A Handful of Recent Favorites

I love to read. LOVE it. I'll curl up and read, turn on an audiobook while driving or cooking, and I love to sit on the couch with my friends' kids and giggle through a new children's book.

Over the years, it's become more apparent that reading a lot of books does not equate to enjoying a lot of books. Most of the time, I'll read something all the way through with the hope that it will redeem itself in the end. This, sadly, is not always the case.

So, in case you find yourself at a loss for something lovely to read, (and you trust that I will not steer you wrong) here are a handful of my recent favorites.

The Nightingale. If you haven't read it yet, do so right now. It is, hands-down, the best fiction book I've read in the last five years. As soon as I finished, I handed it to my best friend... then to my mom, who handed it to her husband, then I gave it to a coworker. It’s heartbreaking and wonderful. (You will most likely (ugly) cry at the end... be sure to pick a suitable place to do so.)

I read 85% of The Tattooist of Auschwitz on a single flight--I couldn't put it down. It was so lovely and, again, heartbreaking. (As are, I'd imagine, most books about WW2.) AND THEN I FOUND OUT IT'S A TRUE STORY.

In 2018, I made it a goal to read books primarily by people of color. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet was one of my favorites. The story of love and friendship is so moving... and, having not known much about Japanese Internment camps (other than knowing they existed), found the detailed explanation of them eye-opening.

Another I loved so much was The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane. I really enjoyed the Audible version.

Last, but not least, The History of Love. Two stories (one an old man, the other a pre-teen girl) woven together into the sweetest, saddest, most lovely book. I read it every few years and fall in love with it all over again. Josh read it this year, too, and even used my favorite line in his proposal.


Born a Crime was captivating. It made me laugh, it brought tears to my eyes, it incited curiosity in Apartheid. I could not stop listening. I especially loved listening to it, since the accents and pronunciation of words in South African dialects added to the richness of the storytelling.

After visiting the National Civil Rights Museum, I read everything I could from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. To say Why We Can’t Wait was moving in an understatement. I'm an auditory learner, so I read the book aloud to myself. There were several lines that made me choke up, forcing me to pause before I could complete them... if you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.

I've planned and executed many, many events in my years of youth ministry. But my approach to brainstorming and planning shifted after reading The Power of Moments. It sparked so much thought and creativity in me that I had to read with a massive notebook open next to me so I could pause and write down thoughts and brainstorms and lists. Man, it was good.

I just finished Notorious RBG this week. Growing up, I'd heard about her work surrounding women's reproductive rights, but this opened my eyes to the battles she fought for women on many fronts. I especially loved--and resonated with--her thoughts on how she'd like to be remembered: "[As] someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has. To do something, as my colleague David Souter would say, outside myself. ‘Cause I’ve gotten much more satisfaction for the things that I’ve done for which I was not paid."

// UP NEXT: //
Becoming and All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.

We're also halfway through Harry Potter around here (on Audible because Jim Dale is the greatest narrator of all time, as far as I'm concerned.) It's my fifth or sixth time through, but Josh's first. He's super into it: pausing to make sure he has characters straight in complicated scenes (Quidditch World Cup anyone?!), pausing to guess what's about to happen ("I think the Chamber was opened by..."), pausing to react to everything that's just happened (The story of four friends in the Shrieking Shack!!!)

What have you read (and LOVED) recently? I’m always looking for new great books.

P.S. Have you heard of whatshouldireadnext.com? You enter the title of a book you love and it suggests four or five books by similar authors or with similar topics based on the recommendations of real readers. I used it in a pinch while at the new public library last week and picked up two books... this one, which I really enjoyed, and another I did not...

{top image of the Stockholm Public Library}

Top 5 Thursday: Crafts On My List

If money were no object, I'd jump at the chance to complete these five crafts:

{image via}

1. Bake this chocolate raspberry cake. You may recognize it from the opening credits of The Great British Baking Show. With every episode, I think, "Geez! That cake looks delicious!" I'm gonna test that theory sometime soon.

2. Repaint my craft table. This 300-lb custom-built graduation gift from my dad was painted in 2005 and has been hauled from house to house ever since. It's time for a bit of a facelift... or, at the very least, a little love.

{image via}

3. Create this massive holly wall hanging. I have no place for it--no place to hang it during the holidays or store it on the off seasons--but I love it so much. Someday, I hope to make it happen.

{image via}

4. Arm knit a blanket. Gosh, this looks so beautiful and so time-consuming. It also seems like something that would show every mistake and, thus, be remarkably frustrating to create. BUT if I could... (!!!!!!!)

