Sunday, December 10, 2017

My Favorite Christmas Ornaments #2: Homemade

As I mentioned last week, every ornament on our Christmas tree has a story to tell. Some were on our tree when I was growing up, some are homemade, some are store-bought, and some were given to us as gifts.

Today,  I share about some favorite homemade ornaments on our tree...

This is only two, out of I think 8, ornaments that I painted for mine and David's first Christmas tree. They are plastic, but are meant to look like stained glass. We didn't have any ornaments of our own yet, so I decided to get an ornament kit and paint these.

The kids and I made these salt-dough ornaments in 2005. JJ was almost 3 years old. EL was 7. It was a fun project to cut, bake, and paint these ornaments. We gave some away as gifts that year, and kept some for ourselves.

Some dear friends of ours made us several ornaments made of pinecones. They make our artificial tree look a little more real.

This photo shows two more homemade ornaments. The one with JJ in the frame was made at the local nursing home several years ago at a Christmas event for children. The round one above it was made in 2004. It has JJ's thumbprint on it, and I added a stick person's body to it, then wrote the words "Thumb body loves you!" I have one that EL made also (not shown), but I made her thumbprint into a flower shape and wrote, "Thumb flowers never fade." We gave these away as gifts that year, and didn't keep any for ourselves, but these specific ones found their way onto our tree after Grandma Mac passed away in 2013. So, they are special because they have the kids thumbprints on them, and are also special because they belonged to Grandma.

Luke 6:38 - Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (ESV)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

My Favorite Christmas Ornaments #1: Vintage

Our family has made the personal choice to observe Jesus Christ's birth every year by celebrating Christmas with family and friends. One of the traditions we have during this time of year is to decorate a Christmas tree. It is a special time of family togetherness, and a great time to reminisce.

Every year when we decorate our tree, it is like taking a walk down "memory lane." Every ornament has a story to tell. Some were on our family tree when I was growing up, some are homemade, some are store-bought, and some were given to us as gifts.

During the month of December, I will share some of my favorite ornaments with you and tell you why they are special to me.

Today,  I share about some of the vintage ornaments on our tree...

The original Shiny Brite* company was a producer of popular American-made glass Christmas tree ornaments. According to my mom, this box of assorted ornaments was most likely purchased at Woolworth's in Springfield, IL (a popular "five and dime" store) in the late 1960's. The ornaments are special to me because they were used on our family tree when I was growing up.  I especially liked the teardrop shapes, like the one in the photo at top, and in the photo below.

*You can read about the history of the Shiny Brite company on the Manchester Township website, under HISTORY.

The blue one in this photo is my favorite out of the Shiny Brite collection. No real reason - I just like the color. And, along with this ornament, you can also see a painted bear made of wood. I remember helping my mom paint this bear when I was very little, maybe 4 or 5 years old. My brother and sister painted some of these wooden shapes as well.

This one was a personalized metal angel ornament given to me by our dear friends, The Moores. It has been on our family tree since I was about 10 years old. It's always a favorite to hang up and remember the friendship we had (and continue to have) with the family who gave it to me.

Here is a full look at our Christmas tree this year. Come back next Sunday to get an up-close look of some of the homemade ornaments that are special to me.

Our 2017 Christmas Tree

John 1:14 - And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Family Honor Plate & Table Thyme Discussion Cards

I have two fun Christmas gift ideas to share with you today that can be used in your own family, or given to another family you wish to bless.

This plate starts out as a do-it-yourself (DIY) ceramics-painting project you design and bake at home. You can paint it together as a family or, if you want some creativity time, you can take an evening and paint it yourself. That's what I did. My kids weren't really interested in painting it, so I took the time to do it myself. I chose to paint the words, "You Are A Blessing" on it, because that is the basic idea of the plate - to help children understand how and why they have been a blessing to someone (read more info about that below), but we also plan on using it throughout the year on each of our birthdays. Here's how my plate turned out:

After the plate is painted and baked, it is meant to be used as a fun parenting tool that encourages children (and everyone in the family) to learn more about and focus on the fruits of the Spirit found in Galatians 5.

