The 5 W’s (and an H) behind No-Sugar September

The precision of freshly sharpened No. 2 pencils. The smell of a new box of crayons. The stack of blank spiral bound notebooks. Even though I am seven years out of a school setting (and now feel old), I get the back-to-school fever when September rolls around.

September is a time for fresh starts, and this goal-setting, Type-A girl loves a fresh start. In addition to starting fresh with my approach towards motherhood and writing, the Gardner household is making a major change come September 1st.

We’re going sugar free!

In honor of recess, lunch lines, and book reports, here’s the 5 W’s (and an H) behind our big, sugar-free fresh start.

No Sugar September


The Gardners: Tim, my tech savvy, youth pastor stud of a husband who just revamped his own blog, and me (Emily), amateur gardening, coffee loving writer of this blog.


No-Sugar September. Da. Da. Duuuuuun. Normally I’m all about the alliterations, but I liked the sound of No-Sugar September better than sugarless or sugar free September. For the month of September, we will not consume any refined sugar or white flour.


Our house. I have a feeling not many outside dinning establishments would comply with our No Sugar September dietary restrictions.


When I read about Bjork and Lindsey’s 60 days of no sugar in July, my interest was piqued but doing something similar was totally out of the question in August. We were going on vacation in August and there was no way I was giving up cinnamon raisin toast grilled and frosted at The Red Door or multiple helpings of anything my mom made for the sake of a sugar selective diet.

As I went though my mental calendar, I was pleased to discover that September was vacation, holiday, and major event free and would thus be suitable for a lifestyle altering diet challenge such as giving up refined sugar and white flour.

A minor glitch occurred when we got the opportunity to take a mini Labor Day getaway this weekend. The prep for No Sugar September has been time consuming and I didn’t think I could handle a No Sugar Roadtrip, so No Sugar September will run from September 3rd – October 1st. Four straight weeks.


Because I’m too much of a weenie to do a Whole 30 or go gluten free, BUT I was feeling in need of a system (mental and physical) refresh.

Food has always been an integral part of community and celebration for me, and I like it that way. However, at times, food has also been a substance I’ve used like a drug. Pregnancy and postpartum have been seasons of growth in developing a healthier relationship with food and I’m hoping No Sugar September will promote further growth.

Neither of us expect to stick with a strict no refined sugar, no white flour diet after September, but I’d like to integrate some of our No Sugar September food habits into our normal culinary lifestyle.

We aren’t doing this to loose weight, but we will be taking a few measurements as one way quantify the effects of No Sugar September.


We’ve been prepping for No Sugar September for the past month. I’ll be writing a more detailed post about getting started later, but our first steps looked something like this:

  • Read about Bjork and Lindsey’s 60 days sans sugar. *light bulbs*inspiration*
  • Wonder how I could convince Tim to go sugar free. Send him the blog post via email to test the waters.
  • With a little cajoling, Tim agrees. Hip hip hooray!
  • Spend August eating all sorts of sugary, carby wonderfulness since we’re giving up refined sugar and white flour in September.
  • Don’t replace the chocolate chips when the last bag is used for gooey cookies.
  • Start trolling Pinterest for refined sugar free sweets, because sweets are a top priority when menu planning.
  • Read Trina Holden’s new book, Your Real Food Journey, and get re-inspired by the delicious recipes that totally conform to No Sugar September.
  • Get serious about making a menu. Start replacing food staples with whole wheat, sugar free versions.
  • Make disgusting muffins. Wonder how I will survive September. Make Shauna Niequist’s Blueberry Crisp. Know I will survive since I can eat that everyday during No Sugar September if I wanted.

So, wish us luck! I will be posting tips, tricks, and recipes along the way. Have you ever done anything like this? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments. Recipes appreciated, too :)


Redefining “all in.” {Perspectives on Motherhood and Writing}

If you’ve poked around the blog a bit, you’ll know that I became a first time mom in January. Though I’ve found much joy in this new role, I’ve struggled to find a balance between my need/love of writing and the demands of motherhood and marriage.  

