summer 2017 bookshelf.


Happy August, my friends!

How are you doing?

Thanks for your patience with me and the blog. How is it already August and I haven’t written you a summer book post? Sigh.

The good news is that even if I haven’t been writing about books, I’ve been reading them! So I have quite a few to share with you today. I hope there’s something in here for everyone. There are others I read but haven’t included in this post because I value your time (you can find me on Goodreads for a complete list). These are some of my favorites. As always, I invite your book recommendations!

First I need to thank my friend Hannah: last week she sent a group email to some friends asking for book suggestions. The first friend “replied all” with her ideas, and others of us followed suit. So fun! I don’t know her friends but came away with some great ideas for fall reads. You should try the same thing sometime. Thank you, Hannah!

And now, here we go:

Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens

You may or may not remember that I received a lovely hardcover edition of Little Dorrit for my birthday. I’ve read most of Dickens’ works; he’s my very favorite classic author. There are a few of his novels that I return to again and again, and every time I discover new treasures.

Little Dorrit took some commitment to get through. It is 826 pages long and the plot moves quite slowly. It’s not my favorite of his books, but was well worth my time. I just love that Amy Dorrit. And Arthur Clennam is pretty great too. If you’re looking for a Dickens novel to start with, try Great Expectations. But if you’re willing to make a bigger commitment, length-wise, then read David Copperfield. I know you’re tired of me talking about Charles Dickens so I’ll stop. Bleak House is my absolute favorite.


The Song Poet: A Memoir of My Father

If you read the blog Modern Mrs. Darcy, you’ll probably notice that several titles in this post come from her recommendations. This is a quiet, beautiful, terribly sad memoir of a family who survived the Hmong genocide in Laos and immigrated to the U.S. I wish I could say that it has a happy ending. In some ways it does, but in others I felt more deeply disturbed than ever. Life for many, many immigrants to our country is not like ours. They work long hours in factory jobs and still hardly make ends meet. They’re often the victims of racial and economic prejudice. I honestly don’t know the solution except to try and befriend immigrants whenever I can. Please read this important book.


Own Your Life: How to Grow a Legacy of Faith, Love, and Spiritual Influence, Sally Clarkson

This is my favorite Sally Clarkson book; maybe it just came at the right time. It spoke to several issues I was struggling with in life and gave me clarity. This book will challenge and encourage your faith. It will give you a warm, firm nudge along the path of living a life of purpose.


The Wingfeather Saga, Andrew Peterson

My mom and brother Danny have been begging me to read this series for years. I can’t tell you how many times I tried On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and just couldn’t get into it (sorry, you two). Well sometimes it takes your kid to give you the nudge you need. I finally promised Judah to read one of his favorite series ever, and to take him on a date to Barnes and Noble afterward to talk about it.

If you’ve struggled to really enjoy this series, I urge you to press on! I’m really not a fantasy person, so I thought the first book was just okay. About halfway through the second book I started to see where the plot was going, and from then on I was hooked. By book four, The Warden and the Wolf King, I was blown away by the depth of character, the wisdom, and creativity in these stories.

Andrew Peterson has long been one of my favorite musicians, but I discovered this year that he’s an extremely gifted writer. What made reading these books even more fun is that in the midst of them I got to see him speak in Greenville about his writing process. I’m adding the Wingfeather Saga to my all-time favorite series list.


Love Walked In, Maria de los Santos

Okay a break from the heavy stuff. Maria de los Santos is a lovely writer. I also enjoyed Falling Together, and will be picking up her YA novel Saving Lucas Biggs next. Her books are light with characters you cheer for and satisfying endings. Aren’t we all grateful for books like that? Perfect for your beach vacation.


Jane of Austin, Hillary Manton Lodge

While we’re on the subject of light books, Jane in Austin is a very cute modern day adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Predictable and a little forced sometimes, but I still enjoyed it.


That Distant Land, Port William books, Wendell Berry

This summer I re-read almost every single one of Wendell Berry’s Port William novels. His stories are profound, wise, and thought-provoking. Truly, if I wrote fiction, I’d most want to read like Wendell Berry. He has a definite agenda in his writing, but it doesn’t detract from the characters he builds around the fictional town of Port William. They’re the kind of people I miss when I stop reading about them. I read That Distant Land for the first time, and bought a few more used because our library doesn’t carry them: Remembering, Andy Catlett, and A World Lost. Judah looked at our bookshelf and said, “Mom. How many Wendell Berry books do you really need?” Lots and lots, Judah. Lots and lots.

These novels aren’t part of a series. Any one of them can stand alone, and you can read them in any order. Start with Hannah Coulter if you like. Or Jayber Crow. Those are the two most beloved. This is a series I return to again and again.


