Looking Up and Out Through the Marathon of Life + Soft Pretzel Bites (3 Ways)

I tend to run away from bandwagons or doing what everyone else is doing. For example, in college, I refused to even look at the option of going to China with the group I was heavily involved in because everyone else was going. Nope, I chose a different continent. Yes, partly because I was being drawn to it, but honestly, also partly because I’m stubborn and wanted to be different. How ironic that I have now lived in China for seven years.

When the One Word movement started, I didn’t want to join in. It was hard for me to force myself to search for a word to focus on for a year. So, I didn’t. I just let God speak to me how and whenever He wanted. But last fall, I felt a word He wanted me to focus on: joy. I realized and appreciated the idea of focusing on a word or idea for an extended period of time. I came to grips with the fact that I may not receive a word in January, but it can still be my word! Recently, after spending some extended time reflecting on the recent months, I felt the Father laying another word on my heart: marathon.

Now, let’s set things straight before your mind turns to this girl running for hours on end. No, not me! I admire those who can dedicate such time and energy to staying fit and reaching goals! I’ll stick to my 30-minute videos, thank you.

This marathon I speak of is the marathon of my current life, similar to lots of you: living overseas, a husband with many busy roles, three young kiddos, homeschooling, and the roles I attempt to juggle. It’s chaotic most days. But instead of giving in to complaining about the chaos and noise, the Father is moving my heart and mind to focus on keeping my eyes on Him and others.

Like I said, I’ve never run a marathon or anything longer than a few miles, but I do know that it’s a grueling process. You have to train long, long hours. You have to sacrifice time to do that training. You have to be in tune with your body, feed it well, and give it proper rest. On the day of the race, the jitters and adrenaline are high in the beginning, but begin to fade. During the hard part of the race (someone experienced with 26.2 miles chime in here—I’m thinking hard is anything past 2!), I imagine it’s not wise to look down at your feet, watching every step hit the pavement. You’d probably rather look up, find your rhythm, and encourage those around you.

This marathon of life mirrors that of a race. This season of busyness and training, teaching, and disciplining children will hopefully pay off when they are older. As I enter the daily race of chores and duties, I have to be sure I’m fed well with his Word and getting proper rest—yes, this is tricky with children.

I also have to be sure I’m not focusing so much on myself. This marathon? Everyone is doing it, just at a different pace. Some miles are faster than others. If I take the time to listen to others, ask how they’re doing in their current stride, or bless them in some way, doesn’t that spur me on to keep going? Every single time.

When this part of my race is over, this busy season, I hope to look back and see that I, like Paul, “fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.” (2 Timoth 4:7) My son memorized this verse a few years ago, and misquoted the last word as “trophy.” It was hilarious at the time, but I hope that when I look back I don’t see how focused I was on just getting through this stage , collecting accolades along the way; rather that I looked around me at others and encouraged them to keep on running. Most of all, I hope to look back and see my eyes focused only on the One who can give me what I need to even get close to finishing well. With joy.

Do you have a One Word for 2017? What does your current marathon look like, and how are you keeping a rhythm?


I’m not a huge fan of the regular, hard pretzels I buy from the import stores and serve to my kiddos. But these soft pretzels ready to be dipped? Yeah, these, I could eat all day. Perfect to whip up for a party, and with 3 kinds–regular, garlic herb, and cinnamon sugar–everyone will probably be fighting over who gets the last.

Soft Pretzel Bites (3 Ways)

The dough is simple, and easy enough to divide to make different versions. You can definitely divide the batch into the 3 different kinds–I just didn’t.

Puffy and ready to punch down–my favorite part!

Who cares if they’re imperfect–they’ll taste great either way!

Delicious little bits.

Boiling the bits in baking soda water ensure you get the soft pretzel texture–a small crunch on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.

Browned to perfection.

Ready to be dipped into a delicious sauce, preferably mustard for me!

