What I Gather About 2013

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This year on January 1st I sat down with my husband and spent several hours discussing the ups and downs of 2013 and setting goals for 2014.  After a long break from blogging, I thought this would be a good time to share some things that worked for me in 2013.  Soon I will also share some goals I have for the coming year.

Health:

1.  The Paleo diet.  Nothing in my 32 years of existence has brought about more positive changes in my body than our radical change in eating habits.  I’m reluctant to call it a “diet” because we have become so accustomed to eating this way that it feels very natural.  I have more energy, have lost nearly 30 pounds, sleep better, feel alert and don’t have any digestive issues.  Several weeks of eating cruddy, sugar-laden food at Christmastime left me feeling bloated, tired, foggy and depressed.  This Paleo lifestyle is here to stay.

2.  The Whole 30.  Thirty days of saying no all sugar and processed food did wonders for my sugar addiction.  I was amazed at how little I craved foods I have always craved after even a week of adhering to the Whole 30 plan.  I highly recommend The Whole 30 for anyone who needs to reset their nutritional habits or kick their sugar addiction.

3.  Food.  Who am I kidding?  Food always works for me!  There were some clear winners, though, in 2013…. foods that I rediscovered or helped me meet my goals or made the Paleo lifestyle a breeze.  My favorites?  Brussels sprouts, eggs, dates, Lara bars, bacon, prosciutto, greens (especially kale, spinach, and beet greens), chicken sausages, pistachios, sweet peppers and organic ground beef.  Yum.

Books:

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1.  Bread and Wine  by Shauna Niequist.  I can’t recommend this book enough.  It inspired me to open my home and my heart to friends, neighbors and even strangers.

2.  Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver.  I am a huge Kingsolver fan and this book didn’t disappoint.

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3.  Prototype by Jonathan Martin.  I closed this book feeling more beloved by God.  My eyes were opened to the way God sees and loves me.

4.  The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  This was such a fun book, full of whimsy and mystery.  I couldn’t put it down.  Thankfully I read it on vacation and was able to read all hours of the day and night to finish it!

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5. Saturday by Ian McEwan.  This book was beautiful and descriptive and made me want to become a novelist.

Personally:

1.  Transparency.  It has been a challenge blogging about some of my biggest struggles and insecurities, but I have found it to be extremely therapeutic.  I find myself working through my feelings as I write them out for the world to see.  Thank you to all of you Rachael Gathers readers, for your e-mails, comments, phone calls and shares.  You let me know that I am not alone and I draw so much courage and encouragement from your stories.

2.  Letting go.  This has been a  year that forced me to recognize that not everyone is going to like me, approve of me, or support me.  I will admit this has been a hard lesson to learn, but it is an essential lesson for us all.  I have found great peace and comfort in the love and acceptance I find in Jesus Christ and am trying not to care so much what everyone else thinks.  

Spiritually:

1.  Reading through the Bible in a year.  I didn’t quite finish on time, but I am almost done!  While this doesn’t take the place of Bible study, it was really good for me to be disciplined about reading the Bible nearly every day.  The app I used on my iPhone was extremely helpful in this regard.

2.  Creating a list of priorities.  This may have brought about the biggest change for me this year.  I didn’t see a drastic change in my behavior immediately, but rather a change in my thinking.  I began to think about what is important in my life based on time spent in prayer and study.  This has allowed me to evaluate many aspects of my life and begin to say no more often.

On the Blog:

Being flexible.  I am a very goal-oriented person, so I have felt a huge amount of frustration at not being able to plan posts better.  With my family, job, planting a church, and various other commitments, I have had to come to terms with blogging when I am able.  I try not to pay attention to stats and just enjoy posting when I can.  Mostly I enjoy the comments and feedback from all of you!

With that said, here are my ten most popular posts from 2013:

1.  Gathering Ideas for a Shabby Chic Bedroom

2.  A Gathering of Recipes for Crowds

3.  Gathering for a Shabby Chic Baby Shower

4.  A Gathering of Goodwill Finds:  Kitchen and Dining Edition

5.  I Gather a Letter of Love (Happy Birthday, Jimmie!)

6.  A Gathering of Goodwill Finds:  Dress Edition

7.  A Gathering of Bible Study Methods

8. Gathering Delight

9.  What I Gather About Chelsea

10.  What I Gather About Women of Valor

Many of these were popular thanks to Pinterest.  Thanks to those of you who pin my blog posts!

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There is a look back at some of the things that worked best for me in 2013.  I can’t wait to share with you some of my goals for 2014!

What about you?  What did you learn in 2013?  Was there anything that really worked well for you?  I would love to hear about it!

