And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children. Isaiah 54:13 KJV

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Special Valentine's Day Treats

I received a Family Christian customer appreciation certificate to sponsor this post. All opinions are my own.

Every day is a good day to show your support and appreciation to your local law enforcement. The kids have been wanting to do something special for the local department for awhile now. I decided Valentine's Day would be a wonderful time to show each officer that we remember them in our prayers and are grateful for their hard work.

Family Christian Stores offer a variety of items for Valentine's Day, other holidays, and every day life. I had such a good time looking around on their website to find just the right gifts. The hardest part was limiting myself to the budget we had available! I could have easily spend much more. Here are the items I finally settled on getting.

First a GIANT box arrived right to our door.....

I selected a pack of bookmarks with the Beatitudes on it. "Blessed are the Peacemakers" is a favorite among Law Enforcement. We used these wonderful bookmarks as our Valentines to the officers by writing on the backs. The kids both signed them before we gave them out. 

Of course we needed a little something sweet. These Scripture Conversation Hearts were just the thing. 

Now for the biggie. Jeremiah 29:11 is one of my very favorite verses and seemed like a wonderful one to share with the officers. This long, black wooden sign is so lovely. I must have bought them out because this specific one is no longer in their online store but a very similar one with Jeremiah 29:11 is available. 

Always love to see Made in the USA!

These 3 items fit together just right. I tied them all together with some red ribbon from our craft closet. 

When we were finished putting them together we had a lovely basket full of gifts. 

We wanted to pass them out early so they were given out yesterday. We started with our FAVORITE police officer. 

He was pleased with the lovely gift and glad we were recognizing his whole department. I encourage you to send a little gift or a sweet treat to your local police department to show your support. It is a HUGE deal for them to know they are in the hearts and minds of their communities. 

Thank you to Family Christian for sponsoring this post and these gifts. Please visit your local Family Christian store or check out their website to find your Valentine's Day supplies. Take a peek at their Sweet $5 Deals

Check out these other special Valentine's ideas found at Family Christian. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Budget Battle

Last week was a tough week as we followed our new budget. As with any large changes, eventually the newness wears off and the desire to return to old ways rears up. Spending a majority of our time at home is the norm for us (when no one is involved in a sport or other extracurricular activity) but knowing we HAVE to stay at home is a different story. I found myself discontent several times throughout the week and my mood was foul. I just had to keep reminding myself of our larger goals. Even that was not enough sometimes because our goals are long term. This isn't going to change for us in an instant. Then I had to laugh at myself because we are all so geared towards instant gratification. We had a great morning at church yesterday and my mood has been much improved since then. I appreciate your prayers as we continue in our journey!

Even with my foul disposition, we had some good moments and ideas last week. I complain about staying at home, but the last 2 Saturdays we've had family friends come over for dinner. We've made an inexpensive meal (hot dogs and chili for the win!) and just enjoyed having company. We entertained quite often in our old home. This house is smaller and my dining room table is smaller but we've been able to host another family without too many issues. We already have someone scheduled to come next Saturday as well. We are taking advantage of hubby's current shift while we can. Making our inexpensive meal and then just having conversation or playing cards hasn't costed much except time. It's nice to share an evening with other people and have some laughs. If you are working to save money or stick to a budget this year, I encourage you to have someone over. It won't cost as much as a night out but will be a good break from the routine.

My other advice for this week is about taxes now that the time is upon us. Over the years we've used our refund to pay bills, to take trips, to stock up on groceries, and all sorts of things. This year because our battle truly is sticking to a budget, we will divide our refund into our cash envelopes to have a good start on the areas where we know we will spend money. We do have a couple of low cost trips to take this year, and we always allow the kids to attend a camp in the summer. While we adults can forgo most clothing purchases this year, kids that grow quickly (mine are the only ones, right?) have to have clothes at least twice a year (usually much more often) so there is a clothing envelope. Home school is another area where we can't avoid some spending. So our plan is already laid out to where every dollar will go when the refund arrives.

I have 2 questions for you today. What is your favorite inexpensive meal to serve guests? If you get a tax refund, how do you spend it?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Book a Week

I received a free copy of this book from BookLook bloggers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. 

If you didn't grow up in church, it can be difficult to "catch up" on the Bible and all of its stories. Starting church as an adult can be intimidating. You don't know the lingo. You don't understand all the parables. You haven't been memorizing verses your whole life. Even the songs are new. Although I went to church on and off my whole life, when Hubby and I really gave ourselves over to the Lord and started attending church every week, I felt behind. No one said anything, of course, but I so wanted to be familiar with the Bible and every word inside of it.

