Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The month of celebration ends (and a GIVEAWAY!)

Me, being the coffee bar afficianado, at our youth Christmas party
Christmas Day has come and gone.
Cookies were swapped.
We have a 5 year old now.
I'm 17ish weeks along in this pregnancy.
Friends got married this weekend and we got to play a part.
Tonight is New Years Eve.
It has been a crazy, wonderful, busy, intense, blessed, season of Holidays for us. 

To be honest with you - our reality is that all this crazy, blessed, fullness just continues on. We have a youth retreat this weekend, I'm starting up our Mom's playgroup at church again, Hubs will be traveling for conferences and appointments, and life goes on. I guess I could look at life as ONE BIG FAT CELEBRATION all the time :) Yea, I'll do that. 

Even during the busy, God has been good in allowing me some time in His word {even when I'm lazy and not making it a priority...to my shame} and a few extra minutes to read through some encouraging and helpful books. I always want to be a woman that is learning and growing - it's important to not get stagnant. 

To kick off a NEW year and another 12 months to learn and grow - I'm doing a different type of giveaway today and I hope you'll join in the fun. I have chosen three books that I think are read worthy and if you are chosen the winner you choose the one you want! All you need to do is leave a comment stating which book you'd like to WIN and why. Simple, eh? I'll choose the winner this weekend - so you have 3 days to enter. If you aren't familiar with how to comment, or, aren't a blogger yourself - just be sure to at least leave your name and email on your comment so I can connect with you. 

Here are the options....{drumroll}....

"Letters to Pastors Wives" Edited by Catherine J. Stewart
This is a book of compiled letters from women who have "gone before" if you will. Here is what Amazon says about it: 

"There is no right 'type' of pastors' wife, only the one whose heart is wholly set on serving Christ."
Pastors' wives encounter special challenges as well as special joys. These letters from the seasoned wives of seasoned pastors provide empathy, wise counsel, and encouragement on a wide range of topics, including:
Campus Ministry, Church Conflict, Friendship, Hospitality, Ministry Abroad, Pastors' Kids, Priorities, Support for Your Husband, and more."

Some of the contributors were: Margy Tripp, Noelle Wilkerson, Pam Schweitzer and Sarah Ascol.
I am LOVING this encouraging and challenging book in my own quiet moments while my kids are asleep. I just finished a chapter about humility and it was convicting to the CORE - compiled with scripture and life stories, it's just exactly my type of reading. If you are a current pastors wife, hope to be one, or even just a ministry leaders helper - you would enjoy this book. 

"Glimpses of Grace" by Gloria Furman
"Sometimes life feels a lot like a burden—day-in and day-out its the same chores and tasks, challenges and discouragements, anxieties and responsibilities. Dust bunnies show up on the stairwell, social commitments clutter the calendar, and our families demand daily attention and care. At times, just catching our breath seems like an impossible feat.

So where is God in all of this? Does he care about the way we unload the dishwasher or balance the budget? Do the little things like changing diapers or cooking meals make a difference? And how can we use our spheres of influence for God’s glory and our joy?
Whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a working woman splitting time between the office and home, Gloria Furman—writer, pastor’s wife, cross-cultural worker, and mom—encourages us to see the reality of God’s grace in all of life, especially those areas that often appear to be boring and unimportant. Using personal examples and insightful stories, her richly theological reflections help us experience the gospel’s extraordinary power to transform our ordinary lives."

This book was given to me last year and it's on my top 10 list now! Gloria writes from experience and with a true grasp on the Gospel. I loved her transparency and the ideas she gave on really making the Gospel a priority in her day. 

And, just for fun - because I think we need that - especially as we raise chidren, live hard lives, and just face this broken world. :) 

"Princess Petunia's Sweet Apple Pie" by Big Idea and Karen Poth
I have TWO big "girl" Veggie tale fans in our home! They especially love Petunia - and I was glad to find these early reader type books. This cute book is about being helpful, something our children can benefit from for sure! 
Use this to spend some quality time with your kiddos - or gift to the Veggie lover in your life. 

So there you have it! I'm excited to hear your thoughts and pick the winner this weekend! (Drawing will be done with Random.com) Don't forget to leave your comment! 

Monday, December 23, 2013

5th Birthday!

Well it happened. Once upon a time a Momma had a baby girl and named her Ava Edyn. And all of the sudden after what seems just like a day or two, she turned 5.

The night before her birthday I sat on the edge of her bed, kissed her goodnight, closed the door, and cried like a baby. My poor husband... I am so thankful he understands my emotions about watching my children grow up. It is so hard on me. 

