Monday, July 28, 2008

Work in Progress

I started off this post by saying that as women, there is something in us that yearns for more..... more for our children, more for ourselves, more for our friends and family members, but then I realized, maybe that isn't what it is. Maybe it is just ME. I am not talking about wanting more material things, I am talking about inside of me, who I am. Wanting WHO I AM to be pleasing to Him, no pretending, no masks.

Being content is a struggle for me. I don't mean in all areas of my life, but when it comes to being a mom, I always feel as if I need to keep learning, stretching, growing into the mom that my boys need. And because of that, I am always seeking ways to follow hard after God; because that is the best way to be the mom they be whole in Him. And this is a daily thing for me, a daily choice to not live in my flesh and selfish desires, but to allow Him to love my boys through me. I want them to know Him by the way their mom and dad love them so that they will have a right view of the Father. That is my prayer.

My very first post talked about being 'all there' with your kids. 'Blink' brought that back around full circle today. I only have 28 more days before my boys' teachers have them for a larger chunk of the day than I do. I don't know Angie personally, just a blog I stumbled upon along this journey. But her blog is one that challenges me and one that I go back and read and re-read sometimes. Yes, I am just that thick-headed. I bet you can't relate.

Lord, please multiply our memories and moments in these next days.

Don't Leave Home Without Him

Who is 'Him', you might ask?

Tour Guide Mike

This guy single-handedly ensured my husband might go back to DisneyWorld. Why? Because in the two days we covered all of Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom that we could, our longest wait was a maximum of 25 minutes. Did you hear me? We were at Disney in peak season with what felt like EVERY Brazilian teenager on vacay and the longest we had to wait to ride the best rides they had to offer was less than half an hour AND that particular line moved so fast, that it didn't even feel that long (or was it because we were so busy bribing our youngest son to ride Big Thunder Mountain that time flew? For the record, he ended up with a spray bottle that also has fan attached for being so brave. Way to go W! Worth every bit of the $17 we paid). That was the only ride we really had to wait for. The rest we either walked right onto or had a 5-10 minute wait, tops.

Back to the point. I have three great friends who are lovers of the Mouse. All have 3+ children and all have been to Disney mulitple times, and two of the three have traveled sans children, I think. So when we planned our trip to Florida and we began to see that we might be able to squeeze in a few days at Disney, who did I call? Brandi, Leigh Ann and Michele. After they all three got over the fact we were only going to do Disney for 2 days (the HORROR) they all three told me to run, not walk, and log onto a little site called Tour Guide Mike.

Mike Hewell, aka TGM, was a VIP host for Disney for 5 years and now owns his own VIP tour company. His credentials are too long to list, but know he is a wealth of knowledge and because of this, his site offers date-specific, day-by-day Least Crowded Parks guides, sample park tours for each Disney park, customized list of the 'best of the best' attractions (age specific for younger children, older children or active adults), ability to add or delete any attraction, and recommended Disney restaurants. My most favorite part is that he tells you which rides to hit first and then others in a certain order. Basically, he gives you a game plan on the best way to get through the park....a type-As dream!

With his site, I was able to look at these days we would be in Disney, see that Magic Kingdom was a good choice for Wednesday and Animal Kingdom was least crowded on Thurdays (did I mention every Brazilian teenager was there with their tour guide and her flag-on a-stick?) and off we went.

Here are some things to consider that I learned from TGM and my Disney BFFs- Brandi, Leigh Ann and Michele:

*Be at the turnstiles of the park 15-20 minutes before opening

*If you are a first time visitor or celebrating a birthday, head to Guest Relations and secure your pin-on buttons for these. These buttons will often allow for certain privileges during the day.

*Lunch is recommended to be eaten early (10:45-11:00) to get ahead of the crowds and then ride more while they were eating.

*Head back to the hotel around 2 and swim and relax before eating dinner and returning to the park that night. The days are long, the nights are late and the mornings are early, trust me on this. And we were feeling it by day 2 because our bodies were still on Texas Time...which meant 6:30 was 5:30, yikes!

*Rather than chase the characters all around the park and wait in long lines for signatures, make reservations for Character Dinners at night. We ate at Chef Mickey and it was too much fun. Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto were there and came to eat table to take pictures and sign

*There are lots of options regarding autographs. Autograph books can be purchased on property or you can make your own by going here and printing out the pages you need and binding them. This gals has created endless designs, check them out! Other choices are to take a pillowcase or a t-shirt for the characters to sign. Know that they will NOT sign a shirt that a child has on, so plan on taking an extra w/ a piece of cardboard inside for a hard surface. And last but not least, we took a photo matte and had the characters sign. It was a bit of a challenge to keep it from getting bent, but we managed. Your kiddo might not even be into this part of the trip, and I didn't think ours would, but when we were in the moment, they did like for them to sign crazy as it sounds.

