Lulu: Beauty in Simplicity | Pearl Earrings Giveaway

This Giveaway has now ended.
Congratulations to Michelle F. for being our winner!

Beauty in simplicity says it all. Sometimes less is more. And Lulu Jewelry delivers that. With exquisite designs, delicate and feminine,  Lulu offerings are many. From Earrings like her Grace earrings to her Turquoise Ray of Hope, to the Echo Earrings, even the names reflect the beauty of her jewelry.

Have a black dress T, that needs the simplest bit of dressing up for a date? Check out her Simple Sterling Simplicity Necklace.  Want simple with the tiniest burst of color for accent? The Sliver of Sky necklace delivers that. Desire a bit more color and pizzazz? You can find that in the Gardenwall Prehnite necklace.

The Adventure Series has some unique, one-of-a-kind pieces that no store jewelry comes close to. If you like to set the trend, some of these pieces may help you do that.

The prices what you would find on similar jewelry in a store such as NY&Co or Kohls, and the clincher? Shipping is free in the US.

Lulu is offering my readers the pair of earrings, seen above. Her description of them is as follows:

gorgeous white pearls drop off hand hammered sterling circles with sterling silver earwires.  The earrings measure about 3/4″

To enter, go to her website and browse around. Tell me your favorite piece with the link when you get back here. 🙂

You can gain additional entries by:

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This giveaway ends July 10th at midnight

What is Shiloh? (formerly The Meadows)

The more we talk about The Meadows, now known as Shiloh, the more questions we are asked. Some of those questions can be answered in these posts as I have shared some of our journey the past year:

The Beginning of Fulfillment
A Step Forward
Unwise Decision? Or Faith Move?
I Dream

but I thought a post specifically devoted to the questions might be beneficial as well.
~ What is The Meadows/Shiloh exactly? How Did it come about?
The short story is:
Our home, a refuge for mentally and physically handicapped, and even terminally ill children, who need a Mommy and Daddy and brother and sister to love them, here, in this temporary home before they fly to their eternal home.

The long story? For the detail oriented, I have to back way up here, to give that. 🙂
1993 and 18 years old. I had just been turned down for mission school, due to having had several health issues while on the field of Papua New Guinea the summer previous. My lifelong ambition to be a missionary nurse was over in one rejection letter. I was devastated.

Of course, there was always the possibility of applying at a later date in time, but within a few days of the rejection letter, God showed me a new direction He had for my journey, with the destination of a home for kids. Abused kids. Neglected kids. Terminally ill kids. Physically handicapped kids. Mentally handicapped kids.

He was showing me this in a meadow I used to go to all the time for solitude.  With pen in hand I wrote down everything as He showed it in my heart. From the layout of the facility to how it would operate. And being in “The Meadow” as it all took place that day–my private sanctuary–it seemed fitting to attach the name “The Meadows” to it.

The years passed. I fought myself with eating disorders, severe depression, self-injury, and mental illness. I never forgot the vision– I just didn’t see how it could be fulfilled when I was such a mess myself.

2004 I met my husband. By this time God and I had dealt with all the issues that were ruining my life and I was once again on the path I was supposed to be on. I told Chuck, soon after meeting him, what God ultimately called me to. “I didn’t know how or when it would be fulfilled”, I told him, “but it was in my future–and he needed to know it before we went any further in the relationship.”

He grabbed the vision with me and began talking about it as much as I did as we began to prepare for life together. “Someday, when we have The Meadows. . . “ became a re-current theme phrase in our conversations.

Diagnosed with infertility in 2007, The Meadows seemed even more what we were called to do.

We began foster training.

After three classes, the class was canceled because everyone dropped out and they wouldn’t hold it for just us. Yet again, my dreams were being detoured.

Then we got pregnant. Our daughter was born in the Fall of 2008.

The Meadows vision was not lost despite the gift of pregnancy and a child. It just began to shift and change a bit. Remembering a movie I had seen years earlier that had gripped my heart,

A Place for Annie

and because we now had a young biological child, taking in abused and troubled kids became a concern–for the main reason, our daughter’s safety.

