Tuesday, December 31, 2013

2013 ~ A Year in Reflection

I've been spending the last couple of days reflecting on the end of 2013 and the new direction that I believe God is guiding me towards in 2014. Last year I was asked from a Facebook post to think about a word that God wanted me to focus on in 2013 and that word was Trust. For me, as a Christian, it's one of the hardest things when storms come to pray about it and then not worry about it again. It's the old adage that states "easier said than done." The one thing that has really helped me out a lot this year is knowing that others struggle in that same way. In fact the last church service we had, our pastor asked how many of us struggle just to pray without interruptions or even stay awake long enough to finish. And here I thought I was the only one going through just that struggle.

But it helps to know I am not alone.

This year has definitely been about being pushed out of my comfort zone. In fact my brother and I had just shared that same thing the other day when we talked. How when we don't want to leave what's comfortable, if that is the direction that God is pushing you towards, He will ultimately have to cause you to step out and deal with the consequences, which in most cases, isn't easy to face. For me this year has definitely been about learning to let go and let God. While my hubby traveled extensively last year vying for a potential permanent position with a company he's been working as a subcontractor for.

For him, it's a dream fulfilled.

For us, it's a growth opportunity.

Looking back I couldn't have imagined what life would be like living alone and struggling with dealing with day to day challenges that life brings. Like car issues, financial issues with raising money to pay for travel until he can expense it and having enough for us to live on until then. Unexpected bills that come up when you least expect it, surgeries, and then dealing with the loneliness that faces you when you don't have your spouse around. No health care insurance at all and then having a medical or dental issue to deal with! There is an awful lot of time to reflect on things.

You often wonder if this is the right thing. Is this the right job for our family even though the money is good when we have it?  Is this what God has in store for us this year? Is this what God wants us to do? Are we in His will or our own? To learn to stand strong and lean on Him and no one else?

I feel it has been. It has definitely made me stronger as an individual. It has cause me great pains to learn to trust that God knows what He is doing.

He wants me to depend on Him first. Only Him at times.

That is what has happened in 2013. I have found God in those quiet moments. Those whispers.

God has asked me to Trust Him.

I have seen my growth and helping to manage things when my husband is not home. I've learned how to contend with things I would have run to him to fix. It hasn't always been easy, but I have gotten through it.

Joyce Meyer is famous for her analogy of using a trip around the moment and the saying that if nothing changes, then NOTHING changes. If we keep trying to do things the same way and expect different results, that is the definition of insanity. That is precisely the reason the Israelites went round and round the desert for 40 years when it should have only taken them 11 days. I know I was tired of dealing with the same results of my life. The struggles and uncertainties of what lay ahead even though I couldn't see that far ahead.

It was being content to deal with what God had laid out for me to deal with in just that day. Using the strength and provisions He had provided for me. No extra manna gathering for those rainy days ahead. It was hard but the results looking back are amazing. I have walked with God through those fires and have been refined in some areas.

I am far from perfect but I do know walking into 2014, I want to do it with God more and the world a whole lot less. I want to know God in a more deeper and intimate way. I want to rely on Him more and me a whole lot less. There is work ahead, but I can't wait to see what God will do when I commit my life to Him in 2014. That is the word I believe God has called me to work on in 2014. Commit.

How about you? What reflection has God shown you in 2013 and what lies ahead in 2014? What challenges lie ahead? What storms are you preparing for? Are you preparing for them now or are you going to wait to see if they come?

Let me know if you want me to add you to my prayer list for 2014. I'd love to encourage you and pray for you in any way. It's definitely part of what God is calling me to do this year. Happy New Year's Eve my dearest family and friends. Here is my quote that I shared on my Facebook page today. I think it's perfect for today.

"Let's spend less time focusing on the concerns of the world we'll soon leave, and more time on the eternity we're headed for. Will you commit?"

Monday, December 30, 2013

A Year in Reflection

As 2013 draws to a close it provides an opportunity for reflection, a time to review choices that were made, events that happened and even family and friends that have left this earth and now reside forever in heaven awaiting the perfect reunion.

I have a Christmas Memories book that has housed almost 20 years of Christmas Memories in it. In fact I have only one year left before I need to get another one. Each year my family spends time reviewing the events, and time spent with various friends that have come and gone during the years and see just how much growth our family has gone through like anyone else.

