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    What I’m Loving + Favorite Photos // July, August + September 2017

    Oh my goodness. For a monthly review of all things that I’m loving and a chance to show off some more personal photo projects than my clients, it’s been a long wait! I missed July, because it felt too soon after June. The last weekend of August is when Hurricane Harvey hit southern Texas completely decimating entire cities and leaving lasting tragedy in its wake. Posting anything that week, especially the things I’m loving, just seemed wrong.

    As we’ve begun to recover and life has gone on, I think it’s time to let you in on a ton of things that I’m loving. The last few months have been so much fun. If you’ve been around my page for a bit, you know that I absolutely love sharing about the things that I am currently loving. Enough with talking about it, let’s jump in!

    What I’m Loving

    BINGING Hart of Dixie for all the good, quintessential small town feels and the quirkiest of characters. Meanwhile, I’m savoring The Great British Baking Show on Netflix with only a few shows at a time. It’s the absolute loveliest of competitions and has inspired me to start baking again.

    PONDERING on Carlos Whittaker’s Kill The Spider book. Full disclosure, I’m part of his launch team, so I got a free ebook download of it to read. I devoured it. Before finishing, I’d already preordered one copy for myself. I just went back and preordered another copy for a friend, so I can force her to read it and discuss it with me. Also because I really am looking forward to doing the video course and the workbook. Y’all, I am actively planning on rereading this already. I cannot express enough how much this book is a game-changer in spiritual warfare and actively living as a Christian instead of just brushing sin away like it’s now dealt with. I’ve started compiling a list of quotes that I love, but really, how does one compile one of the most comprehensive daily prayers that I’ve ever read into a list of quotes. It’s pages long, absolutely breathtakingly beautiful and a necessity in a starting place of my own prayer life. Seriously, I have all the love for this book and can’t wait to see the impact it has after its release on October 3. It’s my number 1 suggestion from my 2017 Fall Book list.

    RICK’S RECOMMENDING his new audiobook series he’s been binge-listening to. One Second After is the first of a three part series that has us and some family friends re-evaluating what we’d do in the event of having to survive in a post-apocalyptic world.

    LISTENING to so many podcasts these days. Rick and I have officially fallen in love with the Popcast with Knox and Jamie. Their “Urban Dictionary” series and “No’s of _____” are absolutely captivatingly hilarious. The “No’s of Birthdays” had me laughing so hard in the car that I was crying. The other podcast I’ve fallen absolutely in love with (along with so many others!) is the For The Love Podcast with Jen Hatmaker. I am absolutely loving how she’s bringing both unknown and everyday people onto her podcast instead of big name people that everyone knows. Don’t get me wrong, she had Brene Brown and Shauna Niequist on, and those were absolutely fabulous. I love hearing and learning from the everyday people she has on as they discuss friendships and moxie. I can’t wait to see the next topical series she does. My favorite ones right now are these: Luvvie Ajayi – Authenticity in a Branded World, Real Girlfriends Stories from The Tribe (Have tissues ready!) and Anna LeBaron + Ruth Wariner – Unyielding Courage.

    READING a book about slowing down, taking in life and making the every day things seem less stressful. I’m only a few chapters in, and I absolutely love Emily Ley’s writing style in Grace Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy. We just signed on our new house right before Harvey, and I can’t wait to move in and implement some of Emily’s suggestions into our own home. (No worries. Our new home was unaffected by Harvey.)

    STOPPING to scroll through 5 instagram accounts (Yes, FIVE!) that I absolutely adore as they’re each drawing me closer to Jesus in a different way. @beckykiser of @sacredholidays is super encouraging, and it’s been a true delight to watch as she gears up for writing her first book. She writes the kind of long, good, thought-provoking #instadiaries that I love. The other four accounts are makers who infuse Jesus into their works. @dearmushka is a jewelry company that I have fallen in love with due to its simplicity and calling to memorize and remember scripture. I love her #instadevos. @lindsay_letters is an incredible calligrapher that I’ve followed for years. It’s been so fun to watch her as she opens up more about her life instead of just her business on her account. I’m just fascinated with who she is as a person and love that she’s funny in her own way and not scared to share her quirkiness with the world. Sisters @nataliemetlewis and @valmariepaper have stolen my heart with their adorable twin-ness and deep desire to not only dive into scripture themselves, but to draw those around them to do the same. Clearly, I’m really loving instagram these days.

