Thursday, December 31, 2015

That Sinking Feeling...

Two nights ago, I made beef stew (click here for my recipe), and it turned out exceptionally well. Mr. Handsome and I each enjoyed two helpings, but when it came time to clean up, the leftovers (enough for 2-3 additional meals) were still piping hot, so I set them out to cool while we enjoyed a relaxing evening together.

I think you know where I'm headed with this...

When I walked into the kitchen the next morning, my heart sank. There was my delicious stew, still sitting on the counter. The thermostat in our home was set to 69 degrees, which, according to the USDA, is in the "danger zone" for food safety.

Extremely disappointed in myself, I did what any self-respecting homemaker would do. Loading the stew into the fridge temporarily, I scoured the World Wide Web to determine if my masterpiece was salvageable.

(The forum titled "Help! I left beef stew in the kitchen overnight!" provided some consolation, as I realized I'm not the only absentminded cook out there.)

Unfortunately, I didn't find a clear answer to my query.

I came across plenty of people trying to convince me that I would surely die if I even got within 10 feet of the "poisoned" stew (too late), as well as a bunch of ladies who confessed to having eaten meat that had been left out for days on end without experiencing so much as a hint of nausea.

My frugality canceled out my fear of food poisoning, so I brought the stew to a boil and served it for lunch.

And here we are today, with no sign of food-borne illness. I'd like to say that I'll never, ever make the same mistake again, but I can almost guarantee I will...


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

New Year's Eve Appetizer

Just this morning, I received a comment from a reader looking for a warm dip to make for New Year's Eve. I quickly texted a family-friend who made a Mexican dip for my parent's annual Christmas party that was absolutely delicious. She responded right away! It isn't the healthiest thing you'll ever eat, but it's sure to have your mouth watering.

Mexican Dip for New Year's Eve

8-ounce package cream cheese
12-ounces shredded cheese (mixture of cheddar and Colby)
1 can Hormel chili (without beans)
1 jar salsa (mild, medium, or hot, depending on preference)

Spread cream cheese on the bottom of a holiday baking dish, and cover completely with Hormel chili. Top with salsa, and place shredded cheese on top. Bake for approximately 20 minutes at 350. Serve with tortilla chips. 


Monday, December 28, 2015

How to Save Money on Road Trips

A friend of mine recently asked if I had any tips on how to take an inexpensive road trip. I thought about it for a while and came up with a few suggestions. Mr. Handsome and I took several road trips with his family before we were married, and we plan to continue that tradition in the coming years.

1. Planning Ahead is Key
Before heading out, sit down and map out your route. Consider how far you plan to drive each day, and search the internet for inexpensive accommodations. If you plan to stay in hotels, booking ahead will usually give you the best deal, but be sure to ask about the cancellation policies beforehand. Research attractions that you plan to visit, and calculate the cost (if any) of each.

2. Campgrounds are Cheaper
If you're traveling in summer, consider camping. If you already own tents and sleeping bags, it's a great way to keep costs down. But keep in mind that campgrounds are much less numerous than hotels, and some may require you to book ahead.

3. Pack a Cooler
Depending on the size of your family, eating out at every meal could double the cost of your road trip. When I was a kid, my mom always packed a large cooler of food, and when we ran out, we stopped at grocery stores instead of fast-food chains. Many hotel rooms have mini freezers, which came in handy when our ice packs thawed. Otherwise, we purchased ice at gas stations.

4. Budget for Souvenirs 
Picking out a few mementos is a great way to remember your trip, but souvenirs can be pricey. Before embarking on your adventure, decide how much you are willing to spend, and stick to it. If you don't end up finding something you love, then you can save that money or spend it on something else. A friend told me that she and her husband decided when they married to budget to purchase a small Christmas ornament on every vacation they take.

5. Leave Wiggle Room
When planning your route, allot extra time each day for unexpected stops. That way, when you see intriguing signs along the highway for attractions or historical landmarks, you'll be able to pull over.

6. Bring Your Own Entertainment
Pack a box of board games and family-friendly movies and TV shows, in case you arrive at your hotel or campground early. Not only will this provide additional opportunities for family bonding, but it will also help avoid unnecessary entertainment costs.

6. Relax and Have Fun
Saving money is important, but it will all be for nothing if your road trip is not enjoyable.

Do you have any tips to add?

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Thoughtful Christmas Gifts

It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). This biblical truth is especially evident at Christmastime, as we are all eager to find the perfect presents for our loved ones.

This year, instead of trying to come up with gift ideas at the last minute, I started a list on my phone that I have added to periodically since my wedding in June. When it came time to purchase presents, I had thoughtful, unique options for most of our family members.

Mr. Handsome and I celebrated two Christmases, one with his family and one with mine. The picture to the left shows my in-laws' tree just before we opened our gifts. With two parents, seven kids, two children in-law, one granddaughter, and one boyfriend, there were 13 of us.

