Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wrap Me Up!

Southwest Chipotle Chicken Wrap!
You are what you eat, right? Unfortunately as of late I have been fast, cheap and easy...awkward. But today for lunch I felt like treating myself to something delicious, fresh, exciting, relatively quick but most importantly filling. My favorite place to eat on campus is L&T Salad and Soup! I must admit that I have never had their salad or soup, but they make some mean wraps. I especially love their Pork Barbacoa wrap. Some tangy BBQ pulled pork with a medley of fresh veggies, cheese, herbs all perfectly topped with a cilantro dressing and wrapped in a spinach tortilla...yummm! Their only problem is the price. And as a student, I can't really afford to eat out much. So what did I do?! I went to the grocery store yesterday and bought me all the essentials. When I came home today after the BYU devotional, I was determined to make the Pork Barbacoa wrap jealous of my creation. 
Sauteed blackened chic
That's right, a wrap challenge. And yes, the above picture is the treat I devoured. I used half of a medium (more on the small side) of a chicken breast. In the larger groceries stores, you can usually find already precooked and seasoned chicken breasts. They come in strips, whole, cubes, chunks and pretty much anything else you can imagine. If you like to season your own, that's perfectly alright! I suggest using plenty of pepper, smokey paprika, garlic powder, cumin and maybe just a touch of chili powder. Either grill or sautee the chicken. I sauteed it in some extra virgin olive oil. Be sure not to overcook the chicken. You want a nice juicy, tender wrap! Once cooked, remove from heat, cover with a lid and let rest while you assemble the rest of your wrap. For this you will need:
Ingredients
  • Large tortillas (spinach, sun-dried tomato and basil, wheat, regular anything you've got)
  • Cream cheese
  • Cilantro (fresh is best)
  • Lettuce (preferably not iceberg)
  • Tomato (I didn't have any, but I wish I would've!)
  • Your favorite salsa (chunky mango makes me weak at the knees)
  • Canned black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Canned corn, drained
  • A delicious shredded cheese blend (I used Colby and Monterey Jack)
  • Your favorite dressings. **Make sure that these go well with the rest of the ingredients!**
DIRECTIONS:
  1. Chop up as much or as little cilantro as you would like...in fact, you don't even need it! You could use parsley or nothing in its place. Mix it up with a spoonful (meaning a heaping tablespoon) of cream cheese and spread it on your tortilla. Try to get as close as you can to the edges without actually getting cream cheese on the very edge. 
  2. Cut up some lettuce and place on the tortilla making an even layer.
  3. Add the corn, beans, salsa and shredded cheese.
  4. Add the chicken in the middle, and drizzle with a generous amount of dressing. I recently found a chipotle ranch and a mango chipotle dressing that goes great with this! Super good!

Next, you want to fold the wrap so that it doesn't drip any of the sauces inside. My instructions are a bit confusing, but I have faith most of you will get it :)

You take 2 opposite sides of the tortilla and fold them towards the middle, press a bit and the drag the sides back just a little. Next, take the side closest to you, folding the corners in and start rolling the wrap towards the other edge. Once you are almost done rolling it, fold in the 2 corners on the other side and finish rolling the wrap. Cut in half and enjoy! The diagram below will hopefully help you understand!

My attempts at sketching the instructions. Don't judge. Haha.
I guess you'll all have to tell me how it compares to L&T ;) But for me it turned out to be just what I needed! Some comforting, spicy, sweet and savory goodness!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Life Gave Me Limes...

I went grocery shopping earlier this week hoping to find a nice cut of meat to grill at a BBQ I was invited to. Instead I found myself geeking out about all the things I could make with the delicious limes that were, get this, on sale! I bought myself 12 limes and some chicken quarters (legs and thighs attached, with skin) and walked happily to my car. Then I realized that I failed to buy any BBQ sauce. After having quite a drawn out internal struggle with myself, I decided to not go back to the store. And this is where my limes became the inspiration for the past few dinners. But before I get to the main dish, let me start out with a simple recipe for perhaps the most delicious drink in this here planet. Ever been to Tucanos? It's Heaven on Earth, otherwise known as a Brazilian grill. One of their specialties: Brazilian limeade. Guess who knows how to make it! That's right :)

Here's the recipe for this magic:

BRAZILIAN LIMEADE
  • 6 c. cold water
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 4 large limes 
  • 6 Tbsp. sweetened condensed milk 
  • A ridiculous amount of ice
  1.  Mix the water and sugar in a pitcher and leave chilling for a couple hours.  
  2. Wash limes with cool water using a bit of dish soap. Make sure you get it all off. You don't want Palmolive flavored limeade. Cut the ends off all the limes and then cut each lime into eighths. (Sometimes when the peels are too thick, I cut some of the peel off, but not very much. The oils and zest add a lot to the drink.)
  3. Put half the limes in a blender along with half of the chilled sugar water. Pulse with the lid on 5-7 times. 
  4. Pour the liquid through a strainer into the pitcher you will be using. Repeat steps 3 and 4 with the rest of the limes and sugar water.
  5. Add sweetened condensed milk and mix well. DO NOT leave this step out! I know a lot of people freak out about mixing milk with lime, but trust me, it is what makes this so AMAZING! 
Serve this in a glass full to the top with ice. You want to drink this very cold! I would say this is enough for a dinner group of 4, but if you want refills I suggest making two batches.