    CRAVING the Shinoda at Japaneiro’s and the Teriyaki Pizza at Local Table. I’m a huge fan of local restaurants. What are some of your favorites?

    Y’all. 3 months is just wayyyy too long. There’s so many things I’ve been loving and itching to share with y’all. Can’t wait to share again next month! Until then, what are you loving!?

    Favorite July, August + September Photos

    Hurricane Harvey: How We Fared + What Now?

    Nearly two weeks ago, like most of Houston and the surrounding Southeast Texas area, I sat rendered helpless as Hurricane Harvey came to visit. While sitting on my couch in my untouched home streaming Netflix in the background, it felt surreal as my Facebook feed was flooded with photographs and news stories of the heartbreaking situations around us. From Friday night to Wednesday, I feel like I became besties with the County Judge. The Fort Bend Emergency Office Facebook Live updates enthralled me like it was my favorite TV show. I couldn’t shut my laptop for really any amount of time. As soon as myself or my husband answered a call or text with an update on our situation, another would come in.

    Untouched. That was the state of my home. That is where I live. Unlike so many who evacuated or hunkered down just to find water coming too dangerous for comfort. I missed blogging on that Tuesday after Harvey hit. I’ve probably been sitting on parts of these words for a week or so now as they streamed themselves together and as I have processed the tragedy that has taken place in my beloved city and state. Rick and I are “okay.” We never lost power, we stayed dry, and our physical property remains undamaged. We are so not “okay” though.

    A friend texted me last night to see how I’m doing in the wake of Harvey as well as how Houston is holding up in general. This is part of my reply back. “Streets that were once overflowing with water are now overflowing with the aftermath of destruction. It’s so tragic. The whole city is exhausted.”

    It’s been a whirlwind of a little over a week now. We are Houston. We are strong. But we are tired. There have had many restless nights. We are a grief stricken city as not only lives were lost in this tragedy, but our hopes and dreams. We are diverse, and we are united in our recovery. #houstonstrong and #texasstrong are who we are.

    The Best Facebook Post This Week

    As I sat trying to focus on reading Kill the Spider, I really couldn’t keep my mind focused for long. Relaxing and reading on the couch seemed so ridiculous given the circumstances. My husband and I tried watching our favorite funny shows on Netflix. Rain continued to pound down from the sky and laughter was scarce. When the rain let up, this gem found its way into my Facebook feed.

    “….After 7 more days Noah again sent out the dove from the ark. When the dove returned to him that evening, there in its beak were two Shiners and a rack of baby back ribs. Then Noah knew that the water had begun to recede from Houston. He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him because it was still in line at Killen’s BBQ in Pearland.

    Genesis 8:10-12 LSV (Lone Star Version)”
    – Bill Cooke

    The rain had let up and with a taste of what Noah and all the citizens of earth went through that time, seeing the sun shine that day was way more exciting than the solar eclipse that had just happened days before. The sun coming out to play and water seeping into the ground is only the beginning of the days to come.

    What Can I Do Now?
    Pray.

    Pray for compassion and empathy. Thank God for the sunshine. Pray for those who have lost their jobs in this tragic timing and the economy as it begins to rebuild. Thank God for those who jumped at rescuing neighbors, friends, family members and animals at a moment’s notice. Pray for strength to rebuild and for strength for those who are continuing to provide relief. Pray for those who had to make tough decisions that they are still second guessing. Thank God for the Cajun Navy, HEB and so many others who jumped into action. Pray for those who have no idea when or if they’ll ever see their homes again. Pray for those who don’t even know how they can help yet and those who feel helpless and guilty. Thank God for showing us what really matters – humans – regardless of race/religion/nationality/gender/sexual preferences and everything else that threatens to divide us. Pray for those who are experiencing trauma at the sound of water. Pray for the shame of being in the path and the shame of not doing enough. Thank Him for those who will be continuing to help long after the cameras are gone and Houston has slid from headlines. Pray for those in the path of Hurricane Irma as tensions are high after watching Hurricane Harvey. Pray with me now.