*Bringing ponchos is a great idea. The Florida climate is known for its afternoon showers and we experienced that 2 of the 3 days we were there. The first day it passed quickly and we were good. The 2nd day was a massive t-storm and we had to bust out the ponchos and wear them in the park that night. The crazy thing is that rain doesn't keep anyone away. We were just all walking around in our ponchos like it was the natural thing to do. Let me also say that the poncho can be particulary helpful on rides like Splash Mountain or Kali River Rapids if you don't want a wet booty all day. Just tie it around your waist and you are good to go. 'Nuff said.

*Pre-paid Dining Plans are an option. This year the dining plan is $37.99 per adult (ages 10+) and $9.99 per child (ages 3-9) and will give you one of each of these per person (age 3 and up) per NIGHT (not per day) of you vacation: A snack-This can pretty much be anything less than $4. It can be a bottle of water, a soda, a box of popcorn, an ice cream, a piece of fruit, a cookie, a bag of chips etc. A counter service meal-This includes a combo meal, a drink and a desert. A table service meal- This includes an entree, a desert and a nonalcoholic beverage OR one buffet meal and beverage. It DOES NOT include tip. We went with this option and it was just struck me as odd how weird some of the kids' choice were. Not your typical kids meals, but perhaps that is the 'Westerner' in will not believe the amount of International tourist you will see. Update: Just found out from my good friend Leigh Ann that Disney went 'healthy' two years ago and that is the reason for the freaky kids' meals. Yes, the Food Pyramid police are alive and well in Orlando!

*Bring a backpack and take turns carrying it. Things to include:

Bottled Water (one per person, can refill)
Small packages of mix-ins for bottled water (Propel, Crystal Light, etc)
Hand-towel from hotel (to wipe off wet seats)

*Take advantage of the Fast Pass system. All guests who stay on property have this option and it is just awesome. We were able to ride Everest Expedition twice and didn't wait over 5 minutes.
There is so much more to tell, I am quite sure but I won't bore you with any more. We had a great first trip to the Happiest Place on Earth and made lots of memories there.

I am a reformed Disney vacation planner. I checked out and read all the books but ultimately, TourGuideMike and my friends offered the best info that shaped our vacation.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

In All Things

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,who have been called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28

Sports is a big deal in the Mounce family. I am married to an extremely athletic guy who enjoys being involved in any kind of outdoor activity and our boys have had an interest in sports from a very young age. If you have ever seen our playroom, you will notice that is is bare compared to our garage....which looks like a mini version of a High School Athletics storage shed.

Several years ago when they boys were very young, we were making decisions as to where we wanted to serve through ministry. At first glance, YoungLife seemed to be a perfect fit as we were both involved in this ministry during our High School years and even a bit into college; and through this ministry, Tray accepted Christ as his Savior. But as we prayed through where God wanted us to serve, He steered us toward a ministry that would allow us to teach our boys that you CAN find God in all things you are involved with, including sports.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes or FCA touches millions of lives... one heart at a time. Since 1954, the Fellowship of Christian Athletes has been challenging coaches and athletes on the professional, college, high school, junior high and youth levels to use the powerful medium of athletics to impact the world for Jesus Christ. FCA is the largest Christian sports organization in America and the Houston staff, led by Wade Hopkins, is an amazing group and we are honored to serve alongside them. We are most involved with FCA in the Cy-Fair and Katy areas and I can tell you the huddles at these schools are fired up and doing great things for Christ in the public schools in our area.

Our involvement in FCA has allowed us to not only teach our boys how to serve the body of Christ, but also what is is like to honor God through your actions. By using The FCA Competitor's Creed we have been able to show our boys a great example of how to compete with all their effort but keep their attitudes in check and also not boast in their own abilities. This creed is meant for much older kids than 6 & 8, but simple concepts like effort and attitude
are easy to explain at any age.

The boys have attended two different sports camps in the past few summers that have been such a blessing. The first is a soccer camp put on by Sports Quest- they hold soccer camps all over the Houston area, from churches to schools. The second camp was held at Champion Forest Baptist Church but run by Triumph Sports. My boys attended the basketball and all-sports camps (they had many others to choose from, even cheerleading) and had a total blast. Both camps include sports skills, scripture memory, devotionals and team building. What a great way to spend the summer! They still have two more sessions left this summer, check them out! We will definitely back nexts summer!

