22 October 2014

Book Review: Your Family In Picutres

I tend to be a documenter. I was the girl in high school who was taking pictures at the football games on Friday night- and not just because I was the yearbook editor. I genuinely love to take pictures of life. College was another great time for taking pictures, what with new friendships forming and an endless supply of time on our hands. Then, there were the early years of marriage. Photos from this time consists mainly of pictures of our cats and newlywed couple selfies. Whatever, they were cute (and so were we). And now, I have a family and two little girls. I have to restrain myself not to document their every breath. I know each moment is precious and fleeting, and I want to capture it to the best of my abilities. Enter my amazing husband at Christmas 3 years ago. He bought me my first DSLR camera and I've been in love ever since. Originally, he bought it for me so that I could hone my craft on our oldest daughter who was just about 7 months old at the time.  What a great age for practicing camera settings and lighting balance!

I am not a home-cooked photographer who thinks I've now gone pro because I have basic knowledge of f-stops and photoshop. I am constantly learning and have a long way to go before I would even call myself "good." But ultimately, I want to use my photography to bless others through an organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. You can read more about them on their website, but they are an amazing organization. That said, I have a lot to learn and truly enjoy practicing and experimenting with photography. This is why I was so excited to read Me Ra Koh's book, Your Family In Pictures!

First of all, the book is GORGEOUS. Brimming with photos from Me Ra and many other people, nearly every page showcases a brilliant photograph. If you've ever read Me Ra Koh's blog, you know what an incredible woman she is. She isn't just a photographer. She's a mother, a wife, a writer and a survivor of several painful seasons of life. One of her great passions is to empower women-- especially moms. Her genuine, multifaceted heart comes across loud and clear in this book, which is one of the reasons I love it so much. Each page is filled with not only perfect "photo recipes" (as she calls them), but with encouragement and a call to be brave behind- and in front of- the lens.

The book is full of helpful tips and practical advise for turning the most common moments into captured masterpieces.  For instance, who knew that when taking Halloween photos, asphalt can be the perfect surface for bouncing soft light off of your subject??  And that oh-so-elusive glowing Christmas tree shot? Yep, she's got a recipe for that in this book, too. But my favorite section of this book is the one about family portraits. Probably fitting, given my current season of life. She has a page where she writes about the importance of mom taking a self-portrait. If it weren't dark outside right now, I'd be setting up my camera for a self-portrait! On the importance of stepping in front of the lens, she writes, "I don't want the generations after me to simple hear the stories of who I was. I want my loved ones to see the photos that document the chapters of my story: the milestones I reached, the journey I've walked as I discovered my condfidence and love for myself, the mysteries and hardships I pushed through to experience victory and freedom." WOW! In a world that is innundated by mindless selfies, this encourages a different look at the self-portrait and encourages a vulnerable, searching purpose behind them. I can't wait to try this. 

In addition to scene-specific recipes and tips, there is a wealth of beginning photographer knowledge in this book. Everything from the best time of day to shoot to how to choose the right camera and/or lens for you. This is absolutely the most informative, engaging and inspiring book on photography I have read to date. I would recommend it to everyone I know who owns a camera-- and that includes the camera in your phone!!

You can order this book online here. Also, here is a link to Me Ra Koh's fantastic website. 

Though I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the purposes of this review, the opinions are my own. 

And just for fun, here's a recent family pictures I took this past weekend:

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16 October 2014

What Ebola, Sermon Notes and Moses Have In Common

At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, can I be honest with you for a few minutes? Ebola freaks me out. Even when the disease was seemingly eradicated, it would cross my mind from time to time. Maybe its because I was too young when I saw "Outbreak" and the images of those bright yellow biohazard suits burned an image into my mind, or it could be that I'm a pessimistic hypochondriac (but still a really fun person-ha!). But whatever the reason, it scares me. And I almost feel silly typing that because I know the statistics. Believe me. I know them. I've read and re-read every article that comes across my home page or Zite list having to deal with the subject. Despite this knowledge, the fear remains.

