Tuesday, August 27, 2013

New Site!

Hey Everyone!

Check out my latest posts over at my new website www.jaimiebowman.com:

Can't wait to see you over there!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I'm Moving!

Please visit my new website over at Jaimiebowman.com, and enter to win a copy of Melanie Shankle's book "Sparkly Green Earrings"!  

I will keep The Wonder Years up and running for product reviews, recipes and other helpful information, but you can find me blogging regularly over at the new site. Stop by and let me know what you think!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Summer Vacation: Destination Yosemite

(This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are my own)

I admit it - I'm a bit high-maintenance when it comes to family vacations - namely, camping.

I grew up camping with my family, and each year I have a yearning in my bones to be in nature for awhile.  I love sleeping under the sequoias or redwoods- in a tent, of course- and smelling the fresh air and trees.   The experience was only sweetened after we had kids, and now camping is our boys' favorite thing to do - ever.

One day we hope to own a camper or RV, but for now we use a plain ole' tent.  We cook our meals and do our dishes outside, and sometimes even have a visitor come by:

There are a few things I need to make camping enjoyable for me that my boys could probably do without.  I need a nice air mattress to sleep on. I need some way to take a shower.  I need a tent big enough to move around in (enter our 10 man tent):

But one of the things that makes camping more enjoyable for all of us is when we rent a vehicle that is big enough to hold all of our stuff.

Let me back up:  we own two cars that are on the smaller side. We don't have car payments.  Our cars are not new, and likely need some major repairs - so taking a 7-8 hour roadtrip in one of our vehicles makes me a little nervous.

Last year we went to Yosemite and rented an SUV from Hertz.  It was a beautiful GMC Acadia, and I fell in love with it. While we drove through 107 degree heat, our vehicle kept us at a cool 73 degrees the whole way.  We invested some money in that rental, and probably could have stayed in a hotel for 2 nights for the cost of it, but it was so worth it.

This year we knew we wanted to rent another SUV for our trip to Yosemite. We had a lot of camping gear and also wanted to take our bikes with us.  Our current car would not accommodate my high-maintenance camping needs (i.e. the shower, the camping cots, the two air mattresses - you know, in case one went flat, etc...)  I reached out to Hertz and let them know that we were interested in renting from them again, and they once again gave us a GREAT rate.

Did you know that you can find online codes to save money through Hertz?  You can also save money through them if you are an AAA member.  They also have a "Pay Now" option that saves you even more money!

Within 20 minutes of arriving at our local Hertz office, we were driving away in a beautiful Chevy Equinox.  The car was in mint condition and allowed us to thoroughly enjoy our long drive.  We had no problems with the car, but if we did, Hertz offers roadside assistance.

When it was time to return our car, it was a holiday weekend and there was a long line ahead of me.  My Hertz local office allowed me to drop my key off with no hassle, and I was out of the office in 2 minutes.

If you are considering going on a vacation soon, don't hesitate to contact Hertz for your rental car needs. They are one of the easier and most reasonably priced rental companies I have worked with.
I'd like to personally thank Amanda Solch from the Hertz Corporation for all of her help, as well as my local Hertz office in Torrance.

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a sponsored post. This means that I received goods, services, or discounts on products in exchange for an honest review. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”,

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Is God Good?

It was February of 2002, and I was having an argument with God.  You see, my husband felt that God was calling us to a new city to live and to minister, but I didn't want to go.  I dug my heels in and tried to run the other direction.  The way He was leading us did not seem good enough to me, and the other way looked much, much more appealing.  I begged God not to make me go.

It was late that night, about 10pm, and I escaped from our tiny apartment and the heated discussions about this potential move, and drove to my office.  I cried on the way; I prayed, "God, please show me what to do. I don't want to go; please don't make me."  I parked in the empty parking lot of my office building and walked inside. Nobody was there, it was eerily quiet. I walked to my desk, and a post-it note was sitting there - right in the middle where I couldn't miss it.

"I would have lost heart unless I had believed that I would see 
the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."  Psalm 27

I knew who left it - it was the handwriting of my student worker.  She didn't know what I was going through; what huge life-changing decision was before me.  Yet the minute I saw that note, I knew what God was telling me to do: Go.  I drove back home and told my husband that I knew what we were supposed to do (what he knew all along).

Even though I knew what God was saying, I still fought and kicked and tried to run.  We made the move, and I struggled.  I didn't feel God's goodness; in fact, I felt like He left me there to die.  The job I was offered - it was rough.  I dreaded going to work.  I was lonely. The neighborhood we lived in was not what I had pictured.  The church we were in - I felt like my husband's shadow, like a nobody.

