Saturday, December 24, 2011

No Room In The Inn

No Room in the Inn

"She brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn." ~ Luke 2:7

In these days of modern technology, we never miss a thing with TiVo, voice mail, DVD recorders, and camera phones. But even though our toys keep us from missing a phone call, they can also cause us to miss the real reason for the holiday season.

You can watch Christmas disappear in front of your eyes, in a heap of shredded wrapping paper, and find yourself saying, "I was so busy shopping, so busy attending this, going to that, that I think I actually missed the point of Christmas."

It might be surprising to know that the majority of people missed the very first Christmas as well. People just carried on with business as usual, paying no attention to what was happening just a few feet away.

In Luke chapter 2, we are introduced to an innkeeper who had no time for Christmas. In this familiar story, Mary and Joseph came to the innkeeper for a room, but because his inn was full, he turned them away.

The only place he had for this young pregnant woman and her husband was a stable, a cold, dark, and damp stable—which was more than likely a cave. He was too preoccupied with other things to make the time for Christmas.

There are people like this in the world today. They don't necessarily oppose or hate God outright. They are simply preoccupied. God and spiritual things do not concern them. Their interests lie more in what can immediately satisfy their own physical needs. The innkeeper was too busy to make room in the inn for the soon coming Messiah.

Let me ask you this: have you made room for Jesus this Christmas? If not, there is still time to refocus and make room for Christ this Christmas, today!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Experiencing Christmas Presence Instead of Presents

I have had the fortunate insight to see Christmas for what it should be, giving. Giving to those who are around us and hurting. This Christmas isn't about elaborate dinners or more presents for those that have more than enough, it's about extending ourselves to those in need. Families that are hanging on by a thread, but don't ask for anything, people out of work that we can help with a meal or two or a grocery gift card, a lonely person this Christmas that doesn't have a family Christmas to attend. Let's open ourselves up, step outside of our comfort zones and show the world what Christmas really means, let's be the hands, feet and smiles full of love for those that need to see it the most.

This is what Jesus meant when He came into the world to save us all from sin, it was a gift undeserved but desperately needed. Even though we didn't ask for it, God extended this to us gracefully filled with love. So this Christmas, please, extend yourselves to those in need around you. Guaranteed, there is someone out there with worse than you have it. Trust me!

God will return the favor too!

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them, saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

And again a reminder from Jesus in Matthew 25: 34-40

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I say it's time to practice what we know and start getting out there and helping. Isn't that what the real spirit of Christmas is all about?

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Prayer Request

My dearest family and friends. I could use your prayers right now. We found out that our daughter's car needs to have the head gasket possibly replaced on her car and we are faced with an unexpected financial issue at this time, one week before Christmas.

We have faith in God and have sought Him in prayer hoping that things will work out better than expected at this time. We did have one auto dealer ask us to pay a deposit before he would start work on our car and couldn't guarantee it wouldn't cost more. This is something we hadn't counted on, especially right before Christmas.

My husband is literally a silent stress ball right now. You can tell he's holding it all inside but if you could pray for strength and peace for him right now and to let God help him let go of this situation. He's such a loving man who does his absolute best for us not to mention the fact that he's having to deal with leaving town in the midst of said crisis. You know you can only plan for some many unexpected things to happen and yet we don't quite know what we will do.

Your prayers for all of us would be greatly, deeply and very much appreciated at this time. Not to mention that my husband's dad is scheduled for heart surgery on Monday. Please pray that God will really show Himself to my husband at this time and I'll definitely keep you all posted.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Are YOU ready for Christmas?

Hard to imagine what most people would think if they didn't understand what Christmas was all about, what the real meaning was behind it all?

If you were to take someone who had no knowledge whatsoever of what Christmas was and had them pass through a local mall, what might they think Christmas was about? Think about it for a minute, you're heading into a very over crowded parking lot filled more than usually. People are racing around in cars trying to rush into whatever space they find available. It's very competitive, so if you don't watch out, you may even lose the one you've been eyening or possibly engage in a verbal war of sorts with the driver of the car that believes you just stole his spot.

Now enter the mall doors where it's filled with busy shoppers rushing around with packages from all kinds of store. Each store front has sales signs designed to entice the shoppers that they have exactly what you're looking for and at the lowest prices anywhere. It seems the goal is to buy as much as you can. Overhead music streams from the speakers overhead telling you that Santa Claus is Coming to town between banners wishing you a Happy Holiday and Season's Greetings!

In the center of the mall there is an elderly man with white beard and a red suit posing for pictures with children dressed in their very best. Another person is offering the parents the opportunity to purchase those pictures. Babies are crying and it generally seems most people are too busy to even smile at a passing stranger. So just what kind of meaning really lies behind Christmas? Even the clerks and cashiers keep asking each person, "Are YOU ready for Christmas yet?"

I am passing along a poem I found today in an email I receive that should explain what it really means. I hope you enjoy it.

“Ready for Christmas,” she said with a sigh
As she gave a last touch to the gifts piled high…
Then wearily sat for a moment and read,
Til soon, very soon, she was nodding her head.
Then quietly spoke a voice in her dream,
“Ready for Christmas, what do you mean?”
She woke with a start and a cry of despair.
“There’s so little time and I’ve still to prepare.
Oh, Father! Forgive me, I see what You mean!
To be ready means more than a house swept clean.
Yes, more than the giving of gifts and a tree.
It’s the heart swept clean that He wanted to see,
A heart that is free from bitterness and sin.”
So be ready for Christmas - and ready for Him.

So as you can see, the real meaning behind Christmas should be more about the stuff we need to do and instead reflect on the gift God bestowed upon us all that Christmas so long ago. He gave the ultimate gift. The gift of His son, through His salvation, we receive an eternal life earned merely by the grace of God alone and not by anything we do. Wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas!

By the way, in keeping with the theme of Susan's Photo Challenge for Day 7, " A Wreath With A Red Bow," this is my wreath own our front door, wishing you all a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

We Complain When Our Lives are Really Easy

We all complain. It's just part of human nature I guess. We complain about how cold it is, that it's snowing, no rain, too sunny, not enough money in the bank when someone else just got a raise; others are finding pink slips this Christmas season instead of a regular check while large corporation heads pick up yet another bonus check; we complain because we have to cook, while others are struggling just to find enough to eat for the day.

If you really look at what we complain about, it all boils down to nothing really. Someone, somewhere has it way worse than we have it now. So where did today's topic come from you ask, I mean, you must think about, where does she get these ideas for posts anyway right?

Well today's post is courtesy of my lunch conversation today with a dear friend of mine that I have known for over 7 years now. She is involved in my life so much, she is part of our family. She has been like a second mother to my daughters at times and we've seen it other at some of our lowest moments. That in my opinion makes a true friend. Plus, like she put it as we were saying 'Goodbye' today, that no matter how long in between our conversations or visits, Facebook posts or just finding some way to communicate, there is never any guilt associated with, "You know it's been (insert length of time here) since we last talked, how come you don't talk to me anymore?" Between us two, we pick right back up where we left off, no guilt needed. That's priceless in my book!

So while we were having lunch today, a variety of topics came up with one of them being the number one thing we hate to do when it comes to housework, her's is a tie between folding laundry and cleaning the bathroom, while mine was cleaning the shower and tub. As we get older, it's harder to get down and really give the showers and tubs the cleaning they desperately need before the old hammer and chisel is needed. I'm sure you get my point.

