Things I’ve learned lately: HOSTING

An overarching theme for us is to be a home that hosts. We want to be the landing pad, not only for our own family, but for gatherings and fun and friends as well.

I grew up in a home that hosted well. I sat around a Sunday dinner with family and extra’s for as long as I can remember, and as I’ve gotten older and asked more questions, I’ve learned that my mom’s goal on most Sunday’s was looking for someone to invite over. Inviting people into my house has never felt like a big, scary idea to me – but I get that for some of you, maybe many of you, this is a foreign idea.

But, don’t you worry, we can all learn new skills.

I’ll cover a range of topics, ideas and themes so I’ll lay them out like this for easy reading: Space, Details, Themes, Age groups, Ideas and Asking for help. Here we go!

Space

You might have 100 sq feet or 2000 sq feet to offer your guests, and I promise you, that’s enough. Whether you can seat 15 at a table (or tables) or you spill out into the garage or yard, it does not matter. The most important part of hosting is being willing to. Extend the invitation.

We had an extra kitchen in one of our basements, with a separate entrance and huge yard and we hosted all the time and for no reason. It was fabulous. Right after that house was a 900 sq ft walkup apartment and we still hosted our friends for dinner and parties and it was amazing. We moved late 2020 and now we have a garage and yard, a huge back deck and big basement to host all kinds of teenagers for game nights or end-of-year get togethers and random weeknight dinners.

The point isn’t how much space you have, but how willing you are to share what you do. True, we have a bigger home now and yep, it makes parts of hosting much easier for obvious reasons, but cramming 16 people around a 6 person table has its own kind of magic. If you’re more precious about your stuff than the people in your space: do some work on your expectations before anyone enters your home.

But let people enter. Don’t wait.

A note on animals: If you’re inviting people into your space and a pet is a part of that space, don’t surprise people with it. Or if you’ve been invited to a no-kid evening and show up with your baby, I mean … just be clear with people. As a guest, you can ask questions but as a host: you need to be clear and set the expectation. Which leads me to …

Details

If you’re new to hosting practice the details. Not the place settings or even the recipes, but the actual details. When, where, what and who. Be clear.

I just want everyone to know that if you’re hosting something but you have to workshop the invite you’re making it more difficult than it needs to be … this may sound like:

Host: Here’s my plan! Are you in?

Guests: People may say yes, put it in their calendar and then someone asks a group question like; but have you thought of this outlier possibility and taken my kids nap schedule into account for this thing that you’re offering to do but is not 100% convenient for me?

To which you, as the host, responds: Oh! Sure, let’s change the whole thing for this suggestion that caters to one person and messes up my entire ability to do what I was offering to do.

And then you have a workshop about what the REAL plan is going to be, because somehow the plan you presented wasn’t good enough? I’ll never understand this. Don’t be this person. I’m a real dick about this.

You might want to workshop the invite with a few friends who you know have outlier circumstances BEFORE you send the invite out, so you can respond with confidence if issues come up.

If you’re hosting, people should refer to you for details and if you’re having 100 texts asking for clarity: you were not clear enough.

Also, when you’re clear … if it does not work for someone, this should be easy for them to deduce. “This get together starts in the middle of nap-time/my cosplay convention/my kids’ swim meet/Grandma’s doctors appointment/my travel plans/whatever, doesn’t seem like we’ll be able to make it, so we’ll pass this time around.”

I do feel a tad like Emily Post about this part of Hosting. You are setting the expectations for your guests with how you communicate about your event. If it’s a casual pizza night with friends, by all means: open door policy. If you’re throwing a baby shower or hosting a party: be precise, there is a beginning and an end.

Still having a hard time with details? Ask yourself what information you might need in order to accept or decline the invite and include those details in a succinct way.

OK, friends. We’ve learned that clear communication is the key to setting expectations as a host. I love you all so much, you’re going to do great. Present over perfect. You can do this.

Themes

I need a palette cleanser after that heart to heart. I feel a little vulnerability hangover coming on. There are obvious pain-points to hosting and, for me, it’s often other people. HA! But this doesn’t stop me from hosting, because it’s one of the places I feel most alive as me. I was created to share and show and tell. Hosting is one of my very favorite vehicles to exercise this purpose.

My favorite theme in hosting is YES. Anything is a theme. My son wanted a puberty party with a cake and celebration? We fuggen through a puberty party with cake and celebration. End of school party? Yes. First boy/girl party? Yes. Weeknight dinner? Done. Fish boil? That’s a hell yeah. Just caught some catfish and want to share it? Please wear boots because we’re cleaning these puppies all together. Shall we participate in a DIY home coming? We shall.

Christmas, Baby or Bridal showers, Backyard BBQ’s, Kids’ Birthdays’, New House!, Old House!, Sold House!, Your House!, I could go on. Hosting, for me, isn’t about a theme really, it’s more about gathering intentionally to celebrate life together. I’m a huge Lifer. I would very much like to dance my way out of this life cheersing my friends and close loved ones, laughing and maybe crying, but sweating from the absolute mess of it while working it out with my hands and feet pounding whatever surface is nearest to me. I came into this world like an announcement, a proclamation that I had ARRIVED. I want to leave this world doing the very same thing: Saying goodbye in an everlasting celebration.