Soft Pretzel Bites (3 Ways)

Serves: 14-16

Ready in: 2 hours

Slightly Adapted from: Annie’s Eats

Basic pretzel dough:
1½ cups warm water
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2¼ tsp yeast
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup baking soda
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tbsp water

To make the basic pretzel dough, combine 1/2 cup of the warm water (not hot!), yeast, and sugar. Let sit for a few minutes, until bubbly, to ensure yeast is active. Mix in the rest of the water, salt, melted butter, and 2 cups of the flour. Mix well. Continue adding 1 cup of flour at a time, mixing between each one. Knead 5-8 minutes on a lightly floured surface, or until dough comes together in a smooth ball, adding flour as needed to prevent from sticking. Transfer the dough to a bowl lightly greased, turning once to coat.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, about 50-55 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 450° F (230 C).  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silpats and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Bring the water and baking soda to a boil in a large saucepan or stockpot.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently deflate it.  Divide it up into approximately 6 equal portions.  Working with one piece at a time, roll the dough out into a long rope about 1-inch in diameter.  Use a pizza cutter to cut the row into small segments, no longer than 1-inch each.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  Place the pretzel bites into the boiling water in batches so that they aren’t overcrowded.  Boil each batch for about 30 seconds, stirring once or twice to submerge all surfaces in the water.  Remove from the water with a slotted skimmer and spread out on the prepared baking sheets.  Once all the pretzels have been boiled, brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt.

Bake in the preheated oven until dark golden brown, about 9-11 minutes.  Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.  Serve with mustard or other yummy dipping sauce.

*Garlic herb variation: To the basic dough recipe, add in 3 cloves minced garlic, 2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley, 2 teaspoons minced thyme, and freshly ground black pepper to taste while mixing/kneading the dough.  Continue with the rest of the recipe as instructed, using a lighter sprinkle of salt on top before baking.

*Cinnamon sugar variation: Make the basic dough recipe as instructed, omitting the sprinkling of salt before baking.  While the pretzel bites are baking, combine ¾ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon in a small bowl.  Mix to blend.  In another small bowl, melt 3 tablespoons of butter.  When the pretzel bites are done baking and have cooled enough to handle, dip the top side briefly in the melted butter, then dip in the cinnamon-sugar mixture to adhere to the surface.  Gently shake off any excess.  Repeat with the remaining pretzel bites.  Let stand 5-10 minutes to allow the mixture to set on the surface of the pretzel.



  1. Kiera January 1, 2017

    I too have a very strong aversion to bandwagons. I don’t think I’ve ever heard someone else describe themselves as being as much against bandwagons as me until this post. 🙂 A number of years ago, I ran a half-marathon. I would never have done it, except I had a good friend who was an avid runner and she guided me through the whole training process. Although she was running the full marathon and me only the half, our running pace was well matched so we trained together and ran the actual race together as well (until I cut out to end the half and she continued on for the full). She was really the reason I was able to complete it at all. Drawing that experience back to your analogy, it reminds me how much we need the companionship of other “runners” to spur us on in the marathon of life.

    1. Ashley Felder January 2, 2017

      Kiera, well done on the half! Although I’ve never run long races, I ran track in high school, and on the grueling “hard” days, we only kept going because of each other’s encouragement. We truly do need others to keep us going! Community is a beautiful thing. 🙂

  2. Emily Smith January 2, 2017

    Not a bandwagon person here either…but both a runner and someone who has picked a word both for 2016 and 2017. And I love a good running metaphor. I finished my first three half marathons in 2016. My favorite takeaway from the races themselves was the support and the cheering and the feeling of being with other runners. For most of us, at least, it wasn’t about winning or competing against the other runners. It was a personal challenge. And through the whole thing, people were cheering you on and giving you water and snacks. No one was at the end wondering why you looked so tired. It was something that is recognized as hard. You are supposed to look tired and sweaty at the end. You should need water and some recovery time. You will probably be a little sore the next couple days. (or so sore you have trouble moving for the next four days). Honestly, if you finish looking as full of energy and bright eyed as you did at the start line, you probably didn’t give your best effort. Running long distances is supposed to be a challenge.
    I’ve wondered for a while what that would look like if we allowed the same attitudes to carry over into all areas of life. What if it was okay to look a little battle worn? What if there were discussions about finding a sustainable pace…one that wouldn’t leave you gasping for air on the sidelines, unable to finish? What if we gave people some water, a snack, and told them we thought they were doing awesome just because they were persevering? What if we found people who could distract us from the hard parts and the monotony and point out the beautiful things around us? What if rest and recovery were assumed to be a part of the process of the marathon of life? So many things to think about. I love the word you chose.

