Christmas in iPhone photos!

The huge tree at The Fellowship at Cinco Ranch.

Wrapping, wrapping, wrapping.

My sister's kids, getting on a plane to come see me!

My kids, waiting to see their cousins.

The happiest baby ever, ready for Christmas Eve church.

Christmas worship at The Fellowship.

Taped the boys into their bedroom on Christmas Eve. Did not deter them.

Christmas morning, opening presents before dawn.

The happiest baby chats with me.

Beyblade battles!

Who can resist a pretty baby in a basket?


Merry Christmas to All

Happy Christmas Eve! I can't believe how relaxed and on task I have felt the past week. Not stressed at all, everything coming together in it's own time. I have made a concerted effort to bask in the glow of the season and soak up the anticipation of advent, especially the spiritual events and moments that give glory to God.

So continuing with a theme of finding and sharing wonderful new music, I just had to introduce you to a song and an artist I just discovered. The artist is Ross King and while his whole holiday album is terrific and unique, I am completely obsessed with his song Merry Christmas to All.

It's pretty rare that our worship pastor leads us in a song I have never heard before in church, so on the first Sunday in December when the band sang Merry Christmas to All, my curiosity was piqued. The lyrics are magnificent...lyrics usually catch my attention first.

Can you hear the baby crying?
thats the sound of God denying himself
Taking on the form of man in flesh
Can you see the virgin weeping?
Thats the pain required for keeping Gods great promise
to deliver us from death

Merry Christmas to all mankind
The King is coming just in time
Into the dark, His light will shine so bright and beautiful
Merry Christmas to all

Can you hear the angels singing?
Oh thats the sound of freedom reigning and ringing
Like a bell declaring peace, the war has ended
Can you see the shepherds coming?
Like a prophecy, a symbol of His prodigal, returning
to the father who, so humbly, condescended 

Merry Christmas to all mankind
The King is coming just in time
Into the dark, His light will shine so bright and beautiful
Merry Christmas to all

Can we hear the nations crying?
Or have we closed our ears? Somehow justifying
how we celebrate the humble birth of Jesus
Do we see the poor and hungry?
Will we meet their needs? Or close our eyes and spend our money
on things we know will never satisfy us

Did you catch that last bit? Does it ring a bell with what I've mentioned here before about the Advent Conspiracy and how we seek to celebrate Christmas differently? By spending less, giving more, worshiping fully, and loving all.

Yeah so it turns out Ross King is local...as in he leads worship in Bryan, TX and has been writing music and touring around for quite some time. Given the lyrics of this song I was somehow not shocked that he is an adoption and orphan care advocate, with three adopted kids of his own. Bonus, right? Color me sold on digging into his music more.

Oh yeah, and the hook to this song is super crazy contagious. That means sing it or hear it once or twice and you won't be able to get it out of your head. So not kidding.

So here's the story behind the song and a little acoustic version. I wanted to show you the full recorded song but I'm apparently a moron and cannot figure out a simple way to embed the song itself here. You can hear a bit of the recorded version at the beginning of that video, and on the Amazon widget below.


Glimpsing into My Kid's Heart at Christmas

Last Saturday my wonderfully patient husband conceded that he had no agenda for the day and agreed to accompany me and the kids on a few Christmasy errands. On the forefront of my mind was acquiring more Christmas bling for our yard. We already had all our lights and decor up from the previous year, complete with various colors and a few flashing strings, but I have been on a quest for the perfect yard display since our animated moose bit the dust a couple years ago. The problem is that I'm cheap, and the idea of spending $80 on a shrimpy wire deer is not a good one to me.

However this year I had more inspiration. My sister and her family are flying in from Richmond, Virginia to spend the holiday with us. Last week on Facebook my sister posted that her family had gone on a "tacky Christmas lights" tour, which had prompted my four year old nephew Timothy to declare, "Dad, we need more lights." Knowing my sister, I can just picture her lovely brand new house with a sprinkling of very tasteful white lights and perhaps a few wreaths or holy garland. The fact that she used the word "tacky" says it all.

