Monthly Archives: March 2015

DIY Coasters

Here’s the thing about weddings. I love them.

I love the look on the groom’s face, I love the father-daughter dance, I love dressing up all fancy and dancing with my favorite dance partner, I love watching the couple leave at the end of the night, knowing that that day was the start of the rest of forever.

And I love walking through the months ahead of a wedding with a bride who cannot wait to be a wife.

Last night, I got to head back to Roanoke for the bridal shower of a girl who so deserved to be showered. Megan is one of the most selfless and generous people I know, and she’s about to get married to the love of her life. The shower was unbelievable–and it was powerful to see a lot of women who Megan has served over the years serve her. The house was transformed into a bride’s dreamland with white and lace and flowers and low lights and pure happiness. It was the best.

This stage of life has us at many, many weddings a year, which we love. To make the wedding gift giving easier, Morgan and I have taken to making lots of gifts.

And by “Morgan and I,” I mean “Morgan and his woodworking skills.”

This time, though, I took matters into my own hands, and, in addition to some classic oven mitts, I made these adorable coasters for Megan. (And obviously made an extra set for myself).

Want to know the best part? All of the supplies for this project (minus the Mod Podge and polyurethane) cost just about $2. TWO DOLLARS. And just wait til you see how easy these are.

To all of my engaged friends, you can expect some coasters alongside your oven mitts as well.

DIY COASTERS

What you need:

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4×4 inch tiles: Home Depot for 16 cents each

Scrapbook paper (one sheet can make about 9 coasters, but I got a variety): Michaels for 59 cents each

Felt: Michaels for 29 cents each

Gluestick

Scissors

Mod Podge

Foam brush

Hot glue gun/glue

Polyurethane

What you do: 

I started by hot glueing little squares of felt to the bottom of the tiles. This is so that the coasters slide easier and don’t scratch any surfaces.

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Next, I cut the scrapbook paper into 3.75 x 3.75 squares. (That makes me sound like I measured this. Yeah right. I just cut them close and said that rough edges would make it feel more rustic.)

Use a gluestick to secure the scrapbook paper onto the tiles. And then squeal a lot because are these not precious? 

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Then, I just put about a dime-sized blob of mod podge on a tile and used the foam brush to apply a first coat. Do this one by one so it doesn’t get too gloppy. (I know that this picture is entirely unhelpful. I didn’t think of actually taking a shot of the glob or of the brush or of me painting the glob with the brush. Also loving the word “gloppy.”) Apply a second coat of mod podge after the first dries.

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To make sure that water from drinks doesn’t mess with the scrapbook paper, we just applied a coat of polyurethane. This will smell bad, so let it sit for at least a day before gifting!

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Not pictured: me tying these up in a cute little bow and nestling them into a gift bag with oven mitts.

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Supper Club (and Recipes!)

When we left Roanoke a few months ago to move back to the New River Valley, we left a lot. Jobs in a ministry where we got to see lives changed, the first home we made “ours,” and a town we had just started to find our way around. We left best friends from college that coincidentally lived minutes from us, but also a church that turned into a family–filled with people who invited us in so quickly and who we fell in love with. Finding out that we both got these new jobs was truly bittersweet–we needed these jobs, but we knew leaving Roanoke was leaving more than just our little 800-square-foot duplex.

It meant leaving people who were truly transformative in the first year of our marriage. And we were really sad and really scared that we wouldn’t find a community like that here. But, as much as we still long to be with our Roanoke family, God didn’t forget about us here in Radford…and He’s blessed us beyond comprehension. (He’s known for doing that, by the way.)

This week, we had our first official Supper Club, and our house was rocking with laughter for hours. It was such a blast to bring together friends–living in a college town is tough on us “old” people (AKA all the people not in college), and finding friends that aren’t planning to up and leave the second they get their diploma has proven to be challenging. So, we joined forces and can’t wait to keep these monthly dinner dates going. I think that a trip to a NASCAR race, an amusement park, and the golf course were all planned for the coming weeks prior to the end of the night…which makes me think Supper Club was a hit.

I love to cook–especially for other people–so I selfishly called dibs on making the meal this time around. What I forgot was that, with two weeks left in the month, we had $16.50 left in our groceries budget.

Full disclosure: we’ve been married almost two years, and this is the first month we’ve genuinely attempted to stick to a budget. Shout out to YNAB for being the simultaneously best and most annoying thing that’s happened to our money situation. I’m not a fan of an app telling me I can’t go browse the clearance aisles in Target, but I’m also not a fan of not being able to pay our bills, so YNAB’s keeping us on track. 

