What I See

Favorite Things Friday

Happy Fri-yay! After such a heavy week in our world, I had to ask myself whether I believe it’s out of line, shallow, or mindless to write about something so frivolous as favorite things. And I have to say I think it’s okay. I believe it’s okay to keep writing about things other than politics and current events. Despite the evil and brokenness around us, there is still beauty and room for fun.

Summer and moving have brought some new favorites my way. I want to share!

1. Grove Collaborative

Grove Collaborative is the perfect one-stop shop for really great natural household products at affordable prices – from Mrs. Meyer’s Hand Soap to Tom’s Toothpaste and more. Use this link for $10 off your order! You can also sign up for a free 60 day VIP trial (that’s what I did) to get free shipping.

The photo above shows what I bought during a special Grove ran last month – spend $20, get 5 items free. So I spent $22 on Seventh Generation Dishwasher Powder, Method Daily Shower Spray, Mrs. Meyer’s Hand Soap Refill, Tom’s Mouthwash, and Bon Ami Powder Cleanser, and I received Mrs. Meyer’s Dish Soap, Mrs. Meyer’s Hand Soap, Mrs. Meyer’s Multi-Surface Cleaner, 2 scrubber sponges, and a cute dish towel FOR FREE. I’m telling you these items have been a game changer as I start out in a new apartment and as a mama-to-be. I enjoy using these products knowing they don’t contain icky chemicals.

 

2. e.l.f. Brow Pencil

Before
After

This is the best makeup purchase I’ve made in years. I heard one too many times about how filling in eyebrows (but not overdoing it) provides a polished look and is easy to do, so I decided to try it out. I found that I’m no pro yet, but I like it a lot! One end is a brow brush and the other is a pencil. The best part: This puppy is a super sweet $2 at Target!

3. Triplus Fineliner Pens 

These pens were actually a pre-summer find and birthday present from Alex, but I really started to use and enjoy them this summer. I love pretty pens. These are so fun for bullet journaling, and I tried them out in this little hand lettering project, which now hangs in my bedroom:

What are some of your favorites lately?? I’d love to know!

What I Learn

Friendship Born in Houston: Celebrating Moriah


It’s been so fun sharing some of my friends with you these past couple of months! As I reflect on my season in Houston and transition into a new city, I am more grateful than ever for good friendships and for how God has brought such awesome ladies into my life.

As a wrap to this little series, I want to share Moriah with you. Moriah and I met through church in 2012 and were roommates the six months before Alex and I married. She is the reason I volunteered in the middle school ministry, as she nudged me about it one too many times until I gave in and roped Alex in too. 😉

Moriah is a friend of strong convictions, and I love that about her. Her convictions aren’t just faith related, though her beliefs are unshakable. She also feels strongly about the goodness of cats, Houston, Bruce Springsteen, and more. She values quality time and has taught me to do the same. She loves people so well. She answers the hard questions thrown out by middle school girls with wisdom and truth every time. It does my soul good to be around her, and while I’m sad to no longer live in the same city, I know there are reunions in our future. Below is a little more about this super fun friend. Her recent reads are now on my what to read next list!

Occupation: HR Coordinator at Francesca’s

Years in Houston: 27 years in greater Houston area!

Favorite Thing About Living in Houston: The food, shopping, breweries, and my family!

Biggest Houston Pet Peeve: Traffic.

Recent Reads: Hamilton and Seeking Allah Finding Jesus. Next up is Between Heaven & the Real World.

How She Recharges: Reading on Saturday mornings.

3 Things She’s Loving: Succulents, my new book light, and cats.

What I Learn

Friendships Born in Houston: Celebrating Heather

I took a little hiatus on sharing some of my beloved Houston friends, but it’s just not fair to keep Heather from you any longer.