The one thing I have noticed is that in the last 5 years, my family has really gone through immense storms. Ones that shook us to the core and truly tested our faith. During those times, we really wondered what God's purpose was in all of it and what good would come from them. Some of it we can see and some remains to be seen, but through it all, I can clearly see God's hand in every part of it. Looking back now, I can remember times of sheer sadness, a complete loss of control and a willingness to simply let go. I have seen that during some of those times, it is just what God wanted us to do.

Be willing to give it all up before He took over.

I can remember those darkest times when it felt God was silent.

When it was difficult to pray.

When life was difficult to get through.

Yet I am still here.

Thankfully with God's help I have emerged a stronger version of who I was in 2013 and before that.

Things I would have never dreamed I could handle, I have.

Fears that used to consume me are now calm waters. I don't fear them any longer.

Yet I know that things will change as they always do even as we draw near to the beginning of 2014.

God is calling me to draw closer to Him.

To spend time in His Word and really know the loving Father and Friend I so desperately need. I know that when I do that, I will not only become a stronger person now spiritually but physically this next year as I plan to spend the next few days reflecting on my word for 2014. My word for 2013 was Trust and God truly walked me through every detail that word could reflect and mean. I know now it isn't easy to trust in God at times, but in the end, the results are well worth it. I will share more with you tomorrow on the life lessons 2013 has shown me and where I believe God is calling me for 2014.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 NIV

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Light of Christmas

I love it when we get a different pastor at our Wednesday evening service because most often the message they share is a powerful one and this last Wednesday was no exception. It was our assistant Pastor Brian who is heads up the Missions at our church. As the worship and praise part of our service ended, the lights dimmed until no lights remained. At first we sat there thinking it was a temporary power outage until we saw a flashlight come up the podium and the lights were brought back up.

Being a corporate trainer the use of visuals is bound to make the message stick and this was designed as a powerful opener of just what light means when surrounded by darkness. He asked us the question of how powerful light is when surrounded by complete darkness. The darkness that must have been present not only at the formation of the world found in Genesis but also the darkness that was present before Jesus was born. The darkness that fills us with loneliness and confusion. A world without hope and without end. A world of uncertainty and fear.

He spoke of places in the remote villages of Africa where he visits on mission work and tells of how truly dark the world can be where the only light is just a simple candle or lantern. How powerful that little bit of light can be and how people are drawn to it. In fact in the remote villages of Africa the light is where people gather. In the darkness no people, but around the light, people gather together. That is the message Jesus brought by being the Light of the world. He was spoken of in prophecies throughout the Bible even as far back as in Genesis before the creation of the world.

Some of those scripture references from the Bible include most notably Isaiah 9:2 " The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned."

We pick back up in Isaiah 9:6 as to the answer of just what the light is, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."

You can find more such references of light and darkness in Isaiah 7: 13-14, Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 42:5, 49:6.

However "light" is a concept that we take for granted kind of like water, until we don't have it anymore. The world is depicted in the Bible as darkness and the church is commissioned to be the "light." Even in Genesis 1:3, "And God said, "Let there be a light", and there was light. God saw that the light was good and he separated the light from the darkness." This also depicts our spiritual life without Christ til Light came like the Spirit of God into our lives and changed us.

Even as far back as Numbers 20:17 which states that a "star" shall come from Jacob, a scepter out of Israel which refers to the coming of Jesus Christ into the world.

When the three wise men followed that star to find the Christ child, they bestowed upon him three gifts of great significance and symbolized who He was and the life He would live. Gold is given to kings as a gift and speaks of the kingship of Jesus Christ. Frankincense was given to a priest, given as a way to intercede to God as an atonement for our sins. We even see in Revelation 8:3-4 " Another angel, who had a golden censer came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of the saints, went up before God from the angel's hand." And finally myrrh was given to the one who would die, a Savior born to die. Myrrh is used as a pain reliever and was mixed with wine and given to Jesus as he hung on the cross to help with the pain, but He refused it. It was part of the burial spices used by Joseph of Arimathea who brought myrrh to prepare the body of Jesus for burial.

The symbol of "Light" is for the world, brought to us, given as a gift to us through the birth of Jesus Christ.

May every light you see remind us all of a Christ-centered Christmas and the light that entered the world to save us from darkness. In closing I leave you with a beautiful music video that closed our own church service from Barlow Girl, Hallelujah (Light Has Come). Hope it becomes your favorite as it has our families!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

From Our Home to Yours with Love and Holiday Greetings!