I also read another news story today about the subpoenas that over 400 pastors in the Houston-area received from the City, requiring them to hand over any and all sermon/lecture notes having to deal with 'homosexuality, gender issues or the Houston mayor.' Apparently there is some new anti-discrimination law they are trying to enforce, which is really just fancy talk for advancing their liberal agenda while marginalizing and stripping those who hold differing views of their right to free speech & religion.  As the wife of a pastor, this initially made my skin prickle at the thought. If a pastor can't speak the truth in his own church, where can he? And what does that say about the society we live in? The constitution our nation was founded on? The beliefs and rights so many men and women have lost their lives for? Its happening more and more, this pressure on Christian speakers and preachers, to water-down their belifes. Pressure to fabricate politically-correct loop holes in the Gospel, to paint grey on the black and white. (And for the record-- there are no loop holes in the Gospel. Just the truth- That Jesus is the only way to salvation. It doesn't get any simpler than that.) Just looking around the courts in our country and seeing some of the rulings that activist judges have wrongly passed could frighten and discourage many Christians.

These things were swirling in my head as I put my girls to bed tonight. When they were finally down, I sat on my bed to begin my quiet time, studying the life of Moses. I had to both laugh and praise God at the irony of where I am in the study. Just starting Exodus 11. God has already sent 9 plagues on the country of Egypt and her people... water to blood, frogs, flies, gnats, livestock, boils, hail, locusts, darkness. And we begin Chapter 11 with Moses telling Pharoah that God is going to kill all the firstborn sons in the land, as well as the first born of all the livestock. Its strange that in all of this death and destruction in these chapters I can find peace and comfort from the Word. What I find comforting is the absolute Power that God has over earthly things... natural things like water and weather, living things like reptiles, insects and livestock. And the power that he has over things that affect his people... sickness & death. Studying these chapters have oddly reassured me that I don't have to fear Ebola. As silly as this may sound- its true! When God sent the plagues to Egypt he was proclaiming that HE IS GOD, and challenging the multitudes of gods in Egypt. Where the Egyptians prayed to their gods for rain, food, healing, etc., God showed that He alone is the One true ruler over everything. 

And then, I've been studying about Pharoah. God allowed Pharoah to harden his heart toward Him- and God even hardened Pharoah's heart Himself so that he would not let the Israelites out of Egypt. But God did all of this for a purpose-- that God's people would know He is the LORD (Ex 10:1-3), and also so that the Egyptians would know He is LORD (Ex 14:4). As difficult as some people find this set of circumstances to be, I again find comfort in knowing that God is ultimately in control of the rulers of the land. God is the same God today as He was when He was bringing the Israelites out of slavery. And Pharoah was a heck of a lot more powerful than any Houston mayor, radical judge or Obama (sorry, dude). Time and time again God demonstrated His power and sovereignty over Pharoah and I can take comfort in knowing that still today, He is sovereign over the injustices of this world. 

So is Ebola still scary? You bet. But I don't have to let it control my thoughts because I know the ultimate Healer- the One who created my temporary being and is in control of even the things that may ail our physical selves. Is the idea that a City can subpoena a preacher's Sunday sermon a bit unsettling? Sure. But its not outside the reaches of God's hands. I know that God's word never returns void, but will accomplish what He desires and achieve the purpose for which He sent it (Isa. 55:11). Perhaps someone will be moved towards Christ in reviewing all those subpoenaed sermons. Just studying these few chapters in Exodus have reminded me that God loves His people tremendously. And He is a God who has is sovereign and just and if we trust in Him, in His perfect plan, it will all work out in conformity with the purpose of his will (Eph 1:11).

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22 September 2014

What's So Bad About A Mild Hearing Loss??

Gia is doing so great with her hearing aid. The only problem is that when she really gets jumping around (like every other 3 year old on the planet often does) the aid comes off from behind her ear. We're trying to teach her to put it back over her ear, but she doesn't quite have the hang of it yet. Other than that, she's doing great.

She is in speech therapy right now, though you wouldn't really know that she has issues with speech. The ENT wanted a speech evaluation in conjuction with the hearing aid, and the speech therapist thought it would be a good idea to work on a few sounds she has difficulty pronouncing. She is also working on helping her adjust to learning how to hear with the new aid. Our speech therapist is great and she read my mind when she showed me this hearing loss simulator. I had wondered if we were doing the right thing, and wondered if a mild hearing loss was really that big of a deal. She let me listen to this hearing loss simulator and it definitely answered that questions--- YES! Even a mild loss can be a big deal!!  Click the picture below and it will take you to the website. You click on one of the scenario icons (coffe shop, outside, child's voice, man's voice, woman's voice) then click the level of hearing loss. Be sure to first listen to it with a "normal" hearing range. 

