Friday, July 24, 2015

The Classics: Sewing (& A Tutorial)

(OR Homemade Is Cool)

Welcome back, friends! We're nearing the end of the Modern Simple Homemaking series, but there are still a few helpful subjects yet to discuss, and today is one of my favorites...sewing!

There are about a million ways learning to sew has practical applications today, and although some people see it as a outdated skill, I can't tell you how many people have said, "Oh! I didn't know you could sew. Could you help me with ______?" It's definitely a commodity...even if you're like me and not super great at it.

6 reasons that learning to sew is a super friendly thing to do:
Home-Friendly
Sewing is especially helpful for simple household projects like throw pillows, pillow cases, curtains, table runners, napkins, aprons, kitchen towels, etc. For household sewing project inspiration, check out:

Wardrobe-Friendly
Making clothes is a bit more difficult in my opinion, but it can definitely be helpful to know how to mend or alter clothing, even if you don't make it from scratch. So far, I've attempted: a couple skirts, pajama pants, a girl's dress, and some Halloween costumes. When looking at making clothing, keep in mind that it takes much more time than simpler projects and may not always been cost-effective. Altering secondhand wearables, though, is another story!
Note: if you want to some serious clothes-altering inspiration, check out New Dress A Day
for my niece who should feel loved because to me, sewing clothes is complicated
Budget-Friendly
Learning to make items yourself opens up a lot of opportunities to save money. Have you looked at the price of cute store-bought pillows?! It's insane, especially when using discounted fabric or repurposed fabric can create unique pillow covers for next to nothing!

Earth-Friendly
Sewing is a great green option, especially if you are creative with your fabric sources. Naturally, there are tons of new fabrics on the market, but t-shirts, old towels, sheets, and scraps from other projects can all be recycled and upcycled into new items. Psst...many thrift stores have sections with bulk fabric at great prices too!

Friend-Friendly
Have I mentioned how awesome home-sewn gifts are? Whether it's repairing a friends work apron (which I've done several times), making custom quilted hot pads to match their kitchen colors, or giving a new mom a unique boppy cover...I've yet to find someone who doesn't appreciate homemade fabric gifts.
Sense-of-Self-Friendly
Knowing you possess such a practical skill is a great feeling to have. Even if you aren't a fantastic seamstress or competitive embroiderer, there is confidence that comes along with real-world skills. Plus, there is immense satisfaction in seeing something really cute and being able to say to yourself, "No way I'm paying that for that...I'll go home and make it myself!" **Cue taking phone photos in the aisle of your fav home goods store**


So now you know that sewing is an awesome thing that everyone should be able to do at least a little bit. Where to go from here? I'm glad you asked!

Find my favorite sewing blogs on my Sewing page. Also, check out these great beginner resources:
And of course, try your local craft or fabric stores to see if they offer classes. Better yet, ask some older women in your community or church...they probably know it all and would love the chance to share it!


AND NOW...a quick, tutorial on How to Make a Plastic Bag "Sock"


All you need is a spare bit of fabric, a short length of elastic, straight pins, and a safety pin.

First, grab a spare bit of fabric (I repurposed a dollar store Valentine's napkin) and estimate how long and wide you want the sock to be. I think this sock ended up around 6" x 22" so the original cut would've been 12" x 22".
Set the main piece aside and use a length of clipping to form the handle. To do this, cut a piece a little longer than you'd like the handle and about 4" wide. Fold it in half and iron the crease the fold both of the outer edges to meet in the middle, iron again. Pin this together and the rough seams should be concealed inside (fun fact - this is also the basic idea when making quilt binding).
Next, go back to your main piece of fabric and fold up the end. This will enclose the elastic at the bottom of the sock. Make sure to make the fold deep enough for your piece of elastic to fit inside. Sew along the top edge to form a little tunnel. (You can also do this on the opposite end to create a small top seam there but the napkin I used already had a seam on that end.)
Take your length of elastic and put the safety pin through the end. Holding one end, use the safety pin to push the other end through the "tunnel" of the seam you just created. Once it's through, trim any excess and safety pin both ends together so it doesn't snap back through.
With the printed side of the fabric on the inside, line up the long edges and pin them together. Also carefully remove the safety pin and instead put a straight pin through the elastic and the end of the long-edge-seam. On the opposite end, lay one end of the handle along the edge of the seam and pin that in place. Sew down the whole length (twice for extra sturdiness). 
The last step is to line up the free end of the handle on the seam on the opposite side of the bag. Put a few stitches there to hold it in place, trim any extra length. Turn the whole thing inside out and start stuffing bags!

