Houston’s Award Winning Columnist | Alisa Murray’s Living the Sweet Life | October 2016 | Sometimes a Sweetlife is a Short One

IMG_0571 IMG_0562

Sometimes a sweet life is also a short life. Somehow despite knowing the facts each of us always tend to “forget” that we are never promised tomorrow. We do not live our lives daily as it would be our last. Perhaps it is healthier to pretend… but I do not think so.
I have seen my fair share of sweet lives being short one’s. The worst kind of this is when you loose ( although no-one is really ever ‘lost per se’ ) a child. It goes against the natural ways we like to think the world works. However, not only my mother but also my father both died before their parents and now it’s happened again. Sometimes things work out differently.
Recently, and I mean literally a few weeks ago, my sweet 19 year old nephew was killed. He was the star football player, graduated with Honors Chemistry and had just started college. He was full to the brim with jokes and life. In one split instant he was gone. As I gaze at my pictures that I have taken over the years of him I am reminded yet again that what I do as an artist is priceless.
When sweet lives become short ones we ask ourselves the usual questions of “why?” I’ll tell you why. Bad stuff just happens and my friends…God has nothing to “do” with it. Truthfully as I stared back at over 400 young folks and family speaking to them and trying to both comfort and explain that life happens I myself felt a sense of calm and resign. He was, as we christians say “saved.” In being saved the Holy Spirit is always with us and when he passed the Holy Spirit was with him. That is what makes it all ok…to die when we do and under whatever the circumstances. Everyone must acknowledge that life’s last push is death and we will all die but with God we don’t really. Lot’s of people that day got that message. What they also saw was a sweet life well lived. Jennings had traveled to the Philippines with his youth group and helped countless families stricken with poverty, he had touched all of their lives and friended them with smiles even on their downiest of teenage days. He through his passing had given his heart, liver, kidneys and limbs to save and make others lives better..even possible. Although short he lived a sweet life.
Sometimes when we are paying attention, God winks at us. It’s at the most desperate times and the most joyful that He demonstrates that His Love is always around us and that when we die we are never really gone if under His loving care. We as a family traveled to North Carolina to provide comfort and speak and to say in each of our own ways good bye to a wonderful young man. He wanted to be a forester and loved the woods. Ya’ll know that I do not like anything that doesn’t involve air conditioning and room service however we decided to rent an RV and make the trip. We after all had many people to move and school work to be done and more importantly the required time to travel in such a way was a forced down time to, as a family, gather ourselves and process this awful unthinkable experience.
The morning we awoke headed on our last leg back to Houston I went outside and found that the “park” we had rolled into that night was really a bunch of tall pine trees and nothing much more. A place oddly enough that my nephew would have loved. I started shooting the sunrise and as I did the bright rays through the trees formed a perfect cross. Then I noticed that on the ground there were several pine cones and in various states of development. I had an idea, and began gathering specifically for a shot of the lifecycle of a pine. In my attempts to gather these there were tiny cones still attached to a sprig of pine leaves whilst others were young and never opened fully to develop and reproduce. As I finished gathering, the last of this I needed were the tiniest of seeds that had been blown away from the cones in order to make new trees. I began counting out the tiny seeds and as I was working all the children gathered around me. I began counting and really I wanted 19 seeds…one for each year of Jennings life. I placed the seeds on the old picnic table and resumed counting, now with all the children watching and as I counted out loud, I stopped at a perfect 19 laid there before me! Not another seed to be found anywhere. I looked up and saw the faces of all of my family staring back at me and I said “If you needed any proof that Jennings is right here with us…I think you just got it!” God is good all the time… you just have to be aware of signs letting you know that even in the darkest of hours it’s all going to be ok.

Take Care of YOU!

(use my signature)
Do you have a story of a GOD WINK? If so I’d love to hear it!

