Thursday, May 31, 2012

And the Winner is . . .

Nicole of Frontier Dreams! Thanks to all of you for entering the giveaway. Nicole, I'll be sending you an email shortly. Thanks again!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Prayer for My Child

I saw this card on Facebook the other day. I suppose at first glance it might seem innocent enough. I mean, sure, we would all be happy if our kids never had a day without suffering, right? And I would be ecstatic if somehow they grew up and "achieve[d] all their dreams." And if they lived in a world that were free. Wait a minute, the world isn't actually free, though, is it?
I imagine that if you are listening to someone like Joel Osteen, you might see this prayer and "like" it. But let's take a closer look and line it up with Scripture. Romans 8:17 says, "Now if we are children, then we are heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory." Because Christ suffered on our behalf and because we are called to follow Him, we are called to a life of suffering. We are heirs to His glory in eternity, and as heirs, we must walk the walk in this life. Suffering makes us holy, and if we are true followers of Him, we cannot expect to live a life without it.
Now, because we are called to suffer, God is glorified by granting the grace needed to endure our trials. It is through these trials that we call on God, our needs are met, and thus we grow. We continue in this manner and are granted a closer relationship with Him. It isn't through the good times that we call on God, though, of course, we should always have our eyes on Him. Some believers (ahem, Joel Osteen) may hold to a "Wellness and Prosperity" Gospel. That is to say, that somehow our faith is translated into material blessings. But it simply cannot be backed up in Scripture.
God does promise us peace and joy. But He never promised us easy times. In fact, it seems that the easy Christian life exists mainly in free countries like the US. For some reason, Americans have this idea that life is easy all over the world, just as it is here in our free homeland. I have news for you, our Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are suffering right now. I don't mean at all to diminish your daily sufferings. You might be struggling with something huge, insurmountable. I know that I have done so at times, as have many of my loved ones. But the fact is that we, at least those of us in the US and most other parts of the Western World, have the freedom to worship as we choose. At least for now. But many of God's children in other countries are being quite harshly persecuted only because they are called His children. So to pray that our children always live in a world that is free, to hope that they live long and healthy lives, is essentially praying that they are not called to the life of Christ.
Furthermore, to pray that all their dreams come true, is to teach them that their desires are more worthy than to follow Christ. As Christians, we should pray as Jesus Himself did just as He was about to take on the burden of death, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." God's will is more important than ours, simply because He is all-seeing and knows what is best. Just as a parent knows what is best for his child.
My heart is heavy today for my sister and dear friend, Stephanie. She was born with a heart defect and has lived her entire life--some days healthier than others--with the heavy burden of less than perfect health. She has undergone a total of 5 heart surgeries, and today she waits in the hospital for a new heart and a new liver. The last few days have been a roller coaster with one crisis after another--a staph infection, frighteningly low blood pressure, poor kidney function, etc., etc. While my sister has some of the best doctors in the field, there is only so much they can do. And while the rest of us pray unceasingly, there is nothing else that we can do but watch.
And while my heart goes out to Stephanie and her husband and children, my heart breaks for my parents. I never understood until I had my own children how much my parents love me and my brother and sisters. And as much as I love my children, I know that a parent's love grows every day, and so my parents' love for all of us is immensely more than mine for my kids. Knowing this, I cannot fathom the pain that they have, while watching their first daughter suffer as she is at this moment. How helpless they must feel. Yet they rest in the comfort that God our Father "will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces" (Isaiah 25:8).
So when I see these ridiculous sentiments being shuffled around on Facebook, I honestly have to ask, is this really the prayer that we should be praying for our kids? Is this what we want for them? Is this what God wants? And if they are suddenly diagnosed with a disease (or are born with one), does this mean that God didn't hold up His end of the bargain? Is God obligated to give us lives free from sorrow? From illness? No, I don't think so.
Let's pray, instead, that our children learn to "love the Lord [their] God with all [their] heart[s] and with all [their] soul[s]. Love Him with all [their] mind[s]. This is the first and most important commandment." (Matthew 22:37, 38). If God sees fit to shower them with long, healthy lives, then praise to Him. But if His will is for them to suffer, let's tell them "Don't be surprised by the painful suffering you are going through. Don't feel as if something strange were happening to you. Be joyful that you are taking part in Christ's sufferings. Then you will be filled with joy when Christ returns in glory." (I Peter 4:12)
If we can teach them to love God this way, if we can instruct them to follow in His path, the one that He chooses and not the one they choose themselves, then they will know without a doubt that they are "deeply loved" by their parents.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Joyful Giveaway!