Galatians 5:22-23 - But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, 
peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 
gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.


Step #1 - PARENTS SHOULD BE THE EXAMPLE: Our children are watching us and learning from us. This is how they learn what character (Christ's Character) is, what it looks like, what it feels like. The virtues are listed in the center of the plate for parents to use as their moral compass. 

Step #2 - BE ON THE LOOKOUT: Look for the good choices and attitudes your kids/spouse are making and showing throughout the day. Track it back to the virtues listed on the plate.

Step #3 - CELEBRATE THEIR CHARACTER: When you catch someone making good choices and showing good character, present their meal on the FAMILY HONOR PLATE that evening at mealtime. Talk about the good choices they made and the virtues and character that it showed (Be specific about how they were a blessing). Talk about how their actions were POWERFUL and BEAUTIFUL because of the impact they made in someone's life.

I believe this would make a unique Christmas gift for a family you love, including your own. It includes everything you need to paint the plate, and display it in the home. Watch this video for more information, or go ahead and PURCHASE HERE:  FAMILY HONOR PLATE 


My family and I have been using these during our evening meal times together. We try to do at least 2 questions per meal, and have enjoyed learning more about the others in our family. 

Here's an example of a question my 14 year old son answered:

  • QUESTION: If you could be any animal, what would you be?
  • ANSWER: A dog - a golden retriever
  • QUESTION:  Why?
  • ANSWER: They are soft and friendly, and I've just always wanted to have one of my own. I like cats, and I'm glad to have Sofie [his cat], but I think it would be cool to have a dog, too.

Move around the table until everyone has had a chance to answer. It is fun, and interesting, and is a good way to get to know each other better. It provides a way to share memories, and is a way to make memories also.

NOTE: As a member of FlyBy Promotions, I received a sample of these products in exchange for this review and post.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Revisiting Inexpensive Ways to Encourage at Christmas

Two years ago, I did a series of "Encouragement Challenges" on this blog. During the Christmas season that year, I published 3 different posts that included inexpensive (or even free) ideas for encouraging others during this time of year. Today, I want to share these gift ideas with you again as we head into another Christmas season. Read the articles by clicking on each of the images below.
Write tributes to your loved ones for them to read while they are still with you.
Share positive thoughts. No money needed - just a little of your time.
Share Christmas goodies with family and friends.

I hope you enjoy this Christmas season 
by spending much of your time thinking 
about and encouraging others.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Gospel Tools from "Let the Little Children Come"

Children are not too young to understand how they can have a relationship with Christ. Even Jesus said in Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” In fact, I am personally thankful for the people in my life who shared the Gospel message with me when I was a child. Because of these blessed adults who took the time to share with me, I accepted Christ at a young age and continue to follow Him today. 

You may be wondering how YOU can start being an effective minister to children. If so, take a look at these evangelism tools available from LET THE LITTLE CHILDREN COME. 

The goal of Let The Little Children Come is to provide effective gospel tracts, evangelism tools, and resources for children. They are not affiliated with any specific church or organization, but their products are especially designed to capture and hold children's attention, while teaching them about the message of salvation by faith alone through Jesus Christ.

I received a SAMPLE PACK of products, which included the 10 items shown in the photo above, and was impressed with the selection of colorful and interesting tools. There are pop-up booklets where an item pops out when you open the pages; there are Gospel flip-abouts that are fun to use (once you can figure out how to use them. Ha! My 14 year old son actually figured it out before I did, but its not too hard); there are classic wordless books, bead bracelets and silicone bands that all have the colors needed to share the Gospel message (Instructions for sharing are included with purchase, or can also be found on the website); and there are animated tracts that include a special plastic sheet which makes images on the page seem as if they are moving. All of these items, as well as several others can be found on the website's PRODUCT PAGE

These would be great items to use in a Sunday School class, children's church, or Vacation Bible School program, or simply to share with your own children. They might even make unique stocking stuffers this Christmas season. Regardless, they really could be helpful tools in effectively ministering to children of all ages.