Lucky Boy

I’m still kind of reeling from this b0ok, which I literally could not put down. Household chores definitely slipped while I devoured it, and I’d sure like someone to discuss it with because I’m still processing. In a nutshell, it’s the story of an illegal immigrant to the U.S. from Mexico, and what happens to her and the child she gives birth to in America. I’ll give a caveat: this book has some hard subject matter. It was painful to read. But I absolutely loved the compassionate way the author tackled some enormous issues like immigration, infertility, foster-care and adoption. It’s one that’ll stay with you.


Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him, Sally Clarkson

Another non-fiction title from Sally Clarkson, this time with her son Nathan. I’m so grateful for this book. As a teenager, Nathan was diagnosed with a wide array of disorders, the most pronounced being Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The author and her son write honestly about their life together with his unique challenges. It was — and still is — hard and messy. But this is a book of hope and victory and God’s presence in the midst of ongoing suffering. I highly recommend it if you have an “outside-the-box” kid, or even if you don’t. Chances are you know a family like the Clarksons, and this book will help you understand and love them better.


The Story Hour, Thrity Umrigar

A story about the two most unlikely of friends: an Indian woman in a desperate state of depression, and her therapist. Sometimes I struggle with stories written from more than one point of view; it’s hard to pull them off well in my opinion. But Umrigar manages it beautifully. You feel hurt, anger, hope, and gladness for both of these women.


The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Lisa See

This is one of my favorites from today’s list. I just really, really enjoyed this story. Thanks to my friend Tressa for the recommendation; she told me, “I know you’ll love it,” and she was right! Isn’t it nice to have book-friends who know you well?

You’ll see a definite theme in my summer reading of immigrant stories, many of which I found on this list. They’ve given me so much to think about lately. And some very intense dreams (David said, “Whoa, you may need to lighten up your book choices for a bit”).

But mostly I see how very much there is to feel grateful for. I don’t like the entitled mentality I slip into far too easily: thinking I somehow deserve for my life to be easy and smooth. Instead of complaining about things that just don’t matter, I want to open my eyes and find people around me — people who are can be “invisible” — for whom life is not easy and smooth. I want to do something small to make them un-invisible. To make them feel welcome here. Reading books won’t change the world. But it can be an awakening.



orlando trip.


One of my mom’s great-aunts passed away recently, and she wanted to go to Florida for the memorial service. The kids and I jumped at the chance to take a road trip and see our family, so my mom took a couple more days off work to help turn it into a little vacation.


We spent the first two nights in a little guest condo at Good Samaritan Retirement Village, in Kissimmee, which is where we attended my Grandma’s memorial service last year. A retirement village full of golf carts and double-wide mobile homes and a sprawling nursing home may seem like a strange spot for a vacation, but both sets of my grandparents logged years living there, and the place is brimming with memories.

I miss all four of them so much, and it feels like one small way I can share them with my children, who never had the privilege of knowing their great-grandparents well. We rented a golf cart for the two days, which the kids loved, and I showed them once again the different places my grandparents and their siblings lived, the bedroom I slept in when visiting my mom’s parents as a kid. We told them stories that they’ve heard lots of times.

Life slows down traveling around in a golf cart and we loved moss-hung trees and the cranes and ducks and turtles, the tropical flowers so bright they almost hurt your eyes. Even the daily rolling summer thunder storms felt cozy.


I sat through the memorial service for a great-aunt that I did not know well, but who’s part of my big family. I was reminded that God’s faithfulness to me has extended generations before I was born. It’s a gift that my four children are swept up into that story, and I felt my heart welling up with gratitude for the love that is all around us.

We ate lunch with my mom’s sister and her husband who drove up from Tampa for the service, and enjoyed catching up with them.


On Friday we drove to meet family at Disney Springs. It’s an outdoor shopping center that’s part of Disney but doesn’t charge admission. We packed a lunch to eat in the parking garage, and spent several hours roaming around. There are so many fun things for kids to do . . . if you’re in Orlando, I highly recommend it.

Our kids haven’t been to Disney World and we have no plans to take them any time soon (we’re currently saving our money for a trip to the Grand Canyon). The only time this bothers them is when they hear of friends going, but for the most part they don’t seem to mind. They loved the huge Lego store at Disney Springs, the Disney Store, free samples at Ghirardelli Chocolate.





There’s also a couple of splash pads and a Dino Dig.




We planned to buy ice cream there, but when a huge rainstorm hit, we opted to head for our cars and find a less expensive ice cream place in Orlando. I love how we’re all on the same page with saving money!


We spent the next two nights in Orlando. The three youngest kids and I stayed at my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Valerie’s house, and Judah spent one night with his cousins, Tristan and Gavin, and one night with my mom at my Uncle Ken and Aunt Susan’s house a few miles away.

