Sunday, May 29, 2016

What I'm Contemplating Lately...


 I really hate to let a month go by without posting. I think mostly because it annoys me to see a missing month in the list on the right side of the page...;) Anyway, I would say "this month has been crazy" but that is just really life-no more or less crazy than it ever has been. May is always a succession of "ends" and I'm kind of just ready for it to be over, although June will have it's own packed schedule!

So, anyway, while I have a lot of posts roaming around my head, I am too lazy right now to put that kind of effort in, so here is a whole lot of random...

    -I had the opportunity to host a little graduation get-together for two of my younger sisters (I still owe the youngest one!) and it reminded me that I have never yet walked for graduation. I was homeschooled, and even though I have a genuine diploma (I accumulated credits through a correspondence school) I didn't have a high school ceremony. For college, I was busy moving so I didn't walk then, either. I am sure that the cheesy cap and gown aren't all that, but still I wonder what it would be like...

    -I am working away on my reading list for my book challenge (If you want to see what I've read, check out my Pinterest board where I track it here.) I have read dozens of other books this year, but they either don't fit any of the categories, or they aren't what I would consider "challenge-worthy". I just finished, The Red Badge of Courage and if you are rolling your eyes because you read that in high school, well good for you, but I managed to put it off until my mid-thirties. I was completely enamored of Crane's writing style-it was so beautiful. It all came together, though, because since I finished the book last week, we attended a Civil War reenactment Saturday, and with all Crane's vivid imagery still in mind it was all just so poignant and meaningful-especially in connection with Memorial Day... Reading the classics as an adult has given me such a greater appreciation for them. I think often they are *somewhat* wasted on the young. That is not to say that I don't see in value in high school students reading, To Kill A Mockingbird but there are just so many more layers of meaning when you can add real life experience to the mix!

    -I've been mulling over multilevel marketing recently. I have had a swarm of friends who have been sucked in recruited , joined MLMs in the past few months and it has caused me to be very aware of them. You probably guessed that I am a teeny bit negative towards them, and it has nothing to do with the products. I just couldn't quite put my finger on why I was not able to fully embrace the concept and then I read this article "The Divine Rise of Multilevel Marketing". I think the reason that they make me bristle is this: I just wish that women (or really anyone involved in that type of thing) would put an equal amount of energy into evangelism that they do into their "business". Many of these people make little or nothing, (according to the article, as little as 1% of those involved make a profit, and I have seen those figures other places) but they spend hours of time and energy to sell "their" product. I don't have a problem with that-I spend hours of time and energy on this blog and I literally have never made a cent. It's just that I try to devote a greater amount of time and energy into sharing the Gospel, and I also try to share my faith here. Plus, I've never tried to sell you anything that benefited me. ;) But, I think that if we viewed every meeting, every Facebook post, every Instagram photo, every brief interaction as an opportunity to promote the name of Christ, rather than skin-care products, cookware or weight-loss tools, I think we would see a dramatic gain for the Kingdom. Please hear me: I support many MLM consultants, for books, for workouts, for kitchen gear, for jewelry. (I fell in love with the mission of Trades of Hope and have made a number of purchases in the last few months.) However, I know these women personally, and they are seamlessly integrating their faith in Christ with their desire to better the world through sharing things in which they believe. However, I have other "friends" who have clogged my newsfeed, email and ears with endless babble and underlying just have a desire to "recruit" me so that they can move up in the food chain. Those are the ones that I wish would find their fire for the Lord and use their energies to fuel that instead of sales of products and promises of commission. I have decided though, that it has definitely done something good for me-it has encouraged ME to share the Gospel more openly. I would never talk to a Costco employee or a dental hygienist about a product I was selling, but I have knowledge about everlasting life, and I am eager to share that. Plus, I won't lie: I've decided to co-opt marketing techniques in an effort to promote our VBS. There is literally no shame in my game!

