Thursday, December 20, 2012

Free & Festive Decorations

Want to add a little Christmas cheer to your home? I've got an idea to share that didn't cost me a dime.  I was able to use all materials I had around the house and in the yard.
Now of course this isn't an origional idea.  I saw similar arrangements in some pictures I saw on the internet while researching Christmas decorations. I'm sure I've got something pinned on my Holiday Happiness Pinterest board if you are interested.
Okay, let's get started. They were really simple to put together.
First of all, I braved the frozen tundra of our back yard to harvest a few pine boughs off of some of the trees in our back yard.  They needed a little pruning anyway.


Then I gathered up a few of the vases that I had decorating the top of my kitchen cabinets.
I also grabbed some holiday colored ribbon and some twine.

Snip the boughs to appropriate lengths. With a little careful placement and the addition of some fake red berries, you have a nice holiday styled arrangement.

I made three different arrangements to place around the kitchen and dining area. 
They pack a big holiday punch for a tiny bit of cost and effort.
It's not to late to make one for your home.
They would also make a nice hostess gift for some of these holiday parties you'll be attending.  

Add a little jolly to your holiday with these natural arrangements.
Happy decorating!

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tis' The Season

I wanted to share a little glimpse of what Christmas looks like at our house. 
We've broken out our Christmas mugs, 
and gotten out the ornaments.
We've got the Christmas music playing on the radio and the nativity has been unpacked.

We have unpacked all of our decorations. 
Here is one of our treasures.  This is Hunky Hubby's stocking from his childhood.  His mother commisioned this stocking to be made for him and I believe there is one similar to it for his brother and sister.  I can't imagine the hours it took to hand bead this entire stocking. It's full of ornate images of trains, fish, ducks, blocks, and more.  I really need to find a way to preserve this family heirloom.  I think a shadow box may be in order.

As a part of our family tradition we usually go and pick out our tree shortly after Thanksgiving.  Living on 12 mostly forested acres, we have the privilege of choosing a tree off our property. Usually we have to take the top of a mature tree seeing as how we don't live on a tree farm or anything.  Incidentally, I believe that Wisconsin is the largest Christmas tree grower in the nation. My one request for our tree this year was that it be tall and skinny.  I think I got what I wanted.

Hunky Hubby always gets the job of putting the lights on the  tree.  It's his honor really. 
I'm sure that's how he views it.  
We decorate the tree while sipping on a mug of hot apple cider. This is a tradition we have started in the last couple of years thanks to our good friends
the Cooks whom we press cider with in the fall.
We keep it in the freezer, always saving a gallon just for tree decorating day.  It adds the perfect smell and flavor to this part of our holiday.

The kids get so excited about decorating the tree.  I love watching them.  I really tried hard to relax about the process this year and let the boys take the lead on putting the decorations on.  However, it's really hard to relax when they are scrambling up and down a 8 foot ladder with fragile ornaments in their hands.

This year,the newest members of our family,
Bleu and Chipper, had to join in our festivities as well.

It seems that they gave their stamp of approval to our tree.

Each family has their own traditions, and we love ours.  They are part of what make our holidays so special.  The anticipation of the expected.  The opportunity to repeat something that only takes place once a year. Traditions pull us together and keep us focused on family during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.

Oh, and when it comes to the holidays, flexibility and ingenuity are a necessity.  Like when you need to hang the candy canes high up on the tree, but the 8 foot ladder has been put away.  You do what you need to do.

Whatever it takes to get the job done.
What are your favorite holiday traditions?
I'd love to hear about them.
We may want to add them to our repertoire.

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Monday, December 17, 2012

To Whom Much is Given

Here are a few photo's from our Thanksgiving celebration.
I think this is the first time I cooked the bird in my own home. I still had my mom to help me though.
Even though it would be an intimate dinner for 7, I wanted to make it special.  So I went to Pinterest and found these cute owls made out of paper sacks. 
I thought they would make cute place cards.
I put the boys, and my friend Megan, to work.
I think they let her do all the hard stuff.
It's really hard to teach chivalry.
Is there chivalry when it comes to cutting and pasting?

