A Few of My Favorite Things for a Peaceful Christmas Season


Ready or not, friends, the holiday season is upon us.

In a feat that can only be described as a Yuletide Miracle, our tree is up and our halls are decked. I don’t even know who we are anymore.

Like most of you, I love the holidays — the lights, the cookies, the kitschy Christmas mugs, the music and family traditions.


The holidays can also be a struggle — the crazy calendar, the expectations, the “gimmes,” the low-grade pressure to make All The Things Special.

This is why I’m grateful for resources that quiet my soul, center my intentions {and make my house smell good.}


Here’s a not-too-overwhelming list of my personal favorites:
// for you //

Journeying to Bethlehem by Kimberly Coyle

My soul sister Kimberly knows that our lives are crazy and spendy enough this season, so she’s created a free seasonal offering just for us called Journeying to Bethlehem: An Advent Audio Devotional. 

From Kimberly:

No money, no time commitment, no fuss. Just pop in a pair of earbuds, and join me for a few minutes every week as we prepare to make room in our hearts for Christ.

Yes please. Kimberly will deliver this weekly Advent devotional straight to your inbox. Click here to sign up.


The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann Voskamp


If ever there was a season for quiet mornings, a steaming cup, and Ann’s poetic voice, it’s Christmas. Four years ago, this book began ministering to my hurried holiday self and I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ by Tim Keller


I got this one last year and look forward to reading it again. Also? It’s small, which I consider a virtue during this busy season.

From Amazon:

Timothy Keller takes readers on an illuminating journey into the surprising background of the nativity. By understanding the message of hope and salvation within the Bible’s account of Jesus’ birth, readers will experience the redeeming power of God’s grace in a deeper and more meaningful way.

// for your kids //

Jotham’s Journey: A Storybook for Advent by Arnold Ytreeide

Several years ago I wrote a Christmas post that exposed our less than angelic Advent moments as a family. {Picture me trying to gather my three cherubs in the living room to read The Greatest Gift to them. {Ann has since released a children’s version of that book and for that all the weary mothers rejoice.} Anyway, my sweet friend Lena read that post and promptly sent me this.


Her note said, “Ann’s book is for you. This one is for your kids.”

God bless her.

It pains me to write that I now only have one child who will sit for this one and — true confession time — I still don’t think we’ve read every page. But that speaks more to my forgetfulness than it does to the engaging nature of the book. It’s delightful and I wholeheartedly recommend it.


Family Resources for Advent and Christmas from Sally Lloyd-Jones


Chances are you already have the Jesus Storybook Bible. {If you don’t, I can’t think of a better time to grab a copy.} It’s for kids…and just as much for grown-ups. She’s created a free downloadable resource for families!

From the website:

Join us in a journey of wonder through The Jesus Storybook Bible this advent as we trace the beautiful story of God’s great love for us–from the very beginnings of the universe, to the birth of the baby who would rescue the whole world.

The Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Guide includes:

a reading guide
printable ornaments
activity ideas
a note for parents from Sally
a special introduction from Sally

Click here to get your free resource. {And click here to snag a copy of the Jesus Storybook Bible.}


The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson


A beloved teacher read this to my class in elementary school and it. was. magical. It’s still one of my very favorite stories of all time.

There’s something completely refreshing about the irreligious, irreverent Herdman kids who found the Christmas story so startling, so amazing, that they hijacked the annual pageant {cigars and dirty sneakers in tow} and told the Christmas story to the entire town. A town that was so polite and well-mannered, they were embarrassed by the startling truth and wonder of their very own Christmas pageant.

It took the filthiest, most uncouth family infiltrating the town’s Christmas pageant to wake the people up to the greatest news of all:

Hey! Unto you a child is born! 

This story still has my whole heart.

// for your home //

Mrs. Meyers Iowa Pine Everything


How did we ever manage the holiday season before Mrs. Meyers made Iowa Pine soap and spray and candles?

I could barely wait for Thanksgiving to wrap up, such was my excitement for all things Iowa Pine.

If you’d like a sampler set, here’s one with dish soap, multi-purpose spray, and hand soap. And here’s the candle. #thebest


Nestle Cookie Dough Sheets


It’s the Lazy Mom’s way of creating holiday moments in the kitchen, sans mess and stress. Hallelu.


Immanuel, a Christmas Album by Melanie Penn


This has been on repeat as I’m making dinner or doing laundry.

Melanie has the voice of an angel.

I listened to an interview with her on Cultivated {a favorite podcast} and I couldn’t wait to hear this album in its entirety. It’s even lovelier than I imagined.

