Wednesday, November 23, 2016

gratitude 2016

2016 has been a magical year for me. After many years of you reading my "take" on gratitude amidst the crazy of my world. I truly have nothing but gratitude in my heart for all this year has brought. And for 2016, that's way more than just a man and a new last name. I've learned much about myself.  I've experienced needed Sabbath. I've learned what it means to slow down and say "no." (both of which were very hard for me) I've cleaned out. I've learned how to express myself using words and not just my own reasoning. I've experienced love I only dream about. I've learned more about trusting the Lord and waiting on His promises. (it really is the only way) I've learned new skills.

Its been a good year. My heart wants to explode in gratitude. 

Last week I was listening to a podcast and heard the verse below and thought there was no better way to express where I am and how I feel.

gratitude 2016 | Psalm 63 @bigpittstop #newpost

May you pause in the remaining days of this year and find your gratitude. Write a note and say "thanks." Stop at the grocery store and help someone with a buggy. Look up from your phone and smile at people. Put down your phone and snuggle on the couch (even if its just for puppy love!). Get out of your house and go for a walk, scenic drive or just to run an errand. Do something unexpected.  Bake treats for someone else. Breathe deeply and just enjoy the ride!

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Shine Like a Diamond Weekend

Last month, I got to join a group of girls at "The Barn" and celebrate my new little sister (in law) joining the McKinney family.  It was the perfect kind of weekend - slow, surrounded by girl friends and lots of yummy snacks. This was my first party partnering with my new sisters in crime and we had a blast getting everything together to celebrate Emily, my soon-to-be sister in law.

I thought I'd use our super successful weekend to offer a little guide and outline for the perfect casual celebration for your Bachlorette. Our Emily shines bright, so our theme for the weekend was Shine Like a Diamond and we used the colors of the wedding to make all our decoration decisions.

We kept the decorations as simple as the menu.
  • "kiss the MISS goodbye" sign in sheet - We just made a simple design on Microsoft Publisher, but you could use any design software you have on your computer or online. I snagged a pack of pearlized cardstock for all our projects for the weekend and just printed it off on my home computer. Snag a couple colors of cheap bright pink or red lipstick (brighter the better!) and you are ready to go. (we do suggest a matte or regular finish, no gloss because it will be too sticky to frame) Set out a fine point sharpie or pen with the paper and all the attendees can autograph their lip print and leave a message. We did learn there was a technique to making the lip print, but there were too many laughs in the process to tell you the trick!
  • monogram sign - I snagged a navy (wedding color) chalkboard cutout in the dollar section by the front door of Target.  My sis in law already had chalk markers that she uses at home so she free-handed the couple's monogram on the sign. We are saving this to share with mom for the rehearsal dinner, then I'm sure there will be some way to use it to decorate their new home!
  • Last Name banner - again playing in the party section at Target, my sis-in-law found a blank white pennant banner. We counted out the letters in the last name and centered them, one on each triangle. Since she is used to doodling her maiden name, I let her handle all the letter drawing! White let us add any color and hang it among our garlands without having to worry about coordinating. Again, we will reuse it in our decorations at the rehearsal dinner and let them hang it in their apartment after the wedding.
  • Party Store paper pom poms and garland - some were from Walmart on the party aisle and I added to them from a local party store. Paper tassel garland and a fan out circle or pom poms.  We just selected one color for each type of decoration and just mixed and matched in each of our vignettes.
  • inspirational quotes  - we just printed these off of google images and used a couple from Holley Gerth's freebie images. Use frames you already have in your home and replace the pictures for the weekend. Leave the bride the print offs and put your frames back in your house when the weekend is over. They needed to be dusted off anyway!
  • paper diamonds for muffins - I'm just going to let these speak for themselves.  Print these off
    on that same pearlized cardstock you bought for other projects.  I even used a little glitter glue and drew over each of the lines. (do this part 3-4 days before the event)  Put them on a flat and safe place to dry. Cut out the outlines and stick them in the top of muffins, or powdered donuts on your breakfast buffet. (Evite: Inspiration)
  • Bride to Be sash and tiara - sash from party store and dollar tiaras are good enough to do the trick. We even had our bride wear hers out for the evening activities. I mean you can only milk the "bride tribe" when you're well, a BRIDE!
  • personalized pictures printed on cardstock - if you have the time and printing capabilities. I made a collage using one of the templates on Canva. A little Facebook stalking of her bride and all the maids and we had the perfect little collage for the weekend. I used the pearlized cardstock for this was hard to see the pictures, but its the thought that counts, right?
  • Date Night Ideas on popsicle sticks - I used mason jars for my wedding, so I have a few extras stashed in the garage, but its as easy getting one at a dollar or thrift store. A cheap package of blank, regular, Popsicle sticks or tongue depressors from a dollar store or Walmart is all you need and a set of markers that you already have on hand. We just kept the jar out all weekend and as inspiration came, we added ideas. Let activities be the decor too!

