· summer

Finding that Summer Niche (and my Reading List)

We took them to camp yesterday. I miss them already, which is a conundrum because last week when they were home I yelled a little too much. It’s that whole adjusting to summer routine that takes about two weeks. But if I send them off for a week, I’m afraid we’ll never get adjusted.

Too late now.

They’re at Camp Strong Rock this week because I won a raffle. So Annabelle got to go after all, and I’m a little panicky over that. I mean she’s a tough kid. And by tough, I mean picky. I’m trying really hard not to be that parent, so instead I texted my friend Kristi because her husband is the camp director.

See, totally not that parent.

I’m lucky I have friends who put up with me.

In the meantime, I’ve got paperwork for the arts camp they attend and I lead in a couple weeks, VBS volunteers to wrangle, and a beach trip menu to plan.

Because naturally I’m concerned about what we’ll have besides low country boil and homemade pizza.We’re going to Edisto with some friends this year and I’m pretty sure they’ll wish they hadn’t agreed to vacation with the menu planner who is currently writing a novel set at the vacation destination. I plan to get my toes in the sand, and my fingers on a keyboard in the history museum.

Speaking of that novel, I learned at my writer’s conference that one of the most important things you can do as a writer is read.

Gosh, this job is so hard sometimes.

So here’s a smidge of my summer reading list.

I actually already finished The Road to Testament (and it was fabulous).  It was written by Eva Marie Everson, whose encouragement at Blue Ridge made me believe this might actually happen someday. The Wedding Dress is by Rachel Hauck who made me feel so welcome over breakfast one morning that I couldn’t wait to read one of her stories. So far, I’m rounding out novels this summer with a little Barbara Kingsolver, because I really like her style and The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor, which is for my book club.

I’m also finishing A Million Little Ways by Emily Freeman. It’s one of those books I pick up and put down because I like to ponder in between. And I can’t wait to finally crack open Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch. Someday I’d love to be a part of the Mercy House Ministry the Lord has given her.

In the meantime, I’m finding new little niches of my own this summer. The kids and I were planning a lazy July, but then the big girls and I got cast in The King and I, so we’ll be hanging out at the theater a good bit. But we’re going to make time for hiking and swimming and picnics and reading since that was all they wanted when we made our bucket list last week.

I officially stepped down from MOPS in May, and am fully embracing the call to write and freelance. I’ve got several projects in the works and the kids are starting to see this as mommy’s job, so that’s helping. In addition to the novel, I’m working on some pieces for magazine submission, marketing for my friends Chris and Heidi’s farm, and of course, still musing at the local paper. I’m telling you all this because I want you faithful blog readers to know that while this is certainly not going away, I am going to slow it down for summer and get caught up on begin mom first and writer second. My goal is to write here at least twice a week. I’ve got some more giveaways planned too, so don’t go away!

As I slow down posting, I’m going to be taking the time to employ some of the great blogging advice I received at Blue Ridge as well.  Hopefully it will make my site more user friendly and keep you coming back. Until then, have a beautiful week and enjoy all the beauty summer has to offer….fresh vegetables…ice cream…starry nights….mildewing bathing suits because someone forgot to hang it up….

you get the idea.

Did you read about how my kids were all in a wedding? I’m still a puddle over the adorableness. · whole foods

10 Easy Homemade Recipes

We’re getting our homemade on around here. That’s really my version of whole foods living. If I can make it myself, I do. I’m hoping this counts is a baby step toward cutting back on refined sugar and maybe even less grains.

But maybe not. We’ll see.

In the meantime, here’s ten easy recipes for homemade versions of everyday goodness. Enjoy!

1. Rice-a-Roni 
Honestly, rice-a-roni isn’t one of my favorite dishes, but my husband and kids love it. Yes, it’s already pretty cheap and coupons abound, but I’m giving that control up, remember? And they eat it in such great quantity the couple of times a month I rotate it into our menu (usually alongside a saucy piece of chicken) that I was having to make at least two boxes to keep up with the demand. Then I stumbled upon this recipe from The Prudent Homemaker and was hooked. So easy, ingredients I already keep on hand, and the best part? Smashing the vermicilli is a great stress reliever.