As I considered picking the brains and hearts of all the wonderful momma writers I know, I realized I wasn’t the only person who would benefit from their advice and insight. I’m super excited to announce the Perspectives on Motherhood and Writing series. 

Every Tuesday this Fall, a talented mom and writer/blogger will be answering a few of my questions about balancing motherhood and writing. I want this series to be an avenue for women to share and encourage other women with their own wisdom and experience.

To give you a preview of what this series is all about, I answered my own questions! I hope you enjoy the series and make sure to check back next week for the first guest post.

Motherhood and Writing Emily

Why do you write/blog?

Writing helps me to connect with myself and blogging helps me to connect with others. It’s the way I process my day to day life and my relationship with God.

Though the majority of my writing stays hidden in the pages of copious journals, I choose to write publicly on my blog because of what Jean Fleming describes as an act of stewardship.

Revelations are graces from God not to be received lightly. For me, that means setting down on paper thoughts that might evaporate if left floating in the air. The ideas I explore, pray over, and chew on form a body of truth-in-process for me. I catch glimmers, fully intending to watch over them like a hen over her hatch. I return to these forming ideas, asking the Lord to correct, enlarge, and refine them.

Jean Fleming in Pursue the Intentional Life

Jean writes books to “honor revelation that [she] might preserve and return to it.” I write blogs posts to do the same. (Which is not to say that all my blog post are full of deep revelation…)

How long have you been writing/blogging?

I have a box full of journals in the garage with thoughts ranging from ten-year-old Emily to married Emily. I’ve been blogging since September 2012.

How has your current season of life impacted your writing/blogging?

We welcomed our first child in January this year (2014) and he has absolutely impacted my writing/blogging, as well as everything else in my life. Like with all new seasons of life, motherhood has required a shift in priorities. Writing and blogging have fallen down a few notches on my priority totem pole. I’ve struggled and pushed against that reality because writing is cathartic, creative, and fun for me. But, I’ve learned through experience that the more I force writing and blogging to happen, the less fruitful and joy-filled it is.

When I do something, I want to be all in. This season is teaching me to be gentle with myself - with my expectations, with my goals, and with my schedule. I can’t be “all-in” with blogging the way I think all-in should look. I’m having to redefine what all-in looks like for me in this season.

How has this season of life changed your writing habits?

In the last seven months, I have wondered so many times how I didn’t have posts going up on my blog every day before James arrived. Back then, writing was my only (unpaid) occupation and I was able to spend innumerable hours crafting posts.

This season has drastically cut the amount of time I have for non-mothering pursuits.  Writing is a long process for me, done best in large chunks of solitude. Those are few and far between right now and when they do come along, I’m always torn between writing and doing something practical, like cleaning the dried up pea puree crusted onto the dinning room floor.

Sleep has been better for my mental health than writing, so I’ve yet to develop the habit of rising earlier than James for a block of uninterrupted writing time.  That means my drafts folder is exploding and there’s a squadron of ideas floating around in my head that I will probably forget before they ever make it into a draft.

I try not to be on the computer when James is awake during the day, so the majority of my writing happens during naptime. If I really need/want to finish something that I’ve started that day, I will use some evening moments when Tim is home to complete a post. Tim blogs too, so we sometimes have blogging dates after James goes to bed.

What is your writing/blogging battle cry?

My blog was originally called Primitive Roads: navigating life’s unpaved paths. You can read the longer version, but basically I was inspired to start a blog during a major transition in our life and wanted a place to document the things that help me through the more rustic moments of life’s ever changing seasons.

Though I shifted to personal branding recently, the heart behind Primitive Roads still applies. I’m passionate about pursuing an intentional life in every season, recognizing that God is sovereign in every season. I want my writing to encourage others to embrace whatever season of life they’re in, both the macro and the micro seasons.

How does faith, writing, and motherhood intersect in your daily life?

When I get frustrated and bummed out that my ebook isn’t finished, that a post didn’t get written, or that my blog design is outdated, I have to return to the reality of what I know God has called me to in this season. The Lord has given me a precious son to love and care for, and everything else has to fit in around my faith and my family.

