The Power of Alone Time: Solo retreat rundown

About a month ago, I was feeling incredibly overwhelmed. All day. Every day. I was relentlessly busy, and I didn’t feel willing to give up a single thing. This obviously lead to multiple dropped balls, lots of junk food, and lots of crying (for “no reason”). 

I was looking at my Google Calendar, obsessively planning the upcoming month (typical), and I saw a blank weekend. My immediate reaction: how can I spend that weekend 100% alone?

I am very introverted. I enjoy time with family and friends so much, but I need a lot of time to decompress and recharge afterwards. There are often entire weeks where the only alone time that I get is consumed with chores and work. If I don’t plan relaxing alone time, it just doesn’t happen.

So I planned alone time. I got an Airbnb, packed sweats, jammies, and no makeup, and spent Friday afternoon-Sunday lunch in total solitude. The only person I saw was a cute lady who sold me kettle corn.

I feel like so many of you can relate: I am constantly, unendingly doing stuff for others. My husband, my family, my job, my readers. And I, for the most part, really enjoy the things that I do. I love love love interacting with and supporting my people. BUT it’s so easy to get overwhelmed and run down. Scheduling purposeful alone time saved my sanity.

I had 36 hours where I didn’t have to make anyone else dinner, I didn’t have to make small talk, I didn’t have to get dressed, I didn’t have to do anything.

This gave me the chance to do SO many things that I hadn’t made time for in months: I watched TV, I did 1,000,000 administrative tasks for the blog and for life, I set up systems to streamline a lot of the things I do every week, and I wrote. I wrote uninterruptedly. I wrote about nothing, and then copy and pasted the paragraphs that were worth saving into upcoming blog posts. I journaled and brainstormed and ate a bunch of chicken, mayo, and potato chip sandwiches (so, so good, I promise).

This weekend away gave me two things that I don’t get enough of: focused work and intentional alone time.

While I highly HIGHLY recommend that everyone get a weekend away when they can (even if it’s just volunteering to housesit for a friend), that’s not always practical. I can’t spend the money on an Airbnb or hotel room every time I need a reset.

What I can do? Build more focused time and intentional alone time into my weeks so I need this reset less urgently and less often. (I still plan to take at least one night away for myself every six months or so. I need it, and I’m willing to cut corners in other places to make it happen.)

FOCUSED WORK

Focusing on ONE task for an extended period of time is the best way I know to be productive. I don’t mean the emails that you write while you wait for dinner to finish simmering or the TV you watch while you schedule your week.

My cute little carriage house

I mean sitting for 45 minutes and writing an entire blog post. I mean putting your phone on airplane mode, turning on an awesome playlist, and cleaning that cluttered af room in your house. I mean DOING THE WORK without distraction.

It’s so hard to make this happen. I know I’m not alone. The list of things that must get done each day is 1,000 items long, and it often feels easier to multitask. But I’ve learned the hard way that too much multitasking and not enough heads-down time makes me mean and teary. 

By scheduling time for FOCUSED WORK, I relieve stress from the rest of the week. I have several two-hour blocks scheduled each week, and I use that time to plug in, ignore my phone, and power through. There are so many administrative tasks that support the work, but they can eat up all the time that you have to do the actual work. For me, that’s writing. 

I can design graphics and schedule FB posts and send emails with the TV on or while listening to a podcast, but I can’t write while I’m distracted. At least nothing that’s worth reading.

Making time for this uninterrupted, focused work isn’t easy. I get up very, very early, even on the weekend. This is what works for me. I’m a morning person by nature, and I love killing that to-do list pre-10 a.m. I would rather write from 4:30-6:30 a.m. than give up my evening with Grant or drinks with a friend. And, to be honest, I often get the non-focused work done in the evening, regardless. Formatting a blog post or returning Instagram messages can totally happen during the Bachelorette.

INTENTIONAL ALONE TIME

Spending time alone is so essential to my level of happiness. If we meet for drinks and I am spaced out or having a hard time following the conversation, it’s likely that I haven’t had a substantial chunk of alone time recently.

I’m sure all of you — especially those of you with kids! — understand how difficult it is to get chunks of time to be alone. There are always errands to run and meetings to get to and endless family obligations to meet. And I usually use little tricks to fit alone time in the gaps: taking the long way home from an event so I can listen to a podcast, going for a walk, exercising with really loud music. But these don’t really count. They bandaid the issue.

