February 17, 2017

How Guatemala Taught Me to Really Love My Neighbor

How Guatemala taught me to really love my neighbor

I've never been to a place so rich in beauty but so economically deprived. There are no addresses on the houses, which are more accurately categorized as shacks, because there is no postal system. There are no garbage trucks because there is no trash pick up, which means the air is literally filled with the smell of burning garbage and the mountains simultaneously spew abundant foliage and mounds of waste and trash.

A street in Guatemala - How Guatemala taught me to really love my neighbor

Trash on the mountainside in Guatemala - How Guatemala taught me to really love my neighbor

I'm still coming to terms with some of the things I saw while on my recent mission trip to Guatemala. The juxtaposition of beauty and trash, rich and poor, happy and sad, life and death, are themes that seem to replay themselves over and over again in my mind. I went on a Mission Trip with a church but it was organized through a group called Friends of San Lucas, and the mission itself is located about three and a half hours outside of the bustling Guatemala City. The mission has done incredible work over the past 50 or so years, and it was a privilege to be able to be a part of their work, even if it was only for a short time.

One day I assisted in pouring a concrete floor in the kitchen of a cedar-walled house and on another day I was helping to sort through coffee beans, picking out all the dudes, ensuring the highest possible coffee quality.

Sorting coffee beans in Guatemala - How Guatemala taught me to really love my neighbor

One of the more rewarding jobs I was tasked with was when I was paired with a small group, and I helped construct the four walls, place the roof, and cut the window for a house. After we departed, other missionaries would help put in the floor and a new oven so that the owner no longer had to cook over an open fire pit inside his home. The newly constructed house belonged a man that appeared to be about 65 years old, and it was his first home. The new house was about the size of my walk-in closet, but you would have thought we built the man a palace. The construction crew - volunteers and seasoned professionals - took great pride to ensure the highest level of perfection in every detail. Steps could have been skipped, work could have been done half-heartedly, and some of the complicated details could have slipped between the cracks, but the care and attention that was given to every detail were similar to the attention you would hope someone to give to a house if you were having it built for your own family. The man who would live within those cedar walls thanked us profusely for our help, shaking our hands and posing for pictures.

A grateful man in Guatemala  - How Guatemala taught me to really love my neighbor

One of the most touching moments of the trip was when the man's neighbors brought us over a tray of sliced tropical fruit - pineapples, papaya, oranges, and watermelon - all which grow in abundance in the volcanic soil of the region. They also brought over a giant container of purified water. These people, with so little, were so gracious that they offered us, complete strangers, food and drink in thanks for building their neighbor's home. For too many in Guatemala, a meal is a commodity, so for this family to go out of their way to share with us, it was nothing short of the true definition of loving thy neighbor.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta once said, "I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples." After laboring on a couple houses and some other service projects while I was in Guatemala, I think it was really the Guatemalan people that were the best example of this ideal. With full hearts and empty wallets they offered us all they could - their actions may have seemed small in comparison to building a house but they did them out of love for their neighbor. We can all learn so much from these generous people.

Lake Atitlan in Guatemala - How Guatemala taught me to really love my neighbor

I'll be sharing more stories about my trip over the next couple weeks but if you're interested in learning more about the mission you can check it out here. Also, there is a great documentary on Netflix called Living on One Dollar, what documents four young American college students who travel to the same region of Guatemala and live off of a standard wage, one dollar per person a day.

You would be hard pressed to visit Guatemala and met the people there without having a profound effect on your heart. I challenge you to think about how you can help your neighbor today.

Be Blessed,
Brittany
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February 7, 2017

#WonderfulYourWay with Shrimp Spaghetti

This Shrimp Spaghetti post has been compensated by Collective Bias, Inc. and its advertiser. All opinions are mine alone. #WonderfulYourWay #CollectiveBias The following content is intended for readers who are 21 or older.

My love language is food. I love cooking for my family but more than that, I love cooking with my family and there's no one I like to be in the kitchen with more than my husband. Before we were married we spent hours together in the kitchen experimenting with new recipes - opting for those moments chopping and stirring over more traditional dates like going to the movies. Some of our fondest memories together are of those times spent in the kitchen.

