Thursday, 15 December 2011

Best Homemade Pizza Ever!

I've recently found the perfect combination of the best pizza crust recipe and the best pizza sauce recipe to create the best homemade pizza ever - if I do say so myself. ;)

And, in the spirit of Christmas, I'm going to share it with y'all!

Finding the perfect crust recipe to impress my husband was the most difficult part of all. I would think I'd found the winning one, and it just wouldn't quite cut it. But this time, I nailed it! The instructions will be using a KitchenAid mixer, but you can obviously also kneed it by hand.

Premium Pizza Crust - adapted from
1 1/2 tsp yeast (I use quick rising)
1 1/2 cups warm water
3 1/2 cups flour (approx)
1/2 tsp salt

In your KitchenAid bowl, dissolve yeast in the water and add 3 cups of flour along with the salt. You will likely need about 3 1/2 cups flour in total (this is always different depending on the altitude and humidity of where you live). Basically continue adding flour until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If kneeding by hand, until it is smooth and barely sticky. If you add too much flour it gets too heavy - I'd rather err on the side of too little, cause you can always add more when rolling it out later.

Allow the dough to rise in a greased bowl, covered with a towel, until doubled in size (about 1 hr).

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface, divide into two equal pieces and allow to rest for a couple of minutes.

Put pizza pan in the oven and preheat both to at least 450F.

Meanwhile, prepare pizza toppings and roll out dough into the size and shape of your pizza pan.

When oven and pan has finished preheating, carefully remove the pan, spray it with Pam and sprinkle with cornmeal (in my opinion, the perfect way to get a non-sticky yet non-soggy crust), carefully place dough on top of pan, spread with Exquisite Pizza Sauce and desired toppings and sprinkle with paprika (secret from working at a restaurant the served pizza). Bake at 450 (or higher) for about 15 mins (or less, if you baked it higher). Let pizza cool for a couple minutes before cutting and serving.

Exquisite Pizza Sauce - adapted from
one 6oz can tomato paste
6 fluid oz warm water
1 tsp minced garlic (or 1/4 tsp garlic powder)
1 tbsp honey
3/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp marjoram
1/4 tsp basil
1/4 tsp pepper
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp dried red pepper flakes
salt to taste (optional)

Basically, combine all ingredients and allow to sit for about 30 minutes to blend flavours.

You can substitute one tin of tomato sauce (no salt added) instead of the paste/water if that's what you have onhand.

The original recipe called for 3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese, and though I do like it that way as well, I didn't taste a noticeable difference when I tried it again without it and it's healthier without it, so I just leave it out.

I didn't have cayenne pepper, so I doubled the red pepper flakes instead. I also increased the Italian spices just a bit. I also blended everything with a hand blender because I like it smooth, and to crush up the dried pepper flakes more.

If you love it as much as we do, you can multiply all the dry ingredients by 8 and put in a jar labelled "Pizza Spice" and simply add 2 tsp to the sauce and honey when every time you make it. Easy as pie - pizza pie that is! ;)


Wednesday, 14 December 2011

One Drummer Boy's Passion

I've never really been a huge fan of the Christmas song Little Drummer Boy (I liked the lyrics, but not the tune so much), but that all changed recently when I saw a video one of my friends linked to on Facebook. The song went viral all over the internet and today, almost 2 weeks after originally posting it, it's almost reached one million hits. Amazing! I'm sure most of you have already seen/heard it, but I absolutely love it and had to post it here too.

His name is Sean Quigley and he's a 16 yr old from Winnipeg filled with a passion for Jesus. God has gifted Sean with many amazing abilities - he arranged, composed, mixed and mastered the song, played all the instruments (including bass, guitar, piano and obviously drums!), sang and then also directed and edited the video.

And he did it for Jesus. Because he has a passion for Jesus.
“I guess it comes back to the story of the song – just a drummer boy who goes to find Jesus and has absolutely nothing to give him,” Quigley told the Winnipeg Sun. “He plays the drum for Jesus and that makes him so happy ... That’s me. That’s why I’m doing it.”

“It’s not about me getting recognition,” he affirmed. “This song is about Jesus.”
He's been interviewed or simply written about in numerous articles including the Winnipeg Sun (another Winnipeg Sun article), CTV, Christian Post, CBC and Yahoo. You can hear his radio interview with Larry Updike (CBC) here and see the CTV interview here. With refreshing humility, he always points back to Jesus.

Apparently the song is going to be available on iTunes soon, but you can already get it from CDBaby - I bought and downloaded it yesterday and am loving it!

Monday, 12 December 2011

Truth in the Tinsel discount code - today only!

You can receive 20% off your purchase of Truth in the Tinsel using promo code 12DAYS today only - until midnight ET tonight! When you download it, you'll get a 12 day alternate schedule since there's 12 days left till Christmas. She also has shorter versions - some only 6 days - so there's still time!

So, if you were wanting to do it and never got around to it, don't put it off till next year. There's still time! Originally $4.99, you get $1 off with promo code 12DAYS today only. Check it out - Truth in the Tinsel.

You can see my review here or, if that just doesn't seem your style, check out a bonanza of other Jesse Tree options here.

Friday, 9 December 2011

forgotten foto friday

Forgotten Foto Friday hosted by Laughing at the Future
Forgotten Foto Friday was created by my cousin Tammi. It's where you dig through your memory cards and hard drives to find pictures you liked or were significant but somehow got forgotten, and you finally share them with the world in a delightfully random post!

