May 18, 2016

Little One, God Made You Special By Amy Warren Hilliker

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a commission if you click on one of those links and make a purchase. 

Little One, God Made You Special by Amy Warren Hilliker is a children's book aimed at teaching toddlers that they are unique and divinely created by God. This rhythmic board book teaches youngsters that there is no one else in the world exactly like them and their individuality is part of Christ's plan.

Little One, God Made You Special By Amy Warren Hilliker - A Christian board book for toddlers -"You are Perfect, little one. There's no one like you-no not one!

The illustrations throughout the book are soft and welcoming with cuddly animal pictures depicting the love between a parent and a child. There is a clear spiritual message, perfect for those who are learning about the love of Christ. As a parent who tries to reinforce a Christian education in our home with bedtime books, songs, and throughout my children's lives, I would recommend this book to other parents looking to teach their children similar values.

If you're looking for other faith-based children's books check out some of these great titles, all which I have reviewed previously:
- Thankful by Eileen Spinelli
- Only God Can Make A Kitten by Rhonda Gowler Green
- The Legend of the Easter Robin by Dandi Daley Mackall

BookLook Bloggers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are my own.

Be Blessed,
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May 12, 2016

Lessons Learned From Reality TV

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a commission if you click on one of those links and make a purchase. 

I'm a reality-T.V. junky. If I have two hours and you have two or more episodes of some crazy people who allow cameras to follow them around, then I'm probably going to be a loyal follower. The Bachelor, the Real Housewives, Love & HipHop, Say Yes to the Dress - you name it, I've probably watched it.

After years of watching what some may call, "trash television" I've learned a few things (yes, I actually learned something from reality T.V., don't be too shocked).

You Can Never Have Enough Lip Gloss.
The Real Housewives do it, the brides and the Biggest Losers are covering their pouts, and one of the Kardashians (or should I say Jenners) even has her own line. I'm talking about lipstick, lipgloss, lip stains, and the bounty of lip products that seem to be necessary if you're on the bright side of the camera. I realize that most of these women wear a lot of makeup, but when they are on camera there is a constant reapplying that happens that's almost laughable. I'm not one to carry around a makeup bag in my purse - I have a lot of friends that do this, there's no judgment here - I'm just personally not used to the need to always reach in my purse to add something to my face. It's like a security blanket of sorts to a lot of said women. Just watch one episode of the Real Housewives of (fill-in-the-blank) Reunion and you'll see exactly what I'm talking about.

Be Careful of What You Say about Others.
It amazes me that the actors stars of reality T.V. seem to always be shocked when they're caught in a compromising position because of something they said to a fellow castmate. If the old-fashioned game of Telephone taught us anything in grade school, it should have been that when you say things about others they almost inevitably get back to them in an even more distorted and exaggerated fashion. And if you allow yourself to say those things on camera, well then, you probably deserve some retribution.

Reality T.V. Won't Fix Your Marriage or Your Waistline
There's been a lot of press lately about the participants of The Biggest Loser who won the game show and later put all (or most of) the weight back on. Well, no kidding - no one actually lives on an exercise ranch where Oreos and chocolate cake are only brought in for challenge purposes. Exercising five times a day is not normal, or even possible in the real world. After time at the Ranch contestants return home where the cameras no longer hold them accountable, where true life happens, where experts don't yell in their face trying to get them to lift an extra five pounds. They return to a 9-5 where vending machines and indifference surround them daily. Even the most disciplined person would not be equipped for that drastic change in living situations.

And with marriage, the statistic is through the roof regarding the amount of couples that end their marriage after appearing on reality T.V. Putting your marital problems on national T.V. doesn't seem to be a way of saving your marriage. In fact, a marriage will almost certainly crumble under the pressure of such exploitation.

You Can't Fake Real Friends
No amount of money or T.V. time can replace true, genuine friendships. I've seen countless amounts of women (and some men), join the casts of a reality T.V. show and quickly befriend another castmate claiming they're best friends. I truly hope this is the case, but more often than not, something trivial turns that friendship sour quickly and it becomes a T.V. spectacle. I would assume that there are some real friendships on reality T.V. but I personally would never assume that you'll meet your new bestie on the newest Bravo show.

Reality T.V. is NOT Reality - They Have Help!
I feel like this one is the most obvious but needs the most explanation. It's like looking at a beautiful woman on a magazine cover she's stunning. After consulting with hair and makeup experts, a professional stylist, and a team of photographers trained in taking gorgeous pictures of gorgeous people, she is still likely heavily retouched before the magazine ever makes it to newsstands. What you see on the magazine cover is not reality and neither are the "perfect" lives/homes/wardrobes... of reality T.V. stars. The women have glam squads who make them over and PR companies sending them free clothing to be worn on television. They have nannies and maids and cooks - they are not Superwoman. And they are NOT the standard.