Simple, not over thinking it, and making a menu we knew people would love was the key to the weekend. We had other ideas ready in reserve, but found that just hanging out and laughing was the best medicine for any of us. Shower games can be awkward so don't feel pressure to play them if that's just not your "thing".

Oh and they wanted to watch movies from when they were young, and giggle, and reminisce.  I quickly found out the movie that they spent the day quoting, that they watched at their 4th grade slumber parties, came out the year I graduated from college. I felt old really quick. I'll always be the oldest sibling, but my favorite title next to being Mrs. McKinney is being a big sister, so I just owned it and made jokes of myself so they didn't have to!

Extra Ideas:
  • Telephone Pictionary or Charades with titles of Romantic Comedies 
  • toilet paper wedding dresses are always fun and cheap to make an easy competition between teams of attendees.  
  • Bridal Mad Libs - google search or support the Etsy artists!
  • prayer of blessing over bride before breakfast brunch - just a moment to pause together and gather around the bride.

So much more fun to be had this month and a lifetime of memories to be made as we celebrate the new McKinneys!!


Inspiration for the weekend came from a little Google and Pinterest searching.  (I mean really how did people plan parties andn special events when they had to do their own thinking?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

feeding friends

So, my post on Tuesday started out as menu planner for hosting a weekend of grown-up friends and Stephen's House Peru. My husband serves on the board of this organization and we were honored to host these friends for a weekend away from their normal routines, taking care of kids, and just a moment of respite. My goal was to plan ahead and create a fuss free menu for grown ups full of comfort foods and treats that they didn't have to make for themselves!

We have had several weekends with friends this fall and I thought it would be fun to share my weekend menus to take the fuss out of hosting your own weekend of friends. (this is the first of 3 weekends get ready, I tried to cover all the bases!)

So, what's on the menu?

Friday Evening - snack night:
  • Chicken Enchilada Pinwheels - I used canned chicken just to make things easier. Other options would be rotisserie chicken, fresh or frozen chicken cooked in the crockpot or baked. Recipe says it spreads on 8 tortillas, mine stretched to 12.
  • Zippy Crackers - there are lots of versions of "firecrackers" out there, but my favorite and the easiest for me is 1 box of Club crackers, 1 C canola/vegetable/olive oil, 1 pkg dry spicy ranch dressing mix, 1 pkg Italian dressing seasoning mix. Take crackers out of all packaging and place in a gallon size Ziploc bag. In a bowl, mix oil, dry ranch dressing mix and dry Italian dressing mix. Stir together with a fork until all powder is dissolved in to oil. Pour over crackers. Push air out of bag and zip closed. Toss and turn crackers until completely coated. Give yourself at least 12 hours for the oil and seasonings to completely soak in to the crackers. 
  • Fall Snack Mix - Ingredients: caramel popcorn, candy corn, dry roasted peanuts, Reese's pieces, Muddy Buddy Chex Mix, small twisted pretzels. Mix together all items in a large bowl. Keep stored in an airtight container.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies - The Quest Cookie - that's all I have to say! Just make them and keep them scooped and ready in your freezer. 
  • random snacks from the store - Keep it semi homemade where you can. I picked up a couple treats that were seasonally specific from Target (sometimes you just need a little Archer Farms on the table). Just little Monster cookie crunch bites, salted caramel pretzel sweets, and apple cinnamon bites. Serve them in matching bowls, but store in Ziploc bags and keep pulling out all weekend. 
  • assorted sodas, crystal light, and tea
Saturday breakfast:
  • French Toast Bake - this one never fails!
  • bacon - we baked it on a cookie rack on top of a jelly roll pan with sides. This just keeps you from standing over a fry pan and filling the kitchen with grease. But, the quickest way to get your guests out of the bed is to start cooking bacon!
  • fruit - bananas, oranges, strawberries and grapes
  • coffee, milk and juice
Saturday lunch:
  • Glorified Ham Sandwiches - my own recipe off the Arkansas Women Bloggers site. My Arkadelphia ladies introduced me to these and frankly its the only way to survive in a college town. The hubs doesn't request much, but asked for these, so I agreed!
  • chips and dip - you can do whatever you want, but I'm obsessed with caramelized onions and this Caramelized Onion Dip from the Barefoot Contessa you will want to smear on every. single. thing. in your path!
  • hummus and carrots - buy it at the grocery store and get a bag of baby carrots
  • cookies - leftovers from last night (if there are any!)
  • assorted sodas, crystal light, and tea
Saturday dinner:
  • chicken tacos and fixins - keep it easy and let the crock pot do the work. Plus if you are going to be inside together, it keeps you from getting your house hot while you continue to spend time together. So, how? After you clean up lunch, throw these things in the crockpot - 1 bag frozen chicken breasts, 1 packet taco seasoning, 3 cans tomatoes with green chilies.  (offer chopped salad for your healthy eaters who don't want to use tortillas)
  • queso and tortilla chips - pick your pleasure.  We tried a new white queso recipe, but any version will work!
  • sopapilla cheesecake - I'm not even sure how to tell you about this other than you will want to lick the bottom and eat the rest for breakfast tomorrow!
  • assorted sodas, crystal light, and tea
Sunday breakfast:
  • biscuits - we have learned that Grands frozen biscuits cook up like homemade...just do it!
  • Southwest Breakfast Egg Bake - yes, the one I've made every weekend in September
  • fruit - whatever is left from yesterday
  • coffee, milk and juice