That post-it note stayed in my Bible, but I learned to turn past it, to pretend it wasn't there. God's goodness?  Yeah right.  He had forgotten about me.

Six years and two children later, we made another big move. We moved into a better neighborhood, a nicer home, and things began to change. I started to emerge from the valley I had been lost in.  We moved on my birthday, and my new house was filled with over 30 people singing their hearts out and welcoming us into our new home.

We moved into this house 4 years ago today. Today I saw that post-it note in my Bible, the one that I had learned to flip right by because I didn't really believe it.

And I remembered.  I remembered that maybe God had not forgotten about me, even though I felt that way... that it was a long and hard season, but He was there the whole time.

Today was the day I also came across a new song by Audrey Assad, and as I listened to it, I was hit hard.  Please take a moment to listen to this and see why:

I do know the answer to that question, "Is God Good?" And I'm so sorry I ever doubted.  It was just a season, but He is still good.

He is good enough to remind me of this, on my 37th birthday, on the anniversary of the day we moved into this house - another gift from Him - that He never forgot about me...

And He has not forgotten about you either.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Summer is Here: Now What?

When my boys were smaller and I stayed at home with them, I would hear the distant groans of mothers everywhere when summer was approaching. "What am I going to do with them all day?" they would say.  "Please, someone, get me a coffee!" or "Calgon take me away!"  I would roll my eyes and think, "Oh brother, I stay at home with my kids all day every day!  If I only had them for a summer I would love it!"

Now that I am in the post-toddler stage, I understand.  When it comes time for the kids to go to school and you have your days back (well, technically, since many of us work during those hours) and you can hear silence once again, you begin to cherish every moment of it.

Moms who I judged, I'm sorry.  I get it now.

Now, only a few short hours into our summer vacation, I'm moaning too, moms.  I am already being pulled away by whining and arguing and tattling and crankiness every two seconds.  I think everyone woke up on the wrong side of the bed on the first day of summer.

For weeks I've been scouring Pinterest boards looking for chore charts, summer activities and more.  "This summer I'll have a plan!" I thought, only the first day of summer came, and I hadn't planned a thing.  Then I realized that summer for moms is like the school year for teachers; if we don't have a plan for the day, chaos may actually ensue.  I have to go into my summer days with the fervor of a first-year teacher planning every half-hour for her students.  "But I want to relax!  I don't want to plan!  I want to just have fun!" I think.  Yet every time I try that approach, the kids freak out because they don't know what to do with themselves.

At the same time, I do believe that boredom is good for kids and we don't need to entertain them all day.  That is why I try to implement a "planned relaxation" approach to summer.

So, here is my idea for our planned- yet relaxing and fun- summer:

- The Night Before: Take 20 minutes to plan out the next day.  Write it down for everyone to know what to expect. It doesn't have to be a rigid schedule, but just a few things planned out so we can all be on the same page.

- Every morning: After breakfast, we are going to spend 10 minutes reading a Bible story and talking about what it means.  We are starting with the Jesus Bible Storybook (affiliate link).  I'm also having the boys memorize one Scripture a week for 8 weeks, and I found printables for that here.

- Chores: We are (finally) starting to implement chores. I'm a little late to the game, but it was tough to enforce this during the school year.  I chose to make the magnetic chore chart from a cookie pan, and their incentive will be $1.00 a week.  (Shhh..I know, it's like slave labor for that rate, but they are excited to just be getting money!)

- TV Time: We're also doing something new this summer - the boys have to earn their TV time by reading books, minute for minute.  The most they can earn a day is 60 minutes each. I know that's a lot (2 hours of TV a day), but there will be many days we'll be out of the house anyway. Read this brilliant post for more on that topic.

- Media Time: The boys are always asking to play the Wii, Kindle, my Iphone or the Computer during the summer. They have to earn that time, too, by completing educational worksheets. I ordered the Scholastic Summer Express books for the boys, which help prepare them for the next year at school. There are only 2 worksheets a day, so they are earning 10 minutes per worksheet, for 20 minutes a day of media time.

I know it seems like a lot to keep track of.  I use as a whiteboard in the kitchen to keep track of the minutes, and it is simple and works great.  I've realized that if I don't keep track of their TV and Media minutes like this, they can easily get out of hand, and then they're watching TV or playing video games all day.

