My 10 Takeaways from RISE Women’s Conference by Rachel Hollis RISExLA 2018 recap

At the beginning of April, I flew to Los Angeles to meet my friend Brooke for our annual personal development weekend at the RISE women’s conference by Rachel Hollis. RISE is full of great speakers and dancing and crying and genuine, revelatory breakthroughs — but it’s also kind of hard to write about. So much goes on during the weekend, but trying to describe it to an outsider is daunting. There are the standard key notes from famous women, but also meditations on self, the future, and limiting beliefs. There’s hugging and cocktails and compulsory dancing. It’s a totally absorbing experience, but one that sort of defies description.

But, here I am, trying to describe it. Because this experience — feverishly taking notes while crying in a room full of hundreds of women doing the same — you need to have it, too.

MY TEN TAKEAWAYS FROM RISE 2018

These points are all lifted from my RISE notes. I’ll credit in parentheses when the idea can be attributed to a specific speaker. The thoughts are my own, but the amazing speakers at the conference planted the seed.

  • I don’t start things because I’m afraid they’ll be too hard. (Rachel Hollis)
    Yes, I’m starting with a big one. This realization is on page one of my notes, so the conference started with a bang, too.
    How often have I talked myself out of something before I even started it? How often have I been my own roadblock on the way to an opportunity?
    I’m not scared of hard work. I’m afraid of uncertainty. Of doing something and not doing it well. Last year, I attended RISE, and I kept putting off writing a recap of the conference because I thought it would be hard. Sure, I had other excuses and reasons and blah blah blah, but: I didn’t want to do it because it would be too hard and maybe it wouldn’t be great. And I never wrote it.
    Jen Hatmaker said at RISE “as soon as you muster the courage to stand up, you’ll be asked to sit back down — maybe by yourself.” There are enough roadblocks in this world — I need to stop being my own barrier.
  • The excuse “somebody else beat me to it” is just an excuse. (Rachel Hollis)
    When I’m working towards something, it’s really easy for this negative voice to speak to me: “there are thousands of inspirational Instagram accounts; there are thousands of motivational blogs; you are just another woman talking into the abyss.” And those things are ALL TRUE. BUT they don’t matter. Just because I didn’t do something first doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do it.
    What really hammered this home: Rachel Hollis and Jen Hatmaker do
    very similar things. But they’re both here, wildly succeeding.
    And, on this theme, Rachel reminded us all that we’re not competing with each other, just with the versions ourselves from yesterday. OR, as Queen Cardi B says: “I’m my own competition/I’m competing with myself.”

    RISE wouldn’t be the same without my buddy Brooke, all decked out for the ’90s dance party in front of our Airbnb. (And, yes, we hung out with other people and made new friends, but I didn’t take any photos of that!)
  • They may have your best interests at heart and still be wrong.(Rachel Hollis)
    When you set out to change your life, people will be full of suggestions, advice, and warnings. And those are all appreciated. I love that they care about my life and my business and my health. But here’s the thing: no one knows what you need better than you do. Yes, you should ask for and accept the guidance of trusted advisors — but those people aren’t the people I’m talking about. The people that ask the questions that scare you out of trying? Maybe ignore them.
    They have your best interests at heart, but — unless they’re an expert in the field and also a licensed therapist probably — they don’t know what they’re talking about!
    The path to success includes a million mistakes, so get busy making them, and ignore the haters (that may be disguised as well-intentioned family members or coworkers or best friends).
  • The time will pass anyway!(Rachel Hollis)
    This is my new shit-calling phrase. If I find myself making an excuse about why I can’t do something or how it will take too much time or WHATEVER, I remind myself that the time will pass regardless of whether or not I take the next step. In twelve months, a year will have passed whether or not I’ve done a year’s worth of work. This is sobering and motivating. The time will pass anyway, SO WHAT THE HELL AM I WAITING FOR?

    Gorgeous view from our Airbnb patio.
  • The fruit of the uncertain tree is unbelievably better tasting. (Dave Hollis)
    This phrase made me feel so courageous. He’s so right — life isn’t about doing the same things over and over again to see the same certain outcome. Life is about growth and change and uncertainty. Hearing that idea in this poetic way really motivated me to try new things. I have so many ideas for my blog and social media, but I’ve allowed uncertainty to derail my best intentions. UNCERTAINTY is the the POINT! How have I been missing this? Nothing cool ever happened because the outcomes were sure.
    Some context here: Dave is leaving his big VP-level job at DISNEY to be CEO of his wife’s company (she’ll be chief creative officer and continue to be the face of the company). He knows about big leaps! They have FOUR kids. That decision could not have been reached easily.

