Guest – Trey Johnston – Texas Trey’s

TT Garden Fresh Label Round

I have a really great relationship with my sister inlaw, Dara. (You might remember her from my blog post “OCD or Awesome Life Hack?” dated 9/28/17.) She’s been incredibly supportive of me and my blog. It was Dara who suggested that I get to know a coworker of hers, Trey Johnston. She mentioned that he made and sold his own brand of salsa and chips. So, just in time for your 2018 Super Bowl Party, get ready to add Texas Trey’s Barnburner salsa, chips and avocado dips to your party buffet.

Barnburner Rectangle Firery

Trey has been producing for his  fresh gourmet products company, Texas Trey’s since 2012, but prior, describes his life as that of an adventurous new family experiencing life in Virginia. Originally from Longview, Texas, Trey would tend a vegetable garden and continued that work even after relocating to Virginia. From the fresh produce of his garden, Trey would concoct a salsa for his family and friends. These recipients of his salsa goodness were the very ones who suggested that Trey should market and sell his salsa.

Salsa Complete

His Barnburner Salsa is made locally in Boyce, Virginia. Trey and his family pride themselves on using the finest produce sourced from local farmers, to create the best possible products and they are thrilled to officially be picked up as a vendor for Wegmans in Leesburg, VA.  (Look for the products in March 2018.) And let’s talk about their Chips! Says Johnston, “Our chips are the driving force in our business and lead on all sales fronts. Our chips are not like any you find on the grocery store shelves. We have two types of chips, Salsa Shovels and Dip Diggers. Salsa Shovels are a hardy crunchy tortilla chip, deep fried in pure peanut oil. Our Dip Diggers are an all natural light and crispy tortilla chip with a great corn flavor and buttery finish.”   (Ok, you sealed my love at “buttery finish”.)

Salsa Shovel Chips

As a young man, Trey led a rather unconventional life. Says Johnston, “I’m naturally inspired to accomplish big things. When I was younger I pursued a boxing career to become the greatest heavyweight ever. I sold most everything at the age of 22 and moved to Las Vegas to become a fighter. I never went anywhere with it, but trained with referee Joe Cortez, Joe George, Doc Broadus, and watched Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather train on a weekly basis.” In 2008, Trey shifted gears, packed his bags and began volunteering in an orphanage in the jungles of Rio Dulce, Guatemala. He also became a Search and Rescue scuba diver in Honduras on the Island of Útila.

Trey and Heather

Says Trey, “I think I have my grandfather’s (mother’s side) mind and passion for success. He invented glass break detectors in the 80’s and built Caddx Controls Inc until GE bought it. My great-grandfather on my dad’s side invented the Johnston Drilling Tool which was bought by Schlumberger in 1956.  You could say inventiveness and ingenuity are in my blood.” His current passion is providing great food for people, something different and unique.


Ultimately, Johnston would like to grow his business into a national brand and have someone, or a group of investors, offer to buy them out. That plan would contribute to his achievement of his long-term goal which he describes is to, “Retire happy, raise my kids right, and make sure I cherish all the moments with those I love.” Until then, he is quite proud that he is able to make a great living working in Information Technology with an excellent company despite not having a degree, but is even more proud of how he and his wife have been raising their children. Says Trey, “I try to make sure they learn accountability, responsibility, and have good character. Most importantly they understand I love them with all my heart.”

My Kids

Although I think we can all agree that Trey is a dreamer in the best possible ways, he is very pragmatic. He says, “[I] anticipate a hard road ahead, ups and downs, but perseverance, some luck and some blessings will get me where I want to go.” His parting words, “Real people who work hard, are passionate, and have a good attitude, some luck and support, can succeed as long as they never give up.”

Salsa Shovels Sea Salt Front

Dip Diggers Sea Salt Front

You can purchase Texas Trey’s products at:  Rich Rosendale’s Roots 657 Cafe and Local Market and every Saturday at One Loudoun’s open air Farmers Market in Ashburn, Va.

Follow Texas Trey’s on:  Facebook, Twitter @TexasTreys, and Instagram



Resolutions. Even the word sounds daunting and commanding. Or more like bossy, right? ResolUtion. See that big U in there? A coincidence? I think not. Which is why so many of us hate resolutions. You are the center of that resolution. You are the creator, you are the implementer, BUT you are also the beneficiary. There may be some residual or collateral goodness that befalls those in your circle, should you resolve to fulfill your resolution, but the primary benefit is to you and you alone.