You might be wondering, But Jodi? How do you choose a theme? and I would answer you this (take notes, this has taken me years to define) and it has almost nothing to do with “themes”:

“I can manufacture outrage for certain people or situations but I don’t think I need to. I’m not in charge of them. Only me. I will create a space I want to share, food I want to eat and conversation I want to have – whoever else shows up? I hope they come intact.”

Followed up with:

“Don’t take more than you need. Help others and take care of your things. Practice boundaries. Be ok with saying no and speaking up when needed.”

Both direct quotes from my journal on the subject of hosting other people in my own space. It’s something I love, but not always something I love doing. Or the people invited are hard for me. I’m a grown up, I have hard relationships and they’re still invited. People are worth loving.

The point is: would you want to be invited to whatever thing you’re doing? Mystery dinner party, basement dance party, anything your kid asks you to be a part of? Then that’s your theme.

My favorite theme is YES. I want to taste everything, touch every corner of this life, feel buzzed and alive and on fire and safe in a place with people who are enamored by the beauty of this experience. I want to do it all.

Age Groups

Now that we have teenagers I do feel that some of this hosting stuff is easier for their age group. Kids can be a lot of work, and if you’re hosting dozens of 8 year olds ?? That party will wreck you in about 30 minutes. Not impossible, but it was a harder yes during elementary school. Birthday parties that we could have outside were always yeses and end of the year parties we could blast music and be silly with? No brainer. But the organized “get together” of under 10 year olds was kind of a chore.

Don’t let that stop you: but you need reinforcements. Grandma’s who are willing to be your wing person, a spouse who is hands on and wants to participate, another child’s parent who is willing to laugh at all the knock-knock jokes and drink lemonade with you. Or you rent a church gym and lock everyone in for an afternoon, order pizza and let them go wild.

We’ve always hosted with our kids in mind, we want them to value inviting other people into their spaces, we want them to practice sharing and conversation-having and being a good host. Hosting is more than preparing a meal or being willing to have people in your space. Hosting can be leadership training, hosting can be knowing how it feels to be new or alone in a space and seeing the need for someone to reach out and extend a helping hand, offer direction or lay of the land, or simply extend inclusion.

We love hosting families, so we have big family meals and then the kids break away for some exciting game outside and the adults can walk the neighborhood, have a fire or just linger at the table over drinks. We also love hosting WITHOUT kids. They’re busy, working or have other plans and we can have adult conversation and bounce ideas off of each other and we value both situations so much.

Ideas

My best tip for you, ever, is: How do I make this easier?

My ideas usually start off with an image. I envision a night well spent and I work backwards. It could be as simple as seeing an image on instagram of a sunset, or beachside sparklers or fire. It could be elaborate like a wedding reception or someone else’s gathering that gets my creative juices going and wanting to have my own, similar experience. But then I ask myself: how can I make this easier?

If what I want is the meal, then go all out. If what I want is the feeling? Then be open to spontaneity. If what I’m after is being available for me kids? Then order pizza, buy plastic table cloths and be willing to let messes happen. Often.

Our family is a foodie family. My kids are adventurous and love to try new things. I learned early on in my marriage that variety was the literal spice of his life, so I don’t repeat a ton of recipes, unless they’re 100% winners for everyone. But not many kids are as adventurous as mine are, and that’s fine. If it’s about food – then we make it fun and customizable. We do a ton of “bars” for kids’ gatherings. Soup Bar, Taco Bar, Make your own pizza, build your own grilled cheese, nacho bar, salad bar, potato bar … you can usually find something for everyone this way.

OR! We order pizza, buy a couple of 2 liters of ONE KIND OF POP and offer rice krispie treats or ice cream. How can I make this easier?

We have a locker full of disposable cutlery and plates/cups etc. I recently bought 5 additional 6-foot tables because we were constantly borrowing them or needing them. I also bought the linens. We rent chairs (or borrow if needed) when we’re throwing a large party and I don’t think twice where people are going to go.

As you host more and more, the things that will make it easier for you will be clear. Just a reminder: I’ve been hosting for over 20 years and I’m still hacking my way through it. It will take time, and that is ok.

Asking for Help

Yes. You don’t actually have to do it all. You can ask your guests to bring a dish (you can assign dishes or leave it to a free for all, but, you know: be clear.) or bottle of wine or spirit needed for the evening. You might want to desperately be with your people but can’t pull off a whole meal on your own … say that out loud.

“I would LOVE to host for game night and can offer everyone chips and salsa, bring whatever else you might want and head over anytime after 4pm! We’ll start playing Code Names at 4:30 with whoever shows up.”

You didn’t offer to buy everyone’s alcohol for the evening, or pop, or to serve them dinner or put their kids to bed or clean their house or do their taxes. You offered your space at a certain time, for a certain use and you generously offered chips and salsa. Go you! You extended an invite.

You can borrow crock pots, plates and silverware, wine glasses, salad bowls, serving platters, punch bowls, extra grills, chairs and tables, and really anything you might not own, but need for this very specific thing. ASK.

Not scary, but very overlooked: Just ask.