     -I've been working on better eating habits and I have discovered a few things. Namely, I do not hate almond milk and putting cottage cheese into scrambled eggs makes my heart sing. I have been trying to branch out and had some epic fails (Greek yogurt is NOT a substitute for mayonnaise, no matter what Pinterest tells you.), but I have also had some successes. I figure every little bit helps! I tried making a carrot smoothie (As long as you don't buy into that it "tastes like carrot cake" you'll be good) and eating plain oatmeal. I actually *like* plain oatmeal now! However, I made overnight oatmeal last week (You can see it on FB here.)  and that was a definite fail. I think I needed Dutch-process cocoa, my regular baking cocoa was far too bitter. Yuck! I think I am going to try a different recipe, one without cocoa, so if you have a tried-and-true one let me know!

    -I am finishing up another photo book. I have done almost thirty and this one will only leave me with a couple of months left to finish in 2013. Yes, I am behind, but I had made a royal mess doing a book here, and then switching to a completely different month, doing selected events and not others, and it was not working. I finally got on track, started a spreadsheet, and now I am finished through September 2013. I also started using Chatbooks and just received my third one! I am in love! If you want a code for a free one, let me know, and I will be glad to give you my referral code. There are a few "catches" (like you have to start a subscription to get the free one, which you would have to end if you don't want to get charged the next time) so I don't want anyone to be mad at me for not sharing all the details here. Since I said above I'm not trying to sell you anything (and I get $1 in credit anytime someone uses my code), I won't share it here until I have a better opportunity to explain myself. Currently I am using Shutterfly for my regular photo books, and they take quite a bit of time, around 3-4 hours for each book, so it will be a while before I am caught up! As a matter of fact, I am avoiding working on my book by blogging...

   So what does May hold for you? Did you get totally lost in my ramblings? Do you have really positive things to say about MLM? I'd love to hear what you have to say!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Our Favorite Kids' Bible Books

     I am shamelessly obsessed with the Bible. I figure, as far as obsessions go, that isn't a bad one to have! Ever since I became a mother I have searched for ways to pass on that love of the Word, so I am always on the lookout for really amazing Bibles and Bible storybooks to share with my children. I am a little on the picky side: I'm kind of hard-nosed about accuracy and thoroughness. I feel like there are children's Bible storybooks that tell Bible stories in a manner children can understand and relate to, and then there are ones that are worse than Hollywood versions of your favorite book-so far removed from the original that the only thing that's the same is the title. You know what I mean?

   Anyway, I have had a number of people ask me what my favorite Bible books are for my kids, and I thought I would compile a list of some of our most beloved ones. I have ranked them in order of most simple, therefore appropriate for the youngest age, to the actual Bible versions I use with my own kids now that they are a little older. (I have included my personal suggestions for the age range on each one, which may vary from the publisher's recommendations.)

1. "The Beginner's Bible" from Zonderkidz  (3-6 years) We started using this Bible with our kids when they were about 3 years old. As a matter of fact, each of our kids have their own copy, and they are both so well-loved that the bindings are broken! This one is great because the stories perfectly fit the attention span, and understanding, of the average preschooler. Then, as your child begins to read, they can start to read this Bible to you! My son, who is 8, still sometimes reaches for this one because the stories are so familiar. This isn't the most thorough of versions, but it is a great place to start.

2. "The Jesus Storybook Bible" by Sally Lloyd-Jones (4-8 years) This is probably one of the most recommended kids' Bibles, and while my kids really enjoyed it, it isn't my personal top pick. It is even more of a "story" format than most kids' Bible books. It is written in an unusual style that uses many capitalized words that appeal to adults, but I think can be a little confusing for children to read on their own (Example: ..."God would love his children-with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love". pg. 36) I would have preferred that the pronoun "His" be capitalized and not necessarily all the adjectives for love-a little nit picky, I know, but I'm just being honest! My husband did not care to read out-loud from this one because of the writing style. However, I loved how it wove together the entire Bible as one cohesive story, and some of the phrasing brought tears to my eyes. The author does a great job of covering the Old Testament books of prophecy (Ezra, Malachi, etc.), but she completely skips the entire books of Ruth and Esther, which was disappointing to me. So, while this is a very lovely storybook, I wouldn't personally use it as our sole children's Bible.

