Bible Journaling Through Advent with Unwrapping the Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

I love the Advent season. It is such a special time that we can quiet our minds and open our hearts to the message of redemption for the whole world. In our household we begin on December 1st with a Jesse tree and use it to trace the lineage of the long expected Messiah.

Last year was the first time we used Ann Voskamp's beautiful book Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas. We used the ornaments download that corresponds with the book and crafted our own.

I collect coasters throughout the year (like the ones you get at restaurants) so I wind up with assorted shapes and sizes. For these particular ornaments I put a basecoat of black paint on the coaster and then lightly put a coat of copper paint over the top so some of the black peeked through.

I used colored pencils and markers to color the picture then cut it out and glued it on. To make it more durable I put a coat of varnish over the whole thing. To finish it off I added some decorative copper brads and a twine hanger.

This year we wanted to again use Unwrapping the Greatest Gift but I wanted to do something a bit different. I have been using my Journaling Bible to do a bit of Bible Art Journaling throughout the year and I decided that I would like to do that with the Advent readings from the book.

To do this, I again downloaded and printed off the ornament sheets that go with the book. By the way these come in two different sizes - 4 inch which is 4 per page and 2 1/2 inch which is 6 per page. I chose the 4 inch size.

I cut out the ornaments and then rounded the corners. I used colored pencils to decorate the ornaments and then I attached them to the Bible page with a strip of washi tape.

Since this is something that we do each day of Advent as a family I certainly didn't want to leave the little ones out. For those that don't do Bible Art Journaling I printed out the coloring pages that go along with Unwrapping the Greatest Gift.

Each night as we sit down to read the story for the day I pass out the coloring sheets and crayons and let the little ones color. This helps them listen and sit still plus it plants seeds that I hope will blossom in years to come.

If you are looking for a doable activity for this Advent season I would encourage you to get the book and download the resources. If you are reading this and it is past December first . . . don't fret . . . just start with the current day and go from there. You can always catch up later. Remember the season isn't about going and doing it's about quieting our hearts and minds and unwrapping the greatest Gift!

Star Wars Pictopia Trivia Game {Review & Giveaway}

How well do you know your Star Wars trivia? Over the Thanksgiving break our family had an opportunity to find out if we were more Padawan or Jedi Master by playing the Star Wars Pictopia Trivia Game. I don't think that I've ever had so much fun being soundly beaten!

The trivia questions come from the original Star Wars movie and also the sequels Clone Wars and Rebels. I've seen the original numerous times but the other two I obviously need to bone up on! 

The visuals on the game pieces are stunning and they helped me make educated guesses when it was my turn. I really liked how the game mixed things up. At times you play on your own but at other points in the game you team up to answer. It keeps everyone on their toes.

We played one round with six people and another with just two. I preferred the game played with more people. While it is completely possible to play with only two players it loses some of the dynamic when you have to team up to answer. We played each round in just about an hour. To be honest I think it would have been shorter but some of the players insisted on reminiscing about the scene being asked about.

We played with all adults simply because none of the kids were very versed in Star Wars speak. If you have a tween or teen that is familiar with the movies I think they would have a bast playing.

Now . . . how about a GIVEAWAY?!! We loved the Star Wars Pictopia Trivia Game so much that we wanted to make a way for one of our readers to get their own copy. To do that we have partnered with Wonder Forge to give one of our readers a Star Wars Pictopia Trivia Game so they can enjoy it with their own family.

The giveaway is open to U.S. residents and will run through midnight on Friday, December 11, 2015. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. The winner will be contacted by email and will have forty-eight hours to claim the prize. If unclaimed, a new winner will be drawn. The winners’ entries will be verified. Please enter the contest using the Giveaway Tools form below. All entries are optional.

The First Sunday of Advent - The Prophecy Candle

It's finally here. The season my heart has been longing for even when my head didn't recognize it. Today is the first Sunday of Advent and with it a time of slowing down and reflecting upon what the true meaning of the season is.

