Red, White, & Blue Snack Mix

It seems no matter how large our Independence Day cookouts might be,  the insatiable teenagers in this house always want snacks on hand.  Chips and dip is always an easy option for quick snacking, but sometimes it’s fun to change up the ordinary and make snacking a little more unique.

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This easy-peasy sweet and salty Patriotic themed snack mix is just perfect for the holiday as they can grab a handful while playing Bocce or Corn-Hole and keep moving.

Check it out for your own family!

red white and blue snack mix

INGREDIENTS:

15 cups Popcorn (I used pre-popped by Cape Cod), divided into 1/3’s

1/2 bag of red Wilton candy melts

1/2 bag of blue Wilton candy melts

White Candy Sprinkles

Salted Almonds

Mini Pretzels (I used Snack Factory Mini’s)

1 Bag Red, White & Blue plain M&M’s (available only in May, June & July)

ASSEMBLING THE SNACK MIX:

Using your preferred method of melting candy, melt the red and blue Wilton candy melts.   Divide your popcorn into thirds; coat 1/3 with the red candy coating, and 1/3 with blue candy coating.  Leave the other 1/3 plain.  Lay out on wax paper and sprinkle with the white candy sprinkles and almonds.  Let candy coating harden.

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Break apart the popcorn mixture and mix in a large bowl with the reamining plain popcorn, mini pretzels and the M&M’s.

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Serve up in a colorful holiday bowl… and that’s it.

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I think the thing I love about this easy snack mis is that it can be easily adjusted for other holidays just by changing the color of the candy melts and M & M’s (think Christmas parties here).

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Give it a whirl for your next holiday celebration!

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Our Jamaica Mission Trip

My daughter, MacKenzie, and I just returned from a 9-day mission trip to Jamaica last week.  It’s funny because when you say that you are going to Jamaica on a mission trip people immediately think of the Sandals commercials and make comments on how difficult that must be.

YS Falls

YS Falls

Hilton Resort

A glimpse from inside the Hilton resort in Montego Bay

Jamaica is very beautiful, but outside the resorts are lives and lifestyles that many of us only see on the news or tend to ignore.

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Visiting with Brother Lorenzo

Beyond the resorts are a people struggling day in and day out to make a living for themselves and their children, all the while, living in poverty.  There are families living in houses that will never be finished because they can’t afford the property taxes on a finished home.  There are children that hang out in bars while their mommas work every evening because they need a parent close by.  Children walk miles (even up Mountains!) to school on dangerous roads.

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Just one road we traveled

There are men and women who can’t afford medical treatment (because there are no decent doctors or medical facilities on the island) that go blind with cataracts or glaucoma.   There are parents who live off  drugs while their children beg on the streets for them and unable to attend school as they should.  This is a culture with no concept of proper dental and medical care.  If you can’t get to it or afford it, you’re out of luck.  And there are children who can’t go to school because their family can’t afford a school uniform for them.

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This is an island of people trapped in a socialist lifestyle just hoping for a break if not for themselves, but for their children, and not really knowing how to accomplish change.

To be honest, Jamaica doesn’t want you to see the island.  They only want you to see the beauty of the resorts and tourist attractions.

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Bananas growing in a local yard

But, there is so much beauty to be found outside of the resorts as well…  it’s found in many of the people we encounter, their loving hearts and their love for Jesus in a culture that doesn’t really live Christ.  Jamaica is beautiful, but you have to experience it to see exactly what I mean!

sweet school children

This was our fifth visit to the impoverished island, but it’s a trip we truly look forward to.  Santa Cruz, Jamaica (which happens to be quite a distance from the coast) has also become a place we cherish dearly and hold close to our hearts.

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We had a taxi driver in Montego Bay tell us if we had friends in Santa Cruz, we were considered Jamaicans ourselves.  I like that idea.

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Santa Cruz Church of Christ

The people in the church at Santa are some of the most loving and caring individuals you can find.  They welcome us with open arms and hearts each time we arrive and cry with us as we leave.  It is a congregation of mostly women; strong, powerful women who worship with all their might.  They are women who are striving to serve and grow, while raising children and grandchildren to do the same.  It’s a congregation with many children who love to sing , listen to Bible stories and color. Brother Lorenzo, with his clear singing voice will bring you to tears with his words of wisdom and fierce independence as he is a blind man living entirely alone.

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MacKenzie talking with Brother Lorenzo

Then there is Everton, a man who has dedicated his life to God instead of a family because he feels that is most important.

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Everton chaperoning MacKenzie and I in Montego Bay the night before we left… those are non-alcoholic beverages as we dined at Margaritaville; a meal that Everton kept calling “luxury”

He leads worship every Sunday as well as driving to pick up every member before services.  It can take a couple of hours to accomplish that.