Chicken Flavored Rice
Mix equal parts white rice with vermicilli broken into tiny bits. (I make a large quantity of this to have on hand). Saute one cup of the rice mix in 2 tbsp butter. Add 2 cups water mixed with 5-6 tsp chicken flavored bouillon granules (depending on your taste) and 1 tsp dried parsley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.

2. Coffee Creamer
This one is still in the experimental stage although we’ve gone through an entire bottle of hazelnut syrup in the past six weeks trying to find the perfect ratio of cream-milk-flavoring-sugar to suit our highly caffeinated and super sweet taste buds. (This would be where trying to cut the sugar comes in.) I’ve pinned several recipe pages, and my friend Abigail swears by the one with sweetened condensed milk (which is my next experimental homemade recipe), but so far, what I like best is blending equal portions of milk and cream with sugar and flavoring to taste. The best part is, again, these are usually ingredients I have on hand anyway, so I no longer feel the stress of being out of International Delight and needing a grocery run at 10 p.m. before the 5 a.m. alarm.

3. Cream Soups
I’m loving this one. In the past year, I’ve probably bought canned cream of chicken soup twice just because I was in a hurry to get a meal done and didn’t have ten extra minutes. But this recipe is definitely better!

Cream of Chicken Soup (adapted from Simply in Season)
2 cups dry milk powder
3/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup chicken flavored bouillon granules
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp onion powder (optional)

Mix ingredients together. Store in a tightly covered container in fridge until ready to use. To prepare amount equal to one can, mix 1 1/4 cup cold water with 1/3 cup of mix in a saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened. (Will take about 10 minutes and will burn if it gets too hot.) **I like to use a saute pan because I can achieve consistency faster and often I’m adding in other ingredients to make a casserole, so I’m conserving my dirty dishes.

4. Alfredo Sauce
I don’t make a lot of white sauces, but one pizza night Joshua had a friend coming who doesn’t like tomato sauce, so I gave this one a try. Oh my goodness. It was awesome. So easy, so cheesy, so delicious on the homemade pizza dough.

Alfredo Sauce (adapted from Simply in Season)
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour (all purpose or whole wheat)
Heat butter in saucepan and then add flour. Cook over medium heat for 3 minutes then remove.
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp salt
pinch of nutmeg (optional)
Add and return to heat. Bring to a boil, stir constantly until thickens. Add 1/2- 1 cup shredded mozzerella cheese. Remove from heat. Spread on pizza dough or if too thick, add more milk and serve with pasta.

5. Pizza Dough

The Pioneer Woman will show you how to make this with great photographs and witty comments. Or you can wait for me to get around to posting a tutorial, but you’ll probably have to order takeout a few more times first because I’ve had a draft for this post in my account for a year. This is the simplest and most foolproof pizza crust recipe ever. Sometimes I even use whole wheat flour and pretend it’s very healthy under all that cheese.  If you really want to know how to do it and you live local to me, just stop by one Friday night and we can knead together. Or you can check out some of my pizza recipes here.

6. Waffles
“Affle” was one of Gus’s first words. Might be a commentary on how often I make this recipe. Honestly, at least once a week. So lego my eggo and give it a try. Yes, it really is better with whole wheat flour. I like to slice fruit and top the waffle but my kids just prefer syrup. Or a fried egg. Or a piece of sausage. Then they eat the unwashed strawberries straight from the container while I’m cooking. Seriously, mornings at my house require coffee with lots of cream (see #2).

Whole Wheat Waffles (from Simply in Season)
2 eggs
2 cups plain or vanilla yogurt OR 1 cup milk and 1 cup yogurt
Beat eggs and stir in yogurt mixture in large bowl.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
Mix in a small bowl and then add to wet ingredients. Stir until just moistened.

1/4 cup oil or melted butter
Add and stir until just blended. Overstirring makes tough waffles. I bake mine in a Belgium waffle maker that makes four 4×4 waffles at a time using about 1/4 cup batter per waffle. I usually get 16 waffles out of this recipe. I usually have none left.