So that morning we ventured out in search of added tackiness to thrill my niece and nephew. Our third stop was Walmart, a store I almost never set foot in. It's the newest and nicest Walmart you'll ever see, but it doesn't matter to me, it will never hold a candle to Target or HEB.

As we pulled into the parking lot my seven year old Nathan asked his dad and I if we had any money. "Nope, no money at all, Nathan." he joked.

"Well how are we gonna BUY anything without money?" said Nathan, sounding more and more like he had something in particular in mind he wanted to get.

For the past few weeks Nathan has been in "Can we get..." mode, asking for stuff more and more often in every store as he joins me Christmas shopping. My answer is always the same, "No, we aren't buying ANYTHING because Christmas is coming very soon and you have to wait." The boys have been watching TV commercials and pouring over toy ads making the longest lists for Santa I've ever seen. I keep warning them that Santa doesn't bring that much, they need not be greedy, and that there are tons of kids around the world who will get no toys at all this Christmas.

After all, they already helped wrap presents for bunches of families of cancer patients who wouldn't have gifts otherwise.

My husband Mike replied to Nathan, "Nope, no money, we're just going to go LOOK at stuff." Then he chuckled, "Of course we have money, Nate." To which I chimed in "But we AREN'T getting you anything, remember?"

Then Nathan looked at me and said with the most gentle eyes ever, "But Mom, I just want some money to put in the red bucket to give to the kids whose families don't have money for presents."

I glanced at the door of the Walmart and saw the Salvation Army ringers and realized that was why he had asked in the first place. My heart swelled as I dumped out my wallet into the hands of my two boys and watched them run up to the ringer and stuff the bucket.


Review: We Bought a Zoo (Warning to Parents)

For the past few weeks my family has been watching lots of fun family holiday programming on TV. We have seen the TV commercial for the new Matt Damon movie, We Bought a Zoo, at least a dozen times. So when I was offered the chance to preview the film with my kids this week I was thrilled and treated it like another lovely holiday treat for our family. From the trailer I was REALLY looking forward to seeing it. It looked like a fun kid movie with tons of adorable animals creating the main comedic plot. Plus…bonus! Matt Damon! Cameron Crowe directs! It HAS to be good.

I really should’ve been smart enough to know Cameron Crowe would not make a kid movie. He has made some of my very favorite movies, like Almost Famous, Singles, and Say Anything. He has never made a kid movie. Never.

Nonetheless I took my four year old and my seven year old. They sat through Chipwrecked with rapt attention, not squirming or uttering a peep other than appropriate laughter so I figured they would be golden with this movie. But We Bought A Zoo starts out with background about Matt Damon’s career as a newspaper writer, which is barely relevant. I wondered how soon they would get to the animals, as I eyed my four year old.

We soon find out that six months before the film begins, Matt Damon’s wife died and he is left alone to raise his adorable 7 year old girl and a 14 year old boy. The boy is in bigtime trouble at school, and the dad is having local moms throwing themselves at him. In the first five minutes of the film. It made me a little uncomfortable right from there, since my seven year old might understand ENOUGH of what was going on for it to be super confusing.

Then they show all this super graphic and dark art that the boy has been drawing that reveals his tortured soul. I get that it’s necessary for the plot, but that plot is soooooo not for little kids. I really didn’t like my older son seeing those drawings. It could give him nightmares.

Then there’s Matt Damon’s brother, played by the ever charming and funny Thomas Haden Church, who clearly only cares about getting his brother laid again. His obviously beloved wife died a mere SIX MONTHS AGO. C’mon.


So about thirty minutes into the film we finally get a glimpse of some animals. And when I say glimpse, I mean it.

