Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mr. Derek's Tater Tot Casserole


Many people have their own version of this dish. I agreed to start sharing recipes so here's another one, but I have to tell the story of how it was renamed in our home. It is no secret that Derek McConnell left a big hole in our hearts. Our family was so blessed to have him and his family in our lives and we think of him often. We always think about him when we have Tater Tot Casserole.

I remember the first time I met Siobhan and Krystina in the hallway of Walter Reed-Bethesda. Our family had just returned from Tennessee and I had been trying to meet them before we left, but things were just so crazy for both of our families. Finally we made it happen and offered to bring dinner to make up for my just now getting there.

Derek was not able to eat yet, but Siobhan and Krystina told him all about the casserole. When I finally met Derek he informed me that he would need for me to make the dish again and just for him. Of course I agreed. I cannot remember how many times I made it for him, but I know it was more than once. And he cracked me up with his comments every time I did.

My favorite time came when our friends, Jessie and Emily, joined us for dinner. And no kidding they decided wars could be ended if I would just make that casserole and pass it out. I was even able to snap a pic of the guys while they were chatting. This picture is definitely one of my favorites.


The last time I saw Derek I promised him the next time I visited I would cook him his own pan and I promised to not make him share. I still remember that promise as clearly as I remember his smile.

After Derek passed, I made the casserole one night and the girls dubbed it "Mr. Derek's Tater Tot Casserole" and so it shall always remain. All great recipes deserve to be shared. This one is loved by so many and I hope your family enjoys it as well. I do ask that if you do make it, you share Derek's courageous story and pray for his family and all those his life touched just as we do when we have it here in our home.

Mr. Derek's Tater Tot Casserole
1lb ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped
1 can cream of celery
1 can cream of mushroom
1 bag of tater tots (we use Ore-Ida's mini-tots)
1 bag of shredded cheese (I use a mixed blend that includes cheddar)

Preheat the over to 400 degrees. Spray a 13x9 pan with cooking spray, pour the tater tots in and place in the oven. Brown turkey and onion together. Add salt and pepper to your liking. Once it is thoroughly cooked, add soups. Let this simmer on low until your tots are slightly browned.

Once the tots are slightly browned, turn the oven to 375. Remove the tots and pour meat/soup mixture on top. Return to oven for 20 minutes. When either the 20 minutes is up or you can see it bubbling, remove it, sprinkle cheese all over the top and return it to the oven to melt the cheese. Once the cheese is melted, remove it from the oven, let it cool and enjoy.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Boot

Sometimes you can make all the plans you want and then other things happen.....

Yesterday was April 15, Tax Day, the day I celebrate because I get to cut my work load back the next day. I should have been celebrating, right?! Well instead I am mad at the world...

This past weekend we traveled to Owensboro, KY for cutie #2's dance competition. She scored a Gold and here are my two favorites pics from her performance.

We are so proud of her for practicing so hard and rocking a solo on stage. We are constantly amazed at her 9 year old skills!! We truly hope she continues to dance. She is simply amazing to watch.

The night before the competition I was walking around the hotel room and the sofa bed attacked my left foot out of nowhere. I just don't understand why it would do that.....Ok truth, I am ridiculously clumsy and I was tired and I kicked that sofa bed with full force. I sucked it up and limped through it until I could see the doctor (I do not do ERs unless it is actually urgent).

The outcome....not broken, but severely inflamed and sprained. This guy and I will be really good friends for the next few weeks.We are already having issues in our relationship, but I am hoping to work things out in a positive way.
I am not one to complain, but damnit this sucks. I planned to start working on the house after tax season. I have so many little things that have to get done, but they all involve standing and/or walking and I cannot do that right now. There's just no way, my foot swells too quickly. And of course our delightful rainy weather isn't helping my attitude.

I know it is only temporary. I know this too will pass. I just hate being slowed down to slug pace, a limping slug pace at that. I operate at 100 miles per hour all the time and I have been placed in a school zone. It is hard for me to slow down especially when we have so much going on.

Yesterday I told Chaz (and myself) that everything else has worked out, this will too. I told a friend that apparently the good Lord decided I really needed to slow down. I am trying to acknowledge his plans are always better than mine and time always flies and this will be behind me soon. I am trying to focus on all the things I can accomplish while sitting. Looks like I'll finally get to read some more books. 

I think when you are a caregiver your anger triples when you are hurt or sick. I know mine has. I have already apologized to my family a few times for being snappy. You really do forget how much pain can control your attitude when you cannot control the pain. Luckily my hubby knows a lot about pain and totally understands where I am right now. He also knows I don't like to ask for help (one of the many things we have in common). It is extremely comforting to have a hubby that totally gets it. And yes my injury is extremely minor compared to his, but I appreciate him so much for letting me whine and complain.

