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.)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

5 Pitfalls of Working From Home (and How to Avoid Them)

Before I had kids, I had planned on going back into the workforce at least part-time after having my first son.  Yet after holding him in my arms, and with my maternity leave ending, I started praying for a way to stay home with him.  God opened the door through my brother offering me a job, and I have now worked from home for 7 years as a wedding photo editor.

From the outside looking in, working from home seems like a dream come true.   It is a dream come true in many ways, yet it is not easy and requires constant juggling and balancing to make things work. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to just get a job outside the home and be able to leave the work there at the end of the day.  I have tried that, too, however, and it is not easy at all.  Juggling work from home has been easier for me than juggling childcare outside the home.

The past 7 years have brought me through all the high's and low's of working from home, and I wanted to share with you 5 pitfalls of working from home (things I have experienced), so that it might help you to avoid them.


Pitfall #1 - Ineffective Income Management

If you work from home, chances are you are self-employed, and with that comes very irregular pay periods.  In the wedding business, we have "wedding season" and "off season," and I did not always plan well for those months with almost no income coming in.  It is important that you don't take on new bills (that your income alone is responsible for) which could default during the months you have no income.  It is also just as important to set money aside for the months that work is slower.  Receiving a big paycheck during the busy seasons can be exhilarating, and you can be easily tempted to go make a big purchase or spend it all; but be careful, because those choices may come back later (in the slow season) to haunt you.  Be wise with your money and save during the busy seasons.

Pitfall #2 - Lack of a Set Work Schedule

When you work at all hours of the day and night, constantly being interrupted by emails, phone calls, text messages and more, it can wreak havoc on your family and your personal well-being.  Set a work schedule, in some way or form.  I realize there are some jobs where you are "on call" and this would be hard.  But for the most part, many of us do have a choice in when we work.  I made this mistake for years as a work-from-home mom.  All day and night I was working, checking emails, responding to people - who could have waited until the next business day.  The world will not stop running if you take a break.  Make it very clear the days you work and the days you are off, as well as the times you work and the times you don't work. It is helpful to post it on your office door, or somewhere where your family can see it.  Don't just set a schedule, though - keep to it; otherwise your life will be run by your job, and you will become very stressed out and overwhelmed.

Pitfall #3- Blogger's Butt

It is called "Blogger's Butt" for a reason - it is a joke in the blogging community that sitting for prolonged periods of time writing at your computer can cause your butt to widen and the weight to pile on.  I have it myself, so take it from me.  The past few years of working from home have resulted in me gaining 20 extra pounds.  If you are working from home, especially at a computer, you need to exercise more than probably the average person.  Be sure to take a break in your day (I know it's hard!) to get up and walk, go to the gym, or do an exercise DVD.

It is also easier to snack all day when you work from home, because the kitchen is only steps away.  When you work outside the home, it is easier to be active and only eat on your lunch break.  Be sure to take extra care of your health when working from home, because it is so easy to overlook it.

Pitfall #4 - Little Personal Connection

Working from home also has a little-known side-effect: a lack of personal connection with the outside world.  I'm not talking about connecting with others through social media, because we do that all day long.  I'm talking about getting together with friends in person.  "But I'm too busy!" you say, "I have no time for that!"  I understand- trust me, I do. But you need to get out of your home office and interact with people outside of your home, in person, on a regular basis.  If that means taking your laptop to Starbucks or a public place, do it. But what is even better is to meet up with friends at a park for a playdate (if you have small children at home), go out with a friend during your "off time" (see pitfall #2), have a regular date night with your spouse - anything you can do that gets you out of the house.  Before I realized this pitfall, there were sometimes entire weeks where I would go with no contact with anyone other than my husband, my son, and saying hello quickly to people on Sunday mornings at church.  Be intentional about staying in real-life relationships with people and not just resorting to contact through social media.

Pitfall #5 - Your Family Feeling Left Out

Before my children were in school all day, I had to work many times during the day while they were home with me. I did not have the resources to pay for childcare while I was working, so many times I would get work done while they were playing.  This isn't bad per-say, but because I had set no boundaries with my work, they never knew when I was working and when I wasn't. They were confused, and there were many frustrating days where I couldn't get anything done because they were pulling my arms off the keyboard.  Instead of having a few set hours where I was working uninterrupted (even if it was while they were sleeping), I was trying to work all day long but getting constantly interrupted.  My kids were upset with me, I was upset with them, and we were all frustrated because there was no quality time being had.