To really feel restored and ready to take on another jam-packed day or week or month, I need several hours or more. I need time where I can be alone with my thoughts. I need several hours to watch what I want on TV or read without a timer that reminds me to move onto the next chore. I need time to zone out while I’m eating a sandwich.

I don’t think I’m alone in constantly running through the day’s agenda in my mind. What needs to get done next, what needs to get done tomorrow, what tasks I need to add to the to-do list at some point. I’ve got a lot of balls in the air, and this level of organization is required.

Taking chunks of time where I don’t have to think this way is meditative. It’s restorative. It feels like a nap, but without the weird hangover.

But the reality is that this time doesn’t just happen. I rarely get a four-hour block of Saturday without an event or task on the agenda.

So when it does happen — whether by chance or by plan — I want to spend it intentionally.

I’ve talked about this before — this means not scrolling on my phone. Not channel surfing. It means doing the things that I always wish that I had time for. Reading a book. Watching a favorite TV show. Going for a walk with a thermos of wine. Not talking to annnnnnnyone. If I spend this time on purpose, that means that I don’t waste one of my two free hours on Instagram.

I try to do this when I can in my everyday life. I often beat Grant home from work, and I’ll set a thirty minute timer and read before I need to start making dinner. Or I’ll wake up early on a Saturday so I can read in bed with my coffee before the day really starts.

Basically, I’ve learned that alone time isn’t going to just happen. I have to make it. And then make the most of it.

View from a brainstorming walk.

I am so thankful that I took the time and spent the money to go on a solo retreat. I am SO lucky that I can afford to do this (both with my time and with my disposable income). I am not blind to that. If you can’t take time away, you can hopefully implement an at-home version of my retreat. Make time for focused work and intentional alone time on a weekly basis, and watch your life change.

A real-time example of this focused work and alone time colliding: I got to a bar an hour before my friend. I’m enjoying a class of happy hour champagne and putting the finishing touches on this post.

Since my retreat, I’ve seen my stress levels drop and my daily mood improve. I also think that I’m sleeping better. When I take time for myself, I’m less likely to wake up sweating at 2 a.m. (which I’m sure is stress nightmare related).

What I’m saying is that I’m spread thin, sometimes too thin, and I’m working to fix that. My weekend away was the beginning, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

MEAL PLAN: June 8-14

I’m recapping what we ate every week as a food diary and to give you all meal ideas (healthy and not!). Previous weeks and other meal planning resources can be found here.

FRIDAY, June 8: Grant’s friends came over to help him with some seriously neglected areas of our yard, and I made dinner. On the menu: pulled chicken, vegan mac and cheese, and my favorite cole slaw. Simple, easy, and very yummy.

For the chicken: bake two big chicken breasts and two packages of chicken thighs at 375 until done (20-30 mins for the breasts and 30-40 mins for the thighs). Let cool slightly before shredding. This white meat:dark meat ratio is perfect for flavor and juicyness. I seasoned the chicken with this amazing blend, but anything will do!

The cole slaw: whisk together equal parts mayo and yellow mustard, and thin it out with a couple splashes of apple cider vinegar. Toss with bagged cole slaw and salt and pepper.

SATURDAY, June 9: G’s birthday party. The full menu is here, where I talk about how to host a party without losing your mind.

SUNDAY, June 10: a quick dinner post-pool and pre-Westworld. This brown lentil daal was super quick (I don’t have a pressure cooker, so I used the stovetop. It was just as fast… This is where I confess that I don’t really get the Instant Pot craze.), and it went perfectly with leftover rice. I meant to make the onion and tomato salad for the top, but I honestly forgot about it.

Here’s a reminder that not every meal needs to be super-amazing. Simple and fast can taste just as good.

MONDAY, June 11: Grant’s birthday! He asked for grilled shrimp and pineapple, so I expanded on that idea.

Grilled shrimp seasoned with salt, pepper, and paprika. Grilled pineapple and red onions. Brown basmati rice. Simply dress shredded cabbage. Cilantro vinaigrette. SO good, and served with champagne made it even better.

TUESDAY, June 12: I ate sushi and saw Hereditary (SO GOOD OMG GO SEE IT NOW AND THEN TEXT ME!!!). Grant had leftovers.