David told me later, “One thing I love about your family is that when anyone comes to town, they drop everything and are ready to celebrate!”



It’s true. They always make us feel special. We all gathered for burgers at Uncle Ralph’s the first night, and taco’s at Uncle Ken’s the second night.


Judah said, “Mom, I love when we have memorial services and weddings because it’s so much fun getting to see our family.”

My whole big extended family isn’t perfect and would never ever claim to be, but they are a gift. It makes my heart happy to see my children recognize that gift and get to know their second-cousins and great-aunts and uncles.


They did lots of swimming in Uncle Ralph’s pool and Zach and Allison’s neighborhood pool. They played Settlers of Catan and Mexican Train and caught lizards. They adored Uncle Ralph and Aunt Valerie’s golden retrievers, Sam and Sophie, and fed turtles in the pond.

I chatted with my aunts and uncles and cousins and drank lots of decaf coffee. When we got home I was definitely in need of introvert time, but it was well worth it!



Thanks to my Mom for making the trek with a van full of kiddos and helping me make it a really fun week. We brought a small bin of toys and books, but also stocked up twice at the Dollar store, for sticker books and coloring books and marbles (marbles=endless entertainment for little boys).

On a long trip David and I let the kids watch one movie, usually something we find at Redbox, and then we have them play or read books, and we listen to lots of music. On this trip we listened to all of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz on audiobook, which was a delight. Amelie said, “Mom! This is my new favorite story!” Anne Hathaway narrated and was incredible.

We packed grocery store snacks and fruit, and stopped for treats at Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts.

And my sweet husband hired our former house-cleaner to deep clean our house while I was gone (which I still hadn’t gotten around to doing after the addition). It was lovely to walk into a clean house at the end of it all.

I’m a person who has always loved travel, but I spent a long two years after adopting the boys where travel of any kind felt sort of like torture. It’s very fun to begin to discover that part of myself once again — where a road trip feels like an adventure.



interview with judah: summer camp.


Tell me about your camp. What kind of camp was it?

A Christian camp

How many boys were in your cabin? How many counselors did you have?

Ten boys and two counselors

What major did you choose for the week?

Outdoor survival

What’s one thing you learned about outdoor survival?

That clay can be used as a bug spray


What other activities did you get to try?

Archery, climbing, GaGa ball, zipline, jump on the Blob, kayaking, water games in the lake

What did you do during chapel?

Talk about Jesus being the Vine


What did you do to celebrate 4th of July?

Big fireworks on lake

What’s something that surprised you about camp?

That everyone was so nice


Did you get homesick?


What was the hardest thing about your week?

The showers weren’t very clean

What was your favorite part of your day?

I liked it all

Do you want to go back next year?



Was the lasagna as good as your mom’s?

Not quite as good

What would you say to someone who’s thinking about going next year?

It’s very fun and there’s nothing to worry about

Is there anything else you want to tell us about?

Not too much, I would if I felt better


And there you have it, folks! Poor Judah has been sick ever since he got home Saturday and wasn’t quiet up to this interview. We’re headed to the doctor this afternoon to see if he has strep throat. He still insists, “It was worth it!’

I felt like he came home about a year older and a foot taller. He is just growing up so much.

The senior counselor pulled David aside Saturday when he picked Judah up and said, “I want to tell you what an amazing kid you have. He was so nice to everybody and so respectful. We love Judah!”

Thanks to Bethel Christian Camp for an awesome first camp experience!!!

good-bye goose and penny.


Before we left for our beach vacation, it was time to say good-bye to two of our girls. All along we planned for six hens; David built a coop and a run for six hens. But then when they all lived and all turned out to be females, our emotions got in the way and we wanted to keep them.

But the chickens started getting aggressive towards each other and David wondered if they were feeling overcrowded. So we decided to give away the two who were getting picked on by the others. Sadly, that meant they were also our sweetest-natured girls: Goose and Penny. But that’s the way life works sometimes.


Amie cried and cried when we told her. She was heart-broken. But a family in our neighborhood was happy to give them a home. They have one chicken and seven children, and so there are lots of helping hands to take care of them. Amie was comforted to know the new owners are our friends and she can go visit the girls when she wants. Their new owners even told her, “We want to keep their names!”

Really, it was a perfect scenario.

We read that moving chickens in the evening is less traumatic because they can go right to bed in their new coop, so Goose and Penny’s new “dad” came over for them with two cat crates and a wagon. Judah and Amie walked over to see them settled into their home.

And I had a very sad girl on my hands that night. She cried and I made chamomile tea and we cuddled in bed and read her current chapter book together until she dozed off.


The next day we left for the beach, which was a great distraction. By the time we got home, Goose and Penny were happily settled and laying eggs for their new family, and Amie felt much better.