If you'd like to participate, click on the button on the left or this link.

These photos go WAY back, (to the beginning of my digital camera era) almost 8 yrs ago, when there were only two kids in our family - Emma would be 2 (almost 3) and Sophia about 9 months.

Here they are in their cute Christmas dresses that year.

Gazing into each other's eyes! These two have always played well together. Olivia is right in there too nowadays, but these two do have a special bond.

At one of our hotel stays just south of the border.

"Help me, I'm falling!"

They loved playing together in the crib. (Sophia was our only soother baby.)

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Book Review: The Mirror of N'De by L.K. Malone

About the Book: In the mythical city of N’de lives thirteen-year-old Hadlay and her people, the Ramash. Scorned and abused by the unloving and absent Emperor, the Ramash are poor people, placed second to the ruling class of the Oresed. Young but bold, Hadlay rages against the injustice in her city. When she is chosen for the honor of serving the Prince in the Tower, she hopes to find a way to right the wrong... but soon discovers that things are worse than she believed.

While Hadlay works to better her people’s condition, she struggles to abide with the abusive Oresed and understand the meaning of her dreams in which a fantastical white horse appears to her and speaks in riddles. When Hadlay stumbles into one of the Tower’s secret rooms, she discovers a hidden mirror that doesn’t just show her reflection, but reveals much more: the horse’s name is Sirach and he has a plan to save the children of N’de, if only Hadlay can bring them to the mirror. Hiding her knowledge of Sirach from the Prince, Hadlay sets out to do Sirach’s bidding. But when Sirach’s presence is revealed, Hadley’s life is in danger and the only way to save her is for Sirach to give up his own.

Crafting powerful narrative and creative characters, author L. K. Malone spins a compelling tale that combines exciting entertainment and the Christian story. In The Mirror of N’de, readers will empathize with the desires of an oppressed people, will anger at the affliction of a cruel adversary, and ultimately rejoice with the revelation of a Savior.

My Thoughts: I admit to somewhat surprising myself when I signed up for this blog tour as fantasy is not my usual genre of choice. In fact, my exposure to it has been limited to the Chronicles of Narnia and a few books by Ted Dekker. However, I did like what I read in those books and thought this book sounded interesting enough to give it a go.

I'm glad I did! An allegory of the Christian story, it was completely different to any others I had read previously and it was definitely not as predictable as I first thought it would be - in fact, things were often not what they seemed.

Hadlay, though far from perfect, is a very likeable character and her desire to do her part to help rescue her people reminded me a bit of Queen Esther, one of my favourite Bible stories. Hadlay battles her desire for revenge on the Oreseds throughout the book, very realistic for her circumstances.

Anyone interested in the fantasy genre would like this book! It definitely swept me into a whole new world.

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

A Bonanza of Jesse Tree Options

I really love the whole concept of The Jesse Tree.

The Jesse Tree has its roots in the following scripture...
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. Isaiah 1:1

The Jesse Tree represents the family tree of Jesus and tells the entire story of God's salvation plan, beginning with creation and making its way through the Old Testament, showing how it all points to the coming of the Messiah. Reviewing this plan reminds us of how the Israelites waited for the birth of Jesus, and how we wait for His second coming today.

I wanted to post several Jesse Tree options for those of you who are looking to do this with your family. None of them are exactly alike. Some are geared towards adults, some towards kids. Some start on December 1st, some the 1st Sunday of Advent, some November 29th.

Remember, perfection is not what's required here. You can make your own ornaments to hang on a Jesse Tree, you can buy some ready made for you from Etsy, you can make simple print, cut and colour ornaments. Or you don't even have to do the ornaments at all. Obviously the devotions themselves, talking with your kids and focusing on Jesus, is the most important aspect of it all. The ornaments do add that extra dimension, and kids love them - but they are not required. Don't fall for the "if I can't do it perfectly, I'm not doing it all" mentality. Anything is better than nothing!

That being said, here is a list of the ones I've found. I hope you can find something suitable for your family!

1) A Jesus Advent Celebration from Ann Voskamp - this free download contains everything you need for your first Jesse Tree. Each day contains a scripture reading, a devotional, a prayer and an idea of something to do to apply the day's truth to our lives. This download also contains every single ornament you need - just print it out, attach it to card stock, punch holes, glue a ribbon"hook" on and you're all set! Or you could literally just print/cut them out and tape them onto a paper tree. Can't get much simpler than that! I do really love this devotional, but wish it was a bit more child friendly with simpler wording - I'm just not a huge fan of her style of writing. But this is definitely a great all-in-one package, and it's free! This is the one we're currently using - but I'm substituting stories from our Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible

Updated: It appears this is no longer being offered and that she has created a book called Unwrapping the Greatest Gift which you can purchase, and the ornaments are free.

2) Truth in the Tinsel is the ebook I reviewed the other day (congratulations again to Pam, Meg and Cynthia on winning the giveaway, and thanks Amanda for your generosity!). It sells for only $4.99 and is a perfect Jesse Tree style devotional to do with the preschool through early elementary set. It focuses more on the actual Christmas story, and not as much on the OT history. But I love that it is so flexible, that it's geared to littles, and that the ornaments are a part of the whole thing, so you don't have to do it ahead of time, but you do it together.

Updated to add: They now have printable ornaments!  If you were hesitating because you aren't crafty (me!) this is perfect for you.  You can use printable ornaments when you don't have time for the crafts, or simply use them for every day - up to you!