I had grown up with a physically and mentally handicapped aunt and special needs foster cousins and as a result, developed a passion for that population. I also worked as a CNA for Hospice for several years, and found a special gifting with dying people, including children. I began to see The Meadows as a place for handicapped children and even terminally ill children.

I told my husband this the same year our daughter was born. His response? “You love to have your heart broken don’t you? Terminally ill kids? Do you know how hard that will be on you?!”

I answered that those kids must be in the foster system and I wanted to give them a piece of heaven on earth before they actually went to heaven. . . give them a home where they were safe and loved with a family surrounding them as they walked their valley of death.

(see “What is Means to be Loved” post for more behind this new direction the vision took)

My man wrapped me up in his arms that day and told me he supported me in this heart dream of mine. At the time, we still thought the vision was many years away and our main focus was to be faithful to live the lives God had given us in the present.

Fast forward to August 2010 when suddenly, during a random drive one night. we “stumbled” across the property that my heart knewimmediately was our place for The Meadows.  Since then, things have consistently fallen into place for us to take one step after the other in pursuit of purchasing this property, and here we are today. . .

~ Will you be a foster home or a not-for-profit?
For now, it will be our home as a family and it will begin with foster children and Lord willing, children also available for adoption.

We will also seek to become a “medically therapeutic home”
(also known as a home that is able to take in “medically fragile children”)
apart from the foster care system, but I am still researching what that all means and what it entails.

My heart sees a not-for-profit in the future, though I’m not sure what direction it will take.
A not-for-profit foster and adoption agency that places special needs children with families who have also been called to what we have been called to?
A home, or series of Christian based residential homes, specifically for special needs children without families?
Hospice homes, again for children without families to love them as they die?
Residential homes for troubled children and youth where they can receive, not only a family-type atmosphere, but Christian based counseling, education, and job skills training?

I’m not sure. I just know that my heart tells me there is more to this vision than “just” our home being the total fulfillment of the dream. I also know He will reveal the rest when it’s time to take the next step and for today, I just need to focus on the steps in front of me today.

~ What foster agency will you work with?

We are still undecided whether we will be going with our County DSS or the not-for-profit agency Glove House. Again, we know God will clearly show us which agency to work with when we’re ready to take that step (see the time-line).

~ How will you support yourselves?
Foster children are given support via the agency they come from. For now, those funds will be sufficient for caring for these children. Care will consist of everything from therapy to wheelchairs to therapeutic toys to clothing and toys.

When we launch out as a medically therapeutic home that is self-sufficient

(i.e. children who do not come from foster care)

we have full confidence God will also provide those funds in ways He has determined before time, to help us care for the children He is bringing our way.

We believe the same for children we adopt and who will no longer qualify for state funds for their care.
~ What are the ages you’re focusing on?
Because of our biological children who are young, we want to stay with younger children in their age range. The ages will obviously grow older as our bio children grow up.

~ What about your biological kids and the impact it will have on them?

I answer this, knowing that no answer I give, will be fully sufficient for those who feel we are being unfair to our children to pursue this vision. All I can share here is my heart and the peace that has come to it regarding this as I have wrestled (many times) with this question myself.

Our bio children’s story has been written into our story by the very fact they were given to us. . . and our story has been ordained before time to include this vision. All of this, is a part of the story God has written for us as individuals and us as a family unit. God always enables us for the story He has written for our lives.

We will of course, constantly take measures to evaluate our biological, non-special needs children to see where they are emotionally, given the demands of our special needs children. We will seek at all times to be very purposeful about giving them the time they need as our children and avoid the whole, “It’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease, but the other wheels get neglected” syndrome.

Much of how we will balance our non-special needs children with our special needs children will purely be God-led sensitivity as parents, to give each child in our home, exactly what their hearts need. We dare not tackle this type of parenting without full, daily reliance on His guidance to us as parents!