Seth had his duties, and Tate had his. Between the two of them, they finished them up. Although it's a good thing they had al day.

They were a pretty easy craft and they were made with things I already had on hand.  Considering how long I had  all of the supplies, they were basically free for us to make.
I think the little guys helped make our table look festive. I don't do center pieces. Although pretty, they are also annoying. Either you can't see the person across the table, or there isn't enough room for food.  I am a firm believer that people only do center pieces for magazine pictures and for those dining rooms that are always set but never used.

Since Wyat's cutting skills aren't up to snuff for circles yet and he needs to be monitored when glue is around, I made him my assistant baker. He strapped on an apron and had a ball mixing,
and licking.
I figure that's half the reason you bake things in a hot oven. So it kills the bacteria.

This is my favorite. Just look at how cute he is, concentrating on getting the crust just right.

 We made a Walnut Streusel Pumpkin Pie that was a hit with the hubs, and not too complicated. We also made another dessert, because pumpkin pie makes me gag.
We made this beautiful Peach-Blueberry Crumble Tart.
It was YUM!
I got both recipe's from the Oct/Nov 2012 issue of Taste of Home Magazine.
I like that magazine a lot, but I like it's sister magazine Simple and Delicious even more.

Even though I'm the only person that gags on pumpkin pie, everyone wanted to try my dessert too. So I only got one piece. Don't feel sorry for me though. It was a good piece.
Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.
I love that it hasn't been commercialized and we get together simply to enjoy one another's company and to express our gratitude for the year behind us and before us.
There was such abundance at our table.  Not only an abundance of food, which we had more than enough of, but family, health, love, joy, God, and so much more.
I couldn't help but think about those around the world who don't have as much as I do.  Those who would do almost anything to possess what I too often take for granted.  Those who, if were allowed to sit at my table would have gorged themselves sick on better food than they have ever eaten in their life. Or those who would have been sickened by what we throw away after we are done. Those who would have sat in tears at the opportunity to join hands with family.  Those who don't know the love of Christ.
I have so much.
The Bible says "Everyone to whom much is given, of him much will be required." (Luke 12:49)
I have been given much.

I need to give much. 
We all have something we can give. Whether it's a kind word, money, companionship, food, love or help.  There is some way we can give of ourselves, our time, our resouces, to another.
I'm going to spend this year praying about what God wants me to give.
And then I'll pray for the strength to do it.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Begin & End With Prayer

We began Friday with prayer.

In Vegas there is a weekly scheduled prayer meeting.
The workers in the non-profits, Christians in the government system, Pastors,  and people who are passionate about ending human trafficking gather together in prayer. 
They unify and become a stronger force against the evil that has penetrated the city, infiltrated the world, when they join together and take their concerns and requests before the throne of God. 
It's a time of giving thanks, entreaty, and restoration. 
A time of building each other up and empowering one another to go out into the world and tear down evil. 
It is probably the most powerful weapon a Christian can wield.
Prayer changes things.
Because God works through prayer.

 We met Rachel and Caroline there that morning.  They would be joining us that day for our adventure out to Pahrump and our brothel visits.  Each of them has their own amazing testimony that they shared with us as we got to know them throughout the day.  Each of these women had been a lost, broken and hurt woman in their past.  They had each been through some really hard life experiences, they knew first hand the damage and hurt that comes from a lifestyle of prostitution and gang living. But most importantly, they had each experienced the redemption and love of Jesus Christ in their lives.  These women are now passionately serving Jesus and are singing his praises in so many ways.  It was amazing and wonderful to listen to them and hear what God had done in each of their lives. He has restored years that were stripped away. He has restored relationships that were broken and hurting. He has healed their hearts, healed their lives.

Rachel is on the far left, Caroline is next to her in the white shirt.

 After eating at In-n-Out Burger for the first time in my life, we left Las Vegas for Pahrump. In-n-Out burger is owned by Christians and they print bible verse references on their cups and burger wrappers and stuff.

We were driving out to Pahrump to meet with Kay, a sprightly woman in her 70's, who along with her friend Lupe has had a ministry traveling to the brothels throughout Nevada.  Lupe was unable to join us, but Kay dedicated her afternoon to meeting with us, telling us about their ministry and then guiding us to 2 of the brothels we visited.