Living the Sweet Life | September 2016 | Love Rules and Hate Drools


IMG_8131This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine. Oh! This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine! Those words are words to live by folks. In the wake of all sorts of craziness that should not even be happening in our civilized society I have one thing to say to each and to all of you and it matters not what your race, religion, ethnicity or sexual preferences might be. It’s real simple. Learn to Love.

Love is about sharing and caring and being patient and not judging. Love is about helping and showing tenderness and feeling attachment. Love is about concern and sympathy and humanity and yearning. Love is about benevolence and affection and appreciation and fondness. When we love each other there is nothing else. There is no space nor place for HATE.

It is high time that we all come together to let that little itty bit of our population come to understand that we as a whole are not made up of hate. We do not live our lives radically, plotting and planning to hurt our fellowman. Most of us…in fact all of my friends and their friends actually feel the same. We all love and want to live and let live. There’s the one or two feel good stories that hit our TV sets and news feeds and that one little feel good has a real hard time competing with all the hate. But folks the reality is the world as a whole isn’t full of hate. It’s like Nana used to say “Don’t let one bad apple spoil the whole bushel.” Which is precisely what needs to be screamed and blasted into our lives and covered in our media. LOVE RULES…HATE DROOLS.

It can be daunting to stand out. It can be scary to post on Facebook. It can be uncomfortable to say something nice when it is so easy to feel angry. I mainly feel disappointment in what has been done, what has been said and in some cases the lack there of. Shame on all of us as a collective whole. We are better than this and are capable of so much more and if for no other reason let me just remind you that the children are watching. They are taking notes. They are paying attention… and the seeds of hate are sown at the dinner table and can not be untaught.

So I think we all need to take a deep breath and roll up our sleeves and shine our lights. If like Granny said “You can’t find anything nice to say then say nothing at all.” But try… you have the light… you just turn it on. Shine them loud and shine them proud and make the world light up with LOVE. It’s a simple thing to do and truthfully most of us do it anyway everyday, and all the time. WE JUST HAVE TO DO IT SO MUCH MORE! Show love to the old man at the grocery store who is dressed different from you. Open the door for the veteran who has come back a changed person forever because he loved you. He loved this country and decided it would be worth it to risk never feeling pure again to continue to retain the freedom of which we all enjoy. Stop a police officer instead of him stopping you and just say thank you. Find a teen that needs a mentor and provide some sound advice about life. Caring for each other as we are supposed to do in a sea of love leaves little room for hate and that is the world we should be living in. I know we can do it!

Take care of YOU!

Living the Sweet Life: August 2016 Coming Home….

IMG_9180Many of you are packing up your teenagers and heading to the universities this month. This will be their new home as they embark on their adventures and begin a new chapter both for their lives but for those off us as parents. I remember such an occasion on a crisp fall day in August in 1987 when I left home for the first time and moved into the all girls dorm at St. Mary’s College in Raleigh, North Carolina. Daddy’s hugs and what he called my “Big Crocodile Tears” were a part of that day too and at the same time I was excited …I was all grown up….and I was scared to death! My last year of high school would be finished there as would my Associates Degree in Liberal Arts. My grandparents were very worried that if I got exposed to a different religion that I would convert over to it. And as funny as that sounds….those Baptists are very particular about how they view other religions. St. Mary’s is an Episcopal all girls school that is relatively exclusive being that it’s private and still today as it was in 1987… the only existing Episcopal all girls boarding school still left in this country. It was converted during the civil war into a hospital for the soldiers and we would find confederate money in her walls during several construction sites during my three years attending.

I loved St. Mary’s and with most things that I love I fall deeply into them. The heart of St.Mary’s was chapel which we attended twice a day and then a Vespers service Wednesday evenings and on Sunday’s if you were not away visiting family. It was at St. Mary’s that I learned Latin, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and became the leading art student in the entire school. SCAD courted me as a result of my art and eventually I went there to continue my studies in Painting, Art History and Interior Design. It was also where I became as my grandparents feared…an Episcopalian.