7. Oatmeal
As in baked with lots of goodies like blueberries or peanut butter or chocolate chips for a special treat. My family loves instant oatmeal but can eat through a box of ten little packets in two days, so I started trying this. Jane over at Thy Hand Hath Provided has a great recipe that they all like and is quick to whip together. It makes a lot, too, so I usually just half it. This is the perfect breakfast for chilly mornings!

Might I recommend a bib before feeding the baby?

8. Tomato Sauce
This is another one of those things I almost never buy anymore. It’s so easy to make a homemade version and it’s good even if tomatoes are out of season and I use canned. I’ll be making huge batches of this all summer to freeze. We use it as our pizza sauce as well. Sometimes I even use it as a base for vegetable soup. Or best of all, I just dip a hunk of homemade bread right in the pot. It’s awesome and worth the time. I promise. You can find the recipe on a post I did right here.

9. Salad Dressing
With all the varying recipes out there, why wouldn’t you make your own? I like the simplest versions and am forever stuck on this version of balsamic vinegarette.  Yes, sugar, I know. That’s what makes it good.

Balsamic Vinegarette (adapted from Thy Hand Hath Provided)
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 cup sugar or honey
6 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Mix together well and serve with spinach salad and homemade bread. Or drizzle over bruschetta.

10. Apple Dip
This is one of our favorite snacks right now and I feel like super healthy mom when I serve it. So simple that the recipe was told to me by my friend Kelly on the yogurt aisle of Ingles one Saturday morning. Super yum.

Apple Dip
1 cup plain greek yogurt
1-2 tbsp peanut butter
1-2 tbsp honey
Mix together and serve with sliced apples. May need to adjust quantities to taste.  The first time I made this I used vanilla flavored yogurt. That was really good, too.

Want more great recipes like these? Check out the food shelf of ebooks available now as part of the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle! One low price gets you these and so many more to help you organize, simplify, and enjoy the tasks of homemaking. But hurry the sale ends soon!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. Thanks so much for reading! Read the fine print about the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle here. 

gardening · · living local · summer · whole foods

The Best Tomato Sauce Ever

The tomatoes are overtaking our garden, and thereby, my countertops.  This picture really doesn’t do them justice.  The container in the background represents a half-hours work of scalding and peeling and chopping only to turn around and realize I missed all these that the girls had piled on the kitchen table.

Oh, and that’s some basil with them.  We’re making tomato sauce tonight.

Which means we had to venture down to the farmer’s market for an onion or two, which means we came home with a watermelon, peaches, zucchini, three onions, and Amelia stole some crayons.

My girls are having an enlightening summer.  Madelynne just realized that spaghetti sauce is actually made from tomatoes.  I’m not sure what she thought it was made from before, ketchup maybe?  Of course, that’s made from tomatoes too.  But they’re not going to admit they actually like tomatoes.

What they like, though, is finding them at summer’s peak hiding behind the leaves that are just starting to wilt from summer’s heat. And they like when I make big pots of this homemade sauce and then ladle it on pizza crust or homemade bread.

They like tomatoes a lot. Too bad they don’t realize that yet.

Basic Tomato Sauce (adapted from Simply in Season)

You will need:
a quality food processor
an apron
some patience
a tolerance for heat

1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic (or 2 tsp garlic powder)
2 large carrots (or more if you like)
1/2 green pepper (or the whole pepper, your call)
2 tsp dried basil (2 tbsp if fresh)
1 tsp dried oregano (1 tbsp if fresh)
1 tsp dried thyme (1 tbsp if fresh)
6-8 cups peeled and chopped tomatoes (about 12-15 romas is best)
6-10 oz tomato paste depending upon how thick you like your sauce
salt and pepper to taste
1 tbsp honey or sugar to cut acidity if desired

Begin by peeling and quartering your onion. Put it in the food processor and chop it finely. If using garlic cloves, process those too. Saute the onion and garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil until soft. I do this in the bottom of my pot. Peel and chop carrots, then shred in food processor. Same with green pepper. Add vegetables to saute. Add seasonings and stir well. Add tomatoes and tomato paste. Allow sauce to simmer at least 30 minutes. Then serve, freeze, or can.