When she began telling me just how much she hated folding clothes, I laughed and said, "WOW! think about us sitting here complaining about laundry. I mean what is really involved between getting it to our machines, sorting it, adding the detergents and fabric softeners and pushing a combination of buttons, then switching said wash load into dryer and pushing more buttons. Hard to believe, we are sitting here complaining about this!" We both laughed, yet if you really think about it, how hard is it really? Compared to people who don't have the luxury of a washing machine or dryer, who have to do it by hand?

When you really consider it all, there isn't anything to complain about. All the modern conveniences we take for granted, from our computers, to social networking sites, we complain when it takes too long or it's too slow, when in reality, it's pretty darn fast compared to the old way of doing things.

It just made us both stop and really think about the things we complain about when people all around us are barely making ends meet and are hanging on my a thread. Makes you really reconsider all the complaining we do and start to think about ways we can help others if we can. Perhaps its a simple phone call or a card to let someone we haven't talked to in awhile, know we are thinking about them. Perhaps it's finding the time to take a great friend to lunch and really letting them know how much they mean to you. Time is too priceless to waste time and I hope this post touched you in some small way. I'd love to hear your comments!

By the way, I am running a Christmas Card Exchange if anyone is interested. Simply click on the Christmas card picture at the top of my side bar for details. I didn't realize it wasn't working before. Simply email me and let me know you want to participate and I'll include you.

Also an update to yesterday's blog post about my pictures of my painted villages, I forgot to include them so they are below for those of you that asked. In addition, today's photo is my submission to the day 6 photo challenge, "Candy Cane or 5!" This is made of jingle bells and is part of our home decor we've had for quite some time. I love putting it up every year! This are individually hand-painted by our family!

Monday, December 5, 2011

City Sidewalks, Busy Sidewalks! What's it all Mean?

Well I got into the spirit of Christmas over the weekend, did you? For some of you, you don't even have your Christmas decorations up, your tree is only lit because it's prelit and you can simply plug it in, and others are debating if this year is even worth dragging all those decorations up from the basement, garage or wherever you have them stored.

Yet what does all this really mean? I am talking about the simple busyness of the season, the hussle and bussle of the shoppers? I got to experience some of this yesterday while running to Micheal's to pick up some snow for our houses we paint every year. It's a tradition my husband remembered being a part of his Christmas' growing up so it's one we've adopted. We stop by Michael's and grab some plaster houses for about $3.00 since they are now half price, and along with some water based paints we've had for awhile, begin painting various buildings. This year, we'll add a diner and a gas station to our growing collection.

We'll put the Christmas music on, and talk while painting our buildings. Over the years, our kids have joined in along with their friends and we have quite the collection now. All of them have been hand painted from 2005 til now. It brings back so many memories just unpacking them and setting them up. But back the Michael's.

I already have the mind set that you have to be prepared this year to struggle to find ANY parking anywhere you go, especially on the weekends. You have to be prepared for messy, over-crowded stores, and pushy people, kids that have been dragged to one too many stores and now are "voicing" their own opinions on everyone along with really, long lines. Now throw all those together in one store and you have our experience at Michael's. Oh wait did I mention one husband who has been really short on patience lately? Yeah, well now you have the setting for our outing.

The poor couple in front of us had their basket filled to overflowing with 18-inch wreaths that were on sale and because they weren't ringing up at the "sale" price, a debate with the check out clerk ensued. Not to mention, ours was the shortest line up to this point. Now you can imagine the battle going on in front of us with the lady customer who was getting loud and the poor sales clerk, while customer after customer in front of us managed to get out of the store way before us. For each one that checked out, my husband's patience was checking out right along with them.

I on the other hand, managed to remain calm because I had prepared myself for all these things to happen, so when you prepare, you don't get upset. I just sat back smiling, patiently waiting, feeling sorry for the poor clerk who was getting yelled at and had to keep cancelling their order and re-ringing everything up. By the time, we managed to reach her, she smiled and thanked us for waiting so patiently. I thanked her for being so patient with her customers and how busy they must be, while my husband was fuming on the inside and only managed to keep his frustrations on the inside.

This serves as a reminder that we must always be prepared for what lies ahead of us, as much as we can anyway. We serve a God who always knows the paths that lie ahead of us and what the outcomes will be. Now is the time for us, to take an extra breath, offer a smile to a busy waitress or cashier, or even a customer near you. There are far too many in much too big of a rush to see the needs of those around them, and I don't want you to miss it. There is beauty in everything! From the overly crowded stores to parking lots filled to capacity, to busy coffee stands. Let's gift everyone we run into with the love and grace of the God we serve with a caring smile and a kind word.

It's definitely the gift that means more than money and one that everyone can afford to give! Don't forget while you're at it, to wish them a Merry Christmas too!

By the way, for the 5th day of the photo challenge for December, my photo at the top is "Something Warm and Toasty!" It's a mug of hot chocolate, topped with whipped cream, cinnamon, nutmeg and red and green sprinkles! I make them for our family as we enjoy our family Christmas movie night where each night we watch one Christmas movie as we count down the days til Christmas. It brings us together and allows us to really talk about each movie. Tonight it will be "It Happened on Fifth Avenue, a definite vintage Christmas movie!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Being Resourceful

Today while browsing the blog posts of my favorite bloggers, I was captivated from time to time by the fluttering just in front of our patio door. Because of Christmas decorating I moved my desk directly in front of our patio door so that I could have a "bird's eye" view of my backyard. The fluttering today was from a couple of mockingbirds that frequent our yard because of all the berries that are available for them as a food supply. Not to mention when our sprinklers come up the worms are in great supply.

These two have been coming in and out all morning long and for a moment, I just stopped and watched what they were up to. They are gathering all they can for their winter prepartions. Not only are the busy, they are finding all kinds of supplies along the way. From the berries in the mulberry trees that border our back fence, to scraps of dried leaves from a neighbors palm that hangs way too far over our fence perhaps to make their nest a whole lot warmer this year.

What really brought this full circle is how diligent they are in their tasks. They are not wasting time waiting for a warmer day to do this. Waiting for a day where the wind gusts may just blow them into the side of our house or fence. They are doing it now, because they have the resources available to them today. Even though I haven't filled my feeder in a few days, the birds are gathering all the tiny seeds and berries that have fallen into the cracks between our brick pavers. They are doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Those same berries, branches and worms may be gone tomorrow when the sun decides to shine again or the winds die down.

They are braving the elements because they have needs. How often do we do the same?

When some life crisis has us against the ropes, or something seems impossible to fix, what do we do? Do we use all the resources available to us or do we pick up the nearest phone and complain to a friend or family member. Do we blog about our issues and hope for a solution in the comment box or even change our status on Facebook to reflect our current mood?

Yet do we really use all the resources available to us or are we merely searching for someway to get our problem solved without having to do any of the work? Do we drop whatever it is when life hands us a problem and lift up a prayer to the One that can resolve it? Do we ask for others to help lift our petitions up in prayers of their own. Do we consult God's word to see if their is insight or wisdom available there? Do we offer thanks to God for the issue at hand, knowing that behind everything there is a reason?

I for one am guilty for using prayer as my last result. When all my other efforts have fallen way too short of a solution. Most of the time, what I do notice, is that often times, when I go to God first, the problem never seems as bad, and it gets resolved so much quicker than if I handled things on my own without running it by God first.

The scriptures remind us that the birds of the air don't waste time storing up their food, but that God provides their daily needs to them. It's also a great reminder as well, that God doesn't expect us to sit back and wait for the food to fall into the nest as well. We have to be willing to come to Him in prayer, confess our needs and then get to work. In the end, make sure we thank God for answering our prayer even though it may seem like He hasn't heard it yet. Remember He knows about it even before we ask. Who better than to ask for help with anything besides God?

As for me, I've got a bird feeder that needs my immediate attention!