3) Advent Meditations by Grace Bible Church of Hollister: what I love about this free download is that this "book" actually contains 2 sets of Advent readings - one for kids and one for older children (teens) and adults. The adult devotional begins with a short devotional style summary of the day's truth, followed by scripture. Then at the bottom of the page it references which story from the Jesus Storybook Bible you are to read for the children's readings. The cons to this one is that no ornaments are included, and if you don't have the Jesus Storybook Bible you won't be able to do it with your kids.

4) Jesse Tree Family Devotions from the Reformed Church in America: This is a fantastic free resource for younger kids! Each day includes the scripture reference (you need to look it up and read it from your Bible), a devotional reading geared towards young children, a simple question to talk about what was just read, a pray and a black and white image that you can print, colour and turn into an ornament. The images aren't as beautiful as the Ann Voskamp ones, but they'll do!

5) Advent Devotional by Christ the King Presbyterian Church: this free resource is geared more towards a family worship style experience. Each individual devotion contains a scripture passage, a brief reflection style devotional on that passage, both an adult and a child's prayer, as well as hymn to sing together. There are no ornaments provided in this devotional.

6) Advent Jesse Tree Daily Devotions: This includes both an OT and NT scripture reference, a short devotional and a prayer/thanks. No ornaments are included, though ideas are given.

7) Jesse Tree Advent Reading Meditations from This Classical Life: Each day includes the theme, a scripture reference, an ornament idea, a short devotional followed by a couple of questions and a prayer. There are enough readings for the longest advent seasons, so during shorter advent seasons you have to double up or skip some.

8) Jesse Tree Parent Devotions: these online devotions are specifically for parents. They have had ornament sets and child devotional books for sale previously, but they're all sold out. Excellent resource if you're looking for something more in-depth for your own devotions this advent season.

9) Advent Reflections for the Jesse Tree from Faith Magazine: Each day has one main scripture verse followed by a very short description of the symbol and what it represents, followed by a longer scripture reference to look up. They also have the whole set of ornaments available for download, both small ones (3.5") and large ones (7.5").

10) Print Candee is offering a printable Jesse Tree Kit for free for a limited time on their Facebook page! The kit includes 3 sheets of 27 1.5" circle ornaments, 1 Scripture verse guide and 27 corresponding gift boxes to keep the ornaments in underneath the tree. They also have a tutorial on how to make the ornaments. This set is adorable!!

11) Jesus Storybook Bible Jesse Tree. This is a blog post describing how the Rutherfords have used only the Jesus Storybook Bible in order to do their Jesse Tree. Ornaments are not included, and obviously, the Jesus Storybook Bible is required. Because I'm always slightly leery of blog posts becoming unavailable (set as private, or simply removed), I'm going to include the schedule right here (ornament idea in brackets).
Dec 1 - Creation (dove): JSB pg 18-27 based on Genesis 1-2
Dec 2 - The Fall (fruit tree): JSB pg 28-37 based on Genesis 3
Dec 3 - The Flood (rainbow): JSB pg 38-47 based on Genesis 6-9
Dec 4 - Tower of Babel (tower): JSB pg 48-55 based on Genesis 11
Dec 5 - The Promise to Abraham (stars in the sky): JSB pg 56-61 based on Genesis 12-21
Dec 6 - Abraham and Isaac (ram): JSB pg 62-69 based on Genesis 22
Dec 7 - Jacob, Rachel and Leah (stalks of grain): JSB pg 70-75 based on Genesis 29-30
Dec 8 - Joseph (rainbow coat): JSB pg 76-83 based on Genesis 37-46
Dec 9 - Moses and the Burning Bush (burning bush): JSB pg 84-91 based on Exodus 3-13
Dec 10 - Moses and the Red Sea (split waters): JSB pg 92-99 based on Exodus 14-15
Dec 11 - The Law (stone tablets): JSB pg 100-107 based on Exodus 16, 17, 19-40
Dec 12 - Joshua and Jericho (trumpet): JSB pg 108-115 based on Joshua 3 and 6
Dec 13 - David's Anointing (David the shepherd boy): JSB pg 116-121 based on 1 Samuel 16
Dec 14 - David and Goliath (slingshot): JSB pg 122-129 based on 1 Samuel 17
Dec 15 - David the Shepherd (lyre): JSB pg 130-135 based on Psalm 23, 51, 2 Samuel 7
Dec 16 - Naaman (heart): JSB pg 136-143 based on 2 Kings 5
Dec 17 - Isaiah (crown): JSB pg 144-151 based on Isaiah 9, 11, 40, 50, 53, 55, 60
Dec 18 - Daniel in the Lion's Den (Daniel and a lion): JSB pg 152-159 based on Daniel 6
Dec 19 - Jonah (fish): JSB pg 160-169 based on Jonah 1-4
Dec 20 - The Prophets (party hat): JSB pg 170-175 based on Nehemiah 8-10
Dec 21 - John the Baptist (shell): JSB pg 200-203 based on Matthew 3
Dec 22 - Mary and the Angel (angel): JSB pg 176-176 based on Luke 1-2
Dec 23 - Journey to Bethlehem (scroll): JSB pg 180-181 based on Luke 1-2
Dec 24 - The Shepherds and Wise Men (three wise men): JSB pg 184-188 based on Luke 2
Dec 25 - Jesus is Born! (baby Jesus): JSB pg 182, 190, 192-198 based on Luke 2

Updated to Add: Sally Lloyd Jones (author of the Jesus Storybook Bible) now has her own Advent Guide and it is available for free here!!

