The 21 Day Fast

It’s September and autumn has definitely come to the Chicago area. The weather is getting chillier, the days are growing shorter, and kids have returned to school. Personally, I mourn the end of summer. However, I know that many look forward to the change from summer to fall.
Whether you enjoy it or not, for most, the transition from fall to summer brings a certain change in the rhythm of life. The barbecues are winding down and summer travel is drawing to a close. Life just changes in the fall.
My church takes advantage of this transitional time of year. We re-launch our small groups, groups that meet in homes for study, prayer, and community. We begin our Nights of Worship, which take place on Friday nights. And to kick things off we usually embark on a corporate 21 day fast. It’s not the type of fast where everyone starves. Each person chooses what they will take a break from, anything from social media to certain types of food or even food altogether.
This 21 Day Fast is also a challenge. We are challenged to participate in a small group, attend the weekly prayer meetings and spend time with God each day.
One of the things I will be giving up is shopping. I like to shop. Okay, I love to shop. But I feel like it’s gotten to be a bit much lately. I feel like I’ve been relying on it to make me feel better. In a good mood? Let’s swing by the mall. Tough day at work? To the mall we go. It just seems like I’ve been looking the shopping experience to bolster my mood and make myself feel better. Why do I do this? Because it works. There is definitely a reason we call it retail therapy.
And though it’s fun, it is ultimately unhealthy. It also isn’t practical. I have come to know the benefits of paring down and living a simpler lifestyle. It’s important. It can change your life. But lately, it has been more important to see what’s new at Sephora. It’s not like I need more makeup. It just feels good to get get more — or even just look at it without buying.
It just seems like my priority has become doing things that feel good. Shopping feels good. Mindless snacking on various goodies feels good. Sleeping late feels good. Wasting time on the internet feels good, especially when you’re shopping online. The thing is that none of these activities support my goals. And when you choose what feels good over the things you’ve committed to then there’s a problem. Something needs to change. And for me something needs to change immediately.
So I will be throwing myself into this 21 Day Fast. It may just the reset I need. I will be studying the book of John during this time as well. So we will see how pushing back from some things changes me spiritually. Who knows? This may lead to some permanent change as well. Feel free to pray for me as I do this.




Where Have You Been?

There are many ways I can answer this, but mostly I have been in my car. In July of 2015, I started a new job. The job itself takes time, but the big thing is the commute. In the best traffic it takes an hour to get to work. Getting home takes even longer. So I spend hours each day in my car. That’s where I’ve been. But, oh, have I missed my blog.

Things away from the blog are going along slowly. I did complete my second novel, but upon reading it I realized that it doesn’t accomplish the goal I had in mind. It will need heavy revision and this will most likely take a while, but it will be a much stronger book in the end.

I have also been able to write two short stories. These, too, need editing so I will be spending lots of time at my computer in coming months.

In my personal life I’ve had a bit of a fitness revolution. I started a new training program that has me training six days a week. I’ve lost 16 lbs in the last three months. I may blog about that later, but right now my focus is on staying in the gym and out of the ice cream aisle.

Other than that, not much is happening. I’ve been well. My family has been well. Things are church are going well. All good things. Just going along slowly.

I do have some new goals and projects that I am working on. You’re sure to hear all about those as they come along. I’m excited about all the writing I’ll be doing and I can’t wait to see where it all takes me.

My next post will be more traditional for this blog. I just wanted to take a moment to re-introduce myself and say hello. It’s good to be back.


How are you? (Feel free to drop me a line in the comments.)


Hello, My Name Is…

Hello, my name is CaReese and I am the person that writes this blog. I almost feel like I need to reintroduce myself since I have been absent for so long.

I have been absent for good reasons. I am well. I am in good health. My family is in good health. These are the most important things.

So what have I been up to the last three months:

Novel Writing – I have finished my second draft of my first novel and I am just starting to edit my second novel. This gives me great joy and excitement. Seriously, I can hardly sleep at night. I am looking to have my novel in the hands of beta readers soon and that thought excites/scares me.

