come back, I use Miracle Grow fertilizer as soon as I start to see a bit of green popping through once a week. I love the kind that you connect to your hose and water through - it lasts me two weeks at least. 

For all of my edibles, I like this fertilizer and for everything (except tomatoes) I also fertilize once a week. There are many different schools of thought here, but I like to do it every week until the dead heat of summer kicks in. 

SHORT LIST

I know that was packed full of information, so here is a short cut of the supplies that will be on your list to buy and have in stock before you purchase your plants:

Mulch
Compost
Potting Soil
Containers
Bed supplies, if needed (liner, edging, weed control, etc.)
Fertilizer 

RESOURCES

If all of this seems overwhelming but you still want the joy of gardening, I wanted to add these two resources for pre-planned gardens.

I read about Mini Farm Box in a magazine and it looks adorable, and very self-explanatory although maybe a bit pricey. If you want a garden of edibles, but don’t want to put a ton of thought into it, this might be your jam. 

One of my girlfriends who loves to garden and had TONS of bed space ordered a drought-resistant perennial garden from Blue Stone Perennials  a few years ago. This is her third spring with them and they continue to come back even bigger and better than the previous year! I highly recommend this based on her experience. Just know that when they come they will look small and sort of dinky, but they do fill out beautifully! Trust me. If you want beautiful low maintenance  perennial flowers, this is such a great bet. 

Okay so that's it!!! Next time we'll get planting, I promise!!!!  I'd love to hear about your progress or answer any questions you might have! You can find me on Instagram @littlebranches. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

Restaurant Style Salsa


If you live in Texas, salsa is a staple in your kitchen. We always have some on hand, and if you catch us when we don't - it's probably a really bad day. A day without salsa is like a day without sunshine. Gray and dull and boring.

Here's the thing about salsa, y'all. Some people (not naming any names here) like it thick and chunky. Think Pace Picante Sauce. If I come to your house and you serve me that, I will be dipping my chips instead of scooping. We do not enjoy the thick stuff. I much prefer cold, smoky, pureed salsa with some warm chips or nachos. Y'all - it's the best snack ever!!

This is our family's recipe for salsa... and yes, my oldest and my husband basically drink this at dinner. I start with 2 jalapeños because I never know how potent they'll end up being. If you like your salsa super mild, start with 1. You can ALWAYS go back and add seasonings or heat in there to your liking, you just can't take it out.

I hope y'all enjoy! (Recipe below)




LEACH FAMILY SMOKEY SALSA

INGREDIENTS

1 large can whole tomatoes, loosely drained (28 oz)
1 can Rotel tomatoes, undrained
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup diced onion
2-3 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
Juice of one lime (1 Tbs)
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp pepper
1 bunch of cilantro - to taste
Tortilla Chips for serving


DIRECTIONS

Pulse all ingredients in food processor, scraping down sides as needed. Taste with chips and adjust seasonings as necessary. I usually am adding more cilantro, jalapeños or salt - depending on how potent everything is. Chill 2-3 hours before serving, although it's ready immediately. Keeps in the refrigerator for 1 week, but beware it probably won't last that long!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Finding an Outlet


“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art.” —Andy Warhol

I started experiencing physical symptoms of stress a few years ago, sneaking up on me after having our third child. A few months in, I finally went to see a doctor for the “weird tension” in my neck and shoulders. He looked at me very gently and said bluntly, “it’s chronic stress.” 

I was dumbfounded. I was not stressed out. No way. Only wimps get stressed out. Only worry warts could feel physical symptoms from stress-induced anxiety, or whatever he called it. That was not me. 

Until I got a second opinion, I was sure I had a tumor and my lazy doctor had not diagnosed me properly. Unaware that I had already asked my GP, my OB confirmed his diagnosis of my physical symptoms. Stress.

It felt so vague. Short of taking medication, there was no “quick fix”… and even with the medication, it could still be a long road. She explained to me, through my tears, that life is just plain hard sometimes. 

I sat there begging her to see that I wasn’t stressed, that my life wasn’t any harder than anyone else’s life - in fact it was probably easier. Yes, I had a husband with an odd set of demands that can sometimes feel lonely and yes, I had three kids now (which I am still recovering from) but I didn’t feel like I could at all quantify my life as hard

Her response was not what I bargained for, and it still echoes in my mind when I feel guilty for feeling stressed. She said, “Becky, just because it’s not as hard as it could be doesn’t mean it isn’t still hard.”

Think about that for a second. Just because life isn’t as hard as it could be, doesn’t mean it isn’t still hard. Just because I have healthy kids and a loving husband and a happy-ish home and the woman down the street lost her husband and a mom at school is going through a divorce doesn’t mean that kids, marriage, career tending and homemaking come easy all the time. The demands of all of our mundane, everyday lives can get extremely overwhelming. And that’s okay, in fact it’s normal. 

And I needed to get a freakin’ grip. 

So I asked her for a prescription and instead she gave me a remedy. 

Many of the things she suggested were obvious and I felt frustrated even thinking about them. Exercise… I mean, I had a brand new baby. Yoga? Please. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Hot baths? My bath tub is full of baby toys. Eating healthy? Unfortunately, eating unhealthy was my coping mechanism. 
But finding an outlet? That one was tough. 


I had an outlet… many outlets, in fact. I write, I paint signs, I run (when I can), I cook and I garden. So why wasn’t any of that making it better? 

I discovered that all of these things I was doing out of necesity, obligation or for the enjoyment of someone else. I wasn’t doing any of these things intentionally just to settle my mind. I wrote with a purpose (you’re reading that here). I painted for a business. I ran because I was told it was good for me - and it was the only thing that I didn’t HATE doing. I cooked because my people needed to eat - and it was always a battle.

How could I do something just for me… something that would have no expectations, no limits, no one criticizing, no one watching? How could I find that time? 

I didn’t until I decided at the beginning of 2017 that I had to make that time. I had to force myself to take time to do something that might feel fruitless at first because it wasn’t serving a purpose. But now I see that it was - it is - because it’s serving me

As women, we can get incredibly caught up in serving everyone else. Even if you aren’t a natural servant, I bet you still find yourself serving someone else throughout the day. We were created to be helpmates, and that is what we do all day long. So when we are doing something that isn’t helping someone else, it feels unworthy of our time. But that’s not true. It’s a lie. 

When I paint just for me, I somehow feel my mind settling. As if the insides of my mind are just starting to untangle. Sometimes I talk to God as I paint, sometimes I listen to worship music or just sit in silence. Sometimes - and don’t tell anyone else this - I crank my Spotify up real loud and rock out to Bruno Mars and Maroon 5. 

It’s not always a Holy experience, is my point. 

It is, however, an experience that makes me feel encouraged, uplifted and like my soul is being tended to. Yes, God gives me everything I need on a daily basis emotionally, spiritually and physically - but He also created me with a need to create. Just like He created you with your own needs too. I’m wondering if you need an outlet just like I did.


How can you carve time out for it? You just do. You just have to. It might be five minutes, it might be nine. But just set your timer and do it. Get up ten minutes earlier. Go to bed ten minutes later. It doesn’t have to be huge… just start with something. Let God speak to you as you unwind your mind through reading, cooking or catching up with a girlfriend. Find a release this week and see what it does for the depths of your soul. I bet you won’t be disappointed. 


 

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