29 June 2014

Stuck Together by Mary Connealy

Just when Vince Yates thought that life had settled down in Broken Wheel and the red west Texas Palo Duro Canyon dust had cleared from previous adventures, feisty Tina Cahill shows up and decides to make the saloon of the town her mission from God. Then life really gets turned upside down when his tyrannical father shows up with his mother, who is showing signs of dementia, and a sister he didn't even know existed. Life starts to spiral out of control for Vince when his best friend and his sister start acting cozy and then Tina's picketing causes more problems that he could possibly imagine.  Can he and his best friends, who have been together through numerous adventures since they were in Andersonville Prison during the Civil War, come to the rescue before anyone gets hurt? Can Vince get over his past so that he can move forward with his future, which hopefully involves the beautiful and strong willed Tina?

I loved Connealy's book, Stuck Together. Her wit and humor had me laughing out loud, while the touching points in her story were deftly written with compassion and grace. I love how Connealy expertly mixes humor, adventure, suspense and romance all together in a historical western setting. I recommend this book to anyone who loves a well written novel with any and all of the a-fore mentioned themes. This is the third book in the Trouble in Texas series, but can easily stand alone by itself.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Bethany Publishing Company book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

27 June 2014

Face to Face With Jesus by Samaa Habib and Bodie Thoene

Born into a Muslim family in a predominantly Muslim country, Samaa Habib, as a young teenager, is surrounded by civil war - death, starvation, fear, and worry. She finds herself invited to a free Tae kwon do course, and she jumps at the chance. It is through the leaders of the course that she learns about Jesus, however it is through life experiences with war that she learns that Jesus is real, and that He loves her.  Thus begins a journey of the supernatural power of Christ working through her and in her, protecting her from intense violence, hunger and war and then encouraging her when she faces terrible persecution. The culmination of this comes when an Islamic faction group bombs the church where she is worshiping and she breaths her last. Samaa is then brought miraculously back to life after meeting with Jesus face to face.

Face to Face With Jesus is a powerful story of Samaa's relationship with her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, after He draws her from the Muslim faith into a relationship with Him. Her account of her journey of faith is riveting and gives tremendous hope for any Christian. The Bible is very clear that all will face trials of some kind, and to read a story such as a Samaa's brings comfort and bears witness to the all consuming love of Christ that He has for each and every person. Samaa lives in a country where one can be, and a lot are, killed for believing in Jesus Christ. In spite of many obstacles, she consistently shares the love of Christ with everyone around her.

I love how Samaa wrote the meaning of names throughout the book and how she found significance through names. I find Samaa's story very moving, and also very inspiring. Her love for Jesus knew no bounds, despite the hardships and trials that she suffered for proclaiming Jesus as Lord. She gives much hope and fills me with longing to see Jesus face to face one day.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Chosen, a division of Baker Publishing Group book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

18 June 2014

Busiest week of the summer

This week is apparently one of the busiest weeks we have the entire summer, although the week that Butterfly has ballet camp might come in a close second. So if you're wondering where my ABQ posts and follow up to our Colorado/Wyoming trip are - they'll get on here. Eventually.

This week is the week of VBS at the Chapel. VBS does not mean, for me, a week of dropping the kids off while I relax and do projects or read or scrub down the house. VBS means a week of volunteering with the kids, usually in the nursery, so it's pretty busy. This year has actually been really great - there's only seven kids in the nursery, including Flower, and they've all been really great. No meltdowns, no fighting, no toy non-sharing. I hope I didn't just jinx things. There are over 150 kids at VBS this year - busy, busy, busy - but it's been really good. I've been hearing good things from the kids.

Somehow we also had four medical appointments that made it onto the calendar. In addition to VBS. Really not sure what I was thinking there . . . . seriously. Who does that? I guess I do . .. although I did try to reschedule one, but then I couldn't get another appointment until the very end of July, so I just went ahead and kept the appointment.

And I had some potentially life-changing news/thing/circumstance happen over the weekend, which has created quite a bit of stress, mostly in the form of not sleeping much (I'm catching up on a lot of movies though - I've watched 2 seasons of Downton Abby in 3 days! -  in addition to VBS and appointments). It's also required two very long meetings, which I could not bring the kids to (well, one hasn't happened yet). On the plus side, I've lost four pounds. Who doesn't love that?