12) I found another set of printable ornaments here.

13) Focus on the Family also has a free digital download Advent Calendar when you register on the Thriving Family website. It offers daily Scripture readings, parent-child activities and links to JellyTelly video clips, stories, crafts, Christmas carols, recipes, Adventures in Odyssey audio dramas and more! You can also access it online here or get an iPad download here. (Thanks Jessica, for letting me know about this one!)

14) How to Celebrate Advent with a Jesse Tree is a free ebook compiled by Tara from FeelsLikeHome. Each day identifies the central character, the theme, the ornament, the key verse, a song to sing, a scripture reference to read and a prayer.

15) Advent chains are a simplified version of the Jesse Tree. SpellOutLoud has a free printable advent chain - each chain has a theme and scripture reference to look up. She also has a free printable name of Jesus advent chain, with a name of Jesus and scripture reference on each chain, as well as activity idea options.

16) My friend, Jessica, has created a pdf printable advent around 25 of the people from the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew's gospel.  You can print her text only pdf here, and the colour/graphics version here.

If I've missed any that you've found, please let me know!

There are also numerous books you can order to compliment your Jesse Tree, or even to do it entirely.

Jesse Tree Devotions: A Family Activity for Advent by Marilyn Breckenridge is a book containing the daily devotionals (Scripture reference, short devotional and prayer) as well as tree leaf shaped symbols that you can photocopy, colour and paste onto a large tree pullout (photocopy as well, or you'll have to reorder this every year).

The Advent Jesse Tree by Dean Smith is a beautiful hardcover book. The devotions for each day have a picture (which you could photocopy to make ornaments), symbol suggestions, a memory verse, a selection of hymns you could sing, followed by two separate devotions for children and adults. The devotional for children has a short scripture reference, a devotional, questions and a prayer. The adult devotional has a longer scriptural passage reference, a short devotion and a prayer.

The Jesse Tree by Geraldine McCaughrean is a telling of the Jesse Tree symbols and biblical tales in storybook form.

Bartholomew's Passage, Jotham's Journey and Tabitha's Travels by Arnold Ytreeide are not Jesse Tree specific, but are fantastic family stories for Advent. The storybook characters travel throughout Israel and encounter the biblical characters, ending their travels in Bethlehem just in time for the Saviour's birth. He also has another book, Amon's Adventure, for Easter-time.

Phew - that's all I got! Whatever your choice, my prayer is that this helps you to put the focus on Christ this Christmas.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Truth in the Tinsel Winners!

The three winners of the Truth in the Tinsel giveaway are......

#13 - PamJ
#1 - Meg
#18 - Cynthia Crellin


Winners - you need to send me your email addresses (tammyisblessed at gmail dot com) by 12 noon CST tomorrow (November 30) in order to claim your prize! If have not heard from you before then, I will pick new winners (because it starts December 1st already!) Once again, a huge thank you to Amanda for donating these three copies of her ebook, Truth in the Tinsel

If you didn't win, click here to purchase your copy of the Truth in the Tinsel ebook for only $4.99.

Thanks for playing and hope to see you participating in the Facebook group!

Truth in the Tinsel - giveaway!

In yesterday's blog post I wrote about using Ann Voskamp's Jesse Tree devotional last year and some of the many things I loved about doing that, as well as some of the drawbacks.

If you're looking for something targeted towards a younger audience (preschool through early elementary) - I have just the thing for you!

Truth in the Tinsel is an ebook developed by Amanda White from ImpressYourKids who was looking for a more pre-school friendly way to do a Jesse Tree style advent activity with her kids.

What's awesome about this is that it is soooo flexible! Here's the main gist of it...

Each day there is a clue (something for your kids to listen for), a scripture passage to read together, an ornament craft to make together (craft-challenged moms like me - don't stop reading!!), exploring what the passage means together (talking about it), and some options to do more together if you want to take the time to go deeper into the story (such as additional scripture, songs to sing, fun activities to make the lesson applicable to their lives, etc).

In case you didn't catch it in the previous paragraph, one of the goals is to make this advent journey together with your kids.

Making the perfect Christmas tree ornament crafts is definitely NOT the goal! (Phew - cause I'd be out right there). The goal, of course, is to engage your kids in the Christmas story in a way they can understand so that they grow to love Jesus more. To quote Amanda....

The little Baby is no longer in the manger but alive and sitting on a throne - waiting to have a relationship with you and your children. Help your children get to know Him this Christmas!

Now, what does it all include?

Everything! (Love it when people make things easy for me by doing all the hard work!)

There are two options for your advent calendar. There are 24 picture and word clues that you can print out and use to create your own advent calendar (or use with one you already have). Or, to keep it super simple, there's a printable paper chain style version - can't get any easier than that!

She has a full craft supply list, as well as a daily list (in case you only want to do certain crafts, or gather materials gradually), and templates for some of the ornaments. Most of the supplies are very common and you may, in fact, have most of them at home already. There's also a Facebook group where you can share in the journey with other families.

Keep in mind - there's no rule you have to make the craft the way it's suggested. If it calls for glue, you can use tape. If it calls for embroidery thread, you can use yarn. Shoot - you can just cut it out of construction paper and call it a day! And really, if you skip the craft entirely some days, that's ok too!

