Category Archives: Favorite Things

What I Learned/Favorite Things This Summer

Oh ya’ll. I think I say it every year, but I feel like THIS summer was maybe my favorite? I’m pretty sure the age of my kids has everything to do with it. Everyone can function fairly well AND everyone still wants to spend time together. Their world is getting bigger AND they still want us in it. These years are incredibly sweet.
what i learned things this summer

Another element that made this summer special was that Joel and I celebrated our 10th anniversary and it was so meaningful to reflect on how God has provided for and grown us over the years. We both decided this marriage gig gets better over time.

Throw in the privilege of taking a team of students overseas on a missions trip for 5 weeks, getting good recovery time at home and then spending rich time visiting friends and family, this summer gets my stamp of approval.what I learned this summer

Here’s my “What I Learned This Summer” but it’s also sort of a “Favorite Things” post…so I double titled the post. Yep. This blogger has officially let her cyber-hair down. What did you learn this Summer? What were your favorite things? Here are mine:

  1. Being in nature is extremely restorative to my soul.

The city recently put a quarter mile paved greenway in right by my house and from my front door, around the loop and back is a perfect 1.5 miles. Me and ole Duke have been getting up and OWNING the loop lately and it’s been so energizing. Duke goes nuts when he hears we are going for a run and I realized that it’s the GREEN that is so nourishing to my spirit! I need more nature in my life but dang, it’s hot and sticky in Mississippi, so I don’t really enjoy being outside in the summer unless there’s  a pool nearby, these morning jaunts around the loop with my favorite 4-legged friend have really been a game changer. (See also: endorphins)What I learned summer

2. Paying a babysitter so you can have time with the Lord is totally worth it.

About mid-July every summer I kinda hit a wall and I realize that my introvert hurts. Days at the pool are awesome. Traveling is great. The flexible schedule of summer is wonderful. But I begin to feel like I can’t hear myself think and I start to feel disconnected from my own soul.

The kids had a Science, Nature, Art Camp at the museum a few weeks ago, Joel was out of town, and I was needing some soul care. On a whim, I paid a college student to pick my kids up from camp, take them to lunch at McDonald’s (Lizzie, you’re a saint) drop by the library for a while and then hit up the pool. Basically, I paid her to not bring my children home. I went and worked out, had a meal by myself and then crawled into my bed to spend time with the Lord. Hours went by and it was sooooo good. There was time for prayer, journaling, an online course, some reading, a counseling/spiritual direction session, solitude and silence. It was absolutely glorious and I can’t believe I haven’t made that type of investment before! It’s totally worth spending some of the babysitter budget to take extended time with the Lord! (It’s also worth it to have a monthly session with a counselor/spiritual director in the budget!)What I learned summer

3. “Included In Christ” is an fantastic Bible study, especially for writers. 

I think what made my time with God so meaningful was this Bible study. Heather has a very caring and encouraging voice and she  walks through Ephesians in a way that really speaks to the writer within. I highly recommend it!

4. Having a “usual” and even a “uniform” is mentally freeing for me.

You know when your phone flashes you that annoying “storage full” message? So you go to dump your phone onto your computer but then your computer sends you a similar message that you’ve used all the space on your hard drive? And then you get that eery feeling that your devices are a reflection of your brain and your life that both feel completely out of space… The struggle is real.

Any time I can automate even the smallest thing in my life it takes away “storage” and mental fatigue.

Anytime I can not have to think about what’s next or pause to figure out what to do it’s just so nice. For example, I am no longer trying to think of when I’m going to work out or if I am gonna walk the dog. It’s just two birds I am killing with one stone first thing in the morning.

Enter the usual and the uniform per one of my favorite podcaster’s suggestion–The Lazy Genius.

Usual–I always struggle with what to feed my kids for lunch. I don’t even like lunch! So this year since we are home most days I decided instead of having to rack my brain for ideas I’d just have the kids eat the same thing each weekday.

