Monday, December 23, 2013

the contentment challenge

Merry Christmas Eve Eve everyone! Tonight our church has a special Christmas service and I cannot wait to hear the beautiful voices singing praises to our Lord! Christmas hymns are my favorite! I pray that you experience the Greatest Gift this Christmas-- God's grace through His son Jesus Christ. 
Oh how He loves us!

Today I wanted to invite you to consider joining me in a challenge that will begin in January. I have seen several posts about The Contentment Challenge on Instagram and Twitter. After reading more about it, I felt convicted to participate. Beginning January 1, I'm diving in. The Contentment Challenge, started by Nancy Ray, is basically a 3 month (or whatever timeline you decide to follow) fast from making extra purchases. You can read Nancy's full Contentment Story and posts during her challenge here.

I am so thankful for Dustin's financial wisdom. While we were still engaged, Dustin created a budget for us to follow once we were married. I am sad to say that I did not have the same mindset coming into our marriage. I am still learning so much about the importance of giving and saving, rather than just frivilously spending. I tried my hand at being the "Budget Police" and let's just say I should have referred to myself as the "Budget Barney Fife." I would attempt to justify spending quite a bit extra at the grocery on seven million different specialty cheeses and other impulse buys of ingredients/utensils that really aren't necessary. Don't even get me started on the Dollar Aisle at Target…

What really has become clear to us is that we have not been good stewards of the financial blessings God has given us when we don't give generously, save, and spend wisely. It also revealed to me that I have not been living out my gratitude for the closets and dressers overflowing with clothes, the kitchen cabinets jam packed with ingredients and utensils, and the several nooks and crannies of our home into which I have squeezed excess stuff. Especially when I am constantly adding to our growing collection of pig everything and anything with a "C" on it! I should confess that I am somewhat of a hoarder-- my momma prefers to say that we are very sentimental. She is correct, we are, but I am learning at some point you have to let go. You have to simplify. Which is why when I read about the Contentment Challenge, there was no denying the feeling that I should participate.

From January 1 to March 31 (and possibly longer if I feel led to extend it) I will be saying "no" to non-essential purchases:
-trinkets from the Dollar Aisle at Target
-scented candles
-cutesy decorations
-pigs (real and inanimate)
-monogrammed everything
-impulse buys at the grocery store that just sound/look tasty & are not on my list
-new clothes or accessories
-anything that is not a necessity

I will follow The Guidelines listed in Nancy's original post. I plan to spend the next three months simplifying our home and routine rather than adding excess to it. My focus will be to give thanks for what we are blessed with, rather than add to the on-going list of "wants" that I often try to pass as "needs." I want to donate our excess to families that are truly in need and would appreciate it. I hope to conclude the Contentment Challenge with a greater appreciation for the simple things--for our things--and a deeper understanding of the Lord's generous heart. I hope to replace my impulse to buy and obtain with the desire to give and serve. 

So here's your invitation. Will you join me--and several others-- in the Contentment Challenge? I ask that you prayerfully consider it. While this definitely is a personal decision and process, I do find it encouraging to know that there will be others participating, including Nancy who is going through the Challenge again. I am so thankful for my friend Cathy who has promised to hold me accountable. I would love to be there for you as well! You can find others who are participating or have participated with the hashtag #contentmentchallenge on social media sites. I fully believe in support systems! 

I am so looking forward to 2014 and to gaining a deeper understanding of contentment. Paul wrote to the church at Philippi about this very subject. He knew that strength from Jesus Christ would empower him to do all things. In chapter 4, verse 11 Paul wrote: 

"…for I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances…"

Even if you don't feel led to participate in the Contentment Challenge, there is so much to gain from this verse and those around it. In any and every situation, we are to be content. It is a learning process. Paul uses the phrase "I have learned" twice in two verses. Let's make it our goal to learn contentment in 2014. Don't worry about doing it on your own-- He will give you His strength to do all things and I would love to encourage you as well. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

planning and dreaming for 2014!

Can y'all believe that in just TEN days we will be wrapping up 2013 and ringing in 2014!? I'm so excited. In just a few days the mister, the puppy sisters, and I will be packing up to go home for the holidays and weddings I mentioned in my last post. I am so looking forward to some quality family time, celebrating the birth of our Savior, eating some delicious food, and witnessing two of my best friends say "I do." This weekend Dustin is in Arkansas depleting the duck population and since the next week and a half will be jam packed with festivities, I am taking some time to plan and dream for 2014.

For some, resolutions may seem silly or a waste of time. For others who are more goal oriented, resolutions are essential. To be honest, I have been on both sides of the spectrum. However, when I honestly reflect over the past year (and even beyond) I can always find things that I wish I would do differently. For me, having a written goal is much better than simply thinking about it. So I am going back to the pen and paper this weekend (and the keyboard, obviously). I also know that accountability is crucial to any goal setting experience, which is why I have rounded up some of my people to keep my heart and actions in line. I highly recommend you do the same with any resolution or goal you intend to make. I plan on sharing more specifics regarding my goals in January, but I did want to share a couple of ways I am preparing for the New Year now.

-Agendas/Planners: My name is Hope, and I am an Agenda Addict. I don't think I have ever had the same one twice because I always want to try another one. When I came across Emily Ley on Instagram, I fell in love with her beautiful Simplified Planners. After following her posts for a while, it is clear that her heart is even more beautiful. I knew that I wanted to support someone who is making great things happen. My momma knows I adore planners and asked me if she could get me one for 2014 as a Christmas gift. How could I say no!? She agreed to allow me time to write in it before she wraps it up for me to open Christmas morning so for the past couple of weeks I have been doing just that! If you are still on the fence about a planner for 2014 and are looking to simplify your life and focus on what truly matters, Emily's Simplified Planners are for you! I am looking forward to being more organized, simplified, and encouraged each time I open my agenda next year.

