What I Wish You Knew: Life for Refugee Mothers

We each have a unique story, though our stories often go untold. We’re intelligent enough to know we can learn from one another, but we stay in our bubbles because it is comfortable. I’m guiltier than most, with my busyness as my shield. If we took the time to just ask the questions we really want to ask and truly listen to the answers, our empathy would not only change us, but change our children as well.

In this new series, “What I Wish You Knew,” I am asking various mothers to tell their stories, and I’m hoping to become a better, more empathetic person and a more active participant in change. I recently interviewed Stephanie Giddens, founder of Vickery Trading Company, about her experience getting to know and working alongside many refugees in the Dallas area. What she has discovered may surprise you.

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VTC Founder, Stephanie Giddens

Giddens founded Vickery Trading Company as a way to help refugees in her community by “equipping them for long-term success.” She hires refugee women and pays them fair wages to sew clothing for the Vickery Trading Company brand. Employees receive training as professional seamstresses and instruction in American workplace behaviors and expectations. They are guided through the resumé-building, application and interview process and, as VTC graduates, given job placement assistance. The women are also trained in ESL, reading, handwriting, and typing before they leave. In other words, they are given a chance to succeed.

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Dress by Vickery Trading Company

Stephanie, what do you think the majority of people would be surprised to learn about refugees?
Refugees are not illegal immigrants, migrants or asylum seekers. While there are millions of refugees that claim the Islamic faith, the majority of refugees in the world are Christian. Also, to date, no terror-related activities in the U.S. have been performed by refugees. ZERO.

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What is the challenge like for these women, many of them mothers?
It’s different in all countries, but for the Rohingya community, for instance, their government comes to their villages to kill or capture many of the men and boys before sending the women and girls to refugee camps. Only 1–2% of all people in the refugee camps get resettled, and they are completely reliant on relief efforts.

Their first step is to be named official refugees by the U.N. After that, a lottery system determines whether or not they will be resettled. On average, refugees — the lucky ones who get resettled — spend 8–15 years in a refugee camp.

If they are chosen to resettle in the U.S., they undergo multiple health checks and security screenings with eight different government agencies. Once here, the refugees must find a way to repay the airfare and are given 90 days to learn English and get a job. Many of these women come from cultures where the women don’t work, so we try to give them sewing skills they can use to work from home with their children.

One of the most challenging parts for us is that these women were never taught how to learn. Many of them have spent the majority of their young lives in camps and have little-to-no education. The Rohingya women don’t even have a written language, so there is no way for them to translate words to English.

They struggle through all of this so that their children may receive an education and have hope for a different life.

What do they think of us?
It’s funny because when I was first beginning this business and interviewing women — of all cultures — they would always ask me if my three children had the same father. I finally got up the courage to ask why they would ask such a question. It turns out that the only impression they get of American culture in their homelands is from what they see on TV and in movies, which are not the greatest examples of morals and family values.

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What have you learned from them?
They love so well. If I even have a headache, they bring meals to my door. The Muslim people groups really know how to slow down and celebrate life and the people in it. They are a communal people, and there is always a feast, a festival and a reason to celebrate.

If we don’t have the time to volunteer or the money to donate, what can we do to help these mothers?
We can model an attitude of inclusion in front of our children. Our children will see us if we smile and say hi to the women in the hijabs. It will register with them.

We can choose to go to a playground in a refugee neighborhood instead of the ones in our community. We can let our children play alongside the refugee children and show them that Americans are kind.

We can stop the cycle of fear that affects both their community and ours. The American mind has been trained to see a hijab as equaling terrorism, and the Muslim refugees from Taliban-laden communities have been taught that Westerners are the enemy. Oftentimes, they are afraid to engage with us, and surprised when we turn out to be friendly.

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What do you want people to take away from this piece?
Be willing to look at someone differently. Be willing to see someone as a human and not as a political case or a statistic. You would be so surprised, and your life would be so much richer.

 

Real Dinner: Sausage, Peppers and Rice

This is one of our favorite weeknight dinners, and it’s easy, cheap and healthy! Determine the amounts based on your family’s appetite and preferences. It’s that simple!

Ingredients:

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400° F. Slice sausage and peppers and place them on pan lined in parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil, salt, pepper, paprika and Gateway to the North seasoning. Cook for 20 minutes.

Cook rice 90 seconds in microwave and serve sausage/pepper mixture on top. Voila!

 

Recipe-Free Cooking: Lemon Chicken Pasta

I try very hard not to use recipes in my daily life because they stress me out. I used to love cooking — the wine, the music, the sounds, the smells — and then I had children. And these children expect to be fed all. the. time. At the exact moment I begin a recipe, the whole brood storms the kitchen and demands immediate sustenance and libations. I lose my train of thought as I defend myself from the bombardment.