“Anyone have an extra crock pot I could borrow this weekend? Will have it clean and returned to you the following Monday by 5:30” (Pro tip: do what you say you’re going to do. If you’re going to clean it (you absolutely should) then clean it and if you’re going to return it by XX time, bishhhh return that damn thing by XX time).

If you’re going to be a borrower – be a reliable one. If not: buy your shit and leave the rest of us alone.

Well friends, we’ve really turned a corner here, haven’t we? I took you all the way around that block and showed you my vulnerable places and also whats important to me, and why. I came out in force as an enneagram 5 here in our Hosting conversation and I’m not terribly sorry. Don’t apologize for what you have to offer: but offer it anyway.

I’m cheering for you. Text your friends about an upcoming, no frills get together. It’s a busy season we’re all entering with holiday obligations: just tell them you’re available for a relaxing night with your people. Don’t over think this.

And Little Caesars is still under $7 for hot n ready. You can feed a family for that. You have options. Get the fancy napkins out, the special glasses for your bud light or dr. pepper and get to it.

Literally no one is waiting for you to get it together more than this.

Things I’ve learned lately: MONEY

I’ve covered the basics and some of our story and psychology around money here before, so if you need a refresher take a minute to read this gigantic post from 2016.

Now, here’s my disclaimer. Please take this with a grain of salt. We started out very differently than so many of other business owners/professionals. Neither Aaron nor myself had any debt of any kind when we got engaged (We didn’t go to college, ergo no school loans). We bought our first house together before we were married …

Since 2016 we’ve sold those businesses Aaron owned, bought and sold a few homes, moved our primary residence, became landlords, and learned a lot along the way.

Let’s discuss:

A year ago we were still having the “Buy vs Rent” conversation with anyone who asked us what we thought. “Definitely buy a house, it’s the better investment,” we would offer. “Here’s how you invest in yourself to start flipping houses.” “The first one is always the most risky, because it’s moving forward with this big idea you have and seeing what happens next.”

Since then, I’ve found a few more voices in the personal finance realm that have made really good points and caused me to go: Huh. I no longer think rushing to buy a house is the better investment. I actually know this from our experience of renting for 2 years (2010-2012) and how freeing it was to have one line item dedicated to housing in our budget: RENT. That was it, pay it and be done. Live here but also live every where else you are because you’re not focused on fixing, building, changing or keeping a house up.

Money with Katie and Her First 100K are great follows on the ‘gram. I also love their podcasts, and Money with Katie’s website is a treasure trove of information for a geek like me.

We were big Dave Ramsey fans for a long time and he still has his place in personal finance. People who go through his courses know how well it works but there’s also so much shame in those conversations. I honestly didn’t know there were women who were talking about this. Investments and graphs, budgets and tax strategies. I found them this year and it’s been amazing to read, listen and watch how they talk about money.

Like, I don’t think credit cards are the devils semen just waiting to impregnate our life with bad decisions. We have, and use, credit cards. We pay them off entirely every month and if you aren’t up for that kind of responsibility, then yea, don’t have one. But there are so many upsides to them if you’re willing to keep track of your financial life.

Ok, now that we’ve got some of that out there … let’s dive in a little deeper. I’ll ramble about few areas of our personal finances; Owning Rentals, Future Goals and Strategies, my personal favorite – Currency, and I’ll wrap it up with my favorite Financial Tools.

Owning Rentals

We have 4 doors (3 properties, one is a duplex). We knew we wanted to own a few rental properties but didn’t know how to get started. It seemed like a lot of saving and waiting to be able to “get in” the rental market. You need a larger down payment for a mortgage on a rental property, the rates are higher, and there are hidden fees and taxes you have to pay right away. More inspections, complying with the City guidelines, Rental Certificates … etc. Not to mention when things go wrong, you get the call and you have to fix it or pay to have it fixed in a timely manner.

We started telling our neighbors that if they were interested in selling their homes, we’d love an opportunity to make the first offer. A couple of them reached out to us – multiple times we didn’t bite and they sold with a realtor or via an estate but we did end up buying the house next door to us, finally. This was our first rental. We used equity from our own home to get the house and fix it up: then we put a FOR RENT sign in the yard and the adventure began!

Renting out a home is a full time job and thankfully the first one was right next door so we could see everyone stopping by and looking in windows. It was easy to meet on a moments notice to show the home and we’ve been really happy with our renters (in all of our properties).

We broke the seal – the next deal didn’t seem as hard to understand. The mystery was gone and we had cash flow and an entire system set up for easy banking relationships and future borrowing opportunities.

Aaron really loves the rental business we have. He’s streamlined so much of the process (his sweet spot) and loves to share what we know and how we do things. We’ve toyed with the idea of making our process an easy to digest e-book and maybe we still will. I know he’d love to help other young investors get started.

We are always looking but with the housing market as hot as it is right now: we aren’t in a hurry to buy high. So we keep saving and waiting. Our goal is to have 10 properties. This is one arm of our future retirement planning.

Future Goals and Strategies

One of them, as I just mentioned, is owning more rental properties. But I’ve recently gotten very interested in investing. Not in Day Trading – that’s not for me. I have nothing to offer on that subject, but in long term investments. Compound interest. I’m devouring everything I can read on investing. I’m a real good saver. It’s just my natural bend to save but I’ve traditionally kept a large cash balance and I’m slowly working my way towards investing more. Still saving, still accessible, but doing more for us in the meantime.