Looking back I realize now that if I had just given them my undivided attention for periods throughout the day, things would have gone so much smoother. Instead, I was trying to mother and work while constantly getting pulled away from both.  How much nicer things could have been if I would have strived for doing one thing well at a time (even if it didn't always happen).

Now that my boys are in school, I try very hard to get all of my work done by the time they get home from school.  Yet it is still hard to turn off the computer and shut the office door during the rest of the day when they are home.  When you work from home, you feel like your work is never done and if you could just get ahead a little bit more, tomorrow would be so much easier.  But remember that your work is never more important than your family, and your children need you more.

The pitfall I struggle with the most right now is #2 - I'm still trying hard to set a work schedule for myself that allows me to get everything done while they are gone, yet still keep the house clean and run all of my weekly errands.

Working from home is rarely done perfectly, but I hope the things I shared can help you avoid some of the pifalls that I have fallen into.

If you work from home, what pitfall do you struggle with the most?  Are there any other pitfalls that you would add?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Dear Jaden (Age 6)

Dear Jaden,

This past week you turned 6 years old.  I keep calling you "baby".... sorry about that.  You will, though, always be my baby.

You flew through Kindergarten this year, making a ton of friends along the way.  We are so thankful that you had an easy and fun year, and I cannot believe it's almost over.

You are still the cuddler in the family - you love to sit on laps, be hugged, be held, and climb into our bed - every. single. night.  But when you wrap your arms around my neck and lay between us, we smile and let you stay, because we know you are growing fast and you won't be there forever.

One of your favorite things to do is make people laugh (although it does get you in trouble sometimes). Whether you are sticking your booty out and dancing, singing "Hey, suxy lady" (that is how you say it), or singing funny songs - you are a silly boy.

You are also very sensitive and have a very soft heart. Words affect you deeply, as does a loud voice, and we have found that the best approach with you is to be gentle and patient.  When your feelings are hurt, it can affect you all day, and it takes a lot of hugs and reassurances to help you smile again.  That shows us that you are deep, and your love for others is just as deep, too.

We are proud of the boy you are becoming, and the life and joy you bring to our family.  Your innocence is inspiring, your wonder at the world makes us stop and breathe it all in.  When you find a roly-poly and yell, "Mom, I found another Jaden-poly!" or when you see a bird outside and say, "I named him Blackie!" or when you see a friend crying and go to comfort him, we see your heart.

When you are 16 or 36 and want to remember who you were at age 6, here are a few of your favorite things:

Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite sport: Basketball
Favorite thing to do at school:  Play
Favorite color: Green
Favorite toy: Beyblades
Favorite fruit: Strawberry
Favorite TV show/ cartoon: Lego Chima
Favorite thing to eat for lunch: sandwiches (peanut butter & jelly)
Favorite clothing item: My taco shirt
Favorite thing to fall asleep with:  My dolphin pillow pet
Favorite book: Chima
Favorite game: Lego.com
Favorite animal: cheetah
Favorite song:  Gangnam Style (seriously??)
Favorite snack: Apples
Best friend: Austin
Favorite cereal:  Lucky Charms
Favorite thing to do outside: Play basketball
Favorite drink: Orange Juice
Favorite holiday: Christmas
Favorite place to visit: Legoland
Favorite Bible story: Moses & the Ten Commandments
What do you want to be when you grow up? Police man
What do you love about our family? They are nice to me
Favorite thing to do with mommy: Play basketball
Favorite thing to do with daddy: Going to 7-11 with him to get Slurpees
Favorite thing to do with Micah: Play Legos

We love you!

Read last year's post:  A letter to my 5 year old

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Blogger Interview: Renee Fisher

Earlier this year I had a desire to interview other writers and bloggers every month to learn more about them and highlight their books and ministries.  Even in the preparation for this series, I have been so encouraged by their stories.  I can't wait to continue sharing them with you.

In March I interviewed Christin Slade, a blogger and author who is in the process of adopting two girls in Kenya, in addition to raising and homeschooling her 5 children.

This month I'd like to introduce you to Renee Fisher, an author and speaker whom I met at the Re:Write Conference last October.

The first thing that struck me about Renee was her fun and loving spirit.  I had the pleasure of working with her at the conference, and she was constantly networking other people and encouraging them.  When she approached me a few months later to start guest posting regularly for her at DevotionalDiva.com, I was more than honored.

Let's meet Renee!