Today we set up our Advent wreath. We use this as a symbol to commemorate the significance of what has happened and also a way to look forward to what is to come. We use a wreath because of it's circular shape. It represents the Eternal God because it has no beginning or end. We use five different candles within our wreath. The candles put off light which grows increasingly brighter as the weeks get closer to Christmas. This reminds us that Christ is indeed the light of the world and in Him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5 HCSB)

On this first Sunday of Advent we light one of the outer candles, The Prophecy Candle, or the candle of hope. This candle reminds us of the hope that the prophets had in the coming Messiah. It also reminds us of the hope we have of the returning King Jesus.

This is what the prophets hoped for when they prayed about God sending the Messiah:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; daylight has dawned on those living in the land of darkness. You have enlarged the nation and increased its joy. The people have rejoiced before You as they rejoice at harvest time and as they rejoice when dividing spoils. For You have shattered their oppressive yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor, just as You did on the day of Midian. For the trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2-6 HCSB)

Therefore, the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 HCSB)

Our current hope is in the risen Lord and His imminent return. Here is what He says:

Then Jesus spoke to them again: “I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 HCSB)

Heavenly Father our world is filled with darkness. We need the light that only comes from You through Your Son Jesus. Remind us of the One who was born in Bethlehem and the one who also said "I am the light of the world". May our hearts and minds turn toward You in this season where You chose to give the greatest gift of all. Amen

In honor of this prophecy we always end the evening with singing Away in a Manger.

It is our hope that your family will join ours in rejoicing in the real reason for the season . . . it is Jesus the true Light of the World.

Celebrate Advent with the Jesus Storybook Bible {Free Printable Ornaments}

Our immediate family is made up of four separate households. Two of them contain children and two of them do not. We happen to live somewhat close to each other but we still reside in four different cities. One of the things that we find very important is to stay connected. To do that we look for ways to bring all of us together. Sometimes it's going to a movie with the whole crew. Other times it is gathering at one of the houses for a big bar-b-que. 

That's not so hard to pull off because those are individual events. But as we head into the Advent season we needed  a way to stay close and connected to each other and the season without having to be together in one place. This year we decided to do that with the help of The Jesus Storybook Bible and The Story of God's Love For You. 

Many people are already using The Jesus Storybook Bible for their Advent reading. We decided to join the crowd . . . with a twist. All four households will be using the same reading plan but the two households without children will be reading from The Story of God's Love For You and we won't be doing the ornaments.

So here's how I (the granny) prepared us all for this adventure. First I purchased the extra books for each house and then I set about printing out and making the ornaments

Go here to print out the schedule and the ornaments.

After I downloaded the schedule I printed it on pretty snowflake paper. (The snowflakes were only on one side.) Then I laminated it so it would be a bit more durable for those often wet and sticky little hands.

I then printed out the ornaments on cardstock and got out my paper cutter (scissors will work fine) and cut them apart. There are handy cut lines on the backs of the ornaments that make it nice and easy.

I just happen to like the rounded corner look so I got my little tool out. This step of course isn't necessary but I liked it so I did it!

Next I decided to laminate the ornaments. We have eight kids under the age of eight and I wanted them to be able to handle them without destroying them. (We try to avoid meltdowns at all costs around here!) You don't have to do this step if you don't already own a laminator. Do you have Mod Podge? A coat of that would work just as well. Even if you have none of the above don't fret. If they get ruined you have the saved file on your computer . . . just go reprint!

Another bit of advice if you are using a laminator. Cut the ornaments apart first before you laminate. You will get a better seal than if you laminate and then cut. After laminating trim away excess plastic.

The next step is easy peasy. Just punch a hole in the top center. 

Finally add a hanger for your ornament. I just happened to have some twine and beads that I picked up at the Dollar Store for another project. I added the bead to give it a bit more weight so it would hang better. If you add a bead remember to make your knot large enough that the bead won't come off! (These are for little ones.)

That's it my friends. I hope this inspires your family to do something similar. But let me also add that I am an empty-nester and I had the time to pull all of this together for my kids and grands. If you're a momma of littles trying to do this on your own and find it all overwhelming . . . just stop!

