Five on Friday {April 3}

Hey y'all,

We made it to Friday. Today finishes out three weeks of working at home and probably the hardest week to get through. I felt that everything just hit this week. There were some days I laid down at 6 pm and slept until 9 pm, some days I cried, and other days felt good when I was chatting with a friend or walking my neighborhood. Like John Krasinski's new news channel I am trying to focus on the good news.

one. Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Skype.

As someone who loves their friends, family, and community the transition to socially distance for the future was hard. I am glad this happened in a time with so much technology. I have been able to chat with my parents, take a workout class from my local Barre3 studio instructors, talked with friends, continued discussions with my BSF group, had book club, continued my Hebrews study with my group, have coffee/tea time with my co-workers, and pray with my bible study.

two. Candles.

One of my goals for April (I plan to post them on Monday) is to use up things in my home. In staying home consistently for three weeks I have noticed a few categories of things I have but have not been using (like 8 tubes of travel sized toothpaste). I started lighting candles more frequently and I have used up three candles and I am almost done with a fourth. Some were already over half burned but it feels good to be using what I have and to make space for things now that my candle storage is only housing winter scents. All my other spring candles are sitting out to be used.

three. Fresh Flowers.

I grabbed a bouquet at the grocery store over the weekend when I was grabbing my perishable foods. It has brought a lot of joy this week. I had it on my dinning table/WFH space for a bit and moved it to the kitchen yesterday.

four. Simplified Planner.

I placed my order for a new Simplified Planner on Wednesday as well as another notepad. I have been relying on my planner and my large notepad a lot during this time at home. From grocery lists, laundry tasks, and work meeting notes they have been constantly on my side.

five. Financial Peace University.

This past week I started Financial Peace University since Dave Ramsey is offering it free for 14 days. They have never done this offer and I have always wanted to take the class but haven't found time in my schedule. I am done with 4/9 lessons and it has been great to go through this course and focus on budgeting and financial freedom during a time when there is so much economic uncertainty.
FPU: The Proven Personal Finance Plan |

other favorites:

allergy medication. NC+Spring=pollen.
mini rice krispie treats I bought back in February.
Annie F. Downs #miniBFFbookclub. Every night Annie reads a children's book on her Instagram.
polar sparkling water.
diet coke. I picked up the skinny 1.5L bottle to get through some of the rougher sleep days.
Memphis ZOOlympics. Since we all need to laugh throughout this.
She Reads Truth A-Z verses. I updated my verse in my gallery wall.
Bon Appetit April Fools. They are doing swaps with their shows
my porch. 

I'm linking up with Erika, Narci, and Andrea

And linking up with TifBeckyDellaWhitney, and Whitney.

What are you up to this weekend? Any home projects? Currently reading?


Currently {April}

Hey y'all,

Wow what a few weeks have changed things. Since March 15th, I have transitioned to working from home, made a meal plan for the next month, and my state has gone on Shelter in Place. I hope to get back to consistent blogging during this time but remember, you are allowed to feel all the feelings during this time. It's the first time the world has experienced something like this so you are doing the best you can. Seriously, do not compare yourself to anyone during this time.
Image result for currently
baking. All the Real Food Whole Life muffins. I made the banana bread, pumpkin chocolate chip muffins, and double chocolate chip zucchini muffins.

listening.I have mostly been listening to the Top Christian station on Spotify, Michael W. Smith's song Waymaker, and the That Sounds Fun Quarantine podcasts with Annie F. Downs.

borrowing. Library books as always.

sharing. my lunches. My co-workers and I have a Slack channel where we all share what we made for lunch and it has been motivating to actually plan a lunch as well as a fun way to connect with them.

trying. Beautycounter. A few weeks ago when Beautycounter was hosting a sale on their skin care sets I finally bit the bullet and ordered the Countermatch collection. I am loving it so far and will have to give an update after using it for a month or so. For other favorite clean face products I love this face wash and this toner. I will say that my skin has been rough during this season with a lot of stress so one of my goals in April is to be consistent with my morning and evening routines.

writing. I just wrote out my prayers in my Val Marie Paper prayer journal last night. I also started writing out my prayers daily in a journal in early March and hope to continue that practice through April to see how God is working during this time.

watching. Prodigal Son (FOX). Making the Cut (Amazon Prime). Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist (NBC). Disney movies on Disney+ like The Emperors New Groove.