And we had zoo camp today, which was pretty fun. I didn't think I would get sunburned being outside for 15 or 20 minutes, but I was wrong on that score. I've lived in the high desert for four years now, not sure what I was thinking. Must have been a little distracted . . . so I'm a distracted, VBS-going lobster now. But just on the shoulders and face. And arms. It'll heal. I think I've got some aloe in the closet somewhere . . .

We have had some rain this week though, which has been so wonderful. Not real rain, of course, but desert rain. Still nice. It's wet and it's cooled things off a bit. We didn't even leave the park today during lunch when it started. You tend to dry off pretty fast here. It was so relaxing sitting under the tree at the park with my good friend, with the cool breezes, and the smattering of rain droplets and the gray skies. The temperature was a glorious 81 degrees and it was just perfect. My friend and I really enjoyed ourselves. I even had leftover McAlister's chicken tortilla soup to eat. Mmmm.

So once things calm down a bit, hopefully I'll be back to writing more about Things to Do in ABQ and our trip and what's going on in our world.

Til then! :) Enjoy life, it's so short, and you never know when it will change forever.

13 June 2014

Children's Village in Cheyenne

During our road trip up to Cheyenne, one of the first places that Maiden and Rick took us, before we unpacked the van, was go to the Children's Village in Cheyenne. We have visited this wondrous place of exploration and fun before, but this time it was really, really hot. Like northern plains in the summer hot. Luckily, the Children's Village offers a unique way to cool off.

The Children's Village has a winding path that takes children on a mini-journey of exploration - there are tipi's to hide in, a rope boat to pull yourself across a small "stream", statues to gaze upon, a windmill, a small stream in which to "pan for gold" and more.
Crossing the stream on the boat

Little Man was pretty much doing the bulk of the work to ferry everyone across
 Since it was so hot, there were a few kids that were wading in the very shallow pond, which had a smooth, stony bottom beneath the clear, cool water. Of course, Kara, Butterfly, Little Man and Flower (especially Flower) wanted to take off their sandals and dip their feet in the water and splash to cool off .

They were so cute, sitting on the wooden dock, dangling their little toes and feet in the water!
Rick, Kara, Butterfly, Little Man and Flower cooling off on a hot afternoon.
We spent quite the afternoon here and the kids all had a great time. In the meantime, Maiden and I got to catch up a bit and hang out together. It was so wonderful to see such a great friend again!

 After the kids spent some time refreshing themselves in the cool water, it was back on with the sandals to see some of the other things to explore. There was an indoor center which had a really neat electricity mini-exhibit.  You turned a crank and one of two light bulbs would light up: incandescent or CFL. It took a lot more furious crank-turning to light up the incandescent - a great hands on experiment about energy. The kids had a fun time turning, or trying to turn, that crank.

The Children's Village is part of the Cheyenne Botanical Gardens, and there were gardeners out planting flowers, which Flower really enjoyed watching. She exclaims quite often with a sigh, "I love flowers!"

After doing some building in the shade, some exploring of the mining "stream" and running around, it was back to the alluring, cool waters and this time the kids got to do a bit of wading - it was only up to their knees, so I felt felt comfortable with the kids doing this. Fortunately, no one fell and got soaked!

It was a wonderful afternoon hanging out with friends and having fun. If you are ever in Cheyenne - this place is a must visit!

12 June 2014

Kids are Hilarious 2

Kids truly are such a joy to be around. They love life and they absolutely live life to the fullest - be it a happy moment of endless giggles, or a sudden rainstorm of tears - they are all or nothing, in or out, and exuberantly passionate about living.

I think it's contagious. Mike and I often find ourselves laughing away, even when we probably shouldn't (like when someone does something naughty that is simultaneously hilarious). I think as parents, we have become experts at waiting to laugh later when we need to be serious in the immediate situation. 

Mike and I laugh at ourselves quite a bit anyway, but laughing as a family, collapsing onto the couch together in a fit of contagious giggles, is a wonderful way to live life. If you haven't done this lately, try it.