About thirty minutes in is also when the completely  inappropriate for small kids language starts. I’m not talking about crap or damn either. I could live with that. When the brother yelled “Sh*t!” I almost jumped out of my chair and wanted to throw my hands over my seven year old’s ears…although of course it’d be too late by then. I think it was the precious little girl who said “What the hell?” and it was most definitely Matt Damon who yelled “ASSHOLE!!!” at a porcupine.

I sat there wondering if somehow I had been mistaken and maybe the movie was rated PG-13. This subject matter and language went WAY beyond “parental guidance suggested” in my mind. I confirmed later that it is indeed rated PG. I also confirmed that I'm not the only one who thought it was marketed as a great movie for kids of all ages.

By this point my four year old had stopped watching the movie. He was squirming, begging for a snack or my phone to play with, and crawling in and out of my lap. He wasn’t misbehaving or distracting anyone but me….YET. But I was getting more worried about what my very serious seven year old was soaking in.

The scene that finally prompted me ushering us out was when the young teen boy was approached by a young teen girl who lived at the zoo. She was homeschooled and seemed a bit socially awkward or maybe just desperate for peer interaction, but she got so close to the boy that she was sitting completely pressed against him, her face inches from him, and I was really concerned they might kiss. I have much less of a problem with adults kissing in movies than young teens that JUST MET kissing.

They didn’t kiss, but the sexual tension was there, it was thick, and it was enough that since I couldn’t be sure of the PG rating I got worried my kids might see even an implied sex scene (more likely between the adults) so I bailed.

My awesome kids were so great about being forced to leave before the end of the movie, something I HATE doing myself. I love movies and insist on seeing the end of even the worst of them.

I had a discussion with Nathan about how there were too many bad words and I asked him if he heard any. He hadn’t noticed any. I asked if he knew any bad words. He thought and said “poop?”. I explained that wasn’t so much a bad word as much as something we discourage joking around about. Then he whispered in my ear so Alex couldn’t hear, “Oh my God?” which I confirmed. I explained that lots of people may say that but we don’t, because one of the ten commandments in the Bible is to treat the Lord’s name as sacred and special, not as a thoughtless phrase or curse word. Don’t get me wrong, my language when not around my kids is far from saintly, but  even then I try to be mindful and choose words carefully.

So all in all, that turned out to be a big learning experience for me and teaching moment for Nate. But I’m super frustrated by how the film is being marketed as a kid movie. It’s just NOT. I’m not that uptight as a parent either, I swear. But I personally wouldn’t even take a 10 year old to see it. I think it’s probably AWESOME for teens or adults to see on their own. Would make a great girls night. I can’t wait to see the ending myself.

You should probably read my dear friend Stacey’s review to get the upside for teens and adults. There seems to be a BIG upside, but it was lost on me in this case.

Oh but the cinematography? Was absolutely lovely.


A Musical Christmas Treat for You from Josh Wilson

This week I discovered an awesome new Christmas song that I fell head over heels for. It's called Jesus is Alive and it's by Josh Wilson, an excellent singer/songwriter I've already highlighted on this blog months ago.

Well in searching for a video of the song, I found this incredible video of Josh playing a billion different instruments at once and looping them to make one completely awesome Christmas carol. You've got to check it out.

And then of course you have to hear the actual song Jesus is Alive too. You can listen to it and purchase it here if you like:

Christmas music is just so uplifting to me and reminds me of the amazing, incredible hope we have because of God coming to earth. Do you really believe that? Does that make a difference in your day to day? It does for me and I couldn't imagine my life without that kind of hope.

And with that I wish you a very Happy Holidays in these last few days of preparation. I hope it's not stressful for you.


Wordless Wednesday, Deep in December

More holiday portraits!

Santa is slightly darker skinned these days :)

At the Community Christmas tree lighting at the Fellowship at Cinco Ranch.

Outtake from a holiday photoshoot of a friend's family...my kids had to tag along.