When I succeed in keeping my priorities straight, my choices are dictated by what would make me the best imitator of Christ and best wife/mom. Sometimes that looks like picking up the house, taking a nap, reading a book, or going for a walk instead of writing.

When I do choose to write, I want my words to be a source of encouragement, hope, and love.

The One Question Experiment

Could asking your spouse just one question every day for one month transform your marriage?

Tim and I would both readily admit that communication isn’t a strong suit in our marriage. A goal? Yes. A strength? Not so much. I was tired of letting conflict and misunderstandings be the impetus for improvement, so I decided to get intentional about bettering our communication. And I decided to do it without telling Tim. (The irony of that is not lost on me…)

I’m easily overwhelmed these days, and I also have a tendency to make a production out of the smallest project. With that in mind, I dismissed grand ideas like finding a communication curriculum of some sort or forcing Tim into deep, emotionally driven conversations every evening after James went to sleep.

Instead, I opted for a simple addition to our daily routine – one question. One question seemed doable. It was intentional, but not overwhelming. It was small, but had the potential to make a big impact. For me, one of the hardest parts about communication is opening the dialogue. Tim and I talk throughout the day of course, but I often feel silly and awkward starting a conversation about my feelings, whether it’s a relationship frustration that’s been niggling or a spiritual insight I had that morning. Asking questions seemed like a good means of practicing “the start” of communication in a non-threatening way.

One Question Experiment

Here’s how I organized this little One Question Experiment:

  • I created a master list of 31 open-ended questions.
  • The list remained hidden from Tim. I would refer to the list every morning to familiarize myself with that day’s question.
  • I would ask the question during dinner, except for Wednesdays when Tim generally eats dinner on the fly before youth group.

I culled various blog posts to curate my list of questions, which ran the gamut of lighthearted and random to serious and introspective. I added extra questions as I thought of them because sometimes I couldn’t help but ask the next day’s question, too. It was challenging for me to be inconspicuous about my question asking. I’m sure those with more skill in the art of conversation would find a better question segue than, “So…”

The goal was for Tim to remain in the dark about my intentional question asking until the experiment was over. I had visions of a big reveal at the end of the month. Something that involved shock, dimmed lights, communication breakthroughs, and a few tears of admiration. However, like you’ll find out in my recap, Tim caught on to my question experiment pretty early. (Probably all those so’s.)

The similarities between my One Question Experiment and a spiritual discipline struck me as I was preparing to add this new habit to our daily lives. Spiritual disciplines are practices that help us connect with God. They take time and effort but result in deeper, stronger faith. Communication is a practice, a marriage discipline if you will, that helps us connect with our spouse. It takes time and effort but results in a deeper, stronger marriage.

The One Question Experiment is over, and I can’t make any “become a master communicator in 31 days” claims. One question doesn’t make a great communicator, but one question might lead to another question or might make you feel more comfortable talking about that tough situation going on at work or might just give you good old fashioned practice in the art of conversation.

Did asking Tim one question every day for a month transform our marriage? Yes, I think it did. Not in the splashy, snap your fingers and we’re a whole new couple kind of way. Our transformation was a matter of habit and ease. We were reminded how fun it is to get to know each other like when we were dating. We were reminded to talk about the small stuff as well as the big things. We were reminded that communication gets easier the more you do it.