How would your little one like one of these handmade Art Caddy/Pencil Totes? These Art Caddies are designed to hold 12 pencils or crayons on one side and a pad of paper on the other, as well as some stickers or whatever else your little artist might like to carry around. They're great for home, in the car, or in an airplane, and they have kept my little people very happy (and quiet!) through church for quite a while. They are also made with some of the cutest designer children's fabrics that I can find.

Or how about one of these handmade Children's Aprons? These beauties fit children ages 3 through about 5 or 6 and are also made with some of the cutest designer fabrics I can find. They are also fully lined, so they work great as craft aprons, protecting clothing underneath from ink and paint.

Well, Joyful Gifts is having a giveaway! Just leave a comment here on this post, and you will be entered. I'll close the comments at midnight on Wednesday, May 30. I'll randomly pick the winner and then announce it here, after which the winner may choose either an apron or an art caddy/pencil tote. Go take a look at my store and see what we have to offer!
As a second offer, I'm giving all Facebook fans 15% off of purchases. Just like us on Facebook and then mention it in the comments section when you make a purchase, and I'll refund 15%.
Thanks for your support, and may the best one win! :)

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Progress in the Garden

Well, the garden is coming along, slow but steady. Our baby plants get no morning sun, which for now seems like a hindrance but may prove later on, in the hottest part of the summer, to be more of a good thing. The tomatoes that we grew from seed in the house through the early part of spring have been in the ground for almost a month now with very little growth. But the very same tomato plants are growing crazily in pots on the back porches of my parents' and sister's houses. While expert gardeners keep telling us to be patient, that the tomatoes will catch up, there's just no way to tell at this point. I'm learning that that's the thing with gardening--it's a learn as you go sort of thing. Pretty much like parenting. Or life, really.
Our lettuce:

Pea pods!

Paul built this teepee for our peas: 

 Our pole beans, which are politely asking for stakes:

Just for fun, here is a photo of Penny having spaghetti for the first time. Paul and I just kept putting pasta in front of her and watching her do this to it, dreading the clean up afterwards.

Paul spotted these beauties in the pasture while we tended the garden, and I was quick to grab the camera: 

And here is one of the flowers on our gigantic magnolia in the front yard: 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What's New at JoyfulGifts

During my blogging hiatus, unfortunately my Etsy store suffered a bit as well, and every listing ended up expiring, and I just left things that way. But I have recently stocked up again, shot new photos, and filled up my store! I'm sort of having a Grand Re-opening, and I'd love for you to come take a look! If you like us on Facebook and then buy something and mention Facebook in your comments, I'll give you a 15% discount!

Come see our baby and toddler blankets, bibs and burp cloths, pencil tote bags, children's aprons, tooth fairy pillows, and wine gift bags. Please also remember that I'm always adding new inventory, and I will do custom work. If you see something you like but might like it in a different fabric or maybe want me to put together a coordinating gift set, I can do that, and I can do it quickly. :)

Monday, May 14, 2012

GOFO Urban Farm Tour

When we moved to South Carolina, Paul wanted to become involved in the local sustainable agriculture scene and ended up joining with this group: Greenville Organic Food Organization. and sitting on GOFO's Urban Farm Tour's planning committe, which happened this past weekend. The tour included 31 sites to visit, all within 8 to 10 miles of downtown Greenville, and all which follow organic practices.
My friend, Joy and her family came down to attend with us. We started out at the GOFO headquarters to tour a couple of gardens there, get acquainted with local businesses, and attend a workshop on raising chickens. We were also able to buy some organic snacks and rub elbows with urban farmers that are in the know! What a treat for those of us who are still pretty new to all of this!

We left HQ and toured a couple of sites with impressive gardens. The first one, Appalachian Feet, contains chicken, bees, vegetables, and berries, all in an 1/8th-acre backyard space! All over the place the owners had posted handy little notes for our reading.

From there we headed to another site, where the owners also raise chickens, bees, vegetables, and berries, but they also have a backyard greenhouse. Just beside the greenhouse we noticed a large raspberry bush, where one of the owners invited us to taste the berries to our content!