**To peel tomatoes, immerse in boiling water until the skin starts to crack. Remove using slotted spoon and lay on towels to cool. When able to be handled, peel over a bowl using a paring knife. Chop tomatoes directly into another bowl.
**I freeze mine in quart size zip top bags. Let cool before sealing.
**To can, ladle into hot sterilized jars within 1/2 inch of the top. Add 1 tbsp lemon juice or vinegar per pint to assure acidity, seal with sterilized lids, and process full jars in a water bath for 35 minutes. Makes about 4 pints or two quarts. I usually double the recipe to make it worth my time.

This recipe is really forgiving and is a great base to making the sauce your own. Try spicing up a store bought can of tomatoes. Puree the tomatoes for a really thin sauce or leave it chunky and go garden style. I love the addition of carrots now in any tomato based dish. They add the right amount of sweetness and are one more way I’m sneaking vegetables into my kids.

What’s your favorite food to top with tomato sauce?

Disclosure: I found this unpublished post in my draft box and wanted to get it up to go along with my list of favorite homemade recipes. Right now it’s only April, so I’m not drowning in tomatoes. Yet. · whole foods

Monthly Meal Planning: Four Easy Steps

Moment of Truth: I actually plan my menu weekly. That’s just what works best for me. Also, I’m one of those weird people who actually likes to grocery shop. Might be because a couple times a month I can get my husband to stay home with the kiddos, and I can drink my latte and compare sales tags in peace. 
See, the thing with menu planning is you have to start with a plan for the planning. Otherwise, you might get overwhelmed. At least that’s true for me.
Though I do plan out our menus week by week, I also have a Monthly Meal Planner that’s just a running list of meals that might work for the upcoming month. I jot meal ideas down based on seasonal cycles for produce, our monthly calendar, and what’s already hanging out in the kitchen. I also write down ideas for breakfasts and lunches so I can factor those into my plans.
I have a board full of delicious ideas on Pinterest but truthfully, I’ve made only a handful of those dishes. If I start there, I wind up with a menu that’s based purely on cravings and good photography. Not a good idea for being strategic with my budget. 
1. Consult Your Cupboard
So, instead, when I meal plan I start with what I already have. A quick assessment of my pantry and freezer helps me know what is available to me immediately.  I keep an inventory of what’s on hand using these printables from Getting It Together: A Home Management System that Works.  But I don’t update these as often as I’d like, so often I just do a quick scan of the shelves and make notes of the meals I could make on the Monthly Meal Planning guide from the same set of printables. (And sometimes I’m out of ink in the printer, so I just write on a piece of paper, because, you know, whatever gets it done.) 

There have been times I have planned an entire week’s menu based on what we already have in stock. Those are rare times, but great for when I want to channel the grocery budget into other areas.

2. Consult Your Calendar
When I sit down on the weekend to plan for the following week, I always look at my calendar. I need to know if my husband has an evening meeting or if I have a girls’ night or if there’s an evening that’s not going to allow for a lot of food prep, so I can plan accordingly. This helps me choose which nights are best for crockpot meals, leftovers, just sandwiches, or everyone’s favorite–a quick run through the Chic-Fil-A drive-through. When I make my initial list of monthly meal ideas, I always include dinners and breakfasts I know are easy prep and cleanup for those crazy nights that so dominate our busy lives.