The One Question Experiment Questions

  1. What makes you most fulfilled or happiest as a father?
  2. What is your dream destination and why?
  3. What area of your spiritual walk do you want to improve?
  4. Bungee jump or jump out of a plane?
  5. Who’s one person in your life who inspires you to be a better person?
  6. If you could have witnessed one biblical event, what would it be and why?
  7. Are you more like Fred or Ricky? (We’ve been watching I Love Lucy…)
  8. What’s one personal quality you’d like to improve? How can I help?
  9. What are your top five favorite foods? (Bonus: Put one on next week’s menu.)
  10. What was your very first impression of me?
  11. What makes you the most fulfilled or happiest as a husband?
  12. What is the best way to encourage you when you’re down?
  13. What kind of gifts do you like?
  14. If you could only go on one ride at Disneyland, what would it be?
  15. What makes you the most fulfilled or happiest as a man?
  16. What’s your favorite hymn and why?
  17. How would you like to celebrate our tenth anniversary?
  18. What do you fear the most?
  19. How have you changed since we got married?
  20. Judging from my actions and words, what are my priorities?
  21. What’s the best way to communicate respect?
  22. What’s your favorite memory of our wedding day?
  23. What is one thing you must do before you die?
  24. What have you been learning about God lately?
  25. What’s the best part of each season?
  26. What are the strengths of our marriage?
  27. What 3 things would you tell your 16 year old self?
  28. How would you spend a day without your phone?
  29. What are 3 of your favorite things about our family?
  30. What have you learned this week?
  31. If you weren’t a youth pastor (insert your spouse’s job here), what would you be?
  32. Who’s a couple you admire and why? (Bonus: If they live close, invite the over for dinner!)
  33. What big award would you like to win?
  34. How should we celebrate getting out of debt?

The One Question Experiment Recap

“What’s with all these questions?” says Tim on day ONE. I got that a lot before Tim figured out what I was up to, which happened on day twelve. Even though I had to come clean about my purposeful question asking, it was fun to have Tim in on the project as well. There was a new sense of expectation for the day’s question.

Be prepared to give your own answer. Tim never let me off the hook.

Involve dinner guests in the One Question Experiment. One of my favorite days was discussing question 27 with my siblings-in-law.

Curb your expectations. Some questions won’t turn into the scintillating conversation you were hoping for. That’s okay. Keep plugging along.

Questions can lead to healthy changes. My answer to question 3 led to a change in our prayer patterns.

Are you a good communicator? Give us some tips/encouragement/advice in the comments!

Other posts you’d probably be into:

A New Gem In Christian Fiction

UPDATE: I’m updating this post to include Tessa Afshar’s newest release - In the Field of Grace. Her expert retelling of Ruth’s story from the Bible is just another example of Afshar’s deserved rise among Christian fiction authors. Read on for more about her delightful books and a review of her latest. 

Despite my love of browsing Barnes and Noble, or any bookstore for that matter, I rarely find myself looking to buy. I have stacks of unread books in boxes from previous book buying bonanzas and a queue of books on my Nook.  Sometimes, however, the browse and pluck method is quite fortuitous. Sometimes you stumble on a true gem that is worth sharing with everyone. This happened recently in the form of an author and her name is Tessa Afshar.

I can’t take the credit for this browse and pluck find. My mom was the plucker, but since we end up reading much of the same things anyways, I benefited by association (and the speed of Amazon Prime). She pulled Tessa’s first novel, Pearl in the Sand, off the shelf and a couple months later we have both read all three of her novels.

Tessa writes Biblical fiction with a personal and scholarly background that makes her characters and plot convincing. Her novels feel like a cross between The Lineage of Grace series (Francine Rivers) and the Chronicles of the Kings series (Lynn Austin). Read her full bio here.

Why I Love Her: Tessa’s years working in women’s ministry has given her valuable insight into a woman’s psyche. All three novels demonstrate a true understanding of women’s fears, insecurities, doubts, joys, and sorrows. She addresses these with sensitivity and sound advice spoken through other characters. The plots in her novels are biblically based, but they also include political intrigue and romance (not that the Bible is devoid of romance) that makes you stay up far to late reading “just one more page.” Despite her MDiv and personal experience living in Iran, she always points the reader back to exploring the Biblical text instead of taking her word for events and traditions.

Her Books:

Pearl in the Sand is a fleshed out retelling of Rahab from the book of Joshua. The story encompasses Rahab’s beginnings, the Israelite’s journey to defeat Jericho, Rahab’s involvement in hiding the spies, her and her family’s life post fall of Jericho, and Rahab’s relationship with Salmon.

I had never considered the difficulties of Rahab and her family assimilating into the Israelite community. Tessa’s take on the story made me appreciate the power of forgiveness, God’s grace, and His bigger picture approach to our lives.

Harvest of Rubies introduces Sarah, cousin to the prophet Nehemiah and talented scribe. Sarah lands herself a coveted position as the Queen’s senior scribe but finds the royal favor she earns causes her more harm than good. She is forced into a loveless marriage, isolated from everyone she knows, and has to grapple with her fading faith.

