Happy birthday to Me (trigger warning)

Our lives and my birthday changed forever in 2017. In 2017, I was the happiest I had ever been in my 40 years on earth. I wasn’t the least bit upset to be turning forty. I was pregnant with our second daughter and fifth child. Life for us was in the highest of highs.

My 40th birthday, our first home Dec 2004-July 2019

The following month, at my 18 week appointment I learned that our daughter had unexpectedly suffered a fetal maternal hemorrhage and her heart had stopped beating. We would go on to deliver her and hold her and deeply grieve and be changed F O R E V E R.

I’ve heard people make comments and say “she should be over it.” “At least she has living children.” “She didn’t even know that baby.” And there are people who are so uncomfortable with me sharing about our walk through grief that they question my mental health. Do you really think that I share everything on social media? No. No, I don’t. But, by me sharing my heart and my experience, I have helped a lot of women who have lost their babies in pregnancy through miscarriage and stillbirth and others who have experienced early infant loss. And, by God’s Grace we have a safe space for all, no matter where you may be in your grief journey, your fertility or infertility journey or your mental health condition. This is and always will be a safe space for you. I am here to listen, to share and to be there for other mommas and hopeful mommas.

That brings me to this year. This year, I am turning 44. There is a different level of joy from my 40th birthday, as we have waded the depths of grief and celebrated on the highest mountain tops since that day. One of our greatest joys came in May of 2019, when God blessed us earth side with our son, Jimmie.

This year, at my birthday dinner, Jimmie was so much fun. He’s learning to keep his cup down when he is drinking from a straw. And in between sips and telling me how he’s supposed to hold his cup, he would remind me of why we were at dinner, sweetly saying “happy birthday, momma.”

44TH birthday dinner at The Gristmill

I cried. Our lives look so different than what we would have anticipated them looking like just four years ago. We’ve experienced the loss of our daughter, who would be 3 years old right now. We’ve experienced the joy of having our precious Jimmie (age 2). Expecting him, being together for his birth and being home together for much of his first year and second year of life. We are incredibly blessed and thankful. Our big Els wanted to know why I was crying and Moustapha said this “God didn’t have to give us Jimmie.”

That is so true. Jimmie doesn’t replace our baby who died. But, we know we would be in a very different place right now, if we were still waiting on baby Jimmie. Thankfully, God made a way where we did not see the way. It was not easy and we are incredibly thankful.

My birthday will always be a reminder that we are missing Mary-Linda and that we are blessed with our Jimmie, Leeland, Trinity, Maddux and Bakri. A reminder that we are not promised tomorrow and to be grateful for our blessings today.

July is Bereaved Parents Awareness month.

Family Favorite: Lebanese Cauliflower, ground beef & Rice

Here’s another Lebanese inspired dish that we make once every week or so. My kids request this one. They absolutely love it. We all do. They literally want this dish at least once a week.

At this point, you may be wondering, “how do you get your kids to eat these amazing meals with vegetables?” The answer is pretty simple. I never made separate meals. From the time the older Els were little and currently with our toddler, we make a family meal and eat it together. Of course we have nights where people make their own dinner and eat whatever they want. But, as a practice, I make a meal for the family and offer it to everyone. I don’t like to make an issue out of food. So, we’ve never told our kids they had to clean their plates. We do encourage them to try new foods and at this point we’ve built up a good level of trust- I ((mostly)) serve them delicious dishes. There was that one time I made chick pea noodles in 2020. (Gross!) See below for the Lebanese Cauliflower, ground beef and rice directions and quick video. Please comment and let me know if you make this delicious dish!

Quick Video “How to make Lebanese cauliflower, ground beef and rice by El Momma”

Video: How to make this awesome dish in 90 seconds!

Lebanese Cauliflower & ground beef Ingredients

Makes approximately 8 servings

  • 2-3 large whole cauliflowers. Cut to florets
  • Your choice of cooked white rice
  • [1] TB extra virgin olive oil
  • [1] chopped white onion
  • [1] pound ground beef
  • [1] TB 7 spices (recipe for seven spices included below)
  • [1] tsp kosher salt
  • [1] tsp ground pepper
  • 1 jar 24 Oz of diced tomatoes (I prefer roasted garlic)
  • 14 Oz crushed Tomatoes (I use Italian variety)
  • plain yogurt (optional) for garnish

*A very important ingredient of many lebanese dishes is 7 spices. 7 Spices are made with a mix of the following spices: all spice, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander, caraway and nutmeg. I buy this through our local grocer, Phoenicia. I’ve also purchased on Amazon. * Recipe for my homemade seven spices blend is included at the bottom of this post.