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What I Gather About Whole 30

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If you had asked me a year ago if I would ever drastically change my eating habits, I would have laughed.  I probably would have laughed the way I do now when people ask me if I plan to start exercising.

I love food.  I savor every bite of quality food.  Restaurants are my happy place, especially if we are talking Indian restaurants, authentic Italian, or hole-in-the-wall heavens.  If you ever find me sitting at Mediterrano Cafe during a weekday lunch buffet, you will find a glowing Rachael.  Don’t even get me started on desserts and chocolate.

But when my husband came home with news of pre-diabetes and a warning to lose belly weight, I knew something had to change.  Just because I was never overweight did not mean I didn’t have a problem with food…. more specifically, an addiction to sugar.

So we began Our Wheat-Free, Almost Paleo Diet.  Our friends joined in with us and the results were immediately noticeable.  As we progressed in the changes in our eating habits, I began researching The Whole 30 program.  It looked like something that would be beneficial to our families, especially right before the holidays, so we jumped on board and are now on day 24.

I don’t like to focus on weight, but to give you an idea of the transformation, I will tell you that I have lost 25 pounds since July (13 since we started Whole 30), Jimmie has lost about 30 pounds, and even Ava has lost 10.  I find myself with a substantial increase of energy that typically lasts throughout my entire day.  I have noticed a difference in mental clarity… I don’t feel like I am ever walking around in a fog anymore.  I also think I have fought off illnesses in a shorter time frame than typical of this time of year.  Jimmie is also completely off of his medicine for diabetes.  The crazy thing?  I don';t miss the foods I used to eat.  Occasionally I will have an emotional desire to eat ice cream or pizza, but physically I am satisfied with the foods we are eating.  And the recipes are GOOD!

I never want to push a lifestyle onto anyone.  If you want more information about the Whole 30, see the link above.  I am frequently asked, however, about why we are doing it.  More than that, I am asked…

What do you EAT??

So I want to give you our actual meal plans from our first four weeks.  I have provided links where available.  Anything with an * next to it refers to a recipe from the NomNom Paleo app for iPad.  I highly recommend this app, whether you are a Paleo enthusiast or not.  Every single one of her recipes has been fantastic.  We aren’t so scheduled with our breakfasts, either, so first I will give you some ideas for healthy, Whole 30 approved breakfasts.

Breakfasts:

Bacon and eggs

Lara Bars (apple pie, cherry pie, or cashew cookie)

Coffee with Paleo creamer

Egg muffins

Deviled eggs*

Hardboiled eggs

Avocado baked eggs

Egg and veggie scramble

Coconut balls

Sweet potato and chorizo hash

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Week 1:

Lunch 1: Tuna salad salad, nuts and sliced peppers

Dinner 1: Garbage stir fry*

Lunch 2:  Tuna salad salad, deviled eggs

Dinner 2:  Mahi Mahi, sweet potato fries, salad

Lunch 3: Pastrami and pepper roll-ups, guacamole and pepper slices, fruit

Dinner 3: Bacon burger with sautéed onion, mushroom and green pepper, salad

Lunch 4: Chicken salad salad, Paleo trail mix*

Dinner 4: Beef and tomato stew*

Lunch 5: Leftover stew

Dinner 5: Cobb salad (hb eggs, grilled chicken, bacon, avocado, cucumber, tomato)

Lunch 6: Pastrami and pepper roll-up, cucumber salad, trail mix

Dinner 6: Asian meatballs*, mashed cauliflower*, salad

Lunch 7: Leftover meatballs

Dinner 7: Grilled chicken, roasted broccoli

Week 2:

Lunch 1: Crab BLT salad*

Dinner 1: Chocolate chili, sliced avocados

Lunch 2:  Leftover chili

Dinner 2: Pork burgers on greens*, sweet potato fries, roasted zucchini

Lunch 3: Spicy tuna cakes*

Dinner 3: Grilled chicken, salad

Lunch 4: Pastrami and pepper wrap

Dinner 4:  Pork roast* tacos

Lunch 5: Leftover pork, cucumber salad

Dinner 5:  Broiled salmon, roasted broccoli, sautéed greens

Lunch 6: Bacon and guacamole “sandwiches*”, slices peppers, fruit

Dinner 6: Frittata muffins, sweet potato hash, bacon

Lunch 7: Leftover frittata muffins

Dinner 7: ?