**DISCLAIMER: This limeade does not keep for long. You can't make it ahead of time. You can, however, prep the sugar water and cut the limes ahead of time if you would like :) **

Ok, so there was the star of today's dinner. I also made some grilled Peruvian chicken and cilantro-lime rice. These recipes are for 4 servings (though the rice actually makes a lot more :) )

CILANTRO-LIME RICE
  •  2 c. long grain rice
  • 4 c. chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil for rice plus 1/4 c. vegetable oil for cilantro paste.
  • 1 bunch of fresh cilantro (it usually comes in bunches a the store)
  •  1/3 c. water
  • 2 tsp. crushed garlic or 2 minced garlic cloves
  • The juice of 2 limes
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • Salt and Pepper
  1. In a pot, heat the oil on medium-high heat and slightly brown the rice. Add chicken broth, stir slightly and turn burner on high heat. Bring to a boil. 
  2. Quickly cover the pot with a lid and turn heat to low. Let simmer undisturbed for 20 minutes. DO NOT lift lid up if you're curious to see how the rice is coming along. Remember, the steam from the broth is what cooks the rice. It needs to stay in the pot!
  3. Once cooked, remove rice from heat, fluff with fork and let stand covered while you prep the cilantro paste. 
  4. Wash cilantro and chop. Throw in blender along with the water, oil, garlic, lime juice and sugar. Blend for about 20 seconds. I like my rice to have small pieces of the cilantro leaf but if you like a more smooth result blend it for longer. If your blender is not blending the leaves, it might need more liquid so add a bit more water.
  5. Strain the cilantro so that it isn't too watery. You want a slightly more liquid paste, but if it has too much liquid your rice will turn into mush!
  6. Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the cilantro mixture and warm up for a few seconds stirring constantly. 
  7. Turn burner off and add rice to the skillet. Toss in the cilantro mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve! (You might not want it too salty if you're serving it with a salty meat so be careful!)
This rice is great in burritos, with carne asada, enchiladas or grilled chicken!  And speaking of grilled chicken, remember how 2 recipes ago I mentioned not going back to the store for BBQ sauce? I just figured I'd be crazy not to use my super juicy, fresh limes! So I made a chicken marinade that seems to be quite the crowd pleaser! It is reminiscent of Peruvian flavors with the smokey-spice of cumin and a kick of lime. Goes perfectly with cilantro rice! Here's how you make it:


POLLO PERUANO MARINADE
  • 1/3 c. soy sauce and water mixed (half of each...confusing, I know)
  • Juice of 2 limes plus 1 lime quartered for washing chicken
  • 6 tsp. crushed garlic or 5 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. paprika 
  •  1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1Tbsp, olive oil
  • 4 chicken quarters with skins

  1.  Wash chicken with cold water, rubbing with limes all over, including under the skin. This helps break down all the slimy tissue! Cut away any excess fat or the tail part if it still has it.
  2. Put soy sauce/water mixture in a blender along with the lime juice, spices and olive oil. Blend until everything is mixed and garlic is blended completely (about 15-20 seconds)
  3. Put chicken in large plastic, zipper bag and add marinade. Refrigerate overnight (8-24 hours, min-max). The longer the better!
  4. Preheat the grill on high for about 10 minutes. Turn heat to a medium low flame and grease grill with an oil soaked paper towel. Be careful not to burn yourself!
  5. Pat both sides of chicken dry with paper towels. This ensures a crispy skin.
  6. Place chicken skin side down on grill and cook for 10 minutes with lid down. Check once or twice to make sure there aren't flames touching the chicken. Indirect heat is the secret here for a fully cooked, juicy chicken! 
  7. Flip chicken over, close lid and cook for another 10 minutes or until the juices run clear and chicken is cooked all the way through. Try not to over cook it. Although it is dark meat, it could still get dry if cooked for too long.
  8. Remove from heat, let rest for about 5 minutes. Serve with cilantro rice and some of your favorite veggies or fruit!
The picture above is of the chicken I grilled tonight for dinner. The skins unfortunately burned a bit, but usually they're a bit past golden brown and perfectly crisp and the marinade caramelized! I had the heat slightly too high and I was on the phone so I left the chiken on the grill a bit too long on that side, but it still turned out alright :)