It's that time of year again where we take the opportunity to carve out time from our busy schedules and regroup to spend time with family and close friends as we celebrate Christmas. No matter how you spend it and what your traditions are, it's always a time to reflect on what is truly important. Today, I am collaborating with Kendra Thornton, a well-renown travel expert and we decided to share some of what our families are doing this Christmas Season.

We all hope that your holiday is shaping up to be as warm and wonderful as the Thornton's Christmas promises to be. Christmas in Chicago-land is always a brisk but cheerful experience, and this year promises to be no different. The magic of the season and the anticipated Christmas holiday is abundantly prominent in the air, and in the way people are smiling and humming Christmas carols. It's a wonderfully festive time and a pure delight for the young ones. Our family is particularly looking forward to the delicious foods, beverages, and charming traditions that our beloved Norwegian heritage brings to the table each year.

Taking some time out for traditions will be something we hope our families will remember fondly as we look back at what truly made them special. For the Smith family, we take time to plan a road trip of sorts to visit the light displays in Alta Loma, CA. Each year families spend days working on their light displays and the entire city gets involved. It's become so famous that it is featured in the local paper as a definite place to visit. We pack up the car and head down with the entire family. To truly enjoy the festive atmosphere, you must park your car and take a walk around the neighborhood to really get into the mood. You can stop and buy some hot chocolate, tamales or even a chocolate chip cookie right from the oven. Afterwards, we all enjoy dinner out to talk about the memories and which homes were our favorites.

Oysters are a delightful, traditional part of our yearly Christmas festivities for the Thorntons. The family makes kringla and lefse, and on Christmas Eve, all gather together to "shoot" a raw oyster down their throat simultaneously! It's always a hilarious event; one that we share with laughs and hugs. Immediately following the "shoot," we enjoy a steaming bowl of oyster stew, which is followed by a hearty shot of Akvavit, a brisk, bold traditional Scandinavian spirit with a distinct hot tinge to it. A joyous toast of "Skol!" is then proposed by one and all.

Back at the Smith house, packages are beginning to be wrapped with tender care with each year becoming an art form of some sort. We love to see gifts wrapped around the base of our tree. We spend Christmas Eve, watching our favorite Christmas movies like It's A Wonderful Life, The Muppet Christmas, Christmas Vacation and Elf. We order food to be delivered because we know the food preparations will soon be underway on Christmas day so it's a nice break in the hustle and bustle of Christmas baking.

During the holiday season, the Thornton kids always enjoy ice-skating in the brisk winter air. They also pitch in with decorating the tree proudly displayed in our bay window, and helping me bake our delicious traditional Norwegian dinner. Of course they cannot wait to enjoy our family tradition of sipping hot cocoa and garnishing the cookies we leave for Santa on Christmas Eve. In addition, to the children's delight, we are sure to make and sprinkle some "magical" reindeer dust outside their bedroom windows; without it, Santa's reindeer might have a difficult time finding the house! So far, Santa's charges have never had a problem.

This has been a very special Christmas for the Smith's this year. After literally losing our home and my husband's job in the same week last year, God has shown His tender loving hand this year. We literally realized that nothing we own here is really ours and everything we have is a gift on loan from Him while we are on this Earth. God has provided so graciously and by placing our trust in Him and not the world, He has been faithful in His promises. We have a new home and a wonderful job that has become permanent for my husband last year, something that goes beyond what we could ever have managed on our own.

As someone who has traveled the world over, seeing Christmas in many parts of the world, I have never been anywhere that beats being home for the holidays. Surrounded with the love of my family, and the crisp, shimmering, white snow, there is no finer place on Earth than home. I read on article on Gogobot’s blog about warm vs. cold Christmas’s and for me, you just cannot beat a chilly, seasonal frost in the air for Christmas. Christmas should always include the feel of crunchy snow, the scent of fresh evergreens, and the fun of skates on ice. Truly, all I have ever known are cold, white Christmases; for the Thornton’s, that's the way it should be. What makes Christmas special for you?

That's easy, it's realizing that for the Smith family, it is never about the receiving of gifts. It's about the giving. We will look back a year from now and barely remember what we received but it's the gift that brings hope and light in the darkest of places for people that will remember forever. We have had the wonderful opportunity to adopt a Compassion International Child from Africa this year and just knowing the difference we are making in his life will be forever life changing for him. We hope to add even more children this year. We have taken a different approach to give back and give all the glory and blessings to God who has richly provided for us this year.