Anyways, I knew I had to make a budget friendly meal–but still feed eight hungry people…and still eat good food! I’ve learned that the best way to do this is stick to an Italian theme. Pasta’s cheap, people. (Especially when you have a .45 cent off Kroger coupon…ayo!) To have a variety, I made both a baked spaghetti and a chicken alfredo dish, with salad and garlic bread on the side. For dessert, we chowed down on some poppyseed bundt cake and fresh whipped cream. It was delicious, and we had tons of leftovers (Morgan and I are going to turn into big bowls of pasta after eating this all.week.long.). Best part: I spent just about $20 on it all. My opinion on this dang budget is that a whole lot of grace should be allowed ;). 

Here are two of my favorite recipes from the night!

Baked Spaghetti

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12 oz spaghetti

1 (28 ounce) jar spaghetti sauce

1 lb ground beef

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1 clove garlic, minced

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and lightly grease a 9×13 baking dish.

Brown the ground beef in a skillet, adding in the Italian seasoning and minced garlic.

Cook spaghetti according to instructions in a large stockpot. Drain pasta.

Cut cream cheese into quarters.

Add cream cheese, spaghetti sauce, and beef to pasta, stirring to combine. (This may take a bit because of the cream cheese, but the hot pasta will melt it–so stir away!)

Pour the spaghetti mixture into the baking dish, and top with parmesan cheese. (I’ll probably add some mozzarella next time around. I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as too much cheese.)

Bake for 30 minutes, until bubbly.

Glazed Poppyseed Bundt Cake

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(adapted from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe)

1 box yellow cake

1 box instant vanilla pudding (3.5 oz box)

1 Tbsp poppyseeds

1/2 cup orange juice

1/2 cup coconut oil (you can use any oil here, but coconut adds a really good sweetness!)

1 cup sour cream (can be reduced fat)

4 eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)

1/4 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. This next step is huge. I messed it up. Grease and flour the crap out of a bundt pan.

Mix cake mix, vanilla pudding, and poppyseeds until smooth. Add juice, oil, and sour cream, and mix until combined.

Add the eggs one at a time.

Pour the mixture into the SUPER GREASED AND FLOURED bundt pan, and bake for 35 minutes. Don’t overbake!

Right before taking the cake out of the oven, start the glaze.

Now…I know this is a lot of sugar and butter, but the way to handle it is to just tell yourself that you deserve it. Because you do deserve a cup of sugar and a stick of butter mixed up. 

Put the butter, sugar, and water into a small saucepan, and bring it to a boil. Keep the mixture boiling until you pour it on the cake (if not, it will harden).

Turn the cake out of the pan when it is slightly cooled, and pour the boiling glaze all over the top. It will seep in and be perfect. (Well, it will be perfect if you greased enough. Mine was mighty ugly…but still perfectly delicious so whatever.)

You can dust it with some powdered sugar, or we served it with fresh whipped cream.

Have a super Supper Club!

Book Review: Bittersweet

bittersweet quotes

Wait…did I mention I love Shauna Niequist? Because it wasn’t 24 hours after finishing Bread and Wine that I stole Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way from my mother-in-law. And now that Bittersweet is done, I’ve read the entirety of Shauna’s blog…starting with her first post in 2009. It’s not weird. Stop.

It was about 4 pages into Bittersweet that I texted my best friend Brittney and told her she should read it. We’re kindred spirits when it comes to our girl crushes on Christian women (that felt odd to type), and I wasn’t shocked when she headed to Barnes and Noble that minute and bought the book. We got to read this together with a little two-person-texting-book-club, and lots of our conversations were straight up screenshots of paragraphs from the book. Though we’re in really different stages of life right now, both of us were struck by the premise of Bittersweet: “When life is sweet, say thank you and celebrate. When life is bitter, say thank you and grow.”

Life is going to be sweet. And life is going to be bitter. But if we approach the sweet things and the bitter things the same way, we’re going to solely rejoice in the sweet and solely pout about the bitter. But there’s purpose in both because nothing is purposeless. The word bittersweet means pleasant, yet marked by elements of suffering.

Bittersweet has a similar format to Bread and Wine, as she writes in short, essay-type chapters. She wrote the book in the midst of change in her life–a new job, moving to a new city, a rough spot in their marriage, raising a toddler while struggling with infertility–and her vulnerability and humility is refreshing. She writes in the first chapter, “Looking back now I can see that it was more than anything a failure to believe in the story of who God is and what he is doing in this world. Instead of living that story–one of sacrifice and purpose and character–I began to live a much smaller story, and that story was only about me. I wanted an answer, a timeline, and a map. I didn’t want to have to trust God or anything I couldn’t see.” Isn’t that the pulse of our screwed-up hearts? It sure is for mine.