And our remaining six chickens seem happier too. A friend told us they may all calm down a bit after they start laying, and it’s true. I’m so happy that Gabe and Noah can now catch them. While we were away Mum-Mum introduced them to their new favorite treat: dried worms. Now they’re hooked. If we shake the bag; they come running.

If only the girls would quiet down a bit, I’d be relieved. They’ve gotten noisy and I’m always worried about what the neighbors think. They are very opinionated and do not like to be kept waiting for breakfast in the morning, or to see us walk out into the yard without opening their coop so they can range free. Turns out we’re kind of push-overs, so for the most part, they range free.

We’re pretty sure they’re all laying now and we get an average of 4 eggs a day, sometimes more. Yes, the eggs taste delicious. If you can believe it, we actually can keep up with eating all they’re producing, although we also want to share.

Amie, Gabe, and Noah make me laugh with how much they adore playing with the chickens. All three of them have gotten pecked in their actual eyeball, have cried about it, and go on cuddling them as much as ever.

We miss you, Goose and Penny!


judah goes to camp.


Yesterday evening we dropped Judah off for 6 nights at Bethel Christian Camp in Gaston, about 30 minutes away from Columbia. It’s a camp we’ve known and loved for a long time. We’ve met the director, and have seen lots of friends attend over the years.

I can’t imagine a better first camp experience for our boy; still I can hardly believe he’s gone.

He’ll turn 10 in September, which is the age I was when I started going to camp, but it still feels young somehow. I was delighted that we were allowed to settle him into his cabin and see the bunk he chose and meet his senior counselor. He was so excited. I reigned in my emotions and put my big girls pants on and said good-bye with a clear voice and a big smile.

The five of us made a forlorn trek back to our van, and cheered ourselves up with a stop at Pelican’s Snowcones before we headed home.

We gave Amelie the option to go to camp this week too, but she said, “No way! I’ll miss you too much!”

She regretted her choice when we dropped Judah and she got swept up in the excitement of chattering kids and rustic cabins and the lake. Still, she’s not even 8 yet, and I’m not sorry she decided to wait. Next year will be soon enough.

And so this week we find ourselves one kid short. It’s the quietest kid we’re missing, yet still the house feels a little bereft today.

I know I’m being sentimental, but to me this feels like the first big milestone of my kids growing up. Bit by bit they’re gaining independence, making memories apart from us.

I felt sad in the months leading up to this week, but even though I miss my boy like crazy, I suddenly find myself so very happy for him. This week away at camp is good and right; such a fun, valuable part of childhood. I love that he’s living his own story. It’s a gift to be a big part of that story, but I’m okay with letting go a little. I love the boy he’s becoming.

We get to send Judah emails throughout the week which are printed and given to him at lunch time. Here’s Noah’s message from today:

Dear Judah,

I can play Hobbit with you and play special toys with you. And I can play with the big Lego set too, and I can do Hobbit Hole reading with you. And I miss you really and I like you to sleep there because you had a good, good night. Obey your teacher and your class. Let’s sit in the chair together and read a book.

Love Noah


saturday gratitude.


1. a morning at the Farmer’s Market and grocery shopping, all by myself!

2. a chance to talk to interesting people without interruptions from my people

3. the transformation of downtown Columbia over the last 5 years that we’ve been back (how has it been 5 years?)

4. Amie’s bedroom is finished! And she is so happy.

5. we are so, so close to being done with our house project … just a few more items left

6. when I clean the blanket of construction dust from our floors and furniture and books, I remember how easy I have it compared to my friends living in India

7. finding peace with my lack of a summer schedule

8. a family beach day at Isle of Palms last week


9. my friend Kelly rescued me from my frazzled state by giving me a simple plan for our kids and chores

10. an afternoon tea date with my dad

11. my kids listening to audio books (currently playing on Audible: Misty of Chincoteague, The Silver Chair, Ramona Quimby, Age 8, Poppy)

12. learning to say “I’m sorry” more often

13. I’ve begun to keep an actual list in my bullet journal of “Things my kids are doing right.” It’s embarrassing to have to make such a list, but it really transforms the way I see them

14. I can learn to be patient with myself and my sin

15. training myself to say, “This is a great day,” no matter what is happening and how I feel

16. friends who stop me to ask, “How is your anxiety doing with the crowds at church this summer?”

17. kitchen helpers


18. feeling the energy to begin planning next school year

19. slow Sunday afternoons at the pool with Kenny and Shari and the boys

20. we leave tomorrow for New Smyrna Beach!

21. a chance to spend time with friends we see just once a year

22. listening to Gabe and Noah tell the things they’re looking forward to about vacation. They’ve found their place in our family traditions, and I see their faces light up with the joy of it.