Week 3:

Lunch 1: BLT egg salad

Dinner 1: Garbage stir-fry*

Lunch 2: Spicy tuna cakes*, sliced peppers

Dinner 2: Chicken sausage skillet meal

Lunch 3: Leftover chicken sausage skillet, trail mix

Dinner 3:  Shredded chicken taco salad

Lunch 4: Pastrami and pepper wrap

Dinner 4: Spicy Tunisian shrimp*, roasted broccoli

Lunch 5: Bacon-wrapped chicken tenders, sliced avocado

Dinner 5: Chipotle chicken soup, sliced avocado

Lunch 6: Leftover soup

Dinner 6: Pork chops, roasted zucchini, roasted mushrooms

Lunch 7: Brunch, bacon and fried eggs

Dinner 7: QDoba,( meat, lettuce, guacamole)

Week 4:

Lunch 1: (Brunch) Chicken sausage and peppers, fried egg

Dinner 1: Crispy smashed chicken with salsa*, bacon topped Brussel sprouts*

Lunch 2: Leftover chicken, cucumber salad

Dinner 2: Big O Burgers*, cabbage steaks

Lunch 3: Cobb salad

Dinner 3: Chipotle chicken soup, salad

Lunch 4: Pastrami wraps, tomato salad

Dinner 4:  Crock pot Italian beef over spaghetti squash

Lunch 5: Leftover Italian beef

Dinner 5:  Chocolate chili, sliced avocados

Lunch 6: Leftover chili

Dinner 6: Tilapia, baked sweet potatoes, salad

Lunch 7: Prosciutto muffins

Dinner 7: ?

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Whew!  If you are counting, that is 28 days.  We haven’t decided on our last two yet.  This is just a glimpse into how we eat.  We have eaten at QDoba a couple of times, but otherwise haven’t eaten out at all.  For snacks, we eat nuts, fruit (I especially like dates), veggie slices, fried eggs, or avocados.  We are also able to drink coffee and tea, as long as there are no added sweeteners.

What do you think?  Could you ever do this?  Have you ever tried The Whole 30?  I would love to hear your thoughts.  If you have any questions about recipes or about my experience, please contact me or ask in the comment section!

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Missed any posts?  Here are the latest:

Dear Dad, Letter 4

What I Gather About Priorities

A Gathering of Vacation Reads

You can also FOLLOW ME HERE

 

We Are Gathering

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We open our homes and we open our hearts.

Come in to my messy house and into my messy life.  You are welcome.

We serve lots of food on big platters or right out of the slow cookers.  We fill our plates and nourish one another with more than just food.  We find a seat wherever one is available or make our own place right on the floor.

I know about your job, you know about mine.  We often know the needs to pray for without being asked or told.  We make our struggles and our humanity known.  You bear my burdens, I bear yours.

We gather before dawn, music soft and lights low.  We pray in the quietness of early morning, watching the sun rise together, before the world is awake.  Scripture pierces the darkness between us, breaking down barriers, both challenging us and equipping us for the day ahead.

We ask each other’s children the questions that matter to them.  We listen intently to the answers and watch their faces light up.  We listen as they struggle through the scripture reading, watch them receive the offerings with joy and overlook the noise they sometimes make.  We love them all.  It takes a village, after all, and everything is worth it when we see them raise their hands to the One we all love or sing out a song of praise.

We discipline them, teach them kingdom principles, mediate arguments.  We pour the Word of God into their little hearts and minds.  We teach them songs to help them remember the important things.  We ask them a million questions and reward them in a million ways when we see that what matters is sinking in.  We love them all.

We open our Bibles and expose our ideas about what we read.  We look at one another while we speak, ready to grow from the insight offered.  You challenge me, I challenge you.  We call each other out for making excuses or diluting what that Word actually says.  His words matter most and we don’t let each other forget it.

We cook meals for one other in times of joy and grief.  We plant trees of remembrance together.  We cry when one hurts, delight when one has joy.  We celebrate victories and raises and babies.  We hold those babies as if they are our own, speaking silent prayers of blessing over them.

We meet the needs when we see one struggling.  We write a check or buy the groceries or babysit the kids.  We cook the dinner or make the encouraging phone call or send the scripture via text.  We show up on the doorstep, ready to intercede on behalf of one another.

We pass the wine and the bread and do it all in remembrance of the One who paid it all for us.  We close our eyes in repentance.  We see the tears fall sometimes and we don’t judge.  We understand the love of a Savior and are moved equally in varying ways.  We are thankful, all of us together.

We raise our hands and sing out the praises of the One who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.  We clap and move and the kids join in and we are a new body of believers, worshiping their Maker as one.  We  tell each other of the goodness of the Lord with gladness.

We listen intently to our elders and honor them always.

We pass out food to the hungry.  We dig our hands into the earth, planting seeds in the ground and planting the seed in our community.  We embrace teenage moms as if they were our little sisters, and fight over who gets to hold their babies.  We give until it hurts to take care of the orphans, the homeless, the church planters and the ones reaching out to make disciples.