~ Why do you call the special needs children “angel children”?
I became exceptionally upset one day as a young teen, when a group of kids made fun of my mentally handicapped aunt. An adult who stood nearby and saw the incident, wisely told me, “They don’t know that your aunt might be an angel that they are entertaining unawares. . . For that may be the very reason she’s been place on this earth. . . “ (Hebrews 13:2)
Ever since then, I see special needs people as God’s angels that mingle with us to see what is in our hearts as we respond to them.
~  I don’t think you have a clue as to what doing this entails. The demands on your time, children, and marriage. . . I think you have a harsh reality check coming. 
This has actually has been addressed in If you Weary with the Footmen and somewhat in  Everyone has Oceans to Fly and Surfing the Waves

No, we can’t fully know the reality until we’re living it, but I am thinking about the cost every, single day as we head in this direction.
~ What is your time-line for everything?
Spring of 2011: buy the church and begin renovating it into a house. I told Chuck I don’t need the bedrooms up to move in. I just need a washer/dryer hookup, a working kitchen (already there), a shower, and my cloth diaper sprayer.
It won’t be easy living in a sanctuary, that’s for sure, but there is no sense paying rent on one place and a mortgage on another, so I’m game for moving in once the bare necessities are in.

Winter (January/February) 2012: Once the bedrooms and handicap accessible bathroom are in, we will then begin foster training.

Fall 2012: Begin pursuing whatever we need to do to become a medically therapeutic home.

20?? Pursue the not-for-profit part of the equation that I don’t fully see yet.
~ What do you need for it? 
This is hard for me to answer. I have been reading on George Muller the past few months and am intrigued by the fact that he never stated his needs or appealed for funds to support his orphanages. To do so, he felt, would be to rely on man and not his Heavenly Father. My heart is inclined to take the same approach.  And yet, people continually ask.

For local friends, we will be able to use help with putting up the bedrooms and bathroom, painting, yard work, etc. once we begin renovations this spring.

To answer a specific question, no, we are not registered anywhere but yes, I do have a wish list. However,  I don’t feel right posting it on here for the simple fact it’s more of a wish list, than a need list.

For those who do have their heart set on doing something, I am willing to provide the link privately upon request.

Although we do have a Paypal fund set up (per a very specific donation request that came our way) I don’t feel it’s right to post the link. Perhaps when we become an actual not-for-profit I will feel peace about doing so, but for now, I don’t.  Like the wish-list, I can provide it upon specific request but as of right now, we are taking the mind-set that God has already made some pretty miraculous provisions for the purchase of the church and will continue to do so as we renovate it, without us having to put up an actual Paypal Donation button.

The greatest thing anyone can do for us, is uphold us in prayer. Whether we have one special needs foster child or 5 medically fragile children living with us or we’re launching a not-for-profit, every step of the way covets the prayers of God’s children. Our enabling and provision will come from Him and Him alone and it is the prayers of God’s people that will release the enabling grace and provision needed to live out our life calling.

I think that answers all the questions. If there are anymore, feel free to ask!

Thank you for sharing our vision with us. It’s exciting to share it as it unfolds. Our prayer is that not only we, but countless others, will stand back in awe and say, “God has done this!”
“. . . if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You will only find yourself fighting against God!”
Acts 5:8-9


Thicker than Blood
by C.J. Darlington
Published by Tyndale House

Winner of the
2008 Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel Contest!

Christy Williams finally has her life on track. She’s putting her past behind her and working hard to build a career as an antiquarian book buyer. But things begin to unravel when a stolen Hemingway first edition is found in her possession, framing her for a crime she didn’t commit. With no one to turn to, she yearns for her estranged younger sister, May, whom she abandoned after their parents’ untimely deaths. Soon, Christy’s fleeing from her shattered dreams, her ex-boyfriend, and God. Could May’s Triple Cross Ranch be the safe haven she’s searching for? Will the sisters realize that each possesses what the other desperately needs before it’s too late?

My thoughts on Thicker than Blood

It feels weird to read a book, written by someone you know. Ok, so I don’t really know C.J. personally, but through the book reviewing world and through the wonders of Facebook I have regular contact with her. So when I heard she had her first novel published I was exceptionally excited for her. Someone I “know” made it in the publishing world!

When I received her book in the mail, I was even more excited. It was so real. . .

When I began reading it, I was thrilled. There is a bit of nervousness about reading a book written by someone you “know”. After all, what was I going to say if it wasn’t any good?