From her website:

These songs are about the first ones to hear the good news. They saw signs, had dreams, heard from angels, watched the stars, and they sang…

May this collection be a part of your Christmas season. And may you know the miracle of a person called Immanuel, God with us.


As you ease {or perhaps tumble} into this holiday season, may you remember that peace is a condition of the heart. We can make space to receive it, even when the world around us rattles with stress and expectation.

May grace, peace and smell-good candles be yours this holiday season!

Love, Marian

{P.S. Amazon links are affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you make a purchase through the links. Thanks for helping to keep the lights on in this littler corner of the internet!} 

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10 Things I’ve Learned This Spring

10 things learned spring

It’s the start of a new season and that means it’s time to share what we’ve learned lately. These posts are some of my favorite to write because the serious and the silly get to hang out in one post.

“What We Learned” is hosted by one of my favorite people, Emily P. Freeman. It’s an invitation to “reflect on the past season before we move ahead into the future.”

You can find this community link-up over at her place, so join us!

On to the things I learned, in no particular order:


1. The Fitness Marshall is just as delightful and infectious in person.


My sister-in-law turns 40 this year and each month of 2017, this sweet, laid-back, homeschool mom of 4 is trying to do something a little bit crazy. She introduced me to The Fitness Marshall months ago and it only felt right that since he was coming to Charlotte on his spring Tour of Booty {not making that up}, we’d join in the fun.

And IT WAS INDEED SO FUN. It felt like church. Or at least the way I want church to feel. All ages and shapes and sizes and colors all gathered together, showing up as we are, getting lost in the wonder and experience of it all.

There’s something magical about being in the presence of someone who is doing what they were made to do and sharing it with the world, whether that “world” is a giant stage or just the small gathering of a few. Caleb Marshall loves to dance, loves to encourage, and loves people. I’m so grateful he didn’t keep all of that to himself. {His cardio hip-hop videos are free on You Tube and so super fun.}

2. Sometimes it’s good when people have too much time on their hands.

Because they invent the wonderful ridiculousness of things like the Magic iPod. My brother sent me this text a couple of months ago.

“Themagicipod.com. You’re welcome.” : )

If you’re familiar with late 90s / early 2000s music, you’ll love this. You drag one of the songs on the left to one of the songs on the right and it mixes them.

magic iPod

My favorite? Mix Bubba Sparxxx with Vanessa Carlton. But not when your children are listening because the Bubba Sparxxx song is called, “Ms. New Booty.” {As if the 3 X’s in his name weren’t enough of a clue.} I know, this is a family blog and I’ve already typed “booty” twice. My apologies. Will I get illicit comment span after this?


3. You can return your most recent Audible book if you didn’t enjoy it.

I subscribed to Audible this year because I have a child who struggles a bit with reading and we needed a better way to get through some of the assigned books for school. But I’ve actually enjoyed having it for myself. I find that a lot of the “mundane” work in my life {driving, cooking, laundry, etc.} feels less mundane when I have the companionship of story.

Here’s the thing about audiobooks. Sometimes books should be read and not heard. One book that I won’t mention had lots of relational conflict and yelling. Guess what? Hearing someone do all of that yelling stressed me out so bad. But I had to find out what happened in the story so I finished it. It wasn’t one of my better decisions. So when I found out that I could return the book for credit simply because I didn’t enjoy the experience, that felt like a win.

I’ve now returned two Audible books and chosen other books in their place, all for zero dollars.

{If you’re interested in giving Audible a try, click here and you can get two free audiobooks for signing up. And yes, that’s an affiliate link but I’m a fan regardless.}

4. The 10-10-10 principle for prioritizing.

Historically, I’m terrible at prioritizing. All the things feel important all the time. Sometimes this lands me in a place of anxiety and sometimes it lands me in a place of paralysis. I’m always on a hunt for the “secret” that will unlock a cure for this disorder of mine. I don’t think it exists but sometimes I stumble across something that helps shift the way I think.


Recently I was reading through a January 2014 back issue of Real Simple and I came across an article, “Balance or Bust” by Marjorie Ingall. The subtitle reads: One indefatigable woman takes on a marathon research project (2,330 pages of self-help!), determined to master life’s juggling act — even if it kills her. 

It’s one of my favorite features they’ve ever done. She boils down all of the wisdom she’s binged and shares the basics with her readers. This one has stuck with me.

Whenever you face a tough decision, find your answer by considering the consequences of each potential choice in the next 10 minutes, the next 10 months, and the next 10 years.