-Power Sheets: At the Influence Conference in September, I had the privilege of hearing (& later hugging while passing each other at the elevator) Lara Casey speak. If you are familiar with the beautiful Southern Weddings magazine, then you have seen this woman's work. Her words of wisdom are also floating around the world wide web and Pinterest! I fell in love with her magazine while planning our wedding almost two years ago. Her love for Jesus, family, life, and all things Southern won my heart. Hearing her speak fanned the flame in me to make things happen. Her practical, honest approach to life is so motivating. On her personal webpage, she has a shop full of inspirational artwork. She also has some pretty amazing pages called Power Sheets. My Momma also included these in my Christmas gift! She knows the little things that make me happy! Basically, they are a package of sheets with outlines and tips for making goals and plans for the year and each month. Part of the process includes the Powersheets Prep where you write your dreams, your fears, and your goals. Talk about an awesome process for someone who enjoys writing! Definitely check these babies out if this kind of thing gets you excited.

-Lists: I am a list person. Grocery lists, to-do lists, prayer lists, goals lists, 1000 gifts lists, I love all the lists. One list that Lara Casey recommends is to identify what you are saying "Yes" to and to what you things you will say "No" in the upcoming year. I really enjoyed this and encourage everyone to try it.

In 2014 I will be saying YES to the following: 
*reading and memorizing Scripture
*loving my husband in his love language
*learning more about dietetics and nutrition
*following our budget 
*developing more contentment
*encouraging others daily
*giving and receiving grace
*serving our church and community
*prioritizing my health
*spending quality time with family and friends
*& much more.

In 2014 I will be saying NO to the following:
*too much screen time
*& much more.

2013 has been a wonderful year. I have loved reflecting over the highlights and counting all of the gifts. I have been thankful to look back on the moments that were difficult and see God's sovereignty in the midst of what appeared at the time to be a foggy season. I know God has so much in store for us for 2014. Our Christmas Cards this year were designed by the lovely Jessi from Naptime Diaries. The verse that inspired the design is Ephesians 3:20:

"Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,
 according to the power that is at work within us…"

With His guidance, let's plan and dream for 2014.
How amazing is it to know He is able to do immeasurably more than we could ever ask or imagine?
To Him be the glory! 

I wish y'all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! 

Saturday, December 07, 2013

7 on the 7th: Christmas favorites

Y'all, the Christmas spirit is flowing in the Curtsinger household! As I mentioned last week, I have been so excited to unpack and decorate our home. I think it is safe to say the halls are decked with all things Christmas! We have over 10 inches of snow on the ground thanks to a winter storm that came in Thursday night. It just adds to the Christmasy atmosphere! Narrowing down my Christmas favorites to seven was difficult for me because I have so many! I absolutely adore this time of year- the family time, the celebration of Jesus' birth, the sparkling lights, the beautiful colors, the chance to reflect on the previous months, and the time to plan for a fresh year. This December is especially full of love as two of my best friends are getting married! My sweet sister Gracey is getting married on the 28th and I could not be happier for her and Will. Gracey was my Maid of Honor and I am blessed to stand beside her as her Matron of Honor. Three days later, I am so excited to ring in the New Year with my dear sister-friend Rhiannon, her fiancé Keith, and all of their loved ones. Rhi was one of my bridesmaids and I am so thankful to be one of hers! Love is definitely in the air this month and I love it! Without further adieu, here are my seven Christmas favorites:

1. Advent
This year, I am so excited (& possibly obsessed) about Advent. I know many people observe the time leading up to Christmas day with countdowns, Bible studies, videos, crafts with their children, and more. This is the first time for me to participate in and learn about Advent and I have loved it. I have been following along with the She Reads Truth Advent devotional and it is fabulous! These writers put so much time, love, and work into their plans and it is so evident! You will be so blessed by the readings, prayers, and hymns that accompany each reflection. I definitely recommend finding a way for you and your family to reflect on this special time and really celebrate the Reason for the season.

2. The Greatest Gift
This book could technically still be considered part of Advent, but it is a favorite all on its own. The premise of Ann Voskamp's second book is to retrace the lineage of Christ. Each day includes a reading, a beautifully written portion by Ann, reflection questions, a quote, and an idea for putting love into action. I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed this book. Her ability to point out parallels between the Old and New Testaments is amazing. She makes you think about things in new, fresh, real ways. My friend Brittany and I joked about underlining and wanting to post every sentence-- we were also kind of serious. If you haven't started an Advent plan, it is not too late to begin reading this beautifully inspired and written book. 

3. The Twelve Days of Christmas
I have this infatuation with countdowns I believe. In addition to loving Advent, I also love the Twelve Days of Christmas. We have a tree in our room that is decorated with ornaments from the twelve days of Christmas. Last year I snagged a couple of pillows from Target that are red and gold with the the Twelve Days of Christmas written on them. I just think they're so fun! Of course the song and parodies of the song are fun as well! 

4. Christmas songs
I have come to learn that you either love or loathe Christmas songs. I can't imagine anything besides loving them but to each their own! I love them all-- Baby It's Cold Outside, Santa Baby, Joy to the World, Silent Night, O Holy Night, and more. Thanks to Pandora, we can listen to all kinds of Christmas carols and hymns! I also enjoy finding ways to incorporate meaningful lyrics into our decorations whether by prints, chalkboards, or canvases. 

5. Christmas movies
Just like Christmas songs, I love all Christmas movies! I grew up watching Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Frosty the Snowman, and How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the cartoon one!). Elf, The Holiday, Christmas Vacation, and A Christmas Story are all favorites as well. I also can't turn down a good ol' classic Hallmark Christmas movie. It doesn't matter if I can predict the plot and ending, I still love them! The 25 Days of Christmas movies on ABC Family is just splendid in my opinion! 

6. Christmas red
Red is one of my favorite colors. I have always been drawn to its boldness and deepness. This time of year I love seeing it even more-- the poinsettias, the candy canes, the Christmas decor, and the fashion. Red nail polish always makes me think of my mom because her nails are almost always this color! One of our favorite polish colors this time of year is OPI's An Affair in Red Square. It is a deeper red that has just enough shimmer to make it festive.

7. Psalm 46:10
Be still and know that I am God.
This verse has always been one of my favorites. When preparing for this month, I knew I wanted to be intentional about focusing on the Reason for the season. I also knew that it would be a busy month with lots of Christmas parties, family get togethers, the weddings, and settling into our home. I want to take time to be still-- so far so good! I want to soak up each moment in His Presence, which is the greatest gift of all. I want to take the time to name each of the gifts He gives and live my thankfulness. I want to celebrate this season of Advent in the everyday moments. I want to be still and know Him.