5. Recreate my wedding bouquet using felt flowers. Erice (at Everbloom Floral Designs) did such an amazing job creating our bouquets. Imagine how gorgeous this would be to have forever on my mantle or bookshelf!

Small Comforts

All the newness in this new season (new town, new home, new church, new marriage, new Target!) has brought with it the full range of emotions.

There are such high highs being newlyweds as we're slowly learning to build a life together. But, being unemployed and friendless for a few months has also brought some pretty low lows.

On more than one occasion, Josh and I have sat together while I've wept as we talk through my feelings of homesickness and the growing pains of realization that my worth is not dependent on what I do between the hours of 9am and 5pm each day. (Incidentally, he's wonderful at holding space for grief.)

In the midst of all of this, I've been looking out for and holding tightly to small comforts. The tiny, seemingly insignificant things that make a new place feel familiar, feel comfortable, feel like home.

Here's a shortlist of recent small comforts:

1. Running into someone I know at the grocery store.

2. The first 'belly laugh' with a new friend.

3. Singing a familiar song in church. (It amazes me how comforting--even emotional--it is to not need to stare at the screen or fight to find the cadence of the lyrics.)

4. Not needing a menu at a restaurant.

5. Feeling confident enough to greet each person in a family by name.

6. Baking something from scratch that's so good Josh's coworkers mention it a few days later.

7. Finding a serve opportunity in the church that feels in line with my gifts.

8. Completing a full day of errands without the need for Google Maps.

9. When a new friend's kid comes running across the room, excited to see me.

10. The familiar routine of making dinner, watching a show, and getting ready for bed together.

How about you? What are some small comforts you've experienced recently? Or maybe one or two you remember from a difficult season?

Our Love Story

I wrote our story for our wedding website, but in the interest of keeping everything in one place--and helping you get to know us--I thought this might be a good place for it. So, without further ado, the story of how we met.

In September 2018, I was planning an event in California. At the same time, Josh was in Texas, packing for that very event.

Little did we know, those three days would be the beginning of our forever.

It all began over dinner the first night. As Josh was standing in line for the In-n-Out truck, he began talking to fellow attendees. General things at first, Where are you from? How long have you been in youth ministry? Are you married?

Josh mentioned that the right woman “hadn’t found him yet.” They asked how old he was and immediately followed up with, "Have you met Allison?"

He said he'd been hoping to find time to talk to me during the event. So one of them quickly sent me a text, “Yo. There’s a guy out here who thinks you’re hot as sin.”

The guys brought him inside, introduced us, and then stood about ten feet away to watch as we had our first (incredibly clumsy) conversation.

I had to cut it short to keep the event moving: there were food trucks to be paid and evening sessions to get started. I told him we'd talk again later.

The next two days were filled with brief interactions—making up excuses to talk to each other and accidentally meeting eyes from across the room… all culminating in an unexpected moment at Del Taco when I ran my fingers through his beard. (I was honestly just as surprised as he was!)

On the last night of the conference, we each looked around the party, hoping to steal a few minutes together before he flew back to Texas. I even made sure to position myself right by the buses to make it that much easier for Josh to find me and ask for my number.

He didn’t.

Instead, he gave me a quick hug, said goodbye, and drove off.

As the team cleaned up that night, my mind was spinning. I was sure he kinda liked me... why wouldn't he ask for my number?

The next morning, back in the office, I tried to be as casual as possible as I asked my team if I could just send him my phone number using the group text we'd set-up for the event.

Meanwhile, Josh was telling his friend about “This girl he’d met that the conference.” (And had to admit his cowardice when his friend asked if he’d gotten her number.)

At that moment, his phone buzzed.

A text: “I hope this isn’t an abuse of power… but if you ever want to talk without 199 other youth workers watching, here’s my number.”

He sent her a text immediately. (Well, immediately after he and his friend finished screaming and cheering…)

This began a series of texts… which became long phone calls… which became hours of FaceTiming. We talked every day for a month before deciding it was time to see one another. We needed to be face-to-face to see if this was really worth our time.

I flew out to Texas and, by the end of the weekend, we both knew.

Josh came out to California to meet all of my friends--and attend my work Christmas party--in early December. On his next visit, we went to look at engagement rings.

Then, on a beautiful day in early March, Josh brought me to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and asked me to marry him in front of the dinosaur display and his best friend dressed in an inflatable T-Rex costume.

