September 29, 2016

Sparkhouse Family Books

Being a parent is the most incredible, stressful, amazing, tiring job I've ever had. I love hearing my two little ones call me Momma. It melts my heart.

Another thing that melts my heart is watching my girls grow in their faith. As I mentioned in my last post, talking to our girls about God and being intentional about our faith is very important to us. We want our girls to grow up not just knowing about God, but having a true and personal relationship with Him.

We have two sets of little eyes and ears that are documenting our every move. The girls see first-hand how momma & daddy react to physical, emotional, social, financial, and spiritual situations beyond our control. They are the first to realize how differently we may speak to strangers in the middle of rush hour traffic compared to how we treat others on Sunday morning. They also know when we've made a mistake and should apologize for our behavior.

A lot of people are under the impression that kids are clueless. While that may be true based on certain ages and stages, I believe kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. For example, Alex has absolutely no idea why she goes to a big building to play with other kids and eat crackers every Sunday and Wednesday. But she DOES know that we pray before each meal, have a prayer huddle before we walk out the door, and say prayers before bedtime. I KNOW that SHE KNOWS because if we DON'T pray before a meal, SHE will initiate it by babbling away in her undecipherable baby language and end the babble with an AMEN that is clear as day. So kids DO understand a lot. Even babies. That's why I'm so excited to tell you about Sparkhouse Family Books!

I was first introduced to Sparkhouse Family through a random lead on a Christian parenting website. I started researching the products and completely fell in love.

Our family life has been a little off beat since I shattered my elbow two months ago. But we're slowly getting back into our normal routines and I'm so excited to incorporate these Play and Learn books and Devotions for Kids into our reading time. Since the recommended reading age for these books is < 7, the key verses and key concepts are short, sweet, and perfect for growing minds.

It's also been SUPER easy and convenient for me to piggyback these stories and corresponding activities with whatever Bible story Audrey learned about in church. I've gotten some great ideas for follow up questions and it's been fun to watch Audrey's interest in Bible stories spark.

Audrey's growing love for Jesus excites me! I love watching her talk about God and the Bible stories with her childlike faith. And I will happily provide her with all the resources possible that I think will help nurture that faith.

Now through October 15 you can save 25% off your Sparkhouse Family purchase using promo code BLOGGER. This discount code can also be applied toward Frolic book purchases, which is a line of Christian board books for babies (perfect for Alex!). Enjoy!!

P.S. Don't forget to mark your calendar for October 23 because I'm hosting a Sparkhouse Family Book Fair! The Book Fair will feature all of the books included in this review, in addition to a Christmas Pop-up book, a Search & Find Bible, a baby board book Bible, and so much more.


September 14, 2016


Hello, everyone! I hope you're doing well. You didn't hear much from me over the summer because, well, I was doing what any good summer bum should do—enjoying my family, eating tons of watermelon, staying cool, and being lazy. And I had such a good summer! I hope you did too.

A couple of things I'd like to mention:

I had a freak bicycle accident on August 18 when Robert & I were on date night. My brakes locked, I flew over the handlebars, and I stayed overnight in Trauma followed by a quick surgery to repair my shattered elbow. I've spent the past month recovering and being well care for by loving family & friends. My recovery is going well but I would greatly appreciate continued prayers and good vibes!

Audrey started preschool and absolutely loves it! She only goes 2-days/week but thinks she's a BIG girl now. ;)  She is getting along marvelously and we love getting play-by-play details of her day. Her daily highlights typically include: recess, snack, crafts, and recess. Pretty typical for a 3y.o. But I know she's learning a lot both academically and socially, because she'll randomly sing a new song she's learned at school, talk about fire safety, etc.

Since Audrey now goes to preschool, Alex has been getting some one-on-one time with me and she loves it. Alex is typically our quiet one because Audrey likes to be the center of attention. But Alex's personality has really started to blossom and she loves getting to be center stage 6hrs/week. I cherish these times with her and I'm so happy that she gets this 'only child' time.

Being intentional about our faith and integrating it into every aspect of our family is very important to us. Our girls help hold Robert & me accountable, as we truly have to walk the walk and practice what we preach. Between talking about Biblical characters at home, learning about them at church, and interacting with the Bible App for Kids, Audrey's interest has really been sparked and she's so excited to learn more about God. That's why I'm so excited to announce that I've partnered with Sparkhouse Family and will be hosting a Book Fair next month! Mark your calendars for October 23 and stay tuned because I'll provide more details and a book review in the next few days!

