DWELL & My Favorite Reads of 2017


Each year for the past several years, I have chosen one word to guide my self-improvement: Choose. Change. Grow. Simplify. Free. Enjoy. Guard.

Having finished building our house in late 2016 and moving in shortly after our daugther's first birthday, I knew I wanted a word for 2017 that embodied the idea of creating a sanctuary. But I also wanted to ensure that my focus would not be solely (or even primarily) on material things.

January 2017 found me at our new address, pregnant with our fourth child, homeschooling a first grader with a 17-month-old and a 3.5 year old underfoot. It was fun. And exhausting. And exciting and new and terrifying and humbling and chaotic expensive and all the things life with littles can be. I wanted a word that would stretch my comfort boundaries but could also envelop my family life. A word that felt more spiritual and life-giving than task-oriented (though I'm no stranger to hard work.)

Then my word found me.


To me, "dwell" was a multi-faceted word. It spoke of relaxing at home, a haven my beloved husband, children, and I would want to return to each day. A safe place to shield us from the drama and chaos and performance and façade of the outside world. Dwell encompasses the rhythms of life: the meals prepared, the laundry folded, the tiny hands washed. It's a contentment and peace with the season of life you are experiencing.

But dwell is also a state of mind...a deliberate choice to rest one's mind on the goodness of God and His promises. Choosing to stay in relationships when the going gets tough. Allowing time for self-reflection to show areas for improvement. To have joy despite circumstances, because you know circumstances always change.

And if I'm anything, I'm a researcher. I love to read and ask questions and debate topics. So when I choose a word for the year, I pursue it head-on. This past year was no different, and along the way, I found several great books that impacted not only how my home and family life look, but also how I see them. The following books contained tidbits and stories and tips that have stuck with me and revolutionized the way I do housework, connect with my family, and think of my home. I cannot recommend them enough! In no particular order, my favorite home and family reads of 2017:

#1: The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith

This book has so many brilliant ideas for using what you already have to make your home beautiful. I'm big on saving money, recycling old items, and coming up with creative solutions, so this approach resonates with me. Spending big bucks to impress people with interior decorating is not nearly as important as creating a home that reflects your family's unique style and interests.

I also HIGHLY recommend Myquillyn's online course: Cozy Minimalist

#2: HOw to manage your home without losing your mind by dana k. white

Dana's book had me looking at laundry and dishes and decluttering in a whole new light. I'm naturally a pretty tidy person, so I wasn't sure how much I could get out of a book written by a self-proclaimed slob. I was pleasantly surprised! So many of her tips have stuck with me and just. make. sense. Check this one out, even if you're already doing a good job managing your home. There will be at least one or two new ideas in there to get you thinking.

#3: The secrets of happy families by bruce feiler

So many family-oriented books feel daunting and almost discouraging...like they add a long, looong list of 'to dos' on top of an already busy, chaotic life and you're 'doing it wrong' if you don't follow all the advice in the pages. I liked  Mr. Feiler's approach: he interviewed unusual sources for family-enriching suggestions: professors, CEOs, video game designers, and then he tested out their ideas on his own family. He presents not only the what, but the WHY behind you should implement some of these habits and rituals with your own family.

#4: Come and Eat by bri mckoy

A beautiful exposé on the power of connection forged around the everyday table. Jesus Himself spent much of His time on Earth around the table, sharing meals with hurting people and imparting wisdom. Bri's faith-based book weaves anecdotes from her personal life with stories from Scripture and also includes easy-to-follow recipes and discussion questions to deepen your relationships with others. Possibly the most powerful book I read all year.

#5: Parenting: 14 Gospel Principles That Can Radically Change Your Family by Paul David TRipp

I got this book thinking it would "fix" my kids, but instead was faced with the reality that as a parent, the 'fixing' starts with me. Very convicting advice, but not in a condemning way. All Christian parents should give this one a read.

#6: Happier at home by gretchen rubin

A follow-up to her popular novel "The Happiness Project," this book focused on creating a more life-giving, happy home. I loved many of the suggestions and it also made me think about what sorts of things influence my own personal happiness as well as the happiness of my husband and kids.

#7: The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You by Jessica N. Turner

Very practical advice on finding spare moments throughout the day for both resting and pursuing one's passions. Good encouragement and examples for anyone who claims they "don't have time" to do the things they love doing.

#8: When Breath Becomes Air by paul Kalanithi

Now, this one may seem a strange title to include in a list of otherwise home-based, self-improvement books. But it's very message is one of LIVING LIFE to the full. Despite the medical jargon sprinkled throughout, this haunting memoir was an easy read...captivating, emotional, thought-provoking. Kalanithi's novel was released following his death, and the questions he asks himself throughout his writing will have you pondering your own life and what you truly value.

#9: The Inspired Room: Simple Ideas to Love the Home You Have by Melissa Michaels

I enjoyed the beautiful photos in this book as well as the easy-to-follow advice and decorating tips. I liked her mix of new purchases, thrift store finds, and DIY projects. The combination made decorating a home feel more like an enjoyable layering process, rather than a one-and-done budget-busting accomplishment to check off a to-do list.