Other Writing – I have been writing articles and lessons for various publications and that is really exciting to me. #Working and Looking for Work – I have been working regularly, but I need to find a job that will support me so I am looking for full-time work. That takes a lot of time. I’ve had some interviews, though, so things are moving on that front.

Church Leadership – I have been busy with church stuff. I lead a small group and I have several other responsibilities and assignments related to church and that has kept me busy. This is a period of growth and excitement for our church and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Soul Care – I have been really focusing on taking care of my soul. I’ve been focusing on my relationship with Jesus. I have been writing in my prayer journal on a regular basis and I have been spending quality time in my bible. Things have been kind of crazy at times but I feel like this has kept me grounded.

I am very pleased with myself in some respects. I feel like I have really gone after writing and becoming a paid author. I am taking my craft seriously and things are happening. In other areas I am very disappointed with myself. I haven’t been working out and I have been eating terribly. Too much junk. Too many carbs. Too much sugar.

So while things have been good and I feel like being away from my blog and the community we have here has not been good for me.

When I don’t write for my blog I don’t feel like I do as much self-reflection. I am not as intentional. When I write here I am present and I am focused. I desperately need this in my life.

I also find that I do better. Writing here helps to keep my goals, my vision for my life, in front of me. Having this in mind gives me something to work toward. Writing here keeps me inspired. It keeps me thinking of how I can be the best CaReese I can be. Without this reflection and inspiration, my performance has slipped.

When I write here I remind myself of why less is more and how important it is to live with intention. I write here to encourage all of us to be the best possible version of ourselves. And when I come to write it reminds me of all the ways I can do that.

Over the next couple of days I will be reflecting on how I can be better. If I find anything worth sharing I will post it here.

Happy Spring!

have been kind of crazy at times but I feel like this has kept me grounded.

It’s Fall!

Today is the official beginning of autumn. There is just something special about the fall, isn’t there? School starts. The weather gets cooler. The leaves change colors. People seem to transition mentally from the carefree days of summer to a more focused mindset as we look toward the end of the year. Fall seems to be a time of change inside and out.

Fall is also a time of simple pleasures. It’s time for warm hoodies and hot drinks. Apples, squash, and pumpkins are in season. It’s time for bolder colors and cute boots. It is a time of change, and change is good.

For many reasons I believe that this fall will be really big for me. I am taking on more leadership at my church. I am making progress with my second book. I am already getting steady work as a substitute teacher. Who knows what else could develop? (You can be sure that I will keep you posted)

So as the weather cools off I thought I’d give some ways to get ready for fall and make the most of it.

  • Now is a good time to take a look at 2014. How are you doing with your goals for the year? If you are doing well, great! Keep it up. If you’re not doing so well there is still time to make progress in 2014. No need to give up on this year and plan to try again next year. The time to act is now.
  • Make plans to enjoy the weather. The sweltering days of summer are over and the deep freeze of winter has not yet come. Get out and enjoy the moderate temperatures. Go for outdoor walks and runs. Take a drive and look at the fall leaves. Make a game out of raking the leaves. You could even go to an orchard and pick your own apples. Just make sure you have fun with the weather because winter is coming… (I couldn’t resist)
  • Evaluate and change your wardrobe. This a good time to put away the lighter fabrics and pull out the sweaters and the long pants. Before you put things away check to make sure that they still fit and that they’re in good condition. If not, don’t bother storing them. Toss them.
  • Take part in things that are uniquely fall: hay rides, fall produce, fresh apple cider, campfires, and roasted marshmallows. This is the perfect time for these things.
  • Take advantage of the harvest. This is the perfect time to can and make jams and jellies. I usually make fresh tomato sauce from the last of summer’s tomatoes and it lasts me all winter. And there is just something about that preparation for the winter that is soothing.

Fall is a great time of year. I am looking forward to the next season with great excitement and anticipation. I hope that you are as well.

Happy Fall!









Going Small

I am a minimalist but I still have a small bit of fashionista in me. The fashionista in me likes to change handbags for different seasons. So today I moved into my fall handbag. It’s black. It’s sleek. It’s sexy. And it’s small.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I moved into a wristlet. It is a full size handbag. It’s just half the size of the one I had been carrying.