We have our struggles and our selfish moments and our glaring shortcomings.  We have a long way to go. We are not perfect and we proclaim that loudly and without hesitation.  But we are part of His body, and we understand how significant that is.  We understand the honor of serving alongside one another and through it all, we love.  We love past the failures and through the trials.  We love old and young, meek and bold, quiet and loud.  We love the only way we know how, allowing the God of love to flow through us, transforming us all the while.

We are gathering and we are Gathering.

sig Missed any posts? Here are the most recent:
Dear Dad, Letter 3

A Gathering of Gallery Walls

What I Gather about Disciplined Children

A Gathering of Links XVI

links It’s that time again! I have been saving up all of my favorite links to share with you, and as usual, some of them are fantastic. But first… some updates on life in the Rennard house…..

Our church, Gathering, has had morning prayer every day this week from 6-7. It has been so amazing to gather with friends and pray while we watch the sun rise. I think I have always known in the back of my mind how powerful consistent early morning prayer can be, but this is the first time I have experienced it in such a profound way. Sitting in my living room, surrounded by my brothers and sisters in Christ, ushering in a new day with prayer and consecration felt sacred and holy.

I started back to work at the preschool last week. Isabel goes with me and LOVES her class. I love being able to peek in her room and see her interacting with the other kids. Ava has had a great first three weeks and joined the school choir. Her passion seems to be music, and this excites me. After years of struggling through violin practices and lessons, she has turned a corner and can MAKE MUSIC! Violin is a difficult instrument and she still has a long way to go, but as my mom says, “Once they realize they can make music, everything changes.” We are over a month into our wheat-free diet and going strong. Here is some first day of school cuteness for you:

firstday firstday2 Let’s get to some links! My most popular post from the last two weeks is: Dear Dad, Letter 1.

That doesn’t include my posts that gets lots of hits from Pinterest.  These are:

A Gathering of Recipes for Crowds

Gathering Ideas for a Shabby Chic Bedroom

Gathering for a Shabby Chic Baby Shower

My favorite links, in no particular order:

Spiritual Inspiration:

From A Deeper Story, There Are No Trophies Here

11 of the Greatest Hymns in Church History at (in)Courage.  This is really cool.

On Truth, Specks, and the Blinding Goodness of  God at Narrow Paths to Higher Places

Over at Rachel Held Evans, What Would Jesus Do (With His Enemy)?

In Which I Will Become More Undignified from Sarah Bessey

At A Holy Experience, When You’re Ready to Wear Who You Really Are

You don’t hate me.  You hate my brand.  From Rachel Held Evans

From Tim Brister, From Strangers to Missionaries:  A Neighborhood Strategy for Mission

Food Love:

Broccoli Slaw at Smitten Kitchen

At A Beautiful Mess, It’s Smoothie Time!

How to be a Great Dinner Party Guest from Shauna Niequist.

Marriage and Parenting:

In Which I Beg Barbie’s Pardon from Sarah Bessey.

Worst End of Summer Mom Ever from Jen Hatmaker.  So funny.

How Mothers Are Made from Lisa-Jo Baker

From Addie Zierman, For the One Who Married Young

Home Love:

From Design Mom’s Living With Kids series, Living With Kids:  Emily Hart.  I love this home.

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So there you have it!  Grab a cup of coffee, sit outside on a summer afternoon and read some of these posts for inspiration.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!  Have a great weekend!

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Our Wheat-free, Almost Paleo Diet

When my husband came home from the doctor a few months ago and told me his doctor recommend a wheat-free diet, my heart momentarily sunk.  I have a long, complicated relationship with food.  While I have never had terrible eating habits, my motivation for eating healthy food was mostly so that I could indulge in whatever I wanted later on.  When I heard wheat-free, I immediately started thinking of all the things I couldn’t eat if we chose this nutritional path.

Then I started some research.  Diabetes runs in my husband’s family, and he has been on medicine for “pre-diabetes” for quite some time.  His doctor assured him that cutting all wheat from his diet would lead to weight loss and getting rid of the medicine.  Our doctor himself is on a wheat-free diet.

I won’t go into the science of why many scientists and doctors are recommending the diet, but our doctor recommends the book Wheat Belly as a starting place.

I also happen to have a brother who adheres to the Paleo diet and sings the praises of the health benefits he has experienced.  Paleo goes a few steps beyond eating wheat-free.  Again, I won’t go into the science of it, but you can read more about it here.