Man, I LOVE FOOD and I'm so glad I went crazy buying limes. You can do so much with them! We've had quite the tasty dinners and they were all incredibly cheap! We'll see what goes on sale next week ;)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Ok, fine...here's THE recipe :)

I have shared this recipe with many friends already, and from what I hear, it's been a hit! Who knew a simple sauce could add that much to a dish! Before I get to that, however, I'll tell you the process of the rest of the meal. Usually, I take some boneless/skinless chicken breasts, slice the filets in half and pound them flat with a meat tenderizer. I then season the chicken with salt and pepper, beat some eggs with a bit of milk, soak the chicken for a bit and then coat them with Italian bread crumbs and fresh grated parmesan. You can bake the chicken for about 20 mins. in a 350ยบF oven, or fry it in a skillet with extra virgin olive oil on medium high heat. I prefer the latter. As for the sides, roasted asparagus or broccoli make an excellent green. Everyone knows every good meal should have a green veggie :) And, because the sauce it quite delicious and often people can't get enough, I suggest serving some garlic mashed potatoes. I find that baby red potatoes are my favorite because they are tender and don't have to boil for long, the skins are soft enough that they don't need peeling (which is always a plus...just a quick rinse and a rough chop!), and they just look good! Plenty of butter, some minced garlic or garlic powder, a bit of milk, some salt and pepper and voila, you have yourself some creamy, chunky, heavenly mashed potatoes! In case you haven't noticed, this meal is not light by any means. But I assure you, it fills one's heart with sweet satisfaction. So far it doesn't sound like anything special, right? Well, fret not, here is the secret component! The star of the show! The reason for this post! Many have requested the recipe and it fills my heart with joy to say...I will make it public! 

Basil Cream Sauce:

INGREDIENTS:
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 (4 ounce) jar sliced pimento peppers, drained and chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • salt to taste
DIRECTIONS:

  1. Add broth to a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and then stir in cream and pimentos; boil and stir for 1 minute. Reduce heat to medium low. 
  2. Add the Parmesan cheese, basil, pepper and salt. Stir sauce and cook until heated through. Pour mixture over chicken and whatever else and serve! 
 And that's it, my friends! Super easy. I wish I had a picture of this dish. It's a very festive looking sauce. You might want to double the recipe because people go through it, especially if you serve it with the mashed potatoes. I also suggest just serving the food in serving bowls/plates and having the sauce on the side so it doesn't make the chicken soggy and people can dish up however much they want. If you decide to give it a go, please leave comments with your opinions/suggestions :) Happy eating!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

From Pupusas to Cheeseburgers...

Today is a good day. Today I feel like telling a story...

It starts with a woman who left a war torn country to find a better life in America. She was a 22 year old single mother, she had financially supported her family since she was 16 and lived in a small country where bombings, shootings, earthquakes, hurricanes and starvation were an every day thing. She was very ambitious. More so than the rest of her family. As she tells it, she always knew she would not live in a village for the rest of her life. Her parents had tried giving her the best life they could, but a kindergarten education only goes so far. Farming and housekeeping is all they knew and there was no way she would stay trapped in a world with so little opportunity for progress. The war in her country had gotten to the point where companies were going bankrupt or taken over by the "guerrilla", young boys were made soldiers at the tender age of 12 or 13, women were being kidnapped, money and food were scarce. She was strong, independent, had a vision but knew things would not get much better if she stayed in her country. Not many other things were an option, particularly now that she had lost her job in the textile factory. But one simply does not leave El Salvador. Especially when all you have are a few dresses, enough money for bus fare, a few days' worth of food, two parents who can't read or write, a 10 month old baby and no connections whatsoever. Those were desperate times, and as they say, desperate times call for desperate measures. The week she lost her job, a good friend of hers told her about a group that had decided to come to America with a "coyote". I'm sure they would have all wanted to immigrate legally, but seeing as none of them had a fortune and 10 years to spare, illegal immigration was the way to go. One week. That's all the time she had to arrange the trip, make plans with her parents, and realize that she had to tell her baby goodbye for who knows how long. That woman was my mother. And I was that baby.