The evergreen advice always stands here: It almost doesn’t matter how much you have to start with, it matters more that you start early. Young. Definitely do the 401K match if it’s offered to you and then when you can … however much you can: add more.

The hardest part of future planning is that it always matters when you start. So start now. I love using Betterment for our investment accounts, it’s easy and I’m going to keep referencing Katie’s blog because the amount of information she has available is amazing.

A few words on this: I immediately feel shame when I say these things. It’s not lost on me that we are privileged, that a lot of the decisions we made have worked out for us. I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because I’ve covered this ad nauseam in other posts but I am getting to my next point which is more on the psychology of money and what we believe about it …

Currency

What do you think when I say Currency? Money? Cash? The green stuff, right? Sure, that’s obvious. But not everyone wants to be rich, some people just want to be free.

If what we do from here on out makes us rich, thats cool. But I already am and not in the way you want to subscribe to me. I’m more interested in the things in our life that make us a better community, a warmer home, a larger table, another opening for more of what I hold close.

As a very young girl I observed the adults around me act like Money, or Having Money, was the goal in life. It’s how they showed other adults what they felt was important. It’s how I was bargained with, for and ultimately discarded because my need for Money With Adults wasn’t following the right version of manipulation.

Not having money is a very tough place to live out of. There will never be enough when there never is. So money becomes this THING we just can’t quite reach for. I wish I knew the podcast I listened to that talked about the idea of finally having enough money to survive and what that did to their ability to be the boss of money, instead of money being the boss of them.

It’s a shift, for sure. And it’s powerful.

I have a few mantra’s I keep close: Let go, Let’s go! and I already have everything I need. There were a lot of years as young marrieds and being a young mom that money was the boss of me. The green stuff, and whether or not we had enough of it. We didn’t, most of the time. But I started paying attention to what I thought “having it” would fix. Would it cure my emptiness? Would it bring my loved ones back from the dead? Would it give me second chances? Would it buy me the life I really wanted? And what was so bad about the life I was currently in?

Money actually had nothing to do with any of that. So I started paying attention to what did. And this is where I’m going with Currency …

I learned that what mattered to me was not how many groceries I could afford to buy, but how many people I could fit at my table.

I learned that what mattered to me was not how clean my house was, but how it felt to sit on the floor with my kids while they learned to walk and hold them when they fell.

I learned that what mattered to me was not how finished my spaces were, but how alive I felt hosting friends and family inside any of the walls we had.

I learned that what mattered to me was not how current something was, but how at-home I could feel in the spaces I created.

Sometimes when we hear NO in our financial lives, we’re supposed to hear NOT YET. You eat an elephant one bite at a time. Looking at someone’s life on the outside who have been living, doing, etc for decades longer than you and comparing it to your current situation is real dumb. Your beginning isn’t supposed to look like someone’s middle or finish line. Adjust your focus and get clear on where you’re going, not where someone else is.

I’m now the boss of our money and my favorite currencies aren’t green at all. Unless it’s from my garden. My favorite currencies are love, patience, inclusion, food, hugs, warmth, walking in the woods, dancing and laughter! How I experience life, this one life I get, actually has nothing to do with money and everything to do with my attitude and gratitude.

But now that I know better, I can do better. And here’s how:

My Favorite Financial Tools

You Need a Budget (YNAB) … this is the budgeting app I use and have used for years now. Take advantage of their tools – I email them all the time, or do live chats within the app – and they are AMAZING at customer service and answering all of my questions. When our daughter got her first job, we bought a subscription for her also. Which we’ll cover until she’s on her own. Talk to your kids about money, show them your budget and what it costs to own things. Teach them how you keep it going. They’re not magically going to understand this because of algebra 1 in Mr. Tailbottoms 8th grade math class.

Betterment … this is the investment platform I’m learning (and loving). In our financial past, we’ve had accountants and specialists take care of this side of our finances but as things get simpler for us and I learn more, I’m comfortable taking the reigns back and being educated on my choices is just as powerful as having them.

Mint … I use Mint to have an overall snapshot of our financial picture. I get an over-all look at our accounts, investments, assets and net worth. And you can use Mint as a budgeting tool if you’re just getting started (I used mint before I moved over to YNAB and never looked back).

Wealth planners and other educational tools: I’ve purchased a few different tutorials and materials from Money with Katie and am looking forward to more as I need them. We have quite a library of books on real estate and finances as well, but you can reach out if you want more information.

Now it’s Your Turn:

Have a good podcast, article, suggestion, tip, blog post, or?? … you get the idea. What are you learning lately about money, currency, financial goals, travel credit card hacking and whatever else you geek out about? I WANT TO KNOW.

I’m not asking anymore, I’m telling you – drop it in the comments for the rest of us who made it through all 2,200 words about money today. It’s our consolation prize.

You already have everything you need (for right now, for this moment, for the next half hour). Sometimes in order to see the long view, we have to focus on the next few steps in front of us. Don’t freak out, and keep going.

You’re doing amazing.

Things I’ve learned lately: SELF

So I have some books to tell you about. This is my To Be Read pile, I’ve read only a couple of these books and the rest are waiting in the wings for me.