My challenge to you with your kids is a challenge that was issued to me by a dear friend whose children are married and have little ones of their your children find God in EVERYTHING, He is there if you just take the time to look.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

In Every Season

Can I just take a minute be honest?

I have some people in my life that are just plain hurting.

Some have control over the season they are in,
the journey they are having to walk out,
some do not.

Some are trusting God to bring them through it,
some have turned their back on Him
because the pain and the bitterness is too much.

I so often don't have the words to bring comfort or relief, but what I learned again today through the testimony and song below,
is that God IS still God, no matter what season we are in
and we do still have a reason to worship Him.

No weapon formed against us will remain. Period.

In all these things we are more than conquerors
through him who loved us
Romans 8:3

Desert Song

This is my prayer in the desert
When all that's within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is the God who provides

This is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flame

I will bring praise, I will bring praise
No weapon formed against me shall remain
I will rejoice, I will declare
God is my victory and He is here

This is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I'll stand

All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

This is my prayer in the harvest
When favour and providence flow
I know I'm filled to be emptied again
The seed I've received I will sow

An Ounce of Prevention

Do you ever wish that you could have a do-over? Or perhaps you wish you were better prepared with knowledge before you visited a hotel or restaurant? I know there are no guarantees in life, but there are certainly ways to 'try before you buy', if you know what I mean.

Let me explain.

I am a big fan of reading reviews. I read reviews of restaurants, hotels and even products I am thinking about buying. My favorite site for restaurants in the Houston area is B4-U Eat . I really like this particular site because these people are totally honest, I mean brutally honest. Sometimes I do feel they need to cut the wait staff some slack and perhaps even just get over themselves, but I will say I have benefitted from their experience. I SO wish I had read the reviews of a restaurant we popped into on Friday night. We are huge fans of Mexican food and have had great luck with the 'dives' around town but tonight was NOT our night. It had been recommended to us and the parking lot was packed....we decided to give it a shot. Service was decent, food was above average, but not great.....but as we were paying, a crawly guy scampered across the table....and all the waiter had to say was, "Um, Sorry?" People, hear my clearly, I had to smash it with a packet of Sweet 'n Low. I am not sure what kept me from totally losing it, perhaps because it was a baby and not a full-on Grand Daddy Cookaracha, but I can safely say I will never go back. No ma'am. And then I read the reviews and sure enough, the place has gone down hill and then my good friend, Kelly, informs me that she had been to a different location, same chain, and she spotted crawly guys and the when she brought it to the waiters attention, he squashed it mid-stride, never missing a beat. Eeewww! We were SO close...but alas, we will just keep going here and here. On a side note- I did visit Rao's Bakery yesterday (Cypresswood location) and it is just darlin'. I was completely blown away by the variety of pasteries, cookies, cupcakes, muffins and desserts. The presentation was amazing, complete works of art. I had a sample of the most amazing Spiced Chai Latte...and that is a saying a lot because I am NOT a coffee drinker. As my friend Leigh Ann said, "It tastes like Christmas in a cup." Perhaps I need to have it on ice whenI stop in there again. And while we are on this subject, how do you coffee-drinking people drink it year 'round in Houston? It blows my mind to see people enjoying their coffee, outside, at several coffee places around town. I mean, they keep Starbucks like a meat locker in the winter, how do they pay their electric bill from June to August? But back to Rao's, if you are near Champion Forest Baptist Church, bring a good book or magazine and pop in for a visit.

Now, on to hotels. Trip Advisor is a great site. Their motto is 'Get the truth, then go". Love that! Again, nobody is paying these people so they can throw caution to the wind when they give their rendition of their stay. Expedia (don't tell me their marketing group failed because you KNOW you immediately heard the jingle in your head) is another go-to site as well as. Note: When visiting these review sites, be sure to look at the dates of the reviews as some are older. Case in point, we were in Round Rock for a baseball tournament and stayed here and found it to be nothing like the reviews. The management was delightful and the breakfast spread was incredible- perfect for 11 hungry baseball boys and their families.

And finally, this site is the end-all-be-all of the reviews. This is my go-to site for books, appliances, toy ideas for my kiddos and any other thing I just want to know a bit more about before I lay down the cash. and have proved helpful in the past. Give them a look as well.

