30 Days of Thanks: Sweet Memories

I have so much to be thankful for. So much more than I could ever articulate or capture in a blog post. Even while I’m drafting this entry in my bedroom, I hear my boyfriend, his son, and our niece and nephew giggle over a movie they are watching in the living room. Between the laughter, I hear them recounting their favorite parts of the festival we attended today, and every couple of minutes my sweet dog, Stanley, punctuates their snickering with a good squeak of his toy from behind the couch. The distinct smell of “taco night” is still strong in our apartment even though the dishes have been done for hours. My life is full. I am blessed.

Of all these blessings, this year I am choosing to document some of my simplest and sweetest memories of my father. Dad was unexpectedly taken from us this summer, and while my heart is broken that he is gone, I am abundantly grateful for his love, his lessons, and all the sweet, sweet memories.

The Haunting on Glenmeadow Drive

Like most small kids, my little brother and I loved to play good guy/bad guy games. We were four and five, respectively, and it was his turn to be bad guy. He had me tied up with a jump rope in a bedroom closet and aggressively robbed me at finger point, shouting demands in his best “bad guy” voice. It was all in good fun until Dad, doing some handy work in the attic, heard us playing through the ceiling vents. Dad threw the breaker switch, knocking out the power in that part of the house, leaned facedown into the vent in the bedroom, and let out his loudest, scariest “MUWAHAHAHAHAH!!!!!” Toby ran screaming and probably scarred for life, while I tried furiously to squirm out of the triple-knotted jump ropes. Terror doesn’t get more pure than that, and Dads just don’t laugh harder than that.

Roughhousing With Class

When we played, we played classy. Tummies had to be settled, all dangerous furniture was moved out of the living room, and my Dad blasted his record (yes, as in a RECORD) of the William Tell Overture through my parents’s turntable with surround sound audio. Games of choice included, but were not limited to, Bunkin’ Bronco, Tick Tock, and of course, the Tickle Fight. Dad would take my siblings and I (four total) all on at once. The Universe stopped and bedtime was forgotten about. We would play until our cheeks were burning and our sides were sore from laughter, and after awhile, without us even knowing it, our eyelids would start to fall. He’d gather us all up at the same time (he was the strongest man in the whole, wide world), and drop us each into our respective beds with a kiss on the forehead. I’ll never sleep so well again.

The Playground Dad Built

Snack time on the see saw.

I had friends with cool swingsets, or even a neat pool slide, but no one had a backyard like ours. Each piece of that backyard was

truly assembled with love, sweat and tears. There was the seesaw Dad built with his own hands. Kids from all over the neighborhood came just to take a turn on that seesaw.

We also had the Sesame Street swingset, because it just doesn’t get cooler than swinging with Big Bird. And we had the four-seater spinny thing we never really knew what to call. We just called it “Mayonnaise-Mustard-Ketchup” because it was white, yellow and red, but it was AWESOME! And the tire swing, you just can’t have enough fun on a tire swing.

Then there was the beautiful sandbox Dad built us from scratch. It really was a work of art, handcrafted and flawless. But before he installed the masterpiece he worked so hard on, he bought every color of paint he could find, gave us each a paint brush, and just let us go, and somehow, it was a little more beautiful when we were done.

 

Dad’s New Best Friend

Dad and Rufus
Dad and his best bud, Rufus.

We had a relatively strict no pet policy growing up. We were able to weasel our way into a couple of small rodents here and there, even ducks, but Dad was particularly adamant about no dogs. We would beg, and we would cry, but Dad would squint his eyes and curl his lips under, and we knew his decision was final.

That all changed in my sixth grade year. Each day my Mom came to pick me up from school, my little brother already in tow, and each day she saw the neglected litter of new puppies born at the house across the street. They were dirty, flea-ridden, hungry, and just so cute. One afternoon Mom hit her breaking point. Instead of just pulling up in front of the school for me to jump in the van, she parked the car and hopped out with my brother. With a determined look on her face, she marched across the street and knocked on the dog owner’s door. A brief chat and twenty dollars later, we had a puppy.