By the way, for those playing along on Susan D's 25 December Photo Challenge, here's my contribution, " A List!" As you can see I write down ideas for posts wherever I can and thought this went perfect with today's message! This is posted at the top of this post!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Where is all the time going?

Well here it is, December 1st and just 30 more days and another year has flown by. I don't know about you, but there are points in this year that have grown stagnant and points where someone hit the "fast forward" button and the month was over before I had a chance to change my calendar page.

This time of the year seems to be set to "fast forward." Christmas shopping to get done, Christmas meal planning is in the works, guest lists planned, Christmas packages wrapped and mailed along with your Christmas card list, volunteering opportunities and church festivities all wrapped up inside of 30 days filled with your daily "to do" lists as well.

Yet for me, this is the month I long for, wait for all year long. It's when the weather changes and we can turn the fire place on and enjoy sitting by the fireside. It's where the leaves change color and the mockingbird hurry to gather the last remaining berries off the tree before the rains come. It's where I hope that moods and attitudes change for the better. Where people are just a touch nicer than during the other 11 months of the year.

Before you know it, we have to wait another 365 more days to get a second chance at Christmas and winter again. So today as I watch the last remaining leaves fall from the trees as the winter winds blow outside, I spend time in reflection and a silent meditation of sorts. Christmas music softly playing the background under the glow of the lights from the Christmas tree and just enjoy the mood that all of this creates. A mood of peace, on gratitude for not being busy doing something, on not having anything to do but sit. Although a nice hot cup of coffee sounds good right now too!

It's never too late to slow down. To enjoy the life that rushes by at an exponential pace, almost faster than I can blink an eye. Perhaps if I try, by the end of the day, I won't fall in bed completely exhausted and wonder "what just happened today?" It will end in sigh instead of a gasp and then tomorrow will offer the challenges of a new day.

Let's slow down a bit. If you're think, "yeah, right?!" why not ask yourself, why not? What can you eliminate that will provide you with more time to enjoy the day. What can wait til later? How can you simplify your life?

I look forward as always to your insights, your comments, as the gifts they truly are in my life!

By the way, in keeping up with Susan's 31 day photo challenge, I have posted my picture for today at the top of this blog, "Something Red!" If you're interested in the 31 day December photo challenge, check out my sidebar for details on Susan's page.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wanted: Christmas Cards!

I remember before the days of email and eCards, there were these wonderful things called Christmas Cards. I'm also not referring to the Christmas Letters (brag letters) or the family Christmas card you purchased in bulk at Walgreens or through a photo service, but the old-fashioned Christmas cards that offered the recipient a hand-written greeting for the Christmas season.

Does anyone recall those anymore?

I heard that they are considering also in reducing the days in which we receive our mail, giving up Saturday delivery or even just a four day delivery because their isn't enough for mail carriers to do besides delivery junk mail and bills. That is unless you've already gone paperless in which case most days if you're like me to rush out to the mailbox and it's empty.

So like Clark Griswold would say, it's time for a fun, old-fashioned, family Christmas Card exchange if you're up to it. All cards would need to be mailed by December 15th to ensure we can fill our doors or card holders to overflowing with Christmas cards from all over. If you want to participate, simply email me with your mailing information and I'll email you back with mine. Hopefully we'll also do the postal service a huge favor and increase the number of Christmas stamps we have to purchase, along with Christmas cards and keep them super busy this year. I'll have this listed on my sidebar if your interested! If you send me your name, you're going to get one back from me! It's truly a win/win for everyone who wants to participate. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment. By the way, my email address is listed in my sidebar under contact me!

Would love to know you're thoughts on what you think of Christmas cards disappearing as well! So whose with me?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Why Re-Read Books?

Most of my faithful readers already know I am a book fanatic, a collector or purveyor of literary works, in a nutshell I love to read. It's been a love of mine since childhood and one I am having difficulty getting my own children to enjoy. Mostly its due to the fact, they have technology that engages their every whim and I grew up without.

We dealt with imagination, they deal in virtual reality. So how does one share that love of books with these next generations? I guess the simple answer is to take away electricity. That would leave Ipods, computers, televisions and video games almost worthless. No power, no play.

Yet what I want to do is create that love for what books provide that technology can't. Yes, I also am aware of eBook readers, but for me, nothing feels the same or even smells the same as a paper book. Which is why, I love book stores! I love learning what secrets and adventures lay waiting in store for the eyes and brain to piece together the movie that plays out when we immerse ourselves into books.

When I grew up, some of my favorites included every single book about horses. From fictional novels like Black Beauty and Misty of Chincoteague, to books identifying the many different breeds and uses for horses. In addition during the summer, the book mobile would arrive in our neighborhood and provide us a mobile mini library to select from. This was perfect since mom and dad both worked so getting to the library often posed challenges. This rectified that problem. I read through all the Nancy Drew mysteries, solving crimes right alongside my best friend Nancy, I journeyed across the prairie with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her family; I read the classics, Swiss Family Robinson, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Books gave our imagination wings to fly and nothing was impossible, that is until we tried something and it failed.

Yet in the re-reading of these books, lessons are captured that our youth often missed or perhaps we learned something but never really understood what was happening. Through the Ingalls family, we learned about surviving through hard times, learning what living a simple life really meant. Even though Laura didn't have as much money as the rich Olsen's, she still was envied as having the warm love of her family and friends who would do anything for them.

We learned that visiting new places, meeting new people and trying new things didn't have to be so scary through Lucy's visit through the wardrobe. We learned that loyalty pays off in the end, and that evil never wins in the end, no matter how it might seem that it will. Patience is something to be gifted through trials and storms, and it doesn't hurt to have help in the form of friends and family along the way.

I am so curious to learn what books you read as a child and how they impacted your life today, even though you may not have thought about the correlation til you read this post. Please share by leaving me your comments below, and I hope you pick up some of your childhood favorites once again and read them through experienced and new eyes again. You can even research your favorite authors and learn more about why they wrote the stories we have come to call classics, those very reasons may just in fact prove to be a surprise as well.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanks-Giving!

Hmm, I sit here wonderful just what to share with you my readers of this Thanksgiving holiday. Something I haven't shared before, no cartoons about ways that turkeys are looking for you to find alternative foods to eat over them, no history lessons on just how the first Thanksgiving is celebrated or even what foods our family will be preparing or what our plans our this Thanksgiving.

For those of you that are interested in our plans, we are staying at home. We live some distance away from our family and friends and therefore don't want to uproot anyone just to have them drive over 2 hours away for dinner. We'll save those moments for when traffic isn't so bad or the weather may pose a threat to everyone's safety. We are keeping it small to just our immediate family, meaning anyone who is dwelling in our home that day or even the night before. Like all Thanksgivings, we open our home to anyone that doesn't have a place to go, be it family members, friends or even friends of friends.

We know that most families have been hit hard this year. Due to the "Recovery" plan that never quite panned out the way our President expected, some families are without anything this holiday. So this is our families year of giving. Whether it's helping the homeless out, volunteering at the soup kitchens or just providing a family with a way to have a meal or a place to go. That is our mission this year. I remember last year, we were struggling to find a way to make a Thanksgiving meal, times financially were really hard, and believe it or not, you probably know someone who is struggling but won't share that bit of their personal life with you. They are too embarrassed or just don't want to bother. They'll keep it to themselves, so this year. Be observant. Be open to windows of opportunity to help.

Share a bit of yourself, your family and even your finances if you are able to this year. I know for our family, we want to help, to give back, to make a difference. So while we gather around our table filled with food, we'll remember those that don't have any meal to gather around, who have lost family members this year, or who don't have a home. We'll be sharing ideas of how we can help before the year ends. Ways we can make a difference. Ways we can help, to step outside of our comfort zones and really be the hands and feet of Jesus this year.