All-in-all reality T.V. is great for entertainment purposes but probably not the best example of normal human behavior (obviously). What are your favorite reality T.V. shows?

Be Blessed,
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April 28, 2016

Being More Intentional

After I graduated from college I had no idea what my future held, so in an effort to postpone making the very adult decision of what I would do for the rest of my life, I decided to enroll in law school. Did I want to practice law? No, but I went anyway. It was an opportunity squandered. I hated almost the entire experience and my time there only lasted a year. Needless to say, I accumulated a little legal knowledge, a good amount of student loans, and a career that went in a completely different direction. (I did meet some wonderful people.)

During that year, I continued to struggle to find my own personal identity, I was in the throws of love with my now-husband and I battled against the new realization that all my best friends had packed up and moved back to their respective home states after college. I was left nearly friendless in my college town. I was in a new phase of life and it wasn't one that I enjoyed all that much, except for the love part. 

My best friends were aware of my struggle and even though miles and state lines keep us from close physical proximity, we were always chatting on the phone, sending emails, and Facebook messages - anything that could keep us connected. They too were living out their new-found realities after college. One returned home to her new husband, another back to the cold of Canada, and another to the beautiful views of Colorado. One of my very best friends returned home to a job she didn't particularly love and to the realization that her mom was battling a very aggressive form of cancer. 

To say that her situation put perspective on my own "perceived" unhappiness is nothing short of the truth. My best friend lifted her head from her pillow each day and took on the world with strength and dignity and so did her mother. With the faith of Jesus in both of these women's hearts, they battled daily with the intimate knowledge that cancer and Christ claim lives in their own time. There were a lot of ups and downs. Tears were shed and bonds were strengthened and some broken. 

I remember coming home one day to a small box sitting on my front stoop. I love snail mail and immediately opened it to discover post-it notes, a journal, a Starbucks gift card and a card from my best friend's mom - yes, the one battling cancer. 

Her note said she thought of me, she prayed for me, she knew I was facing challenges in law school and she asked God to comfort me on my journey. She sent some goodies to ease my burden. Ease my burden. Let that sink in. This amazing woman, who was facing quite literally the fight of her life, wanted to help ease my burden. She prayed for me. She was thinking of me

I was shocked, stunned might be more accurate. How selfless she was in her time of need and how selfish I was to think that my healthy reality could be that bad. I learned a lesson from that moment, although it's taken me years to really understand it. I learned a lesson about intention. That while the intention of our hearts may hold kindness, thoughtfulness, selflessness and other amazing virtues without action those intentions are just fleeting.

I walk through the aisles of Target and see all the beautiful greeting cards announcing Grandparent's Day or some other upcoming special occasion. I see gorgeous little headbands that would be perfect for my friend's little girl. I notice the song playing in the background that makes me smile and think about some of the dance parties I had with those great college friends. Yet I don't buy the card and send it to tell my friend I'm thinking of them. I don't normally buy the headbands or send the text telling those amazing and special women in my life that the memories I have with them mean the world to me. Why? I honestly don't know, a lot of time I make up some excuse like "I don't have enough time" or "I would but it's so expensive..." Today I am making the commitment to be more intentional with my thoughts so that they become prayers and actions. I want people to remember me like I remember my friend's mom: selfless, thoughtful, caring, and a women of God. 

Proverbs 20:5 tells us, "The intention of the human heart is deep water, but the intelligent draw it forth."

"The intention of the human heart is deep water, but the intelligent draw it forth." Proverbs 20:5

I know that in my heart flows deep rivers of intention but I, to this point, have been unintelligent. I have let those intentions grow stale in my heart and fade to the backgrounds of my memory. If I learned anything from my best friend's mom it is that you don't know how many days you have ahead, you cannot sit around thinking that you can put the intentions of your heart on hold until tomorrow. Tomorrow might not come. Therefore, I've made a small list of things I plan to do to be more intentional:

1. Send letters or cards to five different friends or family members - just because.

2. Call two people I haven't spoken to this month, to catch up and really listen to what is happening in their life.

3. Send two small care packages with something bought and something homemade in each. These would go to people that don't receive the letters/cards mentioned above. (I want to reach as many people as possible).

4. Designate a day to someone and be very intentional with my thoughts and prayers for that person. This will be done in the privacy of my own heart and I will NOT tell the person about my intention but God will hear the cry of my heart.