Directions

Step 1: Rinse and cut the cauliflower into florets. Set aside.

Step 2: In a separate pot, cook the rice per directions on rice bag/box.

Step 3: Using a 2 1/2 – 3 inch deep skillet that has a fitted glass lid, cook the chopped onion and ground beef at medium heat in the olive oil. Add the 7 spices, pepper and salt and mix well. Careful not to over cook the meat.

Step 4: fold in the cauliflower, crushed and diced tomatoes. Mix well. Cover and cook for an additional 30 minutes with lid on, stirring occasionally at medium low to medium heat.

Step 5: serve hot over a bed of rice. Add a dollop of plain yogurt when serving.

7 Spices Ingredients

7 Spices

Makes approximately 3 1/2 tablespoons of 7 spices

  • 1T allspice,
  • 1T cinnamon,
  • 1t ground cloves,
  • 1t cumin,
  • 1t coriander,
  • 1/2 t caraway
  • 1/2 t nutmeg

Home with the Els for Easter!

I returned home from Nashville for the weekend on Good Friday. I had the best weekend with my sweet husband and lovely babies. I put a few pictures here. But, basically my relaxing weekend went like this:
Landed in Houston on Good Friday
Husband and 2 children picked me up from the airport
Met Grandmother (my momma) and 2 youngest children to pick them up
Went to Minute Maid Park for Opening Day of the Astros
Stayed for Friday Night Fireworks!
Put all the tired ones to bed…
Saturday morning I cooked a giant breakfast- homemade pancakes, eggs, bacon, the works
Then, oldest Els had a tee-ball game with their dad and I had Easter worship rehearsal with the youngest Els.
After rehearsal and the game, we had a family lunch at Pappadeaux.
Then, playtime and family time at home mixed in with all the laundry for the week…which kind of piles up for 6 people. And, my in-laws came by to see the kids for Easter with baskets of Easter presents.
That evening, we had a wedding celebration dinner for our friends who were in town from Hawaii
The next morning was EASTER morning! So, the Easter bunny visited Saturday night and Trinity and I headed off to church at 730am, while the other children slept a little more.
Our church service started at 845. It was a beautiful celebration of Easter. He is risen! He is risen indeed! My parents- grandfather and grandmother and my sister, Aunt Melinda, joined us for the service and celebration.
Afterwards, there was a church family brunch, butterfly release in the courtyard and an Easter egg hunt.
We’ve hosted Easter for both of our families for the last three years. This year, because of my recording schedule, we couldn’t host. I didn’t have time to roll grape leaves on Saturday or make my house presentable for our large family. But, I feel really passionately about having Lebanese Lamb and Rice filled Grape Leaves on Easter. I also feel really passionate about tradition. Grape leaves are a middle eastern dish. The vine is a very significant point of imagery in the bible. Jesus said “I am the vine and You are the branches. If you remain in Me and I in you, you will bear much fruit.” I just love this verse. Knowing that we are called to be the branches, bearing fruit, reaching out, making a difference.
So, while we were still with our church family, I started hearing this voice that said ,”Go to Phoencia and make grape leaves today.” I’m not sure who was speaking, but I answered. As we left church, I leaned over to Moustapha and said ,”I want to make grape leaves today.” So, we left church and he drove me to Phoenicia (which is now conveniently located downtown). I picked up everything I needed- ground lamb, lamb shanks, 2 16 oz. jars of grape leaves, lemons, green onion (I forgot mint), rice and I grabbed Labneh, fresh arabic bread and chick peas (to make fresh hummus for the week).
The kids had lunch at home and I spent the next 3 hours doing more laundry and rolling grape leaves. Our small family of 6 gathered around the table at 7pm that evening and we had the most amazing dinner. We celebrated, we prayed, we thanked God for Jesus and we loved on each other.  The truth is, I felt completely recharged when I returned to Nashville on Monday. Being with my husband and children and family and keeping busy all weekend didn’t leave me feeling drained, but rejuvenated and excited to sing my heart out this week. So, that is what I am doing now. I am singing my heart out. I am Praising God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit all week. What a blessed way to celebrate Easter!

Baptism Day! Baby Leeland!