Neither of us can remember exactly what he said other than reciting a line from my favorite book, THE HISTORY OF LOVE: "Once there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering."

I, of course, said yes.

His mom and brother were watching from upstairs, so they took us to coffee to celebrate... and call my parents to tell them the good news! We headed home from LA and straight to a house filled with my friends and coworkers all ready to celebrate us.

Top 5 Thursday: Shows We've Binged Together

Since we dated long-distance, everything was new and exciting once we lived in the same place.

We get to sit together and watch a show together! At the same time... not counting down and trying to press play at the same time with one person's volume down to avoid an echo. We're still not over the magic of ending a long day curled up on the couch watching an episode or two... together. An entirely new level of closeness--not just in the same town, but in the same house.

Here are the shows we've loved so far:

1. The Office. (Duh.) We'd each seen it at least twice through--Josh has probably seen it about a dozen times--so it was the easiest thing to watch while we were long-distance. We'd countdown from three and press play and I'd spend the first few seconds pausing or fast-forwarding to match up to his audio. Fortunately, since I already knew the punchlines, it wasn't a huge deal if his sound cut-out or I fell asleep mid-episode. We were even Jim and Pam for Halloween when we first started dating.

2. 30 Rock. Tina Fey is the greatest. She's my answer to any "which celebrity" question. I'd invite her to a birthday/dinner party, I believe we'd be friends if we met in person, I'd have ZERO CHILL if I ran into her at the airport or on the street... Josh had seen most of these, but not all of them, so many of the episodes were new to him. It was really fun to hear him laugh at the lines I've quoted for years.

3. The Great British Baking Show. There's no way to escape it. No matter who you are or how interested you may or may not find amateur banking contests, this show will suck you in. They're just so nice to each other! I can't get enough.

4. From the Earth to the Moon. Josh went to Space Camp as a kid. I like to tell people I think the Moon Landing is a hoax. (I almost put Moon Landing in quotes, but it would be the equivalent of slapping Josh in the face, so I didn't.) It was the greatest Christmas gift I could give him, watching this show all the way through without heckling. (And it really is really well done.) What made it even better was watching while eating breakfast foods in a living room fort... because, in addition to eating like teenagers, we also act like them.

We haven't found a ton of shows we love in the new Fall line-up, but there are dozens of shows we've watched separately that we're now enjoying together.

5. LOST. As frustrating as the ending was for so many viewers, the first few seasons are really, really good TV. Lots of suspense and unexpected plot twists and some beautiful life stories. We're just over halfway through this time around. I'm sure the series finale will be a letdown after the rewatch as well, but I think I'm okay with that.

We typically try to have two shows going at a time: an hour-long drama and a 30-minute comedy... you know, depending on the mood. So, in addition to LOST, we're also watching Seinfeld.

Any suggestions for shows you think we might enjoy?
What have you and your friend(s), roommate(s), spouse binge-watched together?

Why I've Loved Being A Dasher

I’ve been driving for Door Dash for about a month now and I’ve been surprised by how much I love it.

I started as a way to make a little money... and as an excuse to get up and leave the house each day, (unemployment was beginning to make me a bit stir-crazy) and I have to admit, though I was a bit nervous at the start, since I’ve only lived here for a few months (what if I get terribly lost and then deliver cold food?), but my fears were turned to excitement after my first long shift.

Here are a few reasons I love being a Dasher:

I’m learning my new city. Following Google maps all over town, I’m learning back routes during high-traffic times, seeing new neighborhoods, (My favorite so far is Edelweiss. Its streets are named for the Von Trapps!) and finally learning where things are. (The number of times someone has said, "Oh you know, over by the Wal-Mart." and I give them a blank stare, but nod anyway to avoid an attempt to explain using another store/landmark I'm unaware of.)

I’m finding new restaurants. Each shift has brought me to at least one new restaurant for a pick-up and, my goodness this town has some great options! Last week, I found a new BBQ place with the kindest staff and the most amazing display case. This week, I picked up from a Chinese restaurant with what is, so far, the best smelling delivery I've made.

I’m meeting new people. I’m not having a ten-minute interaction with each restaurant employee or customer, but I’m given an opportunity to make small talk with, offer a smile and a “have a nice day” to a handful of people. Honestly, it feels good to practice kindness to so many strangers.

I'm making a little money. Door Dashing won't take the place of a full-time salary, but it did cover a full grocery run this week--and a few tanks of gas last week--and that's pretty good if you ask me. It's tracked in the Dasher app and automatically sent to our bank account via direct deposit once a week.