Sunday lunch:
  • Crockpot pork loin - put this in the crockpot when you get up and start making breakfast. We buy the "mesquite seasoned" pork sirloin, but a tenderloin would be the same process.  Depending on how many adults you are feeding, plan for at least 2 tenderloins.  If you are really feeling hospitable, get up at 3am and put it on low.  Your lunch guests will thank you.  But, 4 hours on high will cook it. 3am will fall apart when you put it on your plate!
  • mashed potatoes - you can do instant or this is the one thing to actually make in the moment. I'm also a fan of cooking with the skins on. Wash potatoes thoroughly and just mash the skins in. I add cheese, milk and sour cream to make them "loaded".
  • green beans - Margaret Holmes has figured it out. Just trust me. Pour them out of the can and warm them up.
  • Sister Shubert rolls - they should show up at every dinner party!
  • goodies from the weekend  - put out a smorgasbord of dessert leftovers. You've eaten heavy this weekend let your friends help you get back on the bandwagon this week and finish them off before they leave!
  • assorted sodas, crystal light, and tea

Thursday night, I spent time getting lots of elements ready to make the weekend easier. There is nothing worse than being the hostess and having to spend all your time in the kitchen away from all the laughs and not making any memories with your guests. I am a "Martha" by nature. I'm striving to be better at managing myself and learning how to be present and in the moment! 

Thursday, things to prep ahead and make your weekend easier:
  • Pinwheels - make insides and go ahead and spread on your tortillas and roll up. Wrap each tortilla in plastic wrap individually and make a little pyramid in the fridge. All you will have to do on Friday night is slice them cross ways and lay them out on a platter.
  • Spicy Crackers - mix together and toss in bag.
  • Fall Snack Mix - mix together and store in air tight container. Eat a handful while you keep working...there is bound to be some that doesn't fit in a bowl
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies - make dough ahead. My famous recipe requires 24 hours in the fridge. Go ahead and use a scoop and have the dough balls ready to cook as your guests arrive tomorrow night. 
  • Ham Sandwiches - prep bread, meat and cheese and cover with foil. In a microwave safe bowl, place 2 sticks of butter and remaining ingredients for sauce. Before lunch all you have to do is preheat oven, melt sauce, and pour over sandwiches to bake.
  • Dip - whatever dip you are going to serve, go ahead and mix it. It will taste better after having time to season and you just take the lid off and put a spoon in it for lunch.
  • Sopapilla Cheesecake - mix together filling and store in fridge. Stir together cinnamon and sugar and set aside in a covered bowl or zipper bag, ready to pour over the top. Set out filling 20-30 minutes before you plan to make dessert for Saturday night.
  • egg bake - saute onions, add in thawed chopped spinach. Cook together until tender. Stir in sausage crumbles. Let cook and store in a bowl or zipper bag. Then, all you have to do is put in the bottom of a 9x13, pour over Egg Beaters, and sprinkle with cheese to make for breakfast.
  • Pork Loin - stir together sauce and store in covered bowl in refrigerator until Sunday morning for crockpot.
  • set out bowls and serving pieces for Friday night and think through which pieces you will use throughout the weekend.
  • Get your spouse or roommate on your team. Let them know your plan for the weekend and where they can help you. My husband is my teammate and when he knows what I'm planning to do, he will be all hands on deck!
  • Don't wait until Thursday to clean your house too! Do that on Tuesday or Wednesday and leave Thursday to food prep and putting your feet up on the couch. You will be busy over the weekend, so keep yourself fresh to host your guests.And get some sleep!
My heart was so full after our friends had been here. Its easy to host folks! This same menu would work when our family gets together at a cabin in the woods the weekend before Thanksgiving or when I'm at my parent's over the holidays. A simple menu you can rinse and repeat and I PROMISE that everyone will have full bellies and you will get to spend time with them playing games or whatever is on your agenda instead of bellied up to a cook pot on the stove. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

a weekend in september

September was a full month. Our weekends were shared with people that we love.  And frankly...that's really the point of life, or at least the life we feel called to!