Some people would think new Christians could just open up the Bible and start reading to catch up. It isn't that easy though. There are different versions and the language can be hard to understand. Adults don't always have a lot of free time for Bible reading. Plus it can be embarrassing to admit you've never read the Bible. Stan Guthrie has written a book that I believe will help Christians, new and old, to get a good overview of the Bible.

God's Story in 66 Verses is Guthrie's synopsis of the Bible. He has carefully studied each book of the Bible and he gives one verse that he feels is the most important from each one. Basically in 66 chapters this book sums up God's whole story. In each chapter, he gives a short summary of the book and he gives the verse he feels is the "meat" of the book.

I like this book and this concept so much that we are using it in our Sunday School class. Hubby and I sort of co-teach this class of couples close to our age. We've done lots of parenting, marriage, and life studies with this class the last 3 years. I've wanted to find something to really get us into the Bible, and I think this is it. Each week we will focus on one book of the Bible. The idea is to scan through the book during the week and find a word or verse to sum it all up. On Sunday morning, we discuss what we all came up with as well as what Stan Guthrie says in this book. Reading a whole book, or even scanning it, can be overwhelming but I have found listening to the book with a Bible app on my phone while getting ready in the morning is a FANTASTIC way to get in the word!

So if you'd like to challenge yourself to work through the whole Bible in an overview manner, find a copy of God's Story in 66 Verses. What do you think of this idea? What would your verse be for Genesis?

The Dreamtreader Vs. Evil

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Search for the Shadow Key is book #2 in the Dreamtreaders series from Wayne Thomas Batson. This juvenile fiction series focuses on Archer who is a teenager that is the only current dreamtreader. Dreamtreaders go into the dream world during a window of time during the night and repair breaches between the dream world and real world. The Nightmare Lord has been defeated but a new evil entity is taking over.

Archer is continuing the work he was doing in Dreamtreaders. His task of keeping the two worlds from joining into a giant nightmare is a difficult one. In this second book, his task is even more difficult as people begin to disappear in the "real" world, he comes upon a beast in the dream realm, and he faces tough decisions. He has his helper Razz with him along the way and he meets Nick in the dream world. 

In this book, Archer faces a difficult choice. Should he sacrifice everything for his loved ones or is it more important to do the "greater good" and keep the Dream and Waking Worlds separate? I enjoy that this series includes several situations that present moral quandaries. This books are geared towards the middle school age crowd, and they are at the age of finding themselves in situations that require a moral choice. Through these science fiction situations, Batson does a great job of working in Christian ethics. These books do include some vivid battles and are best for the older kids who enjoy this type of fiction. 

Try this link to preview Search for the Shadow Key.  One lucky reader will win their own copy of this book! Enter via the easy Giveaway Tools widget below. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Budget Battle

I've decided most of our "wasteful" spending goes towards food- dining out, take out, buying too much at the grocery store, and food that goes to waste. Last week we focused on eating frugally. I meal planned (very generally based on what foods we already had). I found 2 big things that saved us money and will continue to save us money in the future.

1. Dry beans- I use beans in a lot of my recipes. They add to many dishes and allow me to use less meat. I've almost always bought canned beans. While canned beans are not horribly high, over time using several cans of beans in a recipe will add up. I have bought some dry beans (oh so inexpensive) and last week I made a whole bag of black beans. After cooking them, we kept a bowl to use and then I froze the remainder in 2 cup servings in freezer bags. Now I have lots of black beans to use for the next few weeks for less than the cost of 2 cans! Yay!

2. Everything tastes good fried in a wonton- If you are on a strict new diet, skip this tip. If not, carry on. Wonton wrappers are cheap. About $2 or so for 48 wrappers. I found a recipe online last week for a southwest wonton. Hubby & I LOVE southwest eggrolls at Chili's and these were very similar but in triangles. You stuff the wrappers, seal the edges with water, and lightly fry them in veggie oil. It takes moments. We were amazed by how good they were and how easy they were to cook. The next night we had about half the wrappers left over and some leftover honey soy chicken from earlier in the week. Hubby made honey soy chicken wontons. Oh. my. So. good. They cost us nothing since we had all the ingredients. We even whipped up a soy sauce/ teriyaki dip. It was an amazing and cheap meal using things we might have otherwise wasted. If you are on a budget mission, I recommend you grab some wonton wrappers on your next trip to the store!

Today I'm making soup from some other leftovers and a few new ingredients. You can take control of your grocery budget! We are right on track for January, and I'm very excited about our progress and new finds. We spent a lot of time cooking as a family last week. It was fun and kept us from getting bored.

What are you going to cook this week to stay within a grocery budget?