We are on a rotation of:
Monday-Mac and cheese with sugar snap peas and carrots
Tuesday-Soup and baked potatoes
Wednesday-Turkey and cheese roll-ups and whatever fruit that’s in season
Thursday-Frozen pizza with fruit and vegetable
Friday-Peanut butter and banana with granola and yogurt

Uniform–Same song second verse to the tune of what-the-heck-is-a 35-year-old-homeschooling-mom-who-has-to-still-look-somewhat-relatable-to-college-students-who-are-now-born-in-the-year-2000-which-is-the-same-year-I-graduated-from-college.

My new uniform includes 4 dresses, jean shorts with a flowy top and workout clothes. That’s what I am wearing basically on rotation M-F. These swing dresses make me feel put together but even more comfortable than slouchy workout clothes. Can’t recommend them enough!

5. Cook once. Eat twice. 

We all know how obsessed I am with freezer meal cooking…it just makes long days so much easier! I stocked my freezer pretty well this summer, but then I would get really bummed as I saw it dwindling down just as the school year was about to start. SO, I started being more intentional about cooking once and eating twice. For example, I am in love with this Honey Garlic Dijon Pork Tenderloin recipe I found on Pinterest and it’s so simple to make one for the freezer and one for dinner all at once! Just double your recipe, eat one and freeze one!

What I Learned This Summer

(Image and recipe via The Well Seasoned Mom)

You just dump all this in a bag and toss it in the freezer!

  • Pork Tenderloin
  • 1/2 cup Honey
  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tbs Soy sauce
  • 1 Tbs Minced garlic
  • pinch of rosemary
  • pinch of thyme
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste

On cooking day set aside the remaining ½ of the marinade in a separate bowl, cover, and refrigerate for later.

Remove pork from the marinade and place in a baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray. Discard bag with the marinade. Allow pork to come to room temperature while you preheat the oven.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes.

Remove cover, brush with reserved marinade, and place under the broiler for about 5 minutes (or until a crispy crust forms on top), and pork reaches an internal temperature of 140 degrees F.

Remove from oven and allow pork to rest for about 10 minutes before slicing.

Another winner this Summer has been Crock Pot Salsa Ranch Chicken Pasta from The Country Cook.

what i learned this summer

Again, dump, freeze and then cook the day of! Easy peasy!

  • 5-6 chicken breasts
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 1 tsp minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 cup Hidden Valley Ranch Cilantro Lime dressing
  • 1 lb box rotini pasta

Dump all ingredients except pasta, dressing and sour cream into freezer bag.

On cooking day defrost, pour into crock pot, cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours.

About 30 minutes or so before this is finished cooking, begin preparing the rotini pasta according to package directions.

Once chicken is cooked, remove chicken breasts and shred them or cut into chunks.

Whisk in sour cream and Hidden Valley® Ranch dressing into cream of chicken/salsa mixture in the slow cooker.

Add chicken back into the slow cooker and stir in prepared rotini pasta.

Stir well.

**Bonus Favorite Thing/Something I Learned This Summer: Awareness of and a Whole-hearted Embracing of My Gaps

While it was 100% my favorite summer, I have never before felt my gaps so severely. No, I am not talking about thigh gaps. Ain’t none of that over here after all the Salsa Ranch Chicken Pasta. What I mean is that my awareness of all the ways I lack was painfully obvious this Summer.

In Rome, there was no way to meet all the needs of students and family. There was no way to not be dead dog tired and see that there was no way I could push or pick myself up and keep going. And actually I became okay with it. It was unbelievably freeing being okay with the gaps between my ideals and my reality.

When we got home there was no way to reign in our transition and make it more neat and tidy. Also, no matter how much you try it’s nearly impossible to work off 5 weeks of chocolate croissants and nutella pizza. GAP.

As we started school it was impossible to manage outcomes of learning and development.

My lack of self-control.

My lack of ability to maintain depth of relationship with friends I love dearly.

Even down to my daily Bible reading app reminding me JUST how far behind I am on my read-thru-the-Bible plan…gaps.gaps.129 days of gaps.

But my gaps were met with God’s love. Raise the roof. The space between my ideals and my reality were met with irresistible kindness, patience and grace. They are the cherished places I am growing in my awareness of my need for my Savior. what I learned this summer

My favorite thing all Summer was being reminded that I am a beloved daughter of the King regardless of my performance, production or outcomes and I am deeply and loved because I am deeply loved. Irresistible, I tell you!