Behold the Lamb of God

Last night was a night I had been looking forward to for at least half a year. A year ago I attended a live performance of Andrew Peterson's holiday tour, Behold the Lamb of God. It's a masterful collection of beautiful original songs that tell the story of the incarnation beginning in Genesis. A masterpiece, for sure. I have the album (and if you don't, buy it NOW!) but there is nothing quite like hearing it live. Live music is moving in a way that a CD or an iPod can't be.

So I was excited when John Cordes said that our church would be performing Behold the Lamb of God themselves at Christmas this year! We have some very talented instrumentalists and vocalists that lead worship on Sundays, plus John invited a few more musicians who were skilled on instruments like the viola, cello and mandolin. They have been working on the music for months now, since this summer, and last night it paid off. I was moved but I knew exactly what to expect. I heard expressions of awe and wonder after the concert from others in attendance, most of whom had never heard the music before.

Seriously if you want to celebrate Christmas more meaningfully and keep it focused on the story of God's redemption of man, get this album. Here's just one performance by Felton Troy, singing Deliver Us, which was Israel's frequent cry in the Old Testament as they waited for their Messiah to come.


Fashion Friday! Gifts Under $25 at Nordstrom Rack

So I'm a big fan of Nordstrom. The company, the stores, the impeccable customer service, and the family. But if you're like me you can't afford to spend a ton on gifts for the million people on your Christmas shopping list, which you would probably do if you got them all at the full line store. Luckily there's Nordstrom Rack, the discounted version of their great stuff, one location of which just opened up here in nearby Sugar Land. There's also one right next to the Galleria, and I used to shop at one in King of Prussia, PA.

The problem is that Nordstrom Rack doesn't have merch online so nobody seems to really know what kind of things you can find there.

So here are a few great ideas of Christmas gifts that you can find at Nordsrom Rack for under $25!

1. Splendid long-sleeve tunic tee available in a variety of colors, $24.97.
2. Joe’s Jeans denim jeggings, $19.97.
3. Sequined tanks by H.I.P. available in black, gold, silver and navy, $19.97.
4. Oversized cape by JJ Basics available in a variety of colors, $24.97.
5. Jane Cosmetics: Mineral foundation, eye shadow, mascara, eye liner, lipstick, lip gloss and blush. Choose any three for $8.97.
6. Collection XIIX wraps available in a variety of colors, $9.97
7. Fownes leather gloves with cashmere lining in black and brown, $24.97.
8. Bobeau cowl-neck sweater available in a variety of colors, $24.97.
9. Cardigan sweater by Abbound available in a variety of colors, $16.97.

10. Golf shirts by Lone Cypress available in a variety of solid colors and patterns, $24.95.
11. Joseph Abboud men’s leather wallets available in black and brown, $14.97.
12. iPad covers by Original Penguin in black, red or grey, $19.97.
13. Rogue State long-sleeve thermal knit shirts available in a variety of solid colors and patterns, $19.97.
14. 100% wool scarves by Amicale in a variety of solid colors and patterns, $12.97.
15. Fred iPhone 4 covers with vintage media graphics: radio, cassette tape, game controller and calculator, each $8.97.
16. Fred iStuck smartphone stand, $4.97.

17. Crocs kids’fleece-lined clogs in a variety of colors, $16.90.
18. Stila for Nordstrom Rack exclusive travel cosmetic palettes available in three styles; “Fashionable on Fifth,” “Majestic on Michigan Avenue” and “Ravishing on Rodeo Drive,” each $10.00.
19. Wellies for kid’s by Western Chief in a variety of styles, $16.90.
20. Freestyle watches in assorted colors, $19.97.
21. iTouch gloves in assorted colors, $15.97.
22. iPhone covers by Glam in assorted prints, $11.97.
23. Faux-fur lined kids’ boots by LA Underground in black, brown, tan, purple and magenta, $19.90.
24. Totes mini compactable umbrellas, $9.97.
25. POCHI coin purse in assorted colors, $7.97.

So those are just some fun ideas of great gifts you might find at the Rack! The most fun part is the hunting :)

Disclosure: This is not a sponsored post and I was not compensated in any way. I really seriously do love Nordstrom. 