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

It's My Turn

Have I ever told you about the time my husband got to meet Phil and Miss Kay Robertson? Wait... my husband's actually gotten to see and hear Phil speak twice now.

Did I tell you about the time my husband and kids all met Justin Martin of the Duck Dynasty team/ show?

Should we count how many times I've met a Robertson? 0. 0 times.

I think that's a little unfair, don't you? Let's try to fix that. I have the opportunity to be selected as a blogger to go to the Heart to Home Conference happening in Monroe, LA February 6-7. How awesome would that be?

This 2 day event features the women of Duck Dynasty- Miss Kay, Korie, Missy, Jessica, and Lisa. The Heart to Home Ministry was created by Dr. Joneal Kirby (who is related to the Robertsons) in 2003 and the emcee for the conference will be the wonderful Tracey Eyster. There are so many other amazing names for this conference- Jase Robertson, Mary Beth Chapman, and the list just goes on. You can see the full list on the conference website.

This is the first conference of the Heart to Home ministry. I love that their vision is to "encourage and build faith in the next generation of Christian women". Which one of you moms out there doesn't need encouragement and faith?

The reason we enjoy watching Duck Dynasty as a family is because it is fun and entertaining and uplifting. It is obvious that the Robertsons are just a normal family that love Jesus and love to laugh. Their faith is inspiring and as a family we appreciate the way they have handled controversy since becoming so well known.

So yes I would LOVE LOVE LOVE to attend the Heart to Home conference next month. We are less than 6 hours from Monroe, LA so it would be an easy trip. I've never been to a women's conference. I know the encouragement I would receive during the 2 day trip would be like a salve to my soul. I think this would be an amazing opportunity to step away from my regular obligations and just focus on my relationship with Jesus and get filled up for the next year. What an amazing way to be INTENTIONAL in 2015! If you need to devote some special time to faith and encouragement then I hope you will check into this conference as well. As moms, we tend to give and give and give while forgetting that it is okay to receive sometimes.

You can purchase tickets to the conference now or check out the simulcast information. The conference is near Willie's Duck Diner. You know you want to eat there. I DO! My hubby would totally want the Swamp Basket. I would not want the Swamp Basket. Maybe Jambalaya....or Gumbo.....or a PoBoy.....

You can also find out more about the conference on Twitter and Facebook.

Special thank you to Family Christian for sending a blogger to this amazing event. I hope it is me! 

*Update: I was not selected to go to the conference, but I still think it will be an amazing event!*

Monday, January 12, 2015

Budget Battle

So we are a couple of weeks into our new Intentional budget. So far things are going well. I have made a couple of unnecessary purchases but I can tell you that immediately afterwards I felt the sting of my choices. While the purchases were small and didn't throw our budget off at all, I knew right away that the money I spent could have been used more wisely. No fear! I will not give up or be thrown off course! Determination is on my side and I feel like the realization of those small mistakes is a big step in the right direction.

Now as I've said we've been frugal for a long time in many areas. I wanted to share some of my favorite frugal tips and then let you in on a couple of new ideas.

*Cut cable. We use an antenna for local channels and pay for Netflix and Amazon Prime. Cable and satellite monthly fees are ridiculous and are totally optional! If you are looking for ways to trim your expenses I suggest you start with cable. I think you will find that you don't watch television nearly as much as you think you do. If you don't want to buy an antenna check for your favorite new shows online. Many are free although you might have to wait a week or so after they originally air.

*Use the library. We are a family of readers. Both of my kids ALWAYS want new books they see at the store. Most of these books run $6-$10 each and they can easily read 3-5 books each per week. You see where I'm going with this. No one can afford that. We go to the library about once a week. We get books, audiobooks, and movies there. For free. And we return or renew them before they are due to avoid late fees. We also borrow and trade books with friends and shop for used books when we can.

New things we are trying.....

*We got a filtering water pitcher. We moved from a house with a well to a house with city water and my family does not like the chlorinated flavor of our new water. We were buying very inexpensive bottles of water at a warehouse but very inexpensive adds up over time. Buying the pitcher and replacing filters is cheaper. Even less expensive? I drink the water straight from the tap. I adjusted the the flavor after a short time.

*Walmart Savings Catcher App. I resisted this app for awhile. It feels a little like I'm being stalked when I have to scan my receipt into my phone and why doesn't Walmart just give me the best price instead of making me use an app and wait for a "refund"? Well I'm still not satisfied about those things but I had friends getting $$ back so I decided to try it. So far my "refunds" are nothing to shout about but every dollar counts! I'm going to keep trying it.