Mom tells me that it was the hardest thing she has ever done. Six days after the idea of coming to the U.S. was proposed, she was standing by the door of our little shack hugging my grandparents goodbye, carrying a plastic bag with some ripe bananas my grandfather, Papa-Lito, had picked for her that morning and five colones...not even a dollar. She tells me that she held me one last time and cried and cried. When she finally worked up the courage to hand me to my grandmother, Mama-Marta, she knew that she had to just turn around, walk away and keep walking until she couldn't see the village anymore. She says that if she had looked back, she knew she would have never left. Her goal was a better life and future. But not for herself. Not even for my grandparents. She did that for me and in order to achieve it she had to leave me behind. I have never met anyone that brave. I've sat with my mom on her bed late at night before as she told me stories of her coming to America. She always says that she tried to make it fun, though she knew that there were many dangers along the way. I've heard stories of the times she had to jump on the train and barely made it, once when the police and dogs were chasing them and they had to climb barbed wire fences (she still has the scars), the time they had to swim across El Rio Grande and the current was so strong they were sure their party would drown. Luckily, the coyote had a rope that he threw in the water and one by one they swum across it, tightly holding on to the rope. Somehow they all made it across. Reading my mother's journals will be a treat for sure! I wish I could tell the stories the way she does. I can't do them justice. But all you need to know is that crossing the borders between El Salvador and the U.S.A. really is a matter of life or death.

When they finally made it to California, (Los Angeles, to be specific), they faced another challenge; finding a job. The guide who had brought them knew people who knew people who knew where to find jobs. English was always preferred, but not necessary. My mom knew this would be a challenge. She knew she had to start from literally nothing, and she was willing to do whatever it took to be able to see me again. Someone told her of a job in Maryland. It was the first job she heard of so she took it without hesitation. She would be a maid for a wealthy family. She worked and worked and worked, found good friends, took English classes, learned how to drive, got a license, bought herself a little car, and eventually started working on papers to get her legal U.S. residency. This whole time she would send letters, pictures, and money back to El Salvador for me and my grandparents. Sometimes she sent us "American clothes", toys and cassette tapes where she recorded herself talking to me. My favorite one was one she sent after she had met my dad, David Riggin. They had been dating for a while, he knew all about me and I had seen a few pictures that my mom had sent. He seemed nice enough. Ok, that's an understatement. I loved this man immediately. I can't quite pin-point when it is I decided that he was my dad. I called him Papa-"Dahveed". It was my fifth birthday and my mom had sent us a cassette with both her and my dad singing "Happy Birthday" in Spanish and English, and they both told me they loved me and that I would see them very soon. It's funny-- now that I think about those days, I realize how oblivious I was. I had a life in El Salvador, I loved my grandparents dearly and never wanted to be without them but I always knew that I wouldn't be in El Salvador forever. I just didn't realize that that also meant I wouldn't be with my grandparents forever. Anyway, going back to David Riggin...he is an amazing man. A great father. The best one, in fact.

 I remember when we found out that my parents would be getting married. I was overjoyed, but partly bitter since I would not be able to be there for the wedding and, like any other silly 6 year old would feel, I was jealous that some random girl would be my parents' flower girl and not me. My parents had been married a year before they found out about the church and were baptized and they told me all about not drinking coffee, and this and that...you know, stuff Mormons do. We hadn't had missionaries in El Salvador in years because of the war. Eventually they started coming and I saw them once in a while, but they never came to our house. My devout Catholic grandparents scared them away, I'm sure of it! But, as scary as they may have appeared to innocent 19 year old Mormon boys, I thought they were the sweetest people around. I have so many great memories of my childhood in El Salvador! Of my grandma getting me ready for school every morning, teaching me how to iron my uniform, my grandpa taking me to the bean and corn fields to help him plant seeds. I loved harvesting coffee in winter when I was off school, cutting wood and tying it in small bundles to sell it, making tortillas with my grandmother, helping with the "tiendita" selling frozen chocolate covered bananas, and going to the river to get water in the little clay jugs. I didn't really have to do any of it since my mom was taking care of us financially and I was going to school. But my grandparents loved doing what they did and I loved tagging along. I also loved having all my cousins and aunts and uncles within walking distance. I guess in a place where having a car is beyond a luxury everything had to be within walking distance. And that was all I knew. It was our life and, had my mother been present physically, it would have been the perfect life for me. But there was a different life waiting for me just around the corner...

It was late April, 1998. I had started third grade that February and I was a perfectly content 9 year old. I remember coming home from school once and finding out that Papa-David would be coming from America to get me in a few weeks. I was thrilled! Beyond excited that this was finally happening and my dreams were literally about to come true-- I was a few weeks away from hugging my dad and meeting my mother! My grandmother seemed just as happy as I was. She took me to get a hair cut, she bought me a few new outfits, we went to the capital to get nice new shoes and to visit the doctors to get all checked up. I have never loathed shots more in my life. I kept going back to San Salvador week after week for more shots and checkups, going to fancy buildings to talk to men in suits, getting my picture taken for my green card and passport and...meeting a lawyer who I was told was my biological father. Now that was interesting, to say the least. I don't remember much other than saying hello, having him sign some letter and leaving his house. I had always known of him and no one ever spoke ill of him. I had always thought of him as some nice man living somewhere, but meeting him and feeling nothing except for politeness toward the man was a bit weird, even for a 9 year old. My grandmother knew it would be hard for me, so she took me to the zoo after. All was well :)