I pray that you and your family have a wonderful holiday season!

I would love to hear about your Christmas favorites or traditions!

Have a blessed day!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

it feels like home.

It feels like home. This cliche statement is really speaking to me right now. As of last Friday, Dustin & I are homeowners! We are so excited and thankful. When we got married, we rented our first home in Kentucky and then moved ten months later to another rental home in Illinois. We loved both of our rentals, but there is something about having your name on paper as an "owner" that gives you this feeling of being settled, and a "grown-up." This packing and moving transition has been a really positive time of learning and growing. I felt the urge to post about what God has been revealing to me through it all. 

A few days after signing our contract a month ago, Dustin & I started talking about packing, moving and how it was going to be a crazy next few weeks. Dustin brought up dreading the move (the physical aspect of it) and asked how I felt. I was kind of stunned that my honest feeling about the move was relief and excitement. For me, the physical act of moving isn't a big deal anymore. I counted it up while we were talking, and I have moved about 18 times in my life so far between Kentucky, Tennessee, and now Illinois. Growing up in a blended family will do that. This is not a dig at my parents but rather just the facts. I know God has and will continue to use all things for our good. I also wanted to really take time to look at my past and how it has shaped me.

Each move I can remember my mom being quick to unpack our boxes and get the house decorated and feeling like home. Every year in college she helped organize my dorm room. She wanted me to feel settled. However, thinking back to the last 8 years in particular has revealed a trend in my life: I rarely unpack-- in some ways physically and in a lot of ways mentally. I don't really allow myself to feel settled or connected. Embarrassing fact: Until we moved to this house, in the 15 months that Dustin and I have been married (and really since before college), I have lived out of my travel toiletries bag. Meaning, every morning and night when I brush my teeth, I grab my toothbrush from my travel bag and return it when I am finished, along with all my other necessities. It has become "normal" for me to be ready to go at any time. I think college especially ingrained this "habit" as I was going home every weekend. In our first rental home together, I left several boxes packed in a room and the walls were pretty bare. When we moved to our rental home in Illinois, I had a goal of making it feel a lot more homey than our previous home. I do feel like that goal was accomplished with the help of our moms!

Now as we are settling into our new home -- our first home -- I have a new goal: I want to unpack. Both physically and mentally. I want to allow myself to connect. To our home. To our community. To our church. To our new friends. To this season of life. I want to decorate each room of our home with things that make us happy and remind us of who we are and where we have been. I want to break down the walls that I have built up over 18 moves because I have been avoiding getting attached to something or someone only to pack up and leave a few months or years later. I don't know how long God will have us here at this new address. I don't know what is yet to come. But I do know this: God knows and I am done with living out of a packed travel bag. I am done with putting up walls. Because really, is that even living? I can tell you, it isn't. If we live our lives with walls up and our bags packed and ready to go, how are we truly enjoying and appreciating the gift of the present? A quote is on our back porch, one of my favorite parts of the house. I loved it when we saw the house for the first time and I am so glad the previous owners left it behind. Each day is a gift. I want to start living like it. 

Thank you for reading some words and thoughts that have been heavy on my heart and mind lately. I pray that they give hope to anyone who may be in a similar situation. If you haven't unpacked in your current season of life, please do so. God has used each move, each house, each town, each state, each season to bring me to here and now. I know He will do the same for you. He has provided for and never left me just as He promises in His Word, no matter how high I built my walls. Now, the only walls I want to think about are the ones in our home that need our personal touches and decorations on them. I am thankful for each move. For each season. For each lesson, especially this one that I am just now learning. I am so thankful for our new address and that it truly feels like home.

Have a blessed day, y'all!

Let's not forget it is a gift. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

thoughts on thankfulness & a call to action

Writing my 1000 gifts in this journal has been an amazing experience for me. I love taking time each morning to write my blessings down on paper. I am a lover of lists, and this one is by far my favorite. I can feel my attitude and outlook changing more and more each day. If you haven't started your own 1000 gifts list yet, I cannot encourage or recommend it enough. One Thousand Gifts, along with Love Does and several sermons at church, have shown me that gratitude needs to be so much more than an attitude-- it is must be an action. Yes, we should give thanks and even count our blessings but it can't stop there. A quote that I have heard several times lately is:

We are blessed to be a blessing.

What are we doing with the gifts we are given? How are we living out our thankfulness? How are we blessing others with our blessings? Ann Voskamp writes daily on her blog & a quote that has stuck with me from a recent post is:

"Thanksgiving that doesn't come from ThanksLIVING isn't thanksgiving-- dare we say it's thanksdead. It's thanks nothing."

I don't want dead thanks. I want to live my thanks. Everyday. This time of year especially, there are so many opportunities to live our thanks. Samaritan's Purse is launching their Operation Christmas Child campaign. Food banks and pantries are in need of groceries to extend to those who are hungry-- physically and spiritually. Churches and communities everywhere are preparing for ways to sponsor families during this holiday season. 

My encouragment to you is to use the talents and desires God gives you to serve others. As you know, food and nutrition are near and dear to my heart. My heart aches knowing there are people hungry in our community. More than just thinking about it, I want to do something. Our church collects weekly for the food pantry and also organizes volunteers for a Meals on Wheels type program. God placed it on my heart to dig deeper to find ways to serve these ministries. I can't wait to see what opportunities He provides. 