Heather and her husband, Michael, are the two most selflessly hospitable people I know. They don’t just host people in their home occasionally or halfheartedly; they host friends multiple times a week, spending their time after work cooking or Saturday mornings making coffee for their super fun IHOC – International House of Coffee. Think brunch + as many different kinds of coffee as your caffeine meter can handle + hanging out with old friends and new. That’s my kind of event. Their home is a safe place. It’s a place where people get to choose their own mug to sip from and where conversation flows effortlessly.

Michael and Heather host a community group each week, and Alex and I were blessed to be part of it for 3 years. On weeks when we couldn’t make it, Heather would still text me during prayer time asking how she could pray for me that week. In fact, she still does that now, and I am grateful.

In short, Heather makes Houston better. She has made my life better by inviting me to open up my real self in conversation and prayer in her living room, even though she knew I was just passing through. And she has taught me much about the beauty of hospitality. Meet Heather!

Occupation: Geosciences Analyst Coordinator for a petroleum consulting firm (it’s Houston – gotta love oil & gas!)

Has lived in Houston: All my life except while in the promised land of Aggieland 😉

Favorite thing about living in Houston: I think Houston is a great place to live! We have a strong economy, the conveniences of a big city, access to culture, diversity in the population, and fantastic restaurants. OH – but you asked for a favorite…oops. If I can just pick one, it has to be the restaurants.

Biggest Houston pet peeve: Honestly, I struggle with the fact that a lot of people don’t stay. I’m finding that a lot of people are “just passing through.” A lot of my favorite people have left or are leaving… a side benefit is that my husband and I have a lot of places we can travel and visit friends! Sar’s note: Tears. But Heather and Michael now have a place to stay in east Texas!

What Heather is reading lately: Weeeeelllll, I don’t actually have much time to read, so I listen to audiobooks while I’m driving or walking. I’m working through another “Bible in a Year” plan, I just finished a listen through the Harry Potter series again, and I’m listening to The Reason for God by Tim Keller. I have started Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and I’m looking for another good fiction… any suggestions? 🙂

How she recharges: I love to travel! It is my favorite hobby, but it isn’t always practical. On a regular day, I recharge by having a cup of coffee in the lawn chairs with my husband or by spending some quality time with good friends playing a board game. On my commute this morning, I spent the time praying for a few of my friends instead of listening to a book, and that was pretty refreshing, too.

3 things she’s loving: God opened my eyes to the fact these recent months are a really sweet time and I should enjoy them as much as I can. I’m thankful to have realized that during the sweet days and not after they’d already passed. 🙂 We have two couples who are good friends of ours leaving in the next two months, so I’m loving opportunities to spend time with them. I’m also loving my workouts, and I’m loving spending a little extra time with my husband.

What I See

Australia Recap + Top 5 International Travel Tips

Happy summer! I’m still pinching myself after our Australia trip. I want to remember every city we drove through, every hug, every sense of “Ahhh THIS is what I missed,” every good meal, every adventurous day.

I’d been aching to return to Australia since I left in 2012, and we decided this summer would be the right time for a big trip in celebration of Alex’s graduation and before moving to Tyler for Alex’s new job.

At 8 weeks pregnant, 20+ hours of travel didn’t seem ideal, but I have a hunch our baby bear enjoyed the trip. Though I definitely tired more easily, I never got sick and felt mostly great throughout the whole three weeks! All praise and glory to God for that. The trip went smoothly and was so much fun – minus missing our flight from Brisbane to Melbourne the day before we left Melbourne for the U.S. Then I lost my Kindle later that day. No one was hurt or hospitalized though, so I call that a win.

After staying the first week in Mornington catching up with friends, we went on a two-week road trip across Victoria to Adelaide, through Wagga Wagga to Sydney and up to Brisbane with stops along the way in amazing, picturesque little towns . . . totaling 2,500 miles on the road! This map shows where we drove:

From Brisbane, we flew back to Melbourne, stayed in Mornington one final night, and then Sue and Rod took us to the airport in Melbourne the next morning. Whew! We made it back to LA exhausted and elated.