Pretty amazing, right? Its interesting in the outside scenario how so much of the background is murmurred even with mild hearing loss. And did you notice how much harder you had to work to listen to what was being said, at even the mild loss level? This was really eye-opening and helped me see how difficult it must have been for Gia (and Sean!) to live without their hearing aids. Just thought this was a really neat tool & people who loved us would be interested in seeing it!
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17 September 2014

Gia's New Hearing Aid

Its been a busy week for our brave 3 year-old! She started two new classes this week (BSF and Pre-School) AND she just got her very first hearing aid today! She is very excited about it and we are doing our best to help her see it as a positive thing. So far, she's doing great.

We've known since she was born that we would need to closely monitor her hearing, as Sean has genetic hearing loss. His mom wore heaing aids by the time she was 30, and now Sean has hearing aids as well. His grandma (mom's mom) was also almost completely deaf at the end of her life. So we've been having her tested regularly. More recently, she's been saying things like "What'd you say Mommy?" more often so I knew it was time to schedule another hearing screen. It did show that one ear has mild to moderate hearing loss, where the other one is just mild. Since we knew it was important to stay on top of for the sake of speech development and learning, we decided to go ahead with the hearing aid. Kids with hearing loss who are properly aided before or around the age of 3 have a much better chance of being on par with their peers in school and speech than those who are delayed in getting them. 

We had hoped to get two hearing aids so that the other ear won't get "lazy" and just for balance, but insurance only approved on. So that's what we're going with. About 3 weeks ago, we went and had her ear molds taken. She got to choose the color she wanted and she chose purple glitter. She was so incredibly brave for this. I know some kids kick and scream at this part because it does feel really foreign, but she did great. 

Today we went back and got the actual hearing aid. It definitely helps that Sean has hearing aids- its not quite so scary of a concept. The audiologist (who is also a friend from church- thank you God for that provision!) showed us how to put them on, keep them clean, change the batteries, etc. then she programmed them for Gia. She has them set to filter out background noise and loud noises, as Gia is really sensitive to that. I told her she didn't have to wear them to school this afternoon but she was excited to wear them! She told me that she really needed them at story time so she could hear the stories. 

When we first found out she needed hearing aids, my heart kinda sank. Even though it is what we had been expecting all along, it was difficult at first to accept it. I kept thinking that she didn't need them because she was speaking ok and seemed to be hearing *most* of what we say. I didn't think about how frustrating it must have been for her to only hear bits and pieces of conversations and things like that. My mommy heart still aches a bit when I think about what other kids might say, but hopefully since she has them so young, it will be a non-issue for the most part when she gets older. For now, we've just told her that if her friends ask her about them, she can just tell them they help her to hear. If bigger issues come up with it later, I hope I'll have the right words and open arms to reassure her that she is beautifully & wonderfully made by God. That's really all I want her to know. But for now I am so grateful that she is feeling good about wearing them. And really, they do look pretty cute on her!!

**Edited to add: Gia's first day at preschool with the aids went pretty well. Though her teacher told me that a little girl in her class walked up to Gia and said, "What is this?" then pulled it out of her ear! Kids are curious! Thankfully her teacher was able to just put it right back in, then explain to the class that it helps her hear and that only an adult should touch them. I think at first that made Gia feel self-conscious, but she seemed to get past it.**

16 September 2014

Whole 30: Day 0

Its been a busy summer. Lots of trips out of town for Sean, fun & free summer activites for the kids, our 10th wedding anniversary, a wonderful impromptu visit from my mom, and moving across town. All of that was a wonderful way to pass the summer months, but along the way it led to a lot of poor eating habits. Mainly, fast food & unbalanced meals-on-the-go. For months, Sean has wanted to do a challenge called "The Whole 30." Its a big deal and takes a lot of commitment, so all summer our mantra has been, "After such and such trip, we'll start..." Well folks, the trips are over. Sean's birthday has been celebrated & caupcakes have been eaten. I'm finishing off my Almond Ice Cream Dibs tonight. I had two Diet Cokes today in anticiaption of my month-long abstinence (I'll miss you, DC). We also went grocery shopping. I know there are a lot of wonderful, creative recipes for the Whole30, and we will definitely get to them, but for our first time, we kept it simple. As it really should be. All that's allowed on Whole30 is organic produce and non-hormone/GMO/etc meat along with healthy fats like coconut oil. No sugar, no sugar subs, no bread, no soda, no dairy, no soy, no legumes (peanuts, too)... the list goes on and on. When I say it really is just meat, veggies and fruit, it really is. It was actually nice to not have to go up and down every aisle! But learning to read labels will take some time. We'll make our own mayo & ranch dressing for salads (which I'm excited about!). So, I will hopefully be posting a little bit througout our journey as a means of keeping ourselves accountable.