In the meantime, now for a few funnies from the kids: (I wrote these on Facebook and later cut and pasted them here so "last night" might not literally be "last night", etc.)

The joy of discovering a wonder of science: Mike and I gave the kids ice water last night after they came in from playing outside (they were pretty hot). After a little while, Flower puts her glass on the coffee table and starts peering into it from every angle, bent over, carefully inspecting the contents of the glass up close. "Where did the ice go? Where's the ice?" she keeps repeating. It was there before! Finally, she leans over and takes a view from the top where a tiny piece of ice that has not melted can be seen. "Oh! There it is!"


On the drive up to Denver last week, the kids did pretty good - not asking one time during the first four hours if "we are there yet" or anything along that line. We drive through Raton Pass and I tell them that we are in Colorado. For the next 60 miles, I am frequently asked, "Are we in Colorado yet?"


While I was at Maiden's house last week, Butterfly really enjoyed pretending to be Butterball's owner (a lab) and spent quite a bit of time letting Butterball in or out of the house. One morning, I came into the dining room, and Butterfly and Little Man are standing next to the gaping door. Little Man is commanding Butterball to go outside. Butterball is sitting about four or five feet away, content to just sit and stay right where he is.
"No, [Little Man]! You tell him like this: Butterball, go outside!" - Butterball remains seated.
"Butterball, go outside!" Little Man repeats, inflection and all. Butterball doesn't move.
"No, [Little Man]! Like this: Butterball, go outside!" Butterfly sternly corrects. Butterball just looks at them with a happy dog expression.
"Butterball, go outside!" Butterball gets up, turns and wanders into the living room.


"My tummy is fluffy." -Flower


When I was visiting M last week, her son and the kids were playing a really fun game of Monster-Chase, and Flower ended up being the monster doing all the chasing. After an hour or so, she got tired and went to recline on the couch. After a little while, Butterfly, Little Man and M's son wander into the living room exclaiming, "Chase us! Chase us!". Flower leans forward, raises her arms in the air and says "Raarrgghh!" which produces shrieks of delight and they all run off. Flower then leans back against the couch and continues relaxing. A few minutes later, Butterfly, Little Man and M's son realize she isn't chasing them, and the whole process repeats.


At the commissary today, Butterfly and Flower are riding in the rocket-ship cart, while Little Man helps put groceries in the cart. He also insists on helping push. So we're flying around the commissary at full speed (I mean, we were out of there in record time) while I'm hanging onto the cart to slam on the breaks before he hits a person, a cart or a wall of food. Meanwhile, Flower is evangelizing everyone we pass: "Jesus loves you! Jesus loves you!" as Butterfly laughs with glee. Yes, we're a fun family.


Little Man is playing with his toy airplane on the coffee table this morning, and Flower comes up exclaiming, "Oh! It's so cute!" in a high-pitched, squeaky voice. Little Man immediately replies sternly, "No, it's not! It's an airplane!"


Little Man thought it would be a great idea to roll a hard ball on the coffee table, and it would have been fun, except for Flower's glass of water at the end of the table that went flying onto the carpet. Butterfly immediately took the initiative to get a towel, which got Little Man really upset because he wanted to get a towel. I told him that we needed two towels, so they both returned from the kitchen bearing towels and mopped up the mess, which included towel-dancing to soak up the water on the carpet. Hearing Mike and I's praise for their quick action, Flower comes from the kitchen carrying a floor mat, which is easily as tall as she is, and proclaims, "Look, I got a towel too!" and then puts it on the floor to do the towel-dance.


When we decided to go to the Bosque Nature Center, we discovered it costs $2 to park when we got there, and Mike and I didn't have cash. So we told the kids we had to have money and we didn't, so we would come back another day. We ended up at the Botanical Gardens (turns out, practically just down the road) instead. There are a few fountains there, where the kids discovered to their delight, that people had thrown in coins. They just couldn't understand why Mommy and Daddy wouldn't pull out the money we needed to go to the Nature Center. "Look! Money! Money!" they kept pointing, and when we told them we couldn't take the money, they looked crestfallen and disappointed, until we came upon another fountain. Being an adult must be pretty hard to figure out to them . . .   
"Look money! We can go to the Nature Center now!"

