Honest Post

Today was too much.

💛Today was too much sun, too much sand, too much personality and maybe a little too much family time.

But, in the most important ways today was perfect- because we had each other in the most beautiful setting and for a moment it felt like life came full circle after the last time we were here in July of 2017 when it was the 6 of us and we were expecting Mary-Linda. 💗

I am amazed and in awe of where our lives have changed and been transformed since that time four years ago.

We are all squeezing this precious 🌈 baby Jimmie a little tighter tonight.

El Momma and our miracle baby Jimmie
Spring Break 2021
The Els, March 2021
Mr and Mrs El 17 years and counting

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

Life After Loss. 3 years in.

I recently read a description of grief. It illustrated grief in the beginning as a giant ball bouncing around in a very small square. Something we can’t get away from. Every time we move or even breathe, the grief hits us. I’ve also read grief described like furniture in the middle of a dark room, where you can’t see anything, but everywhere you move, you bump into it and you can’t get around it. In both scenarios, the grief changes. In the first, the ball eventually becomes very small, but it is always in the room. It still hurts deeply when it hits you, but it isn’t a constant. In the second scenario, the furniture eventually moves to where you can see it and get around it, finally settling as a painting on the wall- always there, but not something you are constantly bumping into. 

I can relate with both of these descriptions. I know they aren’t meant to be that simple. Grief is complex. But, I think it can give others imagery to relate to and understand our grief. Grief is always there. In our case, as is the case for many, we don’t get over losing a child. It’s not that simple. But, we learn to move forward, and find a way to live while being in the room with the grief. We still bump into it all the time, but it’s not all consuming everything we do. But, it’s there, like that huge painting on the wall. And, maybe it’s beautiful now. Maybe, it’s like our Mary-Linda, bringing light and hope to others in their time of grief. Maybe, just maybe? 

On August 16th, 2020, we marked 3 years since our Mary-Linda was with us. It feels so surreal. These last 3 years have been brutal and beautiful. I don’t know how to explain it any other way. So much heartache. But, again, I know that God was with us and is with us. So, we will keep on keeping on. 

much love, 

El Momma

Below are photos from our celebration of Mary-Linda’s life, 3 years in. And, photos from the day we all got to hold her. We will all forever hold her in our hearts until we can hold her in our arms again. 

A case for a big age difference in kids

I grew up in a family that was mid-sized. Two parents and three kids. My oldest sibling, my brother, was thirteen when I was born. My sister was eight. I was a surprise. Not that my parents didn’t want more children, they just didn’t think it was possible given all the time that went by in between pregnancies.

We just shared via this video that we are expecting our 5th baby El in January. We are beyond thrilled. We spent a lot of time praying and hoping for this little baby. There will be 7 years between Leeland (our youngest) and the baby and almost 13 years between our oldest and youngest! Very similar age difference to my big brother and I.

My brother and I when I was in High School



I loved growing up with a brother who was thirteen years older. He gave me so much attention when I was little and it continued when he went to college. I missed him a ton when he graduated from high school. But, we stayed close. He saved me from many a near-crisis when I lived in Los Angeles. (Thank you, Michael!) Our relationship has only grown over the years and now we remain very close friends.

From the perspective of the older child(ren), I believe giving them this younger sibling is going to be an amazing growth opportunity. No, I am not expecting my children to mature overnight. But, I do believe this will help along a very natural progression in their maturity and development. None of my children were old enough to appreciate the miracle of life or really helping in the house when any of my babies were born. That is all going to be very different this time. They have no idea how much change is coming, but I believe they are going to be over the moon for this little one and we are all going to love having a new baby El in the house! 

Summer is over and I’m a bit confused (a mix of nostalgia, relief, stress, happiness, anticipation and anxiety)

I am feeling a little sad this morning. A mix of nostalgia, relief, stress, happiness, anticipation and anxiety.

I am nostalgic as I look upon my babies and think of all of the wonderful memories we have shared over the last 10+ years. So many firsts and this week we will have our first and only year all in the same school.

First day of school, 2014

I am relieved to be here. 5 years ago, when we were anticipating the arrival of our fourth baby and preparing to send our first born baby to kindergarten, I anticipated this time. The only time they will all be in school together. One drop off. One pick up. One school. Oh boy! What will I do with all of the (extra) time!? Ha!