Looking back a few weeks later, the trip was as memorable and as meaningful as I prayed for. And now that our family is growing, I am all the more thankful we were able to get away for the journey. While all international trips are different, and I am by no means a travel expert, here are 5 tips I wanted to share to help make your next trip smooth, safe, and tons of fun – wherever you go!

1. Get your hands on a guidebook. We purchased Lonely Planet’s Australia guide at Barnes and Noble in the spring to start getting ideas. It was a huge help in finding restaurants and things to do once we arrived in a particular city.

2. Plan ahead, but not too much. While we booked things like plane tickets in advance, called our bank, and researched the best way to pay for things so there wasn’t an exchange fee, we planned and booked almost everything else while in Australia – usually just a day or two before. Maybe it had to do with visiting in winter instead of summer, but there were plenty of Airbnb options in our price range that we booked the day before. And Alex and I aren’t into a super structured vacation schedule, so this worked well for us.

3. Treat yourself right during an international flight. One of the best things to do before and during a flight is drink LOTS of water and little to no coffee or soda. If this means you have to get up several times to go to the bathroom, just think of it as bonus stretching time. I also try to avoid bread and other foods that make me feel less than light on long flights. And when the cabin lights go off, I brush my teeth in the bathroom to make it feel like bedtime, then put on my eye mask and try to sleep several hours. My sweet husband let me wear his compression running socks, and I didn’t have any swelling in my feet or ankles. (He did. Sorry Al.)

4. Pack purposefully. I didn’t do this well and packed way more clothes and shoes than I needed. And I realized 2 weeks into the trip that those skinny jeans didn’t appeal nearly as much as yoga pants while 10 weeks pregnant. When we arrived at the airport, our friend Ian gawked at our large suitcases. “What’d you bring all that for??” he asked. He had the same reaction six years ago. Ha.

Along those lines, be sure to look up the maximum weight per checked bag allowed by your airlines. We ended up paying extra on top of the original fee in Dallas because one of our bags was over Spirit’s 40 lb. limit. We only checked Air New Zealand’s 50 lb. limit. But if you’re packing minimally in the first place, you’ll probably avoid this issue.

5. Choose to relax and have fun. Enjoy the time off work exploring a different part of the world. Take a chance on that Airbnb on a banana farm. Wander to the nearest park for some exercise and views of the gum trees you don’t have at home. Talk to locals. Everything won’t go perfectly, but if you choose to be content and grateful despite whatever bumps come along the way, you will truly be able to unwind and create memories to last your whole life!


What I Learn

Friendships Born in Houston: Celebrating Mandy

Oh my goodness. I move in 6 days. The “lasts” are coming and going quick – last Saturday group long run, last Sunday at church, last Monday at work. I’m all sentimental.

I first met Mandy at Bethel circa 2015 and immediately was drawn to her down to earth nature. She’s cool and athletic and from Arizona and things I am not, but somehow, she makes me feel comfy in my own skin. Mandy is authentic and kind. Her words are persuasive and always encouraging those around her. I love that she is dedicated to teaching and discipling teenage girls, and most of all, that she is so clearly devoted to Jesus. Alex and I were so privileged to attend Mandy and Earnie’s wedding in February, and it’s clear that those two are the best for each other. They have humor and joy and wit and all the things that make up super fun couple friends.

My heart is filled with gratitude for this girl and her friendship! Now go on and read what Mandy thinks about Houston (couldn’t agree more with her Houston pet peeve) and add her recent reads to your list!

Occupation: Electrical Engineer

Years in Houston: 3

Favorite thing about living in Houston: The food! I love that you can go eat the best of any kind of ethnic food. My current favorites are Indian, Thai, and Chinese.

Biggest Houston pet peeve: Big surprise, the traffic and road system. It is like a constant fight to even drive down the street to the grocery store.

Reading lately: I am in the middle of reading Alexander Hamilton (the book not the play) and I just ordered a book about Christian productivity by Tim Challies.

How she recharges: I embrace the extrovert title, so with people and out doing things. After sitting in front of a computer all day, I love getting off work and going home to work out with my husband or going to meet a group of friends.