Ours (the bigger, not as cute one) hangs on a wall hook inside the laundry closet. We use reusable grocery bags so we don't end up with too many extras, but somehow they always seem to creep in in other ways. We use them mostly to line smaller trash cans around the house. If the sock gets too full, I take them to be recycled.

Total cost = $0
Total time = 35 min

This is certainly not a "fancy" sewing project, but it's a great example of why basic sewing skills are still relevant and helpful today. This household sewing project is easy, practical, and made a great (and free) housewarming gift for a friend's new apartment!

Sidenote: during a recent market day downtown I saw two different stalls selling these exact same style bags, just more uniform looking. Avg price = $15-$20.


Only a couple weeks left! Make sure to come by next week for another fun segment on homemaking made simple!



This post is part of the Modern Simple Homemaking series.
To learn more about this series and see other posts, click the button above.

Monday, July 20, 2015

our unintentionally toxic home

Like many other women, household duties are generally my area of responsibility. From purchasing home products and divvying up tasks, to planning meals and preparing them, I manage the domestic stuff.* As you may expect, I try to make the very best possible choices for us. So, you'll understand my confusion and frustration when I recently came to realize that many of the "trusted" products I use are poisoning us. Literally poisoning us!

You may be more up-and-up on the green scene, but I like many Americans, never even knew I should be asking questions. Over the last month, I've been tumbling down a steep learning curve—I started by looking in to one tiny thing and inadvertently, caused an avalanche.

Major problems to identify first:
- girls are going through puberty younger than ever (see report)
- babies are being born with up to 200 toxins already in their bloodstreams (read more)
- several studies have linked cancer with environmental chemical exposure (see report)
- asthma, allergies, and respiratory disorders are on on a significant rise (read more)
- neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, dyslexia, and ADD/ADHD are on the rise (read more)
- researchers found that on average, women use 160+ chemicals on their bodies each day (read more)

Out of 84,000 chemicals on the market today, only around 1% 
have even been tested for safety. (read more)(and more)

Now for some household cleaner and cosmetics considerations: (learn more)
- sheer volume: many companies get away with toxic ingredients because they are "safe" in nominal or trace 
  amounts...until every cosmetic & cleaner in our home carries the same chemical. It adds up in a big way!
- use of known allergens: can lead to allergies, asthma, respiratory damage, and chronic dermatitis
- fragrances: most artificial fragrances these days are derived from petrochemicals (from petroleum), they are 
  also exempt from ingredient listing regulations...almost anything can simply be listed as "proprietary fragrance 
  blend" (read more)(and more); the question is "what makes us believe that scent = clean?"
- reactionary contaminants: some chemicals may be deemed safe but carry high risks of becoming contaminated 
  with toxic elements when they undergo certain chemical reactions (which can be difficult to control with certainty)
- reproductive toxins & hormone disruptors: certain commonly used chemicals can lead to infertility, 
  miscarriage, and severe birth defects including neurological and developmental damage
- carcinogens: cancer-causers, even formaldehyde and chloroform can frequently be found in our homes
- accidents: spills, ingestion, or inhalation can cause burns or nerve and respiratory damage (In 2010, US poison 
  control centers fielded 116,000+ cleaner accident phone calls involving children under the age of 5. source)
  *If just a few tbsp of a liquid is toxic to a child, does anything really justify having it in the house?*
- disposal: when these chemicals are disposed of down the drain or through the trash into landfills, they pollute
  our drinking water, aquatic life, and soil...which we then re-consume
Despite these concerns, our current regulations do not require companies to even list these ingredients on the labels, much less to disclose their health risks. (read more) Don't we have a right to know?!

