Book Review: 52 Uncommon Dates

Posted by on Aug 25, 2014 in Enriching Marriage | 2 comments

52 Uncommon DatesI was thrilled when I was contacted earlier this summer about reviewing 52 Uncommon Dates: A Couple’s Adventure Guide for Praying, Playing, and Staying Together, a new book by Randy Southern. As many of you know, I’ve written previously about the importance of dating your spouse. It’s often difficult to find time to date and to come up with novel date ideas, so I was eager to see what Southern has to say.

I must confess that I also felt a little cynical about the book. Could Southern really provide that many “uncommon” ideas for dates? After all, earlier this year I came up with a list of over 100 date ideas. What could I have missed? It turns out that I did miss a few! Moreover, Southern outlines a very unique and deliberate approach to his suggested dates.

Southern introduces each date with a Bible verse and a quote by Dr. Gary Chapman. Why a quote by Gary Chapman? You’ll see here in a minute. Each introduction is accompanied by the following topics:

  • Set the scene – A brief description of the date.
  • Make it happen – Step-by-step instructions for making the date happen.
  • Finish strong – Discussion questions for reflecting on the date.
  • Mind your language – A brief discussion of how to use the date to reach out to spouses with particular love languages. (This is why Southern introduces the dates with quotes from Gary Chapman, author of The 5 Love Languages).
  • Take it to God – Prayer points to cover while praying over the date.
  • Dig deep – Scripture passages to help in applying lessons learned from the date.

As you’re likely gleaning, this book contains a whole lot more than a list of date ideas! What about the dates, though? They’re very diverse. Some are simple and some are elaborate; some can be completed in a couple’s own home, while others will take the couple out into the community. Though your geographic location or other factors may hinder you from completing one or two of the dates, most couples will be able to complete the vast majority of them.

This book is a great tool for any married couple, regardless of how long they’ve been married. 52 Uncommon Dates could also be utilized by a seriously dating or engaged couple, but they would have to use discretion because there are a couple of dates that would not be suitable for an unmarried couple. Personally, I think the book would make a great wedding gift for a couple because it would encourage them to continue dating after the wedding and to do so deliberately.

The physical book is pretty small (it fits in my purse or my husband’s back pocket), so it can easily be taken with you on a date so you can utilize the prayer points and discussion questions. Don’t let the small size fool you. It contains a lot of good ideas!

How do you come up with novel date ideas? Do you take steps to grow spiritually from your dates?


Related posts:

Shared on the following link-ups: WholeHearted Wednesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Titus 2sday & Titus 2 Tuesday.

A complimentary copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.


Frugal Ways to Create Variety in Your Meals

Posted by on Aug 22, 2014 in Keeping the Home, Managing Finances | 6 comments

If you have a limited grocery budget, chances are you eat many of the same foods over and over again.

Frugal Ways to Create Variety in Your Meals

In my household we eat a lot of chicken, ground turkey, brown rice, apples, and bananas. These are some of the most affordable foods in the grocery store, so they’re our staples. Without a little creativity, our meals would get pretty boring! Fortunately, I use a number of low-cost or free strategies to ward off meal monotony.

Frugal strategies for creating variety in your meals

  • Switch starches. Many starches (bread, rice, potatoes, etc.) can be used interchangeably. I usually serve Swedish meatballs over rice, but on occasion I’ll place the meatballs over egg noodles or mashed potatoes. I typically make pizza with wheat pizza crust; however, sometimes I’ll use French bread or tortillas. Another great substitution is using spaghetti squash in place of pasta. These switches really revitalize common dishes!
  • Purchase fruits and veggies that are on sale because they’re in season. Certain fruits and vegetables are expensive if not purchased when they’re in season. While in season, though, they’re often offered on sale. I like to take advantage of these sales to purchase fruits and vegetables we don’t routinely eat (acorn squash in the fall, clementines in the winter, etc.). Are you unsure of when various fruits and veggies are in season? Find them listed at the bottom of this printable buying guide.
  • Use different cutting techniques. The way in which you cut vegetables (and foods like meats and cheeses) can change the whole appearance of a dish. Whether cutting vegetables for a salad, as a pizza topping, or for a casserole, I like to utilize all of these techniques:

Cube – Cut the food into strips (1/2 inch or more wide). Line up the strips and cut crosswise to form pieces.

Dice – Cut the food into strips (1/8 to 1/4 inch wide). Line up the strips and cut crosswise to form small pieces.

Chop – Cut the food into irregularly-shaped pieces approximately the size of peas.

Finely chop – Cut the food into irregularly-shaped pieces smaller than peas.

Slice – Cut the food crosswise, making cuts perpendicular to the cutting surface.