NOTE: As a member of FlyBy Promotions, I received a sample of this product in exchange for this review and post. The opinions expressed are mine alone.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

PHOTO(S) OF THE WEEK #28: Thanksgiving Through the Years

1 Chronicles 16:34 - Give thanks to the Lord, 
for He is good; His love endures forever. 

I don't have a picture from EVERY past Thanksgiving Day celebrated by my family, but here are some I found, starting in 1993...

Playing games has always been a fun Thanksgiving Day event. Here, in 1993, we are playing "Fast Scrabble" at Grandma's house. Pictured from left to right:  Mom, Dad, my brother Daniel, his wife Julee, one of my nephews, and Grandma.

1995 at my sister's house. Pictured:  Grandma, my nephew James, my brother Daniel, nephew Ryan, Me, brother-in-law Darren, and niece Amanda.

1998 - Our first Thanksgiving with our little EL. We are at the home of David's parents - the home he grew up in.

1999 - Hanging out at our house on Thanksgiving Day. Pictured:  Dad (taking a picture), my nephew Ryan, niece Amanda, Me, Mom, and I think that is the top of Grandma's head next to Mom.

2001 - I love this picture of Grandma with little EL, holding hands on our way in to a restaurant. We decided not to cook that year, and all went out to eat.

2002 - A fun picture of my dad and little EL at Grandma's house.

2003 - Another great picture of Dad - this time with little JJ - at Grandma's house. My nephew Ryan and Grandma are also in this picture.

2004 - We had Thanksgiving with David's side of the family this year.

2007 - Celebrating an early Christmas on Thanksgiving Day at Grandma's house.

2008 - Mom & Dad came to our house on this year.

2010 - This was one of my favorite Thanksgivings. Both my parents and David's parents were at our house that year, as well as David's brother.

2016 - This was our last Thanksgiving with Dad - another favorite year for me because all of us were together that year - Mom, Dad, my sister, brother, Me, and some of each of our families.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving Day. Celebrate the blessings the Lord has given to you. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

6 Months Without Dad - It Still Hurts, But Life Is Good

Today marks 6 months since Dad passed away. Wow, that's so hard to believe. It seems like it was just yesterday when he was still here with us, sending e-mails, talking on the phone, commenting on my blog posts, liking Facebook posts, and giving lots of love and encouragement whenever he could. Oh, how I miss him (and I know many others who do as well).

When someone we love passes away, we are forced to adjust to a "new normal" without him or her in our lives. The new normal is not easy, and it hurts... a LOT...

For example, my "new normal" without my dad HURTS when: 

  • I realize I can no longer pick up the phone and give him a call.
  • His encouraging words (written or spoken) are no longer there when needed.
  • His wise Biblical advice is no longer audibly heard.
  • He is no longer there to share jokes and laughter.
  • I desire to feel his warm hugs... but can't.

But, then, as I remember my Dad’s positive outlook on life and how he would often say, “Life is good,” I see how my new normal without him can also bring beneficial changes, if I allow it.

BENEFICIAL:  producing good results or helpful effects 

My "new normal" without my dad can be BENEFICIAL when:
  • I recall some of his favorite sayings, such as "Keep short accounts with God and others," "Praise God," and "Life is good."
  • I reminisce about him with smiles and laughter.
  • I am blessed by specific comments from friends and family whose lives he touched.  
  • I focus on the positive impact he had in my life and in the lives of others.
  • I strive to follow his examples by loving God with all my heart, and by being an encouragement to others.   

When Dad would say, “Life is good,” he didn’t mean everything in his life was perfect and happy and going just as he had planned. He meant, life is good because our lives are a gift from God that is too often taken for granted. If we open our eyes, we can see just how blessed we are. We can understand what a privilege it is to be alive on this earth, and to be able to serve and worship the Lord with all of our hearts. That is why we are here.