#10 The life-changing magic of tidying up by marie kondo

Did anyone not read this book in the last year or two?! I'm still not sold on talking to my thrift-store-bound clothes and thanking them for their service :) but I loved most of her strategies for releasing clutter that seems to be hard to let go (a condition that seems to run in my family). I utilized several of her techniques and self-reflection questions in order to purge some areas of my home that are generally untouched. Words a read when you're ready to simplify but don't know where to begin.

If you have read any of these titles, I'd love to hear what you thought of them! I love discussing books as much as I enjoy reading them. Likewise, you have additional titles that would fit on my "Dwell" shelf, I'd love to hear your recommendations. Creating a home is a lifelong pursuit for me as is learning and growing and bettering myself.

Here's to being an even better version of yourself in 2018! Cheers!


**“We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”**

Your purchase of any items listed above helps with the costs associated with keeping Z as in Zebra up and running. THANK YOU!



#97: See a Movie at a Drive-in

As a wife and mom, I kept my family in mind as I was making my 101 Things list. Sure, they are all things *I* want to do or activities I'd like to try, but it's always more fun to go on adventures or experience new things with the people I love.

One thing I'd never done before is see a movie at a drive-in. Fortunately for me, the oldest operating drive-in theatre in Oklahoma (The Beacon in Guthrie) is a short drive from our home. We checked out the listings for upcoming movies and decided we'd make it a family affair, invite some friends, and go see the Angry Birds movie.

While we waited for the sun to set, we killed time by taking selfies and blowing the kids' college fund at the concession stand (WHY is a tiny package of Sour Patch Kids $6?!)

We loved looking around and seeing all the other families hanging out at the Beacon. Most sat on truck tailgates or lawn chairs. Some threw frisbees or footballs to pass the time until it was dark enough for the film to start.

We laughed throughout the movie and snuggled together (all the easier to share popcorn, my dear) and, as with any good time, the kids fell asleep on the way home.

If you live in Oklahoma and have never been to a drive-in, I recommend making a trip to the Beacon. Even though I generally default to Netflix and jammies, it was a really fun experience.

Go HERE to follow along with my 101 Things progress. Detailed accounts of completed Things will be posted as time allows. For those items that need little-to-no explanation, a completion date and any applicable footnotes will be noted on the 101 Things page.

#55: Make Soft Pretzels

You know that feeling you get when you're walking through the mall and BAM! you're hit in the face with the delicious aroma of butter-dipped CARBS?! Why not recreate that feeling at home once in a while?

Soft pretzels rank among my favorite snacks. With their buttery, crispy exterior enveloping a fluffy, tender center and the perfectly coarse rock salt to balance out all that creamy butter. Whew.

So, naturally, when it came time to generate ideas for my 101 Things list, "make soft pretzels" had to be on there. They're not exactly a quick snack to whip up, so I don't make them very often. ((luckily, for my hips' sake)). But this list is supposed to be comprised of things one loves doing but doesn't always make time to do, so making pretzels fit the bill perfectly.

Also, I think it's important that my kiddos learn that a lot of the foods we buy from stores or restaurants can be made from scratch, too.

I searched the web for the 'best' recipe, and ended up taking the most commonly-recurring tips and tricks to make my own batch (rolling pencil-thin, baking soda bath, etc.).

I was pleased with the results, and so were my kids. Nom nom nom!

Your to-do list never tasted so good.

Go HERE to follow along with my 101 Things progress. Detailed accounts of completed Things will be posted as time allows. For those items that need little-to-no explanation, a completion date and any applicable footnotes will be noted on the 101 Things page.

#85-Buy A Kallax Shelf from IKEA

I'm on an adventure to intentionally add more fun to my life. Follow my progress here, or make a 101 Things list of your own! For several years, I have wanted a Kallax shelf from IKEA. So long, in fact, it used to be known by a different name and has since been redesigned. Now that we are nearing completion on our house, it was time to make a trip! Our nearest IKEA is 3.5 hours away in Dallas, so I invited my sister Sonny along for the adventure. Beau-boy stayed behind at a friend's house so we could fold down the third row in our van, and the girls came with Sonny and me. Could NOT have done it without my sister's help!

We arrived at lunchtime so, naturally, our IKEA experience began in the Café!

Finley was juuuuust tall enough to get to go in the children's play area...but they only keep kids for an hour. So, she played while we browsed, and then we picked her up before heading to the warehouse to load up our items.

I wanted the 5x5 Kallax, which comes in four different (heavy) boxes. I also had enough cash in my "Ikea Trip" envelope to get two 4x2 Kallax units for the kids' rooms! Needless to say, we filled a dolly in mere moments.

Very excited to *finally* have my shelf! It's currently in our new garage, awaiting assembly. The concrete floor crew comes Monday, so I'll be able to assemble it anytime after that. YAY!!

Go HERE to follow along with my 101 Things progress. Detailed accounts of completed Things will be posted as time allows. For those items that need little-to-no explanation, a completion date and any applicable footnotes will be noted on the 101 Things page.

12 of 35: Beach Vacation

We did it! We took a family vacation to the beach! Trying to describe the beauty that is Destin, Florida is nearly impossible. So I'll just let our pictures do the talking.