Flower was lying on the foot of the bed this morning, and Little Man wakes up and comes in. They know they are supposed to be quiet in the mornings if they come into our room. So in a VERY loud whisper, they have the following conversation: "Hi [Flower]!" "Hi [Little Man]! You're awake!" "Yeah." "There's Daddy!" "I know!" "You want to come up?" "Of course!" - so much for sleeping in this morning. Very funny though.


The kids were jumping and dancing in Butterfly's room this room this morning, then Little Man comes in and says "My energy is gone . . .". So sad. Later, he says "Someone lost my energy! My energy is gone! I lost my energy."  (Rest assured, his energy was not really gone, it was simply momentarily misplaced.)


And thus are a few of the many accounts of hilarity that take place in our home on a daily basis. 

11 June 2014

Road Tripping with Small Children

I thought I knew my kids pretty well, I mean, I do stay home with them all day long, every day. When I recently loaded up my kids in the van and took them on a road trip to Colorado and Wyoming, I learned a few things about my kids that I didn't know or realize before.

I must say, that while we were gone, we shared a bed/air mattress, so we were around each other twenty-four seven for a week. Here are a few things that I learned about my kids that I didn't know before:

#1. Butterfly will passive-aggressively hit in her sleep - not kidding. I woke up in the middle of the night one night and she was hitting Flower on the head, while she was sleeping. After that, they didn't sleep next to each other. (Flower was not hurt: actually, she slept through the whole incident.)

#2. Any sleep "training" with Flower went out the window with the new found freedom of a bed. Flower, who co-slept with me and Mike until she was two years old, and, with the exception of two or three times, slept with her head near the pillow and her feet where they are supposed to be, now sleeps all over the place - feet on the pillow, curled up in a ball in the middle of the bed, head in my back and feet on Little Man, diagonally, using my knees as a pillow - all in the course of one night!

#3. Little Man and Butterfly can fall asleep pretty much on command at bedtime. Okay, actually I knew that one already.

#4. Flower processes her day each night in the form of talking or singing. At night, we're all laying in bed asleep (and we all went to bed around 8:00pm), Butterfly and Little Man are crashed, I'm half dozing waiting for Flower to fall asleep, and Flower is quietly going over her day. One night, it went something like this, with half of it in song: "Hair is not a handle! Don't cross the velvet rope. I like to pet the doggy. Let it go! Let it go!" and so on.

#5. Butterfly really loves, and I mean really loves, animals, especially dogs. Not good for a cat-loving family . . . she might be waiting a really long time for hat puppy . . .

#6. The kids really love sprinklers. Okay, it was actually their first time playing in a sprinkler (something about living in an area that has been in the worst drought for one hundred years and have major water restrictions), but anyway, they don't like to be splashed, so I didn't think they would like it much. I was wrong - they love it!

#7. My kids are really. really. loud. Like boisterous, happy, running around all the time, non-stop loud. Not sure how I didn't realize this before, but I guess being in someone else's house helped me realize just how loud they are. No wonder I value quiet time so much . . .

#8. My kids have my energy. Or, at least the energy I had until I had kids. Now I know how my parents must have felt when I was a kid. I ran everywhere - room to room, up the stairs, down the stairs, outside, at the park, on a walk - I ran everywhere; I never walked. All three of the kids apparently inherited this from me. There's no walking in this house - everything is done full speed ahead. Sounds familiar.

Have you learned anything new about your kids lately?

06 June 2014

Wildlife Preserve Museum, Denver

While we were in Denver visiting my friend M, she took us to the Wildlife Experience, which was amazing!

Waiting while M and I get tickets, which were free, thanks to the Blue Star Museum Program
 This incredible museum was laid out in a top to bottom walk through of the seven major ecosystems in the world, including rain forest, deciduous forest, tundra, savannah and so on. Each ecosystem had animatronic animals that moved and made sounds. Combined with the background sounds, it felt like you were there - especially the rainforest, which was complete with waterfalls, bugs chirping, warthogs grunting and birds calling (also a great test to see if your child can handle a loud sensory experience - it was overwhelming to Butterfly).