23. people who give very specific encouragement, saying “I see this growth in you” or “I see this growth in your kids.” Wanting to do the same for others

24. friends who love the same books I do

25. friends who love absolutely different books that I do, hearing why they enjoy what they do

26. kids who are best buddies


dinner ideas.


Let’s talk about food!

I’m having lots of fun with it right now due to the challenge of eating seasonal produce from our garden and the CSA we joined. Right now my recipes reflect that and I plan our dinners around what’s harvested that week. I think I’ll share a few of our current meals throughout the summer, because it’s fun!

In the meantime, I thought I’d give you some tried and true ideas and recipes that we always come back to. I know I’ve mentioned many of them here and there on the blog, so I hope this isn’t too repetitive. I guess the good news is that means we’ve found a system that works!

Here are a few thoughts:

1. I’m a huge plan of meal-planning for the week, and I mean huge. Life is just less stressful when you know what’s for dinner. I like to think that knowing the plan and having the ingredients is what allows cooking to be fun.

I keep a running grocery list all week in my bullet journal (and we have a white-board on the fridge where family members can jot items we need), and around Thursday afternoon I tear my “grocery” flap from my bullet journal and attach it to the fridge with a magnet. I like having it in front of my eyes for a day or so to add last-minute things and transfer items from the white board, and begin to work on my meal plan.

My bullet journal is also helpful because I have a weekly meal plan list that I can add ideas to. So rarely do I start from scratch on Friday mornings. But either way, Friday morning is my time to firm up the meal plan for the next 7 days. Then the kids and I grocery shop Friday afternoon. I love having the house stocked with food before the weekend.

2. If you’re struggling to come up with your own dinner plan, I’d first sit down and do some brain-storming on paper.

What are your favorite family recipes?

What are you continuing to prepare but your family just doesn’t like?

Where do you feel stuck in a rut?

Then think of your dinners on a sort of two-week rotation. So if spaghetti is a hit, plan to have it once every two weeks. In our family we love a big pan of lasagna, but it’s pricey and labor-intensive — and let’s face it, not that great for you! — so I told the family I’ll make it once a month. I have that in a list that I can plug in.

The slow-cooker is your friend! I use it every single week in the winter for soup, and in the summer I use it for chicken or beef for tacos, and spaghetti sauce.

Now that you have some ideas, try grouping them into themed nights. Kids really get into the themes. I know I’ve mentioned this before on the blog, but in case you missed it . . .

How about this:

Monday: Pasta (in the summer), Soup (in the winter) . . . This means spaghetti would be a great fit here. Or you could try a Meatless Monday theme.

Tuesday: Taco Tuesday! or any sort of Mexican-themed food

Wednesday: Leftovers (we call it Waste-not Wednesday to be funny)

Thursday: For me this is either Indian food, which I try to make every two weeks, or a night to try a new recipe

Friday: Grill or homemade pizza (or even English muffin pizzas to keep it simple)

Saturday: we eat burgers with David’s folks

Sunday: Breakfast for dinner (muffins and eggs, fritatta, waffles, pancakes, etc)

3. I don’t typically plan an eating out night into the schedule. I’d rather have too many dinner ideas than too few and one can always roll over into next week if plans change.

We don’t eat out for dinner often because it’s expensive as a family of 6 and often it feels like more trouble than it’s worth with young children. I’d way rather spend money in our Eating Out budget on breakfast at the Soda City farmer’s market, which we do once a month or so. However we do enjoy meeting friends for dinner from time to time, and sometimes will order pizza.

4. After you’ve done a little brain-storming, copy your themes into your planner or calendar to help you when you sit down and plan dinners for the week. Now half your work is finished!

Every so often (usually when making dinner starts to feel stressful again), I look at my overall themes and then ask, “Where do I feel stuck in a rut?”

For me right now it’s Indian food. I have chicken curry and dal down pat (we make both with chapatti), but there are so many other delicious recipes I should be rotating in. So in my to-do list for this month I wrote, “Choose one new Indian recipe from our Aarti Paarti cookbook.”

5. Google and Pinterest help with new meal ideas too, but be sparing here. I’ve learned to stick with pinning simple recipes that I know I’ll actually make and my family might actually eat, and just search for a couple of new recipes at a time. My most trusted website for recipes is Simply Recipes.

Truly you can lose hours on pinning gorgeous food photos and come away without one single practical thing to show for it (says the person who has done that more times than I care to admit). If you rely on Pinterest for meal planning, it helps to regularly go in and purge/edit your categories of things you’ve never used or made.

If you’re struggling with dinners, try not to reinvent the wheel all at once. Ease into some new recipes — definitely don’t try more than one a week if you work lots of hours or have young children. You’re more likely to stick with a new habit if you take it slow.