June 25, 2016

#Thursdatenight on the Farm

There's a farm in our area that has (almost) single-handedly made Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) cool. In a CSA setup, individuals pledge support to a local farm in return for a share of the farm's in-season harvest. I've always been intrigued by CSAs and have kept hearing amazing things about one farm in particular for several years.

Millsap Farm is a 20-acre farm located just a few minutes north of Springfield. In addition to the CSA which you can read more about here, Millsap Farm has a Thursday Night Pizza Club. This Pizza Club features wood-fired pizzas that are cooked in the farm's handmade Horno wood-fired earthen oven and baked at 800 degrees. And they offer three different pizzas topped with their very own seasonal produce, plus a cheese pizza option.

Again, we have heard incredible reviews about Thursday Night Pizza Club, but never tried it out until this past Thursday night. Why, you ask?? Well, Robert doesn't like pizza and I don't like "weird" pizza. We're a Pizza Hut style with regular pizza toppings pizza kind of family. Add to that the fact that we don't like hot weather—especially eating hot pizza by a hot oven in the heat of summer. And that's exactly why we've never been. But some of our really good friends, and I mean REALLY good friends, invited us to Pizza Club. So we reluctantly obliged, but only because we're really good friends.

Going into the evening, our expectations were very low. We expected to be eating mediocre cheese pizza in the sweltering heat and had even established a "safe word" which would signal when it was time to get the heck out. But our evening didn't go as planned. The experience turned out to be amazing. (At least it was for me!)

When we arrived at Millsap Farm, we were amazed by the number of people in attendance. The website said that Pizza Club was popular and sells out, but people say a lot of things on the internet that aren't true. We even got there 10 minutes early and had to stand in a long line. Although we had to wait for a while, the atmosphere was so welcoming that it took our minds off the long line. It was fun watching kids play freely and checking out the surrounding produce. It reminded me of my childhood and more carefree times.

Millsap Farm

After paying for our meals and getting our plates, we found a secluded area in the back of the picnic area and set up camp. It was cool, shaded, and looked like a fairy tale forest (fireflies, outdoor string lights, and live music may have contributed to the ambience 😉).

community dinner

Robert got in the pizza line for us and loaded us up with every type of pizza. I expected to only be eating the cheese, but I tried every single type and came away with a new favorite—Seeing Green. The Seeing Green pizza was smothered with homemade pesto, red onions, Portobello mushrooms, and cheese. I ate more slices than I'd care to admit and have already asked Millsap for their pesto recipe!

Millsap Farm Pizza Night

Another highlight of the evening was getting to watch the pizza making process. The farm had a whole crew of people rolling out pizza dough, adding toppings, and firing the pizzas. From the baking process to the outdoor seating, the entire evening felt like a big, community dinner that made strangers feel more like friends and where kids could experience old fashioned fun.

Millsap Farm

Millsap Farm Pizza Night

Our evening was cut short due to bad weather, but our experience at Thursday Night Pizza Club was one for the record books. It reminds me of a song from Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood that Audrey likes to sing, "You gotta try new foods 'cause they might taste goo-ood. So-oo good." And that's exactly what happened. Thursday Night Pizza Club left my tastebuds watering and me anxious to make our next reservation! It was an evening to be thankful for community, food, family, and good friends who convinced us to try something new.

June 23, 2016

Weekend Adventures at Big Cedar Wilderness Club

We spent a semi-incredible weekend celebrating Father's Day and exploring the property of Big Cedar Lodge. The reason I say semi-incredible is because Alex didn't sleep well (read: at all) the entire weekend which caused us all to have some mood swings. But other than our occasional grumpy demeanor, the weekend was all that we could've hoped for and more!

Prior to staying at Big Cedar Lodge, I was always skeptical. I'm not the lodge-y/camping/
hunting/log cabin loving type. I'm also not a fan of overpriced accommodations and dining—especially when it's outfitted in lodge-y/camping/hunting/log cabin type decor. So other than wanting to visit Top of the Rock JUST for the incredible view and photo ops, I never planned to visit Big Cedar let alone stay there.

But then I kept hearing such amazing feedback and seeing incredible photos........ All this from people who, like me, aren't the lodge-y/camping/hunting log cabin loving type. Of course, I became intrigued and the ideas starting forming. And then all of a sudden I booked us a weekend getaway at the Wilderness Club!