1) Please tell us about yourself.
My name is Renee Fisher and I am happily married to my best friend Marc. After being single for over a decade, I welcome the new challenges and comforts of marriage. While I was single, I completed my college education through Biola University and wrote a couple books.

2) How did you get started writing? 

I got my start in writing by working at Good News, Etc., Newspaper based in North San Diego County. I was their office clerk and eventually got promoted to their monthly Music Column. My first interview was with Switchfoot because I had recently taken a History of Rock and Roll class. Through that, God opened up my heart to see that all my years of journal writing were not just for Him and me, but to be shared with others. That's also around the time I started blogging. 

3) Can you tell us about the books you have written, and which one is your personal favorite?

My first book, Faithbook of Jesus: Connecting with Jesus Daily is a one year devotional book and is a compilation of all my devotionals that I blogged over six years. It was so fun to rewrite and edit them and realize that God didn't waste a single word--even when I thought it was just a hobby. The second book I wrote, Not Another Dating Book was written to encourage my friends and I. After feeling like I would be single forever is when God brought Marc into my life, and in the midst of dating I ended up re-writing most of the book because (shocker) I had become much more bitter than I thought. My next two books I finished after we got married.  Loves Me Not just released, and Forgiving Others, Forgiving Me releases in July. Both written about heartbreak and the process of learning how to forgive others including yourself. 

4) What are some of the life experiences that have shaped who you are today?

When I was a young girl I developed general anxiety disorder and that taught me how to pray through my thoughts and all the lies the enemy made me to believe. Then in high school I developed severe eczema out of the blue, which took the skin off the top of my feet and face. I ended up in San Diego Children's Hospital and through that ordeal took another six years for my skin and body to fully recover, not to mention the 100 pounds I gained from taking Prednisone for my eczema. THAT is when I began reading the Bible daily and journaling at the age of 15. If I were to show you all my journals, and stack them on top of each other--would probably be over four feet!!

5) What message are you most passionate about sharing with others?
I am most passionate about sharing Christ with others and how they can have a daily (devotional) relationship with Him. This is something I believe is not only very important but saved my life, and kept me from committing suicide when my health made me feel like things were hopeless. Secondly, I am passionate about sharing my love story and how God can redeem our stories through a closer relationship with Him.
6) Can you tell us about one of the best speaking experiences you've ever had?
The BEST speaking experience I ever had was in Dallas, TX for Bishop T.D. Jake's church Potters House. I spoke to the young adult group called Brick House and I shared my testimony of faith and healing and got a standing ovation. I think I was only one of three white people in the room and have never felt God's presence (and energy) more powerfully than I ever have on that day!


Renee has been a constant encouragement to me in my own writing and speaking career.  If you would like to connect with her, be sure to check out her webpage and Facebook page. You can be filled with encouragement at DevotionalDiva.com, and check out the articles she's written for Relevant Magazine, Start Marriage Right, FaithLifeWomen, IBelieve.com, and more!

Renee also leads the QuarterLife Conference for twenty-and-thirty-somethings, which is a FREE online conference with a great lineup of speakers.

You can also contact her if you are interested in booking her to speak at your church, or click on any of the links above to purchase any of her books.

Thank you, Renee, for sharing your life and heart with us!!  

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

5 Free Things To Do in the South Bay

I have been blessed to live in the South Bay area of Los Angeles county for the past 11 years. The South Bay area is comprised of Torrance, Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach, Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes, San Pedro, and many of the other cities joined to ours.  We are about 15 minutes north of Long Beach, and but south of the city of Los Angeles.

As Wikipedia states, "The South Bay is one of the most culturally, economically, and ethnically diverse areas in the United States, with a largely even distribution of the population across African, Asian/Pacific Islander, European and Latino ancestry." You will never be at a loss to find many Japanese restaurants, Hawaiian food (the main factory for King's Hawaiian bread is here), and other ethnic cuisines.

If you already live in the South Bay area of Los Angeles or are visiting soon, I want to share with you 5 places that you can visit for FREE.  All of them are places that locals told me about, and I'm so glad we went.

1) Terranea Resort.  Although Terranea is a beautiful hotel & golf course, they have their own private beach that the public can visit.  Parking is free, and you can follow the path down to an area with nice bathrooms and picnic benches with an amazing view of the ocean.  We have seen dolphins and whales from that vantage point many times. Follow the path a little further down and you will find the private beach. Although it is rocky and not the best place to swim, it is a great spot for kids to explore, throw rocks in the ocean, or just play in the sandy area above the rocks.  There are also some great places to eat on the property, including Nelsons.