WEDNESDAY, June 13: My household famous hummus pasta with frozen broccoli.

Hummus pasta: boil 2 c pasta of choice in heavily salted water. Save about a cup of pasta water, and drain. Saute onion, garlic, and halved cherry tomatoes until tender and SUPER fragrant. Add about ½ container of hummus (I love the Aldi brand in significantly spicy; Grant prefers roasted red pepper) and stir. Add splashes of pasta water and stir until it’s really creamy. Add pasta and more splashes of pasta water, stirring constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and top with red pepper flakes.

THURSDAY, June 14: G and I had a date at a new local brewery, so dinner needed to be fast. I simmered black beans, onion, and rotel on the stove, reheated leftover rice, and added the leftover cilantro vinaigrette to the leftover cabbage. Presto, rice and bean bowls in like 15 mins.

Secret to a quick dinner when you walk into the kitchen without a plan: chop and saute an onion. Pretty much regardless what you decide to make, sauteing an onion will be the first step.

HAPPY WEEKEND!!!! xoxo

ANTI-PINTEREST HOSTING: Throwing a party AND actually enjoying it

Hosting is a skill that does not come innately to me. Some elements do: I love making and sharing food, and I love making our friends and family feel welcome and comfortable. But:

Big groups of people (even those people I love) can make me anxious. I have a tendency to overdo it and stress myself out. And I hate cleaning.

Towards the end of a pretty perfect night.

In past years, I have driven myself crazy worrying about portion sizes and decorations and perfecting every element of the night. I barely remember some parties, not because I had too much to drink, but because my mind didn’t stop racing the entire time we had guests.

Hard lessons I have learned while guests are in my house: recipes can’t always be doubled, turning all four burners on is a good way to make the kitchen feel like a sauna, the fire alarm will go off if the oven is at a temp above 375, and I don’t love cooking in front of a bunch of people.

After a lot of trial and error, I think that I’ve cracked my personal code to a party that feels fun to me and also special for guests:

1. Prep ahead as much as possible. 2. Decorations are nice, but not necessary. 3. KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID. 4. Do the dishes in the morning.

Prep everything ahead of time.

I once was in line at one of those omelette stations at a hotel breakfast buffet, and I heard a woman say that she wanted to do this at her next “breakfast party.” I took “this” to mean: she wants to make made-to-order omelettes for her family and guests.

THIS IS INSANE. Omelettes have to be made individually. Omelettes are finicky. Omelettes have to be eaten at a very specific temperature.

When guests are coming into your home, and those guests aren’t your very closest friends, do not do this to yourself. Don’t make something that has to be customized to each guest.

Don’t make EGGS, a food that lots of people are picky about and that need to be served at a very specific temperature. Scrambled eggs, for example, are SUPER easy to make, even in a big batch. But I love my eggs soft-scrambled (like this), which many people interpret as underdone. Unless you know that your guests like eggs this way, do not do it!!!! I have had a guest ask to put the eggs I made her in the microwave because they were too underdone to her liking. 😂

A better recipe for a successful gathering: make as much as you can ahead of time. This is extra-important in the summer. Unless I want to be a sweaty mess and heat up our entire family room-kitchen-dining room, the oven needs to be off when guests are over.

If you’ve prepped ahead of time, all you need to do as guests are arriving is freshen your cocktail and fix your lipstick.


The best prep-ahead summer menu: chicken sausages with romesco sauce and grilled peppers on buns, pasta salad, and green bean salad. Cookies for dessert. I made the pasta salad, green bean salad, romesco, and cookies earlier in the day, grilled the peppers when I knew our guests were on the way, and threw the sausages on once they arrived and we were chatting. Perfect, summery, and literally zero stress.

When you prep the meal ahead of time, and pick dishes that work well when prepped ahead of time, you save yourself so much stress. Picking a time-sensitive dish means that you’ll be anxious and cooking at the last minute. Summer is an awesome time to practice this, as so many summer dishes taste great room-temp or chilled.

And, in the winter, just make chili. Everyone loves it, you can prep lots of toppings to make it feel fun, and it can be (and maybe even should be) made the day before.