3 things she’s loving:
1. My husband Earnie (we got married 3 months ago; I think I’m required to include him on this list) and living the married life.
2. My new too-expensive road bike, its been a fun new way to explore the city
3. The warmer weather and all the outdoor opportunities it brings!

 

What I Learn

Friendships Born in Houston: Celebrating Ashley

As moving day inches closer, I’ve been thinking more and more about the friends God has placed in my life since moving to Houston. I asked some of them a few fun questions, partly because I want the world to know more about how awesome they are and partly because I just want to commemorate their friendship.

Ashley and I met November 11, 2012, and our friendship has become one of my life’s greatest treasures. She recently moved to Illinois, and I miss her deeply, but we are in no danger of losing touch.

This girl is strong, honest, and just so so beautiful inside and out. Her heart for the nations and for refugees is infectious. I wish you all had the chance to know her like I do. She came all the way to Arkansas for my wedding just 6 months after we met. I got to hold both of her boys on their birthdays in the hospital. And for three and a half years, Starbucks meant Ashley. We shared many joys and pains and prayers at Starbucks on Fridays at 7:30 am (usually I was several minutes late and she gave me grace every single time). Now, we share them on the phone.

You’ll see in Ashley’s answers how she builds me up, and that is so her. Ashley is constantly encouraging me. What a gift from God she is! I am so grateful for her life and for the hard, wonderful work she is doing as a mom to two of the cutest boys on the planet. Without further ado, meet Ashley!

Occupation: ESL (English as a second language) instructor

Favorite thing about living in Houston: The diversity!! I love how you can meet people from early every country in the world! I also love how the diversity translates to food and the restaurant scene! I am such a fan of all the ethnic food choices: Lebanese, Indian, Turkish, Vietnamese, Ethiopian, Bosnian and the list could go on! I felt like I could travel the world with my palate!

Biggest Houston pet peeve: Well as a northern girl raised in Illinois, I’d have to say the heat. The summers are so brutal. I was not a fan of twice a day showers and having to stay inside most of my summers. I was however a fan of sunny warm Januarys. So it was a trade off I guess!

Currently reading: Right now I’m reading a book I just happened to pick up at the library called Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. So far so good! I also just finished reading She Reads Truth by Amanda Bible Williams and Raechel Myers. I cannot stop recommending it enough. I love how those girls shared their stories of struggle but led me right back to the source of all comfort- Jesus and his Word. Such an encouraging read!

How she recharges: Hmm I would say travel or a trip to the beach but with 2 little boys 2 and under and a recent move back to Illinois, I won’t be recharging like that for a long while. So as a substitute, I love coffee!! Lots and lots of coffee! I also enjoy a short distance run/walk nothing compared to my amazing friend Sarah here, but just a little bit of exercise helps me feel better about life!

3 things she’s loving:
1) Podcasts!! Last fall I discovered podcasts thanks to Sarah Bearden and now I just love them! My favorite by far is the Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey. I also am enjoying the Liturgists podcast, Java with Juli and The Sorta Awesome Show.
2) Coconut Oil! I’m loving it for all things cooking but most especially in my coffee! Throw a tablespoon of coconut oil and a fresh hot cup of coffee in the blender add a drop of honey and a dash of cinnamon and I’m in heaven.
3) The CBS TV show Life in Pieces. I was looking for a random comedy to watch on Netflix and came across this show. It is absolutely hilarious. It follows a family with three adult children and their own families. They all have their own drama and bring their own crazy to the table but all in all they are one big loving family. It’s a fun feel good way to wrap up some stressful days.

What I Learn

A New Texas Adventure


It’s graduation weekend for Alex(!!) and our last month in Houston. In just a couple of weeks, we’ll load up the U-Haul. After some time in Arkansas, we plan to make our new home in Tyler, Texas, where Alex recently accepted a job.