I don't know about you, but if I want to make an unhealthy choice (hello Cool Mint Oreos!), I want to know that I'm doing it consciously. I don't want any one else making those choices for me and my family, especially when their reluctance to be transparent earns them billions of dollars in profits each year!

I could go on and on with the infuriating things I've uncovered, but for your sake, I'll get to the good news!

Thankfully, with so many toxins and shady business practices, there is also a huge movement to expose these risks and to demand better regulations. Environmental Working Group is a fantastic non-profit that is doggedly fighting this battle for us consumers and on behalf of the planet.
For detailed info on home cleaners, check out their Healthy Cleaning database.
To do some sleuthing on your cosmetics, visit their Skin Deep database.

That being said, organic/natural housekeeping is a vast and at times confusing universe. A major contributor to the confusion is the FDA's refusal to set definite status restrictions on "natural" products (learn more). So any company with one semi-natural ingredient can claim whatever they like. Third-party certification and manufacturer transparency are the only guarantees. (Which is to say nothing of the 62,000 chemicals were grandfathered in when the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976. (read more)) What a mess!!

To find out more information, I recommend just sitting down and doing some digging. 
The best way to get a grasp on the issues is to be aware, ask questions, and educate yourself. In addition to EWG, here are some other awesome resources:
- Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck
- Toxic Free by Debra Dadd
- Squeaky Green by Method Clean
- The Story of Cosmetics (short video)
- The Human Experiment (documentary)
- I Read Labels For You (blog)
- EcoWatch, Mother Earth News, TakePart (activist/news sources)

So what can we do right now to start making our homes truly cleaner and healthier (and ourselves, too!)?
EWG has a great list of tips available in pdf here.
Dr. Frank Lipman also shares 20 Ways to Detox Your Home 

And to break down some of the most available & popular green brands, here's my personal comparison chart:
- Cleaner scores are taken directly from EWG's Cleaner Database (as of 7/8/15), dark grey denotes no product available for that category
- Asterisked scores denote products not yet reviewed by EWG; estimates are based on my averaged scores of individual ingredients
- Hand soap is rated based on EWG's Skin Deep Database (scores are 0-10, 0 being best)
- Sustainability score is based on my research into the company as a whole: mission, standards, environmental impact, commitment to sustainability, 
  sourcing, ethical practices, etc. (these grades are based entirely on my opinion)
**Specifically to scrubbing, Bon Ami as well as a simple baking soda paste are two great options.

Don't get me started on the ratings and ingredients from my previously favorite brands...glass cleaner = D, antibacterial wipes = D, dish liquid = D, "free & clear" laundry detergent = F. The list goes sadly on.

BUT— for every good product we bring into our home, it means one less bad one under the sink. 

And if you want to eliminate "extra products" all together, here are some great resources for DIY home cleaner recipes. Though these sources are very reliable, there are others that are less so, so keep a cautious eye:

For the record, my intentions are not to slander any particular brand, nor perpetuate unbased fear-mongering. The information I have researched is all backed by science and not unearthed in haste. Admittedly, I still have a long way to go in transitioning our home and lifestyle to better options, but I believe consumers (especially us wives and moms) deserve to know the truth behind the companies we support and products we use.

At the risk of droning on, I'll just end things here and happily get back to my research. If you have questions or would like to discuss any of this more at length, please just leave a comment below or email me and we can chat.




*Don't get me wrong, my husband is more than happy to purchase products and perform domestic tasks. I enjoy being responsible for this 
aspect of our lives -- it's kinda my thing. I do, however, love that Strider makes our bed daily (I'm terrible at remembering to do that).