It may seem that there was an overwhelming amount of presents under the tree, but we didn't spend an overwhelming amount of money.

My husband's youngest brother wrapped up several of his favorite devotion books to pass on to his younger siblings. My mother-in-law made a dozen freezer meals for her second-oldest son who lives alone and has limited culinary skills. Anne (my oldest sister-in-law) and I found a number of gently used Christian books on Amazon for as little as $3.00 each.

What does your family do at Christmastime to place a greater focus on giving than receiving?

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Traditions

This Christmas, we are blessed to spend time with both our families.

With two of their seven children married and two others in relationships, my in-laws now hold their Christmas celebration a couple days early so everyone can join in.

On "Christmas Eve," my husband's family has dinner with his maternal grandparents. They recount the Christmas story using felt boards and watch It's a Wonderful Life. Then, everyone rushes to bed so the Wisemen (an alternative to Santa Claus) can deliver the gifts.

My family's Christmas is more laid back. I suppose that's because I only have one sibling (a brother). We attend the candlelight service at church, open presents on Christmas morning, and enjoy a ham dinner on Christmas Day.

Merry Christmas from our family to yours! May we all remember the reason for the season. 


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Discount Anniversary Trip

We just celebrated our six-month anniversary and were blessed to spend three days in sunny Fort Myers, Florida.

We went with another close friend from my husband's college friends, whose parents own a condo, and his wife. They were unable to make it to the surprise birthday party that I threw for Mr. Handsome in November, so it was wonderful to spend time with them.

My husband and I are very frugal and were not planning to take a trip for our anniversary, but we just couldn't pass this offer up. Our accommodations were free, and we found tickets for less than $250 on Allegiant Air. Although the condo was located 30 minutes inland, the owners graciously left a small car in the garage for us to use.

We're accustomed to cold weather at Christmastime, so it was odd to walk along the beach wearing summer clothes and see holiday lights and decorations.

 Christmas lights on Sanibel Island

Monday, December 21, 2015

Bridesmaid Pic

A few readers requested a picture of one of my bridesmaids wearing the gown we found for a bargain at Dress Barn. My oldest sister-in-law, Anne, gave me permission to share this photo of the two of us before the ceremony.

Aside from Mr. Handsome and me, our wedding party was made up of 15 people.

Anne--who was a close friend even before I met Mr. Handsome--was my matron of honor, and my 19-year-old sister-in-law was my maiden of honor. My six other attendants were my other two sisters-in-law (ages 12 and 14), my brother's fiancée, and three childhood friends.

Mr. Handsome's best man was one of his brothers, and his other six groomsmen were his other brother, my brother, Anne's husband, and three friends. It was a blessing to have all of our siblings and siblings-in-law in the wedding party!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Just Like Bob Ross

Yesterday was Mr. Handsome's first day off (aside from Sundays) in three weeks, and he woke up at 7am! He had received a box of oil paint supplies as an early Christmas present from the staff at his dental practice and wanted to put it to use.

My husband painted several pictures as a child, and he mentioned over the summer that he would enjoy picking that hobby back up. So when the office manager asked me for gift ideas, I spent a few hours researching painting supplies and then sent her Amazon links for the Bob Ross Painting Rural America kit and an easel.

(The office manager gave me the credit for doing all the grunt work to make the gift possible, so I ended up inadvertently scoring some wifey points!)

What do you think of Mr. Handsome's first painting?

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wedding Photo Books

This year, instead of buying individual gifts for our parents and grandparents, we are giving each couple a Shutterfly photo book filled with wedding pictures.

Have you ever ordered a Shutterfly book? This one took several hours to design. Just when you think a page is perfect, you find one small flaw and end up spending 20 minutes changing the layout. But the time spent was well worth it when we saw the books. They are beautiful!

Shutterfly seems to have a new sale every week, so there's no reason to pay full price for anything. Using online promo codes, I received more than 50% off my order.

Somehow our parents and grandparents found out about the photo books, but they haven't seen them yet. Here's a sneak peek:

Friday, December 18, 2015

Our First Date

Within a couple days of releasing my "Ask Ellie" post back in early November, I received dozens of questions, suggestions, and feedback from readers. I promise that I read through every single comment and that I am using them to plan my posts.

One reader asked: What did you and Mr. handsome do on your first date, and how long after you started dating did he propose?

Mr. Handsome and I started our relationship in April 2013. After we had been getting to know each other at family functions for several months, he received my dad's permission to invite me on a date and ask me to be his girlfriend. 

On our first date, we attended an MLB (major league baseball) game near the town where my husband was enrolled in dental school. He and his family are huge MLB fans, and they go to games whenever they can. 