Our family has landed somewhere in the middle.  We are eating a strictly wheat-free diet, and are getting closer to a strictly Paleo diet, although we occasionally consume rice, potatoes, corn, and dairy.  For us, the changes have been drastic.  I try not to focus on numbers, but in about  6 weeks, I have lost 13 pounds.  I feel more energetic overall and feel better about the foods I am putting into my body.  We attempt to eat the highest quality foods possible, buying mostly organic and buying high-quality meats from the Noblesville Real Food Market.  We have cut out nearly all processed foods and very rarely eat out.

If I were a food blogger, I would have fantastic photos to share with you of the kinds of meals we eat.  A food blogger I am not.  However, I will share with you what a typical weeks looks like for us, just to get you thinking.

*Please note that nearly all of the ingredients should be organic and high-quality.  Also, these are not recipes, but merely examples of a meal plan.

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Egg Muffins
Monday:

Breakfast:  Egg muffins (made on Sunday) with organic eggs, chicken sausage, mushrooms, onion, and green pepper

Lunch:  Chicken sausage hash (same that I used in egg muffins), organic red pepper slices, fruit salad

Dinner:  Large spinach/baby green salad with artichoke hearts, heart of palm, tomato, cucumber, mushroom, feta cheese, kalamata olives, red/green peppers, onion, and protein of choice (shredded chicken, chicken sausage, pastrami, bacon, etc.)

Tuesday:

Breakfast:  Pre-made egg muffins

Lunch:  Pastrami wrapped red peppers, mixed nuts, Greek yogurt, cucumber slices

Dinner:  Broiled tuna steaks, sweet potato oven-fries

Wednesday:  

Breakfast:  Last of the egg muffins

Lunch:  Large bowl of tomato salad with feta, basil, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper

Dinner:  Oven-fried chicken (breaded with almond meal, corn meal, and spices), pumpkin sautéed in pork lard, spices and maple syrup

Chickenedited pumpedited Oven-fried chicken and sautéed pumpkin

Thursday:

Breakfast:  Egg scramble with ham, mushrooms, spinach, peppers, onions and feta.

Lunch:  Avocado topped with bacon, berries

Dinner:  Chicken sausage (cut into chunks), sautéed with lots of red and green peppers, onion and spices.  sautéed kale, spinach and beet greens as a side.

Friday:

Breakfast:  Chorizo hash with potatoes and onion, fried egg served on top

Lunch:  Canned tuna mixed with olive tapenade, served on gluten-free crackers, pear

Dinner:  Ground pork meatballs with marinara, roasted broccoli, salad

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Please remember that I am by no means an expert.  I am just getting started and am learning as I go and I do not strictly adhere to the Paleo diet.  My favorite Paleo blog is Nom Nom Paleo.  Do yourself the favor and download the Nom Nom Paleo app for iPad if you have one.  It is the best food app I have ever seen, with detailed shopping lists, easy to follow recipes and huge photos of the food.  There are also so many great blogs, books and recipes if you are interested in learning more about this lifestyle.

I am really thrilled with the transformation in our eating habits.  I no longer crave carbs (although I emotionally crave ice-cream from time to time!) and am eating more fresh produce than I ever have.  Our entire family is losing weight and feeling better.  I’m even adjusting the way I feed my guests when we have company.  I am learning that if my body is truly a temple of the Holy Spirit, it is my responsibility to take care of its every component.

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What about you?  Have you heard much about the Paleo or wheat-free lifestyle?  Would it be hard for you to make this kind of change?  Do you have any tips for this wheat-free/Paleo beginner?  I would love your feedback!  If you want a more detailed recipe from the foods mentioned above, just comment and I will get back to you.

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Missed any posts?  Here are the most recent:

What Kind of Person?

Dear Dad, Letter 1

A Gathering of Links XV

You can also follow me via e-mail HERE!

 

What I’m Into, July 2013

(This post is linked with Hopeful Leigh’s What I’m Into post.  Check it out here.)

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Books:

I had high hopes for July.  My June reading list was extensive and I hoped to continue that trend into July.  And then…. something happened.  I will share later.  Keep reading.

But I did succeed in reading a few books.  Here they are:

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Saturday by Ian McEwan was the best piece of fiction I have read in a long, long time.  Each night when I finished reading, I would marvel, sometimes to myself, sometimes to Jimmie, about the genius of this author.  The first chapter was a bit slow, and I must admit I nearly gave up on it.  I am so glad I persevered.  The entire novel takes place within a 24 hour time span in the life of one man.  It is insightful and surprising, sad and hopeful.  I am excited to read more of McEwan’s work.
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The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty was a solid summer read.  It kept my interest and was the kind of entertainment I relish during lazy summer days.  I will say that I thought the end dragged on a bit much.  It was interesting after reading Saturday reading this book, which covers a 50 year time span.
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 Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist was beautiful and moving.  This is storytelling at its finest.  I loved the heart I felt on each and every page.  God has been prodding me and challenging me in the area of hospitality for a couple of years now, and this book opened my eyes to the profound impact hospitality can have.  I earmarked so many pages with fantastic recipes.  I can’t wait to make some of them.  I have a feeling that I will re-read this book many times.