Maybe food isn't your thing. Maybe you're great with technology or great at leading or great at organizing or great at encouraging or maybe God has blessed you financially. I think I can honestly say if you are reading this blog on a computer or smart phone, you are blessed financially. Dustin & I are learning more and more that our money is not our own-- it is ultimately His. Thinking of our finances in these terms has drastically changed things for us. We want to be good stewards of all that God gives us. Whatever your talent, blessing, or passion is: use it to serve. Here are some ideas for putting your gratitude into action:
  • Write notes of encouragement to those you know are experiencing a difficult season.
  • Consider using your bonus to give to the local ministries in your area. 
  • Rather than writing a mile-long wish list for Christmas, try writing a longer list of ways you can contribute to your community. 
  • Even if you feel like money is tight-- trust me, we all know how that is-- you can always find ways to cut back on your spending. Give up that drive through coffee/sweet tea/Diet Coke. Mark the chips and extra treats (that aren't really healthy anyways) off your grocery list. Use the money you save to contribute to a cause that you are passionate about.
  • Donate your time by volunteering at a local soup kitchen or shelter. 
  • Go through your closet and donate those sweaters, coats, and mittens that aren't being worn.
My point is, we can talk about our gratitude, pray about our gratitude, & even list our gratitude-- but we have to do something. What gets you excited? What is your passion? What speaks to your heart? Use your blessings to be a blessing. I would love to hear your ideas or ways you put your gratitude into action. The New Living Translation of Hebrews 10:24 says it like this: "Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works." That is my goal here, friends. To motivate you to acts of love and good works. Just as I have been encouraged and motivated. 

Let's be thankful. 
Let's live our thankfulness. 
Let's encourage each other to do good. 

Have a blessed day and be a blessing! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

"one thousand gifts"

Happy Friday, everyone! I hope that you are staying cozy and warm as the days get cooler. My mother-in-law (seriously, let's make a new name for these mommas-- extra mom, bonus mom, second mom, mother-in-love, etc.-- because mother-in-law is much too detached) sent me this photo this week because I couldn't find a photo to use for this post. How cozy does her fireplace and coffee mug look!? I couldn't wait a minute longer to share another book in my Library. This book is one that I started and finished a couple of months ago, but I have mentioned it several times since and cannot stop thinking about it. With Thanksgiving coming up, now would be a great time to start it if your schedule allows. If it doesn't, add it to your list of must-reads ASAP! 

One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp is absolutely incredible and has given me so much to think about when it comes to being thankful. I am fortunate that my parents raised me to be grateful-- my momma had me writing "thank you" notes as soon as I was old enough to scribble. My daddy made sure I used my manners and appreciated my things. While I have had many learning experiences and times that I have failed to be as thankful as I should be (always a work in progress), having that example and guidance growing up has definitely impacted my daily life in a positive way. Reading this book has added to the foundation they set. 

Ann's book outlines her process of taking the time to physically count and write down the gifts God gives as a way to give thanks. Everything from major life events to seemingly meaningless tasks. The happiest of times, and the darkest moments. By consciously thinking about every moment as a gift, your mindset changes. Research even shows that people who adopt an attitude of gratitude are happier, less stressed, and more energetic. Who doesn't want all of that!? 

More than the personal benefits of gratitude, I have been so thankful to give more glory to God. He so deserves it, does He not? He loves us so & everything He gives is love-- yes, even those difficult moments. One of my favorite quotes from the book was this: 

"Humbly let go. Let go of trying to do, let go of trying to control… Let go of my own way, let go of my own fears… Leave the hand open and be. Be at peace. Bend the knee and be small and let God give what He chooses to give because He only gives love and whisper surprised 'thanks.'"

How often do we try to control our situations? I have confessed that I am a control-freak. We think all of our striving and doing will make things happen our way. Sometimes maybe it does, but when we simply let go, open our hands, and receive God's will for us we will realize He only gives love. Since starting my 1000 gifts list, my heart has grown to know so much more peace and so much more love. When we take the time to actively search for His gifts, we realize that they are all around us all the time. The dishes piled in the sink are evidence of a meal that was prepared and enjoyed. The leaves covering the yard are a display of the Creator's beauty. The good news about a job shows His provision. The moments of weakness and desperation are times when His grace is sufficient and His power is made perfect. 

Ann's beautiful, descriptive writing captured my heart in this book. I could taste the delicious baked goods she described. I could see the beautiful fields she ran through capturing photos of creation, counting them all on her list. I must admit-- some of her vocabulary was so advanced that I had to look them up, but the life-learner in me enjoyed the process. I loved how she constantly used to Scripture to show that giving thanks is essential for worship and our relationship with God. My book and Bible are covered in blue from all of the notes and underlining I did. I love it! 

I do hope you will check out this book soon. Even if you don't have time to read the book, consider writing down the blessings in your life in a special journal or even going through your Bible to see how often "thanks" is mentioned. Our lives and the Word are full of gifts and The Giver is so worthy of praise. 

Have a blessed day & give thanks! 

Thursday, November 07, 2013

7 on the 7th: warm, cozy comforts

Happy November Y'all! I love this month. Since reading One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp, I am trying to keep thankfulness always at the forefront of my mind. However, I can't help but think about being grateful even more during this month. Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, second only to Christmas. The combination of faith, family, friends, and food is just perfect to me. 

I also love the coolness of this time of year. I joke--but really I mean it--with Dustin that I will cancel out the air conditioning I use during the summer by not running the heat in the winter. As much as I love summer, my sensitivity to heat makes me enjoy cooler seasons a bit more. A couple of weeks ago at the little family-owned grocery store near us, the lady ringing up our purchases told us that we were in for a bad winter. She said the nut trees have been overflowing with nuts this year and the squirrels have been scurrying around even more collecting and storing them for the winter. Isn't it neat that nature can give us clues to what is coming? I just love that. Hopefully it won't be too bad!

For this month's 7 on the 7th I thought I would share some of my favorite warm, cozy comforts. Since the nights are getting longer and the air is getting cooler, I thought it was a perfect time for these favorites.

1. mug sweaters
I have seen mug sweaters all over Pinterest and Instagram for several months. I think they are the cutest.   Dustin's Nana started making them a couple of weeks ago, and even taught me how. I still have a ways to go, but I was so excited! Not only do they keep your tea or coffee or soup warmer, they protect your hands from getting too hot. I love the color they add to mugs as well! 

2. our wedding quilt
Dustin's mom, great aunt, and grandmother made a quilt for us when we got married. I was absolutely thrilled when they asked if I would like one. Of course this old soul would! I have loved having such a beautiful, sentimental piece of art that warms our feet and hearts. At first, I kept it on a quilt rack because I didn't want anything to happen to it. Lately though I have been curling up in it regularly. I want it to be used and enjoyed. It is so pretty on the rack, but I love it even more wrapped around my legs while I drink a cup of tea on the couch. One of my favorite parts of the quilt is a little patch on the back where Aunt Bobbie wrote that the quilt was made with love for Dustin and I--such a sweet gift that we will cherish forever. 