Holding Trinity, expecting Leeland, summer 2010

I am stressed. We love summer. Sleeping in (sort of). Having no where to be (sometimes). Vacations (definitely!). School is exciting. It’s growing up and learning and making new friends. But, I worry. I worry about each of my kids. Will they be respectful? Will they say “yes, ma’am?” Will they adjust okay? How can I help? Will they make friends? Will they keep friends? Will they eat their lunches? Oh my goodness! Lunches. I’m back to making four lunches. Yes, they should help. Yes, I should teach them responsibility. But, at this point, four kids in the kitchen making lunches is a lot more stressful for me than 1 momma in the kitchen making four lunches. At least, that’s how we will start. I bought new lunch boxes in June. So, that’s a start. But, I am still stressed.

New lunch boxes for 2015-2016 school year

I’m happy. We have a wonderful school that is a great fit for all four of our children. We are excited about their teachers. And, we are just ending a magical summer. Work at Church of the Apostles has been so rewarding. We are growing in numbers and growing as a community in Christ. I am so blessed to be the worship pastor of this wonderful church. The Els have experienced wonderful camps: dance, baseball, fine arts, vacation bible schools and more. Vacations. We needed some breaks and we got them: Texas Hill Country, Carlsbad, CA, Disneyland California, Legoland California, San Diego beaches and Miramar Beach, Florida. We LOVE baseball and LOVE the Astros. Last night we were at the Astros Game (vs. the LA Dodgers) and we witnessed the first ever No-Hitter in Minute Maid Park. The Astros are having an amazing season and to be there to see this (by pitcher Mike Fiers) it was quite a treat!

Disneyland, 2015
Destin, 2015
#MikeFiers #NoNo #NoHitter2015 #Astros

As great as this summer has been, I have great anticipation for what is to come. Even with the hard times mixed in, there are always great rewards. We are going to keep moving. Keep saying “yes” when we mean “yes” and “no” when we mean “no.” I am going to keep committing to help at my children’s school. I am not going to overcommit, but I am going to commit. And, if I say “no” it is because I am saying “yes” to something else- my children, my family, my husband, work, my parents, my extended family, my friends, my children’s teachers, my church family, my neighborhood, etc.

Our pretty little church “home” in the Heights, Houston cotahouston.org

I am anxious.

6 days ago, we were on our way to Destin, Florida on I-10 in Alabama. It was around 9pm when we were forced to turn off the main interstate because of a huge fatal accident ahead. It was dark. All we knew at the time was fire trucks and officials were forcing all traffic to exit and turn. My “google map” app rerouted and we were about 2 hours from our hotel. Anticipating arrival around 11pm. My brother and his family and my parents had traveled ahead of us. We left later because we attended worship that morning at our home church (see above).

Soon after the turn off, we turned left heading toward Pensacola, but still in Alabama. Not long after that turn on what was a dark, two lane highway, our “overheated” warning light came on the dashboard. We pulled over immediately on a side road and turned the car around to face the street we had turned off of. We were to the right of a large stop sign. Almost immediately, a large pick up truck pulled up behind us and we waved them to go around. As they pulled up to the side of us, they rolled down the window. I saw a small, blonde young (probably in her 20s) female sitting in the passenger seat and I could see the driver was a male. They asked if everything was ok. We replied “no.” Moustapha then told them what had happened. They pulled over and got out of the truck. They all looked at the engine under the hood and after a few minutes the couple drove away.

Moustapha returned to our car and asked me to send our location to my brother so he would know where we were…”somewhere in Alabama.” We were terrified. Our children seemed fine then. But, it would be a trying couple of hours. About 10-15 minutes passed and the man returned with his brother in law. They brought water and oil and came to help cool the car down, hoping we could make it up the road to a station. They helped us so much and told us there was a Tom Thumb just up the road (toward Florida) about 8miles. The car had cooled down and they believed we could make it that far. We headed off praying, praying and praying. The temperature began to rise and we kept driving. We were still in a safe zone when we had passed 10 miles, never seeing a gas station of any kind. After traveling just over 13 miles, the car overheated and the warning light came on. At that moment, we arrived to a convenient store (not Tom Thumb and not a gas station) parking lot on our left. We pulled in. Thanking the Lord. It was now some time after 10pm. The convenient store was still open. Thank God. But, what next?