6. My plan for new recipes is to bookmark the recipe I want to try, cook or bake it once, and then if it’s a keeper, print it out in black and white and stick it in my recipe 3-ring binder. I learned the hard way not to print a recipe until I test it out on my family! I add any notes/adjustments I made to help me out next time.

Using a recipe notebook rather than an iPad or computer means I’m not accidentally spraying my screen with lemon juice while cooking or being tempted to surf David’s Facebook page when I should be chopping onions (I mean, who’s ever tempted to do that!?).

I have cookbooks that I enjoy using too and I unapologetically dog-ear my favorite pages for easy reference.

7. My rule of thumb with cookbooks is to always check them out of the library first. If there are 5+ recipes I want to make, then I’ll buy it. This month I bought 100 Days of Real Food: Fast and Fabulous. There are so many recipes I’m excited to try, and I love that the author includes real food shopping lists from some of the top grocery stores.


8. Okay, food and kids.

I’ll keep this brief. Our kids have to eat what we serve them. Period. They aren’t allowed to complain about dinner, and they get a consequence if they do. They must say “please” and “thank you” and show gratitude for the person who prepared their food.

However, they don’t have to like it. We want them to be able to have their own opinions. They may not say any of the following, “Eew,” “Yuck,” “This is gross.”

They may say, “This isn’t my favorite” or “I don’t prefer this.” But not immediately when they sit down to eat or when they hear of tonight’s dinner. First they have to say “thank you.”

I used to really take it personally when they didn’t like my cooking, but I’ve learned to develop a thicker skin. Now I tell them, “You know what? I know which meals you love and which you don’t. I know most of you dislike brussels sprouts. But there are some foods we eat as a family that are fun and some we eat just because they make us healthy and strong. As your mom, it’s my job to help you grow healthy and strong and try new things.”

We have lots of treats as a family. I regularly make cookies and muffins and banana bread. They get a bowl of cereal with their green smoothie most days for breakfast. They get peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch often. So I don’t mind making them eat healthy dinners.

I also read somewhere that it can take kids 10-15 tries of a new food before they begin to like it, so David and I don’t apologize about asking them to keep eating a small helping of something they don’t prefer.


9. Having said that, I really work hard to make food my family likes. As a recovering picky eater myself, I really do try to be compassionate, especially toward the kids who have texture issues. I still struggle with that.

David and the kids are allowed to tell me when there’s a recipe they just plain don’t prefer to ever eat again, and I delete it from my running idea list. This Tamale Pie was a recent one I just stopped making because no-one liked it but me. We do tacos or taco salad of some sort almost weekly because they are a fave.

10. So to sum it up, my last tip is to work to find a balance between challenging the people in your house to embrace new (especially healthy) foods, but also to compromise when it comes to personal preferences. For example, I truly think I could be a vegetarian. Meat just isn’t important to me. However, my family does not feel the same way.

So we just aren’t going to be vegetarian in this household. I fought that battle for awhile and realized it was silly — and only caused me more stress. We experiment with meatless meals often, for our health and our budget and the environment, but we plan to go on eating meat around here.

After watching way too many documentaries and reading way too many cookbooks, David and I finally settled on saying we don’t want our eating habits to have any label. I eat mostly gluten free, and we try to always move in the direction of adding fruits and vegetables and cutting out processed food. But for our family labels feel restrictive and that stresses us out. Barring any allergies or healthy issues, we aren’t going to be all of any one thing.


And now, a few dinner ideas:

Here’s our favorite lasagna recipe. Just like my momma taught me, I sub cottage cheese for the ricotta, and pre-cooked pasta for the uncooked.

We love slow-cooker chicken or barbacoa beef tacos. I use the Against All Grain recipe from my cookbook for chicken (photo at the top of this post), but there are plenty online. You can also serve either over rice with lots of toppings or as a taco salad. If you have the foresight to whip up this Cilantro Lime sauce to serve with it, your family will love you forever (I tone down the spice in it).

Quesadillas with sauteed veggies or leftover grilled chicken are a great idea for Mexican night

I know summer isn’t the best time for soup, but this White Chicken Chili is probably our all-time favorite soup.

It’s summer, so you should add Bruschetta to your regular rotation (it’s meatless, so less expensive!). Trader Joe’s ciabatta loaf is my favorite for bruschetta (but any heavy, crusty bread will do) and make sure to buy the real mozzarella that comes in a ball.

Speaking of summer, how about BLT’s? My kids adore bacon and mayonnaise enough that they’ll suffer through the lettuce and tomato part.

The grill is your friend. We brine our chicken first if we’re grilling, and always make a double batch so we can use it to top salads, serve the kids for lunch, or make quesadillas.