Television:

Remember when I said I had high hopes for the books I would read in July?  Well, television happened.  We got rid of cable and hadn’t been watching much, if any, television.  Then I had one of those nights when I just wanted to curl up in bed and watch something.

Enter Parenthood.

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Friends, let me just tell you, I finished all four seasons in the month of July.  I watched episodes on Netflix every night, late into the night.  I was hooked so fast and fell in love with the characters in a way that has only happened with a couple of other television series.

Blame my wimpy reading list on this show right here.  Then watch the first episode on Netflix.


Make fun all you want, but I own all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD.  I get in the mood to watch this series from time to time.  I finished season 7 in July.  It’s always a little sad saying goodbye to Lorelai and Rory, at least until next time I start the series over….

Funny story.  My mom saw the DVD’s at my house a few weeks ago.  I gave her season 1, not sure if she would get into it.  She called me a couple of days later, asking for all seven seasons.  She and my aunt  had spent lazy days at her camper, watching Gilmore Girls.  They fell in love with it.  How can you not?

Food:

As I announced a couple of months ago, I have given up sweets and soda for the rest of 2013.  It has been going really well.  I had a successful cheat day on July 4th (which is part of the plan).  I have had a little Nutella two times in two months.  I also have eaten some fruit pops that are very lightly sweetened, but only a handful of times.

Then about a month ago, Jimmie’s doctor recommended that he go on a wheat-free diet (based on the research in this book.)  We discussed it and decided to dive in.  We have eliminated nearly all wheat from our diet and most carbs.  We are working toward adhering to the paleo diet.  Basically, we eat high quality meats and eggs, tons of fresh, organic vegetables, some fruit and a small amount of dairy.

Jimmie and I have both lost weight and are learning day by day how to change our eating habits.  Here are a couple of things making our life easier right now:

1.  Nom Nom Paleo – This is a great website with lots of paleo recipes.  There are so many websites out there, but this is one my brother (who adheres strictly to the paleo diet) recommended.

2.  Eggs and feta.  I have never been a breakfast eater.  I am now making myself an egg scramble each morning with mushrooms, peppers, spinach, whatever veggies are around the house, and… FETA.  I have always loved Feta cheese but had never tried it in my eggs.  This has made me a breakfast convert.

3.  Trader Joe’s.  Trader Joe’s has long been my favorite grocery store.  Now, with their extensive offerings of gluten-free items, we can find affordable groceries that fit our wheat-free diet.  We go every Sunday evening, spend about $100 and are (mostly) set for the week.

4.  Noblesville Real Food Market.  My brother is part of this market, and provides us with organic produce and high quality meats.

5.  Live the Way’s Noblesville Community Garden Project.  My  husband has been working tirelessly to get this project off the ground and now we are (literally) enjoying the fruits of our labor.  We have been eating tons of fresh kale, broccoli, spinach, zucchini, beets, beet greens, turnips, peas, tomatoes and more.  It is so rewarding eating food I planted myself.

Other:

I’m also into the pool:

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And my new camera, along with the A Beautiful Mess app:

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I have a new love for downtown Indianapolis after our trip on the 4th of July:
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And I’m hopelessly in love with this newborn. Ah, Ruby: (read my prayer for her here)

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That’s about it for me!  I can’t believe Ava starts school tomorrow and I start work the following week.  It has been a great summer, full of fun, family and friends.  I am feeling blessed.

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What about you?:  What are you into?  I would love to hear about it.

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A Gathering of Recipes for Crowds

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Things have been a bit serious here at Rachael Gathers for a few weeks now.  I thought for a change of pace, I would share some of my favorite recipes when cooking for a crowd.

Almost two years ago, we started hosting a small group in our home.  One of the first weeks, I offered to serve dinner.  There was something really sacred about inviting people to my home and serving them a meal.  I never looked back, and have been cooking for anywhere from 8-25 people nearly every week for two years.

When I first began, I had NO IDEA what I was doing.  I could barely pull off meals for my own small family, much less a group of 15-20.  Thankfully, my crock pot and Pinterest came to the rescue!  I’m honestly not sure I could have pulled off so many meals without my two crock pots.  I have learned so much about not only cooking for large groups, but also about hospitality.  God has opened my heart as I have opened my home.  There’s simply no other way to put it.