Fast forward several years, and creating those magical moments in the kitchen together can be difficult, especially with two little ones, which is why we try to set aside time to cook together after the kids go to sleep. We play music, dance, chop and dice, and we're transported right back to our college dating days.

The first meal my husband ever made for me was Shrimp Spaghetti and for Valentine's Day this year we're using Barilla® Classic Blue Box Spaghetti from Kroger to help us take a step back in time and recreate that special memory - music, wine, and no kids - since they will be tucked into their beds sleeping quietly.

Shrimp Spaghetti made with Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti #WonderfulYourWay

Ingredients:
1/2 Box Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti 
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups broccoli florets
2 tsp red pepper flakes - more or less depending on your preferred taste
1.25 lbs. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup of shaved Parmesan cheese

Preparation Instructions:

Prepare the Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti according to the package instructions. While you're cooking the spaghetti steam the broccoli florets. We use a bamboo steamer that fits right over the pot used for cooking the spaghetti. Remove the broccoli from steam once the florets turn bright green, about 5 minutes. Once the spaghetti has finished cooking, drain it and set it aside.

In a hot pan add the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes. Next add the shrimp to the pan stirring them so that they are coated in the garlic mixture. Cook for an additional 2 minutes, until the shrimp just start to turn pink. Add the broccoli to the pan and stir. Continue cooking for 1 minute.

Shrimp Spaghetti made with Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti #WonderfulYourWay

Immediately remove the pan from heat and pour the entire content of the pan over top of the Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti. Add the shaved parmesan cheese and stir to combine. Serve hot and enjoy.

Shrimp Spaghetti made with Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti #WonderfulYourWay

Just like our love has evolved over the years so has this recipe, but it is simple and delicious and full of love and memories. We pair our pasta with a Chenin Blanc, add some garlic bread and a salad on the side, a giant chocolate-filled heart for dessert, and dine by candle light.

A romantic Valentine's Dinner with Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti

Shrimp Spaghetti made with Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti

It's so easy to create meaningful dates, any time of year, if you just plan ahead and make them a priority. Whenever we have at-home-date nights we make sure we plan recipes that we love and use high-quality ingredients that we trust, like Barilla Classic Blue Box Pastas.

You can find the Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti at Kroger in the pasta aisle.

Shop at Kroger for Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti

Shop at Kroger for Barilla Classic Blue Box Spaghetti

If you're looking to cook up something special this Valentine's Day learn more about Barilla and get more Wonderful Your Way meal inspiration here.

Be Blessed,
Brittany
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February 1, 2017

Sweeping Up Joy Guest Post

Hello wonderful readers! Today I have a special treat for you. Alicia from Sweeping Up Joy is here to share a special story and insight from her time spent on a mission trip. Alicia is a self-described bookish mom of four. She blogs about the weird things she finds in the bathroom, surviving Mass with littles, and choosing happiness amidst life's unexpected bumps.  



If you remember I mentioned that I would be headed on a mission trip myself and in preparation I have asked some amazing bloggers to share about their time and experiences. 

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When Brittany asked for a guest post while she is off serving on a mission trip, I jumped at the chance. The most meaningful experience I had before getting married and having kids involved serving on a mission trip in high school.

Not Your Average Vacation
My mission trip was domestic—a group of seven of us stayed at an inner city church to help with general cleaning, running a Vacation Bible School, and serving an outreach picnic.  It definitely involved putting on a muppet-esque Christian puppet show, too. One thing about serving on a mission—you say "yes" to all requests, even if it involves muppets.



Well—that’s how it’s supposed to be. A couple of the other participants left the mission trip early. I don’t remember why. I do know that their parents had “encouraged” them to go, probably with the hope that they find inspiration. 

I understand the early departure. The work was not glamorous. It wasn’t even particularly interesting. We slept on a cement floor with sleeping bags; even my-then-spry-self wasn't comfortable. We ate whatever the church people served and washed our dishes by dipping them into Rubbermaid tubs of bleach water.

