stories of the year

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There is something about the new year that still makes me a little bit giddy. Although it really is no different and the days will pass as they always have, the idea of newness and a fresh start always manages to find a home in the back of my mind. Maybe it’s simply the feel of crisp whiteness against the slate of grey days. I don’t typically make resolutions but last year I decided to set a goal for myself. 21 books. 2013 was the year that I spent as a twenty-one year old and I wanted to read as many books. As a kid, I grew up at the library. I hung out during the summer programs and volunteered there as a teenager. Now I try to visit the book sale whenever I’m back in town. But somewhere in the midst of college, my love of reading was buried beneath a stack of assignments and final papers. Last year I knew I wanted something to change.

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I wanted to practice the discipline of making time for something I loved so much, something that was nourishing for me as a human. To intentionally make my way to home base with a warm mug and a story to slip into. In 2013 I learned how to better make time for myself and in 2014 I learned how to appreciate it on a whole new level. This year, the goal was 22 books. I ended up surpassing that number a bit but I feel the same way I did at the end of last year; there are stories worth living and telling and there is great value in sharing them. No set parameters or specific books I had to read. I just wanted to READ. Here is my adventure in books this year:

A Long Way Gone
The Color of Water
Bridge to Terabithia
Where Things Come Back
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Dear Mr. Henshaw
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Wild
The Tale of Despereaux
The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team
Peace Like a River
A Painted House
Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned From Judy Blume
Walk Two Moons
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Bud, Not Buddy
A Homemade Life
It’s Like This, Cat
Bread and Wine
Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
I Am Malala
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears
The Bite of the Mango
The Rosie Project
Tell the Wolves I’m Home
Charlotte’s Web
Gone Girl
Little House in the Big Woods
The Magician’s Nephew
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
All the Light We Cannot See

This year included a variety. Newbery medal winners, stories from countries far away, books that made me laugh, and a few that made me weep. There are stories that will stick with me for the rest of my life, stories that I cannot wait to pass on to my friends. It has been an incredible year of adventuring through these and I am already so excited to start reading in 2015. There were so many incredible books this year but these three stand out the most:

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Cheers to stories worth living and telling. If you’ve loved any of these, I always enjoy a good book discussion over coffee. Happy reading, friends!

food & nourishment: along the way

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When thinking about marriage, one of the aspects that caused the most anxiety was the thought of cooking meals for somebody else. My senior year I had a meal plan at the sorority house as well as on campus for being a resident assistant. Even if I wanted to cook, I lived in a dorm so my options were pretty limited. This summer I moved into our house for 6 weeks before the wedding. For the first time in a while, I had to think about food and how I was going to eat. I was more than okay with cereal for dinner and sandwiches every day. The truth is, I was terrified of being really bad at something. I had cooked some at home and could handle the basics but had never really had to consistently prepare food for myself, let alone for someone else.

The last six months I have learned so much about food. Not just about what I’m eating (Whole30) but what it symbolizes and why it matters. The table is more than just a place to sit and eat meals. It’s a place to invite people and welcome them in; not just into the kitchen but also into life – both the pretty and the messy parts. I love this quote from Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist:

“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”

Along the way, I’ve learned a ton of practical things as well. I still have so much to learn but I’ve come to see meal planning and food preparation as something to be enjoyed and not dreaded. With Taylor working full time and me in grad school and working 8-10 hours a week, we’ve had to fine tune the balancing act. We’ve figured out how to plan ahead, shop better and stick to the budget. Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way:

  1. Plan ahead. I try to sit down on Saturday or Sunday and map out what we’ll have for dinners for the week. I know that Thursdays we have our community group so we’ll only have to bring a side. If there are any birthdays or events going on that week, that’s one less night to plan for. We try to get everything we’ll need in one trip so that we aren’t constantly running down the road to the neighborhood market. The less you go to the store, the less money you spend.
  2. Make extra. Having leftovers in the freezer has been HUGE for us. It means cooking less and really stressful weeks we can pull something out in the morning and let it thaw all day. It also helps not having to eat the same leftovers for so many days in a row.
  3. Price match and don’t be afraid to use coupons. We always check the Aldi ad for produce prices and then price match at Wal-Mart because its closer to our house. We don’t consistently use coupons but if I know that we need toothpaste/laundry detergent/toilet paper, I try not to buy it without one. Products that aren’t necessarily “name brand” are just as good at a fraction of the cost. I’m a huge fan of trekking across town to Aldi – don’t forget your quarter!
  4. Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone and try new things. And if its a flop, Eureka Pizza is never too far away. Most of the things we love are so simple they probably don’t even count as recipes. Here are some of the foods we’ve enjoyed along the way:

Pesto Tilapia
Baked Potato Soup – best with bread bowls
Lemon Chicken Parmesan
Italian Sausage & Tortellini Skillet
Slow Cooker Tikka Masala
Honey Balsamic Chicken
Crockpot Chicken Taco Chili

Pinterest is so handy for meal planning – you can find me here. Have any must try recipes? We would love to have them!

preparing for this season

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I cannot believe it is DECEMBER, let alone the 10th. One week from today I will be done with my first semester of grad school which is a miracle in and of itself. The last month has flown by and we are doing all that we can to make the most of the holiday season. This year is our first Christmas as a MARRIED COUPLE. It has been a time of establishing new traditions and really seeking what this time means. Each day we read from this advent book and it has been challenging in a very good way. Advent is the promise of His coming and we are waiting in anticipation.

tree2Last weekend we adventured out to Lollis Tree Farm in Rudy, Arkansas. The people there were so friendly and it was such a fun atmosphere. I can’t wait to visit again next year.

Our house and tree are decorated almost entirely with things that have been given to us or bought at the thrift store. Adjusting to a budget has had its ups and downs, but I’m especially thankful for it now. I don’t want to get caught up in the shiny and new and pretty wrapping of Christmas. I want to remember the birth of a savior, the fulfillment of a promise 6,000 years before. The same promise that is as true today as it was then.