5. Make baked goods for two different neighbor families. A new family just moved in with twin two-year-old boys - I have a feeling they are going to be great friends with my littles.

I challenge you to be more intentional with your thoughts and prayers. Join me in this commitment to manifest the intentions of your heart. What are some things that you can do in your everyday life to bring forth the deep waters of your heart?

This post was originally written as a guest post for New Crunchy Mom.

Be Blessed,
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April 21, 2016

Packing for the Hospital - Labor and Delivery

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a commission if you click on one of those links and make a purchase. 

Your feet are swollen, your belly has bulged and you probably haven't been getting much sleep - you are in the final stretch of your pregnancy - congratulations! One of your biggest considerations at this point is what you need to pack in your hospital bag for labor and delivery. Eight months ago I was blessed with baby #2 and after three hospital visits, I had a very clear understanding of what was needed for a Labor and Delivery bag.

Before I delve into the necessities for a hospital L&D bag I'll share one piece of advice with you - pack early - at least make sure you are gathering these things around 30 weeks. If something should happen and you need to rush to the hospital early, the last thing you want to think about is laundry and making sure you have all your toiletries packed. With my first child I went into labor early and I was so thankful that I took the time to pack my bag ahead of time.

Packing for Labor and Delivery

A Lightweight Bag 
You're already carrying enough extra weight, make sure that whatever bag you take with you to the hospital doesn't add to your load. Find a bag that is lightweight, durable and easy to maneuver. You may change rooms several times during your hospital stay and you want something that will hold up and is easy to identify. I would also caution you not to overpack. Try to limit yourself to just the essentials.

Identification (Drivers License) and Insurance Card 
Eliminate a lot of worry and paperwork by preregistering at your hospital when you're around 30 weeks pregnant and always have your drivers license and health insurance card available. It will make the check in process much shorter and you will likely take priority if there is a line of other women waiting for a room.

A List of Current Medications
You are going to fill out some forms (well, lots of forms), nurses are going to ask you questions (lots of questions) - one question that will come up repeatedly is for a list of current medications, dosage amounts and the last time you took the each. Prescriptions, OTC and prenatal vitamins should all be on this list. If you're like me I can't remember what I was doing five minutes ago so I put a list together on my phone. I had easy access to it when the nurses asked me for the obscure names of my medications. 

Money for Parking
Most hospitals have parking garages or metered parking. Make sure to bring some cash, don't rely solely on credit or debit, to help cover the cost to park conveniently. 

Not to get too personal, but just don't even bother with the cute underwear or thongs. You're about to have a child, there's no shame. Pack those grannie panties - you'll thank me later. 

If you decide to have a vaginal delivery there is going to be some blood after the delivery. The hospital will provide you with some heavy duty pads - take advantage of these and stock up but just in case you'll want to have some extra-strength pads with you. I'm not talking about panty liners ladies think something just below an adult diaper. Honestly if your bag is getting full, you can likely skip this - just give your hospital a call to make sure they'll be providing enough pads for your stay and your journey home. 

Two pairs of warm, comfortable socks 
When you're not in the middle of delivery you might be asked to walk (or waddle) around the corridors of the hospital or you may need to catch up on some much needed shut eye. In either circumstance, comfy socks are a great asset. Plus, hospitals almost always keep things cool, so if you are cold by nature you'll want to bundle up. 

Flip flops
Some hospitals have private showers for each patient, some require you to share with others, either way - just like when you went to summer camp or freshman year in your college dorm - you'll probably want some sturdy flip flops for the shower. Also, if your feet swell before or after delivery they maybe the only pair of shoes that fit. 

Comfort is key with pajamas but it's also important to think about coverage. At one point or another you'll likely walk the halls in your PJs so make sure you're comfortable. If you plan on nursing take pajamas that are easy to manipulate for when you want to feed the baby. An option like this one would be perfect. If you're planning on a cesarian delivery I would air toward a gown-like option as you likely won't want the added pressure of a waistband against your scars. This option is great

Most L&D hospital stays range from 2-4 days so make sure to pack all the toiletries you'll need. Here is a small list of items you might want to consider bringing with you: a toothbrush and toothpaste, if you wear contacts be sure to pack an extra pair of them plus your glasses and any necessary eye care items, face wash, moisturizer, body wash, body lotion, shampoo and conditioner, a razor and shaving cream,  a comb/brush, hair spray, hair ties or any hair accessories you may want for during and after labor (fabric headbands are a great option to help keep your hair out of your face), chapstick, deodorant....