Amanda understand all about busy schedules, especially in December. Which is why I love this next feature: she has alternate schedules!! You can do a 6 day version covering all the traditional Christmas passages. Another option is to take several days of one large chunk of scripture at a time (works especially well if you have multiple kids as they can each make a different ornament while you're discussing the passage). You can do a 10 day version focusing on the people of the story - creating an almost full nativity set (of ornaments) for your kids to play with. Or you can do a 7 days version focusing on prophecy. So many options!

This is not a "do all 24 crafts in 24 days or die trying" type of program. Do what you can as you have time, knowing that as you have time, someone else has already figured out what you need to do!

So, Truth in the Tinsel sells for only $4.99 - which is a pretty good deal for this package I'd say. Remember, it's an e-book, so no waiting for it to arrive - instant download and you're off to the races!

But y'all have the chance to get it for free! In fact - 3 of y'all do! Amanda has graciously offered to donate 3 copies of Truth in the Tinsel as a giveaway on my blog. All you have to do is comment on this post and you're in! If you like her Facebook group and come comment again to let me know you did, you get another entry.

Truth in the Tinsel starts on December 1st which means there is going to be a pretty short turnaround between this blog post and the entry deadline - so you only have until 11pm CST tonight (Tuesday, November 29th) to enter this giveaway!

If you're not one of the winners, take heart - it'll only cost you $4.99 to purchase the Truth in the Tinsel ebook and join with us, making meaningful Christmas memories with our kids, impressing the Truth of God's Word on their minds and hearts.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Anticipating Advent - the Jesse Tree

I love it when people make things easy by doing all the hard work for me. :)

For a couple years now, when thinking about (and googling) ways to make Christmas meaningful to our kids, and distract them from all the presents and Santa hoopla (which is fun and all, but not the true reason we celebrate), I came across the idea of a Jesse Tree.

The Jesse Tree represents the family tree of Jesus and tells the entire story of God's salvation plan, beginning with creation and making its way through the Old Testament, showing how it all points to the coming of the Messiah. Reviewing this plan reminds us of how the Israelites waited for the birth of Jesus, and how we wait for His second coming today.

Each day of Advent focuses on one story in the OT and a handmade ornament is added to the Jesse Tree. A Jesse Tree can be a small Christmas tree, it could be any tree-type plant in your home, it could be branches sticking out of a pot, or it could even simply be a hand-drawn tree shape.

Last year, I came across a beautiful Jesse Tree Advent Devotional Book that was (and still is!) being given away for free, by Ann Voskamp at her blog A Holy Experience. Every day's readings contained the scripture passage, a devotional, and an action point (something to do, relating to the theme of the day's devotional). And the ornaments were so easy to put together (essential for this craft-challenged mother!). All I had to do was print them out, glue them on some green card stock with my pretty red ribbon and voila - done!! Like I said - virtually all the work done for me! :)

However, I found the devotionals a bit of a stretch for our kids, and her writing style wasn't really my style. So I supplemented the material with our Jesus Storybook Bible and The Big Picture Story Bible. The Jesus Storybook Bible is by far and away our favourite children's Bible (and we have more than a few). Seriously, if you don't have it yet, you really really really really really need to. And I'm not exaggerating. (Here's my review of it). Anyway, the girls absolutely loved doing this last year (we did about two per day in order to catch up, because we started late - so no using that as an excuse!!). This was our Jesse Tree last year.....

I love the whole idea of it, but I'm planning to rewrite some of the devotionals and revise things to create our own version of the Jesse Tree using many of our children's Bibles in the process.

I'm not entirely sure when that will get done - I do, technically, only have to have them done one day at a time, so in theory, I could still finish it this year. But it starts tomorrow!! So, we'll see what happens. It'll likely be a combo of last year's and whatever I have time to figure out for this year.

The only other problem is that this is a little over the head of my 3 yr old son.

Fortunately, I've found a solution. That post (including 3 giveaways!!) coming up tomorrow!

We're starting our Jesse Tree tomorrow, but we may be doing a little something more this year too (starting December 1st). Stay tuned!

PS - my cousin, Tammi, is doing this too - check out her Jesse Tree!

Olivia's Hearing Update

Figured today would be a good day to update you on Olivia's hearing difficulties.

We saw the ENT specialist in May and he confirmed that she had fairly severe fluid build up in both ears, but especially in her right ear. He wanted a full audiological exam done and then a follow-up appointment in November. We were free to call sooner if she developed any continuous ear infection difficulties. At first she was having some trouble with that, and I thought for sure we'd have to bring her in early and get tubes put in her ears, but they ended up going away and she hasn't had any subsequent issues.

The audiological exam was done in June and had less than impressive results. Her right ear had fairly significant hearing loss, including only being able to hear conversationally at 8%. Not good.

We seemed to be noticing some improvement, and with no more ear ache troubles, we remained hopeful that God was healing her, likely through the growth of her body causing the eustachian tube to angle properly (instead of being too horizontal, preventing proper ear drainage, as this was likely the cause of the trouble).

Today was her follow up appointment - she first had an audiological exam followed by an appointment with the ENT specialist. And - her hearing is perfect and the fluid is gone! No surgery needed, not even any follow up appointments needed. Praise the Lord!

PS - forgot one crucial part of this story....

Later this afternoon, after school, Olivia told us that, during the hearing test at school (routine for all kingergarteners and Grade 1ers), she could hear all the beeps, but she didn't raise her hand for all of them cause the hearing tests are fun and she wanted to go to more of them!