I have always been very active in the church attending choir and all youth activities. I quickly became a Vestry member before graduating high school and by my sophomore year in college I was made Senior Warden. I remember the very first night after all the parents had gone and we were attending our first service and going over what it means to be a St. Mary’s girl. I remember accidentally saying the “Holy Ghost” and my new roommate glanced over at me and gave me the “look.” I also distinctly remember waiting for something terrible to happen, like for me to spontaneously combust when they passed the Blood and Body of Christ I discovered it was not grape juice but actual wine that they we’re serving!

Many years have passed since I graduated from St. Mary’s and many churches along the way Brian and I attended in both Savannah and in Houston. None were what I felt at St. Mary’s until we found St. Catherine’s. And even St. Catherine’s magic didn’t happen until Father Mike became the priest. We went and we left and we went and we left and then Father Mike came and we go as much as my shooting schedule will allow us to. So after having raised my babies in an Episcopal church I had never actually left the title of my Baptist faith and converted over officially to that of being an Episcopalian. James Edward and I attended the classes and as he discovered the nuances of the faith I felt a sense of peace at having finally found and finished what I had meant to so many years before. It was like coming home.

On a warm yummy day last month James Edward and I became officially Episcopalians. During Bishop’s sermon he mentioned something that I think will stick with Jamesy hopefully for as long as he lives. It’s a message of understanding our place here while on earth is of the walking dead. We are all here doing hopefully what God’s plan and purpose is for our lives but we are not fully living. It is when we live in heaven and are a part of the larger Body of Christ that we are risen and are fully alive. Love is the only thing we must do and Love is most imperative in our lost world full of so much hate and discord.
Thanks be to GOD!

Alisa Murray’s Award winning column | July 2016 |Living the Sweet Life : Lazy days of Summertime!

IMG_9071July is possible the laziest month of the entire year and for great reason. It’s the only month that none of us has to really do anything…except of course work. Children are out for the summer and unlike June where it’s a scramble to finish strong with their classes or August where we are gathering new school supplies and checking to see how many inches they grew over the summer out of their clothes, July seems just really perfect for family time.

July is my favorite time to have family cook outs and invite friends over for an impromptu gathering. It’s well known that I love to cook, I always prepare plenty so that when suppertime rolls around I am ready for one of my friends or the children’s to drop in and join us! Some of my recipes have become their favorites and they will text me and specifically ask for me to make this or that. Probably the most popular during the summer months are my smoked salmon (where people actually go buy the fish and bring it to me to prepare!), cucumber salad, Dorito casserole, and pulled pork BBQ with slaw.

The garden this year has gone wild…and I mean that literally. Featured on the cover this month, both Fernando and Ron were surprised at just how much “good stuff” I was able to grow beside the pool and amongst the rose bushes! It’s a garden that my ancestors, who were farmers would surely roll their eyes about but it serves the purpose… so it can’t be that bad! Its LOL
There’s every herb you’d ever need and I can not tell you how much better things taste if you’d use fresh herbs. It’s like night and day. I also have various peppers, squash,lettuce,beets, carrots,cabbage,spinach,eggplant,cucumbers,corn,blackberries,strawberries,and tomatoes. I have become the expert salsa maker and each week I make a fresh batch for almost every meal. The leftover salsa gets dumped into my bean soup that I make every Sunday.

Quite a few of my friends read my column and when we started talking about this upcoming July edition they asked me to share a recipe… some of which I’d like to keep secret so they still drop by! I think the salsa recipe is so versatile and can be used for everything so here’s mine and I’ll tell you in advance I measure nothing. I cook like I shoot..from my heart and guts and when I get that “feeling” then I know it’s right. I remember Nana cooking and it was exactly the same…a pinch of this and a dollop of that… you’d have to watch her to understand that terminology but that’s part of it..isn’t it? The making of great things that bring back childhood is mot always measured…it happens organically and from our souls!