The Home Depot $20,000 Gift of Good

The Leach Family, taken right after Dawn's diagnosis
Friends, readers, countrymen...lend me your ears. I need your help for just a minute.

Those of you who know me or read faithfully know that back in August I lost a very special friend of mine, Dawn Leach. More than that, the earth lost one of the most radiant human beings every to walk around on it.

When Mike and I moved from Wyomissing, PA to Phoenixville, PA in December of 2004 we bought a brand new custom built home in a tiny old neighborhood with just a few houses. On one of our first visits to the new house I found a bag of homemade sweets on the doorstep with a warm holiday welcome from the Leach family next door.

Dawn and Santa
Dawn with my 2 year old Nathan and her son, Luke.

Dawn and I were fast friends when we moved in. She was a leader in the local MOPS group which she immediately invited me to, where I soon found a large bunch of amazing women who would be my closest friends. It so happened she was a work at home mom with three boys, one of whom she stayed home with just like me. She was a hard working, top selling representative of Premier Jewelry, already a favorite company of mine, with about a hundred women in her "downline" that she mentored and trained all the time. Dawn was passionate and almost always positive...a rare combination in people. She was passionate about politics, serving as an elected rep in the local party leadership and volunteering at the kids' school whenever possible. She was passionate about her faith in God and about her friends and family. She was someone you just wanted to be around as much as possible...someone you would want to live like.

My Girlfriends!
MOPS girls Tammy, Kimber and Dawn
Dawn's husband, Steve, is no schmuck either. Steve was in the Army and alternated between long deployments and weeks or weekends away. When he wasn't off conducting training he worked as a facilities manager for a church and their adjoining cemetery. We shared a common alma mater, the same doctrinal beliefs, the same political ideals and the same passion for personal fiscal responsibility. Steve and Dawn even facilitated Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University classes.

Last year Dawn was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a hard blow, but she fought it valiantly and we all believed she had beat it. She had even started running around the same time I did, training for her first 5k. Then in February she started feeling pretty bad and got the devastating news that the cancer had spread to her liver and bones. I was really knocked down by the news. She and Steve set up a website where they kept everyone updated almost daily, and to say that they stayed positive in the midst of intense suffering is the understatement of the century. Those two put their incredible faith, love and hope on display for the hundreds of people who loved Dawn to see.
Dawn, Joli, Lauren and Tammy at the breast cancer walk.

Dawn finished her seemingly short race on earth in August. She left an indelible mark on the lives of all who knew her. Her three boys, Isaac, Gabe and Luke, are growing like weeds and Steve is left to care for them in their tiny, old house filled with love. I don't know their financial situation but I can only imagine the medical bills and loss of Dawn's income has to be hard. Steve was supposed to be deployed again in March but it was deferred upon Dawn's diagnosis and he decided to retire from the Army.

Here's where YOU come in. (I hope you are still reading!) My friend Kelly recently hosted a contest for veterans through Home Depot on her blog, the Centsible Life. She was looking for military families in the Philly area in need of home improvements and I immediately thought of my friends, the Leach family. Steve agreed to be nominated and they won her first round (thank you Kelly!) and were entered into a national contest to win $20,000 in Home Depot services. You can read about Steve's needs on the contest page.

Dawn loved this photo I took of her 3 boys.
The family that gets the MOST VOTES on Facebook wins the $20,000! You can vote for them once DAILY until Dec. 9th. That's four more days! All nine of the families are worthy, but I am praying for the Leach family to be blessed with this gift. Please help vote! It just take a minute!

Click here, Like the Home Depot page and VOTE  for the Leach Family!!!


Decorating for the Holidays!

Tonight someone reminded me about how easy it is to post from mu smart phone. Well actually typing a lot of words on my phone is not easy, but posting photos from the phone is! So here are just a few snaps I've taken of the Christmas decorating I've been doing around here.

So are you done decorating for the holidays or do you have lots more work to do? 

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