I hadn’t been carrying it because it was too small for me to fit all my stuff. But I faced a choice: let this tres chic handbag go to waste or stop carrying so much crap. I took a hard look at what I really need on a daily basis and pared down to just the essentials. Nothing more.

We have been trained to believe that bigger is better. We want bigger homes, cars, and closets. We want bigger phone screens. And apparently, some of us want bigger handbags. Of course, bigger comes with a bigger price tag. There may be other costs as well, like higher costs for heating, cooling, and gas.

Bigger also causes another problem. Bigger usually means fore stuff. I don’t understand. It is a universal law that if I get a larger handbag I will somehow fill it with stuff. An even larger handbag will cause me carry even more stuff. If I started wheeling around a suitcase behind me I am sure that within a week it would be full.

So instead of constantly going bigger to accommodate more stuff, why not go small? Why not consciously choose less space and make conscious decisions about the things that go in that space? Having less space forces you to think carefully about what stays and what goes. You can’t just add it to the rest. You have to choose.

So what did that mean for me? I had to commit to one pack of gum and one box of mints. I had to choose what medication I wanted to carry. It meant that I had to commit to one lipstick look (one liner, one lipstick, and one gloss). It meant that I needed to sort through the miscellaneous papers and receipts and business cards and decide what was important to keep.

Perhaps the biggest change is that I can’t carry my iPad with me everywhere I go. My new handbag simply will not accommodate it. This forced me to think carefully about whether I need my iPad with me everywhere. I’ve decided that I don’t.

I am constantly seeing stories of people wanting bigger homes and bigger cars. Of course, sometimes a larger space is legitimately needed. We have kids and get married and start businesses. But too often more space is not truly needed. More space is desired to hold all our crap.

I think it is time to challenge this notion. It is time to reject the idea of constantly going bigger. I think it’s time to go small.

It can be a challenge to make do with less. You will have to be creative and you may have to go without some things. The reward is less clutter and perhaps lower cost.

Are you ready to go small? Perhaps you could carry a smaller wallet, handbag, or backpack. Could you stay in your current house if it had less stuff? How about getting by on a smaller budget? How can you make do with less?









Observing the Sabbath

I recently wrote a post about getting the most out of your weekend. Weekends are like gold. They’re a chance to relax and recharge. They can also be a chance to do things like home projects, visit family, or catch up on reading. In all the activity it is easy to let the precious weekend slip by without getting any rest. That’s where the Sabbath comes in. It is a period that is set aside for rest, refreshment, and reflection.

Our word Sabbath comes from the Hebrew word Shabbat, which means “to cease.” The Sabbath began as a period of rest. When creating the world God worked six days and rested on the seventh day. He declared the seventh day the Sabbath and commanded Israel to keep it holy.

“For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” Exodus 20:11

Just as God rested from his labor on the Sabbath, we too should rest from our everyday activities. This is a time to refocus on God and connect with him. Because the Sabbath is also a time for worship, many Christians will attend a church service on the Sabbath. Most Christians observe the Sabbath on Sunday while most Jewish people observe it on Saturday.

The Jewish faith places a lot of emphasis on the Sabbath. This is a dedicated time of rest, reflection, and connecting with family. Sabbath activities can include prayers, special meals, and services at the synagogue. While Sabbath activities vary among various populations of Jewish people, it remains an integral part of the Jewish faith.

Growing up in church I was taught the Ten Commandments. I was taught to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy, but I did’t really understand what that meant. We went to church, but that was about it.

Now that I am an adult with a job I see the importance of taking time for rest and refreshment. Rest has to be a part of the ordained rhythm of life. God commanded that it be so. While we are not bound by Old Testament statutes for Sabbath observance (Col 2:16-17) we would be wise to observe the Sabbath in some way.

Observing the Sabbath can look different depending on your lifestyle. However, there are some common elements in a Sabbath celebration.

Rest. The Sabbath may not be the best time to clean out the garage or remodel the bathroom. It is a time to cease your activity and get some quality rest. This could mean taking a long nap, reading, or sitting out on the deck appreciating nature. The Sabbath is a time to set aside work and relax your body and mind.