Decorations are nice, but not necessary

I will never be a Pinterest host. I  love making the house look nice, but I will never voluntarily do a craft. Never. Things I will do: clean the bathroom and light a candle. Make sure dirty laundry isn’t strewn about the house. Sweep the hardwood floors. Um… that’s it? Maybe, if I remember, I’ll get some flowers from the grocery store. But usually not.



No one cares! People just want to chat with you! If people are annoyed that you didn’t use a calligraphy pen to make individual seating cards, you don’t need those people!

If crafting feels fun to you, more power to ya! But I would rather spend time on the food, something that I’m good at. I hate crafts — always have, always will — and I don’t need to pretend otherwise.

If there is decor at one of my parties, it is likely 1.) recycled from another party, 2.) purchased from the Dollar Spot at Target, 3.) made by someone else.

Being a Pinterest wife isn’t necessary. It’ll drive you nuts, so just don’t DO IT! It’s all a conspiracy by the owners of Michael’s, anyway. 😜

Keep it siiiiiiiiimple.

Parties are not the time to try a dish you’ve never made before. If you’ve never roasted a whole chicken before, save that for a lazy day at home with your family. If you’ve never made mac and cheese from scratch, don’t try to make your first bechamel sauce while guests are walking in the door.

Make something tried-and-true, something that you can make without a recipe, or at least something where the recipe card is faded and spattered. Make something homey and simple, food that everyone loves.

Because here’s the secret: any woman who eats dinner at your house is just SO thankful that she didn’t have to make dinner. She doesn’t really care what you made.

Another secret, courtesy of the best-ever Julia Child: NEVER APOLOGIZE. If the chicken is a little dry, or the sauce turned out under-seasoned, do not apologize. Throw some BBQ sauce on the table or pass the salt. It’s not a big deal.

The simplest, most delicious dinner: a cheese and meat board, with salad on the side plus dessert. Add hummus and nuts for those vegans. Maybe slice some summer tomatoes and drizzle them with balsamic. People LOVE this, and it couldn’t be easier. Just a lot of slicing.

Do the dishes in the morning.

Enjoy your guests. Don’t fret about interrupting conversation to get the dishes done. My typical go-to: put the food away, and sneak another bite of dessert. AND THEN GO TO BED. Maybe I’ll rinse some dishes that will be super-annoying and crusty in the morning, but maybe I won’t.

Maybe you like winding down after guests leave by cleaning. I don’t. I want to take my makeup off and go to bed. This is permission for you to do the same!


At Grant’s birthday party last weekend, I implemented all of these strategies. The menu: two dips, chips and salsa, cupcakes, sangria. The decor: nothing.

Prep ahead of time: I made the dips early in the day (the romesco I’ll be making all summer from this cookbook and our favorite buffalo dip), sliced celery, and made these AMAZING vegan lemon cupcakes. About two hours before guests were due to arrive, I made the sangria: three bottles sauvignon blanc (from Aldi! $10/bottle), 20 ounces of brandy, two pounds sliced strawberries, three sliced and seeded lemons. All of those elements soaked together until guests were almost to our house, and then I added five cans of La Croix. The sauv blanc I used had passionfruit flavors, so I added passionfruit La Croix! This is totally flexible, obviously.

Forgive the screenshot from my Insta story, but I was too busy having fun to take a single photo.

Take it easy on the decor: I didn’t decorate at all. G and his friends worked overtime on Friday evening to cut the grass and do a bunch of other cool yard stuff. I picked this playlist from Spotify and pressed PLAY. I also lit a couple citronella candles. G set up yard games and our outdoor movie screen.

Keep it simple: Grant initially wanted to do a full BBQ dinner. But I didn’t want to. It’s way more work, way more expensive, and I just wasn’t feeling it. Yes, potlucking can keep the costs down, but that is way less feasible when food allergies are involved. So I did snacks and sangria and birthday cake, and people brought their own drinks if they wanted something different. It was super-easy and perfect.

Do the dishes in the morning: This is the best part. My dear Lindsey and her boyfriend were the last guests, and she loves to do dishes when she’s been drinking. So she washed everything, like a true saint!  

What are your best party tips for low-stress entertaining?

MEAL PLAN June 1-7

Hi everyone! I hope you had a lovely week full of healthy food (in moderation, of course). Here’s a recap of what we ate.