At that point we headed home to let Miss Penny nap and have lunch, and then we headed back out to some sites on the other side of the tour. Along the way our trip was slightly delayed by some geese crossing the road:

Once we'd found our way to Blueberry Hill, we were quite impressed with its 120 chickens and huge area of blueberry bushes! This family farm offers pick-your-own berries in the summer, which we will be sure to take advantage of this year!

Our last stop was a backyard garden in a subdivision. It was quite different from the rest of the sites we visited, but equally impressive with its raised beds, blueberry bushes, flowers, vegetables, and herbs:

What I appreciated most about this tour was the manner in which each site owner made the most of his space. Being an urban farm tour, the criteria included being within 10 miles of the GOFO Headquarters, so some of these sites had very little space. Appalachian Feet best exemplified this aspect, for sure!
I was also quite impressed with the beauty and diversity of these sites. It was apparent that these site owners love what they do and are interested in sharing their knowledge with others. I am happy to have made some contacts with businesses and gardeners who can help us get just a little closer to what we as a family are trying to achieve!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Up Close and Personal

We are working hard to teach our kids where our food comes from. One of the ways we are doing this is not only through growing what food we can but also through supporting local farms and even developing relationships with these farmers. I want my kids to see the process behind "Real Food," identify the crops, know the names of the animals that are producing milk, eggs, etc. I want them to have a holistic view of nature and how it relates to man through food.
When we moved to this area, I was so happy to learn that South Carolina is one of only six states where it is entirely legal to purchase raw milk directly from a local farm with no strings attached. We bought raw milk in Virginia, but we had to buy a membership to a farm in Pennsylvania, and we could get milk only every other week, had to pick it up only between certain hours, etc. It was also much more expensive. But it was a good product, so we did what we had to do. I am so glad to say, however, that we now live much closer to a wonderful little dairy farm that we can support any day of the week!
Our local farmer has been in business for many years and has always raised his own cows. Every one he has on the farm he has raised from a newborn calf, the offspring of another one of his cows. He calls them each by name, and when they see him walk out of the house toward the milking station, they excitedly work their way towards him. One can see how much he cares for his animals.
I've spent enough time there lately that I'm getting to know the cows' names, too. And every time I visit, the desire I have to buy my own dairy cow grows a little stronger. They are just the sweetest animals. And how wonderful it would be to have our own fresh milk whenever we want it!
Our farmer's cows have started their calving season, so last week I packed up the kids to visit a couple of calves and a couple of heiffers that seemed pretty happy to have some visitors. The kids were delighted, too!

This poor girl had her calf about a week before this picture was taken--she's giving six gallons a day!

If you're not familiar with the safety and benefits of drinking and using raw milk (the way it's meant to be consumed), I'd encourage you to check out 

Thursday, May 3, 2012

New Frontiers

While I'm on my kick, I'd like to share some views of our very first garden. The property that we live on is about two acres of house and yard, surrounded by eighteen acres of pasture. Our vegetable garden is basically in the middle of a huge field, on the other side of a thick treeline through which we have to pass from the house. Here is the view of the pasture once you pass through the trees:

This is just about the most grass my kids had ever seen by the time we'd moved here. Such a different way of life we have now. It's so peaceful.
Our latest, and possibly the biggest, project we've taken on is our garden. We spent the winter months removing sod, tilling, adding various composts, including worm compost, and different organic nutrients since this is basically virgin ground. I have to admit that Paul, along with his trusty sidekicks, did most of the groundbreaking work, while I helped with planning the spacing, buying seeds and starting them indoors and such.

At this point, we have some lovely seedlings and small plants in a fenced-in (we have lots of deer and without a fence would have an all-you-can-eat buffet) 20 x 20 plot that offers just about all the work we can handle. We have planted 4 different kinds of tomatoes (I'm planning on canning quite a bit), 2 different kinds of peppers, carrots, onions, 3 different kinds of lettuce, zucchini, cucumbers, beets, pole beans, peas, yellow squash, and watermelon. We'll see how it goes!

This is the entire garden with some fun edits with my new camera. :)

One of our biggest babies, a garden pea

Here are my other babies, my cilantro, basil, parsley, chives, oregano, thyme, and dill:

This last shot is just for fun. While testing my new camera, I reached up high to catch the top of this nest in the fern on my front porch, not realizing until I looked at the shot that there are a couple of eggs inside! What fun it will be for the kids to have baby birds on the front porch!