BOOKS

Top to Bottom: Gifts from the Sea, A Beautiful Composition of Broken, Keep Moving, The Art of Gathering, All Along You Were Blooming, Tiny Beautiful Things, A Moveable Feast, The Wisdom of Your Body, Braiding Sweetgrass, Shameless, Untamed, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Life is in the Transitions. I’ve made an easier list for you here, on amazon.

Gifts from the Sea, I read almost every year. My mom gave me this book and it’s a favorite, in constant rotation. The poetry by Maggie Smith and ‘All Along You Were Blooming’ have been life-preservers for me this past year.

Tiny Beautiful Things is one of my favorite collection of essays. Sheryl writes with such honesty, such integrity with empathy. She bullshits zero and I cry my way through her ability to connect to strangers.

The other titles, I’ve maybe tried to get into but haven’t been able to or I simply haven’t cracked the spine yet. I buy books (and very much love the library) but buying an authors words feels like believing in myself every time I Add to Cart. I’m a messy reader, too. I underline and take notes and re-read passages and earmark for later. I love the proof in the pages that I’ve gone somewhere between chapters.

POETRY

I keep poetry on my Notes app on my phone. Little sentences, prose, that come to me while I’m driving or in the produce aisle of the grocery store. In my kitchen, I keep junk mail envelopes and often have little ditties come to me while I’m cooking or washing dishes by hand.

I can’t remember where I was when this one came to me, but it was one of those lightbulb moments where my skin prickles and everything comes into focus.

“Once my good is gone, am I still bad?”

Jodi Schaap

There are relationships in my life who have made this the script for me – but I have believed it, endorsed it. I cosigned this assignment. Pay retribution for all your bad by being good, and we’ll see what you’re left with. It kind of hit me between the eyes, once my good is gone … am I still bad? When do I get off this ride? Because I want to stop proving to no one that I’m not bad. I want to be bad, if I am, and I want to be good, if I am. But I want to stop using one to negate the other.

This is a hard one for me. I wouldn’t have thought I was a people pleaser but it turns out it matters to me what people think of me. I’m a huge fan of the truth but not everyone gets access to every chapter and I’ve had to work through just doing the work so I can look in the mirror and be pleased. No other voices needed.

PLACES

I am forever running toward the water. Through the trees, if at all possible. In the rain, even better. I want to be on her shore drowning in her vast silence while she laps away all my fear. This is the one place I can count on to hold me.

I feel like a rabid animal in my emotions, most of the time. Trying to tame them so I can name them but really, just hanging on for the ride so they don’t run roughshod all over my life. And when I’m on the shore looking across the endless horizon, I know deep in my soul, that I am not wild but am being set free. And this is it what it feels like to be really be me.

Another place I am always trying to get back to is home. We’ve established this, but I am a homebody. I love being home. And I love being alone at home (which for the past 2 years is kind of a joke, but I’m adjusting). As an enneagram 5w4, I have a very short battery life. Recharging, solitude and quiet, is a large portion of my personal wellbeing diet. When I’m out with friends and I’m ON, I have no problem being on. Especially if I’ve prepared for it.

Mostly though, if it’s near water and there are trees involved somehow; I’m there. Gardens. Parks. We detour for Botanical Gardens. The sense of wonder I have when I’m outside is unmatched to anything else I’ve looked for.

PODCASTS

10 Things to Tell You: 3 Changes I’m Making to Find Balance – I’m a regular listener of Laura’s. She comes from a similar background and talks about how different “then and now” is often, which I really enjoy her take on choosing herself and not the small town expectation of “this is how we do it” mentality I know the Midwest soaks in. What really spoke to me about this episode, specifically, is how down to earth her approach is to finding balance. Less liquids, yes. I think a lot of us let the lines blur between “fun, happy hour!” to “daily glass of wine to get through this” since March of 2020. I know I did, and hearing someone else spearhead this conversation was so needed for me at the time I listened to it.

For the Love Podcast: Your Body is YOU with Dr. Hilary McBride – “… or I can look at my body and say, ‘Ohhh, you’re remembering. You’re remembering all of the times that it has been so scary to be in this particular seat. No wonder you’re getting my heart racing. You’re trying to tell me to pay attention.’ So we have a body that is wired to keep us safe, to keep us alive and we misconstrue some of the messages our bodies give us, or send to other people as being inconvenient/problematic; when really what they’re doing is they’re telling the story of what we’ve been through. And they’re actually pointing us in the direction of what we need to do to heal. They’re saying ‘There is still some stuff here that you think is happening that actually was over a long time ago and it’s time for you to heal this part. And I’m telling you it’s time to do some healing by giving you all this information.'” (Time marker 22:35)

So, holy fuck. The entire podcast is yes for me. And I think the next book, right to the top of my list, is The Wisdom of Your Body by Hilary McBride.

Armchair Expert: Nadia Bolz-Weber – I appreciate almost every conversation I listen to when Dax is involved. Is he crass? Can be an asshole? Stokes the fire a bit? Yea, 100%. And I love how friggen smart he is. How he thinks through situations from all sides, how he can actually appreciate different view points than he holds and how he he holds space for the questions. He has a lot of opinions, but he’s never above being wrong about them. So, I think this was the first time I was introduced to Nadia Bolz-Weber and she is dynamic and I love her. I’m a huge fan of people who do the hard work to dismantle the bullshit of religion to end up back in the room with a heart to help us along the way.