    God, we’re so weary. The exhaustion for myself alone is overwhelming. Take care of those more exhausted than I am. Those who are still staying in shelters that have no time frame of getting home. Be with those who are watching their favorite pieces of furniture, their family photos and their literal dreams be scattered into trash piles. Give those who are running shelters and other relief spots a second, third and fourth wind to get through. Allow healing tears and safe spaces to process what is happening. Be with those who not only lost material possessions but lost dads, sons, brothers, husbands, sisters, moms, wives, and friends in this. Help us to grieve well.

    Protect those in the path of Irma. Keep them in your arms of safety. Be with those dealing with wildfires in the Northwest. Be with all the first responders, nurses, doctors, counselors, government organizations, non-profit groups and religious organizations as they step into these moments. I pray for kind words from all and for all even in the face of exhaustion. I pray for compassion on all of us as we begin to rebuild our lives. Be with those who feel forgotten. Let them know that you haven’t left them, that you are near. Thank you for surrounding us with your love. Lord, let yourself be known in all of this. Amen.

    Rest.

    If you were in the path of the storm or have gone out and mucking and gutting houses in the beginning processes of recovery, please rest. Drink water. Take care of yourselves. This isn’t a quick fix. It will take self-care to make that long-term commitment of recovery which will take way longer than any of us want it to. We can’t flip a switch and get August 24, 2017 Houston back. It will take time. We are still figuring out what the storm took from us.

    Don’t disregard your mental health in this process. News outlets and weather channel segments were the choice of tv viewing for days. Facebook feeds filled up with news, sad posts, and families trying to get help or be reunited with their loved ones. If you’re waiting for permission before backing away and focusing on something else, here it is. Turn off the news. Turn off Facebook. Read a fun fiction book. Watch your favorite movie. Cheer for your favorite sports team. Chat with loved ones. Go out to eat. Just disconnect from the tragedy of Harvey and invest in some mental health time for yourself. That doesn’t mean you don’t care anymore. It’s a sign of strength that you not only care but understand that you have to take care of yourself if you’re going to care for the long haul.

    Give Responsibly.

    Many of us have gone through our old clothes and unwanted goods to give to others. The heart behind that is absolutely beautiful. We have more than enough old t-shirts. Organization asks for certain types of items because they are usable and of top priority. While some items are perfectly good donations aren’t necessarily of top priority in that moment. Sorting, storage and proper distribution are all issues.You can read more about that here or here.

    If you want to help, please for the love of Texas, please donate money to an organization you trust and know will be on the front lines of helping. These organizations are ones that I believe are trustworthy and are operating with integrity: UMCOR, Legacy Collective, or directly to a local church.

    Hate, Love + Kindness

    Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

    My heart aches right now. As many are hurt and terrified as the climate is filling with even more tension and wonder after the events this weekend in Charlottesville, I have to add my voice to the mix. It would be wrong not to do so at this point in history. Being silent is saying that this is okay. It is NOT okay.

    I spent much of last week looking through old photographs. I was blessed with being exposed to other cultures early on in life and getting to sit in classrooms for years with students who didn’t look or think like me. Being a white woman who has been surrounded for much of my life by people of other nationalities, races and beliefs is a gift from God as I would not be who I am today without these friendships. They have taught me so much about perceptions, privilege, hardship, injustice and beauty and for that I will be ever grateful.

    My heart not just hurts for what happened this weekend. My heart hurts that this is still a conversation in our nation. I hate that God has set us free yet we live in fear of ourselves. I have friends that don’t feel comfortable in a variety of situations, because they are treated differently based on their skin color.

    Last Friday, I had lunch with a dear friend where we discussed gender bias and racism, because these are real constructs that are happening at our time. The stories of my friends aren’t my stories to share, but I wish they would. Friends, I urge you to share your stories online, be that voice. Help us to listen and understand with new fresh eyes.