2)  South Coast Botanical Gardens.  On the third Tuesday of every month, you can bring your family to the gardens for free admission.  This place is HUGE with a giant lake, a children's garden, tons of nature and many places to explore.  Pack a lunch and bring a picnic blanket, and plan on spending a few hours here.  Right now there is a Groupon available with 50% off a family pass, making it only $25 for a years admission!

3) The Roundhouse Aquarium.  Located right at the end of the Manhattan Beach Pier, this aquarium only takes donations for entrance. It is a small, two-story aquarium with a good selection of fish for kids to see and touch.


4) Hopkins Wilderness Park.  This is a beautiful campground and park nestled within the city of Redondo Beach.  You can see small wildlife and feed the ducks.  There are two ponds, and the pond at the far end of the park has a ton of turtles. Just be careful with your little ones; my son bent over to see the turtles and fell head-first into the pond when he was two!  (Note that they are closed on Wednesdays)


5) The Sea Lab in Redondo Beach.  This spot is almost free - only $4 requested donation per family.  Be sure to bring quarters for the metered parking outside, too.  The Sea Lab is an educational aquarium.  My son's class took a field trip here and they had so much fun.  There are a ton of tanks, both inside and outside, of fish local to our area.  Be sure to take one of the guided tours where you will be able to get up close and personal with many of the fish.  Make a day of it and bring a sack lunch to eat on the sand afterwards - the Sea Lab is located right next to the water.

I hope you get a chance to visit the South Bay someday; after all, we are only 20 minutes south of the LA Airport, and on your way to Disneyland!

If you are from this area, what other "hidden gems" in the South Bay would you recommend visiting?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things

Oprah did it, now Ellen's doing it, so I thought I should jump in too!  I always love watching the shows about their favorite things, wishing I was in the audience, and crying with joy for the people who get to receive all of those gifts!  (Can you tell that gift-giving is my love language?) :)

So, here are "A Few of My Favorite Things" right now:

TV Shows

If you have not yet seen Call the Midwife,  it is my favorite show on TV right now.  As Wikipedia states, "The plot follows newly qualified midwife Jenny Lee and the work of midwives and the nuns of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent, coping with the medical problems in the deprived Poplar district of East London in the 1950s."   Based on true stories, Call the Midwife is on Sunday nights on PBS (which is not a cable channel), but you can also find the episodes online at PBS.com.

I'm also a bit obsessed with American Idol right now. Aside from Nicki Minaj, who makes me want to throw stuff at my TV screen, I watch it solely for Angie Miller, the pastor's daughter from Massachusetts who is a worship leader and writes her own songs.  She is in the top 3 right now and I'm hoping she wins!  Check out this song she wrote and performed:

(I think Randy Jackson's "Wow" and "Really" comments are hilarious)


I have been listening to Meredith Andrew's new album Worth it All, which is worship-driven and amazing.  If you need some encouragement today, listen to this:


These days, I rarely finish a book I pick up to read.  Typically I read about 1/3 of my way through and find it in the bathroom 2 months later. But these two books are ones that I can hardly put down.

First, I found in my bookshelf the old classic Hinds Feet On High Placesby Hannah Hurnard. This book brings back a lot of memories for me since the last time I read it was probably in high school. It is such a powerful book, an allegory similar to Pilgrim's Progress, with a ton of life lessons.

Second, I'm reading Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids.  This book followed 400 youth group graduates to see what factors helped some of them stick with their faith, and what caused some of them to leave it behind (research has shown up to 80% of churched kids will leave their faith behind).  Their research is fascinating. They give a ton of tips for parents of young children to start developing sticky faith in their kids - it is a must read.


I can't do a "My Favorite Things" post without mentioning my current favorite food.  There are lots of them, but I'll narrow it down to just one for right now:

Trader Joe's Coffee Bean Blast Ice Cream

This contains just enough caffeine to keep you up all night if you eat it too late, so for me, this is a daytime treat!

Now it's your turn! Leave a comment and share with me one of your favorite things right now!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Week of Scarlet Fever

I knew something was wrong when Micah had a high fever of over 102 degrees for four days straight, and then he opened his mouth and I saw this:

In addition to "Strawberry Tongue" as it is called, he had white spots all over the roof and back of his mouth and complained "it feels like I'm swallowing nails."  Then the rash started - all over his chest and back, and it felt like sandpaper.  Google-mom that I am (which is not always a good thing), I soon realized that he had Scarlet Fever.