We played with him all afternoon in the front yard. He was frightened and excited at the same, and so were we. How would Dad react when he got home? When Dad finally pulled into the driveway that evening, we hid the puppy underneath a blanket and between boxes in the garage. We tried so hard to keep our faces straight and act normal, but Dad could of course sense the giddy anxiety in us all, and the frightened puppy shaking violently beneath the sheet didn’t help much either. Dad glanced across all of our “straight” faces, looked down at the quivering sheet, and pulled it back with a swift, hard tug. Dad couldn’t even be mad. In that moment, he knew he had just met his new best friend. He named him Rufus, and that second began a 15 year journey the twosome would enjoy together, side-by-side every step of the way.

I am so grateful for my father, the time we had, and all the sweet memories. These are by no means all of my memories of my father, or even my favorite. They are just the ones that are making me smile today. Thanks, Dad.

30 Days of Thanks: Design

30 Days of Thanks: Design

From the chairs with no instructions, to the sweaters that require no ironing, to the kitchens that anyone can navigate. Experiences and products are everywhere and go least noticed when designed well.

The fact that you knew to pull on that door rather than push on it without ever having to read a sign.

The fact that everyone knows how to operate a chair without instructions even though all chairs do not look exactly alike.

To the ATM machines that now take seconds to operate.

Great design can communicate years of information without having a paragraph of text.

To the business development person who spends more time being a resource and less time being a sales person.

To the floor manager who spends more time figuring out what you need and less time on what you’re asking for.

For the thousands of poorly designed experiences, there are a thousand more wonderful experiences that get unnoticed.

This thank you goes out to the thousands of wonderfully designed experiences that go unnoticed, because that’s what they do best.

30 Days of Thanks – Skype!

Year after year, I’m thankful for the same things…

  • Family
    Family

    • In less than two years, we’ve welcomed two new additions to our family!
      Nicholas I. Gomez and Taylor E. Nguyen!
       

  • Friends

    • This year I’ve made so many new friends at school, work and even out of thin air! I can’t imagine going a whole day without some of them!
       

  • Food

    • Sweets are definitely my weakness.. I’ve been able to limit myself from too much sugar consumption.. but there are just times when you need to down a dozen of the best cupcakes in the world!..just kidding, I shared them! They were from Georgetown Cupcakes!

    •   
      I was so lucky to experience Uchi in Houston,TX this year with my sister for my birthday! It was right after the Schipul Zombie Photoshoot (just imagine splotches of red ‘blood’ around my face and neck as I enjoy some uncooked fish)
  • and other things that start with the letter “F”… like flip-flops

However, this year I’ve added another item to be really thankful for..and no, it doesn’t start with the letter “F”.

For the year 2012, I am also thankful for SKYPE! It’s such a great way to keep in touch with the people we care about, especially getting to ‘see’ them even if they’re miles and miles away. And ‘the best things in life are free‘..right?

And I guess no matter how you try to explain it.. a long-distance relationship is a LONG-distance relationship when you’re not in the same city as someone else.. whether it be family members, friends, co-workers, or so on.  Not being a big ‘phone-person’ (check me out with my Samsung Behold).. Skype is definitely the next best thing for me when it comes to having a conversation with someone.. ‘face-to-face’.

All in all, I’m very thankful for the life I have..filled with so many people that I genuinely care for and for all the memories and experiences we’ve all shared with each other. Until next Thanksgiving!

 

Cheers,

Jan!

Thankful for those Texans! #BullsOnParade

When I was a little girl, my Grandpa would sit in front of the TV screen and yell. It was the 90s and he was a Houston Oilers fan. I never understood his obsession with needing to see every hit and down of the game…

 

…until now.