We sat in the parking lot as the rain began to fall. Our children were hot and crying. We kept waiting and some of the children fell asleep. My phone wouldn’t work. Thanks, T-Mobile. There was internet access, but the convenient store employee couldn’t remember the exact password. We tried them all. Then, a cab driver pulled up next to us. He offered to call a cab for us. He did. He was on his way to the airport with a passenger. After 20 minutes or so, I called him and let him know that no one had arrived. We continued to wait and soon it was 11pm. The convenience store closed and turned off their lights. Another man that worked there offered to drive in front of us to lead us to a safe area of Pensacola, Florida where we could rent a room to stay the night. We followed him and ended up in a McDonald’s parking lot next to another cab. This cab driver offered to lead us to a Fairfield Inn. He did that and we were treated so kindly by the woman working there. She gave us a great rate for a room that slept all 6 of us comfortably and included breakfast. We checked in, some time after midnight and went right to sleep. They next morning, we started early with picking up a rental car and dropping off our car at a mechanic nearby. Let me just say, there was another angel at the rental car place in Pensacola. I won’t say the company name here, but I will say that they upgraded us from an SUV to a minivan to accommodate all of us safely. We were extremely blessed. (**I don’t think we chose the right mechanic. In the future, I would go with the mechanic with the best yelp reviews. Because, I think it shows that they care about customers and care about positive PR.) We did finally make it to Destin (safely). And, we did have a wonderful time, relaxing. But, the truth is, this experience shook me to the core. I feel changed and anxious because of it. I need prayers. And, to spend time praying over this. I feel the tears welling up, just writing this. It’s terrifying to be in a situation like this (especially with your children).

Life is not at all what it looks like in pictures. If it was, you would have seen us stranded on a dark highway somewhere in a place far from home recently. Scared. With our four children. Thankfully, God doesn’t leave us in the dark, desolate place. He uses others. Grace. His kingdom and lifts us up out of that place and leads us to the light. Thankful to be in the light today. Life is a lot better in the light. #elmomma #thankful

So, I’ll move forward in “momma-like” form, (because as a momma, moving forward is the only option) with my mix of nostalgia, relief, stress, happiness, anticipation and anxiety.

I’ll close with this.

THIS IS MY PRAYER FOR YOU (AND FOR US):

Dear God, 
I thank you for your protection. 
I thank you for watching over me and my family. 
I thank you for loving me enough that you sent your son to die for me.
Thank you for sending your holy spirit to dwell among us.
I praise you for your faithfulness, your kindness, your loving ways and for never leaving us or forsaking us in our time of need. 
I pray for this new school year. 
I pray for all of the children starting new classes 
I pray that the nostalgia, relief, happiness and anticipation will overcome the stress and anxiety. 
That your peace will rule. 
That your grace will cover us all. 
Be with us.
Guide us.
Walk with us.
We love you. 
Amen.

Just a summ summ summer day

What a day!

About five months ago I co-chaired the Gala fundraiser for our school. #horngala15 It was a huge success, a ton of work, but also incredibly rewarding. More about the top picture later…

So, at our school Gala, we auctioned off socials. Socials have a limited number of spots available at a set price. We have socials with teachers: bowling and pizza and we have socials that are just for parents: dinner and quiz night. And, we have socials that are organized by parents for kids. This was one of those. 104KRBE gave us an exclusive all access pass to their morning show for up to 10 kids. So, we arrived early this morning and were given a tour of the studio, a ton of juice and donuts and these kiddos got to say “hello” on the radio. It was super fun!

Trin was in dance camp all week. Today she had a recital. She had a blast!
All four of the kids were enrolled in at least one week of Power camp this summer. Today was the last day of power camp and it ended with a balloon release with messages of hope tied to them. 
And this guy not feeling well. Unexplained fever and sadness. So, we picked him up from power camp a little early and headed to the doctor for a quick check before the weekend. 
Finally, we ended the night with an amazing dinner with friends old and new. This was a celebration of the Gala we did in May to support our Little League. I definitely felt appreciated and loved. What a treat!

Delicious Cheese plate.

So, what’s the first pic about? That’s my friend, Tricia. She’s awesome. Seriously, she loves to photobomb pictures I’m in or pictures I am taking. This time she photobombed the cheese and I just had to share.

Love these summ summ summer days!

xoxo,
El Momma

Let Freedom Ring!

Happy Fourth of July, Y’ALL!
We hope you have a wonderful day. 
We hope you will enjoy celebrating with family and friends.
We hope you will be safe.
Don’t get too close to fireworks.
And, uber if you have anything to drink.
Enjoy the best freedoms that being American brings.
For our family, the best freedoms are the ones that allow us to be together. 
To be safe together.
To pray openly together.
To eat ribs and gluten free pizza together (because we can). 
To love each other. 
To be unique.
To be American.
Let Freedom Ring!

2013

2014
2011

Surviving the Storms. Think on This.