Over then next couple of weeks I spent a lot of time with my cousins, we visited my great grandmother and I got to say goodbye to her. That's probably when the icky feelings started sinking in. I started to realize that I would have to say goodbye to my grandma. My Mama-Marta. The woman who had been "mami" since I could remember, the one who held me and sang me to sleep every night after my mom had left while I cried, who took care of me when I was sick, the one who would always "check my homework" even though she could not read or write. I love that little old woman so much. Her life was as hard and fascinating as my mother's. She is another example of courage, hard work and sacrifice and I wanted to be everything she was. And Papa-Lito, my cute grandpa with his mustache and American cowboy boots. He would let me sit on his lap outside every night and would tell me stories of his childhood, how he met my grandma, what a wonderful woman my mom was...I loved him too. I loved him a lot and everything he was. I tried to forget that they wouldn't be there every morning when I woke up in a fancy new bed in the U.S..

The day finally came when we went to pick up my dad at the airport. I don't remember who drove us there. I do, however, remember waiting for an American to come through the doors past security and knowing he was my dad. As soon as I saw him, I recognized him from the pictures and I ran toward him completely ignoring the security guards standing by the doors. I hugged him, he hugged me, he was crying, I just didn't want to let go so he carried me to where my grandparents were and he hugged them too. The next couple of weeks are a blur. It may have only been one week. I will have to double check with my dad. We did some fun things the first few days he was in El Salvador. He came to my school and met my teacher and talked to the kids in my class. They were all amazed that they had met an Americano. We also went up to the mountains to show him my grandpa's plantations, we took him to Izalco where my favorite volcano was, we fished at the lake of Coatepeque, we went to the market. He had never seen an outdoor market and most of the people there had never seen an American so it was a treat for all! I loved that he always introduced me as his daughter, though we had just met. It was so natural and genuine and just felt right. After that we had to get to business. He rented a car and we started going to the capital every single day. To the embassy, to lawyers, this place, that place...getting up at 3 a.m. is incredibly painful! I would stay in the car with my grandma and sleep while my dad waited in line for the Salvadorean embassy to open so we could get things sorted out. I will spare you all the tragic details of how my visa almost didn't get approved. My dad had to do some serious convincing and talked with the American ambassador. One thing was for certain: he had bought two tickets for home and he was NOT leaving without me. Thank goodness it all worked out in the end and my residency got approved.

A couple days later, I was packing my one suitcase that held a couple of outfits but mostly contained beans from my grandpa's fields, some homemade chocolate, atole mix, and little things to remind me of my country. My grandma knew I couldn't forget, but I think she feared I just might. We went to bed, got up early the next day, had breakfast as always and drove to the airport. We got there and found out we had missed our flight because they printed the wrong times on the ticket! Biggest disappointment for my mom and dad, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't slightly relieved. I'm sure the same goes for my grandparents and the rest of the family in El Salvador. I got one more day with them! My dad treated the entire family to dinner. It was a party. We went to bed early that night and I fell asleep as Mama-Marta brushed my hair. I woke up to her crying that night, my dad was trying to comfort her, my grandpa was sitting silently by them and I just sat on my bed. The excitement had been overshadowed with sadness for the moment. But I didn't want to cry now. For one, I had to sleep, and I didn't want to make things worse for my grandparents.

The next day was very much a deja vu. Except this time we were quite early to the airport, plenty of time to get checked in and say our goodbyes. My grandmother had tried to be strong in front of me, but it was overwhelming now that I was there about to leave and she didn't know if or when she would see me again. She just hugged me tightly and cried. My grandpa didn't cry. I didn't either. I had to be strong for just a bit longer. Once I made it passed the gate and onto the plane I would allow myself to shed a few tears. But not then. I knew it wouldn't help my grandma at all, plus I felt really guilty feeling so sad when I should have been celebrating that in just a few hours I would be meeting my mom. And so, after all that, my dad and I walked out of sight. We got in the plane and I sat there with my head leaning on his arm. I didn't say anything. He asked me if I was ok and I just nodded my head not sure of how I felt. It was surreal. I was overcome with so many feelings that the fact that I was about to fly on a plane for the first time didn't even phase me. Finally the plane took off, and as I looked out the window to the shrinking trees, buildings and mountains below, I finally let it all out. I sobbed and sobbed until my eyes were swollen while my dad just hugged me. Haha, it was pretty pathetic. I was finally able to pull it together when the flight attendant came over to check on me for the fourth or fifth time. They played a movie and I looked out the window, colored some pictures, slept a bit and finally started feeling beyond nervous when the captain announced that we would be descending in a few minutes. This was it. I was in freaking America! I WAS GOING TO SEE MY MOM!