One of our tasks involved going door-to-door to deliver fliers advertising a free meal (and prizes!) at the church. (During that free picnic was when we would give our stellar puppet show about Jesus, but conveniently that part wasn’t on the flier.)  

A couple of us were matched up with one of the staff at the church for the flier distribution. While we walked up and down streets handing out yellow fliers offering free food, I couldn’t help but be aware of the state of the neighborhood we were in. The man from the church didn’t seem to notice. He greeted everyone warmly, some of the people by name. There was no preaching. Just flier passing and greeting.

Out of curiosity, I looked up more information on the places we hiked after returning home and found that that particular neighborhood had the highest crime rate in the state. I didn’t tell my mom that part.

Being Changed by Mission
I got to know a pre-teen girl—Adrienne. She was sort of old in comparison to the other neighborhood kids who came to the VBS, but she must have enjoyed it to keep coming back. Like most wannabe teens she was very well versed in everything pop culture. While it was sort of boring to listen to her talk about Justin Timberlake blah, blah, blah—I did it. She was more guarded in talking about her home life, but reading between the lines I gathered it was rough. She didn’t care for her mom’s latest boyfriend…

Through getting to know Adrienne and the other children, I realized the poverty is less about money than it is resources and support. I may not have had cable TV growing up as the oldest of six kids, but I did have access to a library and to caring adults. Ultimately I was left with one big question: How could the kids at VBS be expected to break the cycle of poverty without any of the resources I took for granted?

That’s where the Church came in. That’s where I came in with my small sacrifice in listening to all the Justin Timberlake mumbo jumbo. And that’s where the participants who left early missed out.

Giving away food, books, and clothing. Connecting people with jobs, housing, and addiction services. Being the hands and feet of Jesus. Listening. Healing. Loving. The Church is the organization best suited to break the cycle of poverty and bring hope to the despairing. We only have to say “yes” to the call in order to be changed. But we do have to say “yes.”

Adrienne asked if we could be pen pals. After making sure such an arrangement was okay, we exchanged addresses. Her letters were just like her conversations— full of which celebrity was dating who, complete with hearts above all her i’s. The wisps of her real life rarely appeared. We wrote back and forth a few times before the letters stopped.

Every year when I flip through the address book I’ve had since high school to send Christmas cards, I come across her name. It makes me pause. Is she safe? Is she happy?  Did she ever meet Justin Timberlake?!?! Yeses all around, I hope.



Missionaries of Mercy and Compassion
Ultimately, I want my kids’ hearts to be pierced by the suffering of others, not in a depressing or unhealthy way, but in a way that inspires them to change the world. I’d much rather end up with compassionate adult children than financially successful ones. If there’s something the world could use more of, after all, it’s mercy. I want my children to embrace the idea of sacrificing for the sake of others. I don’t want them to take the early bus home when things get uncomfortable.

My husband and I have been intentional about cultivating a missions culture in our family in tiny, tiny ways. When our local parish hosted a missionary priest from Tanzania, we invited him over for dinner. Our kids were able to break bread (well, actually they were able to slurp spaghetti) with someone who is actively engaged in missionary work.

As a family, we’ve done “little missions” by supporting our local food pantry. We’ve packaged meals with Kids Against Hunger to be sent internationally. Last year for the Jubilee Year of Mercy we read through many, many picture books showing the works of mercy in action. The kids know that we donate the clothes, toys, and books we don’t need, and at Christmas time we provide gifts for a local family.  We also sponsor a FOCUS missionary each month.


Someday I’d love to take a mission-focused vacation when my kids are old enough to help. But for now, I keep the memories of my mission trip tucked away, using them as a guide to shape my own little missionaries.

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Make sure you stop by Alicia's blog, Sweeping Up Joy to read more about her faith and her family. You can also follow her on Facebook here. Make sure you tell her I sent you!

Be Blessed,
Brittany
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January 27, 2017

Spiritual Preparation for a Mission Trip

I have some really exciting news, and I'm on the edge of my seat because I can't wait to share it with you! But first, have you ever had the opportunity to cross something off of your bucket list? My list is short but very detailed. It consists of things I want to accomplish before I die - and no, jumping out of a plane is not on there. I would like to hike Machu Pichu, go to the Masters with my husband, attend an EPL soccer game, Fashion Week, and the Olympics - to name a few. I also want to attend a mission trip in a Spanish speaking country. I have a minor in Spanish, and I would love the opportunity to help others, share God's love, and hone my now very poor language skills.