I hope you’ve had the best Summer. I’d love to hear more about it! Comment below or let’s chat on social media! 


Back-To-School When You Just Can’t Even

August. #holdme

Cue the month when moms everywhere start frantically texting to find out the scoop on new teachers and to see if Lunchables are really THAT bad.

Let me just say that school supplies are done sold out in this town and I have JUST NOW gotten my kids to sleep past 8 am.WHO WANTS TO SET AN ALARM WHEN YOU CAN JUST STAY UP LATE AND WATCH THE OLYMPICS?! I’m SURE not ready to face the fact that we’re about to start washing uniforms and enduring doing homework again.

If you’re like me and you’d rather sit poolside than in the carpool line, then let me share my guide for back-to-school when you just can’t even, because I.JUST.CAN’T.EVEN.

Now brace yourself, this may be my longest blog post ever, so if you’re more of a print it out and read it type person, here’s a downloadable PDF version: Back-To-School When You Just Can’t Even 

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Back-To-School When You Just Can’t Even

1. Logistically: 

Let’s be real. The main hurdle we are all trying to mentally jump is figuring out how to feed all the humans who want to eat all the things all the frigging time. Here are my best attempts at keeping everyone fed (and as always, I can’t recommend highly enough. I can literally drag and drop each of these meals onto the date we will have them, it spits out a grocery list and walah, meal planning done in no time flat.)

-Breakfast: I wrote about our favorite breakfast ideas last year and since then, the only thing we’ve added to our repetoire has been omelets for D who requires a high protein breakfast. Nothing  says “good morning” quite like a salami, red pepper, cheddar and black olive omelet, amiright?

-Lunch: Here are my favorite life hacks when it comes to packing peanut-free cold lunch boxes for littles…and they do not require a Ph.D in Pinterest.

  • Shishkabobs– Alternate deli meat, cheese, tomatoes, olives, etc on a shishkabob stick as the main dish and/or alternate strawberries, grapes and cheese for a snack.
  • Soup– Heat your favorite soup piping hot in a thermos that won’t leak and pack a spoon with some crackers, cheese, maybe a dab of sour cream or slices of avocado depending on the soup.
  • Pasta Salad- This recipe is a crowd-pleaser at my house and my kids devour it in their lunches.
  • Roll-ups- Take deli meat and slices of cheese, roll them up and seal with a toothpick.
  • Wraps- Fill wraps with chicken salad, deli meat, breakfast burrito or taco-type fillings.
  • Potatoes- Bake potatoes the night before or cook in the microwave the night before, cover with foil and wrap in a small towel or oven mit. Send to school with salsa, butter, sour cream, bacon bits, cheese or other topping in small containers.
  • Corn Dog Muffins– This recipe is a fun spin on corn dogs and our Walmart is now carrying nitrate/etc-free hot dog options! Just don’t forget to include ketchup or mustard based on your kids’ preferences.
  • Frozen Yogurt Tubes- What genius thought to freezer a tube of yogurt? Probably the same genius who thought of these incredible mason jar lunch ideas…
  • Not Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches- I’ve ordered a jar of Wow Butter for my religious peanut butter eater, we shall see if she can tell a difference…anyone else out there use it?

We use these reusable containers because they have a great ice pack that snaps on easily, fit inside my kids lunch boxes (which are awesome because they are huge, sturdy and easy to clean–unlike the ones I’ve bought from Walmart) and they don’t stain or smell gross even after 3 years of use. My friend Kristi wrote a great post about packing waste-free lunch boxes, turns out she uses the same Land’s End lunch boxes we do!

