Favorite Summer Finds

In the summer, I love to spend as much time as possible outside. I adore it, especially after winter in Iowa. Riding my bike, geocaching, and going on a hike are some of the best (in my opinion) ways to spend a great day outdoors. They’re all pretty cheap and allow for a lot different opportunities. Whether it’s biking a new trail or finding a new geocache…there’s just so much potential.

And, like I said, it’s a pretty cheap way to spend a day or two…not to mention a great date. 🙂 And here are some of the tools I use during my favorite summer activities.

Bike gear

  1. I love to bike, and I love taking photos while out on a ride. And while I think it’s good to commune with nature and set technology aside, this cell phone bike mount is a great biking tool to keep with you. It’s easy to set up, fits a wide range of phones, and can allow you to grab your phone easily and snap a photo. On my iphone, I can even use the camera while it’s hooked up, which is nice for pictures or videos on the go. I used to have to dig my phone out of my handlebar bag, which was just annoying. But this makes it so much easier, and I can check the time while riding, which is a plus. For the price, it’s far nicer than you’d expect!
  2. If you can combine a bike ride and geocaching, you’re in for a good day. Geocaching is on of my absolute favorite ways to spend time outside in the summer. It combines my love for the outdoors, my delight in a challenge, and my creativity and patience…all in one fun activity. I use this app to geocache. I’ve had great luck finding accurate, up to date info on it, and it doesn’t completely drain my battery or data plan. I highly recommend this app, as it’s a bit more official than others and seems to have an active geocaching community using it.geocaching
  3. Water bottles…man, I’ve gone crazy trying to find the right one. I’ve had metal ones, ones with a pop up straw, glass ones, plastic ones, insulated ones, cheap freebies ones…and while my absolute favorite one this glass one, it’s not the most practical for outdoors adventures. I’ve settled on this one from Tupperware. They have cute colors, which is fun. But what I love the most is that there are 3 sizes, so you can find the right size for you, and that the spout opens wide and closes securely. I hate having to fight to get water out of a bottle. With this water bottle, it’s easy to get a good gulp, and easy to open and close. It’s not insulated, but I’m okay with that.
  4. I bought a picnic basket at goodwill for about $7 last winter, and I think it’s adorable. Perfect for a picnic date for two, the picnic basket comes with a cooler space, plates, cutlery, glasses, and napkins, all in an easy-to-carry pack. Yes, there are cuter ones out there, but this is a bit more practical for hikes or bike rides. Of course, I plan to snag some cuter plates and such sometime, but the plain ones that come with it do the trick. Get one just like the one I got, and head out for a picnic with your honey. Also consider a legit picnic blanket, which protects you from the wet, messy ground, folds up easily, and cleans quickly.
  5. I’m a firm believer in making smart decisions, so spending time outside means sunscreen. I hate sunscreen because it’s greasy and gross and gets in my eyes. But this stuff from Neutrogena is fantastic. It’s light enough to use on your face, and is not the least bit greasy. It’s hard to believe it is sunscreen. While it’s a bit pricier than other brands, but well worth it.

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So now you have some of my favorite products for summer fun. Now get these items, get off the computer, and get outside!

-Jen


Affiliate links were used in this post. I may have received some of these produces free in exchange for my honest review. But I really do like all these things, so get them! 🙂

Radish Salsa Recipe

Some of you may know that, as a local foods coordinator, I do programming with children and families that revolves around cooking. And because I work in the local food system, I LOVE giving recipes for things that families can find at our local farmers’ markets. This means I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make unappealing things (like radishes…ugh) delicious (like thyme roasted radishes). It’s fun, frustrating, and altogether rewarding, even when I do find myself in the midst of Pinterest fails (beet hummus, anyone?). At the end of the day I love seeing kids try something new, just to find they LOVE it (ahem, kohlrabi, I’m looking at you), and see families spend some quality cooking and table time together.

So, what’s the point?

Lucky you…I’m going to start sharing some of my all-time favorite, most-surprisingly-loved dishes. I promise, you’ll put smiles on faces with these recipes. They’re tried and true and many of them are things you can make with your kids.

I know, kids are messy. And kids in the kitchen is super messy. I don’t have kids, but I’ve had 20+ kids cooking at once in the schools, so I feel your pain. Trust me on this: get your kids involved in the cooking. That empowers them to try new things!

Messy, yes. But the kids had SO much fun!

Messy, yes. But the kids had SO much fun!

So today I’m sharing one of those “really? They liked THAT?!” recipes we made with the school kids a couple of weeks ago. Radish Salsa!

radish salsa

We had planted radishes, and from years past, I knew offering raw radishes wasn’t a great way to get kids to love radishes. I barely tolerate the things, and I knew we had to transform them somewhat. But I’m not a huge fan of making veggies unrecognizable.