Oy vey! Only Olivia.

Don't worry, I made her fess up to her teacher (so she didn't waste any of our educational resources and money) and apologize for the deception. But I gotta say, privately, I totally laughed.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Book Review: House of Hope by Elisabeth Gifford

About the Book: Robin and Joyce Hill lived in a gated community in Beijing. Their family’s life was marked by luxury and the security of Robin's job as an engineer. Then one day, as members of their church, they had a chance to tour a state-run orphanage. Haunted by the needs of the children they saw there, for the next four years they tried to help the institute in meaningful ways.

In 1998 the Hills planned to leave China, but instead felt a sudden call from God on their lives. They left their gated community--reserved for only non-Chinese residents--moved their family into a small apartment miles outside of Beijing and immediately began to take in foster children.

They took in any child, but especially those that needed extra care—terminally ill children that couldn't receive care elsewhere, and those that needed complicated and expensive surgeries that the Hills soon began to coordinate and sometimes pay for out of their own savings.

What began as Hope Foster Home is now New Hope Foundation. As they continue their work, the Hills enjoy support from major corporations and high-profile philanthropists as well as the trust of the Chinese authorities. The Hills' story is an inspiring example of God's care and provision for those whom society does not value. Learn more about Hope Foster Homes here:

"I strongly support Robin and Joyce Hill's New Hope Foundation which is saving so many orphan lives in China. Read this amazing story of God's grace and accept the challenge to make a difference!"
--Steven Curtis Chapman

"I had the privilege of going to China and witnessing the work that God is doing through Robin and Joyce Hill. They are wonderful servants of God who lovingly care for the 'least of these.' I hope that many will read this book and consider their example."
--Francis Chan, author of Crazy Love

My Thoughts: This was an incredible book, infused with the love of God shown by one couple's choice to devote their lives to caring for the least of these.

Story after miraculous story showed how God worked miracles in the lives of these precious children. Each one touched my heart as I was amazed by the tireless efforts of the Hills to put their faith into action and show that every child matters, no matter how hopeless the situation. Indeed that is the driving force behind the Hills efforts - knowing that each orphan is an individual child that has been uniquely formed in the image of God, just as we all are, and that is what makes them worthy to receive the same care, respect and love as those born into more fortunate circumstances.

Simply an amazing and inspirational story! I would recommend this without hesitation to anyone - but be prepared to be changed.

100% of the proceeds of this book go to fund the work at Hope Foster Home.

Giveaway: The publisher is sponsoring a $50 "Get/Give" Giveaway: One winner will receive a $50 gift certificate for themselves AND $50 will be given in the winner's name to Hope Foster Home.

To enter all you have to do is send a tweet using the hashtag #HFH about the House of Hope or share about it on Facebook! If you tweet your entry will be captured when you use #HFH. If you share it on Facebook just email and let them know.

Not sure what to tweet/post? Try this:

Twitter: Couple gives all to rescue babies in China! 100% proceeds go to #HopeFosterHome RT 4 $50 @amazon & $50 to #HFH

Facebook: The House of Hope: One couple abandons a comfortable life to rescue abandoned children. Robin and Joyce Hill have helped over 1300 Chinese orphans with severe medical problems. Purchase a copy for everyone you know - the book is a gift that gives a gift. 100% proceeds to help support the work at Hope Foster Home! Learn more here: Share this for a chance to get a $50 GC and $50 in your name to Hope Foster Home!

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Thankful remembrance

Reposted from last year

Today, on Remembrance Day (or Veterans Day in the States), I am thankful for the countless soldiers who sacrificed themselves for the sake of freedom.

All sacrificed years of their life; all sacrificed being able to continue their lives as usual, to be with their families, to be there for births, first steps and more; all sacrificed the naivete of not knowing what war is truly like.

And some sacrificed through wounds - physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

And some sacrificed through death.

I am thankful that they fought (and still fight!) for our freedom.

I am thankful when they fight for the freedom of other countries too weak to fight for themselves.

I am thankful they willingly fight so that I am not forced to.

John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Which reminds me of another sacrifice I am thankful for.

Romans 5:7-8 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Jesus sacrificed the glory of heaven .... for us.

Jesus took on the sins of the world and endured the wrath of God and separation from His father - so that we could be free from the punishment of sin.

Jesus sacrificed - physically, mentally, emotionally, physically - for us. For you. For me. While we were sinners, because we were sinners, because He loves us - He offers the gift of eternal life.

I am thankful because we are all incapable of paying the penalty for our sins and needed Him to do it for us.

Today, I am thankful for freedom - in all it's forms!

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Book Review: The Baker's Wife by Erin Healy

About the Book: To save her husband and son, Audrey Bofinger must rescue her enemy.

The Bofinger family has lost their church ministry in a scandal exposed by Officer Jack Mansfield. Hoping to heal and to restore their reputation, Audrey, Geoff, and their son Ed take over a failing bakery in the small community.

Driving to the bakery one morning, blinded by fog, Audrey hits a motor scooter owned by Jack’s wife, Julie. The mangled scooter is crushed and bloody. But Julie is nowhere to be found. Her disappearance coincides with a sudden illness that nearly cripples Audrey.

Jack believes the Bofingers have hurt Julie to take revenge on him, but the evidence dries up and her trail goes cold. At a breaking point, Jack takes the tiny bakery and its patrons hostage, issuing only one demand: Audrey has six hours to return Julie to him, or lose Geoff and Ed forever.