So for all you type-As out there, considered yourself armed and for all you adventurous, go-where-the-wind-takes-you types, I wish I could come over to your side, but I just can't. Maybe next year I'll try again to be 'Fun Laurie'. 2008 didn't work out so well for me yet. Old habits die hard.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

A Blank Canvas

Update 7/29/08:

Split Decizions offers free tutorials and templates

I am totally new to this whole blogging thing... But what I am learning as I read more of my friends' blogs and stumble on others (I DO NOT recommend clicking 'next blog' when viewing a blog hosted by blogger/blogspot, MERCY! This Southern Girl was in for quite a shock!) is that there are endless ways to layout, accessorize and create a blog specific to your personality.

My hope is for us to share sites that we have discovered that have templates or other cool things to add to our blogs to make them more 'us'. Below are the three that I know of off hand. The first two offer free blog templates and the 3rd is so darn cute and I just can't seem to be smart enough to figure out how to actually implement the cuteness onto my blog. Perhaps one of you will rise to the challenge (Melissa C, this means you!).

Cutest Blog on the Block (site goes down frequently and your cool new template disappears)
Shabby Miss Jenn Designs

Please share ways that you changed a blank canvas to a blog that is a refection of you!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Timely Word

I think I just broke a record...blogging three days in a row. I am not sure it will ever happen again, but I had to share this before I head north for my baby sister's wedding.

I just had church sitting at my computer at 1:14 pm. Sounds like Kay Arthur certainly brought a Word to those who attended Deeper Still.

In this season of life, I am leaning more toward devotionals I am find through various websites/blogs rather in true book form. Not saying this will always be the case, but 'tis true right now. I wanted to jump on and share a few sites that are challenging and blessing me, encouraging me and urging me to seek MORE of Him and the life He has planned out for me.

All Access
Girl Talk
Women of Faith Studies
97 Seconds With God

And these two precious gals are living testimonies to trusting God no matter what He leads you through. Their blogs may not be focused directly on Bible study, but they are revealing such amazing truths.

Bring The Rain
Keeping Awake

And please, please if you feel led, share a site that is rocking your world and revealing God in a fresh new way.

Happy 4th of July. Seek out and claim the freedom Christ intends for you.

Galatians 5:1
Christ has set us free to live a free life.
So take your stand! Never again let anyone
put a harness of slavery on you

John 8:26
So if the Son sets you free,
you are free through and through

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Here's the Church, Here's the Steeple

The blogging world had endless possibilities as to what one can stumble upon and learn. It is amazing who or what you can discover by way of 6 degrees of separation (think the old Kevin Bacon game). Case in point...I am not sure how I stumbled upon this blog originally, but I liked his devotional-style writing and marked it to come back to later. At the time I discovered the blog, he wasn't updating it very often. I decided to check back yesterday and low and behold, he started a new blog. I believe he is onto something that will bless so many people.

His new blog is called Can I Wear Jeans and it allows people to find churches, in an area they are not familiar with, just like the church they love so much at home. Great, huh? How many times have friends you know moved to another city or state and spent months looking for a new church home? Or maybe you are vacationing and wanting to take the opportunity to visit a new church while you were away. This blog has such potential to take out so much of the guesswork when looking for a new church home.

Check out this new blog and scroll through the comments to make sure your church is on there. We all love our home church for good reason. Give someone else a chance to fall in love with it too!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Let Them Eat Cake!

Hi, I am Laurie, and I find great joy in eating dessert.

There, I said it. Sugar and I are big buddies. It is what I chose over flowers on any holiday that might lend itself to needing flowers sent, and it is the leading factor when my man takes me out on a date. We have even been known to eat dinner one place and then travel to have dessert at an entirely different spot. Case in point...for my birthday just a few weeks ago, we ate dinner here (the Chicken Romano is to DIE for) and then traveled across town to have Two Fork Cheesecake here . Please, if you have not experienced the pure bliss of this dessert, promise me you will go this week. We order extra white chocolate sauce every time!

It is a well-known fact cupcakes are the new cookie. I live in the 'Burbs, so often I am not privy to the 'good' restaurants, if you know what I mean. But a few months ago, my good friend Laura M. and I traveled to town and visited these two cupcake eateries, as suggested by my very in-the-know friend Jenny J. SO worth the gas money! These two establishments have taken cupcakes to a new level. They are works of art and delish to boot. The Italian Cream rocked my world, no lie.

Brace yourselves...Houston, we now have THREE gourmet cupcake bakeries! A new cupcake eatery just opened in Uptown Park. It is called Crave Cupcakes. They have no website to speak of yet, but this will give you a sneak peak until you can't stand the temptation and HAVE to go visit.

Happy Eating!

** Update- My other in-the-know friend, Christina F (aka, ninaloca) had the website. She is the Queen of anything awesome, unique or