The date went very well, and although I didn't quite understand the game, I had a blast with Mr. Handsome. When it was over, he asked me if I would like to be his girlfriend, and I said yes!

Mr. Handsome proposed in March 2015, which was 23 months after we started our "dating courtship," and we tied the knot in June. 

For more on our relationship, take a look at my "How I Met My Husband" post.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Not Feeling the Christmas Cheer...

When I was two years old, my family attended a Christmas party at my dad's office. Trying to make the event kid-friendly, someone decided to have a white-bearded fellow (also known as Santa Claus) pass out gifts to the children.

I suppose the older children probably enjoyed it, but as you can tell, I wasn't too impressed. Hope this picture makes you laugh!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Date Night at the Opryland Hotel

Since the Christmas season began, I have been dropping hints to Mr. Handsome about my strong desire to spend an evening walking around the impressive Gaylord Opryland Hotel, so that's what we did on Saturday night.

Built in 1977, the Gaylord Opryland Hotel boasts nearly 3,000 guest rooms and is the largest non-gaming hotel in the continental United States. We have never spent the night, but we have been several times to walk around the three beautiful atriums, which cover nine acres and contain approximately 50,000 plants.

It ended up taking us an hour to exit the interstate, which we later found out was due to a showing of The Grinch at the Grand Ole Opry. Then we went to a frozen yogurt shop inside the hotel and ended up paying $20 for two servings. Thankfully, the spectacular Christmas lights were well worth it!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Homemade Goo Gone

I'm sure most of you have experienced the wonders of Goo Gone, but in case you ever find yourself in a sticky situation and can't find the bottle, this life hack might just save the day!

While wrapping Christmas gifts yesterday evening, I removed a price tag from a plastic surface and was left with a sticky mess. We didn't have any Goo Gone, so I searched the internet for a homemade alternative and quickly found a solution. Oil and baking soda, y'all!

I suppose I'm a little behind, as this home remedy is found on numerous websites, but I know my readers will find it useful.

All you have to do is mix (approximately) two parts baking soda with one part oil (either vegetable oil or melted coconut oil). I just scooped a spoonful of coconut oil into a ceramic cup, threw it in the microwave for 30 seconds, added enough baking soda to create a paste, and voila! No more sticky mess.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

More Wedding Pics

A little birdie told me that you all would like to see a few more wedding pictures. Well, your wish is my command! Let me share a few of my favorites.

After Mr. Handsome's uncle--who officiated our wedding ceremony--gave the message, we sang two congregational songs, "Mighty to Save" and "What a Friend We Have In Jesus." Then, before officially becoming man and wife, we spent a few precious moments dedicating our marriage to the Lord. We prayed together...

...And took Communion.

This picture shows us walking out of the sanctuary, with Mr. Handsome's uncle smiling in the background. We were the first family members to ask him to perform our wedding ceremony, and I know he really enjoyed having that honor.

Here's a humorous one. We took photos at a nearby garden, and the photographer instructed us to walk hand-in-hand while she snapped pictures. It really was a romantic moment, but this action shot makes it look like Mr. Handsome is trying to convince me to run away with him. It makes us laugh every time we see it!

Click here to view a few more photos from our special day.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Trip to the Violin Shop

My husband is the oldest of seven children. His two youngest sisters are still living at home, where Mom is their full-time teacher. Two of his siblings are in college, one is in the workforce, and one is a stay-at-home mother.

My in-laws also run a home business, so their lives are busy. When we go back to visit, we can always expect to be called on to run at least one errand. Over Thanksgiving, we were given the job of taking one of the family's violins to the repair shop.

While we were there, we couldn't help but try out a few instruments. My husband grew up playing violin but gave it up in middle school to learn banjo and guitar. But he can still pick up a fiddle and play beautifully. (Somehow that just isn't fair.)

We came across a beautiful violin from the 1700s, and I videoed Mr. Handsome playing "Amazing Grace" (video below).

Monday, December 7, 2015

'Tis the Season for Wrapping

On Saturday evening, we attended Mr. Handsome's office Christmas party. My husband is one of three dentists in his practice, so we both agreed that we needed to buy gifts for the 11 staff members.

While picking up a few items at a farming goods store with his dad on Black Friday, Mr. Handsome found Orville Redenbacher popcorn poppers on sale for $19.99 (regular $39.99), so he bought 11.

When he came home and started unloading the poppers, my first thought was, "It's going to take forever to wrap these!" But he was so proud of himself for finding such a good deal that I decided not to say anything. In addition to giving everyone a popcorn popper, we threw in one of our homemade scarves for all the ladies, which we put in separate gift boxes (thus creating MORE items to wrap).

On Saturday afternoon, I spent about five hours wrapping all the presents. Mr. Handsome would have been happy to help, but he worked five hours on Saturday morning, and it was a beautiful day, so I agreed to let him go fishing.