    The best photo booth at the ’90s party
  • SAME YOU/NEW MOOD (Rachel Hollis)
    This is my new MOTTO, okay?! Life is hard. Lunches get forgotten, meetings go poorly, ankles get twisted, your spouse annoys the hell out of you. BUT, but, BUT, here’s the thing. You get to CHOOSE how you react. You can take a deep breath and react with positivity, not yelling (guilty).
    Rachel shared this idea, and I think it’s pretty genius. If you take a moment to snap yourself out of it, maybe you won’t yell at your husband. If you take a moment to think “SAME YOU. NEW MOOD,” maybe you won’t start crying at work (less guilty, but not totally innocent). She said it works extra well if you add a physical action. SAME YOU. CLAP. NEW MOOD. The clap snaps you out of the negative thoughts and allows you to make a more positive decision.
    I am the queen of letting one bad thing color my whole day with negativity. No more.
  • Make a list of the six things you’ll do tomorrow. (Mica May)
    This one is so simple, but it kind of rocked me. All too often, I am sprinting through 1,000,000 tasks and just trying to get through as much as I can each day. Hearing Mica say that she shoots for six tasks each day refreshed my brain and reminded me how much happier I am when I map my to-do list across the whole week, instead of trying to get it all done every day (and inevitably pushing a lot of it to the next day. Every day). This week, I wanted to get a ton of house organizing projects done (more on that in number 8), so I mapped out which day I’d tackle which project (with a blank day for a schedule cushion), and it’s WORKING! I have finished the kitchen and swapped my winter and spring clothes.

    The beautiful Brookie!
  • CLUTTER CLUTTERS YOUR MIND. (Rachel Hollis)
    Of all the ideas on this list, this is the least revolutionary. But it’s one that spoke to me HARD. If you follow me on Insta Stories, you know that I have a closet/guest room/pit where all clutter goes to die. And a pile of wedding stuff in our shared office. And a bad habit of letting the kitchen counters get cluttered. Hearing Rachel say this was a great reminder to recommit to my 2018 intention of cleaning up the house to FREE MY MIND for creativity, focus, and not feeling like my brain has exploded when I come home in the evenings.
    I started before RISE with the project to go room-by-room, organizing and decluttering. So far, I’ve done our room, the linen closet, a guest room (not THE guest room of despair, but a different one), and the kitchen. I feel so, so much better already, and I am determined to keep it UP until the whole house feels a little more manageable.
  • Ask for what you need with less wishbone and more backbone. (
    Design by the incredible Brooke Schelar of Proud Salemander and Common Era Collective
  • This one elicited actual gasps from the audience. First off, this woman is incredible. Her appearance at RISE was her first day back at work after the birth of her five-month-old twins, she KILLED IT, and she is maybe the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in real life (and I have seen BEYONCE in real life). She’s a powerful consultant at Deloitte and had so much knowledge to share about getting what you need to excel professionally.
    But this advice gave me chills. How many times have I missed out on an opportunity because I thought of it as a “want” rather than a “need”? Just think about how much further you’d be along in your career if you killed the wishy-washy-ness in favor of determination. Use that backbone, girl!
    And this doesn’t just apply to professional goals. When was the last time you asked for help around the house? And not as a “want.” As a “need.” It’s so easy to drown in the million daily tasks before you give a single second to pursuing MORE than the daily drudgery. Ask for help or pay for help, but get some help. Use that backbone to make the space in your day for MORE: more exercise, more reading, more writing, more relaxation, prayer, meditation, WHATEVER.You’ve been given this mountain to show other women that it can be moved. (Rachel Hollis)
    On the second day, we did a meditation that focused on our future selves. We imagined our lives — down to the cars we drive and the outfits we wear — in five years, ten years, twenty years. We were instructed to envision every detail of the life we’re working toward. And then we were asked to pick a single word that could be a reminder of that vision. A word that, when we thought of it, could recenter us on our mission to build that life. I chose MOTIVATOR. It didn’t feel like a conscious decision. It felt like that word was there, waiting for me to find it.
    I went to RISE with a question: why the hell am I sharing so much of my life and spending all this time blogging and Instagramming? And I found an answer: I want to show all of you that since I can change my life, you can change yours, too. I want to motivate you to be better, more, stronger.
    We can’t change society. The problems are too big, too scary, too complicated. But we can change ourselves. And if enough of us change — into strong, healthy, compassionate people — society will change around us. From the inside out.