wishing. That I could hug my Mom on Monday for her birthday. We had planned to go to see STOMP at the Durham Performing Arts Center and then for me to go to my parent's house for the rest of this weekend so I could spend the morning with my Mom on her birthday (and then head to my dentist in my parent's town).

investigating. I have been doing a lot of research and investigating for my work the last two and a half weeks so I have been trying to stay off of Google and the internet when I can in the evenings.

purchasing. I last purchased some dresses when Nordstrom had their 25% off sale to try on for a friend's wedding that has now been postponed and so I have a stack of boxes for returns when this is all over. I also just bought some frames from Amazon to add to my gallery wall in my bedroom.

I am excited to purchase a Simplified planner today being Launch Day for the academic editions. I am thinking I am going to grab the Blue Trellis pattern.

Linking up with Anne.

What are you currently up to?


Sunday Sayings {March 29}

Hey y'all,

Life has really changed since I last posted about cooking through a cookbook this year. I started working from home, my friend's wedding has been postponed to the Fall, I've worked out via a Zoom conference, and lots of fun Spring events have been postponed. I know this whole event has caused a lot of anxiety and fear but I hope you know we have a Savior that knows all and has a plan for this event even in it's devastation.

Annie F. Down's created a collaborative Do Not Fear playlist that is now almost 7 days long if you need something to blast over your fears and worries.

If you want to watch a sermon on this same topic, my church started a Sermon series last week called the World Turned Upside down. 

You can watch here on YouTube, Facebook, or our website live today at 9am and 10:45am.

You can also watch the whole series here.

I am happy to pray for you if you want to leave me a comment with specifics or email me here.


Cooking Through A Cookbook {The Defined Dish}

Hey y'all,

One of my goals I set for my 30th year is to finally cook through a cookbook. I really enjoy cooking and have always wanted to cook through one similar to Julie and Julia. Well, it's happening. I recently picked up Alex 's The Defined Dish cookbook (on sale for $18) and wrote down every recipe I wanted to try. Well, the list is almost 60. That means I have a set meal plan already done for 1-2 recipes a week.
Since these are in the cookbook I will not share the recipes unless they are also released on Alex's blog but I thought I would start sharing what I cooked over here, and some of my thoughts on the dish regarding flavor and ease.

Here's what I cooked so far:

Chicken Piccata.

This was an amazing dish and very simple. It's perfect for a quick weeknight meal. It also kept well for leftovers. It is also Whole30 compliant if you are doing an elimination diet. I love that Alex's recipes are clearly labeled so I can easily make swaps if I want to keep the dairy low for my lactose intolerance. Also, a lot of the recipes are naturally gluten free for those that have an intolerance or allergies. This recipe is posted on her blog here including a video to how to make the dish.

2 pounds skinless boneless chicken cutlets *see note
1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste
1/4 cup arrowroot flour
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more as needed
1 tablespoon ghee
3 garlic cloves minced
2 tablespoons capers drained and rinsed, plus more for serving
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or 1 lemon
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley for serving
Season the chicken cutlets on both sides with the salt and pepper and set aside.
Pour the arrowroot starch on a large plate or in a wide bowl. Lightly dredge each individual cutlet in the arrowroot flour until evenly coated, then shake off any excess. Place the dredged cutlets on a clean plate and continue until all are complete.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches so as to not overcrowd the skillet, carefully add the cutlets and cook until golden brown on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes per side. The chicken does not need to be completely cooked through, just golden brown. Transfer to a parchment-lined plate. Repeat with the remaining chicken, adding more oil to the pan if necessary.
Reduce the heat to low, add the ghee to the skillet, and swirl to evenly coat the bottom of the pan. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, stirring to prevent burning, about 30 seconds. Stir in the capers, chicken broth, and lemon juice. Increase the heat to a simmer. Nestle the chicken into the sauce and cook, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is tender, about 15 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. Garnish with the parsley and serve.

Lemon Rosemary Shrimp.

This has been the only dish I haven't been in love with. While good, I have made a better shrimp dish. It might have been something between the wine plus the lemons.

Hibachi Chicken with Magic Mustard Sauce.

Y'all this was amazing! I loved this dish and while I didn't make the magic mustard sauce, I served this with brown rice and this yum yum sauce you find in the refrigerated dressing section. I also add a bit of this No-Soy Teriyaki sauce to the chicken while it cooked. You can find the full recipe on her blog here including the magic mustard sauce but I did just the stir fry.