Armchair Expert: Susan Burton – I still can’t stop thinking about this one. It sits in my craw, often. This woman has done so much, with so little … and she just kept doing the next thing. I’m paraphrasing here – but it’s as if her mind thinks “I can help 3 women right now, but I see a need for 30. So, we’re going to help all 30 and make room for the 100 coming.” And I can’t stop thinking about how she says yes.

The Moth: The Date Jar – Huge fan of The Moth and storytelling, in general. This one feels kind of silly to include here but I cried listening to her story. There was such a beautiful bit of closure for her in the midst of a breaking heart, which ended up being the beginning of a wonderful new adventure. Letting other people hold us when the bottom falls out, when plans were made but the players who were supposed to be there are no longer in the game with us. This story was about connection, relationship and ultimately … her choosing herself anyway. I love a good love story.

10 Things to Tell You: 10 Tips to Wardrobe Confidence – Sometimes I just need to hear other women say things out-loud. Laura does this often, for me. She has such a level headed way about her but she thinks the way I do. And she says it out-loud. Without apologizing (too much). Some of the things I wonder about, I honestly think it’s just me. I don’t bother to ask or I wait for someone else to wonder aloud … when I go looking for answers, it’s rarely because I’m missing one. I don’t know what I don’t know. And I love the conversations about all things I wouldn’t normally find myself in. Fashion? Yep, that ticks the boxes. Especially having a body that I haven’t ever had before. We’re larger than we used to be, but I can still look good. I feel good, why wouldn’t I dress that way? It’s a good one, you should give it a listen.

The Moth: Council of Dads – Wow. Well, this is my gateway drug to storytelling and podcasts. I remember where we were, as a family, on the backroads in New York state … taking the “no highways” route to a camp ground and Aaron and I ended up sobbing through this story. Our kids were younger, little chirping voices in the back of the van, and everything is always raw for me when we talk about Dads. Having lost mine when I was only 21 and having a irreparable relationship with a birthfather, stories like this rock me. Knowing Aaron’s group of friends from high school are this kind of close that, should something ever happen, we have access to our own council of dads … and the conversations this one episode has prompted in our lives, in our marriage, in our wills. He’s the author of Life is in the Transitions, which is on my list. It might get shoved to the top of the list, as well. Right behind Hilary’s new release. But, if you listen to only one: make it this one. It’s fantastic.

Well, friends. We’ve made it this far. It’s hailing/raining outside my window and the last vibrant yellow leaves are hanging on while a flurry of her friends float around on the invisible breeze. I have my favorite “writing” playlist bumping through my earphones and my desk is a mess of notes and papers. I live in organized chaos, just like my heart. We’re all there, just a little unhinged.

This is the song I have on repeat lately: Winter/Fall by Matthew Chaim.

But I keep falling
Keep going
Keep writing these poems
To find out what’s frozen inside of me

So let me in these moments
Let me begin the healing
Let me fix what’s broken
And melt away your wounds

Matthew Chaim

Let go, Let’s go.

xoxo, Jodi

Things I’ve learned lately: FOOD

Welcome to my table, I’ve saved you a seat. Throughout the many years of this space I keep on the internet, I have chronicled my love for cooking and feeding people with a reverence saved for church. It’s kneading the yeasted dough, the soft velvet belly of the Easter Challah that brings me to the cross every year. It’s watching my son’s soccer team devour the brown butter rice kripsie treats that knocks me over with joy. It’s being in the kitchen with my Grandma cooking for Sunday lunch that transports me back to safety, every single time. And it’s the conversations, fingers dipped in sauces, elbows out, glasses clinking that keeps me wanting more.

If I’m a writer, then food and the table are my ink. This is the one story I hope I never stop telling.

Over the years I’ve written many posts on menu planning and grocery shopping (there’s even a video, that I refuse to rewatch, but go for it if you dare) so I’ll leave the link to those posts here for you, if interested.

I’ll break down this post for easy reading like this: Cookbooks, Go-To Savory, Go-To Sweet, Drinks, Hostess Gifts.

Cookbooks

From left to right: Grow Cook Eat, The Oh She Glows Cookbook, Salt Fat Acid Heat, Carla Hall’s Soul Food, Primal Gourmet, Weekday Vegetarians, Binder of recipes I’ve collected, Cookbook of favorites my mom gifted me before I was married, Lark Parties, Lark Cocktails, More with Less, Bread and Wine, Dinner: A Love Story, The Home Cook, Half Baked Harvest Cookbook, Half Baked Harvest Super Simple.

A few words on a couple of these: the most used cookbooks are Half Baked Harvest, the cookbook of favorites my mom gifted me, Mad Hungry (not pictured) and Dinner: A Love Story. And the trusty, but never rusty: Pinterest.

I’m a huge fan of Smitten Kitchen, also, but I don’t own her books. I am a regular visitor to her website, though. And I love her newsletters. She’s one of my favorite food writers. As is Shauna Neiquist (and Bread & Wine is the reason my friend started a cooking club that I got invited to and have been doing for 6? 7? years now) and Jenny Rosenstratch (Author of Dinner: A Love Story and Weekday Vegetarians). I read their cookbooks cover to cover.