But the big day came and we enjoyed every minute of celebrating her 5 years! She opened gifts from us as soon as she woke up. A much awaited Our Generation doll named Sadie was at the top of her list and we LOVED her reaction to opening it! Doesn't every parent hope their kids are this excited?! 
After gifts we loaded up the van and headed out for birthday breakfast at Cracker Barrel - thanks to Poppa and Grammy who were in visiting. (This preggo mom enjoyed it waaaay more then the birthday girl) :) 
Then it was on to her birthday suprise - BUILD A BEAR! All the pictures of that event are on my hubby's phone, but trust me, it was exciting. 

5 years. {Sigh} We are so blessed and thankful for our beautiful girl. 

And we loved a special visit from Poppa and Grammy all the way from Ohio. It really made her birthday so special. :) 

And little sister was pretty excited to love on her big sis, too. What a couple of gifts these two are! 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

On my Tree. {weepy momma is at it again}

Precious handmade ornaments
I had some time this afternoon to sit and finish wrapping the rest of our gifts to our children. In typical hormonal prego woman style, I found myself feeling emotional and weepy as I stacked gifts neatly under and around the tree. The Lord has provided for us this year in such HUGE ways - ways we can clearly see and announce "Praise God" look what He has done. For one, living in this home is enormous. I pray we never take for granted how the Lord sold our last one and pretty much flopped this one in our laps. Space. A yard. A basement we can use. All our real needs and even some wants checked right off the list. We are so thankful. Add to that TWO working automobiles that are paid off, money to pay bills and have extras - and that's where I'm going today. The extras.

As I wrapped up the gifts I couldn't help but feel washed over with thanksgiving. Though we will never be millionaires, I feel like we are giving lavishly this year to our kids. We are able to get a few things that I know the girls will really enjoy and I cannot wait to see their reactions on Christmas morning. I really can't want to explain to them that we give gifts to them BECAUSE of God's gift to us, His son, Jesus! What an easy thought for a child to capture. What a thought that this momma needs to meditate on more often. So, I wrapped and teared up, wiped my nose on my sleeve and just cried out some thanks to our faithful God who allows us these good things in life. I am humbled when I look under our tree at the neatly wrapped packages and think back to other years when weren't able to wrap any, really. And this keeps going through my mind - of God's lavish love towards us. So much more than any earthly gift.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,  even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will,  to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace,  which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ  as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth."  Ephesians 1:3-8

In my quiet moment I took note of each ornament and memory we have made as a family. So precious to think back, remember, and give thanks. 
The first earth born baby

My mom's creativity

Before kids. Who are those young folks?

What a thought.
From my home to yours today, Merry Christmas. Treasure the moments. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

A quick this and that.

For the last hour I've noticed the sky growing more and more dark. At just shy of 3pm we are under total cloudage. The weather man says ice is in store, who knows, but it sure does look ominous out there! I'm so thankful for this cozy home with sleeping children and Christmas tunes to carry us through the afternoon. :)

I had a few moments this afternoon after putting the girls down to nap, so I curled up on the couch and quick-read this book:

As I sipped my egg nog latte (from a dear friend) and enjoyed the warm blanket on my lap, I kept getting all teary eyed. This tiny book is just a collection of Ruth's poems about her love and marriage to Dr. Billy Graham over the years. Her daughter, Gigi, also shares memories of watching her parents over the decades. I don't know what made me cry more - how the Lord beautifully sustained this couple over years of intense ministry, travel, children, child loss, trials, joys, etc. OR how I look around today and realize this kind of love and devotion to marriage (let alone the Lord) is rapidly failing and harder to find. 

God's word tells us time and again that BAD will go to WORSE while we are on this earth... so I shouldn't be suprised. But why am I still? I'm not going into all the debates that are our there right now, but oh how I am so thankful for the truth of God's word and the reminder that one day EVERY knee with bow, EVERY tongue will confess Jesus as LORD! I cling to it. Someday all will be made well again - perfect actually - and the light of the Son of God is all we'll need. Lord Jesus, save these souls that are lost and wandering. 

In other news, it's the week before Christmas and I am so enjoying seeing and hearing from far away friends and getting Christmas cards in the mail from those we love. This year I used my old door as the catch all for cards and I'm pretty happy about how it turned out.
What I love the most is the memories and milestones. Watching friends kids grow, additions of babies and ministries and marriages kept sacred. Christ honored. Just when I'm feeling like there are none who seek the Lord - God is good to let me open a card to remind me, His own still seek Him. Though ultimately... HE is the great pursuer! 

Merry Christmas to you today! May Christ be praised! 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rookie Cookie Swap

I'm taking on something new this year and hosting a 1st annual (because I hope to do it more...) Cookie Swap. I'm a total rookie at this kind of thing and with fingers crossed and confidence in my co-bakers, it should go well. The most difficult part was choosing which cookies to try this year. Every year at Christmas I like to try a new cookie recipe. Some years that has gone swimingly, while in others, a big fat flop. :) But no one complains even about flop cookies! 