We were fortunate to have the entire Thornton clan and all our relatives at our Thanksgiving table. We will be welcoming them back for our grand Christmas meal too. We are all so looking forward to it! Christmas just wouldn't be the same without all our loved ones together. I certainly hope that your Christmas also includes many loved ones.

We are thrilled that my husband isn't traveling as much during the last part of December as he's been super busy this last year getting the opportunity to travel literally all over the US with his new job. We can't wait to take some much needed vacation time to sit back and just relax together as a family, sitting by the fire and enjoying some great family time. While the Smith family gets together throughout the year this enables us to truly enjoy just some one on one time within our own homes and avoid all the hassle of traveling.

Wishing you the merriest of Christmases and the best new year yet, the Thorntons say HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Wishing all of our Facebook family and friends a truly blessed Christmas from the Smith family and a Happy New Year. May every Christmas light you see this year, remind you of God's light and the gift He provided to use so that we don't have to live in the darkness any longer.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

God is Able ~ Review and Giveaway

"No matter who you are, however old or young, there's always at least one thing. That thing in your life you can't seem to - you know, escape or fix or solve. It's just...it's ...(Sigh.)

It's always there. Just when you think you've maybe figured out a little piece of it - how you might be able to handle it better, manage it, work around it, or get out ahead of it - it always seems to end up beating you, or at least keeping you awake in the wee hours of the night.

You've tried. (Oh, Lord, how you've tried.) You've prayed. You've asked. You've begged. You've fretted. You've calculated. You've eaten better. You've exercised more.

You've tried being gentler, then firmer. Louder, then more quieter. More assertive, then more submissive. You've admitted where you went wrong and refused to gloat when you were right. You feel like you've done everything you can think of. And honestly, you're starting to seriously wonder now if God can do this, if He can do...It.

You'd still like to think He can. And if you were to spout all your churchy rhetoric, it'd sure sound like you believe He can. But deep down - down where you soul pulses with doubt and uneasiness - you wonder about that circumstance, that life issue, that dilemma you're facing. God may be able to keep the stars in the sky, the earth tilted on its axis, and the heavens hung in glorious array. But can He do this?  It?"(pg 1-3)

In her latest book, God Is Able, Priscilla Shirer takes the reader into a look at what God is capable of through a personal look at her own doubts and unbeliefs when she was struggling. That no one has it all together no matter how famous or close to God they appear to be. She shows us that no matter how difficult our situations may be or how caught off guard they may have found you, they can carve out a deep foothold where doubt could settle in. But if you and I don't turn to face these things, we'd never come face to face with Him. And our God's not having any of that. She write is such a way you feel as if you're having a one on one conversation with a close personal friend, something I love when reading non fiction books.

I received God is Able by Priscilla Shirer compliments of B and H Publishers and Icon Media Group for my honest review. I did not receive any monetary compensation for a favorable review and the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This is such an exciting book because as believers, we all find ourselves struggling to keep our head above the storm waters that threaten to consume us. Yet even in the heart of the storm, Priscilla showcases how God is Able to do the Impossible through her own personal experiences and using the scripture reference of "Now to him who is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all we ask or think according the power that works within us to Him be the glory" found in Ephesians 3:20-21. She pulls apart those verses to encourage readers to see what God can do in their lives, in their situations to not only answer their prayers if it His will but more importantly to see God in what is happening. This is such a great resource for anyone who has ever struggled and wondered where God was in their life. For that reason I give this a perfect 5 out of 5 stars and this is one I plan on referring to quite a bit whenever doubt tends to creep back into my life about what God is able to do!

You can find out more information about God is Able, Priscilla Shirer, or where to pick up a copy of this book today, by clicking on the links below:

You can find Priscilla Shirer on Facebook to stay up to date with all her latest books.

Thanks to the generous folks at B and H Publishers and Icon Media Group, they are providing a copy of this book to one lucky follower of my blog Reviews From The Heart. Here are your guidelines to enter:

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

2. "Like" my Facebook page, Reviews From The Heart. If you have already "Liked" it, simply leave me a comment telling me you stopped by as part of this giveaway.

3. Be a resident of the US or have a US Shipping address. Please No P.O. Boxes.

4. Leave me a comment below telling me why you would LOVE to win a copy of this book. Don't forget to include your email address. You can use the words (at) and (dot) instead of the symbols.