3. hot tea
I am a coffee girl through and through. When I was younger, I would stay with my Nana and have "little girl coffee"-- milk, sugar, and a little bit of coffee. As any true Southerner, I love tea as well. For most of my life, I thought tea was only supposed to be iced and syrupy sweet. I can't lie, the "House Wine of the South" is still one of my favorites. However, a few years ago on a mission trip in Northern Ireland, my love affair with hot tea began. Since then, I regularly enjoy hot tea of kinds-- chamomile, peppermint, earl grey, chai, and more. In addition to the cozy comfort hot tea provides, there are nutritional benefits as well. The antioxidants in tea can help fight a wide range of cancers, while also keeping you hydrated. The lower caffeine levels compared to a cup of java are a positive aspect as well. The tannins in tea can interfere with iron absorption so for those with anemia it would be best to limit your tea intake and avoid consuming hot tea with meals. Also, it is important to check the labels of the tea that you purchase-- there are many varieties of teas that are not pure tea leaves, but rather a blend of tea and artificial ingredients.  Rather than reaching for a spoonful of sugar, try a bit of local honey to sweeten your tea. You'll love it!

4. fireplaces
Who doesn't love a fireplace!? They scream warm, cozy comfort! This photo is the fireplace at my dad and Karen's house. Don't you love the festive mantle as well? In addition to the practicality of a fireplace, I love the look of them. Fireplaces give me a feeling of relaxation like no other! 

5. soup
Soup is food for the soul, just like the popular book title says. They warm you from the inside out. When the air gets cooler, I immediately start craving soups-- vegetable, potato, chili, chicken and rice-- I love pretty much all of them! Soups can easily become unhealthy with excess calories, fat, and sodium, but they don't have to be! I recently tried Bobbi's African Red Bean and Sweet Potato Soup and loved it! This soup is full of flavor and real ingredients. My philosophy when it comes to eating is that the foods and items without an ingredient list are the best, but when choosing ones that do have labels, go for the ones that have the shortest list with words you recognize and pronounce. This recipe fits right in with my philosophy!

6. cuddly puppies and husband
I am a "cuddler" by nature. Physical touch is definitely one of my love languages-- I really do have a blend of them. I am never more content than when my sweet puppies are in my lap and my husband is right beside me. Callie and Chloe, our adorable fur babies, are the sweetest. Mr. Curtsinger is pretty sweet as well! When my lap is full from two pups cuddling up, my heart overflows.

7. {Psalm 119:76}
May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.
More than mug sweaters, quilts, hot tea, fireplaces, soup, and cuddly puppies, God's unfailing and unending love is the ultimate comfort my heart desires. I am so thankful for His Word and the peace and life it gives. Like my favorite soup warms my belly, my relationship with Christ warms my heart. I want to seek Him first for comfort and contentment in all circumstances.

What warms your heart and soul? I would love to hear your favorite cozy, comforts!

Have a blessed, cozy day! 

Monday, October 28, 2013

cranberry pear crisp

Hello friends! I hope that your Monday is going well! We got in late last night after a weekend trip home to Kentucky. It was so nice to visit with our parents, family, and friends. Saturday was Dustin's 27th birthday-- what a blessing he is to so many, especially me. We made sure to celebrate his day with some of his favorite things: Cornfields, Camo, Carhartts, and his dog Cabela. The Curtsingers like their C's y'all! All in all, I think it is safe to say he enjoyed his day! 

The time always passes so quickly when we are home but we try our best to soak up every moment. I know that technology and social media can be frivolous at times, but I am so thankful for ways to document and remember these special moments. I am so glad to have photos of special people, places, and things in my life. I also love being able to connect with people via social media and see the things in their life that bring them joy. Whether it is a recipe, a new accessory, a sweet baby, a great test score, a baseball game, a new verse that speaks to them, a loved one, a fresh bouquet of flowers, a deal at the thrift store, a beautiful view, a cute puppy, a cup of Starbucks- whatever it is, social media allows us to display what we value in our lives. You can learn a lot about a person based on their posts and photos. I try to keep that in mind when I post something. Ultimately, I want my life to be an overflow of the love Christ gives to me. I want to be living a life full of thankfulness. Lately, I have been trying to think of photos as the way to capture the gifts we are given. I used to not care for photos-- I liked to look at them,  but not really take them or be in them. Now, as I try to soak up every moment and gift, I catch myself reaching for my camera more and more. I don't want to forget the way the sun looked shining through the trees. Or how beautifully the dish was prepared. Or even the seemingly mundane tasks such as washing the dishes or doing the laundry. There is beauty all around us. We just have to open our hearts and eyes to receive and see it. 

Dustin's Nana loaded us up with some fresh pears before we left home. I wanted to use them in a recipe this time, rather than just eating them plain. Cobblers, crisps, and crumbles are my favorite ways to prepare fruit besides eating it fresh. I love the rustic coziness to them, as well as the simplicity. I decided to throw in some dried cranberries for extra flavor and a pop of color. I was pleased with how this recipe turned out! I basically combined ingredients I had on hand, so the ingredient amounts are estimated. I intended for it to be a bit more crumbly rather than crispy but I still enjoyed it. The natural sweetness of the pears with the mild tartness of the cranberries was a great combination. I could eat the crispy topping all by itself! 

Cranberry Pear Crisp 
5-7 small pears, peeled and sliced
2 handfuls of dried cranberries
1 handful of chopped nuts (pecans, walnuts, macadamia) 
3/4 cup gluten free flour
1/2 cup oats
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
dash of ground nutmeg
dash of salt
1/4 cup coconut oil or butter, melted
2 1/2 tablespoons maple syrup
juice from 1 lemon

Preheat the oven to 375*. Place pears and cranberries in the bottom of an 8x8 baking dish. Squeeze lemon over the fruit and toss to fully coat in the juice. Combine flour, oats, nuts, and spices in a separate bowl. Stir in melted oil or butter and syrup. Spread the topping over the fruit. Bake for 30-45 minutes or until golden brown and fruit is tender. 