While Alex and I are really excited about this next chapter, leaving Houston will be hard. It’s been 56 months since I moved my carload of belongings into my Aunt Tammy’s house. I was 23 years old and about to begin my first “real” job. Since then, I became a wife, an editor, and I hope, a better friend and more faithful and passionate follower of Jesus.

Houston is where I became an adult. It’s where I realized that a 9 to 5 job can pay the bills but can’t fill my soul. It’s where I really learned that deep community can be built across a little wobbly table at Starbucks every Friday morning and in the Maresh’s living room on Thursday nights. I experienced that.

So when I think of what I’ll miss, it comes down not my apartment or stores or restaurants or traffic (duh) but people. God has graciously provided many sweet friendships here. He has placed along my path beautiful, wise, gracious women as mentors. He has put a deep love and affection in my heart for a 2 year olds and middle schoolers.

Thank you for all who have helped patch together our Houston quilt of memories and experiences during these years. They have been pivotal to my life and to our first four years of marriage.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be spotlighting several beloved Houston friends who have brightened my life with their friendship. These ladies are stellar, I’m so grateful to know them, and I will miss them deeply. I can’t wait for you to meet them! Stay tuned.

xoxo,

Sar

What I Make

30 by 30

Dear friends and family, thank you for the kind birthday wishes today! I’m feeling incredibly blessed and grateful to be 28!

I am a list lover through and through. Whether it’s a grocery list, to-do list, book reading list or wish list, they all have their place in my life. I use them to remember, to strive, to improve. And one list I’m excited about as I officially move into my “upper 20s” and creep toward 30 is my very own 30 by 30 bucket list.

I started this list on January 1st and have been adding items since. I’ve been thinking lately about how easy it is to get used to doing or seeing certain things every week to the point where I no longer do or see them with wonder or delight or thanksgiving. What if instead of becoming “used to” the everyday things in life – the 9 to 5 job, the drive to church on Sunday mornings, warm showers, my mom’s texts, Alex’s whistling, cooking dinner with fresh ingredients, you name it – we open our eyes a little bit wider each morning and seek to live with open hands and more intention? That’s what I want for this year and every one I have left. My hope is that some of the items on this list help me do that.

In no particular order, here are 30 things I hope to do by the time I turn 30:

1. Participate in a marriage retreat
2. Do the Whole30 again
3. Go back to Mornington, Australia
4. PR in the mile
5. Get good at the side braid
6. Cook through Run Fast. Eat Slow.
7. Learn hand lettering
8. Run an exotic/special/themed 1/2 marathon
9. Leave online reviews for 10 of my most and least favorite places
10. Reread the Harry Potter books
11. Visit New England
12. Visit the Pacific Northwest
13. Build a gallery wall I love using photos & art
14. Interview my parents on their childhood memories
15. Start writing a book
16. Pay for the person behind me in a drive thru
17. Make a T-shirt quilt
18. Host a dinner party
19. Attend a Happy Hour Live
20. Cook through Date Night In with Alex
21. Study Russian again
22. Throw Alex an awesome birthday party
23. Go on a hike in Northwest Arkansas
24. Visit OBU
25. See Cami Jones
26. Mail a friend a package of favorite goodies just because
27. Join a book club
28. Pitch a children’s book
29. Memorize Matthew 5-7
30. Research my genealogy

Now on to being 28!

What’s on your bucket list?? I’d love to hear.

What I Learn

Come to the Table

I feel like I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning {GASP} on Easter. I hesitate saying this out loud for fear of being classified as ungrateful. The truth is I’ve been ungrateful at times today too.

Easter is a day I yearn to be with family, so maybe missing them today has something to do with it. Last year, I went to Arkansas and met my precious new niece Landry, who wore a sparkly pink Easter onesie and lace socks and made my heart leap with joy and love.

Today, I gathered in the park with sweet friends from church who also don’t have family in Houston and enjoyed a fabulous meal and Easter egg hunt even though there were no kids. It was a reminder of the rich gifts of community God has provided Alex and me in this city that has become home for us over the last five years. It was truly a lovely afternoon, so no complaints there. No, I am just broken.