I will notify the winner by email when the giveaway ends on December 27th, so be sure to include your email address with your comment.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Whispers of Hope - Giveaway and Review

At times in my Christian walk I know that the most powerful weapon we have at our disposal is our prayers. Yet far too often we utilize them in a final attempt to a situation we realize is out of our control. But I believe what is missing is why we pray. It isn't just geared for a "wish list" for God's blessings in our life, or as a last minute call to action for our Heavenly Father to intervene in our situations we find ourselves struggling with. Prayer is first and foremost our method of communication with our Father in Heaven. It's more than just asking for Him to help us, it's about praising Him for what He is and what He is doing and what He has done for us. It's about letting go of thinking anything we do in this life we have control over and instead gracefully bowing out and rendering complete control willingly to Him.

In Beth Moore's latest book, Whispers of Hope, a 10 week devotional geared to work on our prayer lives over the next 70 days. She encourages readers to journal their prayers using a PRAISE acronym to remind us what it's all about instead of simply asking for help. Each day of this journey encourages the reader in a devotional to complete a brief Bible reading assignment, a Scripture for the day, and thoughts for the day. A Daily Prayer Guide follows each devotional to record your petitions using the P.R.A.I.S.E. approach to prayer. There is also a place in the book for you to record the answers to your prayers in the Answer Log.

Beth even addresses how to utilize Whispers of Hope in a group setting for Bible or Women's studies. She gives tips on different ways to make the best of the information you discover as you take your journey to enriching your personal prayer lives. No greater priority exists for the believer than knowing Christ through the study of His Word and the intimacy of prayer. Each day's format should allow most people to complete their daily devotions in about 30-40 minutes. This book is offered to help you form a habit of prayer and she hopes that in using this time, you will discover a fresh supply of mercy every morning, but more than that, may you discover the Mercy Giver.

I received Whispers of Hope by Beth Moore compliments of B and H Publishing Group and Icon Media Group for my honest review. I have not received any monetary compensation and the opinions expressed in this review are strictly my own. I know for me personally I am loving having a guide to help me set aside some time each day and read about God through the Bible and utilize this time as a personal discovery into understanding more about God. I only hope that each day in using it I will grow stronger in my prayer life, much like anyone who practices their skill in anything only improves the more time they spend doing it. I easily give this prayer devotional a perfect 5 out of 5 stars in my opinion. This is perfect for an individual, women's or group Bible Study.

For more information about Whispers of Hope, Beth Moore or where you can pick up a copy of this book today, please click on the links below:

You can also find Beth Moore on Facebook to stay up to date with all her latest books.

Thanks to the generosity of B and H Publishers and Icon Media Group, they are offering a giveaway copy of this prayer devotional to one lucky follower of my blog Reviews From The Heart. Here's your guidelines to enter:

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

2. "Like" my Facebook page, Reviews From The Heart. If you have already "Liked" it, simply leave me a comment telling me you stopped by as part of this giveaway.

3. Be a resident of the US or have a US Shipping address. Please No P.O. Boxes.

4. Leave me a comment below telling me why you would LOVE to win a copy of this book. Don't forget to include your email address. You can use the words (at) and (dot) instead of the symbols.

I will notify the winner by email when the giveaway ends on December 26th, so be sure to include your email address with your comment.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Giving Back This Christmas!

WOW! Where has all the time gone?

It's almost the end of the year already and Christmas is just literally around the corner! I wanted to begin to share with you unique ways to celebrate this Christmas season through my blog post and gain your insight as well.

So many are hurting this year and find the task of providing a meal for their family much less gifts for their children overwhelming. They may in fact be your neighbor next door. This economy hasn't "changed" much for the better as we would have all liked to have seen it by this time. Some of us are still looking for jobs. Some of us are still trying to find a home to live in.

In light of these, charities are struggling because they depend on donations to keep afloat. Even those large corporate sponsors are cutting back and not making their standard donation.

I found a great way to make a one time donation if you are able. This is what we will be doing as our charitable act this year. You simply take all of the ages of those living in your home. For us it would be 49, 44, 20, and 14 and add them up. Ours totals: 127. Now write out a check as a one time donation in that amount and send it to your charity of your choice.

It can be a church, the Salvation Army, a homeless shelter, or any number of great charities out there. The point is to keep spreading the kindness. To share the love of Christ with so many that are hurting this year. Don't forget to check on your neighbor or even a family member you haven't spoken to in some time. Pride is the most difficult thing to get passed and be able to ask for help.