Please pray for those that need help, that God will guide them to you, and you can make a difference in their lives. That you can offer them hope to a world that wants to remind them of what they don't have. Be the light. Be the salt! Let us flavor this year and this holiday with the hope we have in Jesus!

Wishing all of you and yours, a very blessed and abundant Thanksgiving filled with the love, warmth, and laughter of friends and family! Happy Thanksgiving ~ Love and Hugs ~ Kat

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Priceless Memories

I just finished reading the most amazing book this year, called A Marriage Carol. If you want to know what it's about, click here. What I took away from this book was it dealt with a marriage more than just on the rocks, this house was losing its foundation and was ready to fall into the ocean. Not mine but the marriage that is discussed in the book.

The couple was spending their 20th Anniversary heading to their divorce lawyer's office to sign the paperwork to split their assets and divide the custody of their children. 20 years of marriage. Wow! I could say that I commend a couple for making it that long. We all know that our marriages will have their ups and downs, their seasons of drought and at times where one or both of those probably considers what it might be like if we hadn't married that person. Most of the times, they remain as internal dialogue, never surfacing and remaining just what they were thoughts.

Yet in this story is a promise of hope, the promise that if one of them is willing to fight for their marriage it just might be saved. See in the story, there isn't another man or woman contending for the affections of the spouse, its just that have grown apart. The husband is spending more time trying to make it up the rungs of the corporate ladder and the wife is spending her time working on raising a family and dealing with the kids. Now they barely have two words to say to one another, and find spending time doing what they love no longer involves the two of them.

What both of them need is a reminder. A reminder of where they met, what attracted them to one another, what made them fall in love and enter the commitment of marriage. They needed a trip to the past. Have you taken the time to venture into the past of your marriage. To spend time remembering what it was like the first time you laid eyes on your husband or wife. What it felt like the first time they told you that they loved you, your first date. All the "first" times. See none of that has changed with our spouses. Just more time has elapsed to create more memories, more firsts. Our first fight, our first child, our first grandchild even, our first graduations. You get the idea.

Which leads us to where we are today, in our Christmas present. Time has moved forward, and we have been married now for quite some time. Long after the proverbial honeymoon period has died, and experience at being married is now a time of being settled, comfortable even. Yet we need that magic back of what those "first times" were like. Perhaps it involves nothing more than spending an evening reminiscing of those first memories. That's what we did last night. We spent time sharing our favorite memories, our first kiss, our first real vacation, our first time as parents...well you get the idea. As we both shared some of our favorite memories, you can feel the embers in those fires inside both of us, begin to become fanned and the fire rekindled. We just have to remember not to let the fire die out. We have to find ways to fan the flame of love in our hearts. We have to be willing to fight for our love, for our marriage, for our family.

We entered this world with nothing and we will leave this world in the same manner. We can take nothing with us. Not our homes, our vacations, our children, our money or even our status. It's all on loan from God. ALL OF IT! Nothing belongs to us, so it often amazes me why we cling so tightly to those things that are on loan to us from God. Yes, it hurts to lose things especially children and our family. Yet we need a reminder to give God thanks every single day for those things that receive daily. Need the ultimate reminder?

I got this as a status on one of my Facebook friends, what if you woke up today and the only things you had were the things you thanked God for yesterday? How many of you would literally have nothing to show for that today? I know I would have nothing yesterday morning. So why wait? Why wait for something to happen? Why not start today and thank God for every little thing that you have in your life today. Not just today, but every day. I think the attitude is contagious. To have an attitude of gratitude, not just praying for wants and needs but for thanks as well.

The one thing we do leave this life with is our memories. We will remember our family and friends as we enter into Heaven. That is the only thing plus our salvation we take into Heaven. Looking back at my personal memories with my husband, I realize I have so many happy times that make me smile just to revisit those. It's time we spend our time creating more to savor and enjoy in the years to come. Those memories are priceless and one that no one can take from us, not even death. How will you chose to spend your time? Making priceless memories or filled with a life of regrets?

I hope like me, you'll spend it praying about things your thankful for and living a life of beautiful blessings and memories! I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving. You are all a big huge blessing in my life. You're not just blogging buddies or Facebook friends, but real life connections that unite us all! Wishing you and yours a very Blessed Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Husbands New Help Too!

Sharing a story I got a few days ago that really hit home for me in so many ways, I just had to pass the message along for others who could benefit! Enjoy!

A Plea for Understanding
by Charles R. Swindoll

Read Job 2:1--9

I want to confess that for too long in my ministry I took unfair advantage of Job's wife, especially since she was not present to defend herself. I think it was probably due to immaturity on my part. Furthermore, I hadn't been married long enough to know better than to say those things. I cannot leave this one snapshot of Mrs. Job in the story without clarifying the record in her defense.

Now that you've seen the incredible disaster they shared, isn't it a little easier to understand how she could suggest, "Job, darling, let's just pull the plug. Don't go on. You can't keep living like this, I can't stand it. Curse God, and let Him take you home to be with Him." I think so. She's reached her limit and is willing to let him go. I'm not justifying the woman's reasoning as much as trying to understand it.

Always guard your words when your husband is going through terribly hard times. I want to confess something about us men. Mainly, I want you to remember: going through sustained hard times weakens most men. For some reason, hardship seems to strengthen women; we admire you for that. But we men are weakened when times of affliction hit and stay. In our weakened condition we lose our objectivity, sometimes our stability. Our discernment is also skewed. Our determination lags. We become vulnerable, and most men don't know how to handle themselves in a vulnerable state of mind. So in light of all of this---hear me---we need your clear perspective, wisdom, and spiritual strength. Most of all, we need you to pray for us as you've never prayed. We need not only your prayers, we need your emotional support. We need you to take the initiative and step up.

We need your words of confidence and encouragement. We even find it hard to say, "I need you right now." My wife could tell you that she lived with me for our first ten years of marriage before she ever thought I needed her. I finally admitted it and learned how to say it. In the lonely hours of a man's great trial, nobody's words mean more to him than his wife's words. That is one of the God-given reasons you and your partner were called to be together. When we husbands lose our way, you wives help us find our way back.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Thank You To All Our Veterans and Service Personnel!

Without your unconditional sacrifice and willingness to serve, we wouldn't remain a free and blessed country despite our difficulties at the present time. It's because of the sacrifices of people who have stepped up to the plate, willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, even if it means laying down their life for another, they do it without hesitation. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for those that have died serving, those that are still at war, those that are still missing, and those families that have stood by while our country remains one of the best in my personal opinion. I am proud to be an American and thank you for those who have paid the ultimate price.

I had the opportunity yesterday while visiting the Museum of Flight in Washington, to visit the World War 1 and 2 exhibits. What memories were found personally by me, as I walked by each exhibit, from the items on display that family and friends have lovingly dedicated, to the letters and journals I have the privilege to read. It was a moving moment for me, wondering if each piece could talk, what stories they would share. The photographs on display of such loving men and women who paid the price to serve our country and those that never made it home alive. I cried at times, but very so proud as well because I am an American, both my parents served, and I was fortunate. They came home.

The best part of my day was visiting with an elderly gentleman who was kind enough to share his personal story with us. He served in WWII, in Pearl Harbor. He remembers the day fondly. He was playing golf in Griffith Park, when he got the news that Pearl Harbor was attacked and went to war. He flew P38's and a few others. As he talked it was an honor to realize that this man was well over 80 and still standing here telling us his story. He was so proud and you could see in his eyes he could remember it all like it happened yesterday. When we left, we personally thanked him not only for his time, but for talking to us. For sharing a time in history with us, for serving our country well. Now I will take his memory and treasure it because he so lovingly shared it with us.