Notes: I love simple, tasty recipes. Next time I may increase the amount of oats in the topping just to make it a bit more crumbly. Also, feel free to use apples or any other fruit that you enjoy. Your house will smell heavenly as this bakes in the oven! Enjoy!

Have a blessed day! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

the library & a must-read

If you've read any of my previous posts, or know me personally, you know I love to read. As a little girl, (& still today) Beauty and the Beast was quite possibly my favorite Disney movie simply because I felt that Belle and I were kindred spirits with our love for books and reading. I have to admit that I am also partial to Cinderella. And Ariel. And Aurora. Ok, I love all of the Disney Princesses. But, especially Belle. One of my favorite parts of the whole movie is when the Beast gives Belle the library. It is breathtaking. Y'all know what I'm talking about right!? 

via pinterest

I realize that a library, especially of this magnitude, is not realistic or practical but it is still fun to pretend right!? Since a ginormous library will most likely definitely not make the cut in any home we buy, I am perfectly content with filling bookshelves and even decorating with the books that we (& our family members) have collected over the years. Along with reading the books, I enjoy displaying them. I love the different colors, shapes, sizes, and typography. 

Since reading is something I really enjoy doing in my free time, I thought it might be fun to make a new series or section of my blog called "The Library." In this section, I plan to include a running list of books that I hope to read as well as reviews (of sorts) of books that I have recently finished. That way, I can remember what I have read and also what is next on my list! I always enjoy reading reviews and I hope you do too. I downloaded the "goodreads" app back in the summer but I have not been consistent with keeping my list updated. I am thinking the blog will be a better way to consolidate that information. I love hearing back from readers, so if you have any must-reads, please let me know! I would love for this to be interactive, let me know your thoughts and feelings on the the books and share what you learned! 

I could not wait to post about the book I have recently read. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about the book from close friends and even total strangers. When one of my sister-friends, Violet sent me the book in the mail, I excitedly put it in my stack of books to read. Not long after, in an email conversation with the lovely Katie at Katie O'Keefe Blog, she also raved about the book. It was one of those moments when I knew God was telling me to take the hint! I finally picked up Love Does by Bob Goff this weekend and y'all, you must read it. It is one of those life changing, eye opening books. Seriously, it is. Bob has mastered the art of discovering a secretly incredible life in an ordinary world. The reason behind it all: love. The selfless, engaged kind of love that takes action, or does. From pursuing his wife to giving a friend with cancer a dream vacation, Bob gives glimpses into his life of love in action in each meaningful chapter. Not only that, he ties each lesson in with Scripture. I laughed out loud (literally) while reading some chapters and shed several tears while reading others. I really enjoyed the beginning of each chapter because he included a phrase that followed the pattern of "I used to think (fill in the blank), but now I know (blank)." Each one is so packed with truth. I had to write them down. One of my favorites--however, it was difficult to narrow down a favorite out of 31--is "I used to think there were some prisons you couldn't escape, but now I know there's no place I can go where God can't rescue us." Each one is just as amazing. Bob credits these paradigm shifts 100% to following Jesus and it is so evident in the "doing" described in his writing. I could share quote after quote that spoke to me so deeply, but then I would have re-typed 99% of the book. So read it for yourselves!  

God's timing never ceases to amaze me. He blows my mind on the daily. This book was recommended to me weeks ago. Just last week I began the study of the book of James with She Reads Truth. This week the verse to meditate on was verse 22 of the first chapter which reads: 

"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."

How perfect is that timing? Only He could do that. Only He could time it that I begin a book entitled Love Does and then give a verse in a study that commands that we be doers of the Word. I get chills every time I think about it. My prayer is that I take this lesson to heart and put it into action. I pray this for you as well. 

I'm so looking forward to sharing more books in "The Library" the future! I may also give reviews of some books I have read in the past as well. One that you will for sure be hearing about is called The Excellent Wife by Martha Peace, which I am currently reading with my dear friend Kirby. Oh the knowledge we are gaining as young wives from this practical, Biblically based book! Can't wait to share! Also, be sure to check out her blog! Sister. Can. Write. Plus, she knows about all things agriculture, professional, and Southern. I know you'll love her! 

I hope y'all enjoy The Library! Come back anytime!
Let's be doers of the Word and show the world that love does. 

Have a wonderful day, y'all!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"fancy beef" aka beef bourguignon

Happy Sunday y'all! I hope you are having a restful day. It is a beautiful fall day in the Land of Lincoln! As I type this, I can hear neighbors down the street mowing their lawns. The sun is shining and the air is cool. Our pups have enjoyed running around in the yard for most of the day so far. We started the morning with a great worship service and sermon about prayer at church. Then, I started on a lunch that I was so excited to share. After lunch, I gave Dustin a haircut on our back porch-- I am actually getting better at it! (While we were dating I may or may not have terribly messed up his haircut. Twice. Both before weddings he was either a part of or attending.) Overall, we have had a restful, productive weekend. Isn't it nice to mark things off of your to-do list? I feel like God has given me a desire to share more on this blog of what He has been teaching me lately, but I also want to continue to share recipes that are favorites in our household and some of our everyday happenings!

It has been a while since I have posted a recipe so when I finally tackled this once, I knew I wanted to share it! Beef Bourguignon is another one of those recipes that has been on my "to-try" list for a while. Now I have to say right off the bat, I cannot pronounce "bourguignon" to save my life. I took Spanish in high school, not French. My tongue gets tied with all the g's, u's, and n's. Dustin kept asking me what I was planning to cook, and after stuttering through "Beef Bourguignon" I finally gave up and said "We are having Fancy Beef!" Not only is Fancy Beef easier to say, it is easier to spell! Julia Child, Ina Garten, and other past and present culinary superstars are probably shaking their heads at me, but I'm sorry, Fancy Beef is what it is!

I had Fancy Beef for the first time a few years ago in college. My friend Alex made his version of the rich, French stew and it was delicious, as are all of his culinary creations. If you're not familiar with Fancy Beef, it is like a dressed up version of the classic roast, carrots, and potatoes. Alex served his on mashed potatoes, as I did today. Ina's recipe, which is the one I followed, calls for French bread instead of potatoes. You could do whatever sounds best to you! Roast, carrots, and potatoes is one of my favorite comfort foods. I love the combination. This is basically the same thing just a bit fancier-- wine as an ingredient makes it fancy to me!