I’ve started using this principle for everything from taking the time to read to my youngest, to choosing not to write as much because my scant spare is better spent on relational opportunities that are fleeting. Sometimes I apply this principle when I’m in a moment of panic, “Ten minutes from now I’ll still be in a bad state but ten years from now I won’t even remember. Deep breaths.”

Books she mentions in this article that I actually purchased {and have not yet finished because no time #irony.}:

In Search of Balance: Keys to a Stable Life by Richard A. Swenson, author of Margin, one of my favorites.

The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz {her favorite of all the self-help books.}


5. How to take vitamins.

My friend wanted me to try these vitamins so I took them for a week and actually felt better. {I’m going to buy some on my June order and see how I feel long-term. I’ll keep you posted.} Anyway, while doing some research, I stumbled upon this video of a darling gal with the sweetest accent and purple hair telling me how to take 6 vitamins at a time.

Y’all. It’s magic. It totally works. And it actually makes taking vitamins or any pills seem less daunting.


6. How to cook spaghetti squash.

As I type this I’m 26 days into a Whole30, something I swore I’d never do. I’m an “all things in moderation” gal and I don’t have any food allergies. I may have actually made fun of restrictive eating trends and regimens like this one.

But I turned 44 this week and let me tell you, hormonal shifts are no joke. Over the last year I’ve noticed a direct correlation between the sugar / bread / junk I consume and my mood / energy level / yelling. More protein and less other stuff keeps me stable..ish. Plus someone I love wanted to do Whole30 so I took it on as an act of solidarity.

w30 snack

What my afternoon pick-me-up looks like. “I’m jealous of that awesome snack” says no one.

Which is why I’m eating things like spaghetti squash. There are a gazillion links on the internet about spaghetti squash but here’s the big thing I want to tell you. Most people are cutting it wrong. If you want long “noodles,” cut the squash width-wise instead of length-wise.

This post and video from “Eat Within Your Means” taught me all about it.


7. The Popcast with Knox and Jamie is everything.

I know. Could I be any later to the party? So I’d heard about The Popcast for ages but didn’t check it out because I thought it was just a podcast version of People magazine. I love People. But I’m sooooo out of the celebrity culture loop that I figured it would all be lost on me. Also? People without the pictures had zero appeal.

But it’s not that at all. The Popcast “is a weekly podcast that educates the world on things that entertain, but do not matter.” And they absolutely live up to that bold mission.


Knox and Jamie could talk about how to boil water or how to make your bed and guess what? I would still tune in because they are that hilarious and endearing. I started listening in January and haven’t missed an episode since. My favorite so far: Episode 181. “Misunderstood Songs and Misheard Lyrics.” 


8. Hemp Protein Powder is the worst.

On a quest to pump up our smoothies with extra protein that didn’t have a bunch of fillers {this was pre-Whole30}, I bought Hemp Powder. Thinking to myself, “Well, the more nutrition the better so I’ll just load these smoothies up with several giant scoops of health.”

My husband thought I had made his smoothie with soil and drywall mix. If you must use Hemp protein powder, for the love, moderation.


9. We need silence, not just rest.

I loved this article because it unpacked what I’ve found to be true for myself but am so quick to forget.

For a number of reasons, in April I took a 3 week hiatus from social media and the internet in general except for what I needed to do for work. And instead of listening to podcasts or stories or music, I mostly didn’t. It felt like a reset button for my brain and my spirit.


The Harvard Business Review article explains it this way.

Cultivating silence isn’t just about getting respite from the distractions of office chatter or tweets. Real sustained silence, the kind that facilitates clear and creative thinking, quiets inner chatter as well as outer.

This kind of silence is about resting the mental reflexes that habitually protect a reputation or promote a point of view. It’s about taking a temporary break from one of life’s most basic responsibilities: Having to think of what to say.

Yes please.

Silence is free. It’s simple. But it’s also awkward, foreign, and even uncomfortable for us moderns who have a constant feed of information and noise at our fingertips all the time.

For me, choosing silence is a discipline I want more of.


10. The small griefs matter too.

Despite all the gifts of the past year, I’ve also wrestled with loss. I was telling my husband Sunday night that for twelve solid months, I feel like I’ve lost all my rhythms and some of my identity.

Because this season of life and motherhood and responsibilities has been surprising and unique in what it’s asked of me, my life-giving disciplines have been (at best) haphazard and (at worst) non-existent.