Preachers family

The young preaching student with his wife, daughter and two brothers who came over from Montego Bay in a taxi to hear him teach Bible class on Sunday.

And now there is a young preaching student from the School of Preaching who travels each week to share the word with this small congregation.  He has the sweetest wife who is trying so hard to be a support for him in this ministry he has chosen.  It’s a congregation of people who I pray for daily.

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Beautiful faces at Vacation Bible School

We worshipped with the church on Sunday, and held a Vacation Bible School each night we were there.   We also visited several homes of church members, singing and praying with them.

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Singing sweet gospel songs

And one of my favorite parts of the week with the church members was the home-cooked suppers before Vacation Bible School prepared by several of the ladies during our stay.

jamaican potluck

Our trip this year was spent more in the community than normal as we worked with four different schools; visiting with children and helping with some things the schools needed.

The little preschool in the New River district is a block one-room building with minimal light and up to 42 children at one time!  The teachers arrive early each day to clean up the school yard and bathrooms for the day.

cleaning school yard

They are fortunate to have a church building right next door where they are allowed to have space for group activities and morning assembly.

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Praying babies at New River 

We had so much fun singing and interacting with these babies, and they had fun entertaining us as well!

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At Aberdeen High School (an hour from Santa Cruz) we were introduced to an older group of kids who made me realize just how easy my kids have it despite all that American culture throws at them.  These young people have heart and soul but are totally conflicted on what direction their lives will take.

aberdeen lunch line

While talking with a teacher, he told me that less than 70% of the children in the school will stay until graduation; maybe 30% of the remaining will attempt higher education, and the really smart ones will do whatever they can to leave the island of Jamaica for America and better opportunities for their lives.

aberdeen high school

Sobering thoughts indeed.

At Schoolfield Primary School, some of our young people and the students kicked off the school day with an entertaining game of “football”.

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Personally I enjoyed watching the smaller children play on the little playground.

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playground fun

After their morning devotional, we painted the ceiling and trim in the common room since it had just recently been replaced.

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Our final school visit was to Marie Cole Primary.  From the vender selling prawns in baggies to the kids for breakfast to the childrens fascination with a Nerf football (American version), it was an interesting morning watching the children arrive.

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There are no school buses in Jamaica (except the one that has been turned into a classroom at Marie Cole), so children walk quite a long distance, or if they can afford it, take a taxi.  Momma and Daddy generally don’t walk with them.

classroom

After morning devotion at Marie Cole, the teenagers in the group went to the classrooms to read to different age groups.  I use the term classrooms loosely as the school is a large block building with each classroom separated only by carefully arranged chalkboard partitions.

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These children that we encounter on our trips are why I return to Jamaica time and again.

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If there is just one child whose life we can touch and change, helping them overcome the status quo, then we have done something good.

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worship

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Several of the children that attend church at Santa Cruz are the reason we are allowed in the schools.  They have taken the initiative to bring together a mission team from the US and principals to form a bond of friendship and trust.

our team

While it’s sad to say goodbye each trip, I’m always glad to be back home in my comfortable air-conditioned home and drive on roads we really have no right to complain about.  But, that first Sunday back in our home congregation with its elaborate building and organized worship assemblies, is alway sad.  With 300 people in attendance, the heart and soul of 75 Jamaicans in worship can blow away our singing.

The Christians in Jamaica are passionate about their worship; not worried about entertainment and politics in the church.

They come together to praise God with all of their heart and soul, truly fellowshipping with one another, thus humbling me and teaching me a lesson when I thought I was teaching them one.

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Honor Memorial Day

I don’t get all political or step up on a soapbox hardly, if ever, but briefly bear with me just a few minutes today.

As I scrolled through Facebook all weekend I found so many posts filled with party plans, celebrations for summer and the like for this weekend, but realized that it seems so many of our country have forgotten the solemn holiday that Memorial Day really is, and should truly be.

“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.”
~Arthur Ashe

Memorial Day is a “holiday” that has been set aside to honor the men and women who sacrificed their lives in the line of duty while serving and protecting our country.  It was first recognized as Memorial Day as women from southern states began decorating graves of the dead while mourning and recognizing the sacrifices they made for their cause beginning in about 1865.  It wasn’t too much later that women in the northern states began a similar practice in the form of a Decoration Day.

Confederate dead

Thomas D. Watkins…. My ancestor killed in Chattanooga during the Civil War and buried in the Confederate Cemetery there.  I imagine many years after the war he was remembered along with the others in this cemetery in a Memorial Day ceremony honoring the Confederate dead.