I can’t do this book justice, so I’m going to just include my favorite quotes and beg you to devote some time to reading this. Sweet is a blessing, but bittersweet is a promise of growth, of refining, of change, and of more opportunities to boast in weaknesses–because our weakness is the best way to showcase His strength.

On the importance of having friends that don’t let you feel bad about yourself too much:

“We sometimes choose the most locked up, dark versions of the story, but what a good friend does is turn on the lights, open the window, and remind us that there are a whole lot of ways to tell the same story.”

On trusting that what you see now is but a glimmer of the big picture:

“Sometimes the happiest ending isn’t the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are.”

On food again. I love when she talks about food:

“I think preparing food and feeding people brings nourishment not only to our bodies but to our spirits. Feeding people is a way of loving them, in the same way that feeding ourselves is a way of honoring our own createdness and fragility.”

On sacrificing small things to get to the big things:

“It’s not hard to decide what you want your life to be about. What’s hard, she said, is figuring out what you’re willing to give up in order to do the things you really care about.”

On grace:

“Grace isn’t about having a second chance; grace is having so many chances that you could use them through all eternity and never come up empty. It’s when you finally realize that the other shoe isn’t going to drop, ever.”

On pain. I love this one. That’s why I transcribed an entire page:

“I’m coming to think there are at least two kinds of pain. There’s the anxiety and fear I felt when we couldn’t sell our house. And then there’s the sadness I felt when I lost the baby or when my grandma passed away. Very different kinds of pain. The first kind, I think, is the kind that invites us to grow. The second kind is the kind that invites us to mourn.

God’s not trying to teach me a lesson through my grandma’s death. I wasn’t supposed to love her less so the loss hurt less acutely, I’m not supposed to feel less strongly about the horror of death and dying. When we lose someone we love, when a dear friend moves away, when illness invades, it’s right to mourn. It’s right to feel deep, wrenching sadness.

But then there’s the other kind of pain, that first kind. My friend Brian says that the heart of all human conflict is the phrase ‘I’m not getting what I want.’ When you’re totally honest about the pain, what’s at the center? Could it be that you’re not getting what you want? You’re getting an invitation to grow, I think, as unwelcome as it may be.

It’s sloppy theology to think that all suffering is good for us, or that it’s a result of sin. All suffering can be used for good, over time, after mourning and healing, by God’s graciousness. But sometimes it’s just plain loss, not because you needed to grow, not because life or God or anything is teaching you any kind of lesson. The trick is knowing the difference between the two.”

And finally:

“I don’t always change my clothes just because I’m leaving the house. I wear yoga pants 99 percent of the time, and I pretend that other people don’t notice that I’m wearing my pajamas in public.”

Traveling on a Budget: Boone, North Carolina

About six months ago, Morgan and I realized that, since our honeymoon, we hadn’t taken a trip together–just the two of us and for no reason–since we got married. Sure, we’d been to approximately 521 weddings, visited family, and gone on vacations with friends, but we hadn’t taken time out of our schedules to just escape and be, together.

Since then, we’ve made a pact. We’ll have a date weekly, go on weekend getaways every other month or so, and go on a vacation once a year. Dates can mean a frozen pizza and a RedBox movie…just intentional time for the two of us. Our first weekend getaway wasn’t one to write home about. We went to Washington, DC, I slammed my finger in the car door and then almost passed out in the Harris Teeter bathroom because I can obviously handle pain so well. We got lost in a parking garage and thought we’d be stuck underground for the rest of forever, and, to round out the trip well, we found ourselves smack in the middle of a student protest on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Let’s just say we probably won’t be returning to DC. My poor farmer husband was a total fish out of water. (But, if you go, we do recommend the Newseum! Best part of the trip by far.) We still had a blast laughing about how unfortunate the events of the weekend were.

This past weekend, though, we went to Boone, North Carolina. It was the best.

Our biggest hesitation in deciding to do this consistent-marriage-dating-thing was that we didn’t want to spend a ton of money–especially as we save for our vacation in November. But these trips are vital to us, and we realized that there is totally a way to get away and to do it without breaking the bank.