The time spent was well worth it when we saw the reactions on the faces of the hygienists, assistants, receptionists, and office managers as they opened their gifts.

Friday, December 4, 2015

How to Sew a Christmas Stocking

This year, my husband's birthday fell during the week of Thanksgiving, so we were able to celebrate with family and friends

After a delicious breakfast of donuts and fruit, he and his father and two brothers played basketball at the local rec center. Later that afternoon, the two of us, along with four of his siblings, spent an hour shooting recurve bows at an indoor archery range.

That evening, Mr. Handsome, expecting a simple dinner with his parents and siblings, was shocked when three close friends from his college days and their wives walked through the front door and yelled "Surprise!"

My husband was speechless! He had mentioned a few months before that he missed spending time with these guys and would love to see them again, which gave my mother-in-law and me the idea for the surprise party. The three boys, who also happen to be brothers, come from a family of eight kids.

In addition to planning the reunion, I gave Mr. Handsome two gifts. The first was a set of CDs, which I purchased inexpensively on Amazon, for him to listen to in the car. Four of the CDs are a mix of Southern gospel and bluegrass music, and the other features songs from ThePianoGuys, a band that creates melodic, classical versions of popular hymns and other songs.

The second gift was a Christmas stocking (shown above), which I spent several hours sewing. For those who are interested, here is the tutorial I used:

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tree Stump Ornament

Sometimes I fool myself into thinking I'm super creative. Last night was one of those times

I made this ornament out of a piece of stump from our Christmas tree. We would have loved to cut down our own tree, but my husband has a busy work schedule this month, so we went to Lowe's. We chose a five-foot tree that was on sale for $20.

The employee who helped us find our tree was a sweet young man, probably in his late teenage years. He trimmed a few branches off the bottom and asked if I wanted to keep them, telling me they would look great as indoor decorations. I regretfully declined, knowing we would have no place to display them in our tiny, newlywed rental home.

He also asked if I wanted to keep the 1/2-inch thick slice of wood that he cut off the bottom of the stump. "Lots of people turn theirs into ornaments to commemorate their first Christmas as a married couple or their child's first Christmas," he explained.

"What a great idea!" I thought. So you'll never guess what I did. I took the piece of stump home and turned it into an ornament.

The credit for this keepsake that we will cherish for years to come goes to the young man at Lowe's. All I did was sand the edges (using a brick on the side of our house), drill a hole for the ribbon (using a screwdriver), and write "Our 1st Christmas Tree 2015" on both sides of the ornament (using red and green Sharpies). And I drew a Christmas tree.

I think the moral of the story is that the young man at Lowe's is way more creative than I am.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

My Niece

While browsing my recent iPhone pictures to come up with a blog post for today, I came across a picture that I just have to share with you all.

Remember the dinner we attended with my husband's family in downtown Chicago last month? That afternoon, we had a chance to walk around the city, although it was only 30 degrees, so we didn't go far.

During our stroll, I snapped this photo of my one-year-old niece, Ana. (Most family members call her by her nickname, Girlsy.) It was by far the coldest day she had experienced since last winter, and she hadn't quite gotten used to the concept of sitting up in a stroller while wearing a puffy coat, a hat, and gloves.

She stayed in this position for 15 minutes, which gave us all a laugh. Ana is usually an expressive, bubbly little girl, but she didn't know what to think about the unexpected cold weather.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Healthy Homemade Mashed Potatoes

I know you all love it when I post recipes, and one of my readers requested that I reveal how I manage to hide veggies in common meals.

This recipe is a new favorite in our home. When my husband tried these mashed potatoes for the first time, he hardly believed me when I told him I had added cauliflower.

Mashed Potatoes with Cauliflower

  • 1-2 cups cauliflower (cut into 1-inch pieces)* 
  • 4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces 
  • Butter and milk 
  • Sour cream (optional) 
  • Salt to taste 
  1. Using a steamer basket, steam potatoes on the stove for approximately 10 minutes. Add cauliflower, and steam until potatoes and cauliflower are soft. 
  2.  Transfer cooked potatoes and cauliflower into a mixing bowl, and mash, adding desired amounts of butter, milk, and sour cream. (I came close to purchasing a potato masher but decided that my pastry cutter works well enough.) 
  3. Mash until desired consistency is reached, and add salt to taste.
*I recommend starting with 1 cup of cauliflower and working your way up, based on how well your family enjoys the first batch.
**I use 2-3 Tablespoons of butter and 3-5 Tablespoons of milk, but feel free to use more or less, depending on personal preference.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Our Thanksgiving

It's been a tiring two days! I was planning to take a short nap but decided to share an update with you all instead.

We were blessed to have a joint Thanksgiving dinner with both our families, which allowed us to spend more time with everyone and prevented us from having to break up the holiday.