Likewise, it is only you who suffers if your resolution is not fulfilled. And there in lies the rub. I think most are more forgiving to others who disappoint us. It’s easier. We’re almost used to it. We can chalk up their wrong doings or thoughtlessness to their nature, or their upbringing, or their busy schedule. But when faced with disappointment from OURSELVES….how could we?

sad guy

How could we let ourselves down…again? Don’t we know better? Weren’t we raised better? Don’t we CARE? Of course we do. Which is precisely why a lot of us, and when I say ‘us’ I mean me, don’t make New Year’s resolutions any more. I have a plethora of disappointments in my life from all sorts of places. Why on earth would I add myself to the list? I have failed at my resolutions my whole life, so I’M OUT!  And let’s face it, I can disappoint myself daily. Why do I need to make a declaration to the world of my impending new failure. It’s just silly.

i quit making resolutions

But in all seriousness, goal setting is good. It’s an incredible habit and tool for all of us to incent ourselves to make changes. I think the problem with New Year’s resolutions is that they are too big. It’s just too big of a declaration. I’m going to lose 50 lbs in 2018! I’m going to start that business that I’ve always wanted to start in 2018!

mountain climb

Let’s take 01/01/year? – 12/31/year? off the table. Don’t pressure yourself to start moving toward your goals on January 1 in the mad dash to get it all put to bed by December 31. It’s just too much. Here’s a crazy idea. You can start working toward your goal on March 8. And you know what’s even crazier about starting a goal on March 8, 2018? It’s a THURSDAY!!! I KNOW!  (If you suffer from OCD, I suggest slow, controlled breaths in a paper bag.)

March 8

My point is, don’ t beat yourself up for not creating a New Year’s resolution. Don’t beat yourself up for finally realizing that you are not good at keeping your resolutions. The truth is, we can work toward our goals every single moment of every single day by the choices we make. Does eating this cookie get me closer to my ultimate goal? Does watching this tv show instead of cleaning out my closet get me closer? Does going shopping instead of spending 30 minutes researching get me closer? These are the choices I’m talking about. So I say, forget New Year’s resolutions. But I challenge you to look at your goals in terms of a lifetime and take a step in the right direction every chance you get. Even if it’s a Thursday.


About three and a half years ago I began the process of watching my father die. It’s a terrible thing that most of us will experience within our lifetime; watching someone that we love slowly slip away from who they are, who they were, and cease to be among us.

Dad - last pic

During that time, I discovered a jigsaw puzzle app on my iPad that would allow me to work on puzzles anywhere, anytime. I carried my iPad with me everywhere. I didn’t think much about it. What? This was just my Candy Crush. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I had picked up a compulsive desire to do jigsaw puzzles while I was watching and waiting for my dad to succumb to his frailty and move past this world.


I’m sure it sounds completely crazy (it did to me to), but those dumb, meaningless puzzles were anything but. Looking back, working those puzzles was so much more. For starters, it was a relatively harmless way for me to escape the reality that was choking me. I could sit for just a few minutes (or a lot longer sometimes) and leave fear, for those moments, and concentrate on solving the puzzle.


free from fear

I say relatively harmless because I wasn’t drowning myself in alcohol, or poisoning my body with any chemical form of escape. But, I was still mentally checking out, which was my form of self preservation. It caused me to withdraw for moments at a time from my reality, which included three children and a husband. Thankfully, they were all very patient with me while I headed in and out of their lives for the months that this horrible experience took.


Realizing that this had turned into a very silly addiction (which as we all know, no addiction is silly) I gave up the puzzles a few months after my father died; pretty much cold turkey. They were no longer needed. The fears had come to fruition and there was no longer a need to escape. I just stopped, but not before I learned a tremendous analogy about life through those dumb puzzles. These truths are so obvious now, but to see them revealed to me through a GAME!  It continues to astonish me.

apple and books

Here’s what I learned.