Where We Stayed:

Okay…so we probably wouldn’t recommend the resort we stayed at this trip. Whenever we go on trips, we look for places to stay in this order: 1. Groupon.com 2. Priceline.com and 3. VRBO.com. We found this place–called The Inn at Crestwood–on Groupon and jumped on the deal…especially because it included free breakfast and a free appetizer at the resort’s restaurant. Though the name sounds incredibly prestigious, it was far from it, but we had a comfy bed, pretty views, and free coffee all day in the lobby, so we weren’t complaining. Our Groupon also gave us a “villa,” which was just a fancy way of saying a hotel room that wasn’t connected to the actual hotel.

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Where We Ate:

This was the best part. We just love food. We got into Blowing Rock around lunchtime on Friday, so we stopped at the famous Woodlands BBQ. It was delicious, and I ate it too quickly to take a picture. Just your classic southern BBQ food.

That night, we headed into Boone to The Local, per a recommendation by a super sweet girl who was working at a boutique we shopped at earlier that day. It was amazing. The atmosphere inside was really unique with reclaimed wood on the walls and lights strung from the ceiling, and we were thrilled because they were playing the NCAA tournament all over the place. Morgan got a cuban sandwich on naan which was so bold of his burger-eating appetite, but he went out on a limb because we watched the movie Chef recently and he said he’s wanted to try a cuban sandwich ever since (it didn’t disappoint!). I got the Uber Veggie Flatbread which had the most tasty red pepper sauce over the top that made it just a tiny bit spicy and big bit wonderful. The environment was my favorite of the weekend. Did I mention that they were having a fundraiser event for a local homeless shelter? I nearly cried and hugged every single waiter when I saw that…too close to this emotional girl’s heart. After dinner, we sat around for a while drinking some local beers and watching the games (and people watching all the college students). The Local gets our recommendation ;).

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We ate at The Table on Saturday night, which was the restaurant inside the Inn at Crestwood. Morgan and I were one of 6 people in the too-close-and-intimate restaurant, so it felt like we were all sharing a meal without sitting at the same table or talking or making eye contact. The food was amazing though–we got fried green tomatoes for the free appetizer, Morg got a bison burger, and I got a chicken club. All the ingredients were fresh and local–and they tasted like it. Best part of the entire weekend was undoubtedly when, in that itty bitty little restaurant, the waitress took heed of my shameless comment that we were celebrating our birthdays (which took place last month) and sang “Happy Birthday” to us. Just her. To just us. We were serenaded–she obviously loved to sing, and we were her audience of the night. I was sobbing from laughing so hard. But we got free blueberry cheesecake out of it.

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What We Did:

When we got into town Friday, it was raining and dreary out, so I took the opportunity to beg Morgan to take me to the outlet mall. He obviously complied because he’s just the sweetest (and because I had a gift card to Loft). The outlets were nothing special but I’ll take any chance to shop that I can–especially those spring sales…can I get an amen?

We headed into the town of Blowing Rock and window-shopped all the precious shops. Both Boone and Blowing Rock have absolutely adorable downtown streets with tons locally-owned boutiques, restaurants, and craft stores. My favorite of the weekend was a store called “Take Heart” in Blowing Rock, which ran out of a tiny purple (maybe it was blue?) house in the middle of downtown. It had all kinds of paper products and girly things. And we talked with the women running the store for a while–they equipped us with maps, restaurant recommendations, and hiking trails to check out the next day!

On Saturday, after enjoying the hot breakfast buffet at the resort, we hung around and read for a few hours–well, I read. Morgan watched golf.

Everyone we asked told us to just hit the Blue Ridge Parkway and hop off wherever we wanted to hike. I thought they were giving us poor instructions, but, around Boone, the Parkway is chocked-full of hiking trails, so they were really right. And everything is gorgeous. We kept feeling like we were driving on flat land…until we realized that we were literally on top of the mountain. (I kept singing “I’m On Top of the World” which Morgan loved. Talk about a serenade.) We parked at Rough Ridge and did the 2 mile hike up one of the most gorgeous views I’ve ever seen.

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We also hiked around Julian Price Park and the Cone Manor. Nothing disappointed. It was my favorite part of our trip. We also had flawless weather, so that was a plus!

Sunday was filled with downtown Boone! We got coffee and read at Bald Guy Brew (good coffee! I like anything hot and full of caffeine, so I’m not the best to give a review of a coffee shop. But it did the trick!). We walked through Mast General Store, which is an iconic stop in Boone filled with tons of candy and outdoorsy things, and headed back home.

Our trip to Boone was just right. I think it’s important to sit at a dinner table with the person you love, making conversation that veers away from typical topics and gets to the heart of why you fell in love in the first place. We are so quick to get busy and forget to be intentional, and our weekend in Boone brought us back to the same page. I call it a successful (and inexpensive!) trip!