No worries there. Thicker than Blood is a captivating novel that kept me up too late at night due to wanting to know what happened next. Because of my own prodigal family members, who have made harmful choices, I needed this book to have a good ending. Not an unrealistic, happy ending, but a good ending. It did.

Before the ending came, C.J. wrote of a journey that was realistic. She didn’t pull any punches but neither did she shock and dismay me with descriptions that went beyond what was needed to tell her story (some authors, I am finding, delight in the shocking and that disappoints me).

C.J. delivers her first novel as if she is a writing veteran. Avid readers–and not-so-avid readers–are going to want to check her out, and most, if not all, will be eager to snatch up any future novels she gives us!



With careful attention to detail, emotion, and scene-setting, C.J. Darlington scores with her debut effort. Here is a special writer you won’t want to miss.
Jerry B. Jenkins, New York Times best selling author

If you love a good read filled with adventure and ultimately redemption, I encourage you to brew the tea, settle into your favorite chair and pick up the page turner that is C.J. Darlington’s imaginative new novel of a modern day sisterhood that triumphs over separation and the raw challenges of life to find the real endurance of both family ties and God’s amazing grace.
Rebecca St. James, Grammy award winning Christian singer and bestselling author

With Thicker than Blood, C.J. Darlington proves she’s a novelist for the long-haul, a strong new voice in Christian fiction. This book speaks to the heart, from the heart, about the heart. Readers will not soon forget it.
Sibella Giorello, Christy award-winning author of The Rivers Run Dry &The Clouds Roll Away

Watch the book trailer:


cj-standard-150About the Author:
C. J. began writing the story that would become Thicker than Blood (her first novel) when she was a fifteen-year-old homeschool student. She has been in the antiquarian bookselling business for over a decade, scouting for stores similar to the one described in the novel before cofounding her own online bookstore. Thicker than Bloodwas the winner of the 2008 Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel.

C. J. co-founded the Christian entertainment Web site with her sister, Tracy, and has been actively promoting Christian fiction through book reviews and author interviews. She makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs and cats. Visit her website for more info.

* Week 1, Part B – 52 Weeks to the All Natural Lifestyle *

Week 1, Part A

So, what did you come up with on Tuesday when you listed everything, that to you, would make up the ideal lifestyle?

Now that you’ve decided all that, I may shake you up when I say make eating healthy at the top of your plan! Seems a bit late in the year to say that, since we’re supposed to make our New Year’s Goals on December 31st, but sometimes, those are moot points by January 2nd anyways, so why not start today?

Before we get into what that first step looks like, let me share my own map I wrote up last January for me personally, and also for my family, in my attempts to get us to be more natural with our lifestyle. Actually. . . it’s the original plan with all it’s phases, with new things added in for this year.

Phase 1

Detox Candida from our bodies
Break the sugar addiction
Break the caffeine addiction

Phase 2

Learn the different grains and rices and how to cook with them
Come up with healthier snack alternatives
Learn how to cook more with beans and lentils, and move more into a vegetarian lifestyle

Phase 3
Move to cloth products (Baby wipes, tissues, paper towels, maybe even TP?!)
Get plastic out of the house and move to glass containers

Phase 4
Move to natural cleaning products that I either make myself or find somewhere to buy.

Phase 5

Expand my gardening expertise, broaden my horizons with what I can this year, and move into root cellaring.

Phase 6
Get our own dairy goat and egg-laying chickens

Phase 7
Move to all-natural and homemade beauty products

Phase 8

Learn how to make condiments and cheeses

Phase 7

Learn all the essential oils and begin to incorporate them into our every day life and occasional illnesses.

I did not accomplish everything I wanted to last year. The goat and chickens depended on my landlord. He wasn’t keen on the idea–though he’s more open to it this year.