 We first met at the park to chat and learn more about Kay and the ministry she and Lupe have.  She is a lively woman who has dedicated much of her time and money to love on the women who work in the brothels.  Her and Lupe have been, for the past five years, driving a circuit of over 1000 miles to visit most of the 24 brothels in the state.  They do it in 3 days time.  They stop at the brothels, talk to the women working there, give them small gifts, encourage them, and love them. Recently, a couple of new women have come alongside of them in their ministry and now they have been able to turn over a few of the brothels to these new women. This is enabling them to shorten their own drive time and make the trip easier. Kay grieves not being able to see all of the girls each month, but she is ready to step back a little, since it has been a lot to handle.  She would love it if someone would come along who would be their driver, because they love the ministry, but the drive is getting to be very challenging for two ladies their age.
I was very inspired to meet Kay and hear her passion and love for these women.  It is refreshing to meet someone who is retired but understands that you don't retire from serving God.  I loved seeing someone her age that was actively serving in a vital ministry.  What I saw up close is how much the women at the brothels love and respect Kay.  Her ministry is vital.  There are not many people beating down the doors to a brothel to simply build relationships with the women and love them like Jesus loves them.  Her approach to sharing the gospel is subtle.  It takes time.  It requires trust.  She isn't there to tell them that what they are doing is sinful and wrong.  They already know that.  They feel the shame of their profession.  You can tell especially in the women who refuse to show their face in their pictures.  Kay isn't there to add to their shame, she is there to share the love of Christ.
We went with her to visit two brothels and then we went to a third without her later on that night.
The reason we had to drive over an hour away is because although brothels are legal in Nevada, they aren't legal in the same county as Las Vegas. 
This was not an easy part of the trip for me.  I have never pictured myself walking into a brothel in my life! I was really nervous about the whole thing and asked my room mate Sarah for some tips.  It wasn't just the uncomfortable atmosphere I imagined I would encounter inside, it was the fear that I wouldn't be able to comfortably talk to the girls. You should understand that I am chronically bad at small talk.  Although we work at a camp and I meet strangers all the time, I really struggle with keeping a conversation going if my first three prepared questions don't get the ball rolling well enough.  It usually dissolves into an uncomfortable silence where I either look for any reason to excuse myself or hope that the other person thinks of something to say.  Soon.
My roomie Sarah helped me to learn something new about myself.  I have always considered myself to be an extrovert.  I like being around people and have no problem speaking in front of a group.  However, certain situations have always struck fear into my heart and as I was asking my roomie for some pointers (she has a ministry to the strip clubs in her home town) she told me I was an introvert. An introvert! I've never been called that in my life! But it makes perfect sense when I'm in certain situations.  So I have recently dubbed myself an introverted-extrovert and I understand myself a little better now.
Which doesn't really help me miraculously become good at small talk, so I decided to pray.
Can I tell you that God answered! 
He will equip you to do that which he calls you to do!
You know, I don't really ever want to go into a brothel again. In fact, I wish they would all spontaniously combust (with no one in them of course) But I now know that I can, and I know I will, if God wants me to.

That's our friend Rachels 15 passenger van with the words Christian and Church painted in bold letters on the sides.