I bet there are lots of things we missed in these sweet small towns, so let me know what else we could do–because we’re definitely planning to head back down 77 to Boone shortly.

Book Review: Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist (and a new favorite recipe!)

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I wish it wasn’t so weird to have girl crushes. But sometimes, I think having a girl crush on a Christian author is forgivable. For the past few years, I’ve been hopelessly devoted to Jen Hatmaker, but I think that I’m ready to open up my heart to another. Shauna Niequist, can we be friends?

Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table is one of Shauna’s newest books, and there is not a single page in the book that disappoints. The premise of Bread and Wine is the most perfect mix of food, community, heartbreak, success, humor, sorrow, and that feeling inside that makes you want to reread a page over and over just to make sure you never forget the words she wrote.

Ever since Morgan and I got married, we’ve tried to spend at least one night per week sharing a meal with friends. We don’t have kids or pets or any huge commitments after work, so this is barely a sacrifice. We’ve loved making new friends and deepening long-time friendships through these dinners that are usually shared over a meal I’m attempting to make for the first time. We’ll all settle around our tiny kitchen table, Morgan will bless the food, and I’ll immediately shovel a forkful of my most daring dish into my mouth. Morgan always looks horrified when I do this, but I reserve the right to take something off the table if it’s horrible! That’s my pride we’re messing with!

But Shauna’s book changed my view on these dinners. Yes–I’ll never stop trying to make these meals delicious, but my intent now is to open up my home to be a safe place of comfort. Where people can walk in and take a glass of good wine, a deep breath, and a break from reality. Because, really, our most basic needs are found around the table–in food, in community, in friendship, in comfort. If I can provide a sliver of that for the people we love the most, I call it a success.

She writes, “The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It’s about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”

And I don’t know if there’s a better way to share the love of Jesus than opening up your life to others. The ugly, the dirty, the pain, the failures…putting them all on the table (not literally….literally, we try to keep our table real clean and pretty). In our weakness and our struggles is the place where we show the deep need for the cross more than in the put-together facade. It’s also refreshing to be real with one another, realizing that we’re not alone in this chaotic, confusing, challenging, beautiful stage of life.

Shauna also introduced the idea of a Cooking Club–they’ve got a group of six or seven friends that gets together monthly, without fail. Though we changed the name to Supper Club to sound overtly mature and to have reason to use the grandma emoji in our group messages, some wonderful friends of ours are having our first installation this coming week. I can’t wait to start this tradition around the table. Maybe I’ll even remember to blog about it.

To use a nice food pun, I devoured this book. I’d give it 5 stars and read it again in a heartbeat. Totally recommend to those who want to embody generosity and hospitality and also want to hear from someone else that the struggles of life are normal, and that there’s hope in the cross to find joy in the mundane. I’m already reading another book of Shauna’s and will review it when I finish!

At the end of most chapters, Shauna shares a favorite recipe, which are quickly becoming our favorite recipes as well! I made “Annette’s Enchiladas” for my in-laws a few weeks back, and, just like she writes in the book, I could destroy a whole pan of these enchiladas all by myself (I was feeling generous, so I shared…but I refused to share the leftovers. I earned those.). I followed the recipe to a T, it was super easy, and they’re pretty much perfect.

Annette’s Enchiladas

1 cup sour cream
1 28-ounce can green enchilada sauce
2 4-ounce small cans green chilies, diced
3 cups cooked chicken, shredded or diced (I cooked this in the crockpot while working to speed up the process!)
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
12 corn tortillas
1 cup chicken broth
Cilantro

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9×13 dish with nonstick spray.

2. Mix sour cream, enchilada sauce, and green chilies in a bowl.

3. Cover the bottom of the 9×13 dish with a thin layer of the sauce.

4. In a medium skillet, simmer the chicken broth on low. You’re going to layer the bottom of the dish with 4 tortillas, but you’ll want to use tongs and pass them through the broth to make them softer. Do this quick so that the tortillas don’t disintegrate 😉

5. Layer those 4 tortillas over the first layer of sauce.

6. Add half of the chicken on top of the tortillas, then a third of the sauce and a third of the cheese. Repeat so that there are two full layers of tortilla-chicken-sauce-cheese.

7. Finish off the pan with a final layer of 4 tortillas, the final third of sauce, and the final third of cheese.

8. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes–until warmed through and the cheese is melted.

9. Let sit at least 15 minutes before cutting. Chop up the cilantro and sprinkle it on top before serving.

(This serves about 6-8 big servings. I pair it with chips, guacamole, mexican rice, and a 3-bean avocado salad! Enjoy!)

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