Then I stumbled across this Radish Salsa recipe in my “How to Cook Everything” cookbook. Of course, I adapted it, because that’s what I love doing. We had the kids chop everything up and mixed it together. We plated it and handed out a plate to each kid. As we went in for the first bite together, I was thinking “this is going to be an epic fail…forgive me, children”.

Tasting time!

Tasting time!

It might’ve been the most popular recipe we’ve done all year. No kidding!

The radishes were incredibly fresh, and left none of the hotness that I despise radishes for. The flavors meshed together beautifully, and the kids asked for seconds (and thirds and fourths and…)

Radish Salsa
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
2 cups 10 minutes
Passive Time
30 minutes
Servings Prep Time
2 cups 10 minutes
Passive Time
30 minutes
Radish Salsa
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
2 cups 10 minutes
Passive Time
30 minutes
Servings Prep Time
2 cups 10 minutes
Passive Time
30 minutes
Instructions
  1. Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
  2. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.
  3. Chill for 30 minutes for the best flavor, then serve. You could substitute more radishes for the kohlrabi, or use jicama instead of kohlrabi, which will give the salsa a slightly sweeter taste with a bit more crunch.
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Church as a Haven {Five Minute Friday}

I’m joining with Kate and the Five Minute Friday crew for our weekly 5-minute free writing. Today we’re writing on the word: haven.

Go.

I never imagined church would be a haven.

Funny, isn’t it?

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Church should be, right? It should be the place we turn when we have nothing else. Heck, it should be the place we turn first. But my church history isn’t that warm and fuzzy. It’s full of great people, but also heartache, judgment, and struggles. Haven? No, that wasn’t what I found church to be.

Now though, it’s where I go to be built up. It’s full of those 2am people. You know, the ones you can call at 2am when life is in crisis and know they’ll be with you in a minute. They’ll be praying for you, speaking words of love and truth, holding you.

These people, this church…it’s become my haven.

Each Sunday when I park my car at 7:25am, preparing for the 7:30am Bridge Kids volunteer meeting before the 8am service, I can’t help buy smile as I see “my people” walking across the parking lot and into the building. Coffee, donuts, good people…that’s my Sunday morning ritual (oh yeah, plus about 100 1st-5th grade kids).

And I feel safe. I feel welcome. I feel known. 

Because I’ve found my haven. And I walk with people who journey together through the crazy thing we call life.

Stop.

-Jen

Adventures in Beekeeping {#tinyhousebees}

I am officially a beekeeper.

bee gear

This is NOT a path I envisioned taking, even a year and a half ago. It wasn’t that I hated bees or was particularly afraid of them. I just never envisioned being a beekeeper because I didn’t think I had the knowledge, skills, or strength to do so. But after offering a beekeeping class and taking it this year and last through my job (taught by a couple of experienced beekeepers, of course), and helping my Dad keep bees last year, I’m smitten with the little creatures.

I’m not kidding.

Perhaps a little obsessed, I am 100% on the beekeeping bandwagon and ready to pull everyone around me on it as well. But according to most of the things I’ve read and most of the people I talk to, this is just how it goes. Once you’re introduced to bees, you’re in. There’s no escape route. You realize they are fairly calm, mostly peaceful little creatures that are fascinating to watch and provide some sweet (literally) paybacks for being a dutiful steward of the hives.

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This is my first year with my own hives at my house, and I’m dedicated to documenting this year for you, my readers. I hope you’ll see some of the magic of beekeeping, and perhaps lose a little fear you might be harboring.

Because, really? This little fuzzy ladies are pretty adorable.

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The #tinyhousebees have been living at my house for 11 days now, and are established in two hives right outside my bathroom window, in my little yard in town. I’ll describe more about how I set up the hives, why I chose the location, and how I installed the bees in other posts. Keep an eye out, and walk this bee journey with me.

-Jen


Sting count: 0

Expectations {Five Minute Friday}

It’s been a while, friends, since I’ve written with the Five Minute Friday crew. So I’m joining in with the amazing #fmfparty community and writing on a common theme, for just five minutes. Today’s word is: Expect.


Go.

When I hopped on a plane and flew to South Africa for two years, I was told repeatedly by Peace Corps staff not to have expectations. Expectations set volunteers up for frustration, and sometimes failure. So, as much as I could, I tried not to expect anything.

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I failed at that, miserably. 

But in trying to expect nothing, I learned to expect anything. Click To Tweet

And South Africa both exceeded and fell short of my loosely-held expectations, in a myriad of incredible and frustrating ways.