All 19 of us were able to sit comfortably at my in-laws' expandable dinning room table. Mr. Handsome has two parents, six siblings, one brother-in-law, and one niece, and I have two parents, one brother, and one soon-to-be sister-in-law. My husband's maternal grandparents and uncle also joined us.

This morning, I woke up at 3am and went Black Friday shopping with my mother-in-law and four sisters-in-law from 4:00am-11:00am. We had a blast and found some fabulous deals on clothing.

After picking up discount items at Gordmans and J.C. Penny, we headed over to a local thrift store, where we purchased ten "like new" shirts for only $30. Did you take part in Black Friday this year?

Thursday, November 26, 2015

An Attitude of Thankfulness

On October 3rd, 1863, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln declared a nationwide day of thanks, to take place on November 26th, 1863. Although the United States was in the midst of the bloody Civil War, Lincoln encouraged the American people to take time to reflect on the many blessings given to them by God.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers! Here are a few Bible verses to help us all develop an attitude of thankfulness:

Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving; let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is the great God, and the great King above all gods. 
(Psalm 9:2-3)

Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever. 

(1 Chronicles 16:34)

“And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day. 
(Deuteronomy 8:18)

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. 
(James 1:17)

 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. 
(Philippians 4:4-7)

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Family Craft Day

Every Thanksgiving, my husband's grandmother, whom we call Gram, comes up with a craft for the grandchildren to make and give away as Christmas gifts. This year, we sewed scarves.

We initially had a crew of six seamstresses (Gram, my mother-in-law, three of Mr. Handsome's sisters, and myself).

At the last minute, my sweet husband and his brother-in-law (the husband of his oldest sister, Anne) decided to join in on the fun. They were such troopers, and we couldn't have done it without their help.

I must say that Mr. Handsome surprised me with his incredible sewing skills, and he kept us laughing with his one-liners.

"Things seem to be going pretty seamlessly."
"Some of these needles are so dull, they're pointless to use."
"I'm a little nervous using this sewing machine; I feel like I'm on pins and needles."

 In five hours, we knocked out 30 infinity scarves, made of a variety of knit and cotton fabrics. (The YouTube tutorial we used is embedded below.)

My 12-year-old sister-in-law, Lena, offered to model one of the scarves.

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Joys of Big Families

My husband comes from a family of nine and enjoys telling jokes about his childhood. Thought I would share one of his favorites with you all:

One day, while looking through a family photo album, I noticed that my siblings and I always seemed to be wearing matching outfits. 

When I asked my mom why that was, she replied: "At first, when we had just a few children, I dressed you in matching outfits so we wouldn’t lose anyone. But as our family grew, I started dressing you in matching outfits so we wouldn’t pick up any extras." 

 Can any of you relate?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Dinner in Chicago

Thought I would share a picture with you all this evening! Mr. Handsome's dad does consulting work for school districts across the Midwest. Every November, he hosts a dinner for his clients and their families in downtown Chicago.

Three years ago, I attended the dinner as a friend of Anne (Mr. Handsome's sister). At that time, I had only met my now-husband a few times, and we were not yet in a relationship. Two years ago, the event took place four months before we were engaged, so I went as Mr. Handsome's girlfriend.

This year was especially meaningful, as the dinner was on our five-month wedding anniversary. I can hardly believe how quickly time has passed since we tied the knot in mid June!

We were thrilled to find out that my father-in-law had booked a room on the 66th floor of the iconic Sears Tower for this year's event. (It was renamed several years ago and is now the Willis Tower, but I don't think too many people actually call it that.)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner

At my bridal shower, my husband's cousin gave me a green spray bottle filled with homemade cleaner. She told me it was vinegar based, and I just assumed that it would smell up the house and wouldn't be worth using. 

After we tied the knot and moved into our rental duplex, I decided to give the cleaner a try, and it worked so well that I have been using it ever since! The best part is that it's made up of inexpensive ingredients that are easy to find. And the essential oils mask the vinegar stench. Here is the breakdown:

Homemade All-Purpose Cleaner 
1 part white vinegar
3 parts water
Big squirt dish soap
10-15 drops essential oils (I use lavender)

I use this cleaner weekly in my bathrooms and kitchen to wipe down the counters, sinks, toilets, and shower. To clean the inside of the toilet bowls, I use Borax (costs $4 for a box that lasts me eight months), and on the mirrors, I still use good old Windex (or a cheaper imitation brand). What are your favorite cleaners?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Favorite Song

"What's your favorite song?" That's a question that is quite common in today's culture. Until a few years ago, I had a hard time responding. One song would be my favorite because of the lyrics and another because of the rhythm, and those favorites would change at the drop of a hat. 

During the early days of my relationship with Mr. Handsome, I heard a lovely instrumental version of "Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing." When I took the time to look up and meditate on the lyrics, I knew I had found a lifelong favorite song.