The first thing that came into my mind was Little Women, where Beth comes down with Scarlet Fever, and eventually...dies.  Then I thought of poor Mary Ingalls, whose blindness was blamed on Scarlet Fever (but new articles say that she actually did not go blind from Scarlet Fever at all, but rather viral meningoencephalis).  Well, that's good, I guess??  Anyway, I digress.

My mind did a few crazy things before realizing that we live in the 21st century, and I was reassured that antibiotics would surely do the trick and he'd be fine.  It is similar to strep throat, after all.

Anyway, after 3 days of missing school and still on 2 weeks of antibiotics, he is now completely recovered and doing great.

I wish that was the only thing that could explain my absence from blogging these past few weeks, but there have been a lot of other things going on around here too.

A girl I mentor just had a baby and I have been helping her with breastfeeding. It is so wonderful when new mothers start out with a great breastfeeding experience.  Usually the reason I am called is because things aren't going so well, so it is rare for me to get to work with a mom where everything is going perfectly.  I don't work in that field a lot anymore, but when I get to work with the ones I am closest to, it is a pure joy.  Here is the beauty named Willow who was just born:

I have been co-teaching two parenting classes at church, using Sacred Parenting and Sticky Faith as our curriculums. I will try to write more in depth about those, but highly recommend both of those books as reading for any parent.  Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, in particular, has been life-changing for me personally and I can't recommend it enough.

This month I'm going to be catching up and posting on:

-My guest interview with Renee Fisher, author and speaker
-Mother's Day
-My visit to Dream Dinners
-A trip to the Legoland Hotel
and more... Thank you for your patience as I have been MIA!! :)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

5 Minute Friday: Friend

Five Minute Friday 

This week's 5 Minute Friday topic is "Friend."  We have 5 minutes to write the first thing that comes into our  mind when we hear the word - unscripted, unedited, and real. Here goes.


I was 19 years old and at a college retreat feeling alone.  Everybody seemed to know someone, and I felt a bit like an outsider.  She saw me sitting on the couch and made herself comfortable next to me.  She started asking me about my life, my family, and my dreams. We realized we had so much in common that God must have brought us together.

It is now 17 years later.  We talk, text or communicate almost daily.  She gives me a look and I know what it means.  She wells up with tears and my eyes well up too.  We have our share of inside jokes that make us laugh until we cry.  We have loved, we have lived, we have mourned, we have struggled - through joys and triumphs, through pain and heartache.

I cannot imagine my life without her.  As opposites, we challenge each other, we sharpen each other - because we know the potential that each of us has.  We won't let the other one fall.

She is my friend, a gift from God to me. He knew what I needed that day when I was 19, and He knows what I need now.  I am so thankful for her.

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Apologies

This morning I clicked on a video by Michael Hyatt called "3 Blogging Mistakes That Are Killing Your Traffic."  BAM! I was hit by the first mistake - inconsistent posting.  Yep! That's me!  When life gets busy, my blog takes a backseat.  Last month I promised that each month on the 15th I would bring you a blogger interview. My first interview with Christin Slade was so fun to do, and I learned so much about her, that I decided I wanted to do one each month.  Yet weeks went by and I forgot about it!  Then I remembered, and could not decide who to interview!  So rest assured, I have been working on that and the post will be here shortly.

In other news, as you are well aware, our nation has been hit by another string of tragedies this past week.  From the bombings in Boston, to serious flooding in the midwest, to the factory explosion in Texas, it's almost impossible not to know someone in one of these areas. My heart has been heavy the past few days.  My heart is heavy not only for the victims of these tragedies, but by the response to them as well.  Instead of really praying, we hurl out reasons why these things happened that are not helpful.  The worst responses I have seen have been from fellow Christians, quoting Scriptures about the end times and prophecies and how we've left God out of our government and "this is why!"

Those responses are not helpful.  They are not loving. They are insensitive and pointing-fingers-in-victim's-faces.  What is wrong with us that instead of mourning with those who mourn, we launch into diatribes about why this is happening?  It's why I refuse to listen to talk radio, watch cable news programs with commentary, or participate in these kinds of conversations. One of the best blogs I read on this topic was my friend Don's blog post called "Terrorized" where he says we have been caught up in the sensationalism of it all:  " I’m sickened by those who in one breath tell us that they are 'praying for Sandy Hook or Boston' and then quickly turn to Twitter for the latest body count and rumors."