Unless you have extra time on your hands during the week, or maybe have more experience in the kitchen, I would recommend saving this recipe for a weekend meal. It made a delicious Sunday afternoon lunch for us. There is a bit of prep, several steps, and it cooks for over an hour but it is so worth it! I do hope you will try it, even if a longer list of ingredients and directions is daunting. For me, chopping, stirring, and experimenting in the kitchen is therapeutic so I don't mind. A fun part about this recipe that will excite the guys in your life, is that you have to light it on fire to cook off the alcohol! I'm not gonna lie, I was kinda scared! I made sure to bring Dustin into the kitchen for that part. I think he was impressed. The cooking times and steps allow for cleaning as you go, which is a bonus in my book! While the carrots and onions were browning, I was able to wash some of my cutting boards and knives. While the stew was cooking in the oven, I was able to clean the whole kitchen! I followed Ina Garten's recipe for the most part. Of course, I put my own spin on it per usual.

"Fancy Beef"
aka Beef Bourguignon

8-10 ounces of thick sliced applewood smoked bacon, diced
2 1/2 pounds chuck beef cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound carrots, sliced
1 pound bag frozen diced onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup cognac
1 (750 ml) bottle pinot noir, or any dry red wine
2 cups beef broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, at room temperature
3 tablespoons gluten free flour
1 pound fresh mushrooms, sliced with stems removed
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 250*. Lightly brown the bacon in a large oven-safe pot or dutch oven for about 10 minutes. Once lightly brown, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a large plate. Salt and pepper the beef that has been blotted dry with a paper towel. Add the beef in batches in a single layer in the bottom of the pot. Sear on all sides for 3 minutes or until nicely browned. Place beef with bacon on the plate for later. Add the carrots and 3/4 of the bag of onions to the pot, along with about a tablespoon of salt and two teaspoons of pepper. Cook in the meat juices for about 10-15 minutes until the onions are browned. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Turn down the heat to low. Pour in the cognac, stand back, light with a match or lighter, and allow alcohol to burn away. Once the flame disappears, add back the bacon and beef. Pour in the bottle of wine and about 2 cups of the beef broth, or until the beef is almost covered. Stir in the tomato paste and thyme and bring to a simmer. Cover with a tight fitting lid and place in the preheated oven for an hour and fifteen minutes or until the meat and vegetables are tender. Combine 3 tablespoons flour with 2 tablespoons butter until blended well. Stir into the stew. With ten minutes or so left in the cooking time, sautĂ© the mushrooms for 10 minutes in 2 tablespoons of butter and add to the stew. Bring stew to a boil on top of the stove for about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over mashed potatoes or bread. 

Notes: I poured off some of (not all) the fat/meat juices before adding the carrots and onions. Ina's recipe calls for more onions to be added with the mushrooms but I felt like 3/4 the bag was plenty for our taste. Also, I  used about a teaspoon or two of salt rather than a tablespoon of salt. I try to avoid adding extra sodium in our diet and will usually decrease the amount in any recipe. I kept the mashed potatoes pretty basic and not overly seasoned because of the richness of the stew. We really enjoyed this recipe. It is super filling-- just one serving and we were satisfied. Also, there are plenty of leftovers! 

I hope y'all try and enjoy Fancy Beef! If you do, let me know what you think!

It is a very warm and cozy meal to have on a cool, slow Sunday afternoon! 

Have a blessed Sabbath! 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

channeling my inner laura ingalls wilder.

"The real things haven't changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong."
{Laura Ingalls Wilder}

I have posted before about the books in the Little House series being my favorites as a child. To be honest, they still are. I even love the television show that comes on the Hallmark channel. I think it is the simplicity and purity of the story that captured my heart as a child and continues to do so as an adult. The wholesome goodness. Yes, of course there is mean ol' Nellie Oleson, but overall the storyline is definitely not one that would make you feel guilty for watching or reading. 

I have always felt torn between being a "city" girl and a "country" girl. I grew up spending a lot of time at my Nana's house where she let me bring young chickens in her house, play in the mud with the ducks, catch minnows in her pond, and chase the mice in the feed bins. Basically, she let me do everything my prim and proper momma would not. Now, I love my pearl wearing, pink loving, sweet talking momma. She definitely raised me with an affection for sparkly, clean, pretty things. Thanks to her, I feel naked without my pearl earrings on or my nails painted. She and I have almost always lived "in town" and I always went to the "city" school. Of course by city school, I mean a 1A school in a town with a census of approximately 10,000. We did live in Brentwood, Tennessee for a year, so I have briefly experienced true "city" living. Despite living in the city limits for most of my life, I have always been drawn to the country-- the farms, clothes lines, gardens, and open spaces. 

I think I loved the Little House books as a child so much because I was able to live Laura's life with her-- her chores, her schoolwork, her dreams --whether she was in the Big Woods or on the Prairie. More than anything, I appreciated the little details that were included. The colors, the sights, the smells, the textures, the emotions, the relationships. Even today, I find myself appreciating the little things more. Especially those with family members. 

This weekend, I mentioned to Dustin's Nana that I wanted her to teach me how to crochet someday. She makes the sweetest pot holders and dish rags that fill kitchen drawers of each of her family members. She recently started making the cutest coffee mug sweaters. Well, before I could blink, she was up from her chair finding me a crochet hook and a ball of red yarn. She had me follow her into their living room and sit beside her on the couch as she showed me over and over how to do a basic chain stitch. Once I somewhat had it down, she gave me the assignment of practicing daily. She said that she would teach me another stitch the next time we see each other. It may seem like a meaningless, simple moment to some, but it was so special to me. Not only did she teach me something I had been wanting to learn, she made me feel so important by teaching me right then, as soon as I asked. I have been practicing everyday-- stitching and then undoing the stitch so that I can try again. I can't wait to learn another stitch from her. Sure, I could google a crochet "how-to" article or find a video on youtube, but I would much rather learn from Nana. 