Print out only the schedule and then each night pull that sweet little one into your lap and read the story. That's the important part. The rest will come in time. But remember that the point is to teach your kids what Christmas is all about and it certainly isn't the ornaments . . . it's JESUS!

The Imposter (The Bishop's Family, Book 1) by Suzanne Woods Fisher {Book Review}

The Bishop's Family, Book 1
Contemporary Romance

A heart once deceived should
not be easily fooled again . . .

Katrina Stoltzfus thought she had life and love all figured out: she was going to marry John and live happily ever after. But as her plans crumble before her eyes, she struggles to face an uncertain future. When a widow asks for help starting a new business, Katrina quickly agrees. She needs time to heal her broken heart, to untangle her messy life, to find a purpose.

What she doesn't need is attention from Andy Miller, a farmhand who arrives at the widow's farm just when help is most needed--and who always seems to say the right thing and be in the right place, at the right time. Is Andy for real or too good to be true? She's been deceived once before, and she isn't planning on experiencing it again.

Bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher invites you back to Stoney Ridge for a tale of love, uncertainty, and trusting God to write your story.


My Thoughts

If you've ever been deceived by someone posing as someone they are not then you will instantly relate to Katrina Stoltzfus. Katrina thought that she was about to marry John and begin a life full of love and caring. Much to her dismay those plans changed leaving Katrina hurt, angry, and lacking the ability to trust.

When the opportunity to help her neighbor Thelma she jumped at the chance to get away. Unfortunately Thelma hired a farmhand by the name of Andy Miller. He's handsome and compassionate . . . all the things that irritate Katrina right now. Katrina decides to steer clear of Andy but of course he keeps popping up at just the right time. 

I enjoyed this journey back to Suzanne Woods Fisher's Stoney Ridge. It was nice to get a little glimpse of those familiar faces and catch up with what they have been doing since we last visited. But what I really liked was the story of Katrina's journey from betrayal to trust. Fisher tells the story of learning to trust God with everything, even the tough stuff. He has the ability to use everything, even hurtful things to bring about good in our lives. 

I believe that this is going to be another great series from Fisher. I look forward to hearing more about the old residents of Stoney Ridge and anticipate meeting some new characters as well. If you enjoy contemporary fiction with an Amish flavor definitely check this one out!

My Give Thanks Bible from Zonderkidz {Children's Book Review}

Juvenile Nonfiction / Bible Stories

My Give Thanks Bible includes sixteen beloved stories showing how people in the Bible were thankful for God's great blessings . . . and reminds us that we should be thankful for the blessings in our lives too.

Take a peek inside!

My Thoughts

Thanksgiving is a time when we as a family gather around the table and offer our thanks for the provision that has been bestowed upon us in the past year. Before we eat we go around the table and say what we are thankful for.

In preparation for that it has long been our custom to begin talking with our littles about what Thanksgiving is all about. We read several books aloud about the history of Thanksgiving so that they will understand why we are celebrating. Through all of this we focus on the One we are giving thanks to.

This year we are adding in the My Give Thanks Bible. It has sixteen very simple stories that all point to God and the provision he has made for each of us. For instance the section entitled Food for Five Thousand is taken from John 6:1-14 and it says:
"One day, Jesus was speaking to a crowd of people. They were all very hungry. Jesus blessed five loaves of bread and two fish and shared it with the crowd. Through God's grace, that little bit of food fed more than five thousand people. It was a miracle!"
Then it has a little graphic that says Give Thanks and the following: "Thank you, god, for giving me what I need!" That is the exact message that I want our little ones to retain. From even before the pilgrims until this exact moment all we have has been given to us by our gracious God. He not only has provided shelter, clothing and food but He provided a Savior that we might live eternally.

If you are looking for a way to focus on being thankful with your little ones this is a great book. It is short and sweet so their attention spans won't be tried but it still presses in the truth of Scripture.