A birds nest and butterflies on a rainforest cliff
  The kids really enjoyed seeing the animals and finding their favorites, including butterflies, deer, lions and the life-sized elephant. There were also "humans" that talked about the region they lived in when the kids pushed a button. Some of the interactive exhibits had touch-screens where the kids could explore lots of options to "ask" the "human" different questions.

African savannah
M explained to me that besides the main ecosystems exhibits, there was a rotating exhibit that changed every few months. The exhibit this time was "sounds in nature" and there were numerous booths and interactive exhibits where the kids could explore how sounds were made in nature, including different creatures, sounds under water, different bird calls and much, much more. There was even a really fun sound booth where the kids could make their own music using a variety drum-like instruments.
Learning about boats and whale sounds underwater
Butterfly and Flower learn about different birds calls in related species
Needless to say, the kids had a great time, although they pretty much "ran" the whole way through, pausing long enough to point, ooh and ahh before rushing to the next exhibit. The museum was incredibly well done and I hope that we'll be able to go back again one day.

04 June 2014

Road Trip to Denver, Cheyenne - Part 2

After a wonderful, relaxing visit with friends in Aurora, we loaded up the van and headed north to Cheyenne, Wyoming to visit my sweet friend Maiden.

 My visit with Maiden was also very wonderful and refreshing. Catching up with cherished friends is wonderful for the soul. Maiden and I did quite a bit of cooking together: we made chicken tortilla soup (it was rainy and stormy late that afternoon), home made bread bowls, raspberry trifle, beef stew and more. We had quite a bit of fun in the kitchen!

Cutting up the angel food cake for the trifle - yum!
Beef stew in bread bowls
 We took the kids on several outings, which I will post about separately, including the Cheyenne Children's Village at the Botanic Gardens, the Wyoming Governor's Mansion, the Wyoming State Museum and the Cheyenne Depot Museum as well as enjoying Cheyenne's Military Day - yeah, we sure know how to pack stuff in considering we were only there for two and a half days. It was a really great visit though! The kids loved seeing the herds of wild antelope roaming the base, even in the housing area. While we were there, Cheyenne had some thunderstorms and rain showers pass through - that was just so wonderful! Cool, wet, refreshing rain!

Look how green it is! Must be because of the rain . ..
Maiden has a huge lab named Butterball, and Butterfly was so happy that there was a dog to play with. She completely took over ownership responsibilities of Butterball while we were there, and then some, although sometimes it was quite comical when she was standing next to the open back door to let out Butterball, and he just sat there looking at her. She has asked for a dog, but since we have a kitty, that probably won't happen for a few years. And I am glad to report that Little Man got over his fear of Butterball and by the end of the first day, he was happy to pet him and let Butterball come up to him. I'm not sure if that will transfer to other dogs, or if it was a case by case basis, but we shall see.

After loading up the van and attempting to leave Saturday afternoon, plans were thwarted by first a long base lock down, and then severe thunderstorms that I didn't want to drive through, so I decided to leave on Sunday morning (and there were bright, sunny skies on Sunday!). We headed back to Maidens', unloaded the van again, stayed for another wonderful dinner and then loaded the van back up in the morning Sunday and took off for Denver,  arriving just in time for lunch at Target, since M wasn't home from Chapel yet, and then we had a quiet, restful afternoon.

Following our restful afternoon, I met back up with V and B at the pool that V has a membership at. Even though we didn't arrive until after six o'clock, the weather was absolutely perfect - not too hot, but still warm enough to swim (in the kiddie pool only); the sun was setting, so we didn't have the bright sun beating down on us either. It was just beautiful. The kids loved wading, sitting and splashing in the pool and V, B and I got to catch up while we kept hawk eyes on the kids. It was a great way to finish up our vacation before we headed back home the next morning.

One of the things that I love about the military life is that even though you move, and friends move, the possibility that you'll be able to see each other again is pretty good. No matter the miles or the months, true friendships remain strong and one is able to catch up like the months weren't even there and the miles hadn't separated you over long distances.