So, yes, even though I miss my dad, I can always accept the fact that life is good. 

Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of knowing and loving this precious man who was, and will always be, a part of my life. I look forward to seeing him again someday, when we will be sitting together at Your feet. Until then, help me to be thankful for all You have done for me and to always remember that life is good.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Animated Christmas Movie: The Star

My family and I are planning on watching the upcoming Holiday movie called "The Star."  In this adorably animated film, a small donkey named Bo desires to have a life beyond the normal, everyday life he has had. One day he finally finds the courage to break free, and goes on the adventure of his dreams. On his journey, he teams up with several other animals (a sheep named Ruth; Dave, a dove; and three wisecracking camels, just to name a few), who all follow the Star and become unlikely heroes in what is called "the first Christmas." The film looks like it will be humorous, fun, and entertaining for the entire family. It should be interesting to see how the Biblical account of Christ's birth is portrayed in this film, as if being seen through the eyes of the animals.

Watch here, the official trailer of this new Christmas movie, set to be released from Sony Affirm on November 17, 2017...

Get the kids involved before seeing this film by going to the MAIN WEBSITE where you can read more about it, "meet" the characters, or print out some coloring pages.You can also pre-order tickets if you like to order online.

The theme song "Life is Good," has a fun, upbeat tune. Watch and listen here...

This next clip gives us a peek behind the scenes.

If you like what you've seen so far, head on over to THE STAR MOVIE FACEBOOK PAGE where you can find many more videos and information about the film.

DISCLOSURE:  This is a sponsored post via FlyBy Promotions Blogger Network. As a Picture Featured Contributor of The Star Influencer Program, I am sharing this film promo, as well as my honest opinion of the trailer and other promotional materials, in exchange for 4 free tickets to see the film. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Easy Slow Cooker Baked Apples

With an abundance of apples this time of year, how do you like to use them up? In the past, I have made apple cobblers, dutch apple pies, spice apple cake, and homemade applesauce. But, so far this year, I have only made these yummy baked apples in the slow cooker. My mom used to make her version of  "baked apples" in a saucepan on top of the stove. This slow cooker version is very similar to those, and they give a nice smell to the house while they are cooking. They are also great to take along to potlucks and family gatherings and - for those who are gluten free, or those who are watching their sugar intake - they are a healthier option than pies and cobblers. You can also do the same thing with an overabundance of pears.  

For a 4 quart slow cooker, you will need at least 6-8 large apples, or double that if they are small. Peel and slice the apples and place into the slow cooker.

You will want enough apples to almost fill the slow cooker.

Mix together 3 TB of melted butter, 2 TB of lemon juice, 1 tsp of cinnamon, and 3 TB of brown sugar or honey.

Pour the mixture over the apples and gently stir to evenly coat the apples. You have the option of also sprinkling 2 more TB of brown sugar on top if that is what you are using. Cover them and cook on low for 4 hours, high for 2 hours. Stir and enjoy!

I forgot to get a photo of the finished apples while in the slow cooker, but here is a look at some of the leftovers. Everyone in my family loves these, except for my son. He doesn't like the "mushy" texture, as he puts it, and prefers raw, crunchy apples; but to each their own.

The recipe is below if you want to print it out and make this dish for your next church potluck or Fall fellowship. It is always good to meet together with others, especially other Christians, so we can be encouraging one another in our Faith. Unfortunately, living in this world is not getting any easier, but we can lean on each other for strength.

Hebrews 10:25 - Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  (ESV)

print recipe

Slow Cooker Baked Apples

My mom used to make her version of "baked apples" in a saucepan on top of the stove. This slow cooker version is very similar to those, and they give a nice smell to the house while they are cooking. They are also great to take along to potlucks and family gatherings and - for those who are gluten free, or those who are watching their sugar intake - they are a healthier option than pies and cobblers. You can also do the same thing with an overabundance of pears.
  • 6-8 Large Apples
  • 3 TB Melted Butter
  • 2 TB Lemon juice concentrate
  • 1 tsp. Ground cinnamon
  • 3 TB Brown Sugar or Honey
Peel and slice apples to almost fill a 4-quart slow cooker. Mix butter, lemon juice, cinnamon and brown sugar (or honey), and pour over apples. Stir gently to mix. Cover and cook on low 4 hours or high 2 hours. 