I think this boot is here to teach me a lesson in humility and to just slow me down for a bit. We all know I, like my hubby, cannot be slowed down for too long.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Allen Family Taco Soup

I have too many friends out there asking me for my recipes. I just keep forgetting to share and send them. 

I decided that going forward when I am cooking one of my family's favorites I am going to try my best to post the recipe on here. I hope that our family favorites can also be your family favorites.

I love simple easy, at least somewhat healthy meals. And I LOVE my crock pot.

Here's one of the big hits in our home. 

Taco Soup
1lb ground turkey
1 chopped medium sized onion
1 package of taco seasoning (I like the low sodium Old El Paso.)
1 can of mild rotel
1 can of no salt added whole kernel yellow corn
1 can of no salt added black beans
1 can of no salt added kidney beans

Turn your crock-pot on high. Toss in ground turkey and chopped onion. (My ground turkey is usually frozen and I still toss it straight in.) Allow the turkey to brown. Add the taco seasoning and cans of rotel, beans and corn to your browned meat and onions. Stir and add water. I usually add two cans of water by using one of the bean cans. Turn crock-pot down to low and allow everything to cook for at least two hours.

We serve ours with shredded cheese and tortilla chips. We like to crush the chips up and add them to the soup and top it off with cheese. You could also add salsa, sour cream or even some guacamole.

Enjoy!!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Glass Ceiling and the Pat on the Head.....

I remember being very young when my Granddaddy told me that if I wanted to succeed in the South I had to be able to argue with a brick wall and make it want to fall down. Of course I had no idea what that meant. We all know we Southerners have some crazy sayings. Now as an adult I see exactly what he was saying. He was preparing me for my future.

We are all so judgmental by nature (and yes I am including myself in that statement). No matter how hard we try not to, we still judge people as the walk into our lives.

I find myself in rooms all the time now where I am the only woman. Sometimes I am the actual authority on the subject matter, but because I am a woman I have to prove myself 2-3 times more than the men would in that same room.

Nothing makes me more angry then when I have all sorts of facts and statistics and then I am given a pat on the head and disregarded. I can instantly tell my words are being discredited just because I am woman. I have had it happen again and again and again in my life.

I'll never forget the history professor who told me, "The only significant role women have had in history was giving birth to significant men." I kid you not, the guy actually said that and he has a Ph. D in history. Scary huh?!

Fast forward to today. I still have a glass ceiling to break through and constantly get those "good girl" pats on the head. Seriously my temper has ran out of patience.

Why does this frustrate me so much?
  • I am not a pet, you shouldn't pat me on the head. I didn't just play fetch.
  • I am very well educated both through formal education and life itself. 
  • I don't just talk to hear myself speak. I usually know what I am talking about and if I don't I'll be the first to admit it.
  • I may be young, but I have been through more Hell than most of America will ever see.
  • I married an Infantry soldier, that pretty much speaks for itself.
One would hope that in 2015 women could be valued as equals. I have found that I am the most valued through the military system. My opinion is not only heard but is sometimes even requested. I never enlisted into the service. However because I stayed by my husband's side and because I have helped so many other families, the military recognizes some value in my opinion. I wish I could translated this equality to the civilian sector. 

I feel like I am in an uphill battle on a slippery slope with civilians. I even feel that some think that because my husband was in the Army and because he was injured, then I am less intelligent and it even generates pity from them. I have found that I keep his injuries quiet at first because once civilians hear about the injuries and then can't hear anything else. I am looked at with total pity.

Let me be clear, I do not want your pity. I want you to listen to our families and join the team to help me help us. I can assure you that the TV shows and movies you have watched are no comparison to what is actually going on. You need to hear the actual stories from the people living it everyday.

I realize people don't want to hear the truth. They want to continue to believe that the government takes care of our veterans and their families. They would rather just pat us on the head and move on. That is the easier thing to do.

No one wants to believe that we have to jump through forty rounds of red tape and almost smash someone's head into a wall for a $10 piece of medical equipment that would make our veteran's life better. No, civilians want to remain blissfully ignorant to the needs of our veterans and their families. If they stay ignorant, then they won't get upset. If they don't get upset, then they don't have to do anything to help. After all, ignorance is bliss.

There are days I wish I could return to ignorance. I wish I didn't know a lot of the things I know. But if I returned to ignorance that would also mean I would not have learned about the true needs of our families and I wouldn't have ideas for solutions. I, like so many other women in my situation, have real solutions to the very real problems going on. We all deserve to be heard and I hope that together we can stop the pats on the head and break the damn glass ceiling.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Checking Off the Bucket List - Disney Style

Looking back now, I have realized more than once 2014 drown me in drama and chaos too many times. I found myself over scheduled and over committed way too many times. Throughout the year I kept making vows to myself that things would get better if I just got past this day or this week or this month. You know what?! That's gets old....