Friday + Saturday

I was in St. Joe for a solo writer’s retreat (full post on that experience coming soon), and I didn’t want to cook one BIT! I ate sandwiches (sandwich thin, deli turkey, mayo, pickles, salt and pepper kettle chips (yes, ON the sandwich)), fruit, and eggs with tomatoes and spinach (veggies that didn’t need to be chopped 🙏). It was AWESOME. I have no idea what G really ate while I was gone, and that’s fine. I needed a break from the dinnertime responsibility, and I came back REFRESHED.

Sunday

When I got home from my retreat, I decided that I wasn’t going to go grocery shopping. We had a full pantry and saving money is always a good idea (it’s one of my 2018 intentions, after all).

We had burrito bowls with white rice, frozen corn, sauteed bell peppers and onions, and seasoned ground turkey (turkey from the deep freeze). My father-in-law and brother-in-law ended up eating with us while they helped G fix his car, so this was perfect, quick and delicious.

Monday

We had the MOST BEIGE AND UGLY dinner. I unearthed frozen cauliflower, and I sauteed that with paprika and garlic until it was defrosted and a little brown (hit it with enough salt, and it is really delicious). We had frozen chicken apple sausages from Aldi, and I sauteed them with onions until everything was browned. We ate them on buns with BBQ sauce (G) and yellow mustard (me).

In the interest of having leftovers for G’s upcoming lunches, I also made a pot of basmati rice. Lunches: sausage, frozen green beans, cauliflower, rice. Simple, filling, CHEAP AF.

Tuesday

I was the MOST SAD on Tuesday when the news of Kate Spade’s death broke. I wrote about it in detail on my Instagram, but in summary: it breaks my heart that someone who brought me such joy could be hurting so deeply.

My sweet husband knew that I was struggling, so he surprised me with wine, peanut M&Ms, and La Croix (he really knows me, huh?). We enjoyed that wine (and some more we found in the fridge 😜) with my ultimate comfort food: mac and cheese! I made this recipe minus the pumpkin and roasted garlic and added garlic powder instead. It was creamy and delicious, and splashes of pasta water added the body the pumpkin usually does to the sauce. We also had sauteed chickpeas and frozen green beans. Truly comforting and all from the pantry.

It’s true that I don’t advocate for emotional eating, but sometimes food can be the hug that you need at the end of a long day. As long as it’s occasional, I think it’s just part of being human.

Wednesday

I had dinner at a girlfriend’s house, and she made the easiest and most delicious dinner: ground chicken lettuce wraps with frozen egg rolls and gyoza from Trader Joe’s. 👍 Thanks, Taylor!

Thursday

Leftovers! While I prep for dinner guests Friday after work. Come back next week to hear what I fed Grant’s buddies who came over to help him with yard work. ♥

June Isn’t Too Late: Recommitting to your best year ever

Hi! It’s JUNE! Which means that we’re entering the latter half of 2018. Isn’t it still 2001? Wasn’t I just sitting in my inflatable chair, listening to N*SYNC and reading a Dear America book (please tell me you read those, too)?

Nope. It’s SUMMER 2018. We’re halfway through the year that we promised would be the best ever

How ya doing? How are those intentions that you set with me back in December? I’m going to be real honest and say that I am doing MEDIUM. A solid C+. I may be doing well, in general, but I am not killing it when it comes to the intentions that I set.

But I’m not going to feel bad about that. Not even for one minute. Can you imagine how much work you and I would get done if we didn’t waste a single second wallowing? Life is hard enough. We should be our own best cheerleaders, not the jerk that won’t shut up about our failures. And “failure”? Failing isn’t a negative thing. It’s a learning opportunity. If you fail at something, it means that you were trying to grow. Without failure, growth isn’t possible. Mistakes are mandatory.

This year has been full of mistakes for me. I’ve overslept, skipped workouts, chosen T.V. over writing, snapped at my husband, left dishes all over the kitchen (and living room).

But it’s also been full of triumphs, ones that make my eyes tear up as I type this: we’ve hosted friends and family in our home, regardless of its imperfections. We celebrated a perfect anniversary weekend. I pushed myself to do Facebook Live, something that made my heart jump out of my chest. I ran four miles without stopping.

Life is to be LIVED, not obsessed over. There is such a fine line between living with intention and living with restriction. Finding the balance is incredibly personal. I know that I will always struggle with this — I do so well with schedule and routine, that I immediately give up if even one thing goes awry.