Mr. McKinney and I had the privilege of hosting some friends as part of a planning and dreaming weekend for Stephen's House Peru. These friends of ours all share a role on the board with my husband and needed a weekend away to plan and layout next steps for growing fundraising support and awareness. After a couple options for "a little cabin in the woods" fell through I looked at him one night and said, "why don't they just come here?"

When we moved in to our home and began setting it up, we prayed (and continue to pray) that this would be a place for God to use to expand His Kingdom and let us love on others. He blessed us with an opportunity that weekend! Mamas and daddys without kids and I saw it as my opportunity to take care of all the worries of food, planning and cleaning and just let them come and respite for the weekend.

It was a blessing to have our friends here. But, the vision that was shared together that weekend and the story that was formed, will transform the lives of people in the southern hills of Peru. If you were to run statistics on this region of the globe, you would find villages of people that do not know Jesus.  For those of us in evangelical circles, we call that and "unreached people".  Living in the buckle of the Bible Belt, it is hard to think that there are people in the world who have never heard the name of Jesus or that can't go to a dollar store in their town and buy a new Bible. And, more than that, they have never heard the story of the free gift of His sacrificial Grace. They don't know that God sent His son to earth as a human. Jesus was born just like you and I are born. He lived on this earth. He faced temptation, heartache, loss, and betrayal. He had friends and enemies. He had to be a son, a brother, a teacher, a servant. And, He did it all for one reason. 

You and me.

Sin entered the world through selfishness; a desire for more. And, sin created a chasm between us and eternity with God. Only one thing could build the bridge across that divide and that was a blameless, atoning sacrifice. Old Testament rules outlined how a person could be "cleansed" from their sin. But, it included lots of ritual, rules and a "scape goat"option. But, Jesus came and took care of it all. No more ritual, no more atoning sacrifice; His death provided once, for all, the free gift of salvation. 

And, that's what that weekend was all about.

Matthew 28:16 offers what Christians call The Great Commission - go and make disciples.  Jesus' last words to His disciples, followers, was to go into ALL the world and make disciples.  Basically, go tell people this story that you have lived and heard. Spread my Gospel to the ends of the earth. 

This group of friends that gathered in our home have fallen in love with the people that live in the southern mountains of rural Peru. Our weekend conversation was full of stories, laughter and tears.  Weird things happen when you've made more than 15 trips to an area like this. You prep your tummy for weird food that you are not used to eating, but you check your heart for hospitality that you have never experienced. You prep your body for long days and no shower, but you prep your mind to tell the stories of a Creator God you have come to love and know is real. You prep your soul to love a people that live in a different hemisphere because you know you have a story that they must know and hear.

Back, 7+ years ago, these friends of ours traveled to this area for the first time and as they came to understand the geography and the Gospel impoverished nature of the region, they began praying and asking for a tangible way to teach adoption into God's family and a free gift of salvation. God began working in their hearts and they were introduced to a boy named Stephen. His grandmother had learned about these Americans that were in their village. Her grandson had been left behind when the rest of his family moved into the city for work. All his other siblings were old enough to earn a wage, but he was an extra mouth to feed and care for and was left behind. He had been passed around from aunts and uncles, even random people in his village, but no one LOVED him.  His grandmother had brought him that day to give him to this team. "We do not want him, will you take him?"

We cannot imagine. We sit in the safety of our homes. We have food to eat, a warm place to rest, and someone who desires to spend time with us. 

Our weekend together was spent asking the question, "How can we show the world Jesus, one LOVED child at a time?"

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Recipe: Southwest Egg Bake

This has been a busy fall already. With my brother in law getting married later this month, we have had lots of party weekends. And, I've developed an easy breakfast dish that has made its way on a menu 3 weekends in a row. Its super easy and the kind of dish you can prep ahead and just pop in the oven the morning you are ready to eat it. 

