Friday, December 2, 2016

Snow in the Desert

Tonight was the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony here at Edwards and so the kids and I bundled up and headed out for a bit of frosty fun.   We've been here for 6 Christmas's now and have yet to attend one, since my husband always works when they happen, but this year I took him to work and kept the car so we could attend.

In conjunction with the Tree Lighting Ceremony, the base also hosts the Reindeer Run, an annual 5K relay as well as Winterfest where people can browse and shop for Christmas gifts, enjoy baked goods and hot cocoa.    As part of her community service for JROTC, Alyssa worked with the Reindeer Run to help guide runners along the correct path for the course.  While she did that, the kids and I did a bit of browsing at Winterfest as well as checking out the giant "Christmas Cards" some of the base units and organizations made.. This year's theme was A Nightmare Before Christmas.

For the lighting ceremony, the base decorates a large tree located in front of the base BX (Base Exchange for those unfamiliar with military lingo).  For years past, the tree was honestly pretty sad looking - with one string of colored lights and a few balls strung on it's branches.  Thing somewhat a reverse Charlie Brown tree where the tree is too little for the decorations.. In this case, the decorations were way too scant for the tree..
Tree in Previous Years

However, this year, I guess the Air Force found some extra money in the budget (or maybe the company who took over the privatization of our housing) found the funds to actually decorate the tree.  The result was very nice.

And, to make it even magical for the kids, yes, that is real snow on the ground..  It had to be made using a snow machine, but every year they cover the ground around the tree with about 2 inches of snow for the kids to play in for the night.   So after a word from the base commander and a countdown, the tree was lit and the kids were allowed to play.  For Garrett and Ashleigh, this was the first time that they can actually remember playing in the snow so it was a great experience for them.

And Alyssa even got a medal from the Reindeer Run for her time and effort, which she was really proud of.

Tennessee Christmas with Amy Grant (Review and Giveaway)

Amy Grant is a staple to many who've been listening to Christian music for years. I remember singing over and over to "El Shaddai" when I was much, much younger and recently I've passed that same song on to my younger kids to love and enjoy (you might even remember the video I posted of Ashleigh singing it a while back).

But Grant's musical career has not been limited to only the Christian world.  hits like "I Will Remember You", "Baby Baby" and "That's What Love is For" brought her talent to an entire different genre of music listeners in the contemporary pop market.  In addition, duets with her husband, Vince Gill, have also made her relevant in the Country music world as well, making Amy Grant a true crossover artist for many generations of listeners.

While not a newcomer to the Christmas album market, Tennessee Christmas is her first holiday album release since her 2008 release of The Christmas Collection.  But unlike other albums of the past, this album seems raw and earthy - in a good way.  Grant's voice is not over synthesized as so many artists are these days.  This album gives you Grant accompanied with music that does not overpower or cover her vocals, allowing for a very easy listening, timeless feel.

This release offers thirteen songs, mostly new with a few oldies sprinkled in - but all newly recorded.

  • Tennessee Christmas
  • To Be Together
  • Christmas for You and Me
  • Melancholy Christmas
  • December
  • White Christmas
  • Joy To The World
  • I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
  • Baby it's Cold Outside (with Vince Gill)
  • Christmas Don't Be Late
  • Still Can't Sleep
  • Another Merry Christmas
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful

While there are a few holiday classics that one might expect from a holiday album, Tennessee Christmas also includes a number of original songs that cover the full spectrum of emotions one might feel during the holidays.   "Christmas for You and Me" touches home on the exhaustion that every parent feels on Christmas morning when the kids wake us up way too early  after we've been up way to late wrapping presents.  "Still Can't Sleep" describes the magic and the excitement that one feels on Christmas Eve waiting for the big day.  "Melancholy Christmas" brings to mind that not everyone shares that same excitement because of being lonely for Christmas and just reaching out to anyone to share the holiday with together rather than spending it alone.

"White Christmas" had to be one of my favorites on this album.  The Blues/Jazzy feel of this rendition with the hi-hat drum beats and the tickling of the ivories made for a really nice listening, perfect for a cold night and a glass of scotch while relaxing by the fire.  Close your eyes and you'll swear your in your local jazz club.  This jazzy feel continues on with Grant's rendition of "Joy to the World", "I've Got My Love to Keep Me Warm", and "Baby It's Cold Outside" really creates a nice flow from song to song.  As my husband and I both are huge Jazz music fans, we really enjoyed these selections.