With only an excruciating and intuitive gift, an ex-con, and Julie’s estranged daughter to help search for clues, Audrey starts the search of her life for a woman who has vanished like the fog.

My Thoughts: I had mixed feelings about this book. Overall, I really liked the storyline and how all the different plots intertwined to make a riveting story.

I liked how the scandal is threaded throughout the book, without the details of it having to be revealed too soon.

The mystery of Julie's disappearance, the unknown scandal, the gradually revealed story of Dianne, an ex-convict recently released from prison and the cynical opinions of Jack & Julie's estranged daughter Miralee - all raise the opportunity for deep theological exploration.

The part I didn't like was Audrey's supernatural but unsettling ability to literally feel another's pain. I did like how God led her to help different people, but it was just a bit too weird for my taste.

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Book Review: Love on the Line by Deeanne Gist

About the Book: It's a Battle of Wills ... and Love Is on the Line!

Rural switchboard operator Georgie Gail is proud of her independence in a man's world . . . which makes it twice as vexing when the telephone company sends a man to look over her shoulder.

Dashing Luke Palmer is more than he appears though. He's a Texas Ranger working undercover to infiltrate a notorious gang of train robbers. Repairing telephones and tangling with this tempestuous woman is the last thing he wants to do. But when his stakeout puts Georgie in peril, he realizes more than his job is on the line.

My Thoughts: Christian historical romantic fiction - yup, love it. I think this is the first book I've read by Deeanne Gist, but it won't be my last!

This was just a really fun book to read. I found the telephone operator thing to be fascinating, and hey, how can a Texas Ranger going undercover not be fun?!

At first I thought the main character was a little off her rocker with somewhat fanatical love of birds. But the farther into the book I got the more I appreciated God's amazing creativity in every aspect of creation, and the more I agreed with her desire to protect these delightful creatures and to stop the killing of birds purely for fashion purposes. (I cannot believe people wore actual dead birds on their hats as a fashion statement!)

I definitely learned a thing or two from reading this novel and it was a refreshing, fast read.

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Book Review: The Wonder of Your Love by Beth Wiseman

About the Book: Katie Ann lost the love of her life. Then God offers her a new beginning in Colorado.

Katie Ann Stolzfus lives in the small Amish community of Canaan, Colorado. At forty she is widowed and raising her first child. But baby Jonas will never know his father, and Katie Ann wonders if her Heavenly Father hasn't forgotten about her as well. Is it really God's plan for her to be a single parent?

Eli Detweiler has come to Canaan for a wedding and a long vacation. Having raised six children following the death of his young wife, Eli is finally an empty-nester. He's enjoying the slower pace of having no one to care for but himself.

When Katie Ann and Eli meet, there is an instant connection. Yet as strong as the attraction is, they both acknowledge that a romance would never work. He is done parenting, while she has just begun.

But as their friendship slowly blossoms into feelings that are as frightening as they are intoxicating, Katie Ann and Eli question if the plans they made for themselves are in line with God's plans.

Can Katie Ann entrust her heart to another man, and rediscover the wonder of God's love?

My Thoughts: This must be one of my favourite pieces of Amish fiction that has become so popular lately. In fact, it was downright humourous at times - which I love.

These Amish are not quite as conservative as some of the other Amish groups and the Katie Ann's best friend is an Englischer named Martha who is outspoken, set in her ways, devoted to God, and fiercely protective of Katie Ann and her baby Jonas. Martha steals the book for me!

The characters were well-developed and realistic - with foibles and quirks just like everyday people. Their interactions and the growth in their relationships were realistic and the storyline was original and captivating.

For me the biggest lesson to take away from this book was that we can make our plans, and they can be realistic, practical and just what we think we need. But sometimes God has other plans - and they are always far better than the ones we had lined up for ourselves.

This book is part of a series and I'm really looking forward to reading the others!

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Book Review: Baby, It's Cold Outside by Susan May Warren

About the Book: Hope finds the hopeless when a storm hits.

It's Christmas weekend 1949, and despite the threat of a storm, the townspeople of Frost are determined to continue their holiday traditions, if only as a means to forget the war that they had all just suffered through. But the suffering hasn't ended for Dottie Morgan who lost her only son in the war. She's preparing to wallow in her isolation for the weekend, when Violet, nearly a spinster at age 29, dares to make a request that will force Dottie to publicly revive the memory of her dead son.

When a storm traps the two women at home with a strange young man who has an unbelievable confession and a neighbor with more to do with Violet's past than she would like, no one can predict how this Christmas will give them all a second chance.

My Thoughts: Susan May Warren is definitely one of my favourite Christian fiction authors so I snapped this book up when I saw it offered on a Litfuse blog tour. And I was not disappointed!

Set in rural Minnesota on Christmas Eve, post-World War II, this heartwarming story is perfect for curling up by the fireplace on a snowy winter night. 5 near strangers are snowed in together - an older couple, a younger couple and a young boy who pulls them all together as they all go through differing types of personal renewal, deepening faith and an awakening to the true meaning of Christmas.

From the author's note:
Jesus is the only reason we can celebrate anything. The only reason for Hope. Without Him, life blindsides us, traps us, steals our joy.... Jesus is our Storm House. Our safe place. Inside His arms we find family, comfort and hope, and the courage to face our secrets and discover forgiveness. He gives us that place of peace inside the storm.
Jesus is the answer to everything.