  • OK, if you made it this far, I LOVE YOU. I tried to edit this post down multiple times, but there was too much to share. If you made it this far, RISE may be for you, too 💖 In 2019, there will be one-day mini-RISEs in several cities (including KC!), and the main conference will be held in June in Minneapolis. I hope I see ALL OF YOU there. We can laugh and cry together and also dance and drink and lose our voices. Like always, you can find me over on Insta if you have questions, or leave a comment here! If you were at RISE, I’d love to hear your power word!

Would you consider a conference like RISE? If no, why not? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

How I Prepare for Personal Development Conferences My Prep List for RISExLA 2018

In just two days, I’ll be in sunny L.A. for a women’s personal development conference. Unless you’re brand new here, you know that this is right up my alley. I love journaling and feelings and self-improvement. I attended this same conference — RISE by Rachel Hollis — last year, and I was drawn to it for a lot of reasons, but the primary draw was this: Rachel’s biggest personal value is growth. She lives her whole life around the idea that she’s good now, but she has the potential to be better, and that potential is wasted if she doesn’t work to grow, change, and improve. She delivers this message without an ounce of self-hate, and it is totally infectious.

I went to RISE last year without any preparation (minus way too much time spent packing). I showed up in my meticulously selected outfits, ready to learn, and I cried, danced (on stage, no less), and made new friends. I took so much knowledge and motivation home with me that I cannot begin to imagine how fulfilling this weekend will be now that I have the tools to prepare better beforehand.

If you’re also attending RISE this weekend, or if you are heading to any development conference at any point, following these steps will lead to a better, more fulfilling, more bang-for-your-buck experience. I promise.

REFLECT: Before you jet off to another state (or drive to your local convention center), spend some reflecting. Go on some walks without headphones, take a bath without a book, or let your mind wander during your commute. Before your butt is in the conference seat, have an answer to this question: What do I want to get out of this experience?
The more specific your answer, the more rich your return will be. If you want to go for inspiration and networking, AWESOME. Me too. But try to get more specific than that.
What are your pain points? What trips you up every day? When you’re working on your business or your career or your marriage, what are the issues that come up time and time again? Think on these questions and WRITE IT DOWN. I often use the voice-to-text option on my phone, or I’ll write in my notebook. Sometimes I’ll even talk it out on my Instagram story.
If none of those questions sparked an interest, here’s one that really worked for me: What do you complain about? What are the things that make you miserable, time and time again? The things you bring up to your sister, your partner, or your mom? These things — your job, your home, your husband — may be in your control to change, but they may not be. That’s OK. You can change how you handle anything. 
I wrote a post on Instagram about my WHAT for Rise 2018. If you share your why for any conference (or even independent personal development), tag me! @caitlinmwallace and #FruitfulWHAT.

Over the weekend, a friend asked me what I want to do. What I’m moving towards with all of this work and writing and oversharing. And I realized that I don’t really know. I’m spending all this time and energy, but for what? . I don’t think that life is full of concrete ideas, and I don’t think that this question needs an answer tomorrow. BUT, now I know what I’ll be focusing on at RISE. . @letsrise.co is a two-day personal development conference hosted by @msrachelhollis. It’s uplifting and fun and equally full of dancing and hard, hard work. I cried a lot last year, and I expect much of the same next month. Figuring out what I want to do with my life is a hard question. Maybe the answer will a be a little scary. But if I’m not going to use two days of self reflection to think about the scary questions, then why am I going in the first place? ✨✨✨

A post shared by Caitlin Wallace (@caitlinmwallace) on

REST: This one is super challenging, at least for me. In the days leading up to a trip, I’m always running around with errands and last-minute work and packing and making sure that the fridge is stocked. But being RESTED AND WELL is crucial to getting every last ounce of conference knowledge.
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that we had a disasterous Monday evening. I made the huge mistake of putting too much leftover soup down the garbage disposal, and our old-old (mid-century modern?) cast iron pipes didn’t like it one bit. There were chunks of kale, sweet potato, and smushed red lentils all over the laundry room (which is in the unfinished basement THANK GOD). It looked like when Kevin spills his famous chili on The Office. So… I didn’t get a ton of sleep last night. But tonight and tomorrow EARLY BEDTIME is my highest priority. I cannot be nodding off when I need to be taking notes and learning.