Well friends, I'm going to go on a mission trip to Guatemala in the very near future, and I'm so thrilled for the chance to tackle on of the things on my bucket list. I'm going with my dad and my sister, and I feel so blessed I'm going to get to share this experience with both of them.

Spiritual Preparation for a Mission Trip

The preparation for a mission trip seems to be almost as intense as the mission itself - and maybe that's the point. I've established that I need to prepare in four very different but equally important ways.

1. I need to pack my bags - This may seem obvious, but unlike other trips I've taken in the past, I have to be very careful about what I pack and how I pack it. I need to make sure that the clothing I bring can get dirty and be donated or disposed of once I'm done with it. I need to diligently spray all my bags and clothing for bugs. Finally, I need to lightly pack only essentials - and on this trip, essentials include some high protein foods - like peanut butter and beef jerky.

2. Physically - I need to be prepared from a physical standpoint. I know that I'll eat less protein than normal and I will be doing manual labor in the sun. Considering the combination, I need to make sure my body can handle the demands of the trip. Before departure, it's imperative that I get all the proper immunizations and medications I will need on the journey.

3. Prepare My Loved Ones - Leaving my family will probably be the most difficult part of my preparation for this trip, and I need to prepare them, and myself, for our time apart. This will be the longest amount of time I have spent away from my children and of course, I will miss my husband.

4. Spiritually - Finally, I need to ready myself spiritually. I'm not entirely sure what to expect on this mission, but I know that if God has called me to this part of the world and these particular people, he will do work on my heart and spirit as long as I am open to His grace. In preparation for the trip, I've started praying and meditating over Scripture and inspirational quotes from the saints. I've been compiling verses and quotes, and I'm sharing them with you below. If you or someone you know if about to embark on a spiritual mission, please share these with the traveler before they depart. These meditations are centralized around three themes: travel, service to others, and spreading the Good News.

Scripture and Quotes for Meditation Before and During a Mission Trip

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"The human mind plans the way, but the Lord directs the steps." Proverbs 16:9

"Then you may go on your way securely; your foot will never stumble; when you lie down, you will not be afraid, when you rest, your sleep will be sweet." Proverbs 3:23-24

"If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, Even there Your hand guides me, Your right hand holds fast." Psalm 139:9-10

 "He said to them, 'Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.'" Mark 16:15

"Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom Shall I send? Who will go for us?' 'Here I am' I said, 'send me.'" Isaiah 6:8

"Go on your way: behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves." Luke 10:3

"He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness." 2 Corinthians 9:10

"[Remember] the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'" Acts 20:35

"Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back." Luke 6:38

"Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to Me." Matthew 25:40

"Let each of you look not at your own interests, but to the interests of others." Philippians 2:4

"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2

"It is to those who have the most need of us that we ought to show our love more especially." St. Francis de Sales

"Love the poor tenderly, regarding them as your masters and yourselves as their servants." St. John of God

"Remember that the Christian life is one of action; not of speech and daydreams. Let there be few words and many deeds, and let them be done well." St. Vincent Pallotti

"The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page." St. Augustine of Hippo


"May I not come before You with empty hands, since we are rewarded according to our deeds." St. Teresa of Jesus

"The poor do not need our sympathy and our pity. The poor need our love and compassion." St. Teresa of Calcutta

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations." Matthew 28:19

"For I have sent you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you." John 13:15

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This list is not to be all encompassing, but it should encourage you to take hold of your spiritual journey before you begin a mission. If you have any scripture or quotes from saints that you meditate over before your embark on a spiritual mission please feel free to share them below and I will add them to my list.

Also, if you have a prayer request please leave it for me in the comments or send me an email directly at everydaythoughtsbybrittany@gmail.com - I'd love to spend some time in prayer for you while on my mission.