But, I digress …

For this reason, I try to just cook. Tonight’s recipe-free meal was brought to you by:

Here’s how I cook:

  • While cooking the penne, sauté garlic in olive oil and butter (amounts don’t matter; who cares).
  • Add chopped rotisserie chicken meat to pan.
  • Add peas (that you have already cooked in microwave).
  • Add fines herbs and lemon juice.
  • Put olive oil, salt and pepper on drained pasta.
  • Add chicken/peas mixture to pasta.
  • Add lemon slice to remind everyone that you are fancy.
  • Serve children pasta on one side and chicken/peas on the other side because you just know better than to mix them.Bon Appetit!

    kids pasta

 

 

Our Utopian Summer Schedule

I’m just going to leave this here so history may show that the Riney Summer of 2020 began with unwavering optimism on behalf of its production manager. Stay tuned …

I love using Canva (FREE!) to design my schedules, chore charts, etc. I find the process helps organize my thoughts and proves to be therapeutic. Do you enjoy creating schedules for your family, or do you prefer spontaneity? I prefer the idea of spontaneity, but, also, experience has taught me that I’ll probably end up spontaneously throwing in the towel if I don’t have a schedule.

What works well in your home during the summer?

Summer Schedule

Always Remember

Every year, our family enjoys spending Memorial Day at the Carry The Load Dallas Memorial March. This year looks a little different with a drive taking place of the march, but the end result is the same: bringing awareness to the real meaning of Memorial Day Weekend.

Barbecues, swimming and spending time with loved ones this weekend are beautiful ways to celebrate how fortunate we are to have the lives we have, but we wouldn’t have these lives or freedoms without the men and women who sacrificed theirs. We hear that word “sacrifice” so frequently that we can become desensitized to its actual meaning.

It means never seeing your baby’s first steps, never taking that dream vacation, never seeing another sunset, never hugging your mom again. I want my boys to understand this and feel the gratitude deep in their bones.

We are a patriotic family, and that will never change. I am proud of this country, and I am honored to be an American. I will always remember.

The Girl Next Door’s Apple Bourbon Pie

My next-door neighbors’ daughter, Mallory, is not only beautiful and kind, she is an incredible baker, as well. She’s always delivering sweet treats to my boys … and they’re always delicious.

malloryBelow is her recipe for Apple-Bourbon Pie, a satisfying mix of cinnamon, sugar and apples with a kick! It would be perfect as the grand finale of your backyard barbecue.

You can find all of her recipes at Mallory, Inc. Oh, and don’t miss her Summertime Lemon-Strawberry Pie. Yum!
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Apple Bourbon Pie

prep time: 30 min

cook time: 50 min

total time: 1 hr, 20 min

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Notes:

1. You can cut your apple slices however you’d like them, but I find that slices of pie hold better with the long, lengthwise apple slices, rather than cut into cubes!

2. Slice your apples and let sit in all the goodness of the cinnamon sugar juices while you make your crust.

3. I make my own crust only because it’s my favorite part of the process, but you can use a store bought one! I use the pie crust recipe from Leigh Anne Wilkes’ blog, Your Home Based Mom, that I found a while back. Big fan!

ingredients

pie crust

2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup butter, cold and cubed

1/2 cup crisco

2 teaspoon kosher salt

egg wash topping

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

filling

3 granny smith apples, peeled and sliced

3 honey crisp apples, peeled and sliced

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/4 teaspoon ginger

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 tablespoon of bourbon

1/4 cup tapioca starch

2 tablespoon arrow root starch

instructions

filling

1. Peel skin from apples and slice into thin slices.

2. In a large bowl mix apples, both sugars, vanilla, salt and spices until completely combined.

3. Pour 2T of bourbon over the mixture, then add tapioca starch and arrow root starch.

4. Let rest while you make your crust or pour immediately into a ready made crust.

pie crust

1. While your filling cooks, measure flour and salt into a large mixing bowl. Add cubed butter and shortening on top.

2. Mix with your hands to incorporate ingredients, breaking apart the chunks of butter and shortening until the dough looks loose and pebbly. The largest chunk of butter or shortening you see should be the size of a pea.

3. Add ice water one tablespoon at a time, still mixing your dough as you add each tablespoon. Be careful not to over-water! You want the dough to stick together but not be too wet or sticky. (It’s okay that you still have some butter chunks!)