Sunday was a very special and memorable day for the Els. We celebrated the baptism of our fourth child and youngest son, Leeland. He was so thoughtful during the baptism, seeming to take in every word. He also was up really late that night after all of the excitement and extra stimuli from the day being surrounded by so many loved ones.
Infant baptism in Presbyterian Christian faith is a way for the parents to commit before God and our friends and family to raise our son intentionally to know and love Jesus. And, our congregation also committed in assisting in the raising of Leeland in “the way he should go, (so that) when he is old he will not turn from it.” Proverbs 22:6
One of the scriptures from this Sunday was
Genesis 12

The Call of Abram
1 The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. 2 “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”4 So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.

This blessing that the Lord promised Abram, was and is fulfilled through Jesus Christ. We are a part of that blessing. Read again the words “Go and I will go with you. I will bless those who bless you. And, all of the people of the earth will be blessed through you.” We are a part of this amazing blessing. Let the people of the earth be blessed through you today and always.

Leeland Thaddeus, 8 months, Baptism Day
(most of) Leeland’s family (wishing our California family were with us!)

Momma’s big brown eyed baby boy

enjoying the baptism

Baptism

really listening to Pastor Jeff, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Houston

Sleepy Sister

baptism

lots of cousins

family

Momma, Daddy, Bakri and Leeland

All six of the Els

Brunch!!!

Feeling great after a quick nap!

cake!

hungry!

El Momma with the Els and the Madduxs

happy boy

our family

love of brothers

Saturdays

I love Saturdays. It’s my favorite day of the week, if we don’t have any plans. I love making breakfast with the entire family running around at my feet and the occasional helper climbing on a chair to help me stir. I love making a fresh pot of coffee and smelling it in the entire house. I love “forcing” everyone to come downstairs to be near me. 🙂
This Sunday morning was even better than most Saturdays, because not only was I in a kitchen with one of my bffs, but we cooked together. It was so much fun! She made the coffee, the egg casserole and I made pancakes from scratch. It doesn’t get much better. Then, we sat down on her porch with all of our families and ate breakfast together. Now that is a great way to start a spring break and a fantastic way to start the day. Happy Spring Break, y’all!

A Love Letter to El Momma’s Love on our 7th Anniversary

Seven years ago today, as I made that long walk down the beautiful aisle, surrounded by family and many friends, I could have never imagined this.
Our life has exceeded all of my hopes and dreams. You continue to surprise me and, if I’m being honest, frustrate me. And, I know I frustrate you! But, isn’t our life fun!? Your love is amazing. I remember how it felt to fall in love with you. I thought about you and our future all of the time. I loved everything about you and even though I knew you weren’t perfect, you were perfect for me. You were and still are my very best friend. Even more so now. Seven years and four beautiful children. Our relationship has gone through a huge transformation in a relatively short amount of time.

We had a little over a year as a married couple before having our first son. During that first year we found and purchased our home, a home in the heart of Houston, built in 1928. We only had twenty months with our first child until we welcomed our second son. Around that time you finished law school, passed the Bar and began practicing law in Texas. Just after our fourth anniversary, where we returned to the Petroleum Club (the site of our wedding reception) and spent the night at Hotel ZAZA (where we spent our first night married when it was still the Warwick) our kitchen flooded and we began major house renovations and a complete rehaul on our kitchen. We lived through it all and welcomed our baby daughter that year. Shortly after she was born, we moved back home into our “new” old house.
And, we returned to Hawaii with our three children to celebrate our fifth wedding anniversary. That was insane! You’ve supported me as I’ve made time to write music and lead worship at our church. Your support of God’s calling in both of our lives has been instrumental in the spiritual growth we’ve experienced separately and together.
Our children continue to grow and amaze us. And, during our sixth year of marriage, we had our fourth child, a beautiful baby boy.
We spend our mornings telling children “shhhhh!” “Quiet,” so and so “is sleeping.” “Lay down.” “Good morning.” “How did you sleep?” “Go potty.” “I love you.” “Give me a kiss.” …and so on and so on. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am so tired and wish I could just sleep a little bit longer. And, then I imagine my life without all of this and it’s no life at all. These children, these precious blessings that we’ve been given for such a short amount of time, bring so much joy to our lives. I love that all six of us cuddle up in our queen size bed! You bring joy to my life. I am so thankful for you. You are my husband, my best friend, my love. I love you and wish you a very happy anniversary. Here’s to seven more years of wedded bliss!
love,
me
 present
us, January 9, 2004

Rodeo Houston 2010- A lot of Effort for a Day of Fun

Well, it turns out that going to the rodeo with three kids under the age of 5 is a challenge whether you venture out alone or with your husband.