When constructing a new puzzle, it is customary to begin with the flat edged pieces. The puzzle becomes easier to construct when the frame is in place because the framework allows you to identify “the right way” to use the subsequent pieces.  Life, as a puzzle and like a puzzle, becomes easier with a solid foundation or framework. The border of the puzzle is like those things in our lives that help us orient the rest of the pieces of our life. Family, friends, faith in God, faith in yourself, values; all of these things help define the edges of your life. They help you to be able to take the new pieces that are given to you and orient them so that they can fit within the borders of the structure of your life and who you are.

Thankfully, I have a pretty rock solid foundation or frame.  I thank my parents for that.  When faced with life choices, I measure each choice up against my framework.  Does it align with my core values?  Will it take me away from my family?  Will it help me grow or help me set an good example for my children?  My commitment to my foundation helps me, time and again, to make good, meaningful choices.


Another lesson I learned from my hours of working puzzles is that no matter how much you want to complete a section of the puzzle, you simply cannot until the correct pieces are revealed to you. Often times the pieces need to come in a specific order and at a specific time for the image to make sense.  I think life is like this. No matter how badly you want a part of your life to evolve, or change, or be revealed to you; sometimes it’s simply not time yet. The supporting pieces that you need are just not in place. That’s where patience and fortitude become necessary. The desire is not enough and virtues are tested, but the reward when all of the pieces come together in the right time and the right sequence are effortless and divine.

An example from my own life to illustrate this was my desire to have a baby.  In society’s eyes, I married late at the age of 32.  (And believe me when I tell you that my virtues were tested while I waited for my prince to come.  But that’s a whole ‘nother story.)  Our initial attempts at parenthood ended in hurtful failures.  We suffered two back to back miscarriages that were devastating.  But these ugly puzzle pieces served as GREAT perspective shapers and I needed them first to lay the groundwork for what was ahead.

Had I not miscarried those two babies, I would never have discovered that I have a genetic blood disorder that not only make me at risk for strokes, but also crippled my chances of sustaining a pregnancy without intervention.  And because of this discovery, or new piece of my puzzle, when I finally got pregnant with our oldest, I was being followed by a high risk Obstetrician who was able to detect, at 18 weeks gestation, that our son’s heart was not developing as it should.

Those ugly puzzle pieces saved our boy’s life in many ways.  One, we were prepared for his birth and had medical care lined up to start minute one.  AND, maybe even more importantly, my husband and I were so sad after losing the first two, that by God, we were going to give this little guy a chance…every chance.


praying hands

Which nicely leads to the final life lesson that I learned working the puzzles.  The ugly pieces are just as important as the beautiful ones to complete the final image.  As illustrated in my story above, not every piece is colorful and spectacular, but those that are not are still integral to the composition of the completed picture. The dark, seemingly blank pieces help to highlight and frame the star of the show.  As in life, the dark times and missteps help to define the whole picture of our lives. They give depth to the beauty of our character.  They provide perspective which translates to compassion. They are necessary as connectors between events in our lives to illustrate and support growth. And they provide the needed contrast to the beautiful times and triumphs that allows us to feel those moments more deeply.

approaching storm Mexico 2017

These lessons have stuck with me through the years. Although I miss my father terribly, I do not miss the puzzles. I am grateful for the escape that they provided when I needed it, but more over, the time to open my mind to get a clearer insight on the puzzle of constructing my life.

family pic outer banks

1 Pic from

Guest – Jessica Monte – NVSL Magazine


Jessica Monte runs a successful photography business, Jessica Monte Photography, and is the Editor-in-Chief of NVSL Magazine. If you follow Jennifer the Beholder on Facebook, you might be familiar with this magazine already. Earlier this fall, I received an email from Jessica regarding my article about Kim Moehnke of Pure Love Macarons (blog post date 9/10/17). Jessica is a friend of Kim’s, and being a good friend, had checked out the blog post. Long story short, she liked the article and reached out to me as a potential contributor for her new publication, NVSL Magazine.

Like I said, if you follow Jennifer the Beholder on Facebook, you have seen the social media fireworks and skywriting regarding my excitement of being a part of this magazine. So what better way to bring this relationship full circle than to highlight this fantastic woman right here on my blog.

