What We Are NOT Doing This Summer

There are a few times each year when it feels like life gives you a “fresh start” and a blank calendar stares you in the face with empty squares of possibilities.  The most obvious time of the year is when January 1 rolls around.  New Year!  New Beginning!  New Year’s Resolutions!  (…. Let’s just not talk about whether those resolutions actually stick or not!)

Another time I feel this way is typically at the beginning of the school year.   Whether you do public school, private school, or homeschool, there is something about those “first day” photos, fresh new supplies (and/or new curriculum if you homeschool like we do) that brings a bit of excitement for what the year may bring. 

The third and final time of the year that I get that “fresh start” feeling is when May rolls around, and my thoughts turn to the quintessential summer months of June, July, and August.  I absolutely LOVE dreaming about and planning for memorable summers!  Whether it is as simple as meeting up with friends for afternoons at the pool or as adventurous as a week-long family vacation, there is no doubt that many core memories are made in the summer.  Newsfeeds, inboxes, advertisements, and even the simplest of google searches provide us with more intriguing options for summer than we can possibly ever conquer.  Months ago, I started my “list” of all the things I may want to do with my kids this coming summer.  And there are some great things on that list – mainly our weekly “Terrific Tuesday” outings that we do with friends throughout the summer.

But now, as we are on the brink of summer…. counting down to that much anticipated “last day of school” …I have decided to change my approach a bit this year.  Instead of maxing out our time with the never ending “to do” list of summer fun, I am choosing to instead tackle our schedule from a different angle.  This summer, I am making a “What we are NOT doing” list rather than a typical “summer bucket list” or “summer fun checklist.” 

Why?  Well, I am not certain I am able to answer that question.  Am I just craving simplicity?  Do I need more brain space?  I’m not sure exactly how this is going to go, but I think it is worth a try.  Will it leave us with more margin in life?  Will it give our minds and bodies a much-needed break?  Will we have more time to do things that are truly important?  To me, I think the best way to find out WHY this is important is to experience a summer built around what “not to do” vs a summer packed with pre-set obligations.

So, here is my list for our family:


  • OVERSCHEDULING:  We are not planning to fill every waking hour with scheduled activities.  Other than our weekly “Terrific Tuesday” planned outing with friends, we want the rest of our time to be available for impromptu family time, slow days at home, reading, serving others, and whatever other priorities seem to rise to the top. 
  • SCREEN TIME:  Several years ago, we tried a version of “screen free summer” and it was a very good thing.  While a video game here or there can be fun, it can often generate constant an unending broken record player of “when” and “how much” can we play/watch and “that’s not enough” over and over and over.  When you take that option off the table, kids are released from that nagging pull for their attention.  So, it’s a no screen summer for us (with the exception of any long road trips in the car or family movie nights)!
  • SOCIAL MEDIA:  Like so many things in life, social media is one of those things with both pros and cons.  I love the ability to keep up with acquaintances.  I enjoy “following” organizations and pages that match my interests.  However….you do not need a laundry list from me listing all of the “cons” of social media.  We all know what they are.  So, for me, its bye-bye social media for me this summer.  Instead, I want to use that time to invest in REAL connections with friends. 
  • BEING LAZY:  While I am sure we will have plenty of time to relax this summer, we see some opportunities to step it up just a bit (or a lot) with household chores, taking responsibility for cleaning up our own messes, and taking care of our home and what we have. 
  • THINKING ONLY OF OURSELVES:  In the humblest way I can say it, we want this summer to be about more than ourselves.  There are folks with needs all around us.  It is my hope that eliminating many of the previously mentioned items will free up our time and attention to see these needs whether they are in our own household, with family, with neighbors, with friends, or just in the community. 

What else would you add?  Can I challenge you to make your own “what we are not doing list” for this summer?  Or maybe even commit to just ONE thing of your own of what you are NOT doing this summer?

Now, let’s bring on summer!