Last night, we had deer stew for supper. Again, I couldn't help but think of the Little House books. I used Dustin's Nana's recipe, meat that Dustin got during deer season last year, and some vegetables from my Nana's garden. As I was combining the ingredients and thinking of how they all came together, the feeling of love and thankfulness was overwhelming. Nana's recipe isn't complex or full of ingredients that are difficult to pronounce-- just meat, vegetables, seasonings, and love. Knowing that it was her recipe, meat that Dustin brought home from his hunt, and produce from my Nana's garden made the experience so sweet. As we ate the warm stew, I knew we were tasting the goodness of the Lord. How sweet He is to love us in such special, even sometimes simple, ways! 

I may not live on a farm with chickens, a pig (y'all know I must have a pig), a goat, or a cow like the Ingalls did. Maybe someday we will. Surely I can convince Dustin to get on board with the pig plan, right?! I may not make all of our meals from scratch using ingredients we grew in a garden or sew our clothes. Maybe someday I will get past the basic crochet chain stitch! But until those days come, if they do and even if they don't, I can appreciate the simple pleasures. I can be thankful for the little things. I can make the most of what we have. I can be honest and truthful and courageous, all through the grace of God. Because just like Laura said, these are the real things. 

Back in the summer, I posted this photo of our neighbor's zinnias. It's not creepy that I took a picture of their flowers, I asked first. Ok, maybe it is weird, but they made me happy and I wanted to remember them! I put the caption on the photo as "if we don't appreciate the little things in life, how can we appreciate the "big" things?" My sweet friend Sophie commented with the following verse that has stuck with me since then in a whole new way. 

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much..."
{Luke 16:10}

Let's be people who can be trusted with little. 
Let's be grateful for life's simplest pleasures. 
Let's be thankful for the real things. 

Have a blessed day, y'all! 

Monday, October 07, 2013

7 on the 7th: fall favorites!

Happy fall ya'll! Do you call it autumn? No judgment here-- honestly, I like "fall" better because it rhymes with "y'all." Regardless of how you refer to it, I love this time of year. Remember earlier in the summer when I was confessing about being one of those people who just loves whatever season is currently happening? Yes, it's true. I loved summer. The food, the festivities, the sun, and did I mention the food? But once September rolled around, I was quick to avert my affections to all things fall. Since technically fall did not start until closer to the end of September, I decided to save my fall favorites for October's 7 on the 7th!

1. pumpkin: everything
I am one of the pumpkin addicts-- I love it all: the scent, the flavor, the color, the decor, you name it. On September 1st, I did not wait a second longer to break out the pumpkin candles. All 12 of them, to be exact! Back in June, Dustin purchased quite a few pumpkin candles that were on sale. I teased him about the large quantity and the fall scent. I told him that we could not burn pumpkin scented candles in the middle of a season that, in my mind, calls for citrusy, summery scents. So we stored them until I could no longer take it. I have not burned them all, but I have put a good dent in the stockpile! In addition to the candles, I have enjoyed pumpkin shakes, coffee creamers, and muffins. I pinned and tested this delicious recipe for a banana pumpkin shake. It makes a sweet, cool treat for the fall days that are warmer than usual. I also purchased these adorable ceramic pumpkins at the Dollar Tree for, you guessed it, a dollar! We are all about a deal in the Curtsinger household--especially a cute, seasonal one!

2. leaves
Isn't this bold red leaf just gorgeous!? It was one of the first to fall from the tree in our front yard and by far one of the prettiest I have seen. I love the beauty of this time of year. All the colors are my favorites-- reds, yellows, oranges, and browns. Isn't God an amazing artist? His creation declares His glory! I love the leaf confetti that is taking over our street and yard. It is just so cozy and beautiful. 

3. apple cider
My Granddaddy passed down his love for apple cider to me, no doubt. Back home, he visits Schmidt Farms in Paducah, KY that makes the best cider you've ever tasted. He stocks up on their cider by the gallons, freezes it, and then shares it with us throughout the winter. Granddaddy is such a giver! I was so excited when I found a place here in Illinois that makes pretty tasty cider as well. While I am pretty partial to Schmidt Farms, this stuff is a close second. I love it cold but on the nights that are cool, I enjoy warming it with some cinnamon sticks for extra spice. Such a great fall treat! 

4. squash
I love all squash-- summer, spaghetti, butternut, etc. I typically in the past have just decorated with acorn squash. But I wanted to try cooking it this year. I really liked it. All I did was cut it in half, scoop out the seeds, drizzle with EVOO (extra virgin olive oil, for all you non-Rachael Ray fans), and sprinkle with salt and pepper. I baked it at 400 for about 45 minutes or so. The result was a crispy crust with a tender inside. I think I will try it again with some more seasonings but I did enjoy the simplicity of the oil, salt, and pepper. Not to mention, I thought it was just so pretty! 

5. scarves
While, I could go on and on about the tastes of fall that I love, I must also mention a couple of other things! Scarves being one of them. I love that they can add color, texture, and warmth to any outfit. Who knew that there were so many ways to wear them, too!? One of my favorites is the purple one that my Grandmother gave me for Christmas one year. It is so soft and warm. I appreciate functional gifts that you will always associate with the giver! 

6. mums
To me, mums are the classic fall decor. Their simplicity and pop of color are just perfect! I can't decide which color is my favorite. I love the bright yellow, but the red is also lovely! The oranges, whites, and pinks/purples are just gorgeous as well. You just can't go wrong with mums in my book! 

7. Ecclesiastes 3:1
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven…
One Sunday, I was really noticing the changing of the seasons. The air was a bit more crisp, the leaves were a bit more colorful, and this verse came to mind. Isn't it amazing how the seasons change? How the divine timing occurs? I am so thankful for a growing appreciation for the seasons in life-- both the physical seasons and the spiritual ones. When you take a moment to reflect on the work God is doing in your life, to actively look for what He is doing in and around you, it is truly amazing what you will find! He wants to bless us, and richly does so, but how often do we overlook those blessings? How often do we take for granted the seasons of our life because we are too excited to see the next one come? Maybe you're in a rich season-- one of bounty and happiness. Maybe you're in a low season-- one of doubt or loss or struggle. Maybe you're in a transitional season. My prayer is that regardless of our season, we will praise and thank Him. He is so worthy. 

So there you have it! My 7 fall favorites. I would love to hear yours! 
Enjoy this season! 

Have a blessed day!