None of the above links are affiliates, they are simply good resources I like.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Classics: Food Preservation

(OR Making Bellies & Budgets Happy Since Forever)

Welcome back, friends! Here we are—the final segment of the Modern Simple Homemaking series: Classics-For-A-Reason. And what better way to start it off than with a true homemaking classic...food preservation!
Look at all those beautiful colors! (source)
There are so many wonderful benefits to preserving food, it really should be a no-brainer:
- no weird additives or hard-to-pronounce ingredients
- reduces intake of hidden & unnecessary sugar (like in pasta sauce)
- reusable containers lessen environmental waste
- more diversity...make something tried-and-true or be creative and try something new
- boosts local economy...farmers markets are a canner's best friend!
- makes for great gifts
- extremely cost effective!

There are a few main methods of preserving: freezing, canning, fermenting, pickling, curing, and drying. Although I'm all for drying fresh herbs, I have no experience with fermenting, pickling, or curing so we'll just look at the first two popular methods.

Freezing
Freezing food is one of the easiest methods of food preservation and almost all of us do it on a daily basis. I mean...how much stuff is in your freezer right now? Of course, the level of consciousness in preserving frozen food varies greatly, but whether you're stocked up on pizzas or have a deep freezer full of garden goodies, we all do it.

Although perhaps the simplest of the preserving methods mentioned above, there are some considerations to be made. First, be careful to properly seal all your frozen goodies to ward off the dreaded freezer burn. Second, if you are doing some serious freezing, consider making an inventory list so that you don't forget about items tucked away; labeling both the package itself as well as an external inventory is helpful. Lastly, make sure your freezer (either fridge-combo or chest freezer) is holding temp at 0 degrees, otherwise you may lose valuable food. 

You may remember my Applepalooza post last fall when Strider's mom and I froze a bit of homemade applesauce, as in 17 containers worth. Well, we've been enjoying delicious, healthy applesauce all winter long. The cost savings were huge and as predicted, it was too good to last a whole year...but it came close! Thankfully, his parents have a deep freezer so we've just taken a couple containers at a time home with us. Definitely on the list again this year. 
In addition to the intended apples later in the year, I've already stocked our freezer with loads of whole frozen berries from local farms as well as two different varieties of freezer jam. Freezer jam is delicious and so handy when you want a taste of bright summer fruits mid-winter. The Ball company (basically the biggest name in preserving) has tons of freezer jam/jelly recipes available online; Sure Jell brand by Kraft also has a wealth of recipe resources.

For a list of how to best freeze individual foods, click hereFor some FAQs on freezing, click here.


Canning
Canning is another fabulous way to preserve food at home. Though a little more labor intensive, it has added bonuses too. First, properly canned food does not need to be refrigerated or frozen so it doesn't take up valuable space (or require thaw time in prep). Second, there is no fear of a power-outage ruining saved goods. Lastly, it is easy to transport and makes for wonderful gifts.

In addition to preserving plain fruits and veggies, preserved spreads are a delight to enjoy or share all year round and come in nearly unlimited varieties: jams, jellies, preserves, conserves, marmalades, fruit butters, and curd. You can also can salsas, soups, sauces, desserts (like we did with apple pie filling). So many delicious possibilities!

So far this year I've made two freezer jams: black raspberry and strawberry, and two canned jams: strawberry-rhubarb, vanilla-rhubarb. All were surprisingly easy to do and very tasty! (Don't worry, we've given over half away...far too much jam for Strider and I to eat alone, but a great way to get to know our neighbors!) The learning/experimenting process is really fun and has great results. Plus, having a cute, homemade gift at the ready for dinner parties or thank-yous is handy.

For information on how to best can individual foods, click hereFor some FAQs on canning, click here.


Three Additional Important Notes:
- Recipes: When looking for preserving recipes (especially for canning), make sure to use a reputable source (sorry
  not Pinterest). The cooking times, temperatures, and science has to be carefully tested to ensure that dangerous
  bacteria are killed during processing. For this reason, "winging it" with canning is not a good idea.
- FIFO: Make sure to use First-In-First-Out food rotation when enjoying your home preserved goods. That way you 

  don't need to worry about things hanging around too long and getting funky.
- Funkiness: If your preserved treats ever look or smell suspicious (discoloration, mold, etc.) make sure to throw 
  them away (this does not include separation since some sauces and veggies will do that naturally). Home 
  preservation methods do not use the machines or chemicals that commercial manufacturers do (which is a good 
  thing!), there can be hiccups. If canned jars lose their seal, take a pass. Make sure to follow proper 
  recipes, procedures, and storage for home preserved goods and it shouldn't be much of a problem!