Have you made any changes in 2015 for the sake of financial health?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lunch Room Dread

I received a free book from BookLook in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Our kids deal with bullying in ways that weren't even though of when we were kids. Like I heard one school counselor put it, "Kids these days are accessible 24/7 because of the internet and cell phones. Bullying doesn't stop when school is over." She is absolutely right. It isn't just kids either! Grown ups are some of the worst bullies. I've seen quite a bit online recently about adults feeling attacked or ostracized by "friends" on social media websites. It really is a much different world than it was such a short time ago.

Nancy Rue continues her Mean Girl Makeover series with book #2 You Can't Sit With Us. Ginger and the other girls in her group think life at school will be so much better with the anti-bullying code in place. Unfortunately, the mean girl group leader Kylie has found new ways to bypass the Code. Kylie doesn't want to get suspended again so she begins to quietly bully Ginger outside of school. It begins with an email and then moves to social media. Ginger is in a real predicament and she wants to follow the steps she learned about bullying before but she doesn't feel like they apply to this situation. Eventually she's forced to abandon her friends, she quits eating, and her brother even gets into a fist fight over all the rumors about their family. What will Ginger do? How can she get her friends and her peace back?

This book is every bit as good as the So Not Okay. It is a little shorter but it contains just as many twists and turns. As I read it, I remembered all the anxiety and the stress of trying to "fit in" that middle school entails. It isn't just school either. The girl drama extends to clubs, teams, and even church groups. I'm so glad Apple has a tight knit group of friends that ride the drama waves pretty well together. You Can't Sit With Us is a great book for girls from 5th grade and up. The main characters are 6th graders. Some of the subject matter in this book (certain names that are called, rumors surrounding the death of Ginger's mom) are definitely most appropriate for older girls. I also believe girls close to Apple's age (she's 9) will benefit most from the story and tips that are included in it.

If your daughter is dealing with bullies or you're just wanting to arm her with good information in the event she ever does have a mean girl problem, I recommend this series!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Who Do You Say Jesus Is?

I received a free copy of this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

Who do you say Jesus is? Better yet, who would your kids say Jesus is? Judah Smith has written Jesus Is ______ Student Edition to help your kids (recommended ages 10-14) understand more about who Jesus was and who the Bible says He is. He focuses on Jesus is a friend, is grace, is to the point, is happy, is here, and is alive. He uses loads of scripture, mostly from Matthew, and loads of real life examples to help kids understand Jesus.

The best part about this book? Apple LOVES it. She's even been reading portions to her brother (unprompted!). Judah Smith writes in a way that is totally relatable to the tween crowd. He is funny and he skips around so that they stay interested. She understands Zacchaeus in a whole new way after reading this book. Tweendom is such a crucial age. They aren't babies any more but they certainly aren't teens or adults yet. Their brains are working like never before and they are really beginning to "get" harder concepts. This is a really important time to help them understand who Jesus is and why we follow Him.

Imagine a really cool, young youth leader just having a conversation with your kid about Jesus. That's how this book came across to me. It is obvious that Judah Smith is passionate about bringing kids into a relationship with Jesus. He isn't pushing religion, he isn't pushing rules, he's using scripture to help kids understand what kind of person Jesus was and why He came. He wants to help young people understand what Jesus is still doing. Sound like something your kid would enjoy?

See a special preview of Jesus Is ____Student Edition.

I have 1 copy to giveaway! Enter via the easy Giveaway Tools widget and share with your friends.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Books of 2014

Whew I reviewed a lot of books in 2014! Here is a fun, organized list so you can find new books to read in 2015.

Adult Nonfiction

Praying for Your Husband from Head to Toe

The Storm Inside

Six Days: The Age of the Earth and the Decline of the Church

How to be Rich

Pulling Back the Shades

NIV Chronological Study Bible

Passion: The Bright Light of Glory

Mom's Night Out and Other Things I Miss....Devotions to Help You Survive

How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare

The Chopped Cookbook

The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family

Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels

Bend Your Brain

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Ask It

Watch for the Light

NIV Real Life Devotional Bible for Women

Adult Fiction

It Had to Be You

The Quilted Heart

A Stillness of Chimes

Seasons of Tomorrow

The Midwife

A Table by the Window

Mom's Night Out

Poor Mrs. Rigsby

The Healing Quilt

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good

Sweet Olive

The Daughter of Highland Hall

Hope Crossing

Murder Tightly Knit

A Lady at Willowgrove Hall

Elementary/ Middle School Nonfiction

Every Day a Blessing

Jesus and Me Bible Storybook

Young Women of Faith Bible

Made by God: Curious Creations

Let's Sew Together

God's Word for Me Bible Storybook

Get to Know Jesus

Get to Know Paul

Get to Know King David

Get to Know Mary

Share a Blessing

Big Book of Quizzes

Brave Girls Bible Stories

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know

Nature Girl: A Guide to Caring for God's Creation

Elementary/ Middle School Fiction

Riley Mae and the Rock Shocker Trek

Riley Mae and the Ready Eddy Rapids

Riley Mae and the Sole Fire Safari

The Imagination Station #13 The Red Coats are Coming!