    I’ve seen several things over the course of the last six months or so begging the question of if you wonder what you’d do during the Holocaust; you’re doing it now. The thought of that is so incredibly scary but I think it is pertinent that we really evaluate that.

    My words are not enough.

    I pray that we will all stand together and say that hate is not okay. I’ve read a bunch of articles as well as Instagram and Facebook posts over the past few days. Unfortunately, many are already buried under ongoing social media. My prayer is that we will not forget the ongoing daily struggles when we only see the big, tragic moments. Here are some that I’ve been able to dig up along with others that I believe need to be heard in this moment.

    Look at What is Happening in America in 2017
    A Word from Dan Rather, Journalist
    Letter: Family denounces Tefft’s racist rhetoric and actions
    Words from Jen Hatmaker regarding Charlottesville
    Here’s an Anti-Fascism Video the U.S. Gov. Released Back in 1943. You Should Watch
    A Note to the Church: Let’s Be For, Not Against by Kaitlyn Bouchillon
    A Response to Charlottesville by Judah Smith + The City Church
    Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey featuring Tasha Morrison
    Jamie The Very Worst Missionary’s Call to Find A New Church
    Watch Dr. Cornel West and Rev. Traci Blackmon’s Friday Prayer Service in Charlottesville
    Pastoral letter about racism in America in 2017 by Bishop Scott J. Jones of the Texas Annual Conference, The United Methodist Church
    Ten Ways to Fight Hate: A Community Response Guide

    I wish I had more eloquent words to convey how deeply saddened I am by this. God has seen my tears and heard my cries. We have to stand up for those who can’t, for those who have continually stood up allowing us to have this freedom we have today and for those who have ultimately sacrificed themselves for their beliefs. Whatever side you are on, know that the side of love will always win.

    Humans, hate is never okay. Let us be kind and love one another.

    Let Freedom Rise

    Red, White + Blue. Inner Tubes on the Lake. The American Flag on as many things as you can get it for the day – clothing, drink koozies, etc.. Grilling Out by the Pool. This is America. The 4th of July is our day. Let Freedom Rise!

    Except, what about those that aren’t free today? What about those that are suffering captive by their own minds, their own addictions and even by others? There are a lot of us captive by varying things. Today, most Americans will choose to focus on family and friends, fireworks, relaxing in their freedom and amazing grilled grub like that brisket above.

    Freedom. You know those who have gotten us here – our armed forces, our leadership at all stages, our ancestors and our past as a nation. But those who aren’t yet free are harder to put a face with. In fact, they’re the ones we ignore, the ones that we’d rather not put a face with. Ignoring them and their existence is a 1000 times easier than admitting slavery still exists, than admitting that it’s real and that this is a problem.

    The problem is that it is real though. Listen to these statistics that Love146 has collected: “In 2012, the International Labor Organization estimated that there are 20.9 million enslaved today. That’s an estimated 4.5 million in sexual exploitation, an estimated 14.2 million in forced labor and an estimated 2.2 million in state imposed labor… One child in Love146’s Survivor Care Program was sold by a trafficker to a brothel for $72. This price is quite typical.”

    You can read more about slavery – how it happens in today’s world as well as some of the stories of those Love146 has helped here. Seriously, click on it and educate yourself. Then come back here and pray with me.

    A Prayer to Let Freedom Rise

    God, you know what is going on in the world around us. You see the good and the bad. You see the downright atrocious. The thing that make my heart so sad and causes tears to flow freely from my face. I can’t even imagine with you being All Knowing how you so deeply feel about this. You see every single moment. I can only imagine the heinousness of it all.

    As we celebrate our freedoms in America today, may those who are not yet free know that they are loved and cared for even now. Allow us to be your hands and feet as we stretch them out to those who need it. To those who are deemed unworthy according to our society. To those who are “supposed” to be overlooked and forgotten. May we see them. May we remember them. May we play a part in their rescue, in your redemption story for their lives.

    You can move mountains with the slightest of whispers. We know that you can take the world of human trafficking and not only make it turn upside down, but change hardened hearts and eradicate that world for good. God, work your miracles. Rescue those who are trapped! 