Be Blessed,
Brittany
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January 18, 2017

KidzStuff First Aid Kit [and promo code]

Disclosure: I received the KidzStuff First Aid Kit for free in exchange for an honest review of the product. All opinions are my own.

Yesterday I distinctly remember telling my youngest not to climb up the blinds in the kitchen and then I turned around and told my oldest that he shouldn't be watching T.V. while doing a headstand on the couch. I consider myself an attentive mom but with the craziness of raising two young boys, at my house bumps and bruises happen almost daily, sometimes hourly.

As mama bear, it's my job to comfort my little guys when they cry and cover them with kisses when they get hurt, but when kisses aren't enough to ease the pain, I need something else in my proverbial bag of tricks. I think I've finally found the perfect solution, the KidzStuff First Aid Kit

KidzStuff First Ad Kit Review and Promo Code

The KidzStuff First Aid Kit is a 94-piece, all-encompassing kit complete with a comprehensive guide book, written by a pediatric doctor. The extensive KidzStuff First Aid Kit gives me a piece of mind because I know that I have everything I need for the at-home-treatment of standard bumps and bruises. It goes without saying that if you are ever faced with a life-threatening situation or an emergency, call 9-1-1. This first aid kit is not meant to eliminate medical and emergency care.

KidzStuff First Ad Kit Review and Guide booklet - plus Promo Code

The KidzStuff First Aid Kit is loaded with everything you should ever need to help care for your little ones. The black bag is well made and includes handles for easy toting. Inside you will find several pockets with clear, plastic so that you can easily see what's inside each. Those pockets are secured with zippers. So you never have to worry about the contents falling out. 


Inside of the KidzStuff First Ad Kit - a full product review plus a promo code

Inside of the KidzStuff First Ad Kit - a full product review plus a promo code

There are also two open-ended netted pockets for easy access, but the bungee-like elastic secures all the contents of these compartments. 

Inside of the KidzStuff First Ad Kit - a full product review plus a promo code

Each compartment holds much more than I could have imagined. Here is an example of all the contents of just one pocket. As you can tell, the KidzStuff First Aid Kit has really gone above and beyond to ensure that as a caregiver, you have all the proper supplies handy in case you or your little one gets hurt. It's so much more than a roll of band-aids and Neosporin.

Contents from one of the pockets in the KidzStuff First Ad Kit - a full product review plus a promo code

One of my favorite features of the KidzStuff First Aid Kit is that it is extremely portable. It zips up completely so that nothing can fall out and everything inside fits neatly into a compartment. Its handles make it great for in the car and on the go, so it's perfect for moms and dads, grandparents, coaches, teachers, babysitters, and the like.

The perfect portable first aid kit, developed by pediatric doctors - KidzStuff First Aid Kit

I put the KidzStuff First Aid Kit to use when my oldest jammed his big toe into our dining room door - I told you things get crazy around here. The toenail split and my very dramatic three-year-old was convinced that he needed to go to the hospital. Luckily, I had everything I needed on hand to make my little man feel better because it was all in the KidzStuff First Aid Kit.

Child's split toe nail

The KidzStuff First Aid Kit is the perfect way to be prepared for minor, at-home treatments for bumps and bruises

Even my big man was impressed with the results and gave the KidzStuff First Aid Kit a big thumbs up. 

Kids give the KidzStuff First Aid Kit a big thumbs up!

When it comes to the health and safety of your little ones, there's no need to compromise for a generic first aid kit when for less than $20 you can be equipped with all the items you'll need for simple, at-home care. You can rest assured when the KidzStuff First Aid Kit is by your side because it was designed by pediatric doctors who had kids in mind when they placed each product inside the portable kit.

If you're like me and you need one - or two - of these comprehensive first aid kits, then get yours today. Use the code "blogbf" for a 20% off coupon code valid for the purchase of a first aid kit. Offer expires on March 31, 2017.

You can also check out more great products, like the KidzStuff First Aid Kit, designed for kids by pediatric doctors at the KidzStuff website: www.shopkidzstuff.com or follow them on Facebook or Instagram.

As mommies we all encounter bumps and brusies - when was the last time you needed to use a first aid kit for your little one?

Be Blessed,
Brittany
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