The plane landed, we got our luggage, we went through customs, filled out some papers, and finally walked down this long hallway. There were two silver doors and I knew that right behind me was my mom with my little one-year-old sister, waiting for me. We walked through he doors and I heard squeals, I saw balloons and then a woman who looked remarkably like a younger version of my grandmother walked over and hugged me. I hugged her back and we both cried just hugging each other while another woman (my mom's friend) was "recording" this moment with a camera that was apparently both upside down and off. Still, it was the thought that mattered :) . I could hear my dad chuckling and my baby sister calling for mom. No no, kiddo, this was my turn! The last time my mom had seen me I was wearing diapers and could barely stand. I didn't even remember her, so that little baby would just have to wait a bit longer while I absorbed all that love and memorized my mother's face. It's funny how it all happened. I remember my mom holding my hands, touching my hair, my face and the entire time she was crying. I didn't hear her voice until after we got home that night. And we stayed up just talking about the day. I'm not gonna lie, I literally couldn't believe this was all happening...I felt like a stranger in some couple's house, they spoke in English to each other and I couldn't understand, but they would look at me and smile and cry and I would just look stupid sitting in the most beautiful living room I had ever seen. I didn't know what to do. I actually can't describe exactly what I felt. It was more than I could handle that night. But I didn't want my mom to leave. So she stayed with me that night and we both fell asleep on my bed. Over the years I have reflected on those first days I spent with my parents trying to adjust to a new family. It all became so natural very quickly. My parents are my best friends. My mom knows me better than I know myself, my dad and I are incredibly similar, we have traditions and I can't imagine life without them or my sisters, without the gospel, or heck, without English! It truly is a miracle! I still talked to my grandparents often, we visited El Salvador, and after my grandfather passed away we were able to get my grandma a tourist visa so she could come visit us in the U.S.. They are still my heroes. They mean the world to me.

So why did I feel like telling this incredibly long story? I've been thinking a lot about my mom and grandma today. I spoke to both of them. Today is Mother's Day in El Salvador and throughout all Latin America. Today also marks 14 years since I came to the States. May 10th, 1998 --- the most incredible Mother's Day my mother and I can remember :) Both she and my grandma sacrificed so much for me and I often feel I haven't done enough to thank them for getting me where I am today. These women are everything good and lovely rolled into tiny people. I love them. More than I can say. I treasure the time I get to spend with them and know that the next time we are all together, it will feel just like it always does; like home. Feliz Dia de las Madres, Teresa Riggin and Marta Contreras. You're everything I hope to be some day :)

Monday, April 30, 2012

Green Slime

Green Slime. That's my term of endearment for the infamous Park Plaza pool. It's hard to believe that my friends and I actually swam in it last summer. Sometimes for hours and hours at a time, playing pool basketball, racing across it, playing chicken, attempting and sometimes succeeding to fit 3 of us in a small inner tube. The water was so clear, reflecting the sun as it glided across the sky throughout the day; it looked incredibly inviting. Those were the days! All that remains of that pool are the memories and the most likely radioactive remains of the water from last summer. It all started one fateful day when someone came and posted a sign outside the pool gate that read "Closed, Utah County Health Department". It could only mean one thing -- the chlorine levels were alarmingly low, which explained why the water had been looking cloudy that week. The nerve of those people! Cloudy water? No big deal! I'm sure NONE of us planned on drinking that water. Let's face it, if people swim in Utah Lake and live to tell the tale, we would surely survive low chlorine levels. It was a hard few days. I was overjoyed the next week when they re-opened it and we all swam and splashed around carelessly, working hard on our Jimmer dunks.

All was well until the Health Department came a couple weeks later closing the pool once again. This time for too high chlorine levels! You can never make them happy. It was sad because after that the pool closed for good for the rest of the year. It was still a pretty sight on late afternoons when I sat on the balcony of my second floor apartment, the water ripples mirrored on the windows around the Plaza. Summer ended, fall came, the pool still had water and the crisp leaves began to cover the surface. And then...it got ugly. I don't think I've ever seen a pool go from clear blue to neon green before. There had been some dirt already at the bottom of the pool from the previous summer, but you could hardly see it under the blanket of algae. Slowly the neon turned to a murky shade of puke green, covering not only the bottom of the pool but also the sides and even the outside edges. There were chunks of who knows what floating around. It stressed me out emotionally to look at it every time I stepped outside. Why the heck was it not being drained?! Management finally decided to put us all out of our misery and put the cover on -- but they never drained the water. It rained, it snowed, it hailed, the water on top of the cover got just as neon as it's partner in crime below. A sad sight indeed. Sushi (you know who you are) and I yelled at every pigeon who bathed in it, at all the stupid birds who drank from it...poor things. They most likely dropped dead before sundown, or grew extra limbs. I'm sure we heard tales of glow in the dark birds in the coming weeks. One can only hope Park Plaza brings all this madness to an end and decides to clean the pool in the near future. My heart can only take so much.