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

25 Ways to Wear a Scarf

For all you scarf lovers out there....

I didn't even know there were 25 ways to wear a scarf! ;)

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Book Review: Reclaiming Lily by Patti Lacy

About the Book: A storm the size of Texas brews when Gloria Powell and Kai Chang meet in a Ft. Worth hotel. They have come to discuss the future of Lily, the daughter Gloria adopted from China and the sister Kai hopes to reclaim. Kai is a doctor who had to give up her little sister during the Cultural Revolution and has since discovered that an inherited genetic defect may be waiting to fatally strike Lily.

Gloria's relationship with her daughter is tattered and strained, and the arrival of Kai, despite the woman's apparent good intentions, makes Gloria fearful. Gloria longs to restore her relationship with Lily, but in the wake of this potentially devastating diagnosis, is Kai an answer to prayer--or will her arrival force Gloria to sacrifice more than she ever imagined?

My Thoughts: I must admit that it took me awhile to get into this book - the lilt of English from a Chinese perspective took some getting used to I think. But am I ever glad I did! As I continued to read I was captivated by the story - in fact, multiple storylines, all masterfully interwoven to create a compelling read.

The characters are both well developed and realistic. Their many flaws, fears and struggles make it easy to empathize with them and the storyline is anything but predictable - with a surprise awaiting even on the last page (though my guess was correct, I was far from certain).

Foreign adoption, Chinese culture, discrimination, guilt, fear, life-threatening medical conditions, sacrificial love, teenage angst, natural disasters - a myriad of subjects dealt with in this book.

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Book Review: Along Wooded Paths by Tricia Goyer

About the Book: All she wanted was a simple Amish life . . . But now Marianna Sommer finds herself depending on Englisch neighbors. Although proud of living apart from the world, she and her newly relocated Amish family have discovered that life in the remote mountains of Montana requires working together.

As Marianna begins helping those different from herself—and receiving their help—her heart contemplates two directions. She’s torn between the Amish man from Indiana whom she has long planned on marrying and the friendly Englischer who models a closer walk with God than she’s ever seen before.

Who should have young Marianna’s heart? What is God asking her to sacrifice? Her traditions? Her community? The answer is found along the wooded paths.

My Thoughts: I was fortunate enough to review the first book in this series, Beside Still Waters, and looked forward to this one as well.

Many of the things I liked about the first book, I also liked about this one. I love how the author explores the differences between the Amish and "Englisch" faith, highlighting the benefits of the Amish lifestyle and belief system while also acknowledging some of the potential pitfalls of their tendency toward legalism.

The only thing that I did not really like about this book was Marianna's interest in two different men and her inability to choose between them for a long portion of the book. Maybe not so much her hesitancy in choosing, but rather that she seems to be in love with them both at the same time. And obviously, just because that's not something I've experienced, doesn't mean it can't happen, but I truly believe that when you're sincerely praying that God would guide your heart and reveal who you are supposed to be with, that it would be more obvious than this, and I guess the adolescent vibe it gave me just rubbed me the wrong way. So, feel free to take that negativism with a grain of salt.

Overall, I loved seeing Marianna grow in her faith as she was exposed to differing lifestyles and the needs and difficulties that went along with them.

Thank you to Stephanie and Amy from Litfuse Publicity for organizing this tour and providing me with my complimentary review copy.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Storage ideas

We are beginning construction on our new house. Yes, again! This will be our sixth house in this town. The first was built in summer 1998, the second over the winter of 2001/2002, the third in late fall 2004, the fourth in over the winter of 2006/2007, the fifth the fall of 2007 and now the sixth one will be over the winter of 2011/2012. Which means that the house we're currently living in is a record for us at 4 years - crazy!

Anyway, we will likely put our current house up for sale shortly, at least just on kijiji. If it doesn't sell now, we'll likely put it on the market at the end of winter or early spring. So, in preparation for the sale, I'm in the process of doing some major decluttering! I totally should've taken some before pictures because the changes have been dramatic so far, and I'm not done yet!

The first project was our mudroom. For anyone that's been to our house, you likely remember the shoe store we had going on in there, we had so many shoes! Between flip flops, Sunday sandals, regular sandals, outdoor runners and four kids - well, you can imagine! So, I let each kid keep one pair of flip flops, and their outdoor school runners in the mudroom, everything else had to go in their bedroom closets - and I got rid of one large garbage full of shoes they either no longer wore, no longer fit or were worn out. We can actually close the mudroom doors now!

Then I also decluttered one of our countertops that had paper clutter just multiplying all over the place.

Now I'm working on the office. That's taking a little longer.

In the process, I've also been looking up some pretty neat storage solutions. Here's some of my favourites....

Totally getting Nathan to build me this laundry basket dresser for our new laundry room (which will be complete with flooring and a window!)

Great idea for a mudroom, I think I'd use some prettier baskets (also available at the dollar store).

And check out this charging station - our phone desk needs this in a bad way!!

Innovative use of a spice rack for office or craft room storage...

Slipcovers for crates...

Turning every day containers into beautiful storage options...

Great idea for anything from craft paper to cd's to baby blankets to school projects to games with broken boxes....

And, I don't know about you but our puzzle boxes are forever falling apart, so here's an idea for how to store them, and still know which puzzle you're taking out!

Feel free to let me in on any of your favourite storage solutions!


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