NVSL Magazine is an arts and entertainment magazine focused on the abundance of culture available and growing right here in Northern Virginia, but with a decidedly and purposeful grown-up angle. Says Jessica, “I felt like that there are several publications in the area that tend to focus on suburban types of topics. Loudoun County and Fairfax County, [although] they are the suburbs, there’s such a high population density here that I feel like there’s a city aspect to our community and a good deal of arts and culture to celebrate. So this publication exists to cover those topics.” The magazine will feature art galleries, wineries, distilleries, fashion, recording studios…the list goes on and all the while helping small mom and pop businesses. Bottom line, says Jessica, “We’re trying to help people and inspire the community with this publication.”

Neither photography nor running a magazine was necessarily a dream for Jessica early in her career. She shares, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. I originally had intended to go on to graduate school and do divinity school to study comparative religion or comparative literature.” It was around that time that her father passed away unexpectedly and she had met who would be her future husband. Jessica married and after, began working part time teaching English as a second language (ESL) at NOVA (Northern Virginia Community College) and in Fairfax County through the adult education program while attending graduate school. She was going to take a job at George Mason University doing more of the ESL work but, as many do, realized that her pay was just going to cover their childcare expenses. After she had their daughter, she decided to stay home.



Jessica’s work as a photographer came in a roundabout way. Of course as a stay at home new mom, she would photograph every single thing that her daughter did. Says Jessica, “I had been always taking photos when my husband and I would travel. We did travel quite a bit. Whenever we got a chance…if we got a tax return, or something like that, we would go hop on a plane and I would always bring my camera. It was my dad’s Canon, a film camera, and I would bring that with me.” Her husband gifted her a little digital camera and she befriended another photographer who had studied at The Corcoran. She adds, “She taught me a lot. And then I met another photographer who had a studio in downtown Leesburg. He had photographed The Pope and prominent politicians and public figures from around the world. He taught me a lot. He told me to approach photography as an art. He sent me home with stacks and stacks of art books. They weren’t photo books. He said, ‘Study the lighting.’ That’s how I got into portrait photography. As I acquired more and more photo equipment, my husband said, it makes sense for us to start a business so that you can write this off. And so I started the photography business eight years ago.”



Jessica’s journey into the print world happened really organically. Through her charity work and work with professional athletes and politicians, she has been published in established publications like USA TODAY. Being a professional fine art portrait photographer, and with the goal of  continuing to grow her photography business, Jessica attended a networking event held by a large organization in the area. While at the event she realized that she was sitting with people who were in finance or real estate. Jessica says, “I felt alone as an artist in this group and I wanted to create a network and highlight the existence of creatives living in Northern Virginia: writers, photographers, artists, and designers…” She stayed a little while longer but began trying to figure out a way to make other people like her feel like, “Yes we do have a community.” Adds Jessica, “We do belong here in Northern Virginia. We are a wonderful, creative place, so let’s tell those stories. It wasn’t like a big ah-hah moment for me, like ok I’m going to do a magazine, but it was at that meeting where I realized I needed to do something to change myself so that I could influence my community in a positive way.”

When vetting businesses and artists for the magazine, there are a lot of things you can’t read or discover on the Internet. Admittedly, you can do research about an entrepreneur or a creative person, but a lot of the best information comes from people. Jessica explains, “I spend a lot of time getting to know the business owners by just popping into their shop and talking with them and finding out what their stories [are]. That’s how I continue to do this. Or I’ll get a referral from somebody that I trust. It kind of happens organically, but I will say that I do sometimes do secret shopping. I will go in a place and see how a person runs their business and their shop, how they treat people, because if I write about them, I’m endorsing them. I try to select people who I also feel are doing good things in the community, with their business or with a volunteer effort.” She goes on, “It’s not that I’m trying to be judgy, I’m not. I’m endorsing that person and their product.” She adds, “One of my mentors for this magazine said to me, ‘When I pick up your magazine I want to read about an artisanal bread and know that whatever you’ve told me about that bread, I can trust it. I can go there and it’s going to be quality.’ So that’s part of why I do the secret shopper thing.”

Other than getting the Winter issue out the door, a short-term goal for Jessica would include organizing a launch party. Says Jessica, “We’re going to do a soft launch for the magazine in mid to late January, and look to host a stylish and classy event in the spring for the writers, the artists, the businesses that are putting ads in the magazine, and the community. We’d like them to come and celebrate and support our magazine.” Fun!