My selections this year are... {drumroll}....

Chocolate "Pretzels". They aren't really pretzels at all, just cookie dough formed into pretzel shape then coated with chocolate icing and sprinkled with white sugar or nonpareils to look like "salt". Cute and different. 

Double Chocolate Crinkle Cookies.
Yum! Who doesn't love some double chocolate AND the appearance of snowy caps?! I love how easy these are and how they kinda sorta will be delicious. 

And, my brancher-outer this year...

Norwegian Forest Cookies.
I couldn't find ANY pics of this cookie, which is exciting because I don't think a lot of people make them. :) Happy to add some culture to our swap! The secret ingredient and what makes them "Norwegian" is the ground cardamom. Picture something like this...only, a simple and different recipe and probably a darker shade. 
I can't wait to see what the other swappers bring! Looking forward to a sweet time of cookie trading, hot cocoa sipping, and good Christmas cheer! Tis' the season. :) 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

December Menu Planning

Is anyone else enjoying these 15 degree days we've been having around good ol' Iowa? :) I know, I know... probably not. The snow fell and we have a beautiful coating of white just in time to celebrate Christmas #1 with my parents who are driving in from Ohio this weekend. It's the little things like that.

I've been lousy at menu planning lately. Considering that nothing sounds good and we've had lots of little meals here and there for different events, it's been ok. But, it's my goal for the remainder of the month to get something yummy and somewhat healthy on the table through the 23rd. But the ultimate goal is COMFORT and togetherness type meals. (baby steps) Instead of my normal routine of picking a cook book and working my way through - I'm using Pinterest to cook up all those things I've pinned and have yet to try. I'm sharing my plan with you today, and would love to hear what kinds of good things you have planned for your fam this month. I'll put up a few pics of the items for the rest of week one, then the rest will simply be a link to the recipe in case you'd like to give it a go! But, all can be found online.

12 - Loaded Baked Potato & Chicken Casserole

13- Black bean & corn chili with cornbread
30 Minute Corn & Black Bean Chili Recipe--by far the best black bean chili I have ever had. Salsa verde & cilantro add great fresh flavor....it so easy to make & SO good!

14 - Out to eat with my parents :)
15 - Tuscan Garlic chicken over linguine
Tuscan Garlic Chicken.

16 - 5 year old birthday for my girl, her choice!
17 - Ham and Cheese pinwheels
18 - "South" Dish
19 - Lasagna Soup
20 - Pizza Roll Up's
21 - Chicken Broccoli Casserole
22 - Chili Jack Casserole
23 - BBQ Chicken Quinoa Salad

Well, that does it for my list through the 23rd. I'm eager to bless and WOW my family with some yummy dinner time meals, especially since our dinner hour hasn't been much lately. December menu planning made easy with the use of lovely technology and the brains of many women sharing their recipes - how great is that!?

Saturday, December 7, 2013

From the heart: A Christmas craft for preschoolers

In my effort to be frugal and meaningful this Christmas - I looked through our school box to try and come up with a quick, easy, and preschool friendly craft to do with my girls. This is what I came up with and I think some grandma's, neighbors and even our trees are going to look extra special with these beauties hanging on them. :)

Here's what you need:
- Sisal, yarn, string, whatever you want to be the hanger-upper part
- Glue gun and extra glue sticks
- Kids glue sticks
- Craft sticks. We used the ginormous ones. You can use any size.
- green paint
- felt and foil pieces OR whatever you think would make simple and pretty "ornaments". 

1) The day before have your kiddos paint the craft sticks on one side with the green paint. Let dry.
Once dry, I hot glued the 3 sticks together. Glue sticks don't hold well for that part. 
2) Cut out tiny pieces of felt and foil to glue onto the dried green sticks - these are the "ornaments". Let the kids use their glue sticks to pick where they want to glue the pieces. Cut out foil stars to put at the top of the tree!
3) Mom or dad: hot glue the back of the top of the tree and use your yarn or sisal to make a loop, this will be how you hang it up. 
4) Name and date on the back. Presto! A memory made! 

The 2 year old finishing one of her trees

My girls and I are having a cozy night at home and working on this craft together was great fun. Now, the ornaments are drying and we are enjoying some special cartoons. These were some of my favorites as a child - happy to share Rudolph with my girls now.
And the wonderful hubs surprised me with THIS when I woke up from my nap this afternoon. It's been a good day. Eggnog latte = Christmas love. :)

Merry Christmas from our home to yours!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nausea and Worry

Since my husband and I embarked on this journey of pregnancy and child rearing way back in 2007 - I've battled. It wasn't over getting fat or body changes or anything like that...but just a general fear of the unknown. We lost our first baby in December 2007, which means as of this past week it's been 6 years. It's still strange and painful to me that if that baby would have been born - we'd have a 5 1/2 year old right now. It was a June due date - just as the child I currently carry has. Maybe that's why I'm battling with worry MORE with this pregnancy.