PACK SMART: Don’t let a bad packing decision ruin your conference experience. Pack layers. Pack a water bottle. Pack discreet snacks (nuts in a ziplock bag are perfect for eating one-by-one). PACK AN EXTERNAL CHARGER. Pack business cards (mine are coming next-day delivery from Moo.com, thanks to a suggestion from my friend Jennylynn). Extra pens are a smart choice and a good way to make friends.
Being uncomfortable because you forgot something is a great way to miss out on the experience, so make that list and check it twice. In advance. Not an hour before your flight. (I am preaching to the choir here, OK!)

LEAVE INHIBITION AT HOME: OK, OK, I don’t mean like that 😈  This isn’t Spring Break in Mexico on Laguna Beach (remember the denim miniskirts?!). What I mean: don’t waste your time and money attending a personal development conference if you’re going to be too embarrassed to participate. If you don’t go all-in, you won’t grow. You won’t change. You won’t get what you paid for and took off work for and looked forward to for months.
Every person in the room is there to grow and change, too. We’re all on this mission together, and while we may not be crying at the same moments, we’ll all be crying at some point. If you’re asked to dance, DANCE. If you’re asked to write a letter to yourself, write the hell out of it.
Be honest with yourself and DO THE DAMN THING, or what is the point?

OK, that’s all I got! I am psyched to head to Rise, work on growth, spend time with my bestie, and eat lots of great food. I’ll come back a changed woman, for sure. You may not see it, but I’ll feel it. And that’s what makes all of this ⤴ worth it. 

If I’ll see you at Rise, leave a comment! I’d love to meet in real life.

CURRENTLY//March 2018

Happy SPRING, everyone! It snowed here yesterday, but WHATEVER.

How was your March? Mine was incredibly busy and really fun: celebrating my sister’s birthday, a book launch party for Girl Wash Your Face, seeing the KC Jazz Orchestra with my family, making these freezer meals, watching Grant refinish the hardwood floors in our family room and assemble the bookshelves of my dreams, AND celebrating my birthday. We rounded out the month by celebrating our FIRST WEDDING ANNIVERSARY  over the weekend. Stale cake from the freezer? Actually very delicious. Shoutout to Mudpie Bakery and my awesome sister.

Me and some of the other Chic Ambassadors (my sister has assured me that my curvy butt in this photo is a total optical illusion)
My sister came to my office for lunch on her birthday, and there was randomly free cake!
Major props to my husband for an awesome job refinishing our family room floors.

INSPIRING

THIS WEEK I’m headed to Los Angeles for RISE, a personal development conference for women hosted by my girl, Rachel Hollis.

It’s #internationalwomensday, and I got to spend last night with my favorite internet person, @msrachelhollis. If you’ve ever been inspired by anything I’ve said or written, go follow Rach. She’s the original, and I’m the remix. ✨♥️✨ I love being an ambassador for Rachel’s brand because I know she will never disappoint me by being catty. She truly lives and breathes by the adage “a rising tide raises all ships,” and it shows from how she speaks, to what she posts on social, to how tirelessly she hugged all 100 of us last night. ✨♥️✨ My favorite feminist theory is #ShineTheory. It says that women should surround themselves with the best, most intimidating women they can. When you befriend women like that, it doesn’t dull your shine at all. It brightens it. (Shoutout to @aminatou and @annfriedman for the best theory there ever was.) ✨♥️✨ Take a leap today. Do something that makes you feel powerful. Reach out to a woman that intimidates you, or help a friend who’s struggling. Women, we’ve got to band together. None of us shine unless we all do.

A post shared by Caitlin Wallace (@caitlinmwallace) on

I’m attending with my friend Brooke and about 100 internet friends, including Becca Peterson. Becca and I met and bonded over Instagram direct messages, and I was a guest on her new podcast, the Imperfectly Perfect Podcast, last week!

I loved chatting with her, and re-hearing my own stories and advice helped me get over a real hump last week. After a weekend of celebrating and eating for my birthday, I was having a hard time getting up on time, making my workouts, and making healthy eating choices, but listening to the podcast reminded me what I’m working toward and why.

I’d love it if you’d listen! Becca is obsessed with authenticity, finding joy, and embracing imperfection, and she’s pursuing her dream of hosting a successful podcast. On my episode, we chat about how I learned to cook, catalysts for change in my life, and my very famous (in my house, anyway) macaroni and cheese recipe.