Memorial Day became a common term used by everyone in the 1880s and after World War II the informal day became a national holiday where the service dead could all be honored and remembered. Now, 70 years later, instead of honoring the sacrifice of the men and women who have served and protected our nation, it has become a day of partying BBQ’s, days on the lake and generally the kick-off of summer break.

From a young age, Audley and I have always taught our children the meaning of this day, and we have never really celebrated it.  In fact, there have been many years we have put flags on graves of family members who lost their lives in wartime and that is our Memorial Day.

confederate cemetary

Placing a flag at the Confederate Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2010. The kids were so little here!

There is a day for celebrating our nation (July 4), and honestly,  today is not it.

Revolutionary War

Putting a flag out for my 5x’s great-grandfather (a Revolutionary War soldier); buried in Cowpens National Battlefield, South Carolina

In honor of Memorial Day, I have put together a list of movies (some fictional tales of actual events and some based on true stories) that are great reminders of why we should say, “Honor” Memorial Day instead of Happy Memorial Day.  Maybe you can watch a few with your family as a way to instill the true meaning of this most solemn day.

7 films for memorial day

1) The Patriot (2000).  Starring Mel Gibson and Heath Ledger; Set in the Revolutionary War and telling the story of the sacrifices men (and even women) made so that our country could even exist!

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2) Gettysburg (1993).  With Tom Berenger and Martin Sheen this movie depicts one of the biggest battles of the Civil War.  Coincidently, Gettysburg is where some of the original Memorial Day services took place after the war.

3) Sergeant York (1941).  This movie starring Gary Cooper tells the story of Alvin York, one of the most decorated soldiers of World War I.

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4) Pearl Harbor (2001).  Starring Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett as fictional characters in the very real story of the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on December 7, 1941; Pearl Harbor is still fresh in many Americans minds.

Pearl Harbor Memorial

5) Saving Private Ryan (1998). With Tom Hanks and Matt Damon the story of the invasion on Normandy Beaches and war throughout France leaves no secrecy to the loss of life for our nation.

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6) We Were Soldiers (2002).  Based on the true story and book by Lt. General Harold G. Moore, this movies depicts the first battle of US Forces with the North Vietnamese in November 1965.  The movies stars Mel Gibson as Hal Moore along with Greg Kinner and Sam Elliott.

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Reflection by Lee Teter

7) Lone Survivor (2013).  Starring Mark Wahlburg, Lone Survivor tells the true story of a group of Navy Seals deployed to take out a Taliban leader in 2007 and the one man who survived the mission.  It’s a vivid reminder that we are still fighting and men are still putting their lives on the line for us each and every day.

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Strawberry Caprese Salad

By far one of the highlights of spring has to be farm fresh strawberries.  Whether you pick your own, purchase them at a farmers market, or travel to your local strawberry farm, there is something absolutely wonderful about these sweet, juicy berries that always beckon and call my name in the month of May!

Fresh Strawberries

While just washing them and popping twenty or so a few in my mouth throughout the day is always delicious, I love to cook or make dishes that incorporate my favorite berry.  From jam (Strawberry Wine Jam, Vanilla-Laced Strawberry Jam)  to dessert (White-Chocolate & Strawberry Pie, Pavlova with fresh berries) or even breakfast (Mixed-Berry Muffins)your imagination can guide you to all kinds of mouth-watering treats!

Recently I stumbled on a recipe for a Strawberry Caprese Salad that Southern Living Mag had shared on Facebook.  After tweaking it just a little, I put together my own Strawberry Caprese Salad that was absolutely flavorful and delicious; a real spring treat for sure!

Strawberry Caprese Salad

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup Peach White Balsamic Vinegar (can be purchased in a speciality store)

1 clove garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons Splenda brown sugar blend

1/4 teaspoon pink Himalayan salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 cup chopped basil

10 ounces mozzarella, cut into bite sized pieces

1 1/2 quarts fresh strawberries, quartered.

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ASSEMBLING THE CAPRESE SALAD

Whisk together the peach white balsamic vinegar, garlic, Splenda brown sugar blend, pink salt and black pepper in a large bowl until sugar is dissolved. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Add fresh basil (saving just a little to garnish with) and mozzarella cheese bites; toss to coat. Cover and chill about 2 hours. Stir in strawberries; let stand at room temperature 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve as an appetizer with toasted French bread baguette slices (I found mine at Fresh Market in the deli). Garnish with thinly sliced fresh basil.

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This is such a unique dish and with the use of farm fresh flavors of spring, you can’t go wrong!

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finger food snacks

The Strawberry Caprese Salad makes a great addition to a finger food buffet for a girls night in!

 Strawberry Caprese Salad4

What is your favorite dish to incorporate strawberries?  Inquiring minds want to know!

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