A few months ago a sweet gal I know suffered a loss at 14 weeks which is where I am on this very day. The start of a new trimester and yet I still find my self surrendering fears to the LORD almost daily. You would think that after 6 years and two healthy pregnancies it would be easier. It's not. But I thank the Lord for this gift of empathy and sensitivity and I pray that I can continue to use my past experience to bless and encourage other Mom's who have to go through it. Nothing is wasted with our God!

14 weeks today and I feel just about as nauseated as I did 7 weeks ago, which is strange to me. My normal pregnancy routine was to be sick about 6 weeks, then magically better. Aka: Second Tri. This time it's SO SO different. I'm starting to believe that my 31 year old body + 2 children + busy ministry lifestyle = continued sickness contribution. Anyone wanna scientifically verify that? That, and, I can't seem to keep nutrition at the forefront this time. Yesterday it was 5:30pm and it dawned on me all I had eaten that whole day was 1 cake doughnut and a bowl of rice. Folks, that doesn't help anyone. But, slowly, the ol' appetite is returning and once I go grocery shopping I plan to buckle down and get serious. I promise.

There have been food aversions aplenty this time around and only a few things that I really want alll the time - when I am feeling up to eating.

- Watermelon & citrus fruits, I cannot get enough.
- Fancy breads (artisan). And thanks to my dear friend, Emily, I got to majorly indulge in some amazing Focaccia the other day. Who doesn't love a good crunch on the outside, buttery, herby, delicious bread?! Oh man, now I want more. And, stock in Panera so I can have bread anytime...
- Aldi's Cranberry Almond Chicken salad: (say what?!)

This is the one that doesn't make any sense to me. First, it has meat in it (gag), second, it's fruit in a salad... which I normally don't enjoy, third, Mayo based. All things I normally just pass up. But for some reason - that salad with hard crackers feels like a banquet. Don't even read the nutrition label, it's fatty goodness in a plastic bowl. :)
- Cold, Cold, water. I'm not one of those momma's who enjoys drinking 9 gallons a day for my health. I normally have to force myself to finish one camelbak a day. (tisk, tisk) Lately, however, I cannot get enough. 

It's almost 4pm and just writing about that made me queasy. Ha! Might need to go sneak some more watermelon out of my fridge. Thankful for the sickness today - and praying the Lord continues to sustain. :)

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Adventures 'round here

Happy December.
I have missed blogging and putting words down lately. Life has been so full and busy and I have been struggling with getting things done. I think December lends to the "extras" that need done, but still, I miss this blog and I miss reading yours, friends.

It's December 4 and I seem to have gotten my pre-holiday melt down out of the way already. It was on Monday. My husband came home to me sitting in front of our Christmas tree, crying. I'm laughing about it now - but, it wasn't funny then. You see - our van battery has died and there isn't a spare day to take the time and get a new one. So, I'm semi STUCK at home. No grocery shopping, no trips out, etc. Normally I'm fine with that but... I have a zillion things on the to do list.
- Gathering and prep for our ladies Christmas event this weekend
- Groceries. We have NONE. (We literally had hot dogs without buns and canned beans the other night)
- Trip to the craft store, because I wanted to make things for Advent with my children.

I've been feeling so defeated an ineffective as a homemaker, mother and wife. Like there is so much to DO and my heart just wants to BE. Does that even make sense? My dreamy pictures of what I want the season to look like never happen. Mostly because they aren't realistic :) In my defense, I do have a little reason for the up's, down's and extreme emotions: WE ARE PREGNANT! Yup, baby on the way. I'm in my 13th week and the nausea has still not let up. It's been a rough beginning and I'm still napping every single day. So, I've been pregnant the entire time since we bought and moved into our new home - so all the projects I've dreamed of getting done are on the back burner because the energy is just not there. A day at a time is the new goal and we are excited to meet this baby in June.

We have gotten one major thing done - our antique buffet! It's all painted now and I just need to do one more coat of poly, then distress it like crazy!

This is where I gush and tell you how much I love my husband. He has been pushing me for THREE years to finish this beast up - his push was just what I needed. I'll try and get some "final project" pics up here soon. It's a wonderful addition to our new home! I also finally got our antique windows hung and started painting our breezeway. Feels good to get a few things done.

Today I was able to drink almost a full cup of coffee without wanting to vomit, so I'm hoping to get the rest of the Christmas decor up and the house clean. It's the little things, remember?

The adventures continue around here and we are learning to love every moment. Even dinners of hot dogs and canned beans. :)