EXERCISING

I have been having a lot of sciatic pain in my right leg, so I took that as a sign to sloowwwww down. I’ve been going to my normal classes, zumba and spin, and then walking the treadmill for about an hour while I read on other days. I love it so much. I walk at a fast pace, so I’m out of breath and sweaty by the end, but it’s easier on my knee. The extra reading time is awesome, but I will not lie (and you know this if you watch my stories): I have cried more than once on the treadmill because of the book I’m reading.

EATING

This was definitely a month of splurges and celebrations. According to the photos on my phone, I had sushi at least three times. I had birthday cake for my birthday and my sister’s. But I also ate 1,000,000 salads and my new favorite lunch: spread a piece of deli turkey with really spicy hummus. Add a thick slice of bell pepper and some arugula. Roll it up! Repeat 3 times.

In other eating news, we reintroduced poultry to Grant’s diet. If you don’t know the details: G and I started eating a mostly-vegan diet about a year ago to see if eliminating animal products would solve some unexplained allergic reactions of Grant’s. He’s allergic, and always has been, to all red meat, but we also cut out poultry, just in case. In the past few weeks, he’s eaten chicken breast and ground turkey with no issues, so I think we’re in the clear!

I think we’ll stick to mostly plant-based meals from now on, though. He really likes the way vegan meals make his body feel, and there is no denying how much money we save relying on beans for protein over meat. Eating plants is also SO MUCH BETTER for our bodies and the environment. We plan to eat meat about once a week at home. So far we’ve had basic grilled chicken breast and tacos with ground turkey. I cannot WAIT to have my favorite slow-cooker bolognese (I need to share this recipe on the blog!) and our very, very favorite roasted chicken.

LISTENING

A lot of HAIM and Lizzo, in preparation to see them in May. A ton of old-school J.Lo, just like middle-school me would have wanted. Khalid, Miguel, and Janelle Monae. The Wicked Deluxe Soundtrack (did you know that the musical has German and Japanese translations?! Truly fun to listen to).

READING

Like everyone else on the internet, I read this article about the ultimate rules for eating well: The Last Conversation You’ll Ever Need to Have About Eating Right. A food writer interviews a doctor, and the answers are so simple. It basically all boils down to Michael Pollan’s adage: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” Definitely, definitely read.

If you, like me, have very fond Little House on the Prairie memories, please read Caroline by Sarah Miller. It’s the same story, but from Ma’s perspective. So good and interesting and eye-opening (you’ll never be more grateful to be a 21st-century woman than when you read the phrase “maternity corset”). It’s also one of the books that made me cry on the treadmill. 5 stars!

My favorite reading-related thing that happened this month: my new bookshelves! All I wanted for my birthday was new furniture for our living room and Grant definitely delivered. My poor books had been languishing on my childhood bookcases and in stacks on the floor. They now have a proper, beautiful home, and I just want to sit and read all day long. On my birthday, I woke up at my normal time, but sat in my new reading chair and read one of my favorite books instead of doing chores or writing. Magical.

What were you up to this month? Anything fun planned for April?

My 10 Favorite Books

Reading is my favorite pastime, and I think it always will be. I’ve always been a fast reader, and I’m sure I was just born that way, but I also like to think that I adapted that skill over time so I can read more and more and more.

Last month at book club, a good friend asked me what a few of my favorite books are. And I realized that I’d never put a lot of thought into that. There are books I read over and over, and books that I recommend to you all, but which of those are my favorites?

What follows is a bulleted list, meaning that these books are in no particular order. It was hard enough narrowing down the vast book universe to just 10; there was no way I could rank them, too.

MY FAVORITE BOOKS

    • Matilda by Roald Dahl: One of the first “chapter books” I ever read all by myself, and the start of a truly insane Roald Dahl obsession. (Runners up by him at The Witches, The Twits, and The BFG.) I love Matilda. I could cry just thinking about her. Yes, this is the Matilda of the incredible ‘90s movie starring Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman and Lane Pryce’s wife from Mad Men, about an unloved little girl and her love of books and unexplained magical powers.

      I love Matilda for so many reasons. As a kid, I probably loved her because she was naughty and liked to read just as much as I did. As an adult, I love her because she saved herself. She used her own smarts (and her own magic) to escape an abusive home and a horrifying school. She is strong and brave and imaginative, everything that every little kid should want to be.