Go-To Savory

Tacos (duh) – and we have no recipe. We make our meat and then assemble all our fixings onto a platter or small bowls and everyone builds their own. We fry corn tortilla’s sometimes (they’re not hard, just softer and warm) and it is so good. Always, always finish with the squeeze of a lime.

Taco salad, from my childhood favorites book. Chicken Tinga Tacos, from Half Baked Harvest.

Chicken and Rice Soup is in heavy rotation.

Galette’s are a busy evening go-to.

Chrissy Teigen’s chicken lettuce wraps.

Lark Parties: Jerusalem chicken.

I try most of the recipes I pin on Pinterest, and don’t keep the ones we don’t like. We’ve not been disappointed with either of the Half Baked Harvest cookbooks and make a lot of her recipes again and again and again.

And sauces and salads (dressings). I almost always have something to schmeer on a plate of eggs and have a herby, creamy dressing for salads. Like this, and this or this.

Go-To Sweet

Make this exact recipe for Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats, the only thing we do different is add sprinkles. You’re welcome. I have memorized this and it takes me less than 5 minutes from start to finish. They are a crowd pleaser and I want you to have this in your back pocket.

Also this recipe for Pumpkin Bars, which is in weekly rotation mid-September through early November.

Drinks

Lark Cocktails is a FUN book to make drinks out of. We love the French Pear. We try to have one or two cocktails that we enjoy and know how to make that we keep the ingredients for on hand. Aaron is a stout lover and I enjoy wine (Malbec (red) or Sauv Blanc (white)).

Adult only staples: gin + tonic with lime, some kind of whiskey, dark rum for moscow mules or dark and stormy’s.

Hostess Gifts

I think homemade kitchen items are a lovely hostess staple. Canned veggies from your garden or cut flowers from your yard. You can distill homemade vanilla with only 2 ingredients, and it’s a lovely Christmas or Hostess gift. But here are a couple of the things I like to buy locally:

Fustini’s 12 Year Balsamic Vinegar: yummy on everything. Berries! Salads! Tomatoes! Eggs! It stands alone and is a great partner. You can’t go wrong here.

Michigan candle from The Blackbird. It’s the most amazing candle for a cozy Fall season. I buy one every year and burn it all.

Flaky Sea Salt. Not all salt is created equal. This (and vanilla bean paste) are some of my absolute favorite kitchen items to have on hand. They are so small, you need so little of them – and they make all the difference.

Cotton dish towels, I love this because I can buy a multi-pack and then use one to wrap a freshly baked bread or bottle of wine.

Wine to give: you can stick with something from your region, or a good red blend, which is a nice table wine or great for cooking. Aldi has a good selection of wines that don’t break the bank.

Books for hosting to give or keep: Savor, Wild At Home, Poetry of Place, Paradise Found and the Lark books.

I know this only scratches the surface for me, I had a hard time keeping this succinct. I get in a rut, just like you, with cooking all the time. Watching cooking shows is always a motivator for me. Or planning something to host, like a Fish Boil. I can wrap my head around the daily monotony of cooking if I also have something to look forward to. We used the hell out of our grill this summer, so I was big into marinating meats. And it’s true that if you’re really starved for ideas … just start with an onion. It’ll come together from there.

Cooking doesn’t have to be hard, often the best things we eat are the most simple. Invest in your staples and a good knife. You’ll want a heavy pot and pan. If you’re going to bake more than cook, get yourself the mixer of your dreams. If you’re going to cook constantly, buy the Staub pan and Japanese knives. You can buy one at a time for 10 years and build your kitchen little by little. It’s all an investment … but, listen. This investment; is in you. Your home, your community. It’s a hobby, a way of life and a literal necessity. You’re allowed to enjoy the chore of living well.

As always, sound off in the comments with more ideas or questions. See you back here later this week for more of what I’ve learned … this time about Self.

xoxo

Jodi

Things I’ve learned lately: HOME

There are so many things I love about the feeling of Home. I am very introverted and love, love, love to be home. It’s the softest place I land, the space that holds me in, lets me go, and serves as my favorite dance floor.

So, home is really important to me. It serves as all of the above, but it (hopefully) also welcomes anyone who enters it with the same kind of love and attention. We’ll cover this more in the Hosting section but even though I’m extremely introverted, it’s also very important to our family to be the open house. To let others in, to share what we have, to feed the masses and to be social without actually having to enter the world.

Let’s get to it, then.

BOOKS

Beautifully Organized, Wild At Home, Cozy White Cottage, Made For Living, Poetry Of Place, Half Baked Harvest Cookbook, Half Baked Harvest Super Simple, Kitchen Sconce (Khaki).

These are not affiliate links (I’m like 80% sure they’re not and if they are it is by wild accident because I have no idea what I’m doing anymore.)