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And then the most unexpected of things happened, and I wound up being medevac’d back home, grasping for a firm hold in a new reality. And the long-practiced, sometimes despised habit of letting loose of expectations took hold. After a few obedient, unplanned, possibly stubborn “yes’s”, I learned to expect everything.

Because when God is leading the way, we can expect everything good, even in the midst of all the bad.

refresh

I’ve learned that having expectations isn’t bad. But we just need to expect in hope, resting in the truth that God’s plan is far better than our expectations.

Stop.

Jen

The Quieting {Review}

I recently had the pleasure of reading The Quieting by Suzanne Woods Fisher, which is a novel set in Stoney Ridge, the fictitious Amish village create by Fisher and written about in several other books. This is the second book in The Bishop’s Family series. The book revolves around David, an Amish minister who must make the difficult decision whether to seek a quieting or not, the Amish method of removing a church leader from leadership, in this instance due to dishonesty and pride.

Abigail, David’s niece, is an inquisitive, unusual Amish young lady who seeks to help her father uncover some genealogical secrets for a client. But when her grandmother takes her from Ohio to Stoney Ridge to visit her uncle David’s family during a difficult time, Abigail’s plans are completely upset.

I’ve read several Amish fiction books, and while I like them and the unique look into a simpler, unusual lifestyle, most of them tend to have similar characters, settings, and plots. The Quieting is a different story, focusing on an aspect of Amish life that I’ve never heard of or read about: a quieting. Furthermore, the characters were strikingly different than many Amish characters I’ve encountered before: complex and surprisingly realistic.

This novel was a joy to read, and I look forward to finding more books from Fisher, as well as reading further books in The Bishop’s Family series. Based on this novel, more great books, characters, and twists and turns are bound to come with future books from Fisher.

I’d recommend The Quieting to anyone who enjoys a good work of fiction, particularly Amish fiction. While there is an element of romance in the novel, it’s not the central story line, so I wouldn’t call it a romantic fiction. If you pick up this book, you’re in for a great read!


I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Revell, in exchange for my honest review. Affiliate links are used in this post.

Strong Women {#putonyourpearls}

When I think about strong women, I think of the women in Kudunkgwane, the South African village I lived in for two years. (Besides the women in my family, of course, who are exceptionally strong!)

There was a group of women who took ownership of my school garden project. They not only show up for workshops: they dug deep into the Kalahari soil to plant a garden, showed up during the school week and holidays to water and tend the garden, and even took new garden methods and created fantastic gardens at their homes.

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A pearl is a healed wound.

These women, called “gogos”, which meant grandmothers, were some of the matriarchs in the village. Families ravaged by HIV/AIDS and a poor economy, they were left to care for their grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and possibly other various kids in the village. Often facing the loss of their husbands and children, either due to death or far-off jobs in the city, they were left alone. To care for children that often weren’t their own.

And they rose to the occasion.

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Wear your pearls to remind the world that every woman matters.

Ignoring the brutal beating of the Kalahari sun, the fierce desert winds filled with sand, and the crushing weight of poverty, theses gogos worked hard to make life a little better for the children at the school. While most of them were beyond retirement age, they were strong beyond believe, digging into the hard desert soil with surprising energy.

They were oppressed, having grown up during the unbearable years of Apartheid, denied a decent education, and having watched the decimation of the generation of their children from HIV/AIDS. They had every reason to give in. Give up. Accept that life had been incredibly difficult, and likely wouldn’t change drastically anytime soon.

Yet they showed up. They grabbed spades, shoveled dirt, and planted seeds. Seeds of hope: hope in the form of vegetables to feed hundreds of hungry children. While it was just a drop in the ocean, their small efforts of relieving the sting of poverty and pain of hunger transformed a school. And that impact rippled out to change a village.

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#putonyourpearls

Today I put on my pearls in honor of these women, these impossible strong women, these gogos, who dared to make a difference. They are priceless.

Despite my dislike of selfies, today I’m posting one to remind myself that every woman is priceless, whether it’s a gogo in a Kalahari village, a woman stuck in modern-day slavery, or an uncertain girl in rural Iowa.

You are priceless.

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Today is Global Giving Day, and I’m joining with hundreds of other women to #putonyourpearls in honor of oppressed women around the world. Women who have faced unspeakable tragedies in their lives. Because even though life has treated them harshly, there is always hope.

Check out She is Priceless to learn more, see partnering organizations, or donate for an incredible worthy cause. Or check out Kristen’s post about this day, and see how her life has been impacted by powerful women.