3. "The Big Picture Interactive Storybook Bible" from BH Kids (5-10 years) This is a recent purchase, and it came highly recommended. I purchased it because our church is using "The Gospel Project" curriculum, and I *LOVE* it! The whole focus of the Gospel Project is to see the entire Bible interpreted through the lens of Christ's gift of salvation. Each story is a concise one page, and includes discussion question and how each story relates back to Christ. I love that it covers the fall of Israel in the Old Testament, often children's Bibles tend to gloss over that portion because it is so complicated, but this one is very thorough while remaining age-appropriate (It covers Hosea and Gomer very tactfully!). With cute illustrations, and meaningful text, this is quickly headed to the top of our list. Even if your church is not using "The Gospel Project" this is still a great addition to your kids' Bible library. Also, an added bonus: the book works with a free app that provides short summaries for each story, in addition to showing a "3D" version of the illustration. For key stories, there are adorable videos, narrated with all of the text, that you can view. My kids loved that part!

4. "The Children's Bible in 365 Stories" (6-10) I purchased this at a thrift store on a whim, and it was definitely worth it. It is very reminiscent of my childhood (although I didn't use it then) and before we purchased "The Big Picture" Bible, was the most complete children's Bible storybook I had ever seen. I love how it is divided into use for a year's reading. The language is a tiny bit complicated, not overly so, but enough that for younger readers it makes for a better read-aloud. There's no squirming here-even David and Bathsheba, Sisera and Jael are covered, so you may want to peruse each day's selection beforehand. I am of the mindset that if it made it into the Bible, then I probably shouldn't hide it from my kids', I just need to handle it in an age-appropriate manner. This Bible doesn't include very much from the Old Testament prophets, and skips over some stories (Achan's sin) while including other more unusual ones (the Gibeonites' deception). Overall, if you have to pick between this one and "The Big Picture" I'd choose "The Big Picture", but they are both good, and the old school style of "The Children's Bible" appealed to my kids, so you can't go wrong with both.

5. "The Action Bible" from David C. Cook (8-12). My kids are *obsessed* with this Bible! I was a little hesitant: it *is* the Bible in comic book format, but my husband really wanted to purchase it for our son. What surprised me is that our 10 year-old daughter is just as interested in it! I haven't read this in it's entirety, but it is a great supplement to other Bible tools. Due to how it is written, it would not make for a good read-aloud, so I only recommend this for kids that can read and comprehend independently and have a firm understanding that, unlike Spiderman and Batman, the Bible is real and this is just another way to gain insight. The illustrations are exciting without being irreverent. My kids and my 12 year-old brother couldn't get enough of the dragon from Revelation. I also noticed that it includes a little bit of what happened between the Old and New Testaments, and some historical background on the world during the early Church years. I really liked that, as it wasn't until I was an adult I was able to put those periods in context. This is definitely the most "fun" and least "devotional" of any of my recommendations. It reminds me of "The Book of God, the Bible as a Novel" by Walter Wangerin Jr. It is really a supplement to other Bible study, and I wouldn't recommend it as an independent Bible, but more as way to get kids interested in the Word.

6. "The Adventure Bible" from ZonderKidz (6 and up) This is an actual Bible, and is available in several translations. My kids both have the NIV version, and the reason I recommend this particular Bible (in any translation) is because it has so many great helps and is a good introduction to study Bibles. It includes footnotes, maps, a glossary, subject index and more. It also has suggestions for how kids can apply the Bible to their own lives. I used an older version of this Bible as a child and I loved it. It has so many practical, helpful additions, but the actual Bible text is definitely the star of the show, which is how a Bible should be! Also, this Bible is available in a version for younger independent readers, the NIrV.