2 lbs. boneless skineless chicken thighs (trimmed, and cut into 1 inch chunks) *I used chicken breasts since I prefer them.
1/2 white onion thinly sliced
8 baby bella mushrooms stems removed and cut into fourths
1 large zucchini cut into thin, short strips
1 carrot cut into thin, short strips *I just cut up baby carrots I had on hand
2 tbsp. avocado oil
1 tbsp. ghee sub butter if not Whole30
kosher salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1 tbsp. toasted sesame seeds
Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the oil and when very hot (it should be just smoking), add chicken and season with salt and pepper. Spread the chicken in a single layer and cook until all sides are golden brown and the chicken is cooked through, tossing occasionally, about 7 minutes.
When chicken is cooked through, use a slotted spoon to transfer onto a plate. Set aside.
In the same skillet, add the ghee and melt. Then add the onions, carrots, zucchini, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring occasionally until just cooked and slightly tender (you don't want them too soft, I like a little crunch to mine still), about 4 minutes.
Add chicken back into the skillet with the sesame seeds. Stir and saute for 2 more minutes.

Steak House Caesar.

Yum. I was worried about this Caesar since my Mom makes an amazing Caesar salad but YUM. I have been having Caesar salads all week with the leftover dressing since this makes a ton and the recipe is only 2 servings. This is her dressing on her blog for Caesar dressing but the Steak House version is a bit different. I will also say that I always skip the anchovies when I make caesar salad at home. This was the perfect Sunday supper when I wanted to treat myself and forget about any Sunday Scaries.

Overall, all of the recipes have been very easy and quick which I appreciate. A lot are also only 2-4 servings which for me cooking for one person is the perfect amount for a meal and leftovers.

Do you have a favorite cookbook?


What I Read {February Reads}

Hey y'all,

It's already the second week of March so I should go ahead and tell you what I read in February. I was still in a physical book rut so I mostly listened to audio books in February. Luckily, I am still on track to finish 65 books this year according to Goodreads as I am at 13/65. Here's what I finished in February:

In The Woods (audiobook)

In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad, #1)As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent woods. When the police arrive, they find only one of the children. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.
Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder Squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a 12-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox (his partner and closest friend) find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.

I first heard of the Dublin Murder Squad series on the What Should I Read Next podcast so I grabbed a copy at a library sale in May 2019 but never got around to picking it up. Enter, the audiobook which while long was an amazing read. In The Woods begins with three young kids going into the woods one summer day in ‘84 but only one is found. Years later, that one is now a murder detective when a young girl is found murdered not far from the wood. It’s a book filled with twists and turns and I’m excited for the next book in the series. ⭐⭐⭐/5

Always and Forever, Lara Jean

Lara Jean is having the best senior year.

Always and Forever, Lara Jean (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, #3)And there’s still so much to look forward to: a class trip to New York City, prom with her boyfriend Peter, Beach Week after graduation, and her dad’s wedding to Ms. Rothschild. Then she’ll be off to college with Peter, at a school close enough for her to come home and bake chocolate chip cookies on the weekends.
Life couldn’t be more perfect!
At least, that’s what Lara Jean thinks . . . until she gets some unexpected news.
Now the girl who dreads change must rethink all her plans—but when your heart and your head are saying two different things, which one should you listen to?

The conclusion of To All the Boys finds LJ & Peter K struggling with college decisions, senior year events, and if they will continue to be together after graduation. It was a good conclusion to the series but was a lot slower to start than the previous books. I watched the second film last night and I’m excited for this movie to come out next year. ⭐⭐⭐/5

On the Come Up (audiobook)

On the Come UpSixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.
On the Come Up is Angie Thomas’s homage to hip-hop, the art that sparked her passion for storytelling and continues to inspire her to this day. It is the story of fighting for your dreams, even as the odds are stacked against you; of the struggle to become who you are and not who everyone expects you to be; and of the desperate realities of poor and working-class black families.