One of the biggest reasons we've decided to do this is because I've recently had a lot of food allergies issues arise. This is similar to a total elimination diet that many doctors put people on for similar reasons. After the 30 days, we will slowly begin reintroducing foods, while paying close attention to any reactions we may have from the new food groups. Hopefully this will help us adapt a healthier lifestyle overall that is tailored to our bodies' specific needs. This is also the best way to start healing our gut from the months (er, years) of poor diet habits and see if that might have an impact on our mental health as well.

For better or worse, here we go!  This is what a week-ish worth of good-for-you food looks like:

09 September 2014

My Princesses Learn To Be Brave

I was almost giddy when I opened up my package from Tyndale and found the beautiful book inside, My Princesses Learn To Be Brave. The latest in a new line of stories that combines Biblical stories with applicable truths, this book instantly captured the attention of my princess-loving three year old daughter. In fact, before I even showed her the book, she saw it laying on the counter. She picked it up and asked, "Can we read this??" She could not wait. It has been a regular in our evening book rotation. 

My Princesses Learn to be Brave, by Stephanie Risch is the story of two friends, Grace and Hope, who are playing together on the playground when their play is halted by a mean bully. One of the young girls recalls a story of bravery she had heard at church- the story of Queen Esther and the bravery she showed when she risked everything to save her people. What I really appreciated about this beautifully illustrated children's book is that it did not shy away from telling the actual Bible story. It did not embellish upon the truth of the Word (like some children's Bible story books I've read), but simply told the story in concise language that young toddlers and older children alike can understand. It is rare to find a book or series of books that is Biblically sound as well as relevant and captivating. I cannot wait to see what other books this series come out with!

I must also add that the illustrations in this book are so beautiful-- bright, colorful and full of princess-y goodness. Both my daughter and I wanted to jump into the pages, they were so pretty! This book would make the perfect gift for any little girl in your life!! (Also, at a list price of just $6.99 they are super affordable too! A great book for the price!)

I received this book compliments of Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. I did not receive any monetary compensation for my review and all opinions are strictly my own. 

For more information on the My Princesses Books, click the links below:

My Princesses Learn To Be Brave By Stephanie Rische

List Price:
Release Date:
September 2014
Page Count:
Trim Size:
8 x 8

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Vegan Ice Cream!

Vegan Ice Cream by Jeff Rogers is one of the best books I've seen on non-dairy frozen treats. And believe me, I've looked at a lot of such books. I love all things ice cream. I've hardly met a flavor I didn't like. Rocky road, moose tracks, chocolate chip, vanilla, strawberry, pumpkin... I could go on and on. For years, ice cream was an evening staple in my diet. Until over a period of time, I became lactose intolerant and ultimately allergic to all things dairy. I could deal with no more milk, macaroni and cheese or cheesecake. The real kicker and the thing I still miss most is real, creamy ice cream. You can imagine my delight upon receiving the cookbook "Vegan Ice Cream"! An entire book full or ice cream flavors that I can eat?!? Yes, please. 

It should be noted that all the recipes in this book do call for an ice cream maker. I don't know why I thought there might be some way to make this delicious dessert without such a machine. But never fear! That's when friends with ice cream makers come in handy, at least until I can find a good deal on a machine for my own kitchen! I have many fond memories of making homemade ice cream every summer on the 4th of July but my allergies threw a wrench in that summer staple. Whether you are an ice cream chef aficionado or just a novice ice cream lover, this book is exactly what you need. It walks you through all the basics such as sweeteners, nut milks, extracts, blending tips, serving and storing and it even gives advice on choosing an ice cream machine. From the classic vanilla and chocolate to the more adventurous Jalapeno Heaven and Coconut Macaroon flavors, this cook book has 35 ice cream and nearly 50 raw ice cream recipes that are just waiting to be tested and devoured. 

With beautiful pictures and easy to follow instructions, this is a mouthwatering cook book that is sure to satisfy your craving for ice cream- even if you have to or choose to eat vegan. First up on my list? Pumpkin Ice Cream!

You can check this book out here on Amazon: Available in Kindle or Hardback

Though I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the purposes of this review, the opinions are my own. 
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