I’m not able to write as often. Certain creative projects that mean the world to me are sitting on a shelf. I crammed for my Bible study way more than I wanted to. I had little occasion to journal and be still. Some weeks I’d exercise 4 times and then go three weeks without doing anything. My days and weeks have been highly scheduled yet also wildly unpredictable.


The internet hasn’t helped. Sometimes social media has felt like a sea of people all going one direction, passing me by with their pursuits and fulfilled dreams while I sit in a rowboat, working hard but seemingly getting nowhere that I’ve deemed worthy. I know this isn’t necessarily true but my perspective has been fueled by envy and self-pity, both of them terrible counselors.

I’ve faced far more painful things in my life than this. I’ve experienced real grief and walked hard roads. Which is why these lesser griefs and frustrations are embarrassing to admit. Recently I’ve confessed and processed with a couple of trusted souls who have been kind to affirm that the lesser losses are also worthy of our tears. Something about bringing them into the light has felt freeing.

If you’re feeling the same way, I wrote a little while back about overwhelm and these lesser griefs — and how I found safety and consolation in a strange and unexpected place. You can find it here.

So what have YOU learned this spring? I’d love to hear. We can dish about it in the comments and don’t forget that you can also join in over at Emily’s.


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Good Things for You. From Me: January 2017 Edition

throw pillows

Pour an extra cup of coffee and congratulate yourself. You’ve made it through January.

Raise your hand if you have a complicated relationship with this first month of the year.

We start out resolved and hopeful, taking life by the horns and showing it who’s boss. And then somewhere in the middle we realize we might be depressed {because it’s winter, yo}  so we commence to baking two ginormous batches of monster cookies in a four-day period.

This month has been harder than I anticipated. I realized that our three dear children are somehow in four different sports, thanks to a 6-week overlap in cheerleading and soccer. I don’t do the busy sports-mom thing very gracefully or graciously. And yes, I do realize how un-American that sounds.

Our family lives or dies by our color-coded calendar these days and the busy-ness is hard for me. When our kids were younger, we decided not to do lots of outside activities during the little years. In my lazy mom opinion, the chief end of childhood is play. I’m so grateful for those unscheduled years and I miss them.

Don’t get me wrong. The teenage years are their own brand of awesome. {Gilmore Girls marathons! Everyone can bathe, feed, clothe themselves!} But I also feel like we’ve climbed aboard the busy train and this locomotive will not be slowing down anytime soon. I have no choice but to hop on and endure enjoy the ride. Once I finally get to the bleachers or the sidelines or the event, I realize it’s all going to be okay and I find great happiness in watching my kids display equal parts impressiveness and awkwardness. Plus the concession stands sell popcorn and candy and I feel I’ve earned it.


This January has also made me grateful for the most important things in this world — my people. Two weeks ago my husband and youngest son were in a car accident. Our car is totaled but my two people emerged mostly unscathed. The car’s side-curtain air bags likely saved my husband’s life. The funny thing is — we didn’t even know the car had those. It felt like a miracle.

Sometimes God’s mercy shows up unexpectly like that and it’s a game changer. Suddenly our schedule, our bank account, our piled-up laundry, our various struggles — they all faded into gray.

The accident has made me grateful for the gifts of bleacher-sitting, laundry-folding, and minivan-driving. Things can change in an instant, can’t they? I don’t want to be ruled by fear and what ifs, but I do believe that it’s such grace when we’re reminded of our truest priorities. I can never have enough arrows in my life that point me toward gratitude and remind me of the real value in my right-now work of loving people in the daily rhythms and making a home for all of us.


One idea I have for this new year is to offer a Favorite Things sort of post at the end of each month. I’ve been blogging for almost a decade and when I first started out, I figured my blog would simply be an online space to share recipes and favorite things. I never imagined I would emerge as a writer. Many hundreds of posts later, I’ve bared my soul and shared my stories. But I still have a weakness for dishing about the fun stuff and I want to make it more of a regular thing instead of a few times a year thing or a weekend links post.

I hope you enjoy it!


In the Kitchen

Easy Honey Mustard Baked Chicken from Good Life Eats

My entire family loved this dish which felt like a modern-day miracle!




Flourless Monster Cookies from Life in Grace

I made two batches in 4 days. Let that shameful truth speak for itself. These cookies are everything.





I enjoy all sorts of movies but I have a weakness for independent films. These first two movies are quirky like that.