03 June 2014

Road Trip to Denver and Cheyenne - part 1

Where have I been?? I wrote several posts in May, and then I disappeared. Well, I went road tripping!!

The kids and I took a vacation up to visit friends in the Denver area, Colorado, and Cheyenne, Wyoming. (This also checks one off the 35 in 365 list!)

Yes, I drove over twelve hundred miles (there and back) alone with three small children. Yes, I am crazy. Yes, I will do it again.

When Mike was gone during his pre-deployment training, I had made plans to go on short road trips and visit friends to help pass the time. His deployment was canceled, but I thought, I already made the plans, so why not keep them?

Without further ado, last Tuesday, I loaded up the van with clothes, food, blankets and kids and we set out to drive up to Aurora, Colorado to visit my friend M and her son, and to visit with friends V and B and their children, whom we knew from Tinker AFB in Oklahoma, and are now stationed in Denver.

For the record, Mike would have loved to have come along, but he wasn't able to get off work, so he got the whole house to himself for a week - he said it was way too quiet and lonely.  - Hmm, that's how I feel when he's gone TDY. It was sweet that he missed us though - and of course, we missed him.

The scenery in Colorado was just amazing! Well, the whole way north was just spectacular. Snow blanketed high mountain peaks from the Sangrio de Cristo mountains in Santa Fe all the way north to Denver before the mountains head west and can only be seen in the distance on a clear day in Cheyenne. The twin Spanish Peaks in southern Colorado, Pike's Peak in Colorado Springs, and of course, the Rocky Mountains, were all capped with glowing and glistening snow under the bright spring sun. With the lush, green rolling prairies rushing up to meet the mountain bases, and many of those fields dotted, or in some places blanketed, with whites, purples and pinks of newly bloomed spring flowers, it was just a refreshing sight for eyes used to brown and tan desert landscapes.

So idyllic!
We got to see the Thunderbirds practicing their routine as we drove through Colorado Springs - the kids loved that! We were stuck in traffic, so I actually was able to get two pictures of them! (I basically just did a blind aim while keeping my eyes on the road - do not try that at home, or on the road rather.)

Thunderbirds flying in formation above Colorado Springs
It was a wonderful visit with M - she was kind enough to open up her beautiful, calming house to me and my loud children (I realized just how loud the three of them are together on this trip, just by virtue of being small children numbering more than one). We had a wonderful chicken taco dinner the night we arrived and the kids really enjoyed playing outside with her son on her green, lush lawn (I could not get over how green the grass was in northern Colorado, and how soft it was -  really, I could go on and on about the grass).

Before the kids could play, M and I had to use our math skills to put this turtle together
 The next day, M took us to the Wildlife Experience Museum, which was amazing. More on that in another post. Then it was drive through Chick-fil-a for lunch so the kids could eat in the van while I borrowed M's sandals to dash into Target to get some more flip flops, since mine broke just as we were leaving the Wildlife Experience.

In the afternoon, while her son was at school, M hosted her weekly Bible study on "Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus" in her home, which was wonderful. I got to meet one of her friends, and my friend B, from Oklahoma, was able to come too.

Afterwards, my friend V came over with her beautiful children and all the kids played in the sprinkler in the backyard (again, the beautiful, green, lush, wonderful grass). Playing in the sprinkler is a new experience for my little ones - living in the desert, in a drought, just doesn't leave license for wasting water like that. But in Colorado, it wasn't a problem - there appears to be a plethora of water up there to play in.
Just look at that grass!! So gorgeous!

Then it was dinner, baths and bedtime, and following breakfast the next day, I loaded the van back up, we said our goodbyes until we came back south in a few days and headed up to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Visiting M was wonderful and refreshing - it was great to hang out with M and catch up on things. Her home was beautiful and felt like a physical and spiritual oasis from our desert life. The kids had a great time and M's son was so sweet to share his toys and home with us. He's more introverted, and my children are loud and rambunctious, so I'm sure it was quite the experience having us over for a visit. I am so grateful that we were able to stay and reconnect. 

Saying goodbye
Keep checking for part 2 of our adventure! And all the fun stuff we saw! To be continued . . .