The Peanuts Movie Snoopy Flying Ace Game from Wonder Forge {Review & Giveaway}

If your house is like ours the anticipation for the Peanuts Movie is over the top. Right now it is all things Snoopy for the boys at our house. When the Snoopy Flying Ace Game came in the mail you would have thought that we won the lottery.

I was so pleased that the setup was so easy. When you have kids clamoring to play the game you don't need a complicated set of steps to get ready. You literally unfold the game board and center piece and then pop on the top and you're ready to go. Our friends over at TTPM have a wonderful video that explains set up and game play. Take a look.

We played both the normal paced game where you take turns turning over each card and then we also played the fast paced game where everyone turned over cards at the same time. The slower pace was great when the younger ones were playing but the fast paced version was perfect for the older kids and the adults. 

The only drawback for us is that it is a four person game. We now have six kiddos among us so we had to get a bit creative in our diversionary tactics. But other than that this was a big hit at our house. If you are looking for a new game for your kids for the coming holidays and cold winter nights you can't go wrong with this one. 

The suggested age is 4+ which I agree with. The child needs to be able to have the motor skills to turn cards over one by one and have the cognitive skills to recognize matching cards. Our three-year-old played with an adult using the slower paced style and it worked fine. (I think the older ones secretly rejoiced when he grew bored with the activity and they could ramp up to the faced paced version!)

Now . . . how about a GIVEAWAY?!! We loved the Peanuts Movie Snoopy Flying Ace Game so much that we wanted to make a way for one of our readers to get their own copy. To do that we have partnered with Wonder Forge to give one of our readers a The Peanuts Movie Snoopy Flying Ace Game so they can enjoy it with their own family.

The giveaway is open to U.S. residents and will run through midnight on Friday, December 4, 2015. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. The winner will be contacted by email and will have forty-eight hours to claim the prize. If unclaimed, a new winner will be drawn. The winners’ entries will be verified. Please enter the contest using the Giveaway Tools form below. All entries are optional.

Amish Christmas at North Star by Cindy Woodsmall, Mindy Starns Clark and Emily Clark, Amanda Flower, and Katie Ganshert {Review & Giveaway}

Cindy Woodsmall, Mindy Starns Clark and Emily Clark,
Amanda Flower, and Katie Ganshert
Contemporary Fiction / Amish

One night four lives entered the world by the hands of an Amish midwife on the edge of North Star, Pennsylvania. Rebekah's Babies, as they are called, are now adults, and in four heartwarming novellas each person experiences a journey of discovery, the possibility of love, and the wonder of Christmas.

Guiding Star by Katie Ganshert
Curiosity gets the best of Englischer Chase Wellington when he investigates the twenty-five-year-old disappearance of an Amish baby. When he finds adventurous Elle McAllister in Iowa, will his revelations upend her world?

Mourning Star by Amanda Flower
Eden Hochstetler slips from her parents' shop to investigate the death of her friend Isaac. Who is guilty? Isaac's handsome great-nephew Jesse, an angry Englischer, or someone else?

In the Stars by Cindy Woodsmall
Heartbroken Kore Detweiler avoids North Star after Savilla Beiler rejects his love. But when he is unexpectedly called home, he and Savilla must join forces to keep a family together.

Star of Grace by Mindy Starns Clark and Emily Clark
Andy Danner left North Star to join a new Amish settlement in Mississippi. His little brother devises a scheme to bring Andy home for Christmas and unwittingly unleashes the power of forgiveness in a reclusive widower's life.


My Thoughts

I usually skip over novellas but at Christmastime I devour them. Some people love Christmas movies, I love Christmas novellas. It's such a treat to snuggle up in the evening with a quick read. Amish Christmas at North Star is an even bigger bonus because it includes four novellas in one book.

Katie Ganshert sets the stage with the backstory of a cold and snowy night when four babies were born by the hands of an Amish midwife named Rebekah Schlabach. The circumstances were so unusual that the new little ones were forever dubbed "Rebekah's Babies".

The novellas then take up the individual stories of the babies twenty-five years later. What I really enjoyed about each story was that the author's personal style shined through. For instance Amanda Flower writes some really great cozy mysteries and her story in the book includes a bit of mystery along with the theme.