Straightener/Blow Dryer/Curling Iron
After two days of sweaty labor you'll likely want to quickly refresh yourself, especially if you're having hospital visitors or pictures taken. Some hospitals provide blow dryers but not all of them do so come prepared if it's important to you to do your hair during your stay. But no  pressure there's no shame in the mom bun! 

Similarly you may want to freshen up before or after delivery so be sure to pack your makeup. I recommend waterproof products since you just may shed a tear or two when you get to meet your new bundle of joy. 

Money for the vending machines
A lot of hospitals have vending options and the birthing process can last hours, if not days. It's best to be prepared for a late-night chocolate craving and have a few extra dollars handy. Plus if you're laboring during late-night hours the cafeteria options may not be open. 

If you have a favorite snack, that's easy to tote (like my favorite peanut butter and honey crackers) pack them. Hospitals aren't known for their gourmet cuisine. Also, unless you walk in 7 cm dilated with some serious contractions you may play a bit of a waiting game having something to snack on doesn't hurt.

Clothes for the baby
Don't forget you're packing for two now. Hospitals oftentimes provide things like receiving blankets, diapers and wipes so I wouldn't worry about packing those, but you will need a take home outfit. Also if you're planning on having pictures taken of your little one at the hospital you might also pack a simple outfit to show off your new bundle of joy. 

Don't miss a moment of your beautiful birthing experience. Make sure to bring your camera and/or video camera and any necessary chargers.

A List of People to Update 
During the hustle of childbirth, details can be missed. If you have a list of names and phone numbers prepared ahead of time, indicating who you'd like to contact with updates, it will help you stay focused but you can rest assured that everyone that needs to know about your status is aware of what's happening.

What to Pack When You're Expecting

Thank You Cards 
Nurses, doctors, friendly neighbors, front desk clerks - you'll never know to whom you'll need to extend an extra special thank you. It's best to be prepared with some thank you notes handy in your hospital bag. This is not meaning to say that everyone you encounter should receive one but there will be some people that go above and beyond and how nice will it be when you have a little something that acknowledges their kindness.

Once admitted to the hospital you never know if the birthing process will be minutes, hours or even days. Be prepared with something that will keep you stress-free but also entertained. I'm ob-sessed with my Kindle Paperwhite.

Wash Cloth and Towel
It's nice to have the comforts of home. Hospitals have wash clothes and towels available but should you feel more comfortable with your own, be sure to pack them. Just make sure that they are clearly marked or very easy to recognize.

Clothes for your Husband/Boyfriend/Partner
You and your partner will be staying in the hospital so it's important that they feel comfortable too. I suggest that your partner brings an extra pair of clothes, something to sleep in and all their toiletries.

A Car Seat
Taking baby home is the most essential part of your trip to the hospital, so having a safe car seat ready to go is of the utmost importance. This is the one we use and love. You may want to consider taking your car seat to your local fire station. They will make sure your car seat is installed correctly so you can bring home baby safe and sound.

Hospitals can be noisy places, people are consistently in and out, nurses are changing shifts and babies are crying consistently. You'll likely be sleep deprived those first couple days (okay, months) and you may need to nap in the middle of the afternoon, having a pair of headphones can help you relax. Some women also like to have a playlist prepared for while they labor.

Eye Mask
There will almost always be some sort of light on in your room and nurses and caregivers will come in and out of your room. Similar to headphones an eye mask - like this one - can help you shield out light and get some much needed R&R.

A Pillow 
The pillows the hospital provides are a little thicker than a piece of paper. If you are a picky pillow sleeper, feel free to bring your own pillow but make sure it's easy to identify and clearly marked - you don't want to loose it in the shuffle from room to room.

A Robe 
Post labor you'll be encouraged to get up and walk around to regain your energy. Bring a robe that is at least knee length so that you can venture through the hospital hallways.

Gas in your Car
Alright so this isn't necessarily something you keep in your hospital bag but the last thing you'll want to do if you're having contractions is stop to fill up your tank. Make sure you start rolling with at least half a tank of gas by the time you reach 34 weeks.

What are your hospital must-haves for Labor and Delivery?

Be Blessed,
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April 11, 2016

Pressing Pause 100 Quiet Moments for Moms to Meet with Jesus By Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links and I will receive a commission if you click on one of those links and make a purchase. 

It's been 72 hours since I've had any sort of significant sleep. A thunderstorm and a teething baby mean that both my boys were inevitably up in the middle of the night. Were they awake at the same time? Of course not! They like to spread the love so that mom and dad get as little sleep as possible. Now all kidding aside, if you're a parent you've surely done this same kind of song and dance. You can likely relate to the ups and sometimes downs of parenting and the sometimes dire need to just press pause and relax.