Written in 1757 by Robert Robinson, a redeemed, 22-year-old man who had lost his father as a young child and lived a dark teenage life (during which he certainly was "prone to wander"), the song has become known around the world.

The lyrics are beautifully poetic but portray very simple truths. Over the past 258 years, thousands of artists have created their own versions of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing."

My personal favorite is my husband's guitar rendition, which he plays using fingerpicks, as opposed to a single flatpick. That's how he performed it as I walked down the aisle at our wedding (shown in the photo above).

Based on my research, I believe that these are the original lyrics, but as you'll hear in the video embedded above, they have since been altered. What's your favorite song? 

"Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing"
Come, Thou Fount of every blessing, 
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace; 
Streams of mercy, never ceasing, 
Call for songs of loudest praise. 
Teach me some melodious sonnet, 
Sung by flaming tongues above. 
Praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, 
Mount of Thy redeeming love. 

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit, 
Till released from flesh and sin, 
Yet from what I do inherit, 
Here Thy praises I'll begin; 
Here I raise my Ebenezer; 
Here by Thy great help I’ve come; 
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure, 
Safely to arrive at home. 

Jesus sought me when a stranger, 
Wandering from the fold of God; 
He, to rescue me from danger, 
 Interposed His precious blood; 
How His kindness yet pursues me 
Mortal tongue can never tell, 
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well. 

O to grace how great a debtor 
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above. 

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothèd then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Fishing...Beginner's Luck?

This afternoon, my husband and I headed to a nearby state park for a hike and were thrilled to find a beautiful trail that meandered along the bank of a river.

About 15 minutes into our stroll, Mr. Handsome (a fishing enthusiast) spotted a fellow fisherman and struck up a conversation.

The man turned out to be quite friendly and talkative. He had a second pole and offered it to my husband. That was when I knew our hike was over. Thankfully, the view off the pier was so beautiful that I didn't mind.

Mr. Handsome took a few dozen casts without any success and asked if I wanted to give it a try.

"Mark my words, I'm going to get a fish on my first cast," I announced (not all that seriously). My husband chuckled. But lo and behold, less than a minute later, I was reeling in a medium-sized crappie. Mr. Handsome was impressed, although he joked that it was just beginner's luck.

The sun was setting quickly, and by the time we made it back to our car, it was completely dark and about 45 degrees, but the delicious fried fish that we enjoyed for dinner was well worth it! (I know it's not the healthiest thing in the world, but it's what we were both craving.)

Friday, November 13, 2015

Easy Homemade Pizza Recipe

What's better than going out for pizza on a Friday night? How about staying home for pizza on a Friday night! Preheat the oven, grab your favorite toppings, and prepare your taste buds for this simple, mouth-watering treat.

Easy Homemade Pizza

  • 1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2-1/2 cups flour
  1. Make sure oven racks are in the lowest positions possible. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. 
  2. Combine yeast and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add warm water, and stir until yeast and sugar dissolve. Stir in oil, salt, and 2-1/2 cups flour. 
  3. When the dough becomes too stiff to stir, flour your hands and a work surface. Knead for 8-10 minutes, adding a little flour to keep dough from sticking. When done kneading, the dough should feel smooth and no longer sticky.
  4. Dust ball of dough with flour, and return to mixing bowl. Cover with a towel, and let dough rise for no longer than 30 minutes. (The beauty of this recipe is that you don't have to let the dough rise at all, but it is easier to use if you do.)
  5. Grease a standard-sized cookie sheet, and dust with cornmeal. Use your hands or a rolling pin to spread dough over the entire pan.
  6. If you want your pizza to look extra fancy, pinch a raised rim around the edges. 
  7. Decorate with sauce, cheese, and your favorite toppings.
  8. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until cheese is melted and crust is lightly browned.
  9. Enjoy!
Based on recipe from Williams-Sonoma's Kids Cooking cookbook

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

My Homeschool Journey

My 15-year-old self
Happy Wednesday! I have been reading through the feedback you shared on my "Ask Ellie" post. Quite a few readers requested more information about my personal life, and several asked if I was homeschooled as a child. Well, let me tell you!

From Kindergarten through my sophomore year of high school, I attended public school. My parents were always intrigued by the idea of homeschooling but never seriously considered it because our local school system was considered to be excellent. My brother, who is three years older than myself, and I had both had a solid group of school friends and were plugged in at church, so my parents saw no need to change our routine.

I enjoyed school through eighth grade, but in freshman year, things changed. Contrary to what I had been expecting, my classmates seemed to have grown less mature over the summer (maybe due to hormones?).

For that reason, the teachers were often forced to spend the first 10-15 minutes of class dealing with ornery students. Combined with bus rides and lengthy passing periods, a lot of time was wasted each day. There had to be a more efficient way to learn! 