Connect with God. The Sabbath day is to be kept holy. This is our day to recognize and commune with our Creator. One way that we do this is by attending a religious service. This is time that is set aside for God. Some people spend the evening reading the bible or in prayer as well. The main thing is that we spend time that is focused on God.

Reflection. The Sabbath is a great time to let go of the concerns of the week and turn our gaze inward. How are you feeling? What is on your mind? The Sabbath is a great time to journal about how you feel, your thoughts about a particular topic, or the events of the past week

Connect with family. Things today are very different from the way they were even ten years ago. Our schedules are packed. We spend most of our time online. We can be so busy that we find ourselves distanced from those that we love, even if we live with them. The Sabbath is time that everyone can set aside to reconnect. Have dinner with your family. Go for a walk. Or get in the car and pay a relative a visit. Connect with the people that are important to you.

Silence. Our world is loud. We have televisions, tablets, and smartphones constantly spewing forth noise. Depending on where you live there may also be traffic noise or road noise. The constant assault on our ears causes anxiety and stress. The Sabbath is a great time to disconnect from the noise and enjoy some peace and quiet.

Refreshment. What makes you feel refreshed? The workweek can drain us mentally and physically. Do the things on the Sabbath that fill you up. This will look different for everyone. For some, it will involve visiting family or friends. For others it will involve reading or journaling. Some people like to take engage in their hobbies in the Sabbath, knitting, or crossword puzzles. Other find that they are refreshed by taking a walk and appreciating nature. There are many things to help you feel refreshed on the Sabbath.

My Sabbath

As of late, my Sabbath has evolved into a very relaxing routine.

I go to church. Sometimes I have duties at church (I’m on the ministry team, hospitality team, and tech team). Even when I have a job at church I still have a chance to worship and connect with my church family. I am both encouraged and challenged by the teaching and I always feel loved when I leave church.

I eat. It might be something as simple as a bowl of soup, but I have a small meal.

Lately, I’ve been going to Barnes & Noble. Barnes is my happy place. I love the feel of a bookstore and a good drink. I get a caramel macchiato or a white chocolate mocha, grab a seat by the window, and read. I usually take a book or two and my journal. I may also look through some books there at Barnes. Either way, I am dong something life-giving. On the Sabbath I leave my laptop at home on purpose because I relax better without it. If I have my laptop I either feel like I have to be productive in some way or I waste time on the internet and I feel stressed out or guilty for it.

I connect with family. When I get home I check in with my family to see how their Sabbath is going. I usually have dinner with them and relax for Monday.

There is nothing special or magical about my Sabbath routine. This is just a way of making sure to do things that fill me up. The key for me is to make sure that I have an extended period of time for myself. For me, it is best for me to have this is to leave the house. My house is very noisy and very busy. Someone always wants me to go someplace or do something. If I am out, my time is my own and I can relax.

Your Sabbath will most likely look very different. The most important thing is that you take time for rest, refreshment, and worship.




Playa del Carmen 2014

Just a quick thought this afternoon. This afternoon finds me on sitting on my balcony looking at the sunny beach in Playa del Carmen, Mexico. This is my family’s fourth year here and each year has been different. This year, I’m a little busier because I am doing Camp NaNoWiMo, where I am writing the first 50,000 words of my next novel in 31 days. That’s my only planned activity every day. The rest of the day is mine to relax.

This afternoon I am inspired by the people of Playa del Carmen. We see a lot of fellow tourists on the beach but we also see just as many locals on the beach. Their lives aren’t so different from ours. They have to work and go to school just like we do. They have kids to raise and housework to do and meals to cook just like we do. Yet they take time out of their busy schedules to enjoy the beauty that is all around them.

This the opposite of what I do. I live in Chicago but I haven’t taken time to walk or ride my bike along the lakefront in at least two years. I haven’t been to a museum or even on a boat tour in even longer. I live in a popular tourist destination and I don’t even make time to enjoy it.

How many times are we too busy to see and enjoy the beauty around us? How often are we too busy online to be out enjoying life? Shouldn’t we make time to enjoy the people and places around us?