We usually try to go somewhere 3 days a week, with the rest of the time being at home.  We set up a small pool in the backyard and it keeps them occupied for hours.  Last year I made a summer bucket list which went over well, so we're probably going to do that again too.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on all of this - what do you do to stay sane during the summer? What have you found that works for you?  Please share your tips and ideas below.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Wrecked {My Story}

A few weeks ago I started listening to an audio book by Jeff Goins called Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life.  In the book, he shares story after story of people whose lives were wrecked by God when they encountered a need that was greater than their ability to fill.  As I was listening, I was struck by the reality that my life is indeed very comfortable, and I have not been wrecked about anything in particular for quite a long time.  Sure, I am upset about injustices in the world, deeply desire to minister to hurting people, and am continually praying for opportunities to reach those in need.  But overall, I live a pretty comfy, cozy life in my upper-middle-class neighborhood, where the majority of issues lie hidden under the surface around us.

That is, until I read an article in our daily newspaper recently.  The article exposed the plight of the foster care system in our city, stating that last month alone, 55 children were taken out of their homes due to abuse or neglect, and there was not one open foster home in the entire city to take a child in. Because there is no facility in Torrance for them to stay in, these children are taken to a shelter in downtown Los Angeles to spend the night, many times without any comfort items from home.  Around 9am in the morning, they are shuttled back to the Department of Children and Family Services office in Torrance, where they sit in an office building waiting to hear if they'll have a house to sleep in that night. By 4pm, if a place has not been found for them, they are transported back to downtown LA for another night in the shelter. This goes on and on for these children, ranging in ages from newborns to teenagers.  These babies and children are from our neighborhoods, our schools, our churches - and they are being taken to new cities to stay, away from everything and everyone they know.

So where are all of the foster families?  That is the mystery and the problem that the DCFS is now trying to solve.

Last night I went to an informational meeting that arose out of the response from this newspaper article. Apparently so many people called in for more information that they scheduled this impromptu meeting. Expecting the room to be packed with people, I arrived early.  About 10-15 people showed up.  I could hear whispers, "Where is everybody?" and "I thought more people would be here."  I was wondering those things, too.

There were about 10 community leaders presenting at the meeting, from a local councilman to representatives from two foster family agencies, to DCFS employees.  Each of them reiterated this urgent need for foster families.  They were pleading with the people of Torrance to sign up and fill this need.

One of the women speaking shared her perspective of watching the many, many babies come into the office with nowhere to go, no one who would take them in.  She shared about all of the kids who round-up at 4pm, whose names were not called during the day because a home was not found for them, having to get back on the bus to head back to the shelter. She asked, "Do those kids have pajamas? Is anyone helping them brush their teeth?  Is anyone tucking them in?" and I felt a lump in my throat.  I thought of my own two boys, ages 6 and 8, and how lost they would feel in that type of environment.

Afterwards I spoke to many of the leaders in the room. I wanted to ask what was required to be a foster parent.  I also felt led to ask the woman from our local office about help they may need.  I asked, "Who is playing with these kids during the day?  What are they doing in the office?  Is there any way that my church could help somehow?"  She said that yes, they are in need of volunteers at the local office and this is one way we could help.

She shared other ways that we can help:

1) Be a temporary home - provide shelter for a child for up to 21 days while they search for a foster home.

2) Provide respite care - get certified to take a foster child in for a weekend or up to a week while their foster family goes out of town (foster children have to stay in town, so sometimes their foster families are unable to get a break).

3) Sign up for the Covenants for Kids program - these are volunteers who give foster children rides to church each Sunday, and then take them home.

4) Volunteer in other ways - this is where I am feeling led to step in - to coordinate volunteers from local churches to provide help at the local office during the day, while the children are waiting for placement. The downtown LA shelter is also in need of volunteers to hold babies, play with kids, and comfort them.  We can also make overnight packs for the kids, with a toothbrush, stuffed animal, coloring books, and more.

5) Sign up to be a foster family.  The DCFS' goal is to reunite foster children with their families within one year. That does not always happen, but you might be able to provide a loving home to a child who would otherwise be staying at a shelter or sent to another city to live.

What I realized in this meeting was that this is like a modern-day orphanage.  Yes, it's important to serve in missions and go minister in orphanages all over the world - but we have this need, right here, right now, in our own backyard.

The councilman who spoke at the meeting shared that his goal is to get one foster home open for every school in the city (there are 30 of them). But what if we were able to get one foster home open for every church in the city?  I don't know how many churches there are, but I would bet there are over 50.