These books, however, do know what they’re doing. They serve as amazing inspiration and beautiful coffee table books to have out for anyone to browse. Our kitchen is forever in favorable rotation with Half Baked Harvest, and the lights were something we added when we reimagined the space … which leads me to:

REIMAGINING SPACES

As I confess in the About me section of this site, my superpower is being able to see through walls. To envision spaces and flow. We gutted our previous home and it was so much fun, but a lot of work. When we were looking for another house, I was adamant that I didn’t want to do major renovations again. Updating, sure. But knocking walls down? Nopethanks.

Essentially all a room actually needs is structure. Walls, wiring, fixtures. Are those things available? If not – start there. We lived here for a few months and then hired an electrician to please come in and add, subtract or change the electrical. How do you want to live in the space?

That’s it. That’s all you need to ask yourself to reimagine a space. What’s missing, and what do I want out of this?

Then, get to work on pinterest, in real life, in magazines and coffee shops. Hotels, friends homes, and places you love visiting. Pay attention. Take photos of spaces that make you feel comfortable. Notice how you feel walking into rooms, whats in them?

When I feel ready to make some changes I go back to the photos I’ve saved and look for repeats. I might see a pattern in the “feel” of a room, or the colors used. I might be really drawn to bold art or soft textures. Most of the time, I’m not looking at the structure of the spaces … but the feeling of what it might be like to be IN them. (And, other times I am ONLY looking at the structure. We’re currently remodeling our primary-suite bathroom and the structure of the space is the most important right now, so I’m only paying attention to walls and angles and layout and built-ins and walkways.)

The advice sticks, though, no matter what problem you might be trying to solve. What reflects you in a space? Below on the right (pictured) is our half bathroom when we bought our home and on the left (pictured) is still our half bathroom … now. Reimagined. We added wallpaper, found the new vanity on wayfair, and changed out the light fixture. The bathroom already had hardwood floors, a toilet, electrical and the plumbing was ready to go.

Wallpaper is great for small spaces and big impact. Play with it. If you hate it (and it’s ok if you do) it’s only wallpaper. You can take it down! Don’t marry all of your ideas. Stay flexible because you are going to hate some of it, or change your mind. Totally normal!

THINGS I LOVE

Who’s still with me? Mom?

We made it this far in this gigantic post today so I have some funsies for you in absolutely no particular order:

These pull-out cupboard shelves are, literally, the best purchase I’ve made this year. They’re spendy, I know. Shut it. I am in the kitchen for hours every single day. Every day! These make re-using our kitchen cabinets look like the best idea I’ve ever had. I bought 6 of them – 5 of them in our pantries and one in side cabinet that utilizes otherwise wasted space. I can’t get over how much I love these. They’re SHELVES. And I am undone about them.

This canvas-style bag for carrying logs. Handles. It has handles. We can take lotsssss of wood from our outdoor pile (which, elevation wise, is 2 stories below where we need to bring the firewood) to our hearth without swearing all of the swears we know out loud.

Sweet and Spicy Tea. I know you think drinking tea is like drinking hot water while someone whispers the herbs and flavors used from another room and I’m sorry you hate tea this much. But have you had this tea? You will like this one. It punches you right in the face.

These under-the-chair-things are like “money in the walls” but for your floors. You’re welcome. We refinished and added more wood flooring to our house, unlike our last one where we added plywood … I want these to look real for as long as possible. Because they are. They are real wood floors, take your shoes off.

These unfinished wooden handles are the sisters and brothers to many other unfinished wooden handles we’ve been using in all of our projects lately. We did buy new cabinets for the island in our kitchen (a painted cabinet to offset the oak) and the unfinished wood handles are like … cream for the eyes. That’s weird and I know it, but I stand by it. I love them. We also have unfinished wood handles/knobs (I know I’m saying unfinished wood a lot right now and I just need you to keep your eyes up here for a few more seconds) in our laundry room and the library. Everywhere, I tell you!

These sheets are a good idea. Sheets that I can’t touch before I buy them? I understand, it’s risky. But these are possibly the best sheets we’ve ever owned. And they’re not a million dollars.

Souper Cubes! I saw these on Shark Tank, like I see many things on Shark Tank, and this was the only item I’ve ever purchased before the pitch was over. Correction: this is the only item I’ve ever purchased that was featured on Shark Tank, ever. Revolutionary. These people are geniuses. Why didn’t I think of this?

Young House Love has probably influenced me more than any other blogger with influence. I almost always buy the things they suggest (when it fits my needs) because they are NEVER WRONG. So, yea. I’m a bird lady. I watch birds and I feed birds and I have (you guessed it) books on birds. And now, I can see birds right next to my chair. Because of this.

We’ve been married over 18 years, my husband and I, and in all of those years he has had the same alarm clock from his middle-school ages so I found him this one, instead. It’s from this century but it looks similar enough to his oldie and AND! I don’t hate it. Did I mention you can turn its lights off? All the way? And the volume isn’t 100 devils crying a beepbeepbeep in bright red in your ears every morning?

Lastly, I give you our espresso maker. When the quarantine started and everything shut down, we had to re-engineer our morning habits. So we ordered this espresso maker and never looked back. It’s so fun, looks great, is so easy and we love this little guy. He’s the real MVP of our house.

That’s it. I have a lot to say sometimes. Thanks for checking in. And please, please … add your must haves, house hacks, ideas and questions to the comments. I really love having the conversation with you.

xoxo

Jodi