Think you'd ever be interested in Dashing? Have you found a side-hustle you've really enjoyed? I'd love to hear about it!

This post isn't sponsored. I just wanted to share a bit about how much I've enjoyed this as a side-hustle in case you're looking for an avenue for some extra spending money.

{DoorDash logo via Google Play}

Color Factory Houston

I've had my eye on Color Factory since its debut in San Francisco. When I found out it was coming to Houston, I marked our calendar immediately.

Little did I know, Josh had a plan of his own. For my birthday, he emailed our friend Jim Burns, who offered to get us on the VIP courtesy of his daughter who is on the team of developers for this new location.

Last Saturday, we hopped in the car and drove to Houston--giddy with excitement. (Well, at least I was!) It was every bit as creative and beautiful as I'd imagined.

The team thought of everything! Guests are greeted with brightly colored, complementary mochi as they await their assigned tour time. 

In the first room, we picked up a plastic token and linked it to our email address. As we swiped it at photo stations along the way, it collected our pictures and sent us a full album as we exited. (This first room also included our choice of colorful macarons... I had no idea the Factory was filled with so many sweets!)

As we entered the next room, the employee pointed out two stations: one for photos and one for boomerangs. Again, they thought of everything.

This room was one of my favorites. To display the importance of connection and collaboration in art, this massive display lights up when two people stand between two pillars and simultaneously touch the handprints while holding hands.

The confetti room was pretty dang fun, too. Bright and cheery, two photo spots, AND a small bag of flavored popcorn (colored to match the confetti). Wasn't my favorite tasting snack, but it was cute nonetheless.

Next up: a LiteBrite room! Growing up, I wasn't allowed to have a LiteBrite, ('wasn't allowed' might be a bit strong--but we never had one because my mom said the small pieces would ruin the vacuum) so this room made me smile. (My mom sent me a LiteBrite for my birthday this year, so she's doing her best to make it up to me.)

My sweet husband's heart was so happy to leave our initials on the wall of the giant blue coloring room.

In this room, we were on either side of the glass, seated at differently colored, but otherwise matching desks. The headphones led us through a guided experience where we used colored pencils to describe our partner. In the end, we were given three affirmations to choose from and instructed to select the one that best fit one another. On the way out, we picked up some gummies that corresponded with the colors of the tables we'd chosen. We were told the colors--and, thus, the flavors were a perfect pair.

No room brought him more joy than the ball pit. As soon as the employee said, "We partnered with NASA to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing" I knew all other rooms had dropped in importance in Josh's heart.

If that weren't enough, we were given ice cream on the way out! Coconut Ash ice cream from Hawaii. 

Lining the wall to the restroom are superlative banners. I took a photo in front of Most Hydrated (since I never leave home without a massive glass jar filled with water) but the woman who took my photo cut off the words--I'm pretty sure she thought I was just asking her to take a picture of my face...)

The front wall between the entrance and the gift shop, where the tour ends, is lined with colorful round doors. Inside each is a photo of where that color is found in the city of Houston. The blue to the right of Josh's is NASA blue... so, obviously, it was his favorite.

Color Factory absolutely lived up to all my expectations! We've already chatted about our experience: our favorite rooms and snacks multiple times. I don't know that we'll ever be able to look at these pictures and not smile. I'm so grateful to Jim (and his daughter, of course) and to my husband for making this visit a reality!

Top 5 Thursday: Favorite Items From Our Registry

1. Because I'm a light sleeper and Josh snores, this Dohm white noise machine has been the most used--and most appreciated gift. In fact, we just bought the travel size for our upcoming trip to the National Youth Workers Convention.

2. The place Josh was renting when we got married (which we now share) has a tiny master bathroom... as in "do we keep extra towels or spare toilet paper... we clearly can't have both!" The answer was found in this medicine cabinet. (I'm fairly confident that a main qualification for designing apartments or townhomes is that you've never actually lived in an apartment or a townhome. The layouts! The cabinet space! Come on!)

3. Our cast-iron skillet. If I'm honest, I wasn't 100% sure if or how we'd use it, but I have a handful of friends who have raved about theirs, so we added it to the list. We now use it two-to-three times a week. On some of these recipes.

4. We love to watch shows together. This Sonos Soundbar was an unexpected gift (we honestly thought we'd use the post-wedding discount to buy it ourselves and then it arrived at the house!) and is such an incredible luxury. And, we recently started listening through the Harry Potter series on Audible... the soundbar really brings Jim Dale's narration to life. (Currently on Goblet of Fire!)