 

Last fall (2011) I was still living with my folks and every Sunday after church we’d all eat lunch and end up watching the Houston Texans play all afternoon. Not every game was pretty or a win… but every game was clean, played honorably. Over time it became commonplace, as in “We can’t go out for lunch after church…the Texans play at noon.” My mom’s birthday gift was a Texans sweatshirt, see below:

#BullsOnParade

Needless to say, we were hooked. My brother would come over, we’d watch the Texans fight hard on the field and then we’d all go biking together.

This was one of our short rides in April called the MS150 :)

 

The Texans, who entered the league in 2002, had never made the playoffs in our nine season history. But in 2011 we made history after clinching the South Division title and qualifying as the AFC’s third seed. We beat the Bengals, but lost to the Ravens. We were all extremely proud of our team and what they accomplished that year.

The 2012 season has been another season for making records. We are 8-1 for the first time in franchise history. My love for them has only grown. I do have a special love for a few key defensive players: Brian Cushing & JJ Watt. The only reason I need to give is: watch them play, you’ll understand. Unfortunately, Brian Cushing hurt his ACL during the Jets game earlier this season (a curse on the Jets for eternity…) and he will be out the rest of this season. He’s had a great attitude about it and supports his team through this tough time.

…Can we all take a moment of silence for Brian’s ACL.

Amen. 

Two Sunday’s ago I had the distinct honor and privilege to attend my first Texans game. Big thanks to Jennie Lane :)

#babysfirsttexansgame #isthisreallife #wheresbriancushing

 

I am thankful to the Texans for giving my family something to enjoy together, giving our city something to support together and giving me a better understanding of “overcoming adversity.” (Except for Aaron Rodgers, because he plays football like Jesus.)

Enjoy these little tidbits of joy from my favorite players!

He’s very… confident.

It’s probably true…

Our defense really is something special. Bulls on Parade!

30 Days of Thanks: Siblings

Jane Austen once said, “What strange creatures brothers are!”

Well, she was right.

My brother, Andre Ricardo, was born on October 3, 1993 in Denver, Colorado. I remember the first time I laid eyes on him. He was a little red baby with a bunch of brown hair and all wrapped up in a blanket.

We didn’t get along for the first few years of our lives as siblings. Andre was probably the most annoying little brother on the planet. It was terrible to sit in the car next to him, and it was even worse to sit next to him on a plane. I remember one time, my cousin, my brother, and I were in the back seat of a car. My cousin and I were huddled on one seat as my brother was holding a booger he had just picked from his nose, threatening to wipe it on us.

When Andre was 12 and I was 17, we went to a sailing camp for three weeks. He was on a different program, so I barely saw him. He spent the summer doing water sports and snorkeling, and I spent the summer learning how to scuba dive. When we both got home, we had so many experiences that we could relate on, that I remember thinking, “So my brother is actually kind of a cool person.” We could finally bond, and it helped strengthen our relationship as brother and sister.

My brother has been not only my sibling, but also my friend. He is a source of endless entertainment and good old-fashioned unconditional sibling love.

As a big sister, I naturally want the best for my little bro, because he is truly one of the most extraordinary people I’ve ever had the chance to meet, and for that I am thankful.

 

 

30 Days of Thanks – Thankful for hardships

Choosing just one topic to write about for this post was very difficult. I am thankful for so many things in my life. I have wonderful friends, an amazing husband, a great family, a roof over my head, a sweet dog, a working, albeit old 1997 Toyota Corolla, & an overwhelming amount of love & grace in my life. I do not take one of these blessings for granted because I know all too well how rare & precious of a gift they are.

My topic may seem odd to be thankful for, but I am thankful for the hard times, because without them, I would have never learned that you can go through hardships & come out stronger. Without the hard times I & my family have been through, I would not be who I am today. These hardships have given me character & a strength that I never could have imagined.


I have been blessed with some of the most integrous people I know & these people are my family. They have taught me the value of hard work & to appreciate all that we have been given. One of the most amazing examples of love & integrity I know is my grandfather.

This amazing man worked hard every day of his life & never once complained. He loved my father, grandmother, & us grandkids with a rare tenderness that I will never forget. He went through so much; sacrificing his dreams to provide for his family, but he was always there for everyone & he was greatly loved. He is a shining example that you can through hardships & still choose to love & be kind.