Late 2014, I decided 2015 was going to be different and I was going to find the time for my goals again. I realized that the only way to make it better was for me to put my foot down and say no to some things and say yes to me and my needs and to the needs of my family.

Like any dreamer, I have always had a bucket list. It's never been long, but it was mine. Chaz and I even shared a few of the items. After he was injured, the most amazing opportunities found us. Some of them also were on our list. It was pretty stinking cool to be able to check those off together. My favorite was the trip to Colorado to ski together. Thanks to his Physical Therapist and the Vail Veterans Program he achieved a goal and checked off an item on the shared bucket list.

On my list was "complete a half marathon before age 40." Well peer pressure sometimes makes you upgrade a bucket list item to a challenge. Demetria convinced me I could complete the Glass Slipper Challenge at Walt Disney World. This meant I had to complete a 10k (6.2 miles) on Saturday morning, then complete a half marathon (13.1 miles) on Sunday morning.

I began training late Summer of 2014 and I am pleased to report I not only accepted her challenge, but I completed it with her by my side!

I have learned races are about the bling so here's mine from those two days.

After I registered for the race in July, I received an email from Disney Cruise Line about a special race deal. Also on my bucket list was "Take the girls on a Disney Cruise."

I had yet to take a true vacation from my job, even though I have worked there for years. I decided we should go for it. Chaz agreed and the girls were ecstatic. When booking this cruise following the Princess racing series, you also earn the option to participate in the Castaway Cay Challenge. This was a 5k (3.1 miles) on Disney's Private Island, Castaway Cay. I accepted that challenge as well. Here's me with a two new friends I met on the course.
After hearing about all the races I was completing on our vacation, Cutie #1 informed me that she wanted to participate in a 5k. The cruise offered a separate 5k almost immediately following my Challenge 5k. Yes, I signed us up. Wednesday morning I completed my 5k, went back on the boat, found my family and then I went with her for another 5k. Here we are just past the finish line.
Yes I received two Castaway Cay 5k medals and the Challenge one. ;)

Cutie #2 wanted to join us as well, but she was not old enough.She has informed us that there will be a next time.

If you are keeping track that's 25.5 miles for me within 5 days and 6 medals total. And yes I am totally fine. No injuries, just tired feet to report, which have since recovered just fine. I actually feel pretty freaking awesome considering what I accomplished in 5 days. I love that I also sparked the cuties curiosity. I hope that this is the beginning of many 5k run/walks together.

For all of you non-athletes, like me, out there....I probably had the worst times in the races possible. I walk way more than I run. The important thing is I show up, I do my best and I complete them!! If I can do this with a busted knee and all sorts of crazy little medical problems, you can too! You just have to train like I did.

Always remember it's not about the time, it's about crossing the finish line! If I can do it, you can too!! Find a 5k in your area and get moving. I promise you'll love yourself for it.

Here's another idea, put "complete a 5k" on your bucket list so you can check it off and feel even more accomplished. ;)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Your Voicemail is Full!

My voicemail has been full for a quite a while now. Do you know why? Because as fast as I empty it, it fills back up. I am chasing my tail at this point. So I give up.

I kid you not, I sat down one day and got a chance to delete four voicemails while I was eating lunch. Within the course of that day I was right back to "voicemail full" flashing on my screen. 

My friends and co-workers are totally aware of the problem. We have all decided that since people send me an email or text right after they leave the voicemail that it is easier to just eliminate the voicemail option and let them go straight to email and text.

Apparently taking this option away upsets some people. It appears that I am supposed to have all communication options available to strangers I do not know and who do not pay our cell phone bill at all times.

People who know and/or work with me know I will get to them as soon as I can. But strangers, well they like to lay on the guilt. I find that quite comical. I have become immune to superficial guilt these days. I love the emails with the guilt trip of "Since you did not take my call...." and "I tried to leave you a voicemail but your voicemail was full. You should empty it." I am not sure what people think these statements will accomplish.

There is usually a very good reason I didn't take your call. Let me take you through my top ten reasons I didn't take your call. These are in no particular order.
  1. Shockingly my cell phone is not always glued to my hand. I do choose to set it down and walk away from it a few times a day.
  2. My family needed my attention at that time your call came in.
  3. Sometimes my phone is dead and needs to be charged. I try to avoid this, but it does happen.
  4. If I am out run/walking, chances are I am not answering because it will sound like an obscene phone call from my end.
  5. I am homeschooling our girls and they need my undivided attention. 
  6. I am on a conference call on the other line and cannot click over.
  7. If you call before 8am or after 6pm, chances are I am no where near my phone. Before 8am, I am not ready to deal with the world yet and after 6pm I am done dealing with the world for the day.
  8. I might be with a family, a tax client or in a meeting.
  9. I could be at the VA or a military base that kills my signal. 
  10. I am just worn out and cannot answer the phone at that moment. 
These are all pretty good reasons, right?! To me these are all reasons that we should be patient with each other and understand that those of us with full voicemails, might also have full lives. We might have days where we are so busy the sun rises and sets without us even noticing.