Earlier in the summer, Mr. McKinney and I started trying to do Weight Watchers.  I'll admit, we have not been awesome at it, but this Egg Bake was derived from a breakfast sandwich I was making.  I didn't put any meat in it because I put ham on those breakfast sandwiches. For the Southwest Egg Bake, I really have a one dish menu item that can keep all mouths fed and your picky eaters are still ok.
Southwest Egg Bake - the perfect easy breakfast dish for any occasion.  Regular saturday mornings, Bachelor weekends on the river or a cabin in the woods. 4 ingredients for any baker!

It really is that simple.  This dish has made its debut at a Bachelorette weekend in a cabin, a weekend with friends at our place and a weekend on the river with a bunch of boys.  It was easy enough to send them the ingredients and text directions. I crossed my fingers and assumed it was still edible.

May this little recipe make your fall a little easier.  It will continue making its Rockstar debut in the weekend events I have left. (Oh and left overs last weekend have made great breakfast and lunch additions this week!)

Get your {breakfast} party on!

**Please Note: Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, eggs or unpasteurized milk may increase your risk of foodborne illness.

Recipe Notes:

To prep ahead: make seasoning blend, spinach and sausage crumbles.  Let cool to room temperature and place in a freezer sized ziploc bag.  Then, all that is left when you are ready to cook the Southwest Egg Bake is to place all ingredients in the bottom of the 9x13 and pour over the Egg Beaters.  Makes it an easy morning at the cabin or keeps your present with your weekend guests while you share a cup of coffee.

Leftovers should be kept in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to a week. 

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

getting in the ditches

This month, I've jumped in to the conversation on mental health, anxiety and depression.  A couple things I've read, listened to and pondered are listed below.  Feel free to download and enjoy yourself.
  1. Presentation on DEPRESSION by Dr. Gary Oliver - Fellowship (the church I work for) has hosted a 4 week class this spring on Emotions and Christian Maturity.  The 3rd session focused on Depression and the realistic look at what about our IQ, emotional quality and situational influences affect our emotional well being. He also reminds us that God calls us to something higher and has prepared a life for us that can be full and thriving.
  2. Tony Evans - Overcoming Anxiety, Part 1 and Part 2

Let me close with this challenge

- be the voice of truth when you need to be.  Sometimes we just need someone to notice we are not ok and gently, kindly (from a deep core friendship) say, "..hey what can we do together?"
                -get in the trenches with them and be support
                -this looks a lot like the conversations we had around Domestic Violence

I remember when and where I was sitting in 2013 when my dad looked at me and said, "Girl, you've gotta snap out of this."  He went on to tell me I was more than capable of doing the things I was doubting.  The things that had me down, depressed, and overwhelmed.  He filled me full of His wisdom, God's truth and a fresh reminder that I've usually been capable of doing anything I put my mind to do.

But, I needed the truth speaker.

I remember when and where I was sitting when my friend RJ, said "You aren't yourself." (several months after my dad said the same thing) It first takes a good friend to "know" who you are.  But it takes a great and brave friend to look you in the face and tell you, you've veered from that course. It wasn't judgement or condemnation.  It was truth followed with a brownie and some brainstorming.  And there, in that cafe, on the other side of the state, I began digging; putting on my big girl panties, pulling up my proverbial boot straps and reaching for the hands that were reaching towards me.

Get in the ditches, its ugly, but its life giving!

Monday, May 30, 2016

a day to remember

A year ago today, my love took a huge leap of faith and moved across the state, well really out of state, to take a promotion that was no small act of bravery. He filled a tough position that had been know to prey like a serpent. But with dogged determination he stayed after it and has made significant changes. His leadership has been proven and the culture in his workplace is shifting.

But that same drizzly morning when he pulled away from NWA to take a chance, I knew we were taking a chance too.

As an internal processor, we had had a tough month. He was pulling away and I had to let him go.

When he drove through the tunnel, my cell phone rang. With a crackled voice he shared in not so many words, that he was scared. He didn't have to say it, I could tell. Frankly, I was scared too. I was scared that the 2 years of investing in a friendship with this incredible man was all for not. I was scared for him and the seemingly piranhas that waited. I was scared what distance would do. And I too was scared of starting over with a new normal.

But that move might have just been the best thing that happened to our relationship. We talked about it last week at dinner. What a difference a year makes. But, what a difference a chance of a lifetime makes too.

We both needed the push. We both needed the gut wrenching reality check. We needed to know what walking away from something you love feels like; something you've poured your whole self in to.

Intention kicked in and the corner was turned.

I'm sure this weekend will involve some burgers, maybe even a family visit. But I'm almost certain we will laugh and giggle about those really hard days and talk about what we learned and what we can continue to remember about a sad, hard, rainy day where life took a turn and a path was made way clearer.