Bluegreen Wilderness Club

Wilderness Club at Big Cedar is owned by Bluegreen Vacations Unlimited, a timeshare property management firm. To book our stay, I didn't go through Bluegreen directly but used Craigslist to find an available room that matched our needs. (A lot of timeshare owners post their unused timeshare listings on Craigslist and eBay to pay for their annual maintenance fees. This is perfectly acceptable.) I found a large studio complete with kitchenette and balcony, and booked our stay.

Big Cedar Wilderness Club

Bluegreen Wilderness Club

The Wilderness Club offers a ton of amenities that were appealing to us like playgrounds, a pool at every lodge (aka timeshare unit), complimentary shuttle service, a clubhouse & game room, a lazy river with a waterfall and slide, BBQ pits, etc. But the added bonus is that since you're technically on Big Cedar property, all guests have full access to Big Cedar Lodge amenities as well—miniature golf, paved 5K trail, restaurants, etc.

We arrived on the property and checked in to our studio a little before 6:30pm on Friday night. After getting settled into our room, we threw on our swimsuits and headed out to the pool area. The pool area at our lodge had an infinity pool, regular pool, and kiddie pool with fountains. Can you guess where we spent the rest of our evening??

Big Cedar Lodge

Big Cedar Lodge

Saturday morning we put on our activewear and took the shuttle to the 5K trail. The trail is paved, scenery is gorgeous, but the hills are no joke. Robert & I thought we would run the entire trail, but boy were we wrong! Pushing 70lbs worth of stroller and two little girls did us in after the first major incline. But we still made great time and had fun running all over Big Cedar property.

Big Cedar Trail

Devil's Pool Big Cedar

Devil's Pool Big Cedar

Table Rock Lake

After our run, we ate breakfast, and got suited up for the lazy river. Let me just say that if you have small children, this water feature will be anything BUT lazy. Trying to relax while holding a toddler and infant in an inner tube is an awful lot of work. We made two loops around the river before calling it quits because the girls were disrupting all the other people who COULD actually relax and be lazy. In fact, I had a middle-age father come up to me and assure me that vacationing with kids DOES get easier. Haha!

Wilderness Club lazy river

Although our lazy river experience was short-lived, our fun was not. My parents came to visit us for the day and we ran into some friends from my hometown. It was nice to catch up and relax for a bit!

That afternoon while Alex napped, Audrey & I took my parents to play miniature golf. We only played 4 holes due to the heat and a 3-yr old's attention span, but we still had an awesome time! The course is self-serve and had clubs to accommodate a wide range of sizes, which we appreciated very much.

Big Cedar golf

Big Cedar golf

Big Cedar golf

Big Cedar golf

We followed up golf with watermelon on the balcony. That probably sounds really basic and boring, but the weather was really nice and our balcony felt very private. Shortly after, my parents left and the four of us got ready for dinner. We called the shuttle (a seriously amazing service that we used 10+ times over a 2-day period) and arrived right on time for our dinner reservation at Devil's Pool Restaurant.

Big Cedar Wilderness Club amenities

Our dinner at Devil's Pool was the only meal we ate on property. I was apprehensive going into the meal, since I have a penchant against overpriced restaurants. But after eating there, I can honestly say the food was great. I would never say the food or experience was worth the price, but it was nice to treat Robert to a nice meal on Father's Day weekend.

Sunday morning came to soon and we found ourselves packing up and leaving a small piece of paradise behind. Our weekend adventure at Big Cedar Wilderness Club was truly amazing and we're already planning to book an even longer stay next summer!

Big Cedar Wilderness Club

Insider tips for staying at Big Cedar Wilderness Club:

• Check Craigslist and eBay for discounted Wilderness Club listings

• Off-season dates are cheaper than peak season, but the pools and lazy river are only open Memorial Day weekend - Labor Day weekend, so keep that in mind if swimming options are important to your family.

• If your room comes with a kitchenette, bring your own food. On-property restaurants are very expensive and eating out every meal adds up quickly.

• Bring modest clothing. As a family-friendly resort, swim cover-ups are required when you're not actually in the water and the restaurants require resort attire for indoor seating (i.e. no hats, flip flops, or swimwear; collared shirts for men; etc.).

• There are a plethora of activities and amenities so boredom will never be a problem.

• If you're traveling with children and would like a few hours of adults-only time, Big Cedar offers a 3-hour Kids' Club for ages 4-12 for an additional fee.

June 16, 2016

iPhone 6 vs Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to give the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge a test run. That might sound a bit strange coming from an avid Apple user, but I thought it would be fun to see which phone really is the best of the best. After using both phones for a few weeks, I had a clear a favorite and I'm here to help you find yours.