In other news, the school year is over, spring is here and that means Sunday strolls and picnics in the park! I have already met great people and am looking forward to new friendships. Though I am very sad that some of my dearest friends are gone for summer. They're out in California, Maryland, Spain, China and other such places that make me jealous at the simple mention of them. This past week, I was reflecting on the semester and the things I went through, things I could have done better, stuff that did and didn't work out and the sleepless nights over what now seem like meanigless things. What sticks out the most through all this are the amazing people I call my friends, my posse, amigos, the ones who gave of their time to let me know they cared. Things that made winter a bit more bearable/amazing include but are not limited to friend dinners, game nights, day/night hikes, Cocoa Bean outings, basketball games, dances, playing piano, being creeps, Edward, shooting and late night chats. To all who were part of this crazy thing I called life these past few months, I give my sincere thanks. I can truly say I love you all. Let me stop myself before I get melodramatic...here's to summer, new friends, old friends and the hope that we will all survive swimming in the ever threatening but refreshing waters of the Park Plaza pool. Cheers.


Monday, April 2, 2012

Sisters


If there is one thing I wish everyone could experience, it is the joy of having Erin, Erica, Megan and Emma as their younger sisters. We are all so different. It makes for a grand time!

Erin (15), The Hipster Knows all obscure bands, plays guitar, long boards, rocks eyeliner like it's her job, toughest 15 year old I know. Basketball queen, loves anything scary, rubs in that she's 3 inches taller than me whenever she can and swears mom and dad will give her my ever coveted basement room. Sure she's strong and independent and "knows" everything about anything, but she's a sweetheart. And won't ever admit it.

Erica (10), The Informer
If anyone ever loved pink, purple and glitter, Erica is your girl. She somehow always knows when anyone did anything and is sure to let parental units know. She's so good at her job that she will even suggest appropriate punishments according to the severity of the offense. Champion swimmer, princess to the core, clean freak, loves art, popcorn, painting her nails and bike rides with dad.

Megan (7), The Clown
This is the kid who'll refuse to make a normal face for family pictures, tells you she didn't eat the cookies when there's chocolate smeared all over her face, practices evil laughs in front of the mirror, pretends to be a monkey while hanging upside down and chases ducks in the park instead of feeding them bread. A master with the soccer ball and at hide and seek. Don't let her scrawny little legs fool you, she's the fastest little Riggin!

Emma (5), The Cutie Pie
She's the baby and therefore the boss. She's incredibly sneaky when it comes to taking treats when mommy isn't looking, loves spending time in the pool, the playground and the park. She's constantly humming and likes to sit on my back while she "braids" my hair. Anything Barbie and Princess is her favorite toy in the world, she gives amazing hugs and is a huge fan of blanket forts and story time. She knows exactly when to say something nice and will do anything to make her sisters happy when they're sad.

I honestly cannot say how blessed I feel to have these little ones in my life. They have taught me so many things. Especially patience, love and forgiveness. We like to have fun and stick together through everything! Sure we're at different stages of our lives, but one thing is for sure; we truly help each other get through the thick and thin and celebrate each others successes. Like when we play Headbandz and I finally guess mine right and they all clap, or when Megan finds Emma a hiding spot when she's in trouble so mom and dad won't find her, when Erica sends me drawings of things I miss from home, when Erin will rub mom's hands when they hurt, or when Emma snuggles her little head on my shoulder and tells me she loves me. My favorite is when I bake something and leave extra batter in the bowl, put extra spoons in it, and place it in the middle of the kitchen floor. They all come rushing in and sit around the bowl while they lick away. I sure hope they never get salmonella. All in all, my sisters are great! It's ok to be jealous ;)

I can't wait til I get to see them again! We are the Riggin-"Bennett" bunch afterall...you can only keep us apart for so long :)

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Make a Wish...

The other day, I sat on my couch reading through a Make-A-Wish pamphlet. Then, like any normal person would, I started looking up videos of children whose wishes have come true due to the kindness of good people who give of their time, talents and money to make these children happy and give them a reason to keep fighting their terminal illness. Of course I broke down in tears while I watched video after video.