Another song I really enjoyed, but that puts a different aspect on the holiday, is "Another Merry Christmas". A beautiful but haunting reminder that the feelings of the holiday changes for some as the family dynamics changes.  Children grow up and become adults and leave home and start families of their own, parents become elderly and experience the loss of a spouse and those left behind are reminded of those losses when the holidays come around.

Overall, I found this to be a wonderful Christmas album and an great addition to our music library.  I enjoyed all the songs (thought, honestly, I could have done without the addition of "Christmas Don't Be Late" as I kept waiting for Alvin, Simon and Theodore which kinda ruined the flow for me).  If you're a fan of Amy Grant or holiday music with a nice jazzy, easy listening feel, this is an album you'll want.

And here's the great news.  Thanks to Flyby/Propeller Promotions, I have a copy of Tennessee Christmas to give away for one of my lucky readers to get a copy of their very own.  Enter below for your chance to win.  Open to residents of US only..

Legal Stuff:  
'Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Saturday, November 26, 2016

My Favorite Movies (52 Lists)

We love movies.  While we aren't able to go to the movie theater as often as we would like - sky high ticket prices and outrageous concession prices - we do love to sit in the comfort of our home with a huge bowl of communal popcorn and enjoy a bit of screen time together as a family.

For this week's list as part of the 52 Lists from Beauty full Slow, participants were asked to list their favorite movies.    This is a super easy list for me!! LOL

52 lists with Chasing Slow

  • Top Gun - My very first love was Tom.. Not Tom Cruise but the F-14 Tomcat.. I can't tell you how many times I've watched Maverick and Goose in the past two decades. 
  • Silence of the Lambs - Hannibal Lecter is without any doubt the best serial killer ever and I always thought the respect/love he had for Clarice was pretty cool. 
  • The Last Samurai - Believe it or not, I am not a fan of Tom Cruise, so it's funny he's the main character in two of my favorites.. But I absolutely love the visuals and the story to this movie.
  • Beauty and the Beast - A tale as old as time - my favorite animated classic.  A Disney Princess who is smart and loves to read?? Enough said!!
  • The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia - The scene where Kristy McNichol is singing to her brother always stuck with me.. This is my all time favorite tear jerker. 
  • Six Pack - Another oldie but goodie.. I always wished I could have been part of that "pack" lol
  • The Alamo - I love the 2004 version..  I'm a Texan, what can I say.. The scene where Billy Bob Thornton as Davy Crocket starts playing the violin in response the Mexican Army gives me chills every time. 
Crockett Plays the Violin for the Mexican Army

Friday, November 25, 2016

Five Minute Friday - Surrender

The Thanksgiving holiday is over and I'm sure I put on about 5 lbs just from one meal alone.  I hope everyone else had a wonderful holiday spent with family and friends.

It's 11:15pm here, so it's still officially Friday, so that means it's time for 5 Minute Friday.  This week, Kate at Heading Home has offered up the word Surrender for the word of the week.  If your interested in joining in with the Five Minute Fridays, be sure to click the button below 

Surrender is a concept that is very hard for me.  The concept of completely ceasing resistance to another person, laying our vulnerabilities and those things that can hurt us the most out for another to see?? This is a concept that goes against every single coping mechanism I've ever had.  As a sexual abuse survivor, I tried to appear strong,  a brick wall without feelings and who was against the world and the world better realize I was a formitable force.. I grew up knowing I was the only one who could protect me and as such, I didn't let others see the real me.

And then I met my ex husband.  I thought he loved me - I thought I loved him.  And so, I surrendered. I gave him access to all of me that I had hid away behind the facade.. And in the long run, he used much of those vulnerabilities against me.  I swore I would never let anyone in again.

I learned it's hard to be a "lone wolf".. I took a chance and once again let someone.  10 years later, he has never turned anything against me or exploited those weaknesses against me.. I don't feel like I've given myself over to the enemy but fond a formidable ally instead.