    God, force us outside of ourselves. May we lay our selfishness of not wanting to upset our “perfect and busy” lives to help those who are hurting whether they’re your beloved children who are trapped in human trafficking or those we know are hurting but are hoping someone else will step up to help them so we don’t have to. Will you use us for you glory? Lord, we’re here. We’re ready. We’re waiting for your gentle, “Let’s Go.” before we launch out in obedience. Show us where we need to be obedient to you in this today. 

    Lord, may our partnership with you be a blessing to others right where they are. In Your Name, Amen. 

    Resources – Where to Start + How to Get Involved

    I hope your heart is stirred today. I hope at least you will learn more and remember those without the same freedoms as you and me. If you’re looking for more additional resources, I’d start here and then check out the organizations that I have put my own trust in below. I would strongly urge you to see if your church has a small group based on learning more about human trafficking and how we can prevent it. I joined one for a semester a few years ago. It was probably one of the heaviest small groups I’ve ever been in, but also one that challenged my stagnant faith in a “wake up, o sleeper” kind of way, especially to the plight of others around me.

    A great way to get a good glimpse of exposure into what is going on is through reading and seeing. While Netflix has several documentaries that highlight human trafficking in various ways, I would recommend steering clear of those initially. I’d instead recommend focusing initial documentary screenings regarding human trafficking to these ones that are provided online thanks to Elijah Rising. I haven’t watched them yet myself, but I’ve heard really good things about Nefarious from the leader of the small group I was in. I’d also recommend reading Renting Lacy. Get ready! This book tore up my heart over this issue when we delved into it as a small group. If you’re looking for even more, A 2nd Cup also has an amazing resource library here.

    Organization against human trafficking:
    Free the Captives // Love 146 // Redeemed Ministries // A21 Campaign // A 2nd Cup (Houston Coffee Shop) // Elijah Rising

    Houston Mac + Cheese Festival 2017: Was It Worth It?

    Did you see the Houston Mac and Cheese Festival event floating around Facebook back in January? I checked interested because who wouldn’t love taste testing a ton of macaroni and cheese? Spoiler: No one! I didn’t think anything about it and certainly wasn’t thinking that I’d end up going to the event itself. Luckily for my taste buds, my brother-in-law saw the event and suggested it as his birthday present from Rick and myself. Spoiler: This may be one of the best birthday presents ever.

    Here’s my pretty bad view from one of the edges of Silver Street. (Sorry, iphone pictures are hard. Also, a huge crowd formed right in front of here watching some dancers extremely soon after taking this.)

    There were a ton of vendors set up from around Houston all toting their best mac + cheese for us to taste. I was a little curious how we were going to carry mac + cheese but we got a special plate that held several tasting cups and a beverage along with several drink tickets along with a token to use to vote on our favorite. We got there when the festival first started and I am so glad we did. We had a bit to sprint around between vendor booths before the place filled. When it filled, it was so hard to walk around but a bunch of people came and left within an hour and it lightened up. Unfortunately, by the time it lightened up some vendors were out of mac + cheese and the orange goodpops for one of the signature cocktails were gone.

    Here’s the VIP section. it had all the comfy seating and places to put down food and drinks. The general admission had a couple of benches on the opposite end but nowhere near the amount of comfy inside seating shown here. There’s also a private bar in the back.

    Springing for the VIP Tickets – Yay or Nay?

    For us, it was a matter of money with the general admission tickets close to $50, there was no question for us which we would purchase. From what I saw of those who got the VIP tickets, other than access to the VIP section they got a tote bag with some goodies in it. We left right after they announced the overall Mac + Cheese Winner. I’m not sure if they had too many tote bags or what, but we walked away with 4 tote bags filled with goodies when we left even though we didn’t buy the correct tickets. For me, there wasn’t enough of a reason to shell out the extra $20-30 bucks. I’d definitely say nay to VIP and stick with the general admission tickets. The point is to eat all the mac + cheese anyway, right?