Here’s you a little salsa that will always treat you right whether on a chip, in a soup or used to brine a turkey overnight!
Auntie A’s Famous and Versatile Salsa
6 large tomatoes
6 medium tomatillos
4 Bell peppers GREEN
1 very large purple onion
1 jalapeno pepper
Handful of Cilantro
1/3 cup of minced garlic
Handful of salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar
Avocado oil

Boil all of this until soft. Transfer to blender and puree everything being careful not to use too much of the liquid so your salsa ends up the right consistency. Pour into Mason Jars and place in refrigerator once the jar is cool to touch.

This summer I am going to try for the first time to learn to can things. I remember Nana and Granny doing this but it seems hard…I hope not! I have more tomatoes that I know what I’m going to do with and since I can not imagine starting a salsa company, it seems like the only solution to my problem! Wish me luck!
Have a wonderful month of slowing down…sipping tea and playing with your children and friends!
Take Care of YOU!

~use signature
I hate to throw anything good away… so here’s what to do with that extra liquids from your salsa! Go back to the garden and pick a handful of basil and oregano fresh. Add that to the leftover liquid from the salsa and add back to it four more large tomatoes. Add more water and boil again until the newly added veggies and herbs are soft. Once they are soft, take all of that and puree with all the liquids in the pan and now you have homemade Tomato Basil Soup! Topped with fishily grated parmesan cheese and a swirl of fresh heavy cream and there’s another meal with zero leftovers from your garden!

Houston Award Winning Columnist | Alisa Murray| Living the Sweet Life | Bugs for Lunch? May 2016

MAY 2016
Living the Sweet Life : Ants and Grasshoppers for lunch anyone?

For the longest time when I think of a picnic I have that iconic image of a red checkered blanket and at some point a trail of ants trying to invade and haul off any crumbs that they can. Never in my wildest dreams did that vision include making ants be the main entree! What are you talking about you ask? These days in the world of food consumption, one can choose to eat a sandwich and others can just go eat a bug, making your picnics a whole other experience! Yes, folks you read it right…bugs! Bugs you say? What?? It turns out that around the world insects such as ants, locusts, mealworms and grasshoppers are consumed by about 2 billion people.

This both disgusted me and intrigued me. When I was a child one of the fondest memories was spending time in the mountains with my Granny and Big Daddy. We would plan for a day outside and Granny would make a bunch of sandwiches and lemonade. Big Daddy always had a large watermelon and we would set off on a big adventure. Sometimes we would go to a
picnic table in the Blue Ridge Parkway and other times we would go for a jeep ride up into the mountains themselves and spread out a blanket with the trees as ou canopy and while listening to crickets and birds and most often a mountain stream, we would have our lunch. Never in a million years would I have thought to just reach down and grab an innocent little ant and start chomping away. Sounds kinda sorta well actually YUCK!

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the Unites Nations sees consumption of insects as essential to food security. Due to our ever expanding world coupled with mortality rates dropping slightly due to better health and health care advances or food production must increase by 70 percent to feed 2050’s projected 9 billion people. And Insects, a viable source of life sustaining protein; despite your cringing, are sustainable and less expensive to produce than cattle and pork. Even more crazy, since I’ve been feeding mealworms to James Edward’s bearded dragon and not to us at our dinner table, was to learn that mealworms have as much unsaturated omega-3 fat as fish do and a pound of locusts contain more iron than a pound of beef!

I think that for at least during my lifetime I’ll be sticking to dill pickles, ham and swiss sandwiches and berries! It’s not that I don’t want to be hip and all…at this point I think I am just too old to change. They say that the crickets taste like cashews and sweet corn and the ants, well those are really advanced in the foodie world! Who knew? Those little guys come in flavors such as honey and bacon. I think I’d rather have the real thing though. I could perhaps see having a cricket breakfast bar if I live long enough to see my great grandchildren and don’t really know what’s going on around me anymore! At that point I wouldn’t really care and I guess that’d be alright!

Take Care of YOU! shutterstock_324406838

#alisamurray #alisamurrayphotography