Thank you again for your time sir. It was treasured and well worth the time it took for you to share it with us. Happy Veteran's Day and making it memorable to us.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Confession Time

OK. Here I sit, suffering, due in part to a horrible cold I happened to pick up about a week ago and the other fact that for the last two years, I have an addiction. One that started with seasonal allergies but for the last hour have been documented in hundreds of forums all over the internet.

Nasal Spray! I am addicted. Yes that's right for the last two years, faithfully I have been using it to breath, because without it, my nasal passages block up worst that cement being poured into them and allowed to harden. So what's a person to do besides be honest and come clean? Well the latest findings I have researched is one of three things:

1. Quit cold turkey, which sounds easy until you attempt to try it and live for the next hour or so, breathing out of your mouth until your throat drys out and you develop a horrible cough.

2. Try diluting the spray with saline by 50% and keep using it as you normally would, adding more saline as your bottle empties. (This one will probably be my final option)

3. Only use it on one side, allowing up to three to four days for one side of your nose to open up again and heal in other words using the spray like you have been just on the other side. The belief is, as long as you can breath out of one side, you'll be likely to deal better than the cold turkey option. This one I am trying today, along with prayer that God will help me deal with this addiction. Once I break free, I vow never to go back. So far, I've made it through the first four hours with one side remaining blocked, but using spray to keep at least one option open.

People have claimed all kinds of horrible concoctions from pepper spray if you can believe that one, to steroids shots or worse case, surgery. I have to get rid of this addiction and of course, trying to do this while you have a horrible head cold is the absolute worst but if I don't do this now, there will be no way out. By the way, allergy and sinus medication via pill form does not help at all to reduce the symptoms. If it were that simple, I'd simply take pills until my nose stops rebounding and then simply stop taking the pills.

I'd love to hear your comments and could use those prayer warriors to really lift me up at this time. I'll keep you posted and let you know how it's going.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Risk It!

Passing along a great message I got in my email from Charles Swindoll! It truly does speak to this time and our generation of believers, are you willing to risk it?

Risk It!
by Charles R. Swindoll

Read Esther 4:12--14

What does it matter if I get involved or not? It matters greatly---it matters to your character! Yes, it's true that God has other ways to accomplish His objectives. He has other people He can use. He isn't frustrated or restrained because you and I may be indifferent. But when that happens, we are the losers. When we have been called "for such a time as this," how tragic it is if we don't stand up in that hour.

There will be no celestial shout urging you to take a stand. Nor will a flash of lightning awaken you in the midst of your slumber. It doesn't work like that, so don't sit around waiting passively. Numerous needs and issues surround us. They summon us to stand up and be counted. While we will not be able to respond to all of them, the solution is not to respond to none of them! So let me ask you: What are you doing to stand up, to stand alone, to answer the call of God in this hour? Allow me to spell out a few issues and needs worth considering.

Are you involved in helping dysfunctional families? How about those who are homeless and hungry? Or those who are addicted to drugs and/or alcohol? What do you do for the orphans and widows? In "such a time as this," what do you stand against and stand for? Do you take a stand against pornography? Do you support any part of the cause of the pro-life movement against abortion? Where do you stand as it relates to the absence of masculinity, the whole extreme feminist movement? What about the horror of sexual abuse that has become so rampant in our society? Or prejudice against other races or nationalities? What about the developmentally disabled? This is an urgent hour of need. Are you there, ready to be salt and light, in this hour?

Not until you believe one person can make a difference will you be willing to take a risk. Quit being so careful about protecting your own back. Stop worrying about what others will think. You don't answer to them. You answer to Him. He will help. He will give you wisdom and courage. You may be only one, but you are one. So, take a risk!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

In the Not So Distant Future

Seems like lately the future isn't looking so bright when you think of things from a world perspective. The jobless rate is still slowing moving upward, the health care crisis is way beyond control and even the economy is slipping in a downward trend. Have you noticed lately the prices of everything seem to be climbing but the overall product weight is shrinking, which means we are in fact paying way more for a whole lot less. Just check the size of your potato chip bags lately?

So what does the future look like? Will it get any better or are we sitting on the verge of a far worse depression then the one that hit us in 1929? I mean can anyone get a loan anymore with a fairly decent rate? Now banks, like Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Chase are going to begin to charge their customers a $5 fee to use their debit cards every month. That will add $60 to the banks bottom line for every single customer that uses their debit cards. Isn't that a bit ridiculous? Trust me, as a BofA customer, I am not happy and unless they change their business practices, I will be shopping for another bank.

However lately the talk on the Internet and through the social media channels is that something is brewing and it doesn't look good. In fact just watching the stock market go up and down like a Merry-Go-Round is enough to make you sick. One person commented to my husband about why we aren't investing our money in anything lately is that "We" are hurting the economy. Huh? I mean are they going to help us out when "their" investments turn out to be a bad idea? Yeah right and if you believe that one, I have a bridge I'd like to see you here in the desert.

So are any of you making any plans now, to prepare for what might come? I know a few of my friends have started growing their own food, are learning to can foods and store items that they can use for awhile and some have started trading out their US money for gold. Do they know something we don't?

You know who won't be at all affected if the US economy goes belly up? The Amish! They have been self-sufficient since the beginning, learning to rely on what they can grow, and are not dependent on the economy for anything. I think there is a lesson to be learned in the process of history, and there is a valuable lesson to be seen there. We need to be more self-reliant and serving our communities and neighborhoods more. For if the way the world is going, we can only pray that God will rapture the believers before it all goes south! At least I know where I will spending my eternity and that is the only security I need. Makes me wonder just what the year 2012 will bring?

I'd love to hear your thoughts so please share them with me.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Go Against The Flow

As most of you know I've had the opportunity to review some amazing books this year and I have to share a story that came out of one of them and how it took me back to a particular time in my past that had a great outcome. Hang in there, it's well worth it.

One of the best jobs I've ever held was a Senior Training Specialist, (a.k.a. as a Supervisor/Trainer) for AT&T Wireless back in the day and loved seeing people's responses whenever we had a test coming up to measure how much new employees for Customer Service were retaining. Testing is necessary so we can see if we, as trainers, are moving too fast or too slow in what we were teaching them and we had the creativity to design our own tests.

A colleague of mine, Tim and I, decided since the Technical Troubleshooting with our representatives was the most difficult portion of the training they had to master, we would try a simple but well thought out test for a multiple choice test. No matter what the questions were the answer would always be the letter C. For all 30 questions. Not only did this make the grading easier for us, we wanted to see if anyone would catch on to what we were doing. I have to tell you in all the groups of representatives we tested, no one, not one, scored a perfect 100%. Even though after grading them and handing them back, we explained the answer key. We told the representatives that every single answer on the test was the letter C.

Do you know that almost every single person admitted to catching on to it, but doubt their own answers simply because it went against everything they considered? I mean how could every single answer be C, so they opted to chose other answers instead. How simple it would have been to trust their instincts and simply answer the questions based on their knowledge and let the results speak for themselves? Why does that happen? Why do people not trust their answer to be right despite what the trend shows?

I never really thought about it all until I read the book, Situations Matter by Sam Sommers. In it, Sam explains from a psychology perspective why people react the way they do, and why in crowded situations do they respond differently then when alone? He documented many instances of people acting against their nature and doing something completely different and in some of those cases the outcome was tragic.