-Dinner: A few weeks ago I had a lightbulb moment when I realized that if I just started cooking double dinners and freezing one of the meals, then I could have at least 10-15 meals in the freezer by Fall.  I got so giddy about helping my future self that I just kept going. Pork butts, stuffed shells, crockpot taco bowls, soups, marinated chicken, steak and seasoned ground beef all ready to go! I even took all the old bananas that I’ve tossed in the freezer over the past few months and made big batches of Butterscotch Banana Bread and muffins to help make school mornings yummier and easier. I’m so excited about my freezer slowly filling up that I have to confess it as idolatry every time I open the door. I am actually not joking. Ask the poppyseed chicken casserole I just added to the second shelf of my freezer turned confessional. back-to-school when you just can't even

Two logistical side notes:

  1. The first year we lived here we were still mid-renovation on the annual meet-the-teacher/turn in your school supplies night so I payed a precious college girl $10 to pick up all my kids supplies when she was at Walmart getting groceries any way. She had a blast picking the stuff out and I could focus on thing on the homefront. I highly recommend delegating the things that someone else could do!
  2. Buying my kids alarm clocks and watches with timers was the best thing I could have done for all manners of timeliness. “You have 5 minutes left in the pool.” No whining, crying, fussing. Just boom. 5 minutes. They are climbing out.  “You can go to the neighbor’s house for 30 minutes.” Magically the child turns up on my doorstep at the right time. Buy the clocks! Wish I would’ve done it earlier!

How will you logistically make back-to-school work for you? I’d love to learn from you!

2. Physically:

This is the area I meet the most consistent resistance so I am trying to automate things and not allow myself the chance to make excuses in four areas of improved physical health. Even though it feels like I just can’t even, my goal is to move forward in the areas of exercising, sleep meal planning and, well, just listen to the podcast.

  1. The gym where I take classes 4 times/month (#budgetprobs) allows you to book workouts in advance so you’re guaranteed a treadmill and rowing machine. If you don’t show or cancel last minute, they charge you $8, so as you can guess, I will never miss a workout with this kind of accountability. DUH. Why have I not been “booking” workouts for the last ten pounds years? This works so well, I am making it my goal to take a class at that gym once, “book” a walk with a student/friend once, and do a 21 Day Fix video twice each week. Here’s to working exercise into the nooks and crannies!! The other day, my friend Amanda and I literally worked out with 4 children running, screaming and giggling around us and today, D had a long soccer practice so I jogged the field and got in a VERY sweaty workout! It takes a little creativity and lazy genius to make this work…but it’s cheaper than therapy! IMG_1929
  2. Most people have a wake-up alarm, but do you have a bedtime alarm? I have implemented one and it’s been really helpful in getting me to the bed. I wash my face, etc. when the kids do so I’m all but ready for bed. (Brushing my teeth wakes me up and randomly makes me super hungry for Raisin Nut Bran, so the closer to dinner I get that done the less likely I am to have a second supper.) Then I can enjoy a little downtime and adult conversation before I crawl in bed, read and pass out. I’m not lying or trying to sell anything, but on the nights I remember to apply essential oils to the bottoms of my feet I wake up so much more refreshed in the morning!
  3. I am also such a big fan of meal planning but lately I’ve been going to to the grocery store wayyy too much. I am trying to schedule meals for 2 weeks at a time instead of 1 to eliminate a few grocery store runs.
  4. Lastly, if you’ve been married for more than 6 months, listen to this podcast. The end.

Okay, so how are you pursuing physical health during the craziness of back-to-school?

3. Mentally:

This year I am homeschooling D part-time and working part-time so I knew the being in a weekly Bible study wouldn’t be an option for me, so I took the plunge and signed up for a mentally stimulating, soul-feeding online class called Overflow. I’ve loved popping in my earbuds to listen to the sessions and having an excuse to buy school supplies that don’t involve unicorns or super heroes.

Edie has taught us about the practice of Morning Pages and Bullet Journaling so far and I’ve got to tell you, between these practices and Emily Freeman’s audio meditations, I’m the most mentally refreshing I’ve been in quite a while.

In general, this year has been one of intake vs. output. I’ve read more books, listened to more podcasts and practiced more of a listening posture than one of production. It’s been uber restorative for my personality and temperament.

What mentally refreshes you? How will you make space for that this Fall?

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4. Spiritually: 

All summer I have struggled to consistently spend time with the Lord, so in that regard, I am actually looking forward to the rhythms and routines that back-to-school brings. I long to get into a better spiritual groove.