Cut in Julienne strips – Cut the food into slices about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Stack the slices and cut them lengthwise to make thin, matchlike sticks.

Shred – Push the food across a shredder to create narrow strips.

Finely shred – Push the food across a fine shredder to create very thin strips.

Mince – Cut the food into tiny, irregularly-shaped pieces.

Grate – Push the food across a grater to create fine pieces.

  • Use different types of pasta. Many varieties of pasta (e.g., penne, spaghetti, ziti, farfalle, rotini) taste and cost the same, but they have very different appearances. Even when served with a limited variety of sauces, using different pastas gives each dish a novel look and feel.
  • Experiment with herbs, spices, and marinades. A little bit of garlic, curry powder, cilantro, or a number of other herbs and spices can make a big difference in how foods taste. Plain rice can get boring, so I like to make it more exciting by preparing it in broth and flavoring it with various seasonings (butter and garlic, cilantro and lime, etc.). Likewise, marinades can infuse meals with flavor. I steep the affordable meats we purchase in vinaigrette salad dressings or simple mixtures made of ingredients like olive oil, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, etc. Plain old chicken tastes pretty sophisticated when it’s grilled after soaking all day in a good marinade!

What affordable foods do you purchase frequently? What approaches do you use to create variety with these foods?


Related posts:

Shared on the following link-ups: Works for Me Wednesday, One Project at a Time, Frugal Crafty Home, Living Proverbs 31, Making Your Home Sing, Saturday Soiree & Creativity Unleashed.


Going Without Makeup: Normal or Newsworthy?

Posted by on Aug 15, 2014 in Reflecting on Life | 17 comments

A couple of weeks ago my husband and I were somewhat speechless at an article we read on the news: Would You Go One Year Without Makeup? In short, the article is an account of a 20-year-old university student who is going a year without wearing makeup. She has undertaken this “experiment” to help women become more confident and feel empowered.

Going Without Makeup: Normal or Newsworthy?

We were astounded that this story was newsworthy. Is it really a big deal for a young woman to go without makeup?

Apparently it is a big deal for many. indicates that 80% of women wear makeup and that the average woman spends $15,000 on makeup during her lifetime. This article explains that many women feel that going without makeup is more stressful than a first date or a job interview.

Does any of this surprise you? Does it tell us something about our society?

Our surprise at the article was likely due to the fact that I don’t generally wear makeup. On occasion I’ll use a little powder (especially if it’s hot and my face is getting shiny due to sweat), but that’s it. I don’t wear foundation, mascara, eye shadow, lipstick, or anything else. I didn’t even wear makeup on my wedding day!

Personally, I choose not to wear makeup because I feel I have more important things on which to spend my money and time. Moreover, I don’t want my beauty to come from outward adornment, but from internal qualities (1 Peter 3:3-4).

I know a large number of wonderful Christian women who do wear makeup. They wear varying amounts and they wear it for various reasons. Thus, I’m curious to hear about your experiences. Why do you choose to or choose not to wear makeup? If you wear makeup, would you ever consider going without it for a time? Do you feel it is generally good or bad that women have access to makeup? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.


Related posts:

Shared on the following link-ups: Works for Me Wednesday, Titus 2 Tuesday, Motivation Monday, Making Your Home Sing, Essential Fridays.


Tips for Freezing Casseroles

Posted by on Aug 9, 2014 in Keeping the Home | 3 comments

With our little girl due to be born in just 10 weeks, I’m starting to freeze meals to help us make it through the postpartum period.

My husband and I love casseroles, so I’m assembling a number of these. I’m drawing on my previous experience and suggestions in a decades-old Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book to make sure these casseroles taste great when I thaw and bake them.

Tips for Freezing Casseroles

(Click on the image to view and download a larger, printable version of the tips.)

What additional tips can you share? What’s your favorite casserole to freeze?


Related posts:

Shared on the following link-ups: Thrifty Thursday, Whatever Goes Wednesday, Works for Me Wednesday, Titus 2sday, One Project at a Time, Homemade Tuesdays, Frugal Crafty Home, Living Proverbs 31 & Making Your Home Sing.


Getting Rest

Posted by on Aug 4, 2014 in Growing Spiritually, Reflecting on Life | 4 comments

This last Saturday my husband and I helped friends move into a new apartment. My husband did a lot of heavy lifting in warm temperatures and I did what I could given I’m in the third trimester of pregnancy. By the time we headed home, we were beat.

Getting Rest

Fatigue like this is normal. It’s part of our human nature to be tired after we’ve completed the work before us. Even Jesus got tired and needed sleep (Luke 8:22-25). Because God designed our bodies to need rest, He also provided a way for us to get this rest:

“Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11

God took this need for rest so seriously that He didn’t just allow us to take a break—He command us to!