I was able to eliminate sugar and caffeine from my diet, but I’m sad to say, after I lost the baby last summer, I got away from healthy eating. I had a green smoothie the day my tube ruptured and up until this past week, I couldn’t drink one without getting upset. The taste brought back the memories of the pain and trauma of that day. Without my green smoothies, my desire for carbs and sugars came back – -when my emotions did allow me an appetite that is – – so this January finds me back at square one with all that. 🙁

Gardening was actually going great–until my surgery. The passion I normally had to can was gone, and instead, getting through my day was on the agenda instead. But before that happened, I actually was experimenting with some new planting methods like climbing beans, and new vegetables like black beans and artichokes and leeks. We ate most of them fresh, but very little was actually preserved.

I’m off track, aren’t I? I guess I’m evaluating my year last year and that’s not the point of this, now is it? 🙂

So back to your plan of action. Now that I’ve asked you to come up with a road map to follow, I’m going to ask you to rearrange it if healthy eating isn’t at the top.

I’m not going to endorse one particular way of eating on this blog–carb free or vegetarian. I am simply going to pursue a diet that is as caffeine, sugar, and preservative free as possible – and I would encourage you to do the same. We start by breaking the addictions we have to those substances.

If you are addicted, this isn’t going to be easy. You are going to go through withdrawel big time. I know I did! Headaches, nausea, weakness, and even down right crankiness because the cravings are stronger than you thought possible. But it’s so vital to do this. Why?

1. Numerous studies have shown that sugar feeds cancer. This can be found in magazines, books, and all over the internet.

2. Caffeine and sugar are addictive substances. None of us can deny the rush we get when we consume either or, or both. The trouble is, sugar spikes our blood sugar levels and what goes up, must come down. Caffeine too, stimulates our nervous system, but like sugar, it eventually has to leave our bloodstream and we find ourselves in a crash of sorts. We then, like addicts, find ourselves consuming more and more to keep up the high we once got from just one cup of coffee or one brownie.

The more we crash, the more we crave. The more we crave, the more we eat. The more we eat, the more we crash. It’s a vicious cycle.

3. Linking to the above statement, sugar and caffeine addicts also find themselves struggling with unruly emotions like anxiety and depression. I wrote an article on this for Totally Her.

I can give personal testimony to the fact that eliminating these two substances from my lifestyle have helped my struggles with both issues considerably. I am still on a low dose of anti-depressant that I went on when we lost our baby, but it’s a starter dose that I never increased. I have hopes that as I once again, pursue a healthier way of eating and living, I will be able to eliminate it this coming summer.

*please note, this is my own personal goal and one I will discuss with my OB who put me on it. Please do not attempt to just abruptly stop taking meds as you begin to change your eating habits. Always, always do it with a Dr’s supervision!”

4. We just plain will feel better when our diets are full of fruits, veggies, nuts, and grains. It won’t seem that way in the beginning but the day will come when we realize we have more energy than we’ve ever had, are thinking more clearly, sleeping better, and waking earlier.

How do you start?  Some of you all or nothings are going to try to do this cold turkey today. Don’t.

Let me say that again . . .


Go gradually. Yes, you want to move quickly, and we will, but we will move quickly, slowly.

Today, have one less cup of coffee and one less cookie.

Keep that cup and cookie (or candy bar, or ice cream bowl) eliminated on Day 2.

Day 3, remove one more cup and one more sweet.

Day 4, keep both cups of coffee and both sweet fixes gone from your diet.

You’ll feel this, but not so badly you are incapacitated from living life. The headache will be there but not in migraine form. The cravings will be too but not in unbearable strength.

Do this until you have eliminated both the caffeine and the sugar addiction. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever have a cup of coffee or candy, but you won’t be in desperate need of it in the future. You’ll eat a brownie and not be able to tolerate a second one because it will be too much sugar. A cup of coffee will give you the rush a pot used to give you, but you won’t have a caffeine headache the next day from not drinking it.

To recap:

week one in 52 Weeks to the All Natural Lifestyle is about
1. picturing your ideal life and firming up in your mind by listing the areas you want to change
2. writing it all down on paper,
3. beginning the detox process.

Next week we’ll look at candida, what it is and how to get it out of our bodies.

Feel free to link up if you are following this series and are blogging about any changes you make!

* Giveaway! Virginia Soaps and Scents *

This Giveaway has now ended! 
Congratulations to Shari on winning!