Pesto pasta is a hit with everyone in my family but one. Actually here’s a rule of life: even if you make something absolutely amazing, there will be one person in your house who hates it.

As for sides, unless it’s a one-pot meal, we always have at least one veggie. Summer is perfect for corn on the cob. Lately I’ve done a lot of chopping and roasting with herbs: white potatoes, sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, zucchini. Google the veggie you plan to roast for instructions, but it’s super easy (especially if you spread parchment paper on the cookie sheet first).

If you want to make more use of your slow cooker, how about this roast chicken? You can also roast a pan of veggies, buy a loaf of crusty bread, and voila!

Alright friends, there you have it!

Hey, I know making dinner is hard. Shopping on a budget is hard. Keeping your family healthy and at least somewhat interested in the food you make is hard. It really helps me to look at it as a fun challenge (How can I get Judah to eat more veggies? Answer: zucchini bread!), but there have been seasons when it’s been a dreaded chore.

And if nothing I’ve said helps, do you know what my solution to all your cooking woes is?

That’s right! A book!

If you need a little jump start of fun inspiration, my go-to book is Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosenstrach. She’s so down to earth and fun and the photos are pretty. Check it out from your local library, or just buy it. I first read it years ago and still use her recipes.

Happy cooking!

here’s to a great summer.


Here are three ways I’m embracing our summer so far:

1. These thoughtful words have given me permission to feel peace and joy, rather than guilt for what I didn’t do last school year (this applies to you too, even if you don’t homeschool!).

When the school year comes to a close it’s important to let go and move on to the business of truly enjoying summer. Don’t allow yourself to dwell on the areas where you or your children fell short, which could turn into a swarm of negative and worrisome thoughts.

While honest reflection is helpful, too much in the wrong direction becomes never ending and will rob us from the joy of a job well done. You showed up each day, you put thought and effort into your parenting and teaching, you consider each child and what they need, you are nurturing their minds, hearts, and spirits for hours a day. This is the truth: in spite of all the improvements you could make, you still did a great job.

If we focus continually on where we are falling short it will become harder and harder to see the good.

For me . . . that means that no matter what our year looked like or what we may not have accomplished; In faith, I will choose to celebrate it, to be thankful for it, and to be finished with it.

– Toni Weber, Wild + Free


2. I loved reading this free Simpler Summer Guide, by Melissa Camera Wilkins, and saved it to my desktop so I can review it in a month. Melissa’s wisdom caused me to immediately change some aspects of our plans, to deliberately decide not to work to provide endless entertainment for my kids at the expense of my own peace.

Isn’t it crazy how much pressure we put on ourselves!? And how exhausted that makes us?


3. I’m vacationing from social media. It somehow always adds to the daily angst that I’m not doing enough or being enough or looking great enough. If Pinterest counts as social media, then I’m taking a break from that too, and design blogs. Our house is fine, just the way it is.

Now I want to relax and enjoy it and enjoy the people in it.

What are you doing to embrace summer?

a review of my first bullet journal.


Friday morning David took the kids on some errands and I spent a happy (quiet!) hour at the dining table starting my new bullet journal.

I did it! I finished my first bullet journal in its entirety!

I didn’t lose steam and shelve the thing halfway through the year as I’ve done with so many day-planners. I got my money’s worth!

Sorry. I read somewhere that exclamation points should be used very sparingly by blog-writers, and clearly I’ve broken that rule.

But I’m just really excited report that this system works for me

The bullet journal I use has 249 pages, and I used it for 7 months. I know, that’s pretty quick. My mother-in-law expects hers to last for an entire year, and David, who has the smallest handwriting on the face of the earth (says the person who painstakingly read his love letters in college), thinks his bullet journal will last 18 months.

All three of us use the same brand, which you can find here on Amazon, or, for a little more fun, here at Modern Mrs. Darcy.

We like it because the pages are already numbered and the dotted graph paper is great for ruling your monthly calendar. I also like the customizable label stickers.

I purchased my newest bullet journal from Modern Mrs. Darcy, because I love her blog and podcast so much, I want to support her work.


I posted about beginning to bullet journal back in January, so I’ll try not to repeat myself. All of the things I loved about it back then are true today. This post will be full of boring photos, but it’s the only way I know to show you what works for me.

Here’s a couple of new things I learned as I finished up my first notebook:

1. I don’t really track books I read in my bullet journal.

Does that surprise you? It does me. I tried a few different times, but I just don’t keep up with it.

I use the Goodreads website very faithfully now to track what I read, and it works great for me. Typically if I’m out and about and see a book I’d like to try, I’ll snap a photo of it with my phone. Every so often someone will mention a book in conversation and then I’ll jot it down there.