Over Memorial Day weekend, Texas was hit hard with storms. There were families literally swept away inside river homes in Wimberley. Precious lives lost. 
Many Houston families’ homes were flooded with inches to 2 feet of water. Neighbors and friends of ours were awakened to rising waters inside their homes and they are still out of their houses.
Only five days later we were hit with another storm with less rainfall, but more lightning and a funnel cloud. We lost shingles on our roof and our ceiling leaked in our bedroom. We had trees on our street ripped up.  The transformer in our backyard went crazy, sparking and sounding like it was blowing. It was minor compared to all that others were going through and are still going through.
But, nonetheless, it was traumatic for our kids.
I saw that last night.
Huddled up on the kitchen floor during yesterday’s thunder and lightning storm and flash flood warning.
We prayed.
And prayed.
And we made butterflies with our legs and pretended to fly while singing a newly made up song:

“fly little butterfly fly
fly little butterfly fly
with your wings up and down
up and down
up and down
fly little butterfly fly”

We sang.
And we giggled. 

But, something has changed. 
I know that my kids are anxious.
I don’t believe that they are naturally anxious beings.
I believe these particular circumstances all within a short period of time have made them anxious.
My job as a parent is to not leave them in that anxious place.
That place that will shape them into someone who is anxious with every lightning strike, every thunder roar, every rain storm or flood watch.
It is okay to be cautious. To be aware. To know where there are dangers and to avoid them.
But, in Philippians 4:4-9 God’s Word tells us:  
<span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29430G" data-link="(G)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29431H" data-link="(H)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29432J" data-link="(J)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>but in everything by prayer and supplication <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29432K" data-link="(K)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29433L" data-link="(L)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>the peace of God, <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29433M" data-link="(M)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29435N" data-link="(N)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>received and heard and seen <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29435O" data-link="(O)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>in me—practice these things, and <span class="crossreference" data-cr="#cen-ESV-29435P" data-link="(P)” style=”box-sizing: border-box; font-size: 0.625em; font-size: 0.625em; line-height: 22px; position: relative; top: 0px; vertical-align: top;”>the God of peace will be with you.”


I believe this to be true. 
So, as we were praying and flapping our butterfly leg-wings and making up silly songs, we were living out Philippians 4. 
Focusing on loveliness, goodness, truth…and God gave us His peace.


#elmomma31



We Made It! Day 4 of Escape to the Lake and Encouraging Others

The last day has come and gone. Escape to the Lake was an escape. Escape from everyday reality. Escape from the city. Escape from the summer heat. 

I read an article in the Onion today making light that moms still do all of their normal household activities even while on vacation. It’s so true. Dads do too. At least in our family. So, without extra help, vacations aren’t really that vacation-y for us. So, what I’m saying is that we didn’t have an escape from parenthood this week. And, that’s ok. But, we’ll probably need one after this! 

Our final day at Escape to the Lake was one full of reflections, happy memories and goodbyes to new friends. Caroline led worship and Justin gave a closing talk before communion and memories from Dave and Christiaan. I’m hopeful that these connections will remain and be lifelong. 
I’m also leaving with a renewed view of myself as an artist. During one of the breakout sessions the day prior Sarah Masen referred to me as a “visual artist.” She had seen my handwritten lyric sheets and drawings on the merch table. It’s interesting how I often don’t see something in myself until it’s said out loud. 

It reminds me of a time I was having coffee with my friend and pastor. He told me that I was a “direct person.” I remember feeling surprised and hurt as he described me as a person who means what she says. Upon more reflection, I found this description to be true and something I am thankful to be. I’ve learned and am still learning to be careful in my directness. But, I see the fruits of this quality in my work every single day. People know they can count on me and if I say I will do something that means I will and I’ll do it to the best of my ability. I’ll put my heart and soul into it and even take lessons or get help if I need it. So, when Sarah called me a “visual artist” it took me by surprise. Pleasant surprise. I like to draw and I’ve been doing calligraphy since my mom bought me my first set of calligraphy pens in middle school. Thinking of myself as an artist: singer/songwriter, performer, and visual artist gives me more freedom to explore that part of myself. I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say this again: “encourage the gifts in others.” It’s truly life-giving. 

Hebrews 3:13(NIV) says “But encourage one another daily,<span class="crossreference" value="(A)” data-cr=”#cen-NIV-30009A” style=”-webkit-text-size-adjust: auto; font-family: ‘Helvetica Neue Light’, HelveticaNeue-Light, helvetica, arial, sans-serif; font-size: 17px; box-sizing: border-box; position: relative; vertical-align: top; top: 0px;”>as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

So, I encourage you to live this verse out in your lives. Encourage others. Take this encouragement to heart today. You are gifted. You have purpose and your life is intended to be meaningful. You are so very loved.