Most women will find parts of themselves in Sarah. Her struggles as a daughter, as a wife, and as a believer in the Lord are as relevant today as they were in 460 B.C.

Harvest of Gold continues the adventures of Sarah, her husband Darius, and Sarah’s cousin Nehemiah. Sarah and Darius are thrown into the middle of a plot against the King while they are still struggling to maintain a healthy marriage. As they begin to fit puzzle pieces together, Nehemiah launches the effort to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem requiring both Sarah and Darius come along.

I loved reading Nehemiah alongside Harvest of Gold. I was astonished by the little nuances from the Biblical account that Tessa was able to weave seamlessly into her account. I’m really hoping Tessa’s next novel involves Lysander and Roxanna, two characters introduced in Harvest of Gold.

(UPDATE: Her next novel did not involve Lysander and Roxanna, though I still have hopes that their story will be picked up again. Afshar’s latest novel, released July 2014 retells the Biblical story of Ruth and Boaz)

In the Field of Grace is based on the biblical account of Ruth. Afshar adds detail to the intersecting stories of Boaz, a wealthy landowner in Bethlehem, and Ruth, a poor widow from Moab. Their love story is familiar, but I enjoyed the fictional (but plausible) nuances that Afshar draws out of their individual stories. It was intriguing to consider the circumstances of both Ruth and Boaz’s lives before they met one another. I especially enjoyed the epilogue – a look at David’s reaction to his great-grandmother’s heritage.

Like in her other novels, Afshar is an expert at revealing wisdom through her character’s dialogue. I underlined many truths about suffering and God’s timing.

Bottom Line: Read them all with a pen in hand. You’ll want to remember many things said in these novels. All three are worth buying, reading, and sharing.

P.S.  If you want more book suggestions along these lines, check out From Fact to Fiction: the best retellings of biblical narratives, my post for Kindred Grace which includes Tessa Afshar.

This post contains affiliate links. Purchases support this blog at no extra cost to you!

The Marriage Disciplines

There were definitely a few things I was apprehensive about when Tim and I got married (thank you, pre-marital counseling), but communication wasn’t one of them. I quickly discovered that the intensity of my desire to be a good communicator did not necessarily match my actual communication skills.

My ability to craft a winning speech or talk for hours on a date weren’t the tools I needed in the face of conflict and day-to-day life with another person. I may have a rich, complex internal dialogue, but that didn’t really translate within a marriage relationship.

The type of transparent communication I coveted wasn’t going to grow from complacency. I knew I needed to practice – practice voicing my feelings, articulating my thoughts, and encouraging Tim to do the same. But it’s easy to grow comfortable when your relationship is going smoothly. My commitment to bettering our communication would fade until the provocation of an argument or a misunderstanding brought the need to light again. My concern would reappear until our conflict was resolved and the business of life and our daily routine buried any urgency.

Bettering our communication would require intentional practice, patience, and discipline.

Discipline isn’t something I generally associate with marriage. Discipline makes me think of parenting and meeting personal fitness goals. But I also think of discipline as it relates to our spiritual lives. Spiritual disciplines are practices that put us in a better posture to connect with God. They don’t always come naturally and require intentional practice, patience, and, as the name implies, discipline.

Marriage Disciplines

In the same way, I believe there are marriage disciplines – practices that put us in a better posture to connect with our spouse. These practices don’t always come naturally, but through intentional practice, patience, and discipline they help our marriages grow deep and strong.

The marriage discipline concept sprung to life in my mind and heart as I considered ways Tim and I could work on our communication. Framing the challenging aspects of growing in that area as a marriage discipline made the effort seem worthwhile because I know how much spiritual disciplines like simplicity, lectio divina, and journaling have transformed my relationship with Christ. Wouldn’t investing in disciplines like couples prayer, love languages, and communication be equally transformative in a marriage relationship?

I’m convinced that they would. And I’m acting on that conviction. Stay tuned for how I’ve been practicing the marriage discipline of communication and how you can, too!