All of the authors are some of my personal favorites so I don't think that I could really choose a favorite story among them. While each of the stories relates to the opening they are also very stand alone. In fact other than the main characters being born on the same night and the central story revolving somewhat around North Star I didn't really find much that connected them until the ending that tied it all together nicely.

This book would make the perfect stocking stuffer for the book lover on your list. You could also pair it with a box of hot chocolate and fuzzy socks and it would become a full fledged present. Whatever you decide you can't go wrong with this group of writers.

Now . . . how about a GIVEAWAY?!! We loved Amish Christmas at North Star so much that we wanted to make a way for one of our readers to get their own copy. To do that we have partnered with Family Christian Stores to give one of our readers a $25 Appreciation Certificate so they can purchase the book or anything else they would like either online or in store.

The giveaway is open to U.S. residents and will run through midnight on Wednesday, December 2, 2015. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. The winner will be contacted by email and will have forty-eight hours to claim the prize. If unclaimed, a new winner will be drawn. The winners’ entries will be verified. Please enter the contest using the Giveaway Tools form below. All entries are optional.

Summer Infant Pop N Play Portable Playard {Baby Product Review}

With the holidays fast approaching and my third child recently learning how to crawl I wanted to try out Summer Infants Pop 'N Play Portable Playard. I was looking for something to safely contain baby bear but still allow him to play freely within boundaries! Yes, some may call this baby jail but I promise you it is not being used as a punishment. Our sweet boy gets to play and momma gets a break from constantly removing him from unsafe situations.

Now this is not your traditional play yard. The Pop 'N Play is made for travel. As the name implies you just Pop it open and slide clips into place and baby is ready to play or nap. When it's time to go just simply slid the clips out of place and fold! It comes with a travel bag that can easily be carried over your shoulder. Think about how camping chairs work and you'll get the concept.

Not only does baby bear love it, his three-year-old brother does too. At first I wasn't so sure about this but shortly I realized that if both the three-year-old and baby bear were together then mischief was easily contained! Can we say #MOMWIN ?!!

Since this play yard is so light weight and made to fold compactly it does not have a padded floor. That could make nap time a little uncomfortable so we solve that by laying a quilt down for napping. For whatever reason baby bear sleeps better in this than his crib!

I really do not like to impose on others but with the holidays I need a way to keep my baby safe from all the decorations. At our own house we can easily make sure that happens. However, I cannot expect family and friends to have a baby proof house. This is my main reason why the Pop 'N Play would be a great staple for every family, you can have a safe spot to nap and play at anyone's home without imposing!

Honestly, going anywhere is hard on baby but with the Pop 'N Play the last thing to worry about is how baby will be safe during the holidays! Our family gives the Summer Infant Pop 'N Play 5 out 5 stars.

I cannot wait until summer to take this playard camping and picnicking! Please, consider following us on Instagram to see more photos of the Pop 'N Play fitting in with our daily life.

Also, connecting with Summer Infant on their social media outlets Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube could lead to some great coupons and giveaways so be sure to follow! As always if you have any questions I will gladly answer in the comments below or on our social media channels.

The Summer Infant Pop 'N Play Portable Playard can be purchased at Lowes, Amazon, Babies R US, and Target!

25 Questions You're Afraid To Ask About Love, Sex, and Intimacy by Dr. Juli Slattery {Review & Giveaway}

Christian Living / Relationships / Sexuality

Is _____ OKAY in the BEDROOM?
If I'm SINGLE, how FAR is TOO FAR?
How do I get PAST my SHAME?

Whether you are married or single, having great sex
or no sex, your sexuality is inseparable from your spirituality.
Sadly, most churches are silent on the subject.

Dr. Juli Slattery is breaking the silence.

In 25 Questions You're Afraid to Ask about Love, Sex, and Intimacy, she tackles the most common and critical questions women ask her about sexuality. Candid, wise, and practically minded, Dr. Slattery addresses sexual abuse, pornography, betrayal in marriage, intimacy in the bedroom, singleness, and more, calling women to think biblically about all areas of their sexuality.