My next example is my father. If I wrote everything this man has taught me, this post would be a book series. Both he & my mother sacrificed everything for us. From us being homeless when we were young & doing everything in his power to provide a roof over our heads, to small things like not drinking milk in his cereal so us girls could have milk to drink.

I have seen my parents overcome so many obstacles; mountains that seemed insurmountable, yet they came out the other side & still chose to love, be humble, & forgive. My dad is not perfect & he will be the first one to tell you that, but his humility & kindess to any stranger, makes him loved by everyone who knows him. Despite every disappointment & hard time he has been through, he still chooses to love without reservation.


On those days where I am frustrated with an obstacle that is in my life, I stop & think about the incredible examples I have had. Any obstacle in life is overcomable, & if I allow it, not only will I overcome it, but I will be a better person for going through it.

When I was young I wished so many times that we had been wealthy & that I could have had all the things that other children had, but now I am thankful that I did not. It taught me that I do not need those things to be happy. The things in life that last beyond when I am gone, are how I loved & served while I was here. I pray I will be able to be as kind as my grandfather, or that my friends & family will say of me that I was humble & loving like my father.

These gifts are what I will always cherish & be thankful for. Never be upset when you go through hard times; allow them to teach you & make you better, not bitter. My family is the best example of this that I have ever known & that is what I am most thankful for.

 

30 Days of Thanks – Boston Terriers

 For 90% of my life, I have been a self-proclaimed “cat person”. However, on July 25, 2011 everything changed when my boyfriend and I spied a little Boston Terrier puppy (Franklin!) all alone in a little dog carrier. From that day forward, I went to the dark side and transitioned into the dog person I am today. Purchasing dog costumes, researching about potty training, learning the lingo, mapping out the dog-friendly restaurants, and instagramming like crazy – I’ve done it all. I’m so thankful for the lessons this tiny dog has taught me over the past year, and can share with you some of my favorite Franklinisms here:
 

“When things get difficult, just keep your head up and keep paddling.”

 

“Always stay classy.”

 

 “Haters gonna hate.”

 

 “Nothing lasts forever. Especially chew toys.”

 

 “You can be friends with others who might seem a little different from you.”

 

“Be a patron of the arts & experience new things.”

 

 “It’s sometimes hard to try to stand out be different from the crowd.”

 

 “Don’t be fooled! Superheros come in all shapes and sizes.”

 

“Good hygiene is CRUCIAL. Especially when fleas are involved.”

 

“Always dress your best.”

 

 “You won’t get along with everyone. Just agree to disagree.”

 

 “The world isn’t in black and white.”

 

 “Facial hair doesn’t look good on EVERYONE.”

 

 “Sometimes the best adventures are right outside your backyard.”

 

“Mornings aren’t always easy.”

 

 “It’s fine to dork out. Don’t let anyone judge you for being a little geeky.”

 

…and like you can see, I dork out on Boston Terriers… A LOT!

 All in all, looking back I’m so thankful for Franklin, Boston Terriers, and just pets in general because of the love they show us and the lessons they teach us everyday.

30 Days of Thanks: To Nanny’s House We Go!

There are SO many things I am thankful for. Family, friends, and my health of course, but what resonates for me are the little things that have a big impact. This includes a cookbook I was given when I was 15, and the memories that come with it.

The cookbook is filled with recipes from my grandparent’s childhood and was a collaboration with several family members, close friends, and neighbors. It is titled “To Nanny’s House We Go”. All of the grandkids received a copy with a set of wooden spoons. Every time I make a recipe from that book or make something my grandmother taught me, a flood of memories from my childhood come back.  One of those childhood memories came back to me yesterday (Nov 10th).

Years before my grandfather passed my grandparents would honestly have cornbread at LEAST once a week. My grandmother was the one who usually made it but on occasion my grandfather would too. He got tired of having to get the recipe from my grandmother’s recipe box and copied it onto a post-it. He then taped it to the inside the cabinet that had all the ingredients to make the cornbread. I was always spending time at my grandparents and remember seeing the Post-it pop up one day when I went to make coffee.