My husband and I are seriously praying about what to do with all of this information we received.  Part of that prayer is for a possible change in our housing situation so that we could have a bedroom for a foster child. We would also need a bigger vehicle, as ours does not accommodate three car seats.  In the meantime, I feel like my role is to get the word out and to volunteer in the way that I can.

You might just say that my heart is being wrecked.  This is the beginning of the journey. Please follow along and pray about how you might respond to this need as well.  These children need us.

If you don't live in Torrance, I am sure this is a need in your city as well. Please contact your local DCFS to find out how you can help. If you are local and would like to get involved, contact me and I will send you the information you need.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Legoland Hotel Fun!

When we visited Legoland earlier this year, we noticed the new Legoland Hotel being built and knew we wanted to stay there. My boys are obsessed with all things Lego and play with them for hours every day.  I really believe that Legos help build their fine motor skills and help them with their brain development; the things they create and engineer are amazing.  So, not only do the boys love Legos, but mommy and daddy love them too.

I booked our hotel room online and got an excellent rate, due to the fact that we were staying right before the summer season began.  The prices literally doubled two days later.  I have not found any current promotions for the Legoland Hotel, likely because it is brand new, but you can easily find cheaper rates by clicking the box that says "Are your dates flexible?"  That will show you the varying prices you can choose from.

We checked in on Memorial Day and entered the lobby area - which was beyond amazing.  Seriously - I think our mouths all dropped open. The amount of creativity that went into that lobby was incredible.  There is a huge area for the kids to play with Lego's while the parents check in.  There is also a giant pirate ship, right in the lobby area, which is a play structure with more areas for kids to play with Legos. The best part?  Right across from the pirate ship is a coffee shop and cafe where the parents can sit and watch their kids. Brilliant! While we waited for our room to open up, I ordered a vanilla latte and sipped by coffee while watching the kids play.

We arrived early (around 2pm), and check in was not until 4pm, so we had quite awhile to play.  The hotel is adjacent to Legoland and the Aquarium, so we were able to walk outside and look around while waiting too (you do still have to have a ticket to get in to the parks, though). They even let us use the pool while we were waiting!

Because we were checking in on such a busy holiday, our room was not ready until 5:30pm.  However, the manager was walking through the lobby and spotted me, and asked if he could help with anything.  I told him we had been waiting awhile, and he immediately helped us and got us into our room (and gave us a room discount for waiting). Incredible service - I was impressed.

When you walk through the hotel, the carpet is even patterned with Legos.

Accidental shot, but this is the carpet!
The elevator?  Awesome.  You walk in, and when the doors shut, a disco ball starts spinning and disco music starts playing.  Such a fun surprise!  I tried to upload my own video but youtube was having issues, but this one is way better than mine anyway:

We reserved an Adventure Themed Room, but there are 3 themed rooms you can choose from: Pirate, Adventure, and Kingdom.  Every standard room looks like a suite - the kids have their own room with a bunkbed and pull-out trundle, and their own television, and the parents have a separate room.  The boys were so excited (and we were too)!  Premium themed rooms are also available, which are even more incredible!  Our room decor did look different than the pictures online, but was still great.

Upon entering the room, you find a safe and a treasure map helping you decode the combination. Inside is a special treat for your kids!  Each room also comes with a bucket of Legos for the kids to play with (which you leave there). Every night there is a Lego building contest in the lobby, and you can use Legos from all over the hotel to build your creation. That night's contest was to build a boat out of Lego's, so we found many kids running around collecting Lego's for their boats.

The hotel also has nightly entertainment, as well as a movie you can watch down at the pool.  You can sit in the pool or sit poolside while watching. So fun!

The view from our room!
The hotel has quite a few dining options to choose from, including Bricks Family Restaurant (an all-you-can-eat buffet), but we chose to save money and go to the nearby Carlsbad Outlets to find dinner.

We found our room to be very clean (everything was also new since they just opened in March), and the service we received from every employee was outstanding (especially Nellie, the concierge).

The Legoland Hotel website has a great interactive tour you can take to see more of their features.  Parking is also free as a hotel guest.

Overall, we would give this hotel a 5 star rating. It was probably the best hotel experience we have ever had!  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask away. Stay tuned for Part 2, where I review Legoland!

(This is a sponsored post, but all opinions are my own. I was not paid for this review but did receive goods or services in exchange for my honest opinion.)