4. Form the dough into a large ball, then cut in half.

5. Transfer from out the bowl to a sheet of plastic wrap, placing one of the dough balls in the middle of the sheet. Fold the plastic wrap in half over the dough and roll out with a rolling pin to about ¾ inch disk. It doesn’t have to be a perfect disk! The wrap will just keep your dough together and be the final solidifying step. Do so for both dough balls.

6. Wrap up tightly and place in the freezer for about 20-30 min to firm up.

7. Remove from the freezer and place on a large floured cutting board and roll out into a 15” or so disk.

8. Once it’s rolled out, roll the dough around the rolling pin like a scroll. Do so, by starting at the top. Hold the top of the dough and roll the pin towards yourself, wrapping the dough around it.

9. Take your scroll of dough and lay on the edge of 9” pie plate. Repeat the step above, but instead of rolling, unroll the dough over the top of the plate.

10. Let the dough sink down into the pie plate, don’t push it or stretch it into the bottom of the plate!

You can fold the excess dough around the edges of the plate underneath itself to crimp or create a design.

11. Poke the bottom of the pie with a fork about 6-8 times to allow steam to escape.

assembly

1. Pour apple mixture into the crust.

2. The second dough disk, you can roll out into into a 12 in disk and place over the apples, crimping at the edges, and cutting 3 slits in the top to allow steam to escape. Or, you can try lattice work! Whatever, suits your fancy!

3. Finally, in a small bowl mix one egg and one tablespoon of water.

4. Using a pastry brush, brush over the top of the the pie. This will make sure you’re pie is golden brown and beautiful!

5. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 min, then cover with tin foil and bake for 10 more minutes.

Pretty Things: Becky Haas Watercolors

Personal gifts are always best, and there’s nothing more precious or personal than your home and your children. Dallas interior designer, artist and proud boy mom, Becky Haas, recently rediscovered her love of rendering, and we are all the lucky recipients of her creative gift.

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After spending nine years working as a healthcare interior designer, Becky chose to stay at home when her oldest son was one-year-old. Raising her sons and watching them grow has been the greatest joy of her life.

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When Covid-19 changed our “normal” this March, Becky found herself searching for ways to alleviate the stress and have some fun. She decided to take a moment to watercolor with her boys, and Becky Haas Watercolors was born.

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It began as a hobby, morphed into a kind of therapy and then grew into much more. She began creating watercolor portraits of homes and children for friends and family. The response was huge.

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Custom watercolor portraits are available with a two-to-three-week lead time. Home renderings range in price based on size (i.e. $200 for a 9×12). Family and children portraits cost $150 for an 8×10 and $200 for a 9×12. Order by emailing Becky at beckybhaas@gmail.com.

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My Favorite Mom Hack: Recipe-Free Cooking

I am not a chef. I wouldn’t even consider myself a cook. This is why the daily plight of feeding a family of five dinner gives me heart palpitations.

Though I am admittedly obsessed with reading cookbooks and watch Food Network religiously, I hate following recipes. Trying to keep three children entertained while following along and executing a recipe is just too much to ask. So, here’s my secret to getting dinner on the table every night: I just cook the things.

Once you have some basic kitchen skills and a rudimentary understanding of ingredients that work well together, JUST. COOK. THE. FOOD. Quit overthinking this cooking and meal planning thing. You don’t need to spend the only free time you have making a freezer full of casseroles and slow cooker “dump meals” (which, by the way, can we please as a caring society collectively rename?!). You don’t have to spend hours meal planning. You don’t even need a recipe or a plan of any sort. Here’s what you do need:

-Spices
-Herbs
-Olive Oil and butter
-Lemons, limes
-Garlic, onions
-The ability to sauté, use an oven, boil pasta, and slice, dice and chop!

Now, take all of that knowledge and walk into the grocery store without a list … Exhilarating, isn’t it? You’ll want to know how many dinners — and, therefore, proteins/veggies/grains —you need. For instance, if I’m making 4 dinners I know I need 4 proteins, probably 6-8 veggies and 2-4 starches/grains, depending whether I’m making a pasta or not.

Now, buy what is on sale. I learned to do this the hard way. I would come to the grocery store armed with a list of ingredients based on fun, new recipes, and meanwhile I would completely miss out on the fact that salmon or steak was hugely on sale that week. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice …

Next, make your combos. So, let’s say salmon is, indeed, on sale. Now, I know that salmon goes well with asparagus and brown rice because I like to dine out. If brown rice is too expensive but pasta is cheap, I will put together some sort of salmon, asparagus, lemon pasta. Meal one is done!