7. "The Message" from NavPress (10 and up)  Paraphrased by Eugene Peterson from the original Greek and Hebrew, this is actually a really great translation. I know many people contest that it is a translation, but you must translate to paraphrase, right? This Bible is so accessible, and surprises me often with its fresh, straight-shooting interpretation of the Word. Why do I recommend it for kids? It gives a great perspective on the Bible, and when paired with another more literal translation, can really help kids to see that the Bible applies to *our* lives-it isn't just old (albeit cool) stories from another era, it is about us, here and now. Peterson doesn't pull any punches, and his wording for some of the more hard-hitting parts of the Bible can make you wince if you aren't watching out. (Jesus' words to the Pharisees, or parts of Isaiah for example). It eliminates some of the confusing Bible language (using "dollars" instead of things like "shekels" in the New Testament) so kids' can see the heart of the story. It isn't so "hip" though that the really meaning is overlooked. However, use with caution. Due to some of the more "modern" language, there are occasionally words that you may not be comfortable using with your children (The way "prostitute" is translated in Matthew 21 is a good example. ) I choose to read this version aloud, so I make adjustments with the words that I prefer not to introduce just yet, but that is definitely something of which you should be aware.

     With all that said, I highly recommend that you are thorough when choosing any type of Bible-related book for your family. I try to use recommendations as a jumping off point, since there are so many possibilities, rather than a checklist of must-haves. Check these books and versions out for yourself, and be sure and let me know if you have any that I didn't mention that your family adores!

Friday, April 15, 2016

So Much S'more Kit (Easy Thank-You Gift)

    This is probably one of the cutest thank-you gifts that I have ever put together. I was searching for a thank-you for my kids' Awana leaders last year and I needed a gift that would work for both males and females. It is shockingly difficult to find something suitable to give guys that doesn't cost a fortune! Well, thanks to the help of my sister, Katy, I put together these fabulous "So Much S'more Kits" and I couldn't have been happier!

   These truly are so much more than just a typical marshmallow-graham cracker-chocolate gift. I included a variety of crackers, 'mallows and candy, plus some fun extras (Nutella and peanut butter!) so your recipient can get wild and crazy with their combinations! The packaging really makes the whole thing-everything is cuter in a Mason jar, amiright?

  This might seem like a dizzying array of ingredients, but I was putting together six jars, so nothing went to waste! Here's what I purchased, but you can mix it up however you like.

-graham crackers (I chose the "Fresh Stacks" because there are six individually wrapped stacks in each box, so I didn't need to re-package the grahams, and they are the perfect size for s'mores!)
-Ritz "Big" crackers (These are so fun, they are approximately the same size as a graham square so much better for s'mores)
-Chunky Chips Ahoy cookies, because obviously, I believe you can never have too much sugar!

-Hershey's milk chocolate, can't go wrong with a classic
-Hershey's Cookies & Cream
-Milky Way Simply Caramel (I though the caramel would be a nice addition)
-3 Musketeers

-Jet-Puffed Caramel Swirl (My favorite!)
-Jet-Puffed Brownie, these are flat, so they're perfect for s'mores
-Jet-Puffed S'moreMallows These are giant, and square, and so.perfect.for.s'mores

-Nutella, in individual cups
-Jif To-Go cups

And, of course, don't forget your clean Mason jars!

You know I can't leave well-enough alone, so I had to pretty things up a little. I cut a strip of scrapbook paper to wrap around the graham cracker stacks, so they didn't look so plain.

  I purchased tiny zip-top bags in the candy section of Hobby Lobby so I could divide up the marshmallows, and cookies. I bought straight-top cellophane bags for the Ritz, as they did not fit in the zip-top ones. I closed those with tape. Each jar fit six pieces of candy, so I just mixed and matched to use what I had evenly.