The Imagination Station #14 Captured on the High Seas

The Kid Who Changed the World

So Not Okay

Samantha Sanderson At the Movies

Samantha Sanderson On the Scene

Snap Decision

The Berenstain Bears God Shows the Way

We All Need Forgiveness and Being Thankful

Conrad and the Cowgirl Next Door

It Will Be Okay

Willie's Redneck Time Machine

Andi Under Pressure

How to Survive Middle School and Monster Bots

A Star for Me

What was your favorite book to read in 2014? Our favorites in each of the above categories were:

Adult Nonfiction: Mom's Night Out and Other Things I Miss....Devotions to Help You Survive because it was hysterical.

Adult Fiction: Poor Mrs. Rigsby because it was unique.

Elem/ Middle School Nonfiction: Young Women of Faith Bible a great Bible for my growing girl.

Elem/ Middle School Fiction: So Not Okay Apple has already re-read it several times.

I received many books in 2014 free in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Hear the Battle Cry!!!

I received a free book from Tyndale Blog Network in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own. 

I hinted in my Intentional blog about our budget plans for 2015. We have been thrifty people for a long time but several job losses and other unintended events have left us with a pile of debt. It didn't come from anything exciting. If you look back at our bills and statements most of our debt came from regular living, simple purchases, dining out, and other incidentals. Our balance isn't huge but it is out of control and we want it to stop right now. We'd like to buy a home and we can't be in a position to do that on our income until we end this debt cycle. So we've tried a few different tactics in the past, actually we've even been completely debt free before, but now we are ready to assign a plan to each of our pennies.

This was the perfect time for me to read Slaying the Debt Dragon by Cherie Lowe. Her story sounds a whole lot like ours (I'm so thankful that our red number is much less than hers was at the beginning of her journey). Their debt racked up from normal every day life as well. Her story of perserverance and common sense decisions is so inspiring. She gives practical advice and loads of encouragement throughout the book. The Lowes listened to Dave Ramsey and incorporated some of his principles but really made their debt slaying journey their own. I love that she recommends making a visual debt count down aid. I did one for us and it is hanging up so we see it every day. I want to always remember why we are going to a cash budget. She also gives great information about surviving birthdays and holidays and lots of advice on grocery shopping. Groceries and dining out are definitely our two biggest downfalls.

Just as the book recommends, we are making the debt free journey our own. We have a plan for this year and some short term goals and long term goals. My biggest focus right now is having a plan for all of our money, every penny, so that I don't freak out and overspend in a moment of weakness. I ask for your prayers for our family in this area. We can't do anything without God and Cherie Lowe attributes her success to Him as well. She shares so many meaningful Bible verses throughout her book.

If you are beginning your own budgeting or debt free journey, I'd love to hear about it. I recommend you read Slaying the Debt Dragon for encouragement and good ideas. You can also find Cherie Lowe on her blog where she reigns as the Queen of Free.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

If You're Already Missing Christmas

I received this book free from Handlebar for the purpose of review. All opinions are my own.

Some years I decorate early and leave it all up until January 1. Other years, like this year, I only have decorations up for a few weeks. I'll admit I wasn't really feeling Christmas this year. I like traditions and I feel out of sorts when we can't celebrate the way I see fit. I also felt like we were super busy this Christmas and that makes it so hard to focus on the true meaning of the season.

So while I was ready for Christmas to be over and done, I sort of miss the Christmas "feeling" that I usually enjoy so much. I was suppose to review Home for Christmas Stories for Young and Old a few weeks ago but I received it late. I'm glad I did. This collection of short stories is just what I needed.

The 20 unique Christmas stories collected in this book come from authors like Madeleine L'Engle and Katherine Paterson. These stories are just right for reading aloud with your family for the holidays, but I'm enjoying reading them myself right now. I plan to pack the book away with our Christmas decorations so we can read the stories as a family next December. The tales are well written stories with a meaningful Christmas twist. My favorite has been Three Young Kings by George Sumner Albee about 3 young students who make a tough decision as they pass out gifts to other students.

If you are already missing the majesty of Christmas or looking ahead for something special for next year, check out Home for Christmas.