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.