Would you consider donating to one of the organizations on this page? Because when oppressed women are empowered, nothing can stop them. Just like the gogos in my village who wouldn’t let a hard life keep them from changing their small corner of the world.

Because every woman is priceless.

Counted with the Stars {Review}

I recently finished Counted with the Stars by Connilyn Cossette, and I can honestly say it’s one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I adore historical fiction, but this setting, plot line, and perspective are surprisingly different than most historical fictions. Counted with the Stars is a refreshing take on story many of us have heard numerous times in church while growing up.

Told from the viewpoint of a young Egyptian elite-turned-slave, this novel revolves around Moses, the plagues, and the exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt. Kiya, the main character, learns to deal with her own cultural prejudices as she becomes friends with a fellow slave, Hebrew-born Shira.

While I’ve heard the story of the plagues of Egypt and the exodus of the Hebrews, seeing it “first hand” made me think how miserable and disheartening that period of history must have been for the Egyptians, but also how joyful yet fearful it had to have been for the Hebrews. The novel is full of twists and turns, which kept me guessing to the last pages. Surprising for a story that I already knew the overall ending to!

I would highly recommend this novel, not just to historical fiction lovers, but to anyone who wants a fresh look at what life in Egypt might have been like during the life of Moses. Woven into this story are tiny details of the culture and language of the Hebrews, and as Kiya learned more about God’s chosen people, I found myself learning as well. The end of the book left me pondering a well-known, incredible story for a while.

Find this book, and read it. You won’t regret it! Travel with Kiya from her privileged life to her sudden station as a slave, and watch as her eyes open to a whole different world as she befriends Shira and her family. Cossette has written an incredibly piece of fiction that rings with seeds of Biblical truths, and it’s well worth your time to read.


I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for my honest review. This post includes affiliate links.

Wholeness of Community {Five Minute Friday}

It’s Five Minute Friday time, when I gather with other writers from all corners of the globe as we write together, for just five minutes, on a common prompt. When we put away the inner editor and just let the words flow. Our gracious hostess, Kate, has all the details on her blog, as well as the link up so YOU can join in!

Today’s prompt is: Whole.


 

I didn’t realize what I had left behind. What was missing. Nor what stood to be gained.

When I left the church of my youth, I believed I could live a faith-filled life without community. You know, keep reading the Bible, praying, etc. And for too long, this was the reality of my spiritual life. An ember burning, but not shining forth. I didn’t see how community fit into the whole picture.

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And then I came back to community, slowly. Timid and wounded, I tiptoed into the church and fell head-first into community. To a whole, Christ-loving, vibrate community. And the wounded places found healing.

And I found a whole new aspect to my faith: what it means to have community amplify your faith.

When your whole world turns to turmoil, what it means to have friends that will show up, no matter what.

Ones who will talk down the dusty roads of a foreign country, willing to have their whole worldview shattered to see as Jesus saw.

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Friends who reach out every day, just to see if life’s going well. And when it’s not, they show up.

I discovered a whole new world, a Jesus-loving community ready to walk with me through life. And this has challenged and grown my faith in unexpected ways. Now I can’t imagine life without the wholeness of community. Because you simply don’t understand how vital it is until you experience it.

And then your whole world changes.

-Jen


Full disclosure, this probably took more than five minutes to write because I had a hyperactive terrier jumping on me, my couch, and my computer the whole time.

 

A Treasure Concealed {Review}


I recently finished A Treasure Concealed by Tracie Peterson, which is the first book in a series set in the 1890s in the Montana Territory. I have always been a fan of Peterson, who is a fantastic author, and this book is no exception. Not only was the plot line compelling and the characters well-developed, but it sets the stage for what is likely to be a great series.

Typical of a historic romance, this novel centers around a young woman named Emily, who lives in the Montana Territory and has always grown up in the undesirable reality of mining areas. And as is common in historic romances, a young man, Caeden, enters the scene. However, as the novel plays out, there are surprising twists and unexpected events sprinkled throughout. Just enough to leave the reader guessing.

I found this book to be a delightful read, though once I started, I wanted to read it all in one setting. Such is the mark of a great book! Peterson worked hard to develop strong, complex characters, which made the novel rich and engaging. Furthermore, her love of research and creating a detailed setting made me feel as if I were in the Montana Territory at the turn of the 20th century.

I would recommend this book to any lover of historical romances. In fact, I would even risk encouraging them to read future installments of this novel, as I’m sure they will all be as fantastic as A Treasure Concealed. If you’re looking for a book with a strong, independent female lead that will keep you wondering what happens next, check out A Treasure Concealed and be prepared for a delightful read!


I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher, Bethany House, in exchange for my honest review.