I can't wait to hear your thoughts on this, so please share in the comments below!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Best Christmas Gift You Ever Got?

Do you ever look back at the previous years and try really hard to remember what you got last Christmas? Can you remember? I know unless it's something pretty significant, I don't I'm sorry to say. I have this book that has recorded the last 18 years of Christmas celebrations and it's always fun to go back and remember what was going on during our lives that year. Some were pretty bleak, when times were extremely hard and we could only afford to give our kids presents. My husband Steve and I created a scrapbook of sorts playing the "If Only...." game and listed pictures of what we would do if money were simply not an object. Kinda wish we would have kept those.

I can remember back to some incredible childhood presents like my favorite bike, an ice skating Barbie, Gund bears my step dad faithfully got me every year with a small check attached. I absolutely LOVED those. I remember getting a "Duke" rescue dog. He came with attachments so you could set up a zip line in your house, and open his mouth to attach a bit that would allow him to sail down to the ground. Oh how I loved that gift.

I remember life saver books that were always in our stockings, little bags of Santa coal that was really gum, PEZ dispensers and those really large candy cane sticks you could eat for hours. I remember that when I was a kid, Christmas Eve night was the worst. Trying to go to sleep early and staying asleep knowing that in the morning, Christmas waited.

Yet one thing stuck in my mind years later, that it was those rare moments that really lasted after all these years. More than once it wasn't an actual tangible gift but time spent with family or friends that really made Christmas memorable. It will never be about the gift but about the time. No amount of money spent will ever make a difference but what you do for others will. Even as I approached my birthday in a few months, I can still remember it as if it happened yesterday. But if you ask me about what I got that year, I can honestly say I don't remember.

What I do remember is how I chose to find 49 unique ways to give back to others on my birthday instead. Those memories and the differences that were made in the lives of the people we touched will be forever embedded in my heart. Because it's really not about what we get, it's what we did with the gift we have received. The gift of the servant heart. How are you using yours today?

"If your behavior does not reflect your beliefs, then your beliefs are of no value."

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

No Peeking!

While out running errands today I was listening to the radio and the discussion was brought up about how many listeners actually peeked at their Christmas presents before Christmas. I thought it was interesting and often thought back to the many ploys, we parents, use to ensure that our kids don't know which presents are theirs, often times hiding them and wondering if they have ever cheated and found them.

Looking back at my own childhood, I found out that Santa wasn't real when my brother and I stumbled upon that back of my mom's bedroom closet. Yup! Tucked back in the far recesses of that space were shopping bags filled with our presents. Of course, we just had to take more than just a peek and were more than delighted with what we were going to get. Of course, the one thing I do remember is that it wasn't as exciting when we did get around to opening them as it would have been if we simply would have waited. That discovery pretty much confirmed my suspicions that Santa was really my parents because the labels on our packages always looked just like my moms.

One of these days, I'll have to share that story with her. You think I would have learned my lesson right?

Yeah, I would have thought so too, but none the less, when I got married my first husband wasn't the greatest at getting me ANYTHING I wanted. He thought he knew better and face it, it's pretty hard to pull off a great face when you open your package to find a drill set. It's simply perfect he argued for all those times I needed him to fix something, I could simply do it myself. So I felt justified one year to take a peek at those "presents" so I can prepare myself for the worst ahead of time. I cut the scotch tape off the presents and opened up the paper carefully and then re-taped it when I saw what they were.

The funny thing is they must have been so awful because I don't even remember what they were. I knew I was disappointed but at least I could work those emotions out before actually opening them in front of him. Now our kids are grown past that stage but it's interesting to know if you have ever peeked at your presents growing up. How did you find them? Did your parents find out? How do you keep your own kids from discovering your Christmas presents before Christmas? Can't wait to find out what you have to share!!!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Old Fashioned Classic Christmas Girl!

In keeping up with my Christmas Trivia Posts on Facebook, where I pose a trivia question based on some of the favorite Christmas movies to date. I have often times been asked to share what some of my favorite movies are so I thought I would share some of them with you. Mind you, they have changed over the year and as I have gotten older, my tastes have been refined a bit by the classics most people don't even know about. In no particular order they are:

1. White Christmas: I mean nothing gets better than Bing Crosby. I prefer the simplicity of the story. The tale of love that is struggling to find a place in people's hearts, in this case Bing's character. It also blends the story of Bing's past serving in WWII, and we find him returning back to help his old General save his historic inn. The music is beautiful and the wardrobe is classic in every way. When women still dressed up no matter what they were doing.