2. I enjoy the process of migrating tasks and setting up my monthly spread.

It takes a little more time than a ready-made planner, but it keeps my to-do list before me and let’s me purge things that have been finished or canceled. At the end of each month, I’ll pick a few quiet moments and sit at the dining table with a cup of hot tea and a ruler. I find it very soothing to draw up a new monthly spread and add events and tasks. Truly this takes no more than 30 minutes (well, unless you have a half dozen distractions).

I do not draw a cute little “migrate” arrow next to unfinished tasks unless I’ve literally re-written it for the next day. The act of writing it again helps me decide how important this task is, and whether it deserves a little star for “priority.”

Ok here’s a quick run down of my signifiers:

A triangle is an event; when the event is over I color in the arrow (yes, apparently dinner is an event in our house; I write what’s for dinner first thing under the date because my whole day feels smoother that way)

A dot is a task; I “x” through the dot when the task is completed

Side arrows mean “migrate” (as in, move the task to the following day or week)

Hearts are for fun memories

Stars are priority tasks

Pretty simple, right? You can really use whatever symbols you want.

3. Speaking of which, I like my bullet journal simple.

At the beginning I pinned so many adorable page spreads to a Pinterest board. I love people who doodle and turn even their to-do list into a work of art. I tried, I really did, but I am not one of those people. And I’m at peace with that. I started out checking the weather each morning and writing it in next do the date, but dropped that habit months ago.

As you can see from the photos, my pages are very plain-Jane. The plainer, the more likely I am to keep up with them. It’s just what works for me.

The genius is in the lists.

The genius is also in keeping my bullet journal close at hand (laying open on a bookcase at home during the day, in my bag when I go out), so that anything that pops into my head can be written down.

Years ago, a counselor actually recommended this habit of keeping a notebook with me (even at my bedside) since I struggle with anxiety. Little did she know that the bullet journal craze was about to sweep the nation!


4. I still love planning out my week by folding in a center page.

At the top is the dinner schedule, then underneath I began writing a “To do this week” list, which works well. I also write out a daily list, but I like picking and choosing from my weekly list. I found that it keeps me from feeling overwhelmed by tasks and needing to migrating unfinished tasks as often.

As you can see from the photo above, the back half of that center page was my grocery list, which I simply tear out with a straight edge and take the the store. I love this system.

Here’s a novel idea: when you’re waiting in line or have a few free minutes, instead of pulling out your phone, pull out your bullet journal! In this way I often have a head start on the grocery list and next week’s dinner ideas, which eases stress.

5. I don’t do homeschool scheduling or planning in my bullet journal.

This is something else I really tried. I looked up several blog posts and tried to copy other people’s systems, but it didn’t work. It felt too jumbled.

Now, I do keep running homeschool To-do list there, and will jot down ideas that pop into my head. But when it comes to actually planning out our days or record-keeping, I do those separately. I like a larger sheet of paper for homeschool brain-storming (like 8.5 x 11). Plus, as a friend commented, “I’m not sure I want our homeschool curriculum plans that entwined with my daily life.” I wholly agree.

6. I use very few running lists; I find that I didn’t really keep up with them.

Rather, I focus on my monthly and daily lists and when I write down important information (such as swim meet details), I add the page number that information occurs on to my Index in the front for easy reference. If I created an entire separate page for “Swim meets” it would probably mostly go to waste, especially since each meet information is quite different.

And there’s something very organic and “full of life” about scribbling sermon notes and book quotes and recipes under that day’s date. It makes the book more fun to read back over.

Does that make sense?


I guess something would warrant its own separate page if you have lots of information right from the get-go.

Want to know the few lists I did start in my brand new bullet journal?

– Friends we want to hang out/have over with this summer

– Things I need to do to be ready to start our new school year

– Blog post ideas

– And after all I just said, I simply couldn’t resist creating a new Book Recommendations list. It’s just nice to have.


7. Finally, I extended my Future Log to 12 months over 4 pages.

In my first bullet journal it was 6 months, and when I learned of a date beyond, like a dentist appointment, I was always crunching it into the corner. I do not stress about writing events in order in my Future Log, it’s more like a scratch box to add anything that will happen in that month. It’s always a bit messy. I’ll make it look all nice and organized when I sit with my monthly spread.


And that’s that!

It’s not a perfect system, of course. I still forget things.

But it’s the best system I’ve found for reducing how much I forget, for feeling organized, and for clearing the clutter from my head. I love knowing that pages aren’t going to waste.

I love the way it tracks our life.

David laughs because a couple of disputes as to when events occurred were solved by consulting my bullet journal. He says, “The bullet journal never lies.”

All of last December’s Christmas plans and activities and our baby chicks and our whole house addition process are encapsulated in my first now-battered notebook. It’s gratifying to skim back through and remember what we did and see how much we’ve accomplished.