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Taste and See That the Lord is Good

The word of the week is:  TASTE or PERCEIVE

When we mention the word "taste," we normally think about recognizing or trying a new flavor with our tongues. But, there is another definition that is our main focus today - the definition that is used in Psalm 34:8.

The Hebrew word for "taste" here is ṭa·‘ă·mū, which means: to taste, or perceive

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines them like this:

TASTE : to become acquainted with by experience : to have perception, experience, or enjoyment
PERCEIVEto become aware of through the senses

Psalm 34:8 - Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (ESV)

So, if we look at this verse with those definitions in mind, we notice the writer of this psalm (David) is telling us to become acquainted with the Lord, to become aware of His presence in our lives, and to experience His goodness.

In other words, when we are in fellowship with the Lord (i.e. talking to Him daily about our circumstances, seeking His guidance and direction by reading His Word, and allowing our faith in Him to comfort us and help us through the difficult days), we will begin to recognize His goodness, and we will be blessed when we focus on the abundant love He has for us.

Be blessed today, as you "taste and see that the Lord is good."

Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Frustrating Adventure with My New Treadmill

These past few years, I have become a lot more sedentary than I should be, and I'm pretty sure that's not a good thing for my health. So, with determination to become more active, I decided to get a treadmill and start walking more consistently.

After being unable to find a good, used treadmill (yes, used, because it makes sense to be frugal whenever possible), I spoke with David about ordering a new one, and he agreed. So, I bought it online from Walmart and was really looking forward to getting it. Then, the frustration began.

1.  I bought the treadmill online on Sunday, September 10th, and it was shipped to the house for free, arriving a week later on Monday the 18th. 
My thoughts after ordering: Yay! I'm so excited for it to get here! Thank you, God, for providing the funds for us to get this. This is something I have been wanting, and needing, for a long time!
2.  David started putting the treadmill together on Tuesday evening (the 19th), and discovered two connectors would not fit together. Disappointment literally overwhelmed me and I went to bed early that night feeling sad and glum.  

My thoughts:  This is something I had my heart set on, God. It is a big disappointment to have to wait even longer for it. Why did this have to happen? Isn't it a wise decision to become healthier, so I can continue caring for the family You have given me? 

3.  After several phone calls and e-mails to the company that week, they finally put in an order for the right part to be sent to us. It was sent out on September 25th and took almost another week to get here, finally arriving on Saturday, September 30th. I tried to get them to put a "rush" on the shipment, but they wouldn't do that, so I just had to have patience. 
My thoughts:  I thought I already had enough patience. Caring for my special needs daughter, homeschooling my son who doesn't enjoy school, and adjusting to my husbands inconvenient work situations for so many years - I don't think I need anymore patience! This isn't fair, God!
4.  We were busy on the Saturday the parts arrived, so David wasn't able to put the new connectors on until Sunday, October 1st. In order to install the new part, he needed to remove the cover to the motor and, when he did, we noticed the motor was also broken.
My thoughts:  You have GOT to be kidding me! Really, Lord? I don't ask for much. I try to be content with what I have (or don't have) and I have never been demanding about material things. So, I just don't get it. Why is this happening? What did I do wrong to receive this kind of treatment? I admit, I was feeling somewhat hurt by God for not giving me this long-awaited desire.
5.  David called the company back again on Monday, October 2nd. They said they would ship us a new motor. Then, in a few days, someone would be giving us a call to set up a time for a technician to come out and install the new motor, as well as the new connectors.
My thoughts:  More waiting... sigh ....
6.  I received a call that a technician would be out on Friday, October 13th. In the meantime, the motor showed up on Monday, October 9th.
My thoughts:  Well, good, at least we have a technician on the way. As long as nothing else goes wrong, it should be working by Friday.
7. On Friday, October 13th, the technician arrived at 8:30 in the morning and immediately got to work. The treadmill was finally working within an hour.
My thoughts:  Phew! It has been more than a month since I first ordered it, and I'm  finally able to use it! I don't understand why all this happened, but thank you, Lord, for getting it working and for helping me through the frustration.