I admit that I have been one of those people who has gotten caught up in the sensationalism of it all - and isn't it partly because we are bored with our own lives?  It feels good to be connected with the rest of the world in some way?  But then we spend more time in the news than we do in the Word, and more time calling our friends than truly calling on the One we need to.

I'm not saying the news is bad, or we shouldn't be informed of the latest updates. But where is our heart in all of this?  Do we really care, or are we just pretending to?  Because if we really care, then let's check how we are spending our time, and spend more time praying for them than reading about them.

Please share your thoughts on this - how do you balance staying informed with not getting wrapped up in the sensationalism of each event?

I have written a few other posts on tragedies in the past, and how we can learn to respond appropriately and walk our children through these events.  Take a look:

When a Killer is Close By
When the World is Falling Apart
Choosing Peace Over Fear
Joy Through Pain
Be the Body of Christ
The Power of Goodbye

Friday, April 12, 2013

Winner! Winner!

Thank you to everyone who stopped by from the Ultimate Blog Party '13, hosted by 5 Minutes for Mom!  I am slowly getting to all of your blogs, Facebook pages, and Twitter feeds. I can't wait to learn more about each of you who stopped by.

A special thank you to Kelly Bowers, Independent Designer with Origami Owl, for providing our first giveaway item of a medium locket, 2 charms, and a ball station chain.  Please visit her website at Kelbirds Lockets, and give her a "Like" on her Facebook page too.

And the winner is:  Jim N Elisa Luangrath!!  Congratulations Elisa!  

Another special thank you to  Jennifer Hall, who provided the Garlic Lovers Gift Set from Wildtree.  Visit Jennifer's Wildtree website to see all of the natural and organic food products that they sell.

And the winner is: Michelle Boor!!  Congratulations Michelle!

I will be contacting both of you in the next day or so to arrange for shipping your items.

If you are new to my blog, feel free to visit me on:

and become a blog follower (click the button on the left), or follow by email (top left).

On the 15th of each month, I highlight another blogger (Read last month's interview with Christin Slade here), so stay tuned for that coming up.  

You also might be interested in reading some of my most visited posts:

Thanks again for stopping by!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Ultimate Blog Party '13 - WELCOME!

Welcome!  If you are visiting from 5 Minutes for Mom's "Ultimate Blog Party," I am so happy you have stopped by!

Ultimate Blog Party 2013 

This blog is for you, whether you are a fun mom, a messy mom, a tired mom, an overwhelmed mom, or the mom who has spit-up in her hair and old oatmeal on her clothes, because I have been there.  My desire is that this blog would encourage you and minister to your heart.  But even if you aren't a mom, you will find fun information here too!  I love to blog about home decorating, recipes, photography, family and faith.

My two boys are 5 and 7 years old, and I have been married to my husband for almost 14 years.  My husband and I work in ministry at a church near Los Angeles, CA.  For the last two years, I have been speaking at MOPS groups and churches, as well as writing my first book, which I hope to be released later this year.

But enough about ME, this blog post is all about YOU!

This week I am sponsoring a giveaway of 2 fabulous items! Read about each of the item below, and then simply complete the steps for each item you'd like to win.

1) Origami Owl Living Locket ($40-50 value)

This giveaway is for one medium locket of your choice, two charms, and one ball station chain.   The    sponsor of this giveaway is Kelley Bowers, Independent Designer with Origami Owl.  (Winner must be in the U.S.)  Visit Kelley's website at KelBirds Lockets, or her Facebook page to see beautiful examples of these lockets.

To Enter, complete any one (or more) of these steps:

2) WildTree- For Garlic Lovers Gift Set ($25 value)

This giveaway is for one Garlic Lovers Gift Set by Wildtree (all natural & organic).  The sponsor of this giveaway is Jennifer Hall. (Winner must be in the U.S.) Visit Jennifer's Wildtree website  to learn more about the Garlic Lovers Gift Set, as well as to see the other amazing food products that they sell!

To Enter, complete any one (or more) of these steps:

Both of these contests will run from April 5th until midnight of April 12th.  I will contact the winners of each giveaway on Saturday, April 13th.

Thank you again for stopping by!  Leave a comment to let me know you were visiting from the UBP '13, and I'll be sure to visit your blog too!