    1. Ashley Felder January 2, 2017

      What a though-provoking comment! We just need to attach this to the rest of the post. 😉 For the questions you asked, I love that I can think of people in my life right now that can mostly fulfill those roles. What a blessing. Amy Young, you’re the one that points me to beauty–even in January! 😀 May we all be more aware of how to hand out drinks and snacks! (literally and metaphorically!)

  3. Elizabeth January 2, 2017

    I’m not one for bandwagons either! But I do like the One Word trend. I’m also much more into resolutions for progress, not strict ones. Like I want to exercise more, not I’m going to exercise X number of days each week. Or I want to read more, not I’m going to read X number of books each month. Etc etc. I still have to plan to make those things happen, but they are less inherently disappointing. Ha!

    When I shared on FB about my word for last year, one commenter said she used to do that, but now she doesn’t because she’s found God has an entire LIBRARY of words for her. I find that’s true as well — throughout the year I had other words as well. Words like Breathe and Vocation.

    This year I’m playing around with the word “Purify.” My life, schedule, and motives need purification. If life follows the pattern of previous years, however, I should probably expect this word to have unexpected consequences. Ha! Still, I’m making choices even now to follow through on the word and hopefully prevent another repeat breathless, running ragged, wring-me-out year, the way 2016 was.

    P.S. Speaking of bandwagons, I’m joining another one this year, out of desperation. I have been resistant to do what veteran homeschool moms do: 6 weeks of school 1 week off, all year long. I was always afraid I’d lose too much steam or that the school year would drag on FOREVER. Now I’m finding that trying to go too long and then take a more extended break is NOT working for me. I’m sketching out the next year and a quarter before our next trip to the States much differently than I’ve ever planned, but feeling much more hopeful at the same time. I simply can’t keep going the way I was. I need something much better paced. Anyway, since you’re a homeschooling mom, I thought I’d say it, in case it’s an idea you’ve been pondering as well 🙂

    1. Ashley Felder January 2, 2017

      Purify—what a great word! But yeah, honestly, the first thoughts that popped into my head weren’t the pretty kinds of purify! 😀 No matter what your year is full of, I pray He uses each situation to bring you closer to and more like Him. Always the end goal, no matter the paths taken, right?

      And thanks for the homeschool tidbit! I’m actually still so new at this, I hadn’t heard of the 6-1 schedule! Sounds great for the years we don’t travel to the States! I’ll have to put some thought into it. 🙂

      1. Elizabeth January 2, 2017

        Yeah, traveling to the States can really put a kink in your routines! Although in the grand scheme of things, I guess travel to the States IS part of the larger routine of our lives. But sometimes it’s hard to think of it that way!

  4. CJ January 2, 2017

    Thanks for this. I have run two full marathons and love the analogy of life as a marathon. Running a marathon is the hardest thing I have ever done, yet I hope to do another one in the future. Like you said, it requires a lot of time, training, discipline, and self care. Running is not only physical, it is very mental as well. The race tends to get the hardest at mile 20. It’s when most runners hit what is known as “the wall.” The body’s glycogen sources are depleted and there are still around 6 grueling miles to go. Upon hitting the wall, it takes a whole lot of grit, perseverance, and relying on God’s strength to make it to the end. It is possible though. You just have to keep pressing on, practicing what you’ve trained. As others mentioned above, cheering on others and being cheered on means so much. My emotions get worn down and every kind gesture makes me cry but I can’t cry because then I can’t breathe and I can’t keep running. It’s messy. Running a marathon is painful. You get chafing. You might lose a toenail. You are dreadfully sore for days afterward. This race of life is hard, messy, and painful too, but like you mentioned, we must keep our eye on the prize and keep on persevering, for great is our reward!

    1. Ashley Felder January 14, 2017

      Lots more parallels to draw here! Bravo on your races completed! What amazing accomplishments!

  5. M'Lynn January 2, 2017

    “Look up, find your rythym and encourage those around you.” I love this! Something tangible to grab onto as I start a new chapter. These pretzel bites look amazing. At what point should I add the traditional pretzel salt?

    1. Ashley Felder January 14, 2017

      (Sorry for the delayed reply. Had to deal with a small medical emergency last week, then travel this week!) Since I don’t have such salt, I’m not totally sure, but you should be able to add it before baking. Double check the original recipe (above) to be sure.

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