After researching different options, I realized that home education was exactly the solution I had been looking for. I presented my case to my parents, and they agreed. Below is a journal entry I wrote on my last day of public school.

Summer is here, and I am officially done with my sophomore year. Yahoo! I have been in public school for 11 years, but I don't plan on going back next year. I am convinced that homeschooling my last two year of high school will turn out to be the best decision of my academic life.

This summer, I will be working 16 hours a week for an interior designer. Her office is in need of an overhaul, so she has hired me to clean it up. (I absolutely love organizing and cleaning.) I have also been hired by my orthodontist as an office assistant for 6 hours a week. With the flexibility of homeschooling, I will be able to continue working several hours a week during the school year.

Homeschooling required an extra ounce of diligence and self-discipline, but the journey was edifying and exhilarating, and I ended up learning so much more than I would have in public school. I was also blessed to have a stay-at-home mom who was able to oversee my studies.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Operation Christmas Child

Are you familiar with Operation Christmas Child? It is a wonderful mission opportunity that allows donors to spread God's love by sending Christmas gifts to children in impoverished countries, through an organization called Samaritan's Purse. Since 1993, 124 million shoebox gifts have been sent to kids around the world.

To start, choose a gender and an age group (2-4, 5-9, 10-14). Purchase a plastic shoe box (less than $3 at Walmart), and fill it with age-appropriate gifts. Then, visit your country's Samaritan's Purse website to find a drop-off location. Below are the links to the Samaritans Purse websites for the US, Canada, and the UK:

Samaritan's Purse United States (National Collection: November 16-23)
Samaritan's Purse Canada (National Collection: November 16-22)
Samaritan's Purse United Kingdom (National Collection: November 1-18)

Can't fill a shoebox by the deadline? You may ship completed shoeboxes to Samaritan's Purse year-round (address below). The organization also gives donors the opportunity to build and pay for shoeboxes online.

I have participated in Operation Christmas Child since childhood, but this year, I am especially excited to take part. I recently found out that a good friend of mine, who immigrated to the United States from Romania as an adult, received shoebox gifts from Samaritan's Purse as a young child. Her family did not have enough money to buy Christmas gifts, and opening an Operation Christmas Child shoebox filled with thoughtful gifts was the highlight of her year.

Operation Christmas Child
Samaritan’s Purse
P.O. Box 3000
801 Bamboo Road
Boone, NC 28607

I headed to the store this afternoon to purchase gifts for three boxes (boy age 5-9, girl age 5-9, and girl age 10-14). My goal was to choose a combination of practical hygiene products (washcloths, toothpaste, toothbrushes, bars of soap, and hair combs) and items that promote creativity and education (crayons, coloring books, 2016 calendars, craft sets, pencils, and notebooks. I also threw in a Care Bear for the little girl, a ball and set of cars for the boy, and hair accessories for the older girl.

Photos: Courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse,

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Favorite Bible Verses

During high school, I began copying my favorite Bible verses into a 6"x9" notebook. Each page is numbered, and a table of contents with 16 categories keeps the book organized. I allot four to eight pages to each category, which leaves plenty of space to continuously add verses.

What are the 16 categories? Great question! I'll list them below, along with several verses that correspond to each. In my notebook, most of the verses are written in either King James or New King James.  