Buy a careful process of trial and error, I discovered the best way to pack the jars, if you are using the same items. First, I put the graham stack in, and placed the Ritz on one side. I then put both Hershey's bars vertically side-by-side, on the other side. Then I stacked the 3 Musketeers/Milky Ways on the third side.

I did a second layer with the marshmallows. It's pretty easy to see how I put them in there, just start with the S'moresMallows first, as they are the biggest.

Then the cookies fit perfectly on top. Simply close with the lid, I covered my lid with a circle of scrapbook paper to make it cuter before I put on the ring. There is no need to do anything more than stick a glue dot on it to center it as the ring will keep it in place. You are probably wondering: where are the toppings?

I realized they wouldn't fit in the jar, but I was loathe to not include them with the gift. So I came up with a solution. I wrapped them together with more scrapbook paper and placed them on top of the gift!

  You can see how I wrapped them better in this photo. You can also see the *cute* scrapbook paper I found at Hobby Lobby that set my color scheme-love that it even says, "S'mores" right on it! I tied the jars with coordinating ribbon, and used my two and half inch circle punch to cut out a backer for my label. I then cut out the label with a two-inch punch. I cut the label for the toppings with a one-and-a-half inch punch. You could definitely attach the tag more simply, just punch a hole in it and tie it on with ribbon. If you don't include the peanut butter and Nutella or something similar, you can skip the other label all together.

   It would be easy to use these labels on simple kits with just grahams, chocolate and ordinary marshmallows, but everyone loved all the options-even if they did just plan on eating them straight from the jar!

Get the "Thank You" Printable.

Get the "So Much S'More Kit" Printable.

I'm trying out a new way to allow you to access printables. Please let me know if you experience any problems!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

To Carson, On Your 8th Birthday

Dear Carson,
                       Today has been so full. Very rarely do I wish that I could just live a day over and over, but I think if I could, I would just rewind today and do it all over again. Not to change it, just to be able to experience it again, and continue to savor it. I know that seems like a strange thing to say, since it isn't *my* birthday, but it was just a really wonderful day, and I am glad that it was such a celebration of you.

     By far the very best part was your baptism. You accepted Christ when you were only five, and baptism was something you had a lot of questions about. It was hard for me to wait, but I am glad that I did. You were truly ready today to proclaim your faith to the world, and it was so very precious. I'm not going to lie: watching your Dad perform your baptism made me cry. He read the verses we picked out for you years ago, before you were even saved and they are still something I pray for you now:

"For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."Ephesians 3:14-21
   The very best part of these verses? These aren't just future promises, they are taking place right now, too. I am watching you, and hopefully helping you, become rooted and established. I am seeing you begin to grasp the love of the Lord and watching you as you are filled with His fullness.

    And it is taking my breath away. You are so young, but you constantly surprising me with your maturity. Seeing you face your fear about baptism, and conquer it through prayer and seeing your is blessing I don't take for granted. You are learning so much about the Lord and His Word, and it thrills me.

   Today really was such a great display of who you are. You made a decision about baptism, and you didn't back down. You gave it a lot of thought and examined it beforehand, so you were confident in your choice. Then you wanted to celebrate. You just wanted to be with *all* the family, and the same little guy that offered me his cookie at two, made sure that he ordered a dessert today that he could share with everyone. You made sure everyone at the table had a piece of zeppoli before you even took a bite, and you made sure to send the biggest one home for Grandpa Doc, since you know he loves donuts, and kept the smallest piece for yourself. You dived into the new Bible storybooks we bought you right at the table-you couldn't wait until we got home. Then after we were home, you just wanted to help get things ready for your party, offering to clean the toilet even though it is your birthday! And you were so proud to get to make your own ice cream cake. You carefully decorated every family members' cup with stickers and painstakingly wrote their name-it was so important to you to do it right and not forget anyone.

   Then when everyone arrived, you were in your element. You love to be the host, and you are never happier than when your house is full of the people you love. You wanted to take pictures with everyone. You weren't worried about being served first, you just wanted everyone to have a good time.You made sure you talked to everyone and thanked them for their gifts.