Big Eyes

A drama about the awakening of painter Margaret Keane, her phenomenal success in the 1950s, and the subsequent legal difficulties she had with her husband, who claimed credit for her works in the 1960s. ~imdb.com

St. Vincent

A young boy whose parents have just divorced finds an unlikely friend and mentor in the misanthropic, bawdy, hedonistic war veteran who lives next door. ~imdb.com


The Crown {A gorgeous series on Netflix. SO GOOD!}

The early reign of Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom is portrayed. ~imdb.com {Dear IMDb, I feel like you can provide a better description than this.}

As always, do your research. We all have different sensitivities when it comes to media. Just because I recommend something, doesn’t mean I recommend it without disclaimers.


Currently Reading

Gilead: A Novel by Marilynne Robinson

Poetic, slow, beautifully written, and not for those who want a fast-paced, plot-driven narrative. I’m taking my time with this one and it’s teaching me to approach literature in a different way than I’m used to. Rush through this one and you’ll miss the whole point of it.

old books

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer

I mentioned this book in my earlier January post. This is my second time to read it and it’s speaking to me in a whole different way than before.

God’s Will: Finding Guidance for Everyday Decisions by J.I. Packer and Carolyn Nostrum

I’m reading this on my Kindle but wish I had a hard copy so I could write in it. There’s just so much wisdom to underline with an actual highlighter. J.I. Packer has lived a looooong time and I appreciate his wise voice. It feels like I’m reading a book that one of my grandfathers would have written and something about this comforts me.


January Gifts from the Internet

home office

Fun fact: This was my awesome but very brown and brick office a year ago. She looks so different now, thanks to a spontaneous December makeover. I’ll have to show her off on February’s monthly post so stick around!


It’s Hard to Admit that You’re Lonely by Rebecca K. Reynolds 

What to do When You Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything at All by Jon Bloom via A Holy Experience

Nothing is Everything by Kendra Adachi at The Lazy Genius Collective

3 Things I’m Doing to Keep Life Calm by Deidra Riggs


Listened to

This podcast with Sally Clarkson on The Simple Show

She talks about the book she co-wrote with her grown son, Nathan. I listened intently to every word of her interview. If you’re raising a child who’s “different” and “out-of-the-box,” I highly recommend listening to Sally’s and Tsh’s interview.


The Still Small Voice, a sermon by Tim Keller

I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to this sermon but it’s one that restores my soul each and every time. God’s ministry to his people is ever so personal and more nuanced than we tend to minister to people {or allow ourselves to be ministered to.}


This song by Bethel Music

On Repeat. Because Fear has been loud and bossy and all-consuming lately and this song helps.

Cleopatra by The Lumineers

One of my favorite albums and one that I associate with summer. But I started listening to it on a whim this month and I can’t quit. Is it too early to begin craving summer?



Fine Tip Expo Markers


I found them on amazon and they’re perfect for the aforementioned calendar that sticks to our fridge. Where have these been all my life? {Store them in a cup, tip side down or the ink will be way too light.}


Born This Way Foundation by Too-Faced



It’s spendy but my 43-year-old face says it’s worth it. Plus I had a $20 credit at Sephora. Listen up. This stuff is amazing and a little goes a long way. I prefer a more natural make-up look {on the days when I actually wear it.} This foundation feels and looks natural but it evens out my skin tone and somehow covers up my age spots and undereye circles. I don’t even use concealer anymore. Plus you can layer it in places where you need it, like under your eyes. Best of all, it doesn’t settle into your lines.

“What are lines?” ask all you twenty-somethings. Ah, they are the marks of wisdom and grace, young readers. And also proof that you never slept through the night for years after you started having babies.

I digress but the moral of the story is this. It works so well, it might be sorcery. But at least I’ll be making my way to the dark side with an even skin tone.


Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

Just in case you were worried that I was turning into a beauty blogger with that last product mention, I’m going to let the pendulum swing to the other extreme with this one. Hold on to your homestead. I made dishwasher detergent.

We ran out of dish tabs so I googled “dishwasher detergent substitute” as a good 21st-century homemaker does. This recipe came up first so that’s the one I tried {a few drops of dish soap + baking soda + salt} and IT WORKED.

As the girl who knocked over a bottle of hydrochloric acid that ate up everyone’s lab papers in high school chemistry class and also exploded a glass beaker {two separate incidents}, the success of this experiment made me inordinately happy. {Who’s winning at science now, Ms. Matthews?}


That’s a wrap, friends.

Happy end of January! May your resolutions still be going strong and if not, that’s why God made monster cookies and Netflix.


If your life isn’t compete without art house photos of monster cookies, follow me on Instagram! {@marianvischer or just click the pic}

New here? I’m all about “writing the real” and helping you recapture the possibility of your right-now life.

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And I have a gift for subscribers:

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