Learning to trust my second husband eventually led to the ultimate surrender - Giving myself back to God.  I turned my back on him for so long that it was very hard to admit my mistakes to him.  How could he forgive me for the things I'd done?  

That surrender has led to me becoming the best person I have been in a long time.  I'm still rough around the edges, I still hold some things behind a barrier, but I am more lax on how hard I hold to those things. If someone sees me cry at a sad scene in a movie, it doesn't mean I'm weak, it means I'm a person with feelings and who shows empathy toward what I am seeing.   If I cry reading a Bible verse or even today when listening to "Mary, Did You Know" and teared up on the verse "When you kiss that little baby, you kiss the face of God", it doesn't make me vulnerable - it means that my heart is open to the pure joy of knowing I have a Savior who loves me.

And I love him!!


Don't Break The Bank...5 Gifts that Inspire for $25 or Less

Finding the perfect gift for your child doesn't have to mean breaking the bank.  There are so many wonderful gift ideas that can help inspire creativity or curiosity in children of any age.   For the start of the holiday season, I would like to share with you five gift ideas for your child that are priced at $25 dollars or less.  These are items that I think provide quality entertainment at a great value.

Kwik Stix Solid Tempera Paint Sticks
First up on my list for great holiday gifts for children of all ages is Kwik Stix paint sticks.  I had the opportunity to review these as part of the Review Crew and they quickly became one of our favorite household items. I wasn't the only one as The Homeschool Review Crew also awarded Kwik Stix their Blue Ribbon Award for Best Preschool Product.  It was also one of Ashleigh's favorite products that we reviewed for the 2016 Crew Year. 

 Kwik Stix are solid tempera paint sticks in bright colors that require no water or paint brushes to use.  Much like fat crayons or makers, kids simply draw or color with them.  The colors are very creamy and the paint glides on smoothly and they dry quickly (about 90 seconds).   The stick themselves work similar to a glue stick, as more paint is needed the student simply twists the bottom to expose more of the paint stick.  The paint itself is a semi-solid, also similar to a glue stick.   The colors themselves are very bold and provide full coverage to the project they are being used on.   And the best part is that there is little to no mess at all.  What little cleanup that may be needed is easy with simple soap and water.  Kwik Stix are available through The Pencil Grip, Inc. website or can be found at your local Target shopping center.  They are available in a 12 pack of basic colors ($11.99), 6 packs of either Neon or Metallic colors ($5.99), or as a 24 pack that contains all available colors ($24.99).  Kwik Stix are available for purchase at The Pencil Grip, Inc. website or at Target. 

The Wind in the Willows (Sterling Illustrated Classic)

For bedtime story time, I highly recommend the hardcover copy of The Wind in the Willows by
Kenneth Grahame and illustrated by Robert Ingpen.  First published in 1908, this classic story of Mole, Ratty, Badger and Mr Toad is endearing to children more than 100 years later.   

While there are many versions of this classic, the addition of Ingpen's beautiful full color illustrations with this particular edition really helps to bring the characters to life.  This particular version, Sterling Illustrated Classic, is unabridged. The pages are thicker than average book pages, more like a thin cardstock rather than paper which will stand the test of time, making this book a great keepsake to pass on to later generations. 

The hardcover Sterling Illustrated Classics version is available at Amazon for $13.36 with free shipping for Prime Members, making it an excellent gift to share with your family. 

Dixit Board Game

Every picture tells a story – but what story will your picture tell? Dixit is the lovingly illustrated game of creative guesswork, where your imagination unlocks the tale. In this award-winning board game, players will use the beautiful imagery on their cards to bluff their opponents and guess which image matches the story. Guessing right is only half the battle – to really succeed, you’ll have to get your friends to decide that your card tells the story! Every turn, the storyteller will call out a short phrase or word to match the image on his card. Then each player will choose the card that most closely matches that phrase, and then everyone must guess which card the storyteller saw when he invented his brief tale. Correctly guess the storyteller’s card, and you’ll move ahead. Convince everyone else that your card is best, and you’ll do even better. Dixit is a wonderfully simple game, playable by nearly anyone with whom you share a common language. With a fantastic range of beautiful illustrations and rules that can be understood by children and adults alike, Dixit will appeal to anyone with an imagination.

Dixit can be played by 3-6 players and is recommended for ages 8-12 years old available from Amazon for $25.99 with free shipping available for Prime Members.  