So without further delay, I present my favorite recipes for a crowd.

1.  Shredded chicken tacos

This is my go-to meal when I’m in a hurry or out of inspiration.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit just how easy and foolproof this recipe is (and I must credit my friend Tasha for sharing it with me!).  Ready?

6-8 chicken breasts

1-2 jars of salsa (I prefer Herdez)

Yes, that’s it.  This makes the juiciest, most flavorful meat for tacos.  I dump the chicken and salsa in the crock pot and cook it on low for 8 hours or so.  Before I serve, I simply shred it with a fork.  You can drain the liquid if you prefer, but I like how juicy it is.  I typically plan on one chicken breast per two people.

2.  I LOVE this Crock Pot Minestrone soup from Skinny Taste.  I typically double the recipe.  I always have extra spinach, cooked Italian sausage, Parmesan cheese and cooked pasta for people to add in on their own.  It is delicious and healthy.

3. This Italian Chicken from Crock-a-doodle-do is tasty and I like that it incorporates vegetables.  I like to cut the chicken breasts into large chunks before I serve it.

4.  Slow Cooker Jambalaya from My Recipes has been a crowd favorite.  I typically make one crock pot with shrimp and one without for people who don’t love seafood.  It isn’t too spicy, which is great for kids, but forces me to have a large selection of hot sauces on hand.  With this recipe, I also recommend letting the rice cook longer than 30 minutes.  I typically let it cook closer to an hour.

5. Chicken Tortilla Soup from Miller Musings has been one of my most frequent dinners.  It is one of those meals you that you can dump everything in the crock pot and not worry about it again until 5 minutes before dinner.  I love that.  This soup has a great flavor and is delicious with tortilla chips, cheese and sour cream on top.  I always double or triple the recipe to feed the crowd and have leftovers for the next day!

6. Crock Pot Ravioli Casserole from Becoming Betty is delicious.  It sort of reminds me of lasagna.  Again, I always double or triple the recipe.  This is typically served with a large salad and garlic bread.

7.  From Southern Plate, this is the recipe for Cheesy Chicken and Rice.  You have to love casseroles to love this recipe.  Everyone at my house always gobbles this up.  We actually had it Monday night!  It is just a classic chicken and rice recipe.  I have quadrupled this recipe before and had two giant crock pots full.

So there you have my favorite recipes to feed a crowd!

We also rely on go-to meals like hamburgers on the grill, chili in cool weather, spaghetti, sandwich night, and lasagna.  I normally have a big salad to help fill people up, offer something healthy, and make the main dish last for everyone.  I also use paper products so I can enjoy my company and not stress about clean-up.

You can find all of these recipes and many more crock recipes by following me on Pinterest.

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Do you ever cook for a crowd?  What are your go-to recipes?  Are there any crock-pot recipes you can suggest for me?  I’m sure our small group would be thrilled to have some new recipes added to the same old mix!

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A Gathering of Links XII

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A Gathering of Links XII

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It’s that time again!  I love linking you up to my favorite posts of the week and this week there are a LOT!  First, some highlights from my week…

We had a relaxing three-day weekend, spent mostly at home.

Some exciting things are on the horizon for Gathering!

Ava had her last day of school and is home for the summer!

A long-time friend was married, seemed incredibly happy and had a gorgeous wedding.  Here we are, getting ready to leave for the celebration:

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We actually planted at the community garden!  All of my husband’s hard work is finally paying off.  The garden is looking fantastic and we are all eager to taste the (literal) fruits of our labor!

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Now let’s get to it and link you up!

My most read post of the week was Gathering Self-Control (and an announcement).  Thanks for all of the positive feedback!  We now have at least 10 adults committing to all or part of this challenge.  Day 1 down.  Lots to go.

Marriage and Family:

On Loving Well from Narrow Paths to Higher Places.  I can’t tell you how much this post resonated with me.  My love language is also acts of service, and I found myself relating to so much of what she discussed, especially after having just written What I Gather About Myself as Mom!  Love this post!

At A Holy Experience, When strong mamas feel quite weak.  This was so insightful.

From Lisa-Jo Baker, How to Fall in Love.  Again.  Because we all must choose to fall in love over and over again.

Spiritual Reflection:

At A Deeper Story, Lessons from a Fundamental Baptist on Memorial Day.  I enjoyed this perspective.

Food Love:

Info about the paleo diet at Simple Mom.  Our family is attempting to transition to a more paleo-friendly diet and I found this really helpful.