      If you haven’t read Matilda, it’s not too late. Yes, it’s a children’s book, but it’s not just for children. You know?
    • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri: I was assigned a short story from this gorgeous collection in my first semester of college. I don’t remember which story is was, but that doesn’t’t matter. What I do remember is reading it and feeling very adult, like I was reading a book from the grown-up section of the library. There’s nothing particularly salacious in the book. I don’t mean grown up like that. I mean like I was reading the kind of book I’d read in a coffee shop or in bed after a long day of being a fancy woman. Which I was well on my way to being, in my 18-year-old mind.

      Now that I’ve read the book as an adult, I know that I was fascinated by the subtle way Lahiri describes relationships. Reading her stories feels like being an omniscient fly on the wall. There’s nothing flashy about her writing. It’s observational and richly detailed. Lahiri taught me to appreciate fiction that revolves around character development, rather than a complicated plot. I’ll always be grateful for that.
    • Misery: A Novel by Stephen King: I LOVE THIS BOOK. Oh, it’s just so creepy. The scariest books to me have nothing to do with the supernatural. They have to do with the crazies that lurk around every corner.

      If you’re not familiar, Misery is about an author who is held captive by his superfan, but it is SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT. It is terrifying and suspenseful. (I am pretty ambivalent about the movie, but Kathy Bates is in.cred.ible. as Anne Wilkes, the deranged superfan. She won an Oscar for the role.)

    • Bossypants by Tina Fey: There are so many good things to say about this book. It’s smart and laugh-out-loud funny. For years, I had a bootleg copy (please forgive my sins) of the audiobook, and I would listen to it on long car trips (this must have been pre-Serial). Sometimes, I’ll remember a passage from this book at a random time, and laugh out loud in the elevator at work or while doing my makeup or waiting for a coffee.

      But the story that left the strongest impression for me is this: Tina and Amy Poehler and Jimmy Fallon are joking around at SNL. Amy is doing a bit, and Jimmy jokingly says “Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it.”:

      “Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. “I don’t fucking care if you like it.” Jimmy was visibly startled. Amy went right back to enjoying her ridiculous bit.
      With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”

      I think of this all the time. If I ever think of not doing something because I’m worried about what others will think, I remember my pretend-friends Tina and Amy. I’m here to do what I want to do, and I do not care if you like it.
    • Heartburn by Nora Ephron: This book is a fictionalized telling of Nora Ephron’s marriage to Carl Bernstein (one of the reporters who broke the Watergate scandal). It is SO GOOD. Ephron’s writing is conversational and frank and hilarious. There are also recipes. Gossipy novel about marriage + food = my dream book. Also the movie is excellent.
    • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood: I have loved this book since the first time I read it in high school. It is horrifying, suspenseful, introspective, and just close enough to believable to be truly scary. I’ve read my copy so many times (and written more than one paper about it in college and grad school) that it’s tissue-soft. If you only know the Republic of Gilead from the Hulu show (which is excellent, but not the same), read this book.
    • The Secret History by Donna Tartt: This book is a combination of two things I love — complicated relationships with long backstories and MURDER. Seriously, this book starts with a bang and then unravels the backstory throughout the rest of the novel, and I couldn’t ask for anything more. If you read and loved The Goldfinch like everyone else in the world, this is by the same author, but it’s even BETTER.
    • American Wife: A Novel by Curtis Sittenfeld: If you haven’t noticed a pattern, I love long, multi-generational stories about families or close friend groups. I love reading about how relationships change over time and about the ways that we change ourselves to fit (or not) in a group of people. This novel, which is a fictionalization of First Lady Laura Bush’s life, is so great. It’s a light, easy read, but the discussions it prompts about personal values and the nature of marriage and family dynamics are complicated and fascinating. When I read this book in college, I liked it because it’s an interesting story about a woman. Reading it now, as a wife, adds another layer of appreciation. 
    • Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin: I’ve written about this book at length before. Reading it was the jump start to my healthy lifestyle. Seriously, before I read it, I hardly exercised, didn’t eat healthfully, thought that I didn’t have time to pursue other goals outside of work, etc!!! Read this book and learn how to change your own life through habit formation.
    • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert: WOW. This book is insane, in the best way. It’s a collection of personal essays about the nature of inspiration and how to cultivate it. Reading this made me feel more creative, more confident in my skills, and more excited to develop skills that I thought were out of my reach. (Special honorable mentions go to State of Wonder: A Novel by Ann Patchett and The Signature of All Things: A Novel by Gilbert. Both EXCELLENT novels that are explicitly mentioned in Big Magic. The story of how the idea for State of Wonder developed is literal creative magic, and it’s worth reading the book for that anecdote alone.)