    Here’s my tasting plate at one point with several mac + cheese options. Unfortunately, none of these were particularly my favorites. There’s a mac + cheese eggroll, chipotle chicken mac + cheese, lobster mac + cheese, brisket mac + cheese and I’m not sure what the other one is.

    Was the Mac + Cheese Good?

    This question seems like it should be obvious. Duh, mac and cheese is almost always amazing. I didn’t get to taste all the mac + cheese options available because I got full. Of the ones I did taste, I was a little disappointed. A lot of the vendors seemed to throw a thick piece of bacon on top or crumbly bacon bits and that was it. Very few mac + cheeses seemed to go over the top which was most notably, the Oxtail Mac + Cheese from Houston This Is It’s Soul Food restaurant which was the #1 place winner. There was also a Spicy Crawfish Mac + Cheese from Hughies Tavern that Rick and D devoured and loved. For the most part, the mac + cheeses were good but not the phenomenal kind of good that I think I really expected going into the event. I also really liked a truffle one and a mac + cheese ball covered with a spicy marinara sauce.

    The #2 winner, Swift + Company, had the absolute best mac + cheese in my opinion. It’s called the Mac + Cheese Texas Tango and is a pulled pork mac + cheese with a mango tomatillo slaw. I was so in love with this weirdly somewhat sweet creation that I went back for 3 portions. Not only was it delicious, it was one of the more creative concoctions. I’ll definitely be trying to recreate this mac + cheese beauty at home.

    Was it Worth It Then?

    I believe that the 2017 Houston Mac + Cheese Festival was definitely worth a one time go. We did thoroughly enjoy our experience. For the admission price though, I doubt we’ll be going back in the future when it comes back next year. If we had a group of family or friends that wanted to go next year, I’d be down to go with them. I do think that it would make for an amazing date idea or birthday present experience.

    Enjoy some of your favorite mac + cheese soon! Also, feel free to check out my Mac + Cheese pinterest board for creative recipes.

    Ashley

    My Top 3 Family Owned Restaurants in the Houston Area

    It’s no secret. I love to eat, like I absolutely love it. I especially love when I can support a smaller family run business rather than a huge chain. These are my top 3 favorite family owned restaurants in the Houston area. There’s a chance that I may even run into you at one!

    1. El Dorado Mexican Restaurant
      I’ve been coming here since they first opened. They’ve never ceased to satisfy my Mexican cravings. The waitstaff is always friendly and accommodating, especially to special needs. I almost always get the Durango – a chile con queso puff, a guacamole taco, a cheese enchilada and a sour cream chicken enchilada with rice and beans. It can be quite a bit of food, but it’s too delicious to deviate to another meal. One of my other favorite meals is the  Also, their pina colada is absolutely phenomenal. This family has worked so hard. I’m so excited to say that they have opened a new location in League City. My family and I went right when it opened and we absolutely loved it. Well done, friends!
    2. Dumar’s Mediterranean Restaurant
      I’ve said before that this I recommend the couples plate. I wholeheartedly still urge you to order that. It allows you to try all the things possible on the menu. I have officially tried all the chicken shawarma options and have to say that there’s no way you can go wrong. There’s something so delectable about their chicken shawarma that keeps me coming back for it. Rick loves the lamb kebab. Next time, we’re trying the kenafeh!
    3. Marini’s Empanada House
      I got to know the Marini’s the summer after my senior year in high school when I first fell in love with Argentinean empanadas. My absolute favorite things on the menu are the Apple Gabriella (diced apples, dulce de leche, cream cheese, mozzarella cheese, and nuts), the Italian Marcello (Italian sausage, pizza sauce, mozzarella & provolone cheese) and the New Yorker (broccoli, cream sauce, mozzarella & provolone cheese). The best part is that each empanada is super customizable. I almost always add avocado to the New Yorker. It just makes it even better. Marini’s has been growing increasingly famous which is awesome as they are such a sweet, sweet family. They have their restaurant featured on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives this Friday night.

    I hope y’all spend the night out at one of these establishments. I have absolutely loved my time spent at all of them and hope you do too.

    Happy eating!
    Ashley