Set in the same neighborhood as Thomas’ first book, The Hate You Give, On the Come Up follows Bri as she tries to take her passion for rapping to the next level to follow in her father’s footsteps and help her family. I enjoyed the audio version particularly due to the amount of spoken word/raps in the novel. While I think The Hate You Give is more impactful, Bri’s story reminds us to sometimes not take up every thing thrown at us. We don’t have to respond to everything, just work on who we are and respond from that perspective. ⭐⭐⭐⭐/5

The Gifts of Imperfection *book club pick

The Gifts of ImperfectionEach day we face a barrage of images and messages from society and the media telling us who, what, and how we should be. We are led to believe that if we could only look perfect and lead perfect lives, we'd no longer feel inadequate. So most of us perform, please, and perfect, all the while thinking, What if I can't keep all of these balls in the air? Why isn't everyone else working harder and living up to my expectations? What will people think if I fail or give up? When can I stop proving myself?In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown, PhD, a leading expert on shame, authenticity and belonging, shares what she's learned from a decade of research on the power of Wholehearted Living--a way of engaging with the world from a place of worthiness.In her ten guideposts, Brown engages our minds, hearts, and spirits as she explores how we can cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough, and to go to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am sometimes afraid, but I am also brave. And, yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable, but that doesn't change the truth that I am worthy of love and belonging.

February’s book club selection was Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection and while I have enjoyed Brown’s Ted and Netflix talks, this book just didn’t really connect with me. I enjoyed some of the takeaways but over all it fell flat to me. ⭐⭐/5

The Cactus (audiobook)

The CactusFor Susan Green, messy emotions don't fit into the equation of her perfectly ordered life. She has a flat that is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and an "interpersonal arrangement" that provides cultural and other, more intimate, benefits. But suddenly confronted with the loss of her mother and the news that she is about to become a mother herself, Susan's greatest fear is realized. She is losing control.
Enter Rob, the dubious but well-meaning friend of her indolent brother. As Susan's due date draws near and her dismantled world falls further into a tailspin, Susan finds an unlikely ally in Rob. She might have a chance at finding real love and learning to love herself, if only she can figure out how to let go.

If you enjoyed Eleanor Oliphant, I think Susan in the Cactus could be your next heroine. The novel starts with Susan learning of her mother’s death and continues as Susan deals with grief, a will, learning what motherhood means, and how personal relationships can be good for one’s health. ⭐⭐⭐.5/5

Behind Closed Doors (audiobook)

Behind Closed DoorsEveryone knows a couple like Jack and Grace. He has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You might not want to like them, but you do.
You’d like to get to know Grace better.
But it’s difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart.
Some might call this true love. Others might ask why Grace never answers the phone. Or how she can never meet for coffee, even though she doesn’t work. How she can cook such elaborate meals but remain so slim. And why there are bars on one of the bedroom windows.
Sometimes, the perfect marriage is the perfect lie.

Jack and Grace are the perfect couple-gorgeous home, amazing vacations, and virtually inseparable. However, behind closed doors, everything is not perfect and this thriller helps you question what you would do if the one you loved who shows the world the perfect face is a monster inside. ⭐⭐⭐/5

Bring Me Back (audiobook)

Bring Me BackFinn and Layla are young, in love, and on vacation. They’re driving along the highway when Finn decides to stop at a service station to use the restroom. He hops out of the car, locks the doors behind him, and goes inside. When he returns Layla is gone—never to be seen again. That is the story Finn told to the police. But it is not the whole story.
Ten years later Finn is engaged to Layla’s sister, Ellen. Their shared grief over what happened to Layla drew them close and now they intend to remain together. Still, there’s something about Ellen that Finn has never fully understood. His heart wants to believe that she is the one for him...even though a sixth sense tells him not to trust her.
Then, not long before he and Ellen are to be married, Finn gets a phone call. Someone from his past has seen Layla—hiding in plain sight. There are other odd occurrences: Long-lost items from Layla’s past that keep turning up around Finn and Ellen’s house. Emails from strangers who seem to know too much. Secret messages, clues, warnings. If Layla is alive—and on Finn’s trail—what does she want? And how much does she know?

Another suspenseful thriller to end February. After listening to Behind Closed Doors, I was excited to read another Paris thriller. Layla disappeared while on vacation with Finn. Twelve years later, Finn is engaged to Ellen, Layla’s sister and clues are appearing that Layla might be alive. The twist at the ending of this one was a bit far fetched and therefore made this one just an okay read. ⭐⭐/5

What did you read this month?
Life According to Steph
Link up with Jana and Steph.