3.  Consult Your Capacity
A home cooked meal is a labor of love and commitment. It is, even if it’s just pancakes on paper plates because you have to make it and clean up after. Dishes are my absolute least favorite part of executing my meal plan. There have been times I’ve tossed it out the window and we’ve just gone out because I simply can’t wash one more dish. So when I meal plan, I have to think about my capacity.  If I’ve got a fairly open week, I have a tendency to think that’s when I’ll make all those awesome (and time-consuming) recipes I’ve been pinning or marking in my favorite cookbooks (or this month’s issue of Southern Living). But even if there’s nothing but family dinner on our agenda in the evening, if I make a big meal from start to finish and the clean up, family night has turned into a kitchen all-nighter and I’m exhausted.  So if I plan for a meal, I know is going to take a little more effort and babysitting, I try to put it in between meals on the calendar that are simple and low-key.  Usually those meals are the most low-budget ones, too.
4. Consult Your Coupons
I used to start with the sales. Because sales and coupon matchups are how you save the most money right? Then I realized that my tendency was to come home with lots of snacks, cereal, and Hamburger Helper, none of which was going very far or keeping everyone from still being hungry. So I started meal planning first based on the sales for meat and produce. Chicken’s on sale? Great, we will have four different versions of chicken casserole and one night of stir fry. So that wasn’t working either. But once I moved consulting the sales to the last thing I do for menu planning, supper got a lot more interesting and I became a lot less stressed. These days, I only coupon for my staples like peanut butter or yogurt. We don’t buy a lot of cereal because I make breakfast, but that’s an easy item to pick up for a low price with a coupon match. I rely on different stores than just my one because I know I can almost always count on better meat deals at Quality Foods and better produce at the local markets or my CSA. Coupons used to rule my menu planning and grocery shopping, now they are just a tool that helps me stay on target with our budget.
So how do you menu plan? Do you use one of the services I hear are great? Do you just figure it out as you go? What tips do you have for me? Because I’m always looking for more creative ways to make dinner a less stressful part of our day.
Linking up with Works for Me Wednesdays.
Coming soon….The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle! So many ebooks, so little money. 
birthdays · Friday Five · · motherhood

How She Gave Away Her Birthday Cake and Gave Me Joy {Five Minute Friday}

On Fridays this community of prayer warriors and sleep-deprived mamas and funny college students and thoughtful friends takes one word and writes without editing, without backtracking, without over thinking for five minutes.  Sometimes we cheat a little, like me today, because I needed about 8 minutes to get it all out. But Lisa Jo knows all about grace, so she lets that slide at least once.

So go all in and try it out.  What’s your five minutes of JOY look like? 




I picked her up in a drizzle off a forest service dirt road 8.5 miles from Amicalola State Park and the headwaters of the Appalachian Trail.  She and her grandmother–my feisty and fearless mother–had hiked south from Woody Gap, a 21 mile stretch over a mountain in the rain that forecasters had said for three days would end tomorrow.  They were tired and cold and wet and it was her birthday, so instead of finishing one more night on the ground in the mud with poptarts and ramen noodles, I loaded them up in the mud-splattered F150 and drove back down the windy mountain to the lodge at the state park.

I had met them early to bring her a birthday treat.  A footlong ham sandwich with black olives and a cookie cake because I didn’t make it to the bakery for key lime cupcakes. Everyone I met on my drive through the misty forest knew her name. Every hiker I gave a peanut butter sandwich to had met the 8 year old with a pack and a grin so wide it made another tooth fall out on the second night in.  Everyone knew it was her birthday.

When we pulled into the parking lot of the lodge, she bounded out with more energy than someone who only weighs 50 pounds and carried 15 pounds on her back for three days should have. It was her birthday and she couldn’t wait to share it.  She asked if she could give cake to the workers.  I told her it was her cake and she could give it to whoever she wanted.

So she did.  After a dinner from the buffet, we cut up that cookie cake and plated it on salad plates her baby sister kept fetching from the bar. She walked all around that sparsely populated restaurant and my shyest child asked folks if they would like some cookie cake because it was her birthday.  They were a little astounded. A little flustered at the thought of saying no.  A lot joyful at the idea that a child could exhibit selflessness.

Most of the time, she can be a bit difficult.  She’s stubborn and strong willed and makes me question everything I do, but when she decides to be a giver, she’s all in. It’s her joy language, her heart song, her words without saying a word.

It’s her gift and she unwrapped the beauty of it for me on a foggy evening in the mountains on her eighth birthday.

Also linking up with Beauty Observed. Check out her beautiful photography!