My Thoughts

That title caught my attention, and if you're reading this it obviously caught your attention too. Sexuality is all around us but unfortunately it is mostly exploited. So what is right and good and healthy for you as a Christian woman whether you are married or single.

Dr. Juli Slattery dives head first into all of those questions that we have but are too afraid to ask. It is a small book but the questions are deep and the answers even deeper. I appreciated the candor with which Juli answered the questions about subjects like masturbation, temptations, and adventurous activities. I cannot honestly think where else I would be able to get such Godly counsel on these topics. There are many voices out there saying do it, do it, do it, but Juli presents the subject from a biblical perspective that brings freedom rather than shame. By the end of the book I can almost guarantee that you will see sex as the beautiful gift that God intended it to be.  

I'm an introvert by nature and I have to be honest and say that there is no way that I would ever purchase this book in a bookstore or check it out at the library. Instead I'd read it in an obscure aisle with something hiding the cover! Thanks to online shopping or e-reader downloads I can obtain and read this book without worry. 

I can't recommend this book highly enough for every woman. It will leave you with a sense of peace as well as longing for this beautiful gift of God.

Now . . . how about a GIVEAWAY for a chance to get your hands on this lovely book for yourself? We loved 25 Questions You're Afraid to Ask About Love, Sex, and Intimacy so much that we wanted to make a way for one of our readers to get their own copies. To do that we have partnered with Authentic Intimacy to give one of our readers a copy of the book!

The giveaway is open to U.S. residents and will run through midnight on Monday, November 30, 2015. You must be at least 18 years old to enter. The winner will be contacted by email and will have forty-eight hours to claim the prize. If unclaimed, a new winner will be drawn. The winners’ entries will be verified. Please enter the contest using the Giveaway Tools form below. All entries are optional.

On This Foundation (The Restoration Chronicles, Book 3) by Lynn Austin {Historical Fiction Review}

The Restoration Chronicles, Book 3
Historical Fiction / Biblical Fiction

Stone by Stone,
the Wall Will Rise Once More
Around God's City

When news reaches him that Jerusalem's wall is shattered and its gates burned with fire, a distraught Nehemiah seeks God's guidance in fasting and prayer. Granted an unexpected leave from his duty as cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes, Nehemiah sets out for Jerusalem to rebuild the city wall--never anticipating all the dangers that await him on his arrival.

The leaders of the surrounding nations become his fierce enemies, plotting to assassinate him and stop the wall's reconstruction forever. A drought, meanwhile, has left the country impoverished, with many families resorting to selling their children as bondservants just to keep from starving.

Capturing the rebuilding of the wall through the eyes of a number of characters, On This Foundation is the powerful conclusion to The Restoration Chronicles. This exploration of faith in the midst of oppression offers hope that, in spite of appearances, the gracious hand of God is upon those who believe.


My Thoughts

Do you know how I can tell an historical book is good? I know it's good when I'm very familiar with the story being told and yet I continue to eagerly read to find out what is going to happen as if I didn't know the outcome. That is exactly what I did with On This Foundation.

On This Foundation is the story of Nehemiah and the rebuilding of the wall around Jerusalem. I grew up reading my Bible and going to Sunday School so I cannot possibly tell you the amount of times that I have read the story of Nehemiah. Let's just say it is enough to be pretty familiar with the account.

Reading Lynn Austin's fictionalized version was like having dessert after dinner. She took the bones of the story and fleshed it out with added storylines that we only get a glancing view of in the Bible. She did a masterful job at sticking to the Biblical account while adding in narrative and content that would enhance the story but not take anything away from it.

I've enjoyed Lynn's writing across the different genres but it is my hope that she will delve into more Biblical fiction stories because she did such a wonderful job with this series. While each of the books in the series are considered stand alone titles don't cheat yourself by not going back and reading the previous two in the series. You'll be glad that you did.

Connect With The Author

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