Consider one such example, now labeled the Liverpool 38, in which two boys in Merseyside, England both ten years old, kidnapped a two year old, James Patrick Bulger from a busy shopping mall and later murdered him. Even though the two boys were caught and tried, the evidence later showed, 38 other people that had contact with the three boys that day and no one intervened at all. Some said, they thought the two older boys were simply brothers taking a younger one home, others thought something odd was happening but since no one else was taking action, neither did they.

When a study was conducted later using the details of this case in a psychology class, students responded that the majority of them would have taken some kind of action and never let this progress as far as it did. So why did every single one of the 38, in a crowded mall and street fail to react. Would those same students if placed in the situation that day really act like they said they would?

I see this same thing occurring when as Christians almost day, we make decisions that go against what we believe for the sake of not rocking the boat or causing waves or simply because we don't think one person can make a difference. However consider your response to the Liverpool 38, what would you have done, honestly? Would you have stepped up or would you leave it up to someone else to say something, to do something, to intervene? In the case of the Liverpool 38, one person could have save the life of another.

In the case of our testing methods, one person could have achieved success by simply going against what he thought was happening and trusted what was right on the inside. Too often I pass many Facebook posts and offers of help and no one does anything leaving the responsibility up to someone else to step up. If someone else took the initiative first, its funny to see how many others would jump on board. I challenge you today, to go against human nature, and go against the flow.

Do the right thing, say something, inquire as a concerned person, consider others feelings for a change and simply refuse to do nothing! Your actions could very well change everything for the better, just look at what Jesus' actions did for the world. It's still something we all talk about and model our behaviors after, because it's right!

Romans 12:2 ~ "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Getting Down and Dirty

Have you ever seen a chinchilla? They are one of the cutest animals God ever made! Their heads kinda look like a mouse's, their bodies resemble a rabbit's, and their long puffy tails look like a squirrels. Chinchillas are naturally found in the Andes Mountains in South America, so they prefer dry and cool weather.

One of the most unbelievable things about chinchillas is their fur. If you have ever touched one, you know exactly what I'm talking about. They have fifty or more hairs coming out of one follicle in their skin. (To give you an idea of what that's like, we humans only have one hair per follicle). Their fur is so soft and fluffy!

Chinchillas aren't super aggressive, but they do have one funky way of defending themselves. If an enemy grabs onto its fur, the chinchilla will actually release that fur from its body in order to get away.

Anyone who has a pet chinchilla will tell you that the most entertaining thing about owning one is the dust bath. In order to keep a chinchilla's fur clean, you can't wash it down with shampoo and a hose like you would a dog. A chinchilla cleans itself with dust. The dust is superfine powdery stuff made especially for chinchillas. Every now and then, you take a bowlful of chinchilla-cleaning dust and set it down near the rodent. He'll very happily climb into that container and start flipping around and rolling around in it like it's the best thing that's ever happened to him. The dust gets into his fur and cleans all the oil and yucky stuff that gets in there. It's funny that dust - really fine dirt - gets the chinchilla clean!

When you want to be clean from something bad you've done, the only way to do that is by telling Jesus about your sin and accepting his forgiveness, just like David did in today's Bible verse. God has forgiveness for anyone who wants it. We just have to want to jump in and give it a whirl!

"Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow." ~ Psalm 51:7

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Missing Out

Why are we so often put to the test to see how we will act as Christians only to fall flat on our face? Sometimes it feels as if we fall more than we succeed. At least that's how it feels lately to me.

I struggle at times in knowing where my place is in our home as a wife. I know my husband is supposed to be the spiritual leader and I am supposed to let him lead, but what if he truly doesn't want to? What if he isn't willing? Who takes the lead then?

Oh, I have been struggling with this very issue lately, wanting to give my hubby all the love and support and encouragement the Bible calls for, but when it seems like he doesn't want to take the lead or simply casts his family aside, what is a Christian woman supposed to do? How are we supposed to act?

Deep down inside, I know what I should do, set my feelings aside, control my emotions and harsh words that really want to say what's going on inside, but then again, I also don't want to be taken advantage of, like none of this bothers me in the slightest. How do you remind a husband what his duties and priorities are for his family?

Being a Christian doesn't mean life is supposed to be easy, in fact, I think once we turn our lives over to God, I believe in fact, it gets harder. There is an ongoing battle to tear down what God has built in our lives no matter how small it may be. Kinda like whenever you play with little kids and build things out of blocks, there biggest temptation is to knock that over, sometimes before you're even done, only to laugh and do it all over again. I feel that is exactly what the enemy seeks to do everyday in our lives only it seems the battle is never-ending and in fact, is taking a stronger attack then ever before.

I saw this happen the night, Steve and I went to see the movie Courageous. If you haven't seen it, please do. It is truly life-changing and it's made to be that way. Immediately afterwards, I could tell, Steve felt like he had let us, as a family, down in ways, as the movie portrays just how important the role of a husband and father is in a marriage and family. Deep down inside, I'm thinking, "I am so glad this really clicked for you, now maybe things might be different. We might do things more as a family now and less as individuals living in the same household, where everyone comes and does their own thing." But I don't say anything except to say that sometimes I even let this family down. But I'd like to see us work towards making things better!"

He agreed but now it seems like nothing has changed. It's what I call the weekly challenge. You see things and want to do things differently to improve your life but it only lasts for a week and then old habits and patterns develop and life falls back into the same routine. I am a competitor and fighter by nature, meaning I will do whatever it takes to make things right, especially when it comes to making our family and marriage stronger, yet I know deep down inside, I can't keep doing it by myself. I wear out. I fall short. I lose it, more days than I win.

Yet I know God will never fail me. God even know is fully aware of these things happening. Just sometimes, I wish He would throw me a clue in what to do. But for now I just pray. I pray not so much for God to work on Steve, but that He would change my attitude. Change what I need from my husband and instead, try to get me to forget it. I feel I'll lose Steve in the process. I feel like perhaps he gets a stronger appreciation from his co-workers and clients than he finds in us. Don't get me wrong he's a great father and a wonderful provider, but I need the other half of my life. I need a husband who is someone I can lean on, someone I can come to for security, someone who will always be there for me.

So if anyone can help, please let me know what I can do and if you find my husband, can you please let him know he's needed at home, he seems to be missing the bigger picture?!!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Picture Faith

"In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." ~ Romans 8:37

This verse is one to memorize and file someplace handy on the shelves of your mind. Every day we face challenges of varying degree, but even seemingly small challenges can have large implications later. We must determine from the outset, like at the beginning of the day, that we are going to adopt a victorious outlook. If we know already how the story ends, that we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loves us, then we can begin with gratitude, no matter where we find ourselves from moment to moment.

A dieter has to be able to see herself thin. An athlete has to be able to see herself making the play or winning the race. An alcoholic needs to be able to see herself sober. Just as in order to be successful you have to visualize your success; in order to be faithful you have to visualize God triumphing over your challenges. Making a "faith picture" with our future helps us both to clarify our direction and desires, as well as open ourselves up to the power and possibility of God. Try this next time you are up against the clock, a wall, a challenge, a mystery, or a force to be reckoned with.

Have a truly blessed weekend! If you need prayer, please leave a comment or email me directly. I'd be honored to pray for you!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Betty Crocker Box Tops for Education - Giveaway and Review

Now that school is under way for all of us, I am sure many of you have been collecting Box Tops for Education found on products that help our local schools. However did you also know that they can be found on some of your favorite Betty Crocker products?

This school year, giving back to your school can be as easy as looking for the Red Spoon on your favorite Betty Crocker® dessert mixes, the only brand in the baking aisle with Box Tops. Whether you´re collecting for new computers, library books, or a playground, through the Box Tops for Education® program you can help make a difference. Last year, your contributions earned more than $59 million for America´s schools!