Last year I went alone and nearly had a heart attack…walking, cleaning up a messy diaper just before boarding a tram, controlling 2 boys, orchestrating a pony ride for both of them and keeping the baby happy. It was tough! But, the kids had a great time. Me?- not so much. But, it’s not about me, right? So, this year, at the request of many family members and friends, I recruited my husband for El Rodeo Day! I figured this would be more enjoyable for all. It definitely was more enjoyable for the kids. But, at the end of it all, after being exhausted from all of the things we did last year and did again this year (minus the near heart attack- thankfully!) I looked at Moustapha and asked him “At what age do you think our kids have to be for the rodeo to be fun for us again?”

Fast forward to 1 hour later when all of the kids are asleep in their beds at 6pm. The boys were so exhausted, they slept the entire night. Trinity will not miss a meal, so she woke up for that and quickly returned to a restful sleep. I would say that is the payoff for all of the work. We had a really quiet night. 🙂

Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to have fun!

Bakri with Tiki the pony
Bakri, Maddux & Miss Moo
Maddux and Tiki the pony

Moustapha and Baby Trinity
A little smile from Miss Trinity
Trinity and Linda the Pony (no, we didn’t plan that) 🙂 But, pretty cute that Little Linda is riding Linda the pony!
Trinity, not so sure about the Bunny

Happy Anniversary

Today is our 6th anniversary. 6 years! Wow! That sounds so few considering all that has happened. It has been a wild ride. And, it has been so wonderful. We’ve been blessed with 3 beautiful, healthy children. We live in a beautiful home in the best part of Houston. And we have amazing friends and family. And, we have even more to celebrate. The little Els will share the news with you here:

The Christmas Eve Carriage Ride

After the Christmas Eve service and Christmas Eve dinner we headed home. On our way there, we decided to take the children to look at Christmas lights a few blocks from our home. We had made our way all the way down one boulevard and back down the other, when we saw 2 Clydesdale horses pulling a carriage covered in Christmas decorations and lights. We were amused and pointed it out to the els. Next thing we knew, a woman was approaching the car asking us if we would like to ride. She said they would wait for us. We hurriedly put on the kids jackets (it was really cold) and climbed aboard.
Here are some of the family members we met. The mom’s name is Mary. She has 6 children: 4 boys (the oldest) and 2 girls. They had just returned from church and were going out for a ride while dinner was warming up.
Moustapha and Baby Trinity
Bakri, Rebekah & Maddux having so much fun!

Here is our whole family! What a blessing this was. And such a fun way to end our Christmas Eve. Mary (the woman who invited us to ride) was truly an example of God’s love. She wanted to share her experience and family with us and she did. His love isn’t just for some…it is for all. Thank you, Mary, for your generosity and loving heart.

And, Bakri was so cute on the ride. He asked her if she was an elf. Then he asked if we were on our way to the North Pole. She told him that only reindeer went there and we were being pulled by horses. Later he asked the entire carriage “Are you guys ALL ELVES?” It was so cute!

Merry Christmas!

The Happiest Day of My Life

Miss Trinity on her birthday in a sombrero!

Miss Trinity at her first birthday family dinner.

Our daughter turned one yesterday and I wrote on my facebook page that the day she was born was one of the “happiest days of my life.” And it was. That got me thinking,”what are the happiest days of my life?”

1. the day I asked Jesus to be Lord of my life

2. the day Moustapha asked me to marry him

3. our wedding day

4. the birth of each of our children

I remember thinking how important each day was when I was growing up and throughout high school. I worried about so many things and struggled with dealing with the heartache of having people not like me. As a teenager, I felt like that was always going to be life. It’s strange how quickly the present becomes a distant memory in the past. I can barely remember the insecurities of the past and I am very thankful for that.

The day I decided to give my life to the Lord set my life on a path that I am very thankful for. No, life is not perfect. I still have struggles with insecurities and bad decisions. But, when I lean on the Lord, He gives me strength and guides my life.

Every other day that qualifies as a “best day of my life,” occurred in adulthood. What does that say about me? I think it gives me some insight to pass along to my children. Although my best days include days with my husband and my children, the best days of my childrens’ lives are yet to come. My job is to prepare them for their best days. I get to be a part of all of the days in between now and then. What a responsibility and a blessing.