I was recently introduced to the devotional, Pressing Pause 100 Quiet Moments for Moms to Meet with Jesus By Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk. These two women understand the tasks of motherhood; the sleepless nights, the fears and triumphs, the dirty diapers, the screaming babies and uncooked meals but most of all the constant need for Jesus. Each day they present a Scripture verse and expand upon it's meaning with real-life, motherhood examples. At the end of each short devotional, there is a 2-3 sentence prayer and a couple questions to help you continue the study and apply the lessons to your own life. 

Pressing Pause

The first thing that caught my eye with this devotional is the stunning design. It's a hardback book with a purple string page marker and purple foil details on the cover. The design is simple and elegant and before I ever opened to the first page I was genuinely excited to read it. I judge a book by its cover, and in this case, I knew I had a winner. The inside is equally as beautiful with a tasteful purple and green design that carries you throughout the devotional. 

This is a great devotional for busy moms that need a little extra help to stop and find Jesus each day. I would not consider this a deep devotional - it just skims the surface of each topic but the authors do a fantastic job of relating the Scripture to motherhood. I do wish there was more space to write my thoughts after each devotional. Also, because there are two authors every other chapter is written by either Ruth or Karen and it says their name at the top of the passage. I had a hard time finding any kind of flow to the lessons but later mentally allowed myself to just let each individual devotional stand on its own. The authors do a great job presenting Biblical truth in a challenging and relatable way and I would recommend this book for any mom trying to connect with Jesus. 

Hint: this would make an incredible gift for first-time moms.

BookLook Bloggers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review. I was not compensated for this review and all opinions are my own.
Be Blessed,
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April 6, 2016

A Service to Mothers

When I was younger I played soccer competitively. Each year on Mother's Day my team played for the state championship and our mothers would devote their day to our service; standing on the sidelines cheering us on as our little legs ran up and down the field. They celebrated our victory as if it was their own. They didn't get breakfast in bed or extra time to read their favorite book, they sacrificed themselves for their children, as mothers always seem to do.

As a small token of our appreciation, I would coordinate a small team "thank you" for our mothers prior to the game. Each girl would run a single-stemmed flower to their mother with a small note of thanks. It wasn't much but I think the gesture itself meant a lot to them.

A Service to Mothers - A faith-filled service project for Mother's Day

I was thinking about Mother's Day recently and thought about how sad it would be if my children forgot about me during that day. If they failed to say, "I love you." I don't need much but it's nice to hear that we're appreciated as moms every now and then. This train of thought got me thinking about getting older. About how it's more important than ever that I remember my grandmothers, my mom, my aunts and the women I'm close to that are courageous, spiritual examples of amazing mothers. It's important that I send them notes of thanks and encouragement that I let them know they're important to me. I cannot sit on the sidelines and expect them to "just know" that they have been tremendous blessings in my life.

Next thing I know my mind is wondering, thinking about all the women who won't hear from their children. The children who get so wrapped in their own lives they won't stop by, if they are able, to say hi to their mom or even send her a card. Well, I came up with a simple solution - I could make them cards. Well not me necessarily but I could make cards with my children and we can deliver them to a nearby nursing home the week of Mother's Day. Who doesn't love a card? And who doesn't love a card made by a child?

So here's my plan, and of course - I need your help.  I plan on making at least 100 Mother's Day cards with my boys which we will then deliver to women in a nearby nursing home. They don't need to be fancy cards, just a small note of thanks expressing your gratitude and prayers for these mothers. We used some construction paper, crayons, and stickers to make our first batch. My son drew "roads" and "flowers" and "scribble lines" but he paid careful attention to each of the cards adding his personal touch. I'm asking you to rally your littles and make some cards for these deserving mothers. Gather some art supplies and be creative.

A Service to Mothers - A faith-filled service project for Mother's Day

Here are some of the requirements for the cards:
  • Please reach out to me and let me know that you plan on participating - email me here
  • The card must say "Happy Mother's Day" in some form or fashion
  • The card should include a bible verse on the back - please choose a loving, encouraging verse
  • On the back, at the bottom each card should say, "This card was made special for you by [Add your child's name], age [add your child's age]. 
  • Collect your cards in a manila envelope and postmark them to me by April 25, 2015
  • Have fun and teach your children about service to others
I hope you'll consider joining me in thanking these women for their years of sacrifice and motherhood. I've even created a Pinterest board if you need some inspiration - if you'd like to collaborate on the board just follow me on Pinterest and let me know you'd like to be a collaborator. It takes very little to offer a blessing to someone and to brighten their day. A card from a child is such a beautiful way to say, "Happy Mother's Day."

Be Blessed,
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