Virginia Soaps and Scents is more than just another site on the internet selling all natural products. It is a family business born out of an attempt to return to life after heartache and tragedy.

Although it is not on their site, the letter that came with my products, told of how Spargur family lost their youngest grandchild in an accident, and after months of grieving, got back to the business of carrying on their regular homeschool schedule. During that time, there was a lesson on Colonial Life in Virginia which included some soapmaking. The kids tried to make the soap, and Virginia Soaps and Scents, a family based business, was begun!

I was sent a sampler pack in the mail and had fallen in love within ten minutes. It just so happened I had a dirty diaper to change so I unwrapped one of the soaps to use after I was done.

Now, you have to understand, I am not a bar soap fan. I don’t like the mess and I hate that it never suds up – – which makes me feel like I’m not being cleaned. But this is some good soap! It suds up really awesome, which surprisingly, is because of coconut oil.
What is even more amazing to me is how smooth and moisturizing it feels. I’m not just saying that either, because I’m doing a review. This really is a big deal. I wash my hands a hundred times a day, and even though it’s only November, they are already cracked and bleeding from the dry, cold that comes with winter. I may be able to keep that from becoming such a serious issue with these olive oil based soaps.

Not only that, they smell wonderful but aren’t over-powering in their scent. It leave a faint scent behind, enough to be enjoyable but not so much that it is annoying.

I also received an All in One Body Bar, which is a Shampoo, Shower, and Shave Bar. Because it has more of a woodsy scent, I’m not using it for all three uses, but instead, in lieu of shaving gel. And I honestly think it works better than gel. This is because of the “humectant” quality that the olive oil and get this, castor oil, gives it.

Lastly, I was given the opportunity to try out their laundry detergent. This arrived just in time, because I was due to make some more detergent anyways. It was easy to make and I have used it for some of my husband’s masonry clothes as a “test”. It passed with flying colors. His clothes are clean, and that’s a pretty big deal, given what he does to his clothes because of his job (he is a brick and stone mason).

I’m always leery of ordering things off the internet, but this site is now bookmarked. I think all their products are at amazing prices, will make great gifts, and will also be products I want to have in my home regularly.

Virginia Soaps and Scents has included a sampler pack for Hidden Valley Readers. The pack includes

~ One package of laundry soap, enough to make 1/2 gallon

~ One Shampoo, Shower, and Shave bar (“Waltzing Matilda” scent)

~ Threebar soaps, including the Sandlewood, Coconut Lemongrass, and Fresh Orange scents.

To enter this giveaway, leave a comment with your email address.

Additional entries

1. Go to Virginia Soaps and Scents website and tell me what product interests you the most

2. Tweet this post

3. Facebook this post

4. Spread word using our Share It button. Each place you share with, earns another entry

5. Become a Twitter follower

6. Become a blog follower

Giveaway ends December 5th.

* Hidden Valley Thoughts Meme – Archives*

***For more on “Hidden Valley Thoughts”, see below the archive list***
Toys Underfoot

Nobody Listens to Me!

About Hidden Valley Thoughts:

As a career woman, turned stay-at-home-mom, I have learned what it means to live in a hidden valley.

Moms live in a hidden valley day after day, completing tasks that will never be recognized but always taken for granted, putting in longer days than even the most ambitious career woman, and playing more roles than a well paid movie actress.

They wake up each morning, longing to write that book, open that art gallery, record the music CD, start that exercise studio, and then fall into bed each night, too exhausted to pursue those dreams.

There are tears that no one sees, laughter that no one hears, and lessons that few people ever hear about.

Once a week, those who want to share a particular lesson or incident that took place in their Hidden Valley, can do so. It may be something God taught you, a moment of letting your kids play in the mud as you realize a little dirt doesn’t hurt anybody, or a video that stuck a chord in your soul. Whatever it is, if it touched you, share it with us!

Steps for participating in our blog carnivals:

1. Create the particular post that matches up with the meme we’re doing.

2. Post the button that matches, on your post somewhere

3. Come back here and leave a comment with the post URL (please leave the url to the actual post, not your main blog url)

4. Visit each other!

Happy Blogging!