I felt convicted last week that I haven’t been taking this need for rest very seriously. I knew immediately that I needed to take some time to get physical rest and also engage in some specific work to prepare my heart and home for the baby my husband and I will welcome in October. Subsequently, I’m going to take a break of sorts over the next couple of weeks.

I’ll only be putting up one post each week during this time. Given many of you are doing back-to-school shopping and taking last minute summer vacations, you may not even notice the decrease in frequency! As August draws to a close, I’ll make some updates and improvements to the site and then resume my normal schedule (2-3 posts each week). I may post to social media (Pinterest and Facebook) on occasion during the break, but I’ll mostly be engaged in activities I find to be relaxing: reading, baking, napping, sewing for the baby, etc.

I hope you will take a few minutes to consider your situation. Are you taking rest seriously? Whether it means taking a nap, cutting back on your commitments, or taking a sabbatical from work, I hope you will take steps to get the rest that God intended for you to have.


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Christmas in July: Going Green with Christmas Cards

Posted by on Jul 31, 2014 in Promoting Healthful Living, Reflecting on Life | 4 comments

I really enjoy sending and receiving Christmas cards. Unfortunately, the amount of paper and energy it takes to produce traditional Christmas cards means they’re not particularly green. In today’s installment of Christmas in July 2014, we’re going to look at some environmentally-friendly ways to send Christmas greetings. Be sure to catch the previous installments in this year’s Christmas in July (they can be viewed here, here, and here).

Christmas in July: Going Green with Christmas Cards

What alternatives are there to traditional cards? Can these be as personal and meaningful as traditional cards? Let’s take a look at the options.

Green Christmas card ideas

  • E-Cards. Electronic cards are available to be sent via email from dozens of sources (e.g., Paperless Post, American Greetings). When selecting a source you’ll want to consider a number of factors. First, you’ll want to consider cost. Some sources send e-cards for free, while others require a subscription. Second, you’ll want to consider the privacy policy of the source. Your loved ones won’t appreciate you providing their email addresses to a company that will spam them or sell their addresses to other companies! Third, you’ll want to consider the style of cards provided by various sources. Some companies have cards that are really cheesy, while others offer more sophisticated cards.
  • Handmade cards made from recycled materials. If you search your house, you may find that you have all the supplies you need to make your own Christmas cards (scraps of paper, old buttons, wallpaper samples, used pieces of gift wrap, etc.). You can save these materials from being thrown in the trash and create beautiful cards at the same time! You’ll just need to purchase envelopes in which to mail the cards.
  • Audio messages. You and your family can share your Christmas greetings in an mp3 file emailed to your loved ones. You could record a song, poem, spoken word piece, or some other creative work for your recipients. Simply use an application you have available on your computer (e.g., Garage Band on a Mac, sound recording application on a PC) or phone (e.g., record a voice memo and email it to yourself) to record the file. A similar idea is to send an audio postcard (picture, mp3, and message sent together via email). Various services, including, can be used to send these. This could be a lot of fun!
  • Photo collages. Photo collages are super easy to create using software on your computer (e.g., Microsoft Publisher) or online (e.g., PicMonkey). Text can be included in these collages, which makes them a great way to share about your year with loved ones. You can create a collage and share it with family and friends via social media and email.
  • Slideshows. Slideshows provide a dynamic way to share lots of information with loved ones. You can create some really awesome slideshows that include pictures, video, music, and text using Microsoft PowerPoint or various online programs. These slideshows can easily be shared with loved ones via email.
  • Recycled cards. If you want to send traditional cards, you can choose to purchase cards made from recycled paper. Many card manufacturers offer these, so they’re easy to find and they look just as lovely and festive as their non-recycled counterparts.
  • Postcards. Postcards do not require envelopes and they are made of less paper than cards, so they are a valid option when considering greener options for Christmas greetings. Additionally, postcard stamps cost less than regular stamps, which makes them a little easier on the wallet.

Personally, I’m a little leery of trying some of these ideas. Many of them will only work if card recipients have internet access and email (or social media) accounts. Though most of my loved ones have these things, not all of them do. Moreover, I’ve never really been able to get into things like e-cards. I’ve always felt that even sophisticated e-cards have a spammy, impersonal feel.

Given that the Christmas cards I send this year will contain a birth announcement for the baby we will welcome in October, I want them to be special. I think I’ll choose to use recycled cards, but I’ll continue exploring alternatives for next year.

What do you think? Do you like to send and receive Christmas cards? Do you feel that non-paper cards are impersonal? How have you “gone green” with Christmas cards?


Related posts:

Shared on the following link-ups: Saturday Soiree & Creativity Unleashed.