Ok. That was a lot. And now I have the NEED to reread all of those books immediately. Seriously, after I took photos, I just left them next to my nightstand. 

What are your favorites? I’m always looking to add new books to my reading list!  I especially want to hear if you’ve read any of my faves (even if you hated them).

6 Meals, 2 Hours: Stocking the Freezer

My sweet and very pregnant friend and I spent a couple hours in her kitchen Saturday prepping freezer meals for after the baby comes. It was quick and easy, and many of you said that you wanted to hear how we did it. So here we gooooooooo!

Gathering Recipes

A few days before our planned cooking day, we brainstormed and gathered the recipes we wanted to make. Ideas for meals that freeze well: chili, soup, baked pasta, chicken and rice bakes, daal, lasagna, shredded meat, pasta sauce, enchiladas. We chose lasagna; cheesy, spicy tuna noodle casserole; shredded pulled pork; shredded chicken; and ground beef and turkey.

My friend loves this lasagna recipe from the Newlyweds cookbook and this tuna casserole recipe from Chrissy Teigen’s cookbook. (Normally, I wouldn’t recommend freezing something with a creamy sauce like the casserole, but since the base is cream of mushroom soup and not a homemade white sauce, I think it will be ok!)

I suggested the meats. They were easy to prep, but will be perfect for her husband to heat up quickly with easy sides (buns for the pork, tortillas for the chicken, jarred red sauce and pasta for the ground meat, or whatever really).

For more ideas, check out my FREEZER Pinterest board here.

Grocery List Collaboration and Shopping

You could totally follow this plan independently, but if you’re collaborating with a friend, you’ve got to have a shared grocery list. If you both have iPhones, I highly recommend the Notes app. You can share a Note, and both of you can see the changes made in a native app on the phone. Google Docs works, as well!

While watching The Bachelor last week (#MonsterArie #NotPeter), I made our grocery list. I listed everything we could possibly need for each recipe in a Note, and shared the Note with my friend. She crossed off things that she already had (changing three cans of cream of mushroom to just one, for example) and added the ingredients for a recipe I didn’t have.

A side note about making your grocery list: if you aren’t making your grocery list by aisle, GET ON IT! Once you know your store well (Aldi for life!), you can make your grocery list according to items in each aisle, in order of the aisles. It makes grocery shopping SO QUICK, and it makes it easier to avoid impulse Cheez-It purchases.

Another note about Aldi: If you have access to an Aldi, shop there, please. We got everything for these recipes, minus maybe $10 worth of stuff that was already in either of our pantries, for $70. She and her husband agreed that the same grocery haul would have been at least $120 at their Price Chopper or Hyvee. If you grew up on Aldi, it has changed, believe me. I do almost all of my grocery shopping there, and we eat really, really well.

We met Saturday morning at the Aldi near my friend’s house, quickly shopped, and got to #work.

Our Grocery List (click to expand!)

Jalapeno kettle chips

Whole milk 1.5 c

Whole milk cottage cheese 16 oz

Eggs

Cheddar (3 c shredded)

Parmesan

Fresh mozzarella

Shredded mozzarella

2 onions

Celery

Jalapeno

Chipotle peppers in adobo 11 oz

Rotel 1 can

Cream of mushroom 3 cans

Tuna 3 cans

Pork shoulder 3 lbs

Chicken thighs

Ground turkey 2 lbs

Ground beef 1 lb

Frozen peas

Jarred red sauce, 1

Rotini 1 lb

No boil lasagna noodles

Dr. Pepper, 2 cans

Foil 9×13 pans, 2

Gallon freezer bags

Prepping to Make Multiple Recipes at Once

When we got the groceries home, I cleared off the kitchen island, and sorted the groceries by recipe. So I stuck all of the lasagna ingredients together in a little group, then the tuna casserole ingredients, etc. This was SO helpful. As I was cooking, I could glance around and quickly see what was left that needed to be made. 

Before you get started, read through each recipe that you’re going to make. This means that you can get a jump on any weird steps that need extra time: marinating, draining, thawing.

Reading the recipes first also means that there won’t be any surprises later: like the pulled pork needs to cook for 7 hours or you should have been boiling water 30 minutes ago.

The EXACT Plan We Followed (Plus a Few Improvements I Would Have Made)

I should have spent a few minutes before Saturday figuring out the order of operations for these recipes. I think we could have saved 30 minutes or so if I’d done so. What follows is the best-ish, most efficient order for making these recipes. We did this, approximately. I made the chicken last, which was silly, as it could have baked while everything else was cooking. Lesson learned!