Like I said, I'm an Apple fan but that wasn't always the case. Prior to 2010, I didn't know much about Apple. I knew they made iPhones and that Mac computers were a designers dream, but I had no intentions of starting a relationship with them. But in January 2011, I got my first iPhone. I upgraded to the iPhone from a Samsung Blackjack which I absolutely loved.

The first week of transition was difficult for sure. I had to learn the Apple iOS system and adjust to texting on a touchscreen. But you could say the rest is history because, for me, there was no going back to anything other than iOS. Since then, I've also purchased a MacBook Pro and become completely immersed in all things Apple. It's the navigation system that I'm used to now.

Although I'm uber comfortable with Apple, I also enjoy trying new things. So I jumped at the opportunity to try out the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, which is a seriously cool phone, and test out Verizon's service compared to AT&T.

Here are the results:

Operating system—try as I might, I just don't mesh with the Android platform. It's like my brain just doesn't speak that language anymore. For others, it's definitely not a deal breaker. It's simply a preference of operating system.

Service provider—it's a toss up. Even though we live in a metro area, the geographical location of our house is weird and internet and cell phone service is spotty. I'm not in the position to recommend one service provider over another because neither network (AT&T or Verizon) is/was amazing.

Aesthetically speaking—the Galaxy S7 Edge is boss. The iPhone 6 shows great improvement over its predecessors, but the edge-to-edge screen on the Galaxy totally won me over. And in my opinion, it just looks nicer than the iPhone 6. (But to each his own.) The silver titanium phone I tested was beautiful. (And please tell me I'm not the only one who has strong opinions about whether or not a phone can be pretty.)

Galaxy Edge

Durability—the Galaxy S7 Edge was the clear winner for me. I have two little girls, ages 1 and 3, and I let them put these phones to the test. As a mom blogger, I feel like it was part of my due diligence to have my little rascals play with the phones. Because in reality, that's exactly what happens—your kids will inevitably snatch your phone, play on your phone, and either drop said phone or flush it down the toilet.

I have a faux Otterbox bumper case with protective glass shield on my iPhone 6. The Galaxy S7 Edge came with no protection and was a product that I had to send back, so my nerves were a little crazy when I let the girls loose with it. BUT.....the Galaxy S7 Edge performed beautifully and held up in spite of being thrown, dropped, and stepped on. I didn't test this part, but the Galaxy S7 Edge is also water resistant in up to 5 feet of water, which means getting dropped in the toilet or put in the washer wouldn't be a huge problem.

Galaxy S7

Battery life—an ongoing problem for almost everyone on the planet, except for Galaxy S7 Edge owners. The battery life on this bad boy is truly kick butt. I feel like I'm constantly charging my iPhone 6, whereas I had to purposely try and drain the battery on the S7 Edge. The specs on the Edge say it can keep you connected for up to 33 hours and I believe every bit of that.

Galaxy S7

Camera capabilities—selfies, photo bombing, and photo styling are all the rage and the better your camera the better your picture. I noticed a HUGE improvement in the iPhone 6's camera compared to the iPhone 4 and was happy about the upgrades and new features. But after testing the S7 Edge, the iPhone 6 has nothing in comparison.

As a parent, capturing memories of my girls is of utmost importance. The picture quality and shooting speed of the S7 Edge is amazing. It has precise autofocus and 12MP rear camera with dual-pixel 5MP front camera. The Edge also has a new low-light sensor which is perfect for taking high quality selfies (not that I really take selfies) and pictures at night. I thoroughly enjoyed taking pictures on the S7 Edge and took SO MANY pics that I would love to share. Unfortunately, mom brain got in the way and it wasn't until AFTER I returned the phone that I realized I FORGOT TO GET MY PICTURES. I apologize for my slip up, but if that's the worst thing that happened that was a good day.

Galaxy Edge

And now for the $1M question.... Which phone wins my recommendation? I never would've expected it, but the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge. Personally, I don't foresee myself ever straying from an Apple product. The iOS interface is ingrained in me and I'm probably a lifer. But battery life, durability, and picture quality are incredibly important to me and the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge was the clear winner.

Galaxy Edge

Special thanks to Samsung, Verizon Wireless, and Weber Shandwick for allowing me to demo and review the Galaxy S7 Edge! All thoughts and opinions in this review are my own and I received no compensation in exchange for this honest review.

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