5. Last, but certainly not least, this Black and Decker handheld vacuum. I would kiss this thing on the mouth if it had one (and if it weren't covered in dirt and dust, obviously.)

BONUS: If Josh had his way, our Playstation would be on the list. It was the first gift purchased on our registry (by a friend from my book club!) and he was over-the-moon when it arrived.

If you were getting married tomorrow, what would be on your registry? or If your best friend were getting married tomorrow, what are the must haves you'd encourage her/him to add to their list?

{photo from the day we built our Target registry}

Our Wedding Video | 07.26.19

After ten months of dating and four months of engagement, we were married on July 26, 2019, in Southern California.

We're very fortunate to have about a dozen friends (and dozens of friends-of-friends) in the wedding industry, so our entire day was planned and executed alongside a team of incredibly talented, warm and friendly professionals. (I'll share more about them--with links--down the road.)

For now, here's our unbelievable highlight video:

It's beyond what I could have imagined, really. The speeches, woven into the footage, connect our very favorite people to the day in such a special way. I told Madeleine, our videographer, that I'd like to have this video cued up on an iPad stationed by our front door and ask everyone who visits our home to watch it upon entry... that's how much I love it.

Searching For The Magic Words (Recipes For Adults Who Eat Like Teenagers)

My sweet husband, who has been serving in youth ministry since he graduated from college, eats like a teenager. (We're in our mid-to-late thirties.)

Pizza, canned soup, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, very few vegetables, Dr. Pepper, single-serving cakes, (or entire cakes from the H-E-B Bakery...) and queso. Lots of queso.

These were the foods that made up his diet when we got married. And, to his credit, he has the metabolism to pull it off.

For the first few weeks of our marriage, it was fun to let him pick our meals. Who doesn't love snuggling up with a good movie while eating comfort food? Then, about a month in, it dawned on me: I wasn't blessed with the same metabolism... something had to change.

So I asked my nightly-pint-of-ice-cream husband if he'd be up for trying Whole 30 with me. (I have very little self-control around an order of chips and salsa. I have to live in an all-or-nothing world until I can break the craving... and in the past, Whole 30 has been a great help as I've sought to adjust my tastebuds and start fresh.)

He, very reluctantly, agreed... after I promised it wouldn't be a month of salads, raw carrots, and boiled chicken.

I had completed the Whole 30 on my own about 5 years ago. I ate the same things over and over again, (it was the first time I'd tried many of these vegetables... who knew green beans could be so delicious?!) but this time I was determined to make flavorful, enjoyable meals that maybe resembled some of his favorites... and maybe, just maybe would be delicious enough to become regulars in our rotation even after the 30 days.

And that's how I found myself combing websites for Whole 30-friendly recipes with those four magic words: "My kids loved it!"

(This is also how I found myself dragging my whining dude through the aisles of our local grocery store as he essentially said goodbye to all of the foods he loves and would be living without for the next month... "Wait... no Doritos?! Ugh!" "Wait! I can't have cheese?!" It was equal parts hilarious and embarrassing.)

Well, we made it through the month... and actually really loved many of our meals!

We saved a ton of money cooking at home--and packing lunches. And we learned that Josh loves to be part of the meal prep process, so it's become a very fun nightly routine to dice vegetables and cross our fingers that it's worth all the effort.

Here are a few of our favorite meals from the month...

We still tag-team this Sweet Potato Hash on Saturday mornings. It's the picture at the top of this post... and, holy moly, it's good. (Made it this morning!)

This Sweet Plantain Apple Bacon Breakfast Hash. I knew the ingredients were good separately but I was so surprised by how good they were together.

These Sweet Potato Chicken Poppers are super easy and really delicious. Even a student, who was very quick to mention she hates sweet potatoes, asked for seconds!

These Sheet Pan Chicken Fajitas were stupidly easy to make and crazy delicious. We ate them on their own or over cauliflower rice, but will definitely make them again with some tortillas.

Speaking of easy and delicious-- this Rosemary Balsamic Sheet Pan Chicken. Geeez it was good. Like, zero leftovers good.

And, lest you think we were strictly eating chicken and bacon, feast your eyes on this Paleo Chili.


I'd love to know if you try any of these. And, I'm definitely open to hearing about your favorite go-to healthy (or cozy) recipes! Share them in the comments below.

P.S. Since Josh wasn't completely miserable for those four weeks, we're sticking with a primarily paleo diet around here (she says, having just pulled some fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies from the oven) so, more recipes to come!