So now why you are busy making treats or adding finishing touches to your meals you can also help out our schools in the process with every Box Top for Education coupon you clip and send in with your child to school.
  • Now, you can find Box Tops for Education on all Betty Crocker baking mixes, including new Fun da-middlesTM, individual cupcakes with a fun, creamy center.
  • This back-to-school season, look for double Box Tops on specially marked packages of Betty Crocker baking mixes.
For more information on the Box Tops for Education, click here.
To find Box Tops of Education on Facebook, click here.
To learn more about the products Betty Crocker has to offer, click here. Or on Facebook.

To make this offer even sweeter, Betty Crocker in conjunction with Blog Spark is offering an incredible giveaway opportunity! Here's what you can win in addition to Betty Crocker's Brownie Mix:

  • Cupcake iclips (magnetic book marks!)
  • Cupcake bag
  • Cupcake notepads
  • Box Tops for Education pencils
  • Neoprene Lunch Sack
Here's all you need to do to enter:

1. Be a follower of my blog, Reviews From The Heart.

2. Be a resident of the US or have a US shipping address! Please No P.O. Boxes.

3. I need a way to contact you if you're the lucky winner, so please be sure to include your email address along with your comment. You can use the words (at) and (dot) instead of the symbols.

4. Leave me a comment telling me which of your favorite Betty Crocker dessert mixes you plan to purchase to collect the Box Tops and help your local schools or how Box Tops for Education might help improve your child´s school.

The giveaway will end on October 13th and I will notify the winner by email at that time.

"Disclosure: The Betty Crocker products, information, and giveaway have been provided by Betty Crocker through MyBlogSpark for my honest review."

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Slow Cooker Apple Bread Pudding

Slow Cooker Apple Bread Pudding

Comfort food at its finest! This slow-cooker bread pudding tastes decadent, thanks to its moist texture and a generous sprinkling of chocolate chips. So go ahead and enjoy—it’s actually lower in fat than you’d expect.

6 cups crusty bread (such as French bread or a baguette), cut into 1/2-inch pieces (preferably a day old)
2 medium-size tart apples, peeled, cored and shredded
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup fat-free egg product or 4 large eggs
3/4 cup water
One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, preferably low in fat
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice, divided
1 cup fat-free plain yogurt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup apple juice

step 1: Coat the insert of a large (6-quart) slow cooker with a light application of butter or margarine. Add the bread pieces to the slow cooker. Distribute the shredded apple on top of the bread layer. Then sprinkle the raisins and chocolate chips over the apple.

step 2: In a medium bowl, combine the egg product with the water, condensed milk and 1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice; whisk to combine. Pour the egg mixture over the ingredients in the slow cooker, pressing down with a spoon or a spatula to make sure the liquid ingredients completely moisten the bread.

step 3: Cover the insert and cook on the low setting 3 to 4 hours, or until a knife inserted in the center of the bread pudding comes out clean. Begin checking the pudding after 3 hours, and continue to cook for increments of 10 to 15 minutes until the pudding is done.

step 4: While the bread pudding is cooking, make the yogurt sauce in a small bowl by whisking together the yogurt, sugar, apple juice and remaining 1/2 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice. Refrigerate until needed.

step 5: To serve, spoon the bread pudding onto plates and drizzle with the yogurt sauce.


Firm, tart apples are best for this recipe because their flavor isn't overly sweet, and they hold their shape. Look for apple varieties that are good for baking, like Granny Smith, Honeycrisp and Jonathan.

If you prefer to prep the bread pudding in advance, you can assemble the ingredients through Step 2 and refrigerate in the covered slow-cooker insert for up to a day before cooking. Take the pudding out of the refrigerator 30 minutes before cooking to bring it up to room temperature. Then remove the lid and sprinkle the mixture with 1/2 cup of water before replacing the lid on the insert and turning on the slow cooker.

There are variations to this recipes but definitely a way to celebrate fall and all those amazing apple recipes! I haven't personally tried it but sounds amazing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Carlito C. Caterpiller's Math House Games - Review and Giveaway

In order for most kids to really want to learn something the best way I have discovered that works, is to keep it fun and keep it interactive. For most kids when they get frustrated, their ability to want to learn anything at that point is difficult and most want to give up.

That's why I am super excited to share with you a great new product for kids that helps keep learning fun, interactive and the best part educational. They really do learn with Carlito C. Caterpillar's Math House Game Card Set. In this ring bound set of cardboard, color cards, there are 40 games - 2 per Step - that you can play with your child to teach them math skills. These are based on Domenico Marcio's Sensory Math Teaching System and one I wish I had when my kids were younger and struggling with learning math concepts.

Domenico Marcario, M.S. - is the creator of the c3pla Sensory Math Teaching System, retired high school mathematics teacher and full-time passionate grandparent. He approaches math with a 3 R's: rules, repetition and rote. Kids gain understanding by doing rather than sitting passively and watching someone else do the thinking for them. If you focus on maintaining an environment of play, the child will experience the learning as an active participant rather than a passive participant.

The material is presented in 3 stages, with a total of 20 steps and 2 games in each step covering quantity, numeration, and operations. These games are designed for parents to play with their children. Only when the child fully understands the concept, will you increase the complexity, such as reversing roles of the players and designating the child as the leader.

For example here's what the color-illustrated double sided card would include:

Step 1: Alike It or Not
Stage 1: Quantity
What: To show what a set is.
Why: Placing "alike" object together, or creating sets leads to the knowledge of how many.
How: The child decides if an object belongs to a set by discovering how the objects are alike and determining what makes them belong.

Game 1A:

Get Ready: Collect a few different kinds of objects (e.g. assorted fruit, small toys, eating utensils).

1. Arrange as a group of 5 objects in which 4 of the objects are the same kind (e.g. all fruits) and 1 of the objects are of a different kind (e.g. toy car).

2. Ask your child to tell you which object does not belong in the group and why.

3. Ask your child what makes the objects in the group belong to the group.

4. Repeat steps 1-3 with different object arrangements.

There are also great online resources available for both parents and children on the website that comes included with the game set so parents can create award certificates and kids can be entered in the Hall of Fame.

I received this game set compliments of Propeller for my honest review and can't praise it highly enough. I can understand how this would really help kids with the math concepts that everyone will need to understand such as adding/subtracting, counting, writing numbers, multiplication and division, number placement (tens, hundreds, thousands), and more. The best part is that you are building relationships with your child while making learning math fun. This product rates a 5 out of 5 in my opinion. These would be great for preschoolers through grade school! For more information about this product and where you can learn more about it, click on the links below:

You can also find them on Facebook by clicking here.

Thanks to the generous folks at Propeller, they are providing a set of Carlito C. Caterpillar's MathHouse Game Card Sets for one lucky reader of my blog, Reviews From The Heart. Here's what you need to do to enter:

1. Simply be a follower of my blog, Reviews From The Heart.

2. Be a resident of the US or have a US shipping address. Remember No P.O. Boxes please!

3. Since I will need a way to contact - VERY IMPORTANT - since some of you have not included this in your comment - please include your email address. You can use the words (at) and (dot) instead of the symbols. Without it, I can't contact you if you're the winner.

4. Leave me a comment on Reviews From The Heart and tell me how you plan to use this set if you are the winner. I'd love to hear about your needs as a parent!

The giveaway will end on 9/30 and I will be contacting the winner (if I have your email address) at that time via email. So don't miss out on this great family friendly product, that I know you will LOVE!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

From Ashes to Honor - Giveaway and Review Ends on 9/11

If he had only answered that last phone call from the World Trade Center...