Yesterday my mom and grandmother were discussing our recipe for cornbread dressing. They were trying

Cornbread recipe
The BEST cornbread is made in a cast iron skillet.

to decide whether or not they should make it that night. They spent a good 15-20 minutes looking for the cookbook to make cornbread. I told them there was a copy of the recipe taped to the inside of one of the kitchen cabinets. They didn’t believe me.

Almost every person in my family opens that cabinet almost 3-4 times a day and they never noticed. it.  I’m not sure exactly how long that post it has been there. But every time I go to my grandmother’s and see that post-it.

It’s amazing to me how an action, smell, or even words can trigger such strong memories and I am utterly grateful for them. :)

Below is the cornbread recipe that my grandfather taped in the cabinet:

1 cup corn meal

1/2 cup flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/4 cup buttermilk

1 egg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Put 1 tablespoon of oil (my family uses bacon grease) in a cast iron skillet. Mix above ingredients and then pour in oiled cast iron skillet. Bake for 30 minutes.

Happy Thanksgiving! Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!

30 Days of Thanks: Mmm…Queso

I’m thankful for a lot of things like my family, my health, my friends, etc. On the other hand I’m also thankful for really trivial things such as kittens, nail polish, Chick-Fil-A Sauce…Oh, and QUESO.

Queso Magic Queso is pretty much amazing, but white queso in particular is where my heart lies.
There are a lot of magical qualities about queso. In my opinion, it’s the ultimate comfort food. If you’re having a long day, end it with a bowl of white queso. While you’re at it, order a margarita because they go great with queso and who doesn’t like margaritas? As a Texan, it gives us something to brag about. Where else can you find better queso?

I’ve eaten a lot of queso. And let me tell you, not all queso is created equal. Want to know the best places to get queso?

Here’s a list of my top picks:

1. Pappasitos – Don’t let the “chain stigma” fool you. Their queso is legit. My boyfriend swears they put some sort of magical ingredient in the queso (Crack, maybe? Kidding!). Be sure to order the “flaming” white queso because there are 2 queso options on the menu. They literally light it on fire, no seriously.

2. Original Ninfa’s on Navigation – If you live in Houston you have to go here at some point in your life. It’s in a shady part of town, but it is so worth it. The queso isn’t white, but it’s pretty amazing nonetheless.

3. El Tiempo – Again, the queso here isn’t white, but it’s pretty great. It also helps that their entrees are incredible.

4. Del Pueblo – This is a Cypress, TX gem. They also serve killer fried avocados. Mmmm…melted cheese and fried stuff.

5. Berryhill – This is where I go when I need a queso “fix.” You know, those times when you need queso now! It’s quick, cheap and white.

Not into restaurants? That’s cool. You can make great queso at home. I hear the secret ingredient is Mexican crema.

Queso con Rajas Recipe

Ingredients:

1 1/2 large sweet bell peppers, roasted, peeled, cored and seeded
2 large poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, cored and seeded
3 jalapenos, roasted and seeded
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 small onion, diced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
pinch of salt
3/4 cup Mexican crema, or sour cream
8 ounces grated queso Oaxaca or Chihuahua cheese
1 1 /2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Roast the peppers on a grill or on a grilling pan until they are nice and charred on the outside and then peel and deseed them. Cut the roasted peppers into 1/4-inch thick strips and set them aside.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat and sauté the onion until translucent, around 3 minutes. Decrease the heat to low, add the bell pepper and chile strips, then stir in the cilantro, oregano, salt, crema, queso, and grated Parmesan. Cook everything over a low heat, stirring continuously until the queso melts, about 5 minutes. Don’t let the mixture brown or scorch. If the queso is a bit too thick, add some more crema until you get the desired texture and thickness.

Remove the queso from the heat and serve immediately with warm tortillas or chips.

Recipe Credit: Foodsessed

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