The brothels themselves are like a beautifully decorated cake that looks really delicious and tasty on the outside but when you cut into it, anticipating a bite of yummy, moist, sweet, chocolate goodness, you discover that it was actually just a cardboard form covered in frosting. 
Did you know that most brothels give free tours? 
Yep, they do.
I was thinking that they might think it was wierd that a large group of women showed up wanting a tour, we had 11 people in our group, but they didn't bat an eye when we all walked in. Partly, I know, because Kay was with us and they recognized her. I'd love to know what they were saying when we all left!
At the first place we were given a tour by a pretty young girl called Miami.  The girls never use their real names.  She was undaunted by our large group and in fact seemed happy for the diversion.  There were only 2 girls and a bartender working and no 'johns' in the place but it was only late afternoon.  She gave us a look at the rooms, most brothels like to have different rooms with different themes to offer their customers.  This particular brothel was not as well done as the other two we visited. As if that matters.
What did matter though was all Miami had to tell us.  She seemed very uninhibited and open.  Her reason for working there was because she wanted to have a breast enhancement proceedure.  However, her babies daddy said he wouldn't pay for something she didn't need.  So she decided to earn money by working at the brothel. As she talked to us more and more I had a hard time believing that was the whole truth behind the story.  Miami works at the brothel for 3 weeks at a time.  She stays at the brothel that whole time. But back home in Vegas, she has 3 kids.  She regailed us with story after story of her children, her 5 year old daughter sounds like an adorable little fire cracker. We also learned that her and her boyfriend and kids moved here from Milwaukee WI.  She talked to us for over an hour. It was evident that she loves her children and takes delight in them.  What mom would spend 3 weeks away from her kids, one week at home and then leave again for 3 weeks, continuously repeating that cycle, if they just want money for a boob job?
Doesn't sound right to me.
Some of the women working in the brothels also have pimps waiting for them at home.
Pray for Miami.  She needs to know the love of Jesus. She needs to see how much she is worth to Him. She needs to understand just how much he loves her and would do anything to bring her to himself. Even send a couple of 70 year old women to brothels, just for her.
Pray for Kay.  Pray that she would be able to build a relationship with Miami that would allow her to share the source of the love she is already bringing with her each time she visits that brothel. 


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Saturday, November 10, 2012

S.O.A.P. Delivery

In between all of our training and education, we were able to do some interesting things to spread the word about human trafficking. One of the things we did one afternoon was to deliver S.O.A.P. 
Here's the information from the FREE International website:

SOAP: Save Our Adolescents from                Prostitution

SOAP is an Outreach that aims to distribute thousands of bars of soap with the National Human Trafficking Hotline number and key identifying questions FREE to local motels. Volunteers talk to motel owners and managers and provide them with a quick overview of what is happening to young girls in their hotels.


On her worse night, being auctioned off to nearly two dozen men in a dingy, dirty, inner city motel, Ms. Flores recalled the only item that would have reached out to her. A bar of soap to clean up.
The project’s goal are:
  • To Educate Motel Owners and staff on human trafficking.
  • To offer a way for motel owners, clientele and victims to reach out for help.
  • To address the Demand side of trafficking through awareness.


Organize a SOAP Outreach in your community! FREE International has partnered with Theresa Flores of Traffick Free to help launch the SOAP project. To learn more about this project or to have Theresa or a representative from f.r.e.e. come and train your volunteers and help mobilize teams to approach potential high risk motels. Contact us at

We broke up into 3 groups and went to an area of Las Vegas called Boulder Highway. It has a reputation for high drug and prostitution problems. It is basically a main thorough fare through the city that is lined on both sides with casinos and hotels. Most hotels offer weekly rates for a very inexpensive price. 
We would be delivering soap and also handing out a missing person flier. A 16 year old girl went missing in October and still hasn't been found. 
We wanted to use this opportunity to help look for her and possibly collect any tips from people who may have seen her, and distribute the soap to hotels that had taken it last year.   
Terra and Lisa discussing which hotels our groups will deliver  SOAP to.

SOAP waiting for delivery

This was the first time that FREE had delivered soap to the same hotels in the city.  They want to see if they can build a relationship with the hotel managers and keep the soap labels in the hotel rooms more consistently.  Almost everyone we talked to remembered the soap from the year before and were very enthusiastic about taking it again.  That was really encouraging. 

One of the hotels that accepted our SOAP

Terra and Christina getting ready to take SOAP inside and our missing girl flier.
Driving around the city is interesting.  It is very diverse.  However it is hard to identify much industry besides hotels, casinos, stores, and sex. In certain parts of the city, there are boxes like newspaper stands, with free advertisements about clubs you can go to or places where you can buy time with women.  It's basically a booklet of free porn on the curb for anyone to grab as they walk by.
These lovely fliers are all along the side of the road .  They  are free for the taking and advertise all of the businesses that  sell girls.  Basically it's porn for free straight off the public sidewalk.