Fisher-Price Little Peoples Noah's Ark

For the younger members of your family, this Noah's Ark is absolutely adorable. Recommended for ages
12months to 4 Years, children can re-enact the story of Noah and the Ark as Zebras, Giraffes, Elephants, and lions come 2 by 2 to join Noah on this high quality plastic ark.  The upper deck of the Ark is removable for easy access to the inside for those who are working on their motor skills. 

The animals are really adorable but are not so "cutsy" to appeal to only little girls, making this a great gift for both boys and girls. 

Fisher-Price Little Peoples Noah's Ark is available from Amazon for $20.78 with free shipping for Prime Members. A larger version with more animals (hippos, leopards, pandas and turtles) is also available at Toys R Us for $28.49. 

The Complete National Geographic - 125 Years (1888-2012)

I love National Geographic Magazine and we subscribe to it for our family. Nothing brings the world to the minds of both young and old like the vivid photographs and articles of this best selling magazine and it has been doing so for nearly 130 years.  

This affordable software, available both for Windows and Mac, brings every issue of National Geographic that was published during the magazines first 125 year history.  Search tools within the program allows for quick searching for particular subjects of interest which is perfect for children who are more "delight driven learners".   Also included with this software is a trivia based game where users can test their knowledge on a vast array of subjects.

The Complete National Geographic - 125 Years Software is available at Amazon for $15.03 with free shipping available for Prime Members.  

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Tamale Night

Tamales.. My family loves them but at 8 bucks for a half dozen, it gets very pricey to buy them at the commissary here on base..  This week, when I checked the local Aldi's ad, I saw that they had pork roast, corn husks and mesa all on sale and I was like "You know what, I want to try to make my own".. My husband was a bit hesitant - I mean, when you think of people making tamales, you think of an old Hispanic grandmother painstakingly rolling them with love.  We always thought it was a difficult process.  However, I was determined that I was going to make tamales!!  And so on our shopping trip, I bought the things needed for my first attempt.

Making tamales turned out to be a really fun experience for all of us and became a family activity.  After putting the pork roast in the crock pot on Saturday night at 7pm and allowing it to cook until about 5pm the next day,  I shredded the pork, made a chili pepper sauce and then mixed up the mesa.  We brought out the corn husks that we had soaking for 4 hours and then we got to work.

In all, we ended up making 52 tamales.  We probably could have made more but as this was our first attempt and the two little ones were helping, we had some pretty fat tamales that could have been made into two.  It turned out to be lots of fun and once we steamed half of what we made (the other half went into the freezer for later), we sat down at the table and enjoyed our creation. We all admitted they turned out way better than we would have expected and that they tasted WAY better than store bought. We might not be old Hispanic grandmaws, but I think we did a great job and we will never buy store bought again.

And yes, I let my kids sit on the table so they could make some as well.. I promise, we cleaned it off afterwards LOL

Monday, November 14, 2016

Commissioned from Chara Games (A Homeschool Crew Review)

There's something to be said about family game night.  It's a tradition we've tried to implement into out family on Saturday nights as a way to turn off all our electronics and just spend time having a good time as a family together. Over the years, we've managed to put together a pretty impressive game collection and we're always on the look out for a new game to add that we can all enjoy.  When given the opportunity to review the co-operative play board game Commissioned by Chara Games, I was pretty excited to add it to our collection.

About Chara Games

A newer company in the board game market, Chara Games was developed in 2014 by Patrick and
Katherine Lysaght who wanted to produce table top games with a Christian theme.   Following a very successful Kickstart campaign that raised more than 254% of the production cost, Chara released their first board game, Commissioned, this year.  A second game, a strategic card game named 3 Seeds, is currently in production and will be released at a later date.

About Commissioned

Commissioned is a table top co-operative board game for 2-6 players ages 14 years and up.  (Because of the amount of smaller pieces used in the game, it is recommended that this game be kept out of reach of children three years and younger due to choking hazards).  Unlike many board games on the market, this is a co-operative style game, meaning that all players work together to complete a common goal, as opposed to pitting players against each other.