In order to make multiple recipes in one chunk of time, you have to work on multiple recipes at once. It will take so. much. longer. if you finish each recipe start-to-done before you work on the next one. I’m thinking that this could feel really intimidating if you’re not as comfy in the kitchen. Just take a deep breath and know that it may take you a little bit longer to get this done. You’ve got it!!! Done is better than perfect.

These steps can easily be completed by one person, but splitting the duties between two people makes it super, super quick.

  1. Preheat the oven to 375. We’ll bake the chicken thighs in there.
  2. Put a pasta pot on to boil for the rotini. Salt that water, don’t forget.
  3. Trim chicken thighs, season with salt and pepper, and place in a greased 8×8 pan.
  4. Pop the pork shoulder in the crockpot with the can of chiles in adobo sauce and 2 cans of Dr. Pepper. Cook on low for 7 hours. Pulled pork done!
  5. Put the chicken in the oven. Set a timer for 20 minutes. When that timer goes off, flip the chicken and set the timer for 10 more mins.
  6. Brown all the ground meat. Combine the ground turkey and beef in a large, large pan with a chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper, brown, and drain. Ground turkey and beef done! Set aside ⅓ of the mixture for the lasagna. The other ⅔ is for freezing plain. We divided it into two freezer bags.
  7. Chop the jalapeno and celery for the tuna casserole. Chop another ½ onion for the shredded chicken.
  8. Sautee the onion from Step 7 in a small pan. Set aside.
  9. Once the chicken is out of the oven, shred with two forks. Add the sauteed onion from Step 8. Drain a can of Rotel, and mix it in. Chicken is done!
  10. Water should be boiling. Add the rotini and cook until very al dente. (The pasta will be cooked again when you bake the casserole.)
  11. Add all of the tuna casserole ingredients, minus pasta, to an enormous bowl. Seriously, your biggest one. Cream of mushroom soup, tuna, cheddar, whole milk, peas, celery, jalapenos, salt, and pepper. Mix really well!
  12. Once the pasta is done, drain and add to the bowl. Mix it all together, taste for seasoning,  and pour into a greased 9×13 foil pan. Tuna casserole done!
    1. The recipe calls for a spicy potato chip and cheese topping. We didn’t freeze that, and they’ll add it before baking.
  13. Lasagna time! Combine the cottage cheese, eggs, and parmesan. Season with pepper (it’s already plenty salty from the parm). Slice the fresh mozzarella.
  14. Layers! Follow the instructions in the recipe to layer your lasagna. (We used no-boil noodles and my friend’s special marinara. A jar of sauce would work, as well, and it’s what I put on the grocery list above.) Lasagna done!

Not so bad, right?! Like I said, doubling up the steps makes it even easier. One person can be chopping the veggies and another can be browning the meat, or one can handle the pulled pork while another moves on to the next step.

We made the shredded chicken with Rotel so they could use it in tacos or enchiladas, and the ground meat is really simply seasoned so it can be used for whatever. It would thaw very quickly in a pot of jarred pasta sauce on the stove!

Tips for Freezing

It is very important that the meals are totally cooled before you stick them in the freezer. Several reasons why: if you put a lid or foil on top of a still-warm dish, condensation gathers on the underside of the lid, which drips into the food and makes it mushy. Also, if you put hot food in the fridge or freezer, it raises the temp of all the other food in there, which is dangerous from a food safety perspective.

I always, always set a timer when I leave food on the counter to cool. I have learned the hard way that if I don’t do this, I will forget about it, and it will sit on the counter overnight to rot. Don’t be me! Set a timer! Note: the longest that food can sit out is FOUR HOURS. After that, it will grow the kind of bacteria that gives you food poisoning.

We froze the lasagna and casserole in disposable foil 9×13 pans, and the meat in gallon freezer bags. For the casseroles: label them clearly with Sharpie, and make sure that you add the baking instructions. You can thaw them in the fridge overnight and bake them according to the recipe, or just add 45 minutes or so and bake them from frozen. Make sure you test the center before serving if you bake from frozen! It should be warm and the edges should be bubbly. 


Ok, one million words later, I think that’s it! I’d love to do more of these freezer prep posts if you guys dig this one. Let me know 🙂

And feel free to ask questions! I’m always available on Instagram, or you can leave a comment here.

What are your tips for freezer cooking?