But since reading Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas, I’ve been encouraged that connecting with God doesn’t have to look the same for every personality or in every season of life. I have spent too much time wishing I still lived on Buffington Avenue as a sophomore in college where I could blare “Give Me One Pure and Holy Passion” (with a side of 50 Cent, don’t let me fool you) and spend hours reading my Bible.

Hopefully that season will return (with less explicit lyrics) as my kids grow, but it’s taken some serious soul-searching and wisdom seeking to figure out how to grow spiritually while at the same time raising small humans.

It looks like taking a prayer walk or bike ride around the neighborhood with or without the children. It’s fully engaging in our family devotions at the breakfast table. And sometimes that’s it.

Other days it’s the great read-thru-the-Bible option on the Redeemed Girls app and prayerfully brain-dumping in my journal during Morning Pages.

And then when I really want a soul treat, it’s enjoying 15 minutes of a FOCUSED15 Study by my friend, Katie Orr. Girlfriend KNOWS the struggle of having more desire to meet with God than time and she can help you make the most of your moments with the Lord. I am excited for the new PEACE study!

back-to-school when you just can't even

After reading Sacred Pathways and thinking through ways to automate the choices of how, when and where to spend time with the Lord when I feel like I just can’t even, I feel like He’s unearthed a lie that I was believing. The lie whispered condemnation over my spiritual life and said that connecting with God was just one more area of life I wasn’t tending faithfully and couldn’t fully nail the way I wanted to. Like if I wasn’t being faithful, then why bother?

But thank the Lord He is faithful even when we are faithless because He cannot deny Himself. So I can come to Him and fall apart vs. coming put together. And you can too.

What are some sustainable spiritual care practices you can put into place this Fall?

5. Socially:

Guys, I have discovered the opposite of FOMO (the fear of missing out) it is this fabulous state of mind called JOMO (JOYFULLY MISSING OUT, ya’ll!!!).

When we were in Orlando it was almost like a relational sabbatical. There was literally so much joy in pausing precious relationships, filling our tanks and being able to come back with greater love with which to invest.

Obviously not everyone gets assigned to live away from home for 5 weeks, but for me as I’m back in reality, it looks like taking screen-free Sabbaths where I socially disengage and enjoy missing out. It looks like initiating more quality connections than trying to run the social rat race.

There’s no fear in love because perfect love casts out fear. If my social life is undergirded with love then I can’t miss out.

back-to-school when you just can't even

Do you need more social engagement? Could you plan to have one family over each month? Do you need less socializing? Or different more meaningful connections? Plan for that. Is your social life undergirded by fear or love?

6. Emotionally: 

I am more of a do-er than a be-er so I can often rush past emotional health markers. i.e. not crying for months on end probably isn’t normal or emotionally healthy….

I forget that the first three weeks of a new school year will likely be tumultuous. Adjustments. Expectations. Adrenaline burning day and night. Everyone just needs a heaping dose of grace and some healthy emotional boundaries.

  1. I will reject the lie that my children’s performance determines my worth.
  2. When under pressure, I will not act deranged nor will I hiss at my children and give myself a sore throat.
  3. I will build margin and Sabbath rest into our schedule.
  4. I will breathe, smile and seek eye contact while I help us all verbally process our emotions through games like mad/glad/sad, etc. at dinner and during dates with each child.
  5. We will keep our foundation strong by prioritizing family nights and State of the Unions where Joel and I have space to ask each other these questions:

How did you feel loved this past week?

What does your upcoming week look like?

How would you feel most loved & encouraged in the days ahead?

How would you best feel pursued in sex/intimacy this week?

How can I pray for you this week?

How will you seek emotional health this Fall?

My mentor, Aimee wrote an excellent piece on creating a place of respite for yourself during back-to-school craziness. 


Logistically, physically, mentally, spiritually, socially, and emotionally…because even when we feel like we just can’t even…He can because He is sweet, tender and sovereign.

We can fall apart and know He fully loves and receives our mess and I am so glad.

Aren’t you?