The hotel in the picture below is known as a crack hotel.  I wouldn't have known it from looking at it.  My kids would have loved to stay there, it had statues of alligators by the pool and moats next to the front door.  The boys would have thought it is a pretty cool place (although the moats had no water in them and neither did the pool).  When you got closer and went in the lobby you could tell the place was a little sketchy.  These nice people didn't take our Soap, but they have a lot of rooms.  We were able to make a contact for someone to follow up on and hopefully get soap into that hotel in the future.

The hotel below is one of those places that your husband drives up to late at night on a cross country road trip and you immediately make him drive away even if the next hotel is  another 100 miles away.  It was that sketchy.  However, the manager loves to receive out soap and so we gave him a little extra.  

There were a couple of women outside of one of the rooms petting the dog of a man that was just sitting in a chair outside his door enjoying the sunshine. Terra and Christina jumped out with one of our missing person fliers to show to them. They didn't have any information on the girl but the women did ask for more fliers to hand out to their friends.

We were able to discover that the two women actually lived in the end room of the little hotel.  They are also 'working girls'.  We saw them later, all dressed up, one walking down the road and one a building over getting her hair done by another woman.  It made me wonder what there story was.  How did these two women get to the place where the best they can do is share a really small, crumbly hotel room, and sell their body to make money.  One of the ladies was definitely in her 40's, maybe 50's.  The other would probably have been in her late 30's.  We didn't have the opportunity to engage in a deeper conversation, unfortunately. 
One of the most encouraging things on this outing was how kind people were, how willing they were to do what they could to help, and how they seemed to care that women were being taken advantage in their area of the city.  Most of them have seen plenty of drug and prostitution activity in their jobs behind the desk of the hotel or as a cashier at the gas station.  Many weren't aware of the signs of trafficking and we dropped off cards to post behind the desk so they would know what to look for. Some of them told us that they didn't see the young girls inside their hotels or stores, but often a 'john' will secure the hotel room, and the girl will stay outside, never being seen. 
It was an interesting outing overall.  It was a good way for Free to build relationships with more hotels in the area.  I'm praying that our efforts may help locate the missing girl and return her home to her family, or a place of safety.  
Delivering SOAP is something anyone can do in their home town. It would make a great outreach for a youth group.  Go to the FREE International website for more information.
Deliver SOAP and you could save a life.
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Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Brew Crew

Thanks to our BP credit card, we had the opportunity to earn free tickets to a Brewer game.  We got enough for our family to go and we got to bring a couple of friends along too.

Although going to a ball game may not be my first choice of fun activities, I have three boys.  And a professional ball game is something that is at the top of their to-do list.
That makes it fun for me too.
This is the second year we were able to go, and this year Seth was prepared with some Brewer apparel. He didn't own any last year. But after attending a game at the park, he is now a confirmed Brewer fan.  As the boy that is most interested in sports,  it's fun to watch him get excited about the game.

They all had a good time and enjoyed our time at the stadium. Even though our seats were so high up we probably should have brought some binoculars.  Although, one benefit of sitting so high is that you can see the entire ball field.  Plus with the big screen and the replay on the best plays of the game, it all works out well enough.

Apparently our friend Ben takes his baseball very seriously.

Seth does too.

Um, have you ever seen H.H. in a hat before? I didn't think so.  That's why I had to snap a picture!

Justine and I took some time out of our intense game watching for a photo.

Even Ben took a short breather for a pic with his best girl.

Meanwhile, as the game progressed the boys wanted to visit the kid zone.  There are a few fun activities for the kids to participate in like batting practice, base sprinting and the hot dog races.

No matter what I may think about baseball, it's always fun to go to a stadium and get the authentic experience.  It was a fun evening with the boys absorbing the sights and smells of a professional ball game.  It also made for a great excuse to see our friends Justine and Ben, whom we had just said goodbye to in August.  The only part I didn't like was how much they charge for food! The boys really wanted ice cream in the souvenir baseball helmet bowl.  I didn't want to pay the astronomical price so I bribed them with a new Brewer shirt instead. Not from the stadium of course, but on clearance at Target!
Score one for Mom!

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