So, why did this happen? I honestly don't know. Whatever the reason, I have chosen to get past my frustrations and search for the good. If nothing else, at least I have the following reminders to look back on - for myself, and whoever else may be needing them:
  • God doesn't always give us what we want, or give us something WHEN we want it. Regardless, He is a good God, and I will still love Him.
  • We can be honest with God about our feelings. He cares about us, wants to hear from us, and wants to help us through the difficult days.
  • We can remain faithful in our Christian walk, believing there is a reason for what we are going through, even if we don't understand it.   

Romans 8:28 - And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (NASB)

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

CHILDREN'S BOOK REVIEW: "God's Great Love for You" by Rick Warren

God’s Great Love forYou, was written by New York Times bestselling author Rick Warren. It takes children on a little journey that helps them understand God’s love is with them wherever they go.

I love the adorable illustrations by Chris Saunders. They are cartoonish, yet still somewhat realistic-looking. Beautifully done and very appealing to young children.   

The book is a short read, with a few simple-to-understand words. Great to use while snuggling with a young child. The only thing I would personally change about it is where the book says God's great love for us is perfect "on good days, and bad days." I totally understand what this means, and I think most kids will understand it also. It helps kids realize God is with them and loves them no matter what kind of day they are having. But, for me personally, I try not to refer to any day as a "bad" day. To me, every day is a gift from God and, therefore, it is not a bad day. So, if I were to read this book to a young one, I would use the words "hard days" in place of "bad days." But, like I said, that is just a personal preference and not something to keep you from reading the book.

You can find it available for purchase at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Christian Book, and Lifeway.

Disclosure:  Thanks to Propeller/FlyBy Promotions, I received a sample of this book in exchange for my honest review and post. All opinions expressed are my own. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

My Simple Fall Decor

I like to decorate my home for the different seasons of the year - but I do it simply. I'm not a "Better Homes & Gardens" type of decorator. I don't have hay bales and pumpkins, scarecrows and corn stalks all over my yard and home. I do love those things, and I love seeing them around town and in other people's homes, but they can sometimes be expensive, and kinda messy too. So, I stick to simple and inexpensive, which works fine for me and my family.

Our dining room table is an antique, at least 100 years old, passed down from David's side of the family. A few years ago, we had it refinished. So, instead of covering it up with a tablecloth, I use a clear plastic cover on it (purchased in the yard goods section at Walmart). Then, for each season or holiday, I am able to put decorations underneath the plastic, along with a table runner on top. For Fall, I found a free printable file on of Christian Fall Decorations.  After downloading the file, I used a color printer and cardstock paper to print out the deigns, and then cut them out. The printable file includes various leaves and pumpkins with Scripture verses on them (See examples below). I love including Scripture in our home decor. It always helps remind us of God's love and care for us.
Example #1
Example #2

For our windows, I found gel stickers of colored leaves at the Dollar Tree. I purchased two sets at $1.00 each, which was just enough for our kitchen/dining room windows. 
For our front door, I found a large colored leaf made of some sort of felt material, and a bell decoration to place in front of it, again at the Dollar Tree. I was going to try to make my own Fall wreath this year but, when I saw these, I decided to save time and money. This works just as well as a Fall wreath and was only $2.00. 

My family and I are not big fans of Halloween. So, these Fall decorations go up at the beginning of September, and stay up through Thanksgiving. I hope you enjoy these simple ideas for Fall decorating, and enjoy the beauty of this cooler-weather season.