If I injure my foot and can’t exercise, I might as well eat like crap all week, too. If I oversleep and miss a morning of writing, I might as well skip tomorrow as well.

This is bullshit. It’s holding me back. It’s making me believe that I can’t do hard things when I know that I can. I can do hard things. I can get back on track.

And the first step to get back on track is giving myself credit where it’s due. Even though I haven’t been perfect, I have done a lot this year.

So, here it is, a mid-year check-in on my Fruitful Intentions for 2018:

GROW THE FRUITFUL BLOG

This is going pretty well! I’m making changes, working hard, and I’m currently typing this from a writing retreat that I booked myself to get AHEAD on this goal.

View from my retreat AirBNB ♥️

 

But here’s the reality of growing a presence online: It is a LOT of work. A lot of work that has nothing at all to do with writing. A lot of research and online classes and scheduling Facebook posts to publish at peak times.

There’s a lot of stuff that goes into making sure that the words I write are being read. Stuff that I’d rather not do. I let that bog me down a lot in the earlier part of the year, but NO MORE. I’m moving forward because I know that I have a message to share. I know that my words will help women, and that means I should keep moving, even if that means doing the parts I’m less interested in.

One of my intentions was to take a class monthly, and I have NOT been keeping up with that. I am, however, taking a class today (Sunday), and I took one last week. I share that example to say: if you haven’t been meeting your monthly intentions all year, SO WHAT. Start now. Don’t wait until January so you can have a “perfect year.” That’s not how it works, and you know it. The only way real change can happen is NOW, today. So just start.

INVEST IN OUR MARRIAGE

This is also going medium! Haha. We’ve had a lot of fun dates this year, and even a couple trips. We’ve also had weeks where we’ve barely seen each other and plenty of weeks with no purposeful date night. I’ll make sure this changes.

We also haven’t even picked up one marriage or relationship book, so, um… I’ll work on that as well. It seems like just another thing to add to the to-do list, if I’m being honest. But I think it will be useful, so we’ll make it happen.

COZY OUR HOME

This is going really, really well. Projects are moving along, furniture is being purchased, and we’re using our home to entertain like we never have before.

Decluttering is going very, very slowly. It basically only happens if I have a free Saturday, and that hasn’t happened in a good while. G and I have joined forces, though, to rid our house of junk. Slowly but surely.

GET EVEN STRONGER

I’ve had some major fitness wins this year: running the hilliest 5K I could imagine in the Ozarks, running a four-mile race at my personal best mile time, beating my best distance in spin class.

But I’m also in the middle of an exercise-free spell. And not to rest from running a marathon or anything. I’m just not exercising.

I do the best when I exercise every day. I feel more mentally clear, I’m less tempted to eat the junk food that wrecks my skin and my focus, and it keeps me emotionally stable. Sundays are my day of rest, but I should be sweating every other day.

Knowing that this is true about myself doesn’t mean that I stick to it well or easily. An extra hour of sleep or some time with my current novel often sounds more appealing than an hour on the spin bike (plus the time in the car and the extra time getting ready). But that doesn’t matter. Exercise is good for my heart and my body and my relationships. It should be a high-priority task.

SAVE MONEY

This is perhaps going the worst of all. I have no excuses, just the reality: I bought a lot of stuff in the beginning of the year. And I used the excuse that we’ve had lots of people over for dinner to totally bust my grocery budget.

So here I am, recommitting to my spending goals. Starting this week, I will get back on my budget, back on my thriftiness, and back to saving as much money as I can.

I started by NOT going grocery shopping this week at all. We’ve got plenty of food in the house, and we’re going to eat it all before I by more, goshdarnit!!!!!

Pantry meal ⤵⤵⤵


Say it with me: LIFE IS TOUGH, BUT SO AM I. We can do this. We can recommit to our goals (or continue to SMASH them). We can revise as necessary, but never quit. We can make 2018 awesome, even though it’s halfway gone.

Perfection isn’t a real goal. It’s totally unattainable. Life is constantly changing around you. People change, circumstances change, and you change, too. Those changes mean that every day is a new challenge. Under those conditions, I think a C+ is just fine. As long as I’m constantly striving to do a little better tomorrow, my average will always be improving.