2. It Happened on Fifth Avenue. I actually found this one while looking for Christmas Classic movies that I might have missed and it truly does offer something that will embed itself in your heart long after you finish watching it. It tells the story of a homeless man who finds lodging during the Christmas season by taking advantage of wealthy homes that are left vacate. It is a true classic comedy in every way with a compelling message.

3. Holiday Inn: Once again back to Bing Crosby in which case you can never go wrong. He stars with Fred Astaire as a couple of entertainers who have now decided to break up their act. Bing decides to open an Inn that is only open on holidays. It isn't so much a Christmas movie but it wraps up with the opening at Christmas time in which old relationships are mended and new ones formed.

4. The Bells of St. Mary: Another Bing Crosby classic. This movie tells the tale of a home for wayward boys who suddenly find themselves looking for funds to rebuild. Bing plays the Catholic Father O'Malley for the home and soon finds himself at odds with one of the Sisters played by Ingrid Bergman. They hope that a wealthy real estate man will offer to donate a new home for the boys if they can only persuade him to give up his latest project which is adjacent to their home.

5. It's A Wonderful Life: Life truly doesn't get any better during Christmas than watching Frank Capra's beloved classic about George Bailey (James Stewart) and Mary (Donna Reed) who fall in life during their childhood and soon marry after George returns home from college to handle the Bailey Building and Loan for his ailing father. The message of hope and redemption is a clear as the ringing bell on the Christmas Tree and this one is by far one of my all time favorites.

6. Miracle on 34th Street (1994) I love the more recent remake of this movie over the classic 1947 version. There is something wonderful of watching an underdog rally the city and it's residents to help fight the greater good in the belief of Santa Claus. I love watching this one during Thanksgiving and love Richard Attenborough, Elizabeth Perkins and Dylon McDermott. Their chemistry gives you the "Ah!" factor.

7. The Shop Around the Corner - This is the original movie where You Got Mail was remade. Once again James Stewart plays a shop clerk Alfred Kralik and Margaret Sullivan plays Klara Novak who find that the person they have been writing letters to are actually the same person.

That wraps up my Christmas Classic Movie list. If  you haven't taken the time to watch any of these, trust me you'll want to add them this year. Let me know what your favorite Christmas movies are in the comment box below.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Traditions

I love traditions. There is something about being able to spend some time looking back fondly and recalling a particular event that means something more than simply the act of doing it. Christmas traditions are just like that. Place markers in your past that signify a powerful emotion instead of merely doing something with your family.

In today's ever increasing technology gadgets I am finding some of the traditions, I've grown to love are slowly becoming extinct. I cringe when I think that one day, Christmas Cards will simply be a thing of the past. Looking back at my Christmas Memories book that holds the last 18 years of celebrations, I can definitely see where it has fallen by the way side. Now I struggle to find just one Christmas card to post in my book. Sadly it seems most people are either too busy to find time to send them out when a Ecard works just as well. I don't think this should ever be replaced. Now you find commercially produced family Christmas postcards, e-Cards or Printed Family Newsletters are becoming the new norm. I was thrilled when my favorite Aunt sent me one unexpectedly and she is in her late 70's. She is a firm believer in not succumbing to the loss of those family honored traditions. I agree with her on that point. In fact I just mailed out a handful of cards today.

Here are some of my families favorite traditions and I look forward to having you share some of yours with me in the comment box below:

1. See the light display in Rancho Cucamonga, CA. We park the car and stroll the streets looking at the beautifully decorated houses, stop and listen to Christmas carols being sung by people, and purchasing some hot cocoa or soft pretzel. We take the entire family and then head out for dinner afterwards before driving back home. ( This was one of the homes from last year 2013.)

2. Painting Christmas village houses. My husband actually incorporated this tradition in our home and we add more houses and buildings every year. What an incredible way to look back at our lives through this unique one of a kind creations. (Steve's hard at work!)

3. Christmas Eve presents. My family gets to open one gift the night of Christmas Eve. It is always a new set of warm cozy pajamas and socks. When they were younger, I used to include a new Christmas book. (From 2012).

4. Christmas Ornaments. Each year my family decides which ornament best represents them or something they hope will happen in the year ahead and we initial and date them and add them to the Christmas tree each year. (The one above is Caitlyn's, our oldest daughter who loves owls.)