Leaving nasty emails about how we are not thinking about you and dropping everything to tend to your needs is just not what we need. And to be honest, the last thing the mean emails do is compel me to help you. Some of us are trying our absolute best to help everyone we can. Some of us are really tired because day in and day out we are taking care of everyone else before ourselves.

The only we can ask of each other is that we do our absolute best. I can tell you that I work really hard on the behalf of others everyday. I am doing my absolute best to help everyone I can, but I have to help them at my pace. I will not let the statements to the contrary take root in my mind, nor should anyone else.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Most Powerful Verb

The other day I realized the most powerful verb in our language is choose.

Think about it, this one verb dictates our entire life. We choose to get up each morning. We choose our friends. We choose our paths. We choose our future. Our life is made up of a series of choices that mold us into who we are.

Everything good or bad has come from a choice you made at some time. So when will we wake up and choose to stop being a victim? When will we choose to shed the victim mentality and choose to be a victor?

We live in a world full of people making excuses and choosing to sit and whine and talk about how the world has done them wrong. If you sit and think about it for a minute, you will find the world doesn't owe you anything and that the things that have gone wrong are usually because you made bad choices. Reality really does suck sometimes, but a good dose now and then is beneficial.

Here's why this all frustrates me so much. I am surrounded by men and women who chose to serve our country. They knew the consequences and they chose to stay with it. They are now dealing with the consequences of their choices. Yet they are choosing to be so positive about it. These men and women inspire me daily. They are viewed as being medically broken, but I can tell you their attitude certainly is not.

In my own home, my soldier would choose the exact same path if you gave him the chance to do it all over. And if you give me a chance to do it over, I would say "I do," again in a heart beat. Our journey has been tough, but it's ours and we are proud of it.

Then enter a person who whines about everything. "My job was cruel to me." "I have (fill in the blank minor medical) problem." "You don't understand." These are the things I hear from people and they expect me to have sympathy. I have become numb to this. I am numb to the random excuses people create to justify their victim mentality.

I am now seeing a new generation of financial counseling clients. I call them the "easy button crew." They are looking for the easy button to push so they don't have to work hard. They really think that the world is going to hand them their dream job and all the money in the world with little to no effort. They think they shouldn't have to pay any taxes. They really think they are owed things. It is horribly unfortunate that somewhere we, as a society, have gone wrong with this group. And of course they are not all this way, I am just sad to say that I see more than I would like to. They come to me for financial counseling, but none of them want to give up living beyond their income. They just keep piling on the debt and they really do not think they are doing anything wrong at all. They are all having to hit absolute bottom in order to wake up and realize the tough choices that have to be made.

I have learned in my short life that nothing great comes easy. The easy path sure does look tempting, but it does not offer the blessings that comes with the harder path. I found this on pinterest the other day and it truly did inspire this blog.


Building our home is a great example of choices. We initially chose the easy path. Someone was supposed to build our home and they totally failed us. We weren't going to have to lift a finger. It all sounded so amazing and it was what our family needed. We gave the promise makers more than enough time to do anything at all to get our home started and finally said screw it we will figure this out.

No, we are not victims. We made a bad choice. We have zero problems owning up to the fact that we were wooed and we fell for it. Again I reiterate, we are not victims. We chose to trust this person and all of their hot-aired promises. Then reality smacked us and we made the choice to move on.

Yes we are paying for our home to be built. Yes writing those checks is quite painful, even nauseating at times. However, we have already realized the absolute best part of all of this is that person who was supposed to help us and bailed, well they are permanently out of our lives and have no strings over us anymore. As we look back now, we can already see we made a great choice in choosing to move on by ourselves.

Chaz and I could have chosen to have played the victim card. We could have gone to the media and smashed the person who failed us. We have had several offers to do so, but we will continue to choose the high road. The high road has been hard and painful and full of tears, but I know that this year when we move into that new home we will know without any doubt that it was all worth it.

Chaz and I have made all sorts of bad choices in our lives. I am sure we will make more as we move on. That's what we humans do, we mess up and we make mistakes. However if we set down the victim card, then we cannot triumph over our bad choices. We have to choose the victor card in order to win.

I truly pray that we will always remember the spoils of the harder path. And I pray that we will always choose the victor card. I really pray that the "easy button crew" finds reality sooner, than later.