Once upon a time I taught a small preschool age class. Spanish was so funny to them. Our class had fun learning new words and using them to say silly things to the lifeguard who couldn't understand because he wasn't cool enough to know Spanish. There was a little boy that I grew to care about a lot. For this post's purposes, we'll call him John. He loves soccer, painting, swimming, pulling my hair, making lego castles and watching star wars. One time he glued legos to my flip-flops after swimming time and when I tried to take them off, the cheap foam sandals fell apart, leaving me to walk barefoot for the rest of the day. The next time we had class, John had bought me a nice pair of sturdy flip flops. He is kind. I'm not sure if he just had a crush on the 2 girls in the class, but he would be sure to always share his snacks, give up the "star" chair (you got to sit in it if you had done something extra special in class), and bring little drawings for them and me all the time! It was so cute! I guess it's just something that comes with being 4 years old, this whole being cute thing. Although I really loved all my kids, I especially LOVED working with John. He was special. John has down syndrome.

Most people nowadays treat kids with disabilities just like they would any other child. But some are a little ignorant. I remember once when I took the kids to the playground and John just stood by the swings looking at a little girl because he liked "her shiny yellow shoes. They looked like glitter bananas". I just laughed and asked him to come by me to the slide so that she wouldn't run into him when she started swinging, but John didn't want to. He was determined to talk to the girl and ask her to let him touch her shoes. The little girl's mom came over, gave him a nasty look, turned to me and said "this little boy could scare kids away the way he just stands there". I'm not sure how to describe what I felt right then. A mix between hurt and anger. I swear it took all of me not to slap the woman. John just looked at me, I smiled and took him by the hand and we joined the rest of the class by the slide. John is different in some ways, but not much in most. He loves, cries, hurts, laughs and most importantly, John understands. He wouldn't stop asking why some mommies didn't like him. What do you say to that? My usual response? Some adults just have bad days and they just get grumpy. John is very forgiving. It's been almost 5 years since I've worked with him and I can't tell you how much I miss him! He gives the best hugs! I got a letter from him last year and though his handwriting is not legible AT ALL, he drew pictures so I would "get it" :). Like I said, that kid is special in SO many ways. He changed me for the better.

Today, I have been thinking about him a lot. I miss teaching so much! I miss my kids and I miss John! A couple weeks ago, I got a phone call from John's mom and she passed the phone to him. Hearing his little voice say "Miss Mayra, I can read chapter books now!" was probably the best thing I've heard in a long time. Reading was so hard for him! It took him a lot longer than the rest of the kids to learn to write his name. His motor skills weren't the best. Grabbing a pencil was difficult, but he worked and worked until he got it right. After we caught up on life and he told me all about how he lives in Georgia now and how he flushed his living gold fish down the toilet, he gave the phone back to his mom. I heard her tell him to go play and then said "So the real reason we are calling is because we wanted to tell you something". I had kinda kept in touch with the family because John had meant so much to me, but I couldn't think of anything I didn't already know about his condition. But, to my surprise, what she said next shocked me and broke my heart. John had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. How do you respond to that? I sure didn't know. I just sat in my room, listening to John's mom cry on the phone. She told me how all of a sudden John had become easily fatigued whereas before you couldn't get him to sit down, he had had many infections, he had been bruising extremely easily, he had lost a lot of weight and unfortunately the severe pain in his arms and legs were not growing pains at all. I tried to comfort her, shared a few scriptures. We've been emailing back and forth often since then. John started treatment today. Their family is incredibly blessed to have the means to pay for all his treatments and travel and such. But it just made me think of all the families who can't. I can't imagine seeing a little child suffering and their family not being able to help. That simply should NOT happen. After a little research, I found the Children's Cancer Fund of America, or CCFA. They provide financial aid, emotional support, education on the diseases, and pretty much anything else a family and their child would need. I'm pretty sure any and all help makes a difference. If any one is interested in donating, you can go to this website: http://www.ccfoa.org/ . You can also go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation page: http://www.wish.org/?s_kwcid=TC|7334|make%20a%20wish%20donation||S|b|9337554667 . You can donate, volunteer locally, or refer children with terminal illnesses to grant them a wish.

I think knowing about John and his family and learning more about children's illnesses has helped me see the Atonement of Christ in a very different light. What does a completely innocent 9 year old child need the Atonement for? Everything. From comfort, to love, to strength and just knowing he is not alone. His family needs it too. For all the same reasons. The Atonement is for big things, but it's also for seemingly small things. I assure you our happiness is not insignificant to the Lord. It just isn't. He loves us, He wants what is best for us, He wants to help us learn and grow and overcome...sometimes that means going through hard things. But in the end, we can all feel his everlasting mercy and love reaching out, embracing us and telling us He is with us every step of the way. I love knowing that. I've been so blessed to get to know amazing people like John and his family and their great example of faith and endurance. I only pray I can be that strong when life's storms come my way. And knowing my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are with me gives me hope.