Updated for 2022: It’s time to do it again! Like I have for the past several years, I reached out to the City of Barrow, Alaska (also known as Utqiagvik) to see if we can help spread encouragement to Alaska’s North Slope once again this year during their season of 24/7 darkness. They were THRILLED to have this tradition continue….and even remarked that they have already started receiving some cards and letters this month. If you are new to this, check out the blog post below from 2021 and join in!

In mid-November, the sun will set in Barrow, Alaska….and it will not rise again until late January.

Imagine darkness that stretches on for 66 days in a row…


That is the reality for the 11,000+ people who live in the North Slope Borough of Alaska — the northernmost part of the United States. Most of the population can be found in the city of Barrow (also known as Utqiagvik), but there are several other very small cities located on the North Slope.

Due to the earth’s tilt, the sun remains below the horizon for two months for areas north of the Article Circle.

I first learned of this phenomenon in 2019 when I was feeling a bit “down” about the fact that the sun sets as early as 5pm in the midwest during a good part of fall and winter. The darkness was getting to me. So, imagine how I felt when I realized there were real people who experience 24/7 darkness 66 straight days every year. I felt called to do something to bring the light of encouragement to this community.

On a whim, I looked up a phone number for the City of Barrow and soon found myself speaking to the friendly staff of their local Department of Health and Social Services. I learned that although this season of darkness is “normal” every year, that it is still a very difficult time, and depression/mental health challenges are far too common. There is truly nothing you can do to truly prepare for a season of literal darkness – especially when it accompanied by temperatures continuously below zero.

My mind was racing. What could I do to make a difference there? Was there way to send a light of hope to the people there?Would anyone want to join me in sending unexpected ENCOURAGEMENT to Barrow? Am I crazy for even suggesting this?

I pitched my idea to their staff: “Would it be okay if I got a group of friends, neighbors, and community members together to send cards and letters to Barrow to encourage the people throughout these two months?” And, the rest is history! This is how #brighteningbarrow began. Word spread, and thousands of letters made their way to Barrow, Alaska during their dark season in 2019 and again in 2020. Their local Department of Health and Social Services distributed them across the North Slope to those who needed encouragement the most.

Just this week, I spoke to my contact at Barrow — asking if this really made a difference, and if there would be value in encouraging people to light up Barrow with cards and letters again for a third year. The answer was a resounding YES! In fact, my contact said that there had even started to be talk amongst their staff over the past couple weeks as to whether or not this might happen again for a third year.

I am inviting you to join me! How amazing would it be for Barrow to receive over 11,000 this year? Enough for every single person, adult and child, to receive their very own hand-written card or letter with a word of encouragement to brighten their day? Be part of #brighteningbarrow this year! Between now (mid-November) and mid-January, I challenge you to take a few moments to write a heart-felt letter or card (…or two, or three, or a bunch) and mail it off to the following address:

North Slope Borough
Dept: Health & Social Services
P.O. Box 69
Barrow, AK 99723

(Be sure to write #brighteningbarrow on the flap of the envelope)

What should you write? Anything that would be encouraging to the person receiving it! Tell about yourself, where you live, what your family is like. Include encouraging bible verses, quotes, or even a simple ‘thinking of you’ message.

Who should write? Anyone! The Department of Health and Social Services has told me that people have especially loved hand-made cards sent from kids. Teachers, do this as a project with your classroom! Parents, do this as a ways to serve together as a family. Workplaces, bring your co-workers together to fill out cards. Churches, let your congregation know of this practical opportunity to share the light and hope of Jesus through a simple card or letter. Families, how about doing this before or after the annual Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner with family?

Wanna hear me talk about it a bit the very first year we started? See my video below:


Why I started this blog…

I have long had a passion for encouraging others. I have been on the receiving end of encouragement many times in my life. What I love most, though, is to be on the “giving” side of enouraging others.

I think we underestimate at times the power of a well-timed word, an intentional act of service, a simple smile, or any of the many forms encouragement can take. I’ve titled this blog “Encouragement Etc.”, because I want it to be filled with not only thoughts and opportunties for encouragement, but much more! The abbreviation for et’ sedara (etc.) is a Latin expression in English to mean “and other similar things.” I think that is so fitting for all that I hope this blog can become.

I hope you to join me on this journey!