Fried pickles at A Beautiful Mess, because who doesn’t love fried pickles??

Also at A Beautiful Mess, Three Super Healthy Salads.  Because months and months of no sweets = new food choices necessary.

For Fun:

I’m going to make these Washi Wildflowers from Girl in the Garage with Ava.  They are so cheerful and I love that they won’t ever wilt.

So.  Funny.  From Jen Hatmaker, Worst End of School Year Mom Ever.  This made me laugh out loud.  Truly.

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So there you have it!  Those were my favorite blog posts from the week.  What are you reading these days?  Have you discovered any new blogs I need to check out?  I would love to hear from you.  I hope your weekend was fantastic and that the coming week is full of sunshine and joy!

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A Gathering of Links IX

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Happy Monday to you all!  It is a beautiful, warm, sunny day in central Indiana and I couldn’t be happier about it!  We have a lot going on in our world.  Friday we had a Mad Men themed going away party for my niece, which was a blast.  We had a huge turnout for the community garden workday last week.  Ava is taking ISTEP this week and Isabel is at a campground with my mom.  I am trying to soak in all the time I can with my niece before she (*tear) moves out.

I have lots of great links to share with you today, but first I want to share some exciting news….

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Agnes has a sponsor! A huge THANK YOU to the special family who will be making an impact on this precious girl’s life. I can’t thank you enough. I had hoped to have more sponsors by now, but I believe the seed has been planted and we will see more of these kids sponsored very soon! (If you are interested and missed our big promotion, please see this SPONSOR AN ORPHAN link)

Also, I want to express my sincere gratitude for the way all of you received my most popular post of the week, A (Re)Gathering of Faith.  It was my most popular post in the history of Rachael Gathers, thanks to all of your shares.  I was so moved by the comments and messages I received from so many of you responding to my story.  Sometimes I hesitate before I hit “publish” on personal stories, but the feedback from you reminded me that we all struggle and we can draw strength from the testimonies of one another.

So, let’s get to it!  Grab a cup of coffee or tea, sit back and check out some of the best links from the WWW this week!

Spiritual Inspiration:

From Winn Collier, Revolutionary Shepherd.

At Mary DeMuth, Candace’s Crazy Beautiful Story of Healing.

From A Deeper Church, Not Just Bread, Not Just Wine.

From Narrow Paths to Higher Places, On Loving Well: A Stone’s Throw Pt. 1.

At A Holy Experience, 6 Books When You’re Looking for Change.

From Sarah Bessey, In Which We Need to Ask Questions that Have No Answers.

Food Love:

At A Cozy Kitchen, The Best Tabbouleh Salad.

For Laughs:

At It Just Gets Stranger, Dear Vague Facebook Status Poster.

And my very favorite post of the week, beautiful and challenging and straight from the Bible:

From Brian D. McLaren, a compilation of “one another’s” in the New Testament.

What have you been into this week?  I would love your comments about your favorite blogs, books, TV shows, movies or activities these days.  Have a blessed week!

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A Gathering of Links VII

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I hope wherever you are, you are taking in spring and the glory of God’s creation.  We had a beautiful time of worship with some friends last night and spent the majority of our day at the community garden.  It has been so good for my soul to be outside, surrounded by new life.  I am reminded of new life in Christ Jesus.

Thanks to all of you for making my most popular post What I Gather About…. Here.  It was dedicated to my husband.  I hope you could tell how great he is from the way I gushed!

Here are my favorite links from the last week.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Parenting:

From Lisa-Jo Baker, when you’re wondering if you can face another week of the same routine.

Food:

From Jerusalem Greer, because bread pudding is one of my favorite foods ever.

From A Cozy Kitchen, because who doesn’t love spaghetti and meatballs?

For Inspiration:

An interview with Sarah Bessey.

Please take a moment to look through these breath-taking photos from Smithsonian Magazine.  God’s beauty is all around.

Have you subscribed to A Holy Experience yet?  Take my word and do yourself the favor.  I am weekly amazed by the beauty and depth of Ann Voskamp’s words.  It is so hard to choose a favorite to share with you, so read them all!  My favorite this week was this…. When Life Burns, What We Could Do For Each Other.

I also want to share a quote with you that I read from Rachel Held Evan’s blog.  It was spoken by Brennan Manning, who recently passed away.  I didn’t know who he was, but this quote has been in my mind an on my heart all week.

“The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creation. Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within, who would live in ever greater fidelity to the omnipresent Word of God, who would enter into the center of it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love. This, my friend, is what it really means to be a Christian.” ― Brennan Manning

I hope you enjoy my favorite links from the week.  I will leave you with my Instagrams from this past week.

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