Let’s try another one. Let’s say sausage is on sale. Sausage works well with peppers, so I’ll make that combo from brown rice, onion, peppers, and broccoli. Once I get in the kitchen, I’ll figure out what I want to do with it. I might throw the sausage in slow cooker than morning with the peppers and onions. Or, if it’s a crazy morning, I’ll just sauté or roast everything together and toss it over the rice. I’ll add my spices based on my mood. There are no rules! Just cook the food.

Once you cook like this for awhile, you learn to love it. The heavy weight of meal planning, shopping for ingredients and following instructions just lifts from your shoulders, and you’ll actually enjoy cooking again. At first you have to learn to trust yourself in the kitchen, but you’ll get more confident the more you do it.

You’ll save money, time, and — most importantly — headspace. Food should be fun, not just another thing “to do.” Now go cook some food and enjoy your life!

What is a “Beauty-Filled” Life?

Lately I’ve had a few people ask, “Meghan, why is your blog named ‘The Beauty-Filled Life’ when you write mainly about boys and dirt and chaos?”

Exactly.

Allow me to explain. Sure, I could have named my blog “Snips and Snails” or “Bless This Mess,” perhaps “Fart Frat” would have been well received … but, see, that doesn’t tell the whole story. “The Beauty-Filled Life” does.

Years ago I read something by one of my favorite authors and thought leaders, Glennon Doyle, and it stuck with me. She said:

Beautiful means ‘full of beauty.’ Beautiful is not about the appearance of your outsides — beautiful is about what you’re made of. Beautiful women are women who spend time discovering what they love — what sings to them — what their idea of beauty on this Earth is. Then they make time each day to fill themselves up with that beauty. They know themselves well enough to know what they love, and they love themselves enough to fill up with a little of their particular kind of beauty each day.

My sons and their antics fill me up. They are my well from which I draw beauty. I don’t want a beautiful life; I want a beauty-filled life. A beauty-filled life has absolutely nothing to do with pretty, organized, controlled, orderly perfection. It’s the guts, the real soil of the human experience. Beautiful things fade, but beauty-filled moments last forever.

A floor covered in laundry, changing wet sheets, potty training, tantrums, messy buns and baggy eyes are not “beautiful” as we have come to know beauty, but these experiences and the love driving them are filled with beauty. A beauty-filled life is one that is rich with authentic beauty, the kind that is a finely woven tapestry of pain and triumph, anger and redemption, dirt and cleansing, growth and forgiveness and unconditional love.

No one except advertising agencies ever said our lives are supposed to beautiful in the sense of pleasing to the eye. They sell that our homes are supposed to be sparkling clean, our bodies fit, tan, and toned, and our little ones well behaved. Between magazines and our newsfeeds, our minds are inundated with images of perfectly styled homes with clean, bright kitchens and minimalist playrooms donning only wooden toys. It’s what we love seeing, otherwise it wouldn’t be everywhere, but it also makes us feel bad.

I used to work for those magazines. During photo shoots, we would enter gorgeous —albeit lived in — homes and spend hours cleaning up, moving furniture and styling shots. We worked hard to remove all the true life from the shots only to turn around and perfectly style an “ideal” life. A glass of orange juice on a veranda next to a vase of flowers and a sun-dappled croissant, a perfect half-moon of wooden trains laying next to a “Curious George” anthology in an otherwise untouched playroom, families enjoying a backyard picnic though they’ve never done that before.

I was fooled by these images for a long time. I still have to remind myself that they are not the truth. I look at my messy home with chipped paint on the walls, and I’m embarrassed that we’re not perfect. How could we possibly have company over when we don’t have an open concept home, our laundry baskets have actual clothes in them, our toys are plastic, and our couch is from Ikea! (These thoughts are even more ridiculous when typed). But then the little voice inside of me that has sprouted thanks to maturity and experience reminds me that perfection is not the end game. What if we saw real homes filled with the beauty of real life? Would we then focus less on curating Insta-worthy shots and more on filling our own rooms with joy and laughter?

I’m tired of “bettering myself” and my life. I’m weary from filling out mindfulness journals, reading self-help books and trying new diets. I’m nostalgic for the levity of childhood. My boys bring me back to that place. They make me roar with laughter, and I love watching them really enjoy their lives with wild abandon. They look at me with love in their eyes, and it has nothing to do with whether or not the laundry is done, where we bought our furniture, or the size of my pants. They just love me. They make me feel beauty-filled.

One day someone is going to tear down the houses we’ve so proudly built, paint over our furniture and laugh at our clothing choices. It just doesn’t matter. “Pretty” doesn’t last … I’m living for a beauty-filled life. And, even if I one day get to travel the whole stunning world, I hope the view from inside this humble home is the one I remember well into my old age. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.