I really like vacation (who doesn’t?) and I will enjoy every moment that I am here. But when I go home I will also make time to enjoy summer in the Windy City. Be sure to take some time to enjoy your summer too.


How to Keep it Simple This Summer

It’s late June and summer has finally come to Chicago. It’s time for cookouts and picnics and outdoor parties. The ever-popular Taste of Chicago will soon be here. This is the season I live for.

From festivals to vacations, summer is busy. That makes summer the perfect time to keep it simple.

Simplify your Wardrobe. I love this season of shorts, skirts, and sandals. If you live in a temperate climate you probably have a completely different wardrobe for summer. Before getting too far into the season be sure to evaluate your wardrobe. Figure out which things you wear most often and consider donating the rest. Are last year’s sandals worn out? It might be time to replace them or simply toss them. Having fewer things in your wardrobe makes getting dressed faster and easier.


Simply beautiful. I don’t know about you, but humidity wreaks havoc on my hairstyles. Summer is the perfect time to simplify your beauty routine. It might be time to part with the flatiron for a while. It might be time to get a haircut. Try hairstyles that will still look good even in the humidity. Wear simple makeup, if you wear it at all. Spending less time on beauty creates more time for enjoying the summer.

Simple pleasures. The pleasures of summer are like no other, and many of them can be enjoyed at little or no cost. Simple things like biting into a slice of watermelon, talking with friends in the cool night breeze, or riding with the sunroof open while singing along with the radio (a personal favorite) are things that make summer great. The best moments of summer rarely happen in the mall. They usually happen with friends and family. Enjoy the simple pleasures of summer.

Simply free. Kids see summer as extended play time. It’s like a three month long play date with the kids on the block. But kids aren’t the only ones that take advantage of this time to play. Adults get out there and enjoy the weather too. One way to keep it simple this summer is t rein in your schedule and leave some time to play. Have lunch with friends, go walking downtown, or ride your bike. Make time to enjoy the beautiful weather while it lasts.

There are lots of great events that take place during the summer. Don’t try to go to all of them. Choose a few of them to attend. Focus only on those. Trying to do too much creates stress and takes away from your enjoyment.

The last thing you want to do is let summer pass without taking time to really enjoy it. The best way to enjoy summer is to keep things really simple. Don’t focus on things this summer. Focus on enjoying every moment.



Quality vs. Quantity

I love tea. Few things bring me as much pleasure as sitting down with my journal and a steaming mug of tea. The problem is that I love loose teas, which can be expensive. I recently bought tea from a new online retailer to save money. My logic: I can get twice as much tea for less money. Why not order?

It sounded like a good thing. I ordered three teas. Two of those teas are good. The third I hate and will probably throw away. Yes, I have twice as much tea, but is it better?

Not in this case. Though the new teas were pretty good, they weren’t nearly as good as my favorite teas. I eventually broke down and bought my favorite tea, which I feel is higher quality anyway. Wouldn’t it have been simpler, and ultimately cheaper, to just buy the higher quality tea to begin with? It would have, but in this case I was sucked in by the idea of getting more.

We live in a world that tells us that more is better. We are told to get as much as we can. Too often we are tricked by the idea that we need more. I wrote about that here.

We are often encouraged to seek quantity over quality. However, I have found that quality is so much more important. I found this to be true about just about everything, including tea. I believe in buying for quality. As a minimalist, I believe that everyone should.

It discourages stockpiling. When you spend a bit more for a quality item you will most likely not buy as many. You are also more likely to take better care of what you already have.

It ensures that you make better use of things. When I only have one of an item it gets used a lot. Fewer pairs of socks means that each pair gets used more often. I don’t have a drawer full of socks that don’t get worn. I get the full use out of my things to make sure that I get my money’s worth. I use them until they need to be thrown out or replaced.

It ultimately saves money. Buying cheap and replacing often can often cost more in the long run. As with my teas, sometimes we end up buying the higher quality items anyway when the lower quality items don’t work out.