For tons more information, check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation or Getting Started through The Ball Company. Those guys mean business (tasty tasty business!) 

And come back next week for another post on homemaking classics with modern payoffs!


This post is part of the Modern Simple Homemaking series.
To learn more about this series and see other posts, click the button above.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Circle Link-Up: Blogger Introductions

THE CIRCLE LINK-UP

So happy to be joining the fabulous Kiki from In Its Time for another Circle Link-Up today. 
This month's topic is Blogger Introductions so here's a little about me:
The Deets
My name is Sarah and I am 27 years old. I'm originally from North Carolina but last September my husband Charlie (or Strider as I affectionately call him on this blog) relocated back to his hometown in Pennsylvania. Almost a year has passed and I still can't believe I live in a different state—but we love it here!
Isn't he so handsome!!
The Fams
My family is absolutely 100% the most important thing to me. I have a truly incredible and totally wild mom who loves with reckless abandon and literally never runs out of ideas for spontaneous fun. I also have a gorgeous sister who is my hand-me-down fashion benefactor and lifelong secret-keeper. I think my new brother-in-law is still adjusting to our crazy family but he's also great and the perfect source for all my html coding questions.
My sis and I at an App State game.
Charlie's family is much more on the normal end of the spectrum but I could not have been more blessed to end up with them as my new family. His mom is smart, a great listener, and more patient than anyone I've ever met—especially when she's teaching me about gardening, quilting, and canning...to which I never reach the end of my questions. His dad, well, he's as goofy as they come. It's been an adjustment to call someone dad again, but I wouldn't want it to be for anyone else!

The Job
I'm a barista (the green aprony kind) for now. I absolutely love coffee, though I don't actually drink very much of it. I've worked in the industry for over 10 years and I love everything about the artistry, passion, and connection of it all. But mostly I'm just waiting for the day when I get to be "mom"....not quite there yet!

Doing Stuff
All the crafts. Basically if you can find it in a Hobby Lobby, it's probably something I enjoy (other than model cars). I love sewing, painting, refinishing furniture, and generally just making things. Mostly it's out of a desire to not spend money...if I see something I love, my first thought is always "I could do that myself for way less!" I also love reading, visiting antique stores, and cooking/baking. I keep myself very busy on my days off.
I also hang out with this guy a lot!
Blogging
I really enjoy blogging. The community is wonderful, but there is a lot of pressure. Pressure to work on a schedule, to get sponsors, to make money off it, to do it "the right way". I fight feelings of needing to make my blog "something more" than just a thing I enjoy when I can. But there are others like me out there (like Kiki)! So, I have no great ambitions for this space; I just want it to be fun. I do love love love meeting new friends here though, so say hello!

One Thing
More than anything else about me, the most important thing is that I love Jesus. I try (and most often fail) to live my life like Him and for Him. Without getting too theological, I'll just say that Charlie and I believe that loving comes first. Bottom line. Love Jesus, love others. Everything else is secondary. So I'll just keep trying with the rest.

What, You Too?
Some random things for fun: (feel free to agree or not, that's okay!)
- I'm extremely suspicious of cauliflower. Dunno why, but I don't trust it.
- I love order and organization, and applying logic to everyday things.
- I always always put grocery carts into their little corrals...I never knew
  people actually didn't do that!
- I think taking baths is kinda gross and very un-relaxing.
- Circus peanut candy is evil. Plain and simple.
- Rhubarb is my new favorite! I never had it till I met Charlie and ever
  since, I will eat it in almost anything!
- My celebrity crush will always be Cary Grant. I'm sad I missed out on 
  the days of trilby-wearing gents.