   You even got a "selfie" with me-and I know that I will always have fond memories when I look at that picture. I love you so much. And I hope you know that every day. I am so thankful for all the memories we made today, that I was able to see you proudly profess your faith before our church, but most importantly that I get to see you live that faith every day in your own way, one that honors the Lord.

   I am always praying for you, and I am so glad that you are here. I love you more than you can know.



Friday, April 8, 2016

Easy Bookmark Teacher Thank You Gifts

   It's that time of year, again. You might be thinking, "Spring?". Well, yes, spring, but also time to start thinking about teacher appreciation gifts! School won't end here until June, but I know that isn't the case for the majority of the United States. Besides, there are plenty of other people that you may want to start planning tokens of gratitude for, such as: sports coaches, Awana leaders, or, in my case, your fellow co-op teachers! 

     These simple elasticized bookmarks are so easy to put together. I ran mine through the sewing machine, which really only took a matter of minutes, but you could choose to make them "no-sew" and use a strong-hold craft glue or hot glue to put them together instead. However, you don't have to worry about the printable! I put together a free printable, so all you need to do is print it off and punch it out with your 2 1/2 inch circle punch and attach it.   

   These fabric bookmarks are so cute, and they are really inexpensive! 
 To get started you will need:
-Ribbon (choose a size that your button will cover completely) Mine is from Hobby Lobby, so it was half price. $2
-Buttons I choose these gemstone-looking ones, also half price, so $1.25 for six
- Hair elastics I choose smaller ones, I don't usually use ones that are this thin for my hair, as they don't hold it well. I can't remember exactly how much these were, I believe around $2 for 36 from Walmart. You could definitely pick up some from the Dollar Tree, too.

    Cut your ribbon to the desired length. I cut mine about 15 inches long, to give me room to fold it over the elastic. I also then heat-sealed the ends by holding them over a burning candle to fuse the threads. This isn't absolutely necessary for the end you will be sewing, but it will help to keep the ribbon from fraying, so you will definitely want to do it to the button end. Then I folded one of the ends under about an 1/8 of an inch, and then folded it over the elastic, leaving enough room to stitch it down. I sewed over it several times to make sure it would hold.

   Once you have stitched all the ends, you will sew your button on the opposite end, so the bookmark can be secured around the pages of a book. Hand-stitching all the buttons on is a great project to do while watching tv! You could glue the button on, too. but I like hand-stitching and I thought it would be most secure, so I did.
    The hand-sewing was even easier because I choose a button with only two holes. Don't sew the buttons too close to the end of the ribbon, as you don't want them to pull off.
      To finish the bookmarks, I choose to glue a tiny piece of coordinating ribbon over the stitching on the end with the elastic. I picked up the ribbon for $0.50 at Walmart and used the most minuscule amount, it was about an inch and half for each bookmark.

   I picked up these little notebooks at Michaels in packs of two for $2. I was thrilled that they matched the bookmarks. I considered buying actual books, but since I wasn't certain about the reading preferences of the recipients, I went with something more universal. I needed to fold the bookmark fabric over in the back and paperclip it to make it the right size, and then I attached the printable with a glue dot. I gifted mine with little bags of coordinating chocolates (For my ribbon, Dove had pieces that were just the right colors!) but you could definitely attach a gift card for a bookstore or coffee shop to your's.

All of the teachers at my co-op were thrilled with them! I was glad that I could put them together for less than $0.75 each! It is really tough when you have more than 2 or 3 people that you want to thank, and I needed about eight. Even with the notebooks and the chocolates, they were still around $3. I think having a handmade element is always such a nice touch to any gift.

Here is the link to the printable. In Our "Book" Your're "Re"Mark"able" printable 
If you have trouble with getting the link to cooperate, please let me know. I could not for the life of me get the pdf saved to my computer, so hopefully this will link to the right place. Thanks for your patience!


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