This historical themed game takes players back to Jerusalem in 34 AD.  Jesus has walked the earth, been crucified and Resurrected.  The followers of Christ have begun to spread the Word to the rest of the world but are being targeted by the Roman empire.

In this game, players take the role of early Christian Apostles and work together to spread the word of Christ, grow the Christian church and collect the books of the New Testament.  While trying to accomplish this, they must overcome the many trials and tribulations that the Apostles faced while trying to grow Christ's church.

At first sight, this game can be fairly intimidating, especially for those unfamiliar with table top role playing games.  Contained in a very hefty box, the game consists of 1 double sided game board, 5 scenario cards, 6 Player boards representing one Apostle (Paul, Peter, James, Andrew, Barnabas and John), 96 faith cards, 27 trial cards, 4  missionary meeples, 75 church member cubes, a wooden elder staff, 6 colored player pawns, 37 punchboard tokens, and an 8 sided game dice.  Also included are a rule book and a theme appendix.  All pieces are of high quality and the meeples, member cubes and player pawns are wooden instead of plastic - which I thought was a nice touch.   Luckily, Chara Games has provided a 23 minute video to explain both basic board setup as well as basic game play to help explain gameplay.

Before we even attempted playing Commissioned, Charles, Alyssa and myself all sat down together to watch the provided video.  The video was very helpful with explaining how all of the various components of the game should be set up and demonstrating how the game play works.  Once we had the board set up, we each selected which Apostle we wanted to play (Alyssa played Barnabas, Charles selected James so he could say he was Jesus's half brother and I was given Paul because I am the oldest and wisest) and got started.

We elected to play out the first scenario card (The Acts of the Apostles) for our first try with the game.  For this scenario, we were given a list of "Victory Conditions" that we had to achieve in order to win - we had to have a church in every city on the map and we had to collect all 9 New Testament word cards (these are cards with books of the New Testament printed on them).  This card also informed us that failure would mean that The Roman Empire never adopts Christianity.

With cold drinks and snacks in hand, the three of us began working our way through the game.  Game
play is fairly simple once you get the hang of it. One at a time, players take their turn.  Each turn consists of the same thing - the player pulls a Trial Card which gives a situation that all players must work to overcome. Trial cards contain scenarios such as Apostles being placed in prison, churches being destroyed or some other situation that would hinder the play of the game.  Once the Trial Card has been played, the game moves on to the Pray and Show phases: each player selects two cards out of their 6 card faith deck in the hopes to neutralize or diminish the effects of the Trial card.  The player who's turn it is then selects two cards from the cards that were "prayed" and use them against the Trial (or if there's a New Testament word card, they can select that card and use it to complete the task).  After, the player can then move his pawn, church cubes or meebles around in order to work towards the final task of bringing the church to neighboring areas on the map.  This is followed by the Grow phase, which adds church members to each existing city with three or more markers on it. At this point, the players turn is over and the next player then takes their turn following the same process.  After this second turn, the game enters the Mature Phase, which allows each player to tally up the "points" left in the cards in their Faith Deck that was not played during the past two turns and allows them to use those points to buy another Faith card to add to their deck.  Then, the next player starts their turn.

Kenny Decided He Wanted to Play Too
The gameplay itself can be slightly confusing when first starting to play.  It took us about four turns to really start feeling comfortable about how the game mechanics worked. Once we had it figured out, we all really enjoyed playing Commissioned.  There's no Bible knowledge needed to play (which was really good since Charles has very little) and with all honestly, this is a game that even someone who is not a Christian might still enjoy.

I could easily see this being a great board games for families who enjoy strategy games but maybe want something a big different.  The co-operative play of this game really helps to temper down any competition that might arise during normal game play since players need to work together for the common goal.  I also think this would be a wonderful addition to any church youth group.

Overall, I'm really happy to have added this board game to my collection and I think Chara Games has done an absolutely WONDERFUL job both with the concept of the game and the quality of the game itself.   I also absolutely LOVE the fact this game can accommodate up to 6 players, which is always an important thing for our family of 5 (nobody wants to have to sit out).  It has quickly become a new favorite for us and I can't wait til both Ashleigh and Garrett will be old enough to join us.

For more information about Commissioned and Chara Games, be sure to visit their website or one of their social media platforms:

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/CharaGames/ @Charagames

Commissioned {Chara Games}

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