Power of God 
1 John 4:4, Matthew 19:22, Philippians 2:10, Exodus 14:13-14, Romans 8:31, 1 John 5:4
God's Plan for Me/Guidance
Proverbs 3:5-7, Psalm 119:105, Isaiah 58:11, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28, Psalm 32:8, Deuteronomy 28:1, Psalm 37:37, Isaiah 26:3
1 John 15:7, Mark 11:22-24, James 5:16, Psalm 37:3-5, Habakkuk 2:4, Romans 15:13, 1 Corinthians 2:5, Psalm 91:2
God's Blessings
Psalm 91: 9-16, Psalm 145:9, Psalm 145:14-16, 2 Corinthians 9:8-11, Psalm 34:9-10, Psalm 35:27
Do Not Fear
Isaiah 41:6, Joshua 1:5-6, Psalm 34:4, 1 John 4:18, 2 Timothy 1:7, Psalm 23:4, Psalm 27:1, Psalm 112:7, Proverbs 29:25, Isaiah 44:8, Hebrews 13:5-6, Psalm 55:16, Psalm 56:11
Proverbs 16:3, Proverbs 15 and 17, Psalm 19:14, Psalm 34:13-14, Psalm 141:3, Proverbs 10:11, Proverbs 37:30-31, Proverbs 4:23, Ephesians 4:29, Proverbs 18:2, Proverbs 4:24
Proverbs 18:24, Matthew 5:44, Romans 5:5, 1 Corinthians 13, Proverbs 18:19, 1 John 4:7-21, Micah 6:8, John 15:12-13
Cheerful Giving
Proverbs 19:17, Matthew 6:3-4, 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, 2 Corinthians 9:10-11, 1 Timothy 6:17-18
Psalm 40:1, Ephesians 4:2, Romans 8:37-39, Ephesians 6:9-10, James 5:7, Ecclesiastes 3:1, 1 Corinthians 13:4, Psalm 27:14, John 16:33, James 1:2-4, Galatians 5:22-23, Luke 8:15
Power of the Blood
Matthew 16:19, Ephesians 4:27, Hebrews 11:28, Hebrews 12:24, 1 Peter 5:9, Revelation 12:10-11
Ephesians 4:26-27, Ecclesiastes 7:9
Ecclesiastes 7:12, Daniel 1:17, John 1:4, James 1:5
Ecclesiastes 7:10, Hebrews 13:5, Psalm 27:13, John 10:10
Mark 10:9, Proverbs 18:22, Genesis 2:18, Ecclesiastes 4:9, Ephesians 5:33, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, Philippians 2:3-4, Titus 2:4-5, Ephesians 5:25, Proverbs 13:19, Proverbs 19:14
Matthew 6:25-34, Luke 12:29, John 14:27, Colossians 3:15, 2 Thessalonians 3:16, Psalm 55:22, 1 Peter 5:6-7, Psalm 46:10, Psalm 56:3, Psalm 121:1-2
God's Goodness
Mark 10:18, Psalm 119:68, Psalm 73:1, Psalm 143:10

What are your favorite Bible verses?

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Recipe: Basic Beef Stew

Ever had one of those days when all you need is a good, hearty meal? Well then I have a new recipe to share with you. This stew is delicious and chocked full of veggies. The first time I made it, I was shocked to find out that my husband had never had beef stew. Maybe it's not as normal of a meal as I thought...

Basic Beef Stew
  • 1 1/2 pounds beef stew meat (sold in cubes)
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 4 cups beef stock
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • 2 teaspoons dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt 
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 medium-sized onion, chopped
  • 2-3 cups assorted, chopped veggies*
  • 3-4 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • Optional: 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 2 teaspoons water (makes stew thicker)
1. Add oil to a dutch oven or regular pot, and cook meat (on the stove) until brown. 
2. Add beef stock and spices, and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer 45 minutes. 
3. Mix in veggies, onion, and potatoes. If you want a thicker stew, add the cornstarch dissolved in water. 
4. Cover and simmer for another 1-2 hours. 

*This time I added carrots, broccoli stems, and green beans, but in the past I have also added celery, peas, and mushrooms.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Story of My Blogs

Many of you know that in addition to my Nashville Wife blog, I coauthor blogs about the Duggar and Bates families. Several readers have asked how I became involved in that, so I figured it was time to tell the story. Enjoy!

Ellie with Jill and Jessa Duggar
Eleven years ago, a friend of mine told me about a documentary she had seen advertised on Discovery Health called 14 Children and Pregnant Again. She invited me over to watch it, and we were both so encouraged by the Duggar family that we watched all six specials that aired over the course of the following three years and began tuning in for the Duggars' weekly reality TV series that premiered in 2008.

During the summer of 2009, when blogging was starting to grow in popularity, my mom (Lily) and I coauthored a food blog called Cool Summer Treats. In December of that year, I decided to start a blog about the Duggars.

Ellie with Kelly Bates

At that point, there was very little information about their family available on the internet, so my goal was to create a central location where those interested in them could find details about their show, speaking engagements, and media appearances. My mom came alongside me to provide counsel and encouragement as I embarked on this endeavor. The two of us grew closer together as we brainstormed ways to build and promote our corner of the web.

As a result of the blog, we developed a relationship with the Duggar family and were called on by a radio show host to interview members of the family on the air. Our first face-to-face encounter with the Duggars was at a political event. Since then, we have visited their family on multiple occasions and were blessed to be invited to both Jill and Jessa's weddings.

It was through the Duggars that we met the Bates family and asked their blessing to start a blog about their show, which premiered in January of this year.

When I announced my engagement to our readers in March, many requested that I start a personal blog, and that's how Nashville Wife came about.

 Ellie with Michelle Duggar, Johannah Duggar,
Jordyn Duggar, Josie Duggar, and Mackynzie Duggar

Lily and Ellie with Jill and Derick Dillard
Ellie with Jana Duggar

Ellie with Tori Bates

Mr. Handsome with Jackson Bates

Mr. Handsome and Ellie with Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar

Ellie with Anna Duggar

Ellie with Jordyn and Josie Duggar

Ellie and Mr. Handsome with cousin Amy Duggar

Ellie with Jana Duggar, Jinger Duggar, Jill Duggar, and Jessa Duggar