Your turn! Stop by Kiki's page today and link up 
with your own Blogger Introduction!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Creative Entertaining Ideas & A Giveaway

(OR Finding Excuses to Enjoy Human Interaction)

Birthday parties, housewarmings, Christmas dinner, Super Bowl Sunday, 4th of July...there are many many occasions each year when a hosted event is ordinary and the traditions are relatively predictable. And of course, everyone loves a good dinner party just about any time.

But...what can you do when you want to host an event that is special or more exciting than just dinner, but doesn't coincide with any particular holiday? Enter, Creative Entertaining...or as I prefer to think of it "silly excuses to interact with other people." 

It may sound crazy, but in the Netflix age, it's easy to entirely avoid having a social life. (I know because we're guilty!Humans love routine and comfort and nothing is quite as nice as snuggling up on the couch in your pajams!

So, today I hope to inspire your silly side with some fresh ideas. Find something fun (and preferably wackythat you would enjoy, then consider ways that you could turn it in to a small group event. Like themed frat parties...but with less tetanus shots needed after.


Movie Night
A classic get-together scenario, amp up the fun with themed invitations, decorations, and food with film tie-ins (ex: President Business' Tuesday Tacos 
from The Lego Movie). 

Being a Grown Up is Dumb Night
One of my personal favorites, construct a giant fort in your living room and invite friends over to share favorite childhood snacks while swapping sleepover stories. Prank calling boys now optional.

DIY Beauty Night
Ladies of all ages love a good makeover. Why not invite some girls over for home pedicures and a create-your-own-body-scrub session (which coincidentally is super easy and makes an awesome take-home gift)?

We Love the 90s Night
No need to wait for October to dress up, invite friends to join you in a salute to a beloved time for us all! Jamming to the Spice Girls and Lip Smackers required. 

Wanderlust Party
Whether you've gotten to travel the world or it's still on your to-do list, adventurers will love this one. Exotic fare representing different countries, passport-style invites, and cultral music mixes will make for a fun night for all.

Afternoon Tea
Whether your friends are the frilly type or not, its hard to resist a delicious beverage and tiny treats. Borrow some teaware and indulge in a bit of afternoon elegance. Maybe even sneak in a Janenite flick!

Hugh Jackman Night
Inspired by my sister, her friends get together every so often and watch Jackman movies. I suggested that next time, everyone have to wear Wolverine-style mutton chops all night. (We're not totally insane, I promise!) Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings also make for great themes. 

Plus, did you know there are unofficial month and day celebrations for almost every day of the year? For example, July is blueberry month, hot dog month, cell phone courtesy month, and ice cream month. Sounds like a great excuse for an ice cream social to me! For a huge list of silly dates, visit Holiday Insights.

The main takeaway is that inviting friends over doesn't need to be formal or have to wait until there is a special reason. Any day can be a fun excuse to entertain.

So, what the wackiest event/theme night you've been invited to? 



AND FOR TODAY'S GIVEAWAY...
To inspire more creative hostessing, I'm doing another giveaway today! 
Simply leave a comment below to enter for your chance to win a Movie Night Hostess Set!
Set includes:
- a copy of Heloise Hints for All Occasions (an oldie but goodie)
- a box of Orville Redenbacher's Naturals popcorn
- a pack of mini invites and a sheet of themed stickers
- green polka dot napkins, striped paper straws, 
chevron print popcorn bags, and kraft paper food picks
- and a $5 Target gift card (towards the movie of your choice, of course!)


Just leave a comment below before Sunday, July 12 at 11 pm for your chance to win!
And I'll see you next week to announce the winner and for our last segment in the MSH series!





This post is part of the Modern Simple Homemaking series.
To learn more about this series and see other posts, click the button above.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Special Occasion Entertaining

(OR Ignore TV Stereotypes—Holidays Are Fun!)

First off, let me take a second to appreciate the coincidence that today's post ended up falling on the 4th of July. Definitely not intentional, but humorous, nonetheless. Happy 4th, friends!

And moving on...