Minutes before two jumbo jets changed U.S. history, NYPD officer Austin Finley ignored the call from his brother. Mercy Samara, who cost Austin his job after 9/11, leaves the city to work as a school counselor in Baltimore. When Mercy and Austin cross paths again, will their common - and painful - memories finally bring them closer or drive them further apart? (excerpt back cover).

In the latest novel from Loree Lough, From Ashes to Honor, works through the lives of Dr. Mercy Samara and former NYPD officer, Austin Finley, who are brought together following the events of 9/11. Mercy is a clinical psychologist whose goal is determine if Austin is fit enough to return to work as a NYPD officer after multiple incidents involving his out of control temper. Despite all his sessions with Mercy, he won't come to terms with what happened that fateful day and how it affecting him in his work and therefore, remains in denial.

Mercy struggling with her own issues involving 9/11 and the fact that most people stereotyped her as another Muslim terrorist following the attacks, while trying to help first responders like Austin deal with the underlying trauma of that day. When she can't sign the release authorizing Austin to return to anything other than desk duty, there paths will take them to new places but will once again intersect.

This time, Austin has turned his talents to becoming an EMT and Mercy has moved to Baltimore to take up something less stressful than working with first responders in the aftermath of 9/11, she now works as a high school guidance counselor. When a football player is injured and the paramedics are called, Mercy and Austin come face to face once more.

I received this book compliments of Abingdon Press for my honest review and couldn't wait to dive into this one once it arrived. This story takes the reader into an emotional ride into the lives of Mercy and Austin but also into the lives of the supporting characters as well, Griff, Flora and Bud, and even the strained relationship with Leo, Mercy's half brother. What we get an opportunity to see is how the rebuilding of what people went through following 9/11 is an ongoing, life changing process that will never be forgotten. It's not something that will ever be forgotten, especially in the lives of Mercy and Austin.

This book is a perfect tribute to those first responders of the 9/11 tragedy that forever changed all of us. It united us all in a common goal, a goal to take care of one another, and see past our differences. This would make a great gift for anyone involved in first response or who loves anything dealing with 9/11. I rate this book a perfect 5 out of 5 stars.

For more information about this book, the author and where to pick up a copy of this must read book, click on the links below:

You can find Loree on Facebook by clicking here.

Thanks to Loree Lough and Abingdon Press, they have generous provided a giveaway copy for one lucky follower of my blog. Here are your guidelines to enter:

1. You must be a follower of my blog, Reviews From The Heart.

2. You must be a resident of the US or have a US shipping address. Please No P.O. Boxes.

3. I must have a way to contact you, so be sure to include your email address along with your comment on Reviews From The Heart. You can use the words (at) and (dot) instead of the symbols.

4. Please leave a comment telling me why you would love to win a copy of this book. The giveaway will end on 9/11. I will notify the winner by email at that time. You can click here to go to the comment and giveaway site to leave your comment to enter to win!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remembering 9/11

I wanted to take the time today to remember that fateful day on 9/11. The day that all of us that were alive that day can remember with vivid details what we were doing. Too often whenever anything happens that we don't understand, we finding ourselves asking, "Why God Why?" I think this video does a great job at providing an answer we never considered.

So when people continue to ask Why? I hope they'll remember God is always there.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thanks for the Memories! Happy Birthday Mike!

Siblings! Most of us have them or often at least one, and often times looking back over our childhood memories, there is a lot to reflect on. This is the first time, I've had the opportunity to really share a personal side of my life in regards to the relationship I have shared over 40 something years with my younger brother, Michael, who is turning 45 today. (For those of you doing the math, you're correct in guessing my age would have to be at least over 45, but that is a topic for another day!)

Growing up in my childhood consisted of just my brother and I, living with both parents until they divorced when I was 7. I know I was happy with that decision since being around parents that fight a lot makes for uncomfortable living arrangements and when one parent is removed from that, the house is much more enjoyable. So for the remaining years until we both reached 18, we would split our weekends between our parents, living with my mom primarily. However life as a single parent was hard. My mom had to work two jobs to make ends meet for us and that didn't include trips to the movies or out much, that was really just enough to pay the bills and keep food in the house.

So my brother and I were left to fend for ourselves most days while we had a baby sitter. Since this was before the time technology really launched we had to use a time honored device available to everyone, it's called your imagination!! I think we had the best!! We played "restaurant" and would take turns being the waiter or waitress and serve one another lunch or snacks or sometimes dinner if the day ran much later. We created our own layout, menus and uniforms!

We used to take trips with my mom to make deposits at the local bank and would take extra deposit slips for checking and savings accounts to play "bank" with when we got home. Taking turns who got to be the customer along with a hefty supply of Monopoly money to deposit! We used a typewriter to record the deposits and withdrawals in a book we created. We even took the liberty at taping our pens with string to the counter, so people couldn't take them out of the bank.

I think my all time favorite that would literally keep us busy for weeks at a time, was playing with our Hot Wheels. Unfortunately because we were so creative, we found extra wood paneling up in the rafters in our garage that when flipped over, became the perfect place to map out roads and streets for our play town with a permanent marker. We dismantled my brothers extensive railroad set of all the buildings and trees so we could use it to create our town. (My dad was NOT thrilled with this!) We used the cover for our record player to simulate the mall, and made all kinds of road signs with stickers from gum packages back then. We even made pot holes in the road because what town is ever perfect. We could play with that for hours, days, weeks, you name it. Every day, we would start all over again and divide up the cool cars from the not so cool ones to have. And at the end of each night we would put everything in a box and slide the plywood paneling under the couch in the living room to wait for us to play again the next day.

Over the years, as we both grew older, those times of imaginary play went away, but definitely not forgotten. Our summers were spent most days huffing our beach stuff to the bus stop with my brother and few neighborhood friends to get to the beach. We'd stay all day long until the last bus would leave at the end of the day and head back home. Other times we'd walk or take the bus to the mall which was a few miles away. We never really had days where we didn't have something to do.

One time, we spent the day in the riverbed by our house, now they are called sewers, and got frogs. We'd take them back home in buckets and try to make homes for them. We weren't allowed to keep them inside, but at least we could keep them in the back yard. This is how I discovered frogs could not live in a pure water only environment and killed one when he drowned when I left him sitting alone in the water. Ah the joys of living and experiencing life right.

When my brother turned 14, he moved into my dads' house and for the first time, we were apart. We still had an on and off again relationship, but it was different now. We were growing up and doing different things, had different friends, and those times of just being together were no longer.

Now that he turns 45 today, I want him to know how much he means to me and always had. When we would get into trouble for talking too much at night, it was nice knowing I wasn't alone. When we got scared of the dark, we were just down the hall from one another and we didn't have to wake up our parents, we had each other. When life got harder and the situations became more complicated with divorces in both of our lives and the introduction of our own kids, it was nice to be able to throw all those parent-isms back at them. "What are you born in a barn? Shut that door, we're paying for that air!" When we got into trouble with our parents, I'll never forget my brothers hand written pleas written on the backside of the door, perfectly scripted in hopes of springing an early release from our bedrooms. :D

It hasn't always been easy and there were many times we fought worse than enemies ( I still remember your rhyme for my Cabbage Patch kid whose name was Jonathan Bradley, you would tell me, "Jonathan Bradley, he smells badly!", but in the end, my life wouldn't have been the same if I didn't have you, my brother, to share it with. I love you Michael and I know the hopes and dreams God has for your future! You'd better put your sunglasses on, cause from what I can see, it's going to get much brighter!!!

Happy Birthday Little Brother!!!