Her long-term goal is to inspire the growth of arts and entertainment in Northern Virginia with an art center in Loudoun County that can support a full orchestra and ballet company. Jessica would also like to continue to work to ultimately be able to pay herself a fair salary for her work for the magazine, pay her partner a fair salary, and continue to compensate the writers and artists fairly. She shares, “As an artist, I worry that artists are not valued for the work that they do. I want my publication to set an example.”

There are definite ups and downs to running a magazine. Jessica shares, “Some days I feel like, wow this publication is great and we’re doing good things, and I love all of the interesting people that I’m getting to meet, but then the other side of doing a publication or being a writer or an artist is a lot of solitary time. I would say the downside is maybe not feeling like I get enough people contact.” She explains that even though she’s out doing photo shoots or “secret shopping” getting to know the community, some days are really slow. She admits that solitude is part of doing this kind of work, but she adds, “I think also, because we are a start up, we’re all [working] out of our homes. You’re not going to the water cooler and getting five minutes of chitchat. You’re only people contact may be if you see the mailman, or if [you] go to the gym. So I would say, the downside to doing this has been that there is some isolation involved, that and having to learn to do sales! I brought somebody on who is doing business development. He’s very friendly and he’s a good person, but I’ve also been having to get out there and meet with people, and present myself nicely, and explain why this magazine, website and newsletters can help a person’s business. Of course I’m very passionate about the magazine, so everybody I’ve met with is like, ‘Yeah let’s do it’. But it definitely puts me out of my comfort zone because I don’t consider myself a sales person.”


Monte kids

Jessica is most proud of having set up her photography business that has allowed her to also be a mother. Says Jessica, “I think that for [my children] it feels really neat that their mom has a business. I feel proud of the fact that I’ve managed to start businesses while also trying to be a part of my kids’ lives. I feel like I’ve really gotten this beautiful opportunity to be a part of their lives, and I feel grateful for that because I know a lot of moms and dads don’t necessarily get to have that kind of lifestyle.”



Other than her children and her businesses, personally Jessica is most proud of her involvement in community service. Interestingly, Jessica was considering going to divinity school while in college, and even considered being a nun. She jokes, “My mom was not too thrilled because she wanted grandchildren.” Although she would not describe herself as a religious person, she is quite spiritual.  Admittedly, meeting her husband steered her away from religious life, but she felt that she could still experience spirituality and God through a family. Jessica says, “I feel like motherhood is one of the hardest service positions. (Amen!) And I think [through] getting to do community service, since I didn’t go into The Church, I still get to do work for mankind.” (Beautiful.) The true beauty of her spirit was revealed when she asked, “Don’t most of us want to do that?” Unfortunately, I think the answer to that question is ‘No’. In my opinion, that’s where a lot of our problems as a country stem. If more people took Jessica’s approach to life, maybe we would all live very different lives as a whole.


Monte family in Puerto Rico

I asked Jessica what she would like my readers to take away from this interview. She answered, “I’m not Super Woman. I have a lot of help. I have baby sitters that help me. Sometimes my friends will pick my kids up or take them to different activities. My husband is a wonderful support because there’s no way I could do any of this without him. I definitely have my struggles. A lot of my life is jumping through hoops and just trying to find some kind of balance. I think that women, especially in this area, put such pressure on themselves. I’m not perfect. If anything I would say to all the mommas, I bow down to them and I think that is the greatest job.”

1  Jessica and her husband in Peru.  2005

2  Jessica and her dad.  copyright 1999 Carol Fernino

3  The Monte kids.  2017

4 Jessica as a volunteer for FACETS.  While at George Mason University, Jessica volunteered with FACETS in both their marketing and community out reach.  In that role, she was tasked with interviewing the homeless and precariously housed individuals and families residing in Fairfax County.  In addition, she helped lead youth education programs for the families served by FACETS.  Interestingly, she now serves on the Board of A Hand Up NOVA, Inc. which provides a diaper bank for FACETS and several other non-profits in Northern Virginia.

5  Jessica’s husband and two children, Puerto Rico.  2010   Says Jessica, “Our family still makes travel a priority and we forego new cars, house updates, etc. so that we can afford to take our children around the world.  Learning is among the highest of values for my husband and me.”

Follow NVSL Magazine on: Facebook, Instagram @nvslmagazine, and Twitter @nvslmagazine

and Jessica Monte Photography on: Facebook and  Instagram @jessicamontephotography