I wonder how many hopeful homemakers have been undone through the years by a failed Thanksgiving lunch or disastrous Christmas dinner? Or how many haven't even tried because the mounting stress seemed ultimately doomed to failure?

We all know the scene...
source / source
Not only do we set unrealistic expectations for ourselves during these events, but we also have the media to constantly bombard us with a reminder that we should be overwhelmed (and if you aren't, you probably aren't prepared enough, right?). From awkward local news anchors to celebrity chefs, every few months media personalities whip up a bowl of holiday horror stories and corner-cutting tricks, then smother it with "the holidays will be terrible if you don't do it our way" gravy. Grab a spoon and enjoy the taste of ultimate failure, chaos, and family dissension. What a load of rubbish!

Let's banish the holiday hosting fears and think about some real strategies for making holidays fun again!:

#1 - Remember why we celebrate! Whether it's a Christmas dinner, July 4th BBQ, or an Arbor Day brunch, 
       enjoy the time with the people you love. We are blessed to have so many reasons to celebrate!

#2 - Plan ahead. Think through what kind of event you want it to be...Elegant & formal? Super casual? Themed? 
       Potluck? Thinking big picture in advance helps reduce unnecessary stress and expectations from the get go. 
       Plus, now is the time to think outside the box for unexpected holiday themes, food, and traditions!

#3 - Build the menu. Whether the food will be served on doily-lined china or spread out on a picnic blanket, 
       knowing the menu is half the battle. What do you really want to serve? Note: Not the same question as "What 
       do I have to serve on (insert holiday)?"  The secret is, there are no rules! (My family has a longstanding 
       tradition of Red Lobster on Christmas Eve...random but we love it!)

#4 - Break it down. Make notes of which food items can be made furthest in advance, the next to last, then last. 
       Keep last-minute work to a minimum so you can enjoy the party too!

#5 - Simplify serving. Buffets and self-serve table spreads are a great option (will you need food tags?), but many 
       people also enjoy the comfort and intimacy of eating family style. 

#6 - Decorate & Tidy Up. Whether you go traditional or boldly in the other direction, embrace simple decorations
       to reflect the style and tone of the event. In the past, people spent lots of effort making elaborate table settings,
       but today, Pinterest is full of simple ideas for using inexpensive and natural elements to decorate. And of 
       course, tidying up the house a bit is a good idea too.

#7 - No Matter What, Have Fun! If dessert falls apart, take a deep breath and think of alternatives (fresh fruit is a
       great after-dinner option). Power goes out? An opportunity for a candlelit evening!


Hosting responsibility alternatives:

If attempting a special occasion event still seems daunting (which is totally okay), think progressively. As in a progressive meal...being one stop in a co-hosted evening helps reduce your responsibility and is a fun way for everyone to participate. Potlucks are great for the same reason and people love sharing their favorite dishes. If you're ready to own the evening yourself, still accept help when it's offered or ask for it when it's needed.

And lastly, but definitely most importantly: 
No "thing" matters more than people. It might be hard to keep this fresh in your mind when a child accidentally breaks your favorite vase or a friend spills wine on your new white tablecloth, but it's essential to remember for enjoying holiday events. No one item in our homes (regardless of how fancy) has more value than a person, or that person feeling loved. And certainly not guilt-ridden or ashamed because of an accident. 

People matter most, which makes flawless table decor and a gourmet meal seem pretty secondary. When that's true, holiday hosting sounds pretty fun, right?!

Enjoy the fireworks and come by next week for fun ideas of how to make non-special-event hosting more special with a little creative thinking!



This post is part of the Modern Simple Homemaking series.
To learn more about this series and see other posts, click the button above.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Marriage: The Conversation We Should Be Having

Like everyone else in the country this week, my social media networks have been blowing up with reactions, both positive and negative, to the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage equality. There have been more than enough opinions shared on the matter. However, I think in light of these conversations, we are also in danger of overlooking an extremely important aspect of the marriage dialogue...the trivialization of marriage as a whole.