From the bouts of deep frustration that have spilled out from my heart into my actions even today – on Easter – when I feel like I should be immune to things like anger and shame and have it all together, I need rescuing. We need a rescuer.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here.

I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.

We have a Rescuer, One who is not surprised by our failures, and His promises are always true. He conquered sin and death! Through Jesus Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, there is hope. This hope is greater than our doubts. This hope overcomes fears. This hope restores the tired, broken parts of our souls. Everything we are looking for is found in Jesus Christ. It’s really true, and I’m remembering that now.

On the other side of the empty tomb is a table where the King sits. Come to the table. Come that He might give you life. Happy Easter, dear ones.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you . . .

What I See

My 10 Favorite Recipes for Whole30 Success

Since my last post on Whole30, some friends have asked about recipes I used and loved. I love to cook but am not really one to create my own recipes – sometimes just tweak others’ a bit – so I rounded up 10 favorites I was so thankful to come across during my Whole30. Most of them came from The Whole30 book, which I highly recommend, as the first half describes the program and the second half is full of cooking methods and recipes.

But First . . . 

Even though it may feel like there are a lot of foods that are not allowed during Whole30, just remember there are a ton of foods that are! And in many of these recipes, substitutions work great because it’s just a matter of substituting a starch, meat or veggie. So, if you have white potatoes but not sweet or prefer green beans instead of asparagus, feel free to sub.

One more tip: Adding eggs was my favorite way to round out a meal, and I surprised myself by not tiring of them.

The Recipes

1. Banger Sausage Patties with Sweet Potato Mash & Carmelized Onions 

2. Pulled Tandoori Chicken  – Make this in the crock pot! I served it with kale sautéed in coconut oil and minced garlic and a roasted sweet potato also cooked in the crock pot. Love that thing.

3. Chicken Cacciatore

4. Ratatouille – This is a good one to top with fried eggs for breakfast, lunch or dinner.

5. Chicken Hash

6. Crock Pot Rotisserie Chicken – This recipe opens up a whole new world of ease and thriftiness in the kitchen. I sometimes find organic whole chickens half off at Aldi, and If you want to feel like a dollar stretching rock star, make bone broth using the carcass.

7. Scrambled, Over Easy or Poached Eggs with Sautéed Plantains and Sweet Potato Rounds – Ok, there’s no recipe for this one. Scramble 2 eggs; sautée a thinly sliced plantain in coconut oil over medium-high heat, and repeat with sliced sweet potato rounds. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper. This meal is simple and incredible!

8. Chili – I used the first one in this link and didn’t miss beans or shredded cheese one bit. I’m sure they are all delicious! {In my photo below, it’s topped with a dollop of Whole30 Ranch, which didn’t really dollop because it was really runny. That is one recipe I didn’t ace.}

9. Pulled Pork Carnitas – This is my new favorite way to prepare pork AND it’s a crock pot recipe. Serve with sweet potato rounds, sautéed spinach and top with sliced jalapeños for a kick!

10. Banana Chews – This recipe is from Run Fast. Eat Slow. and is incredibly simple:

(1) Thinly slice a banana and place on Silpat or greased baking pan

(2) Melt 2 teaspoons coconut oil in microwave and stir together with 1 tsp. lemon juice, 1 tsp. cinnamon and a dash of sea salt

(3) brush 1/2 of the mixture evenly over slices

(4) Bake for 2 hours at 250 degrees, flipping halfway through and brushing the second half of mixture on the other side.

Wrap a handful in Saran wrap for the PERFECT long run fuel instead of Gu or Gatorade.

BONUS:
Roasted Veggies – The possibilities are wide ranging. Pair with a grilled burger patty or other protein for a complete and delicious meal. Some of my favorites: Brussels sprouts, potatoes, asparagus, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, red, orange or yellow peppers, onions, kale.

Wishing you the best for your Whole30 success!

xoxo,

Sar