It uses fewer resources. I have been carrying the same handbags for many years. Because I am not replacing my handbag every year I use fewer materials and fewer resources. There is less waste.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t try to get the best deal? Absolutely not. There is a difference between getting a high quality product at a lower price and buying a product of inferior quality just so that you can get more. If there is a product you like that happens to be on sale it’s fine to take advantage of the sale. That is being smart with your money. You may even buy an extra to save yourself money later. That’s great as long as you don’t get carried away and start stockpiling.

An important note: higher quality things are not necessarily expensive, and expensive things are not always high quality. Quality is determined by what serves you well and, to some extent, what you like. For example, I really like MAC cosmetics. It isn’t the most expensive, but I feel that their products are of good quality. I am pleased with them so that’s what I buy.

Don’t sacrifice quality  for quantity. It may cost a little more, but it’s worth it in the long run. If everyone focused on quality we would use fewer resources and create less waste. Purchasing high quality items benefits everyone — except retailers that specialize in low quality merchandise. I’m talking about you, Walmart.






Loss, Living With Less, And Loving It

Today’s post is from a guest blogger, Russell Carstens.

Russell Carstens is a freelance writer from Central NJ. In 2007/08 he held a writing position for Princeton Theological Seminary’s Office of Communications/Publications, where he wrote for their inSpire Magazine and website. After earning his master’s degree in 2012, he worked in management and is now pursuing writing again.

Last December, my wife and I were greatly inconvenienced when we were essentially forced to move out of the first apartment we shared together. Our downstairs neighbor had let a pest problem go untreated for several months. Facing the risk of potential future issues, we decided that it’d be in our best interest to leave.

My favorite thing about that apartment was my precious extra room (or office, or man cave…whatever you’d like to call it.) The first thing I did when we moved in was set my stereo up in that room so I could hide away from the stresses of life and listen to my prized vinyl records. I look back with shame about how selfish it was of me to make this my first priority, rather than help my wife unpack items essential to our everyday life together.

When we moved into my mother-in-law’s house to escape the neighbor’s pests, I was terrified of not being able to participate in my record-listening ritual. As a lifelong music lover, I had wrapped up an enormous and unhealthy amount of my identity in being someone who lived, breathed and ate music. I considered myself a collector, spending hours in music stories seeking rare albums or other treasures that I could proudly display and feel special about owning. I saw my passion for collecting albums as a snobby status symbol that set me apart from more casual listeners. Now that I was sleeping in my brother-in-law’s old bedroom, I had nowhere to create an elaborate audio sanctuary.

So I did my best with what I had: an iPad with the streaming music service Spotify. I took a paper plate and cut out a small circular shape to act as a makeshift speaker enhancer. At first, I was disappointed to be without my more advanced stereo, but then something happened. I stumbled upon an unused Bible that was gifted to my brother-in-law over twenty years ago. I kept it bedside for nightly and morning reading. As someone who was raised Catholic more out of tradition than anything else, I hadn’t seriously studied the Bible until 2009 when I truly came to faith. One night I stumbled upon 1 Timothy 6:7, which reads, “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.”

Streamlining my possessions was something I had been doing gradually over recent years, but didn’t dare apply to my precious music collection. Now that I was forced to live without it, this Bible passage struck me to the core. Why cling to possessions when they will eventually no longer be ours? Everything in this world is fleeting and it’s important for us as Christians to keep this in mind. I realized I was no less happy having to listen to music on my simple little iPad. In fact, I discovered that I rather enjoyed the simplicity of it.

I used to waste hours sitting in front of my music shelf and organizing CDs, or protecting my vinyl records from the dangers of my cat’s eager-to-scratch claws. Once I got away from my most prized possessions, I realized they owned me more than I owned them. As a result, I embraced the simple new way I enjoyed music. More importantly, I had more time to focus on being a more faithful Christian and more devoted husband. My identity is now wrapped in my faith, where it should be.

After three months, we moved into a new apartment. The stereo and music collection came along, but for now they sit in the basement. I’m sure they will be in use again at some point, but I’m in no rush. I also know they will no longer have the grip on me they once did.

The minimalism bug has bled into other areas of my life as a result of this experience, and I’m now overjoyed by the liberating process of giving away or selling other possessions I realized I didn’t truly need. With every item we lose, our identity may die a little bit, but this is an opportunity to refocus ourselves in the right direction.