Please understand me clearly, I am in no way stating that the SC's decision is contributing to this devaluing. Frankly, I think the ruling was long overdue in a country so determined on freedom and giving its citizens equal rights, and I am very happy for the numerous friends who have found love, support, and hope in the decision. 
The real perpetrators? Society. And the church. (Please, don't stop reading just yet.)

Addressing the first, it is clear that as a nation we have made marriage into a game of sport and entertainment. Whether from the perspective of reality tv shows or from the reinforced negative stereotypes of the institution in popular sitcoms, no matter where you look, marriage is a joke. By and large, the even louder message streaming across the airwaves is that the marriage itself is secondary to the wedding.

A dizzying array of superficiality...all focused on the party, not the lifelong commitment.
And if that wasn't enough to make your head spin, how about the fact that the average couple in the US spends between $20,000 and $33,000 on the wedding day alone. What are we doing, people?!

And after you're back from that fabulous honeymoon, don't expect the media to suddenly encourage your new life. Women in particular will be assaulted by a barrage of useless television husbands, the wives typically portrayed as exhausted and defeated or as master manipulators tricking their husbands into getting what they want. Any media-based role models coming to mind yet?

When did we, as a society, decide to make the wedding day a collective orgy of expense and superficiality? 
When did we decide to strip men of their intelligence and value in the home? 

Which leads me to the second purveyor of marriage devaluation...the church. Keep in mind that Strider and I are both Christians and believe firmly that Christ is the true foundation of our marriage covenant. Naturally, I recognize that there are many other couples, married or otherwise, who do not feel this way. But there is a huge issue of, dare I say, tolerance, in the church in regards to marriage. And I'm not talking about accepting our new legal equality. I'm talking about inside the church itself

When Strider and I got engaged, we longed for spiritual support and challenges to us as we moved towards making our marriage covenant together. Honestly, we both felt like church fell short in its duties. During our 8 month engagement, I couldn't tell you the number of times someone asked us about our plans regarding the trivial details of the wedding day (flowers, dresses, colors, etc.). The number of times someone asked us about pre-marital counseling, even close friends/mentors in the church? I could count them on one hand.

What does that say about us? That even inside the church, we would rather focus on the superficial than the spiritual? That we hesitate to challenge each other during one of the most fundamentally life-changing moments of our journey? And that later in our marriages, we are reticent to be honest about shortcomings and struggles? Even with our brothers and sisters in the church, transparency and authenticity can be difficult to display and hard to come by. Clearly, something is off track.

What if instead of expending energy to shout negative views about our country's new marriage laws, we looked inward and challenged our youth to consider their vows more seriously? Or if more of us took on the role of active mentors to our engaged couples?

What if instead of turning up our noses at what our fallible human minds might perceive as right or wrong, we look at our own hearts and ask Christ to bless those couple pursuing Him together, regardless of gender?

What if we stop focusing on others' choices and instead, delve into a celebration of our own spouse and a renewal of our own covenants? Or a renewal of authenticity with our church family?

What if instead of continuing to push a huge population of our world even further from Christians who have persecuted them as assuredly as the Christians themselves were persecuted in the ancient world, we embraced them and shared in their joy? Or in the blessing that their children will now have the opportunity to grow in a home with two loving parents who both have rights? 

What if we take this historic opportunity to call ourselves out as not being the examples of Christ or of Christ-centered marriages that we should be, instead of as a chance to throw stones?


There is a lot of beauty and love pouring out from certain corners of the Christian church in response to this national shift, and for that, I am joyous. From other areas, my heart breaks to see us continue to widen the divisions inside the church as well as the chasm that sometimes exists between the church and the rest of the world. A world full of people, which we need not be reminded, were created by and bought with love by the same God.

That being said...I am first in line. I want to be challenged to love my husband more each day, to set an example of marriage for younger believers, regardless of with whom they choose to spend their life. I want the church, as our family of faith, to keep tabs on our marriage, to call us out when we falter. And most of all, I would hope Christ continues to teach me how to love better, to encourage more, and to serve in new ways. 
And those are the conversations really worth having.