5. Christmas Cookies. I bake tons of cookies a few days before Christmas and include must haves of Chocolate Chip, Sugar Cookies, Magic Bars, Snickerdoodles, Pecan Balls, Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Balls, Candy Canes, Candy Coated Pecans, Fudge, and Chocolate Covered Caramel Kisses. (Pictured above Snickerdoodles. These never make it to the end of the day before there is only an empty plate!)

6. Egg nog. Enough said. It goes in everything. Pancake batter, French Toast, morning coffee and just drinking it cold with some cookies.

7. Sugar Cookie Contest. This actually got started last year. My daughter's boyfriend suggested we have a contest and each person picks one sugar cookie they decorated to enter the annual Facebook Cookie Contest. Where we ask Family and Friends to pick their favorite without disclosing which cookie goes to which person. The ones above are last year's entries! The star won!

8. Christmas Cards. Yes, I do still send these out. No Christmas Letters, Mass Printed Family Postcards with the Christmas Photos attached or e-Card. Nope, prefer snail mail with handwritten sentiments inside. If you're interested in being part of the Christmas Card bunch. Send me an email at Stevenkat27@verizon.net.

9. Christmas Lights! The more the merrier. I love adding to our outside Christmas decorations and this year I found garage sales were the perfect place to score some one of a kind outdoor decorations. They simply don't make them like they used to. I'll post some pictures later for you on what it looks like. We're waiting for the remainder of the leaves to fall from our Willow tree so you can see it all at once. (The photo above was from 2012 where we had a window painting company come around and paint your window for about $20).

10. Christmas Eve. We always order food to be delivered for dinner and then we simply sit around all day and watch our families favorite Christmas Movies. They change every year. Not sure what will be on the movie play list this year, but I know The Muppet Christmas Carol is always playing.

So in a nutshell is some of our families Christmas traditions. What are some of yours? Remember if you want to do a Christmas Card Exchange with me, email me at Stevenkat27@verizon.net

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Kat is Back with a Twist!

I was just telling my hubby today how long it's been since I wrote a blog post, while I update my status in Facebook several time throughout the day. Why is that?

I think it's simply because I feel the need to write something profound or spiritual that I feel led by God to share, when the real reason I created my blog was more as an online journal for me, than simply feeling the need to share something with readers. That is initially what drew me to decide to create a blog in the first place. It would allow me to look back on the way God has worked in my life every day and see the highs and lows and the way He has brought me through it all. It would be a place to share prayer requests and also answer them if I could. It would allow you to see what an almost 50-year old mom of two is doing in her day to day life with a busy husband who works much harder than he should. So I am taking on the commitment to do so.

So what have I been up to lately?

Well, without sharing all the details of 2013, lately I've been diligently streamlining my book review process. After almost 4 year of reviewing books and taking on the challenge in the last couple years of reading a book or more per day, I am limiting what I really want to read. I am eliminating those books that I don't feel represent who I am or what God has called me to do. So does that mean no more non-Christian books?

No, because I truly believe God has given me this desire to read and review books in order that I may shine the light on the dark places people find themselves once they pick up a book. There have been several books that look amazing, the synopsis on the cover doesn't covey what lies hidden within and then you are completely shocked by what you get on the inside.

So that will continue to some degree but now I am simply being a whole lot more selective. I love giving first time authors a shot at having their books reviewed and LOVE being able to help in any way. Yet again, I am still being selective at what I choose to read. I can't see giving an author a fair evaluation of their book if I don't have the heart to read what they wrote, so I am only being fair in that regard. Just this year alone, I have read 249 books this year even though my initial goal was only 200.

What does that mean? I am not reading as many as I have in the past, which gives me more time with my family. My hubby travels quite a bit so the downtime there is now being filled with reading to help pass the time.

I am also home schooling my youngest daughter in her first year in high school and I am thrilled that she is maintaining perfect A's in her freshman year. This means that as the semester draws to a close, all her teachers have given her the option of not having to take the final exams in all her subjects as a way to show her what the consequences of hard work are. She is over the moon with that and is finishing up her final weeks in all her subjects.

We are looking forward to incorporating some new Christmas traditions this year and are planning our trip to see the Christmas lights in the middle of the month. I will share those with you.

From this point on, you'll see a bit more of the personal side of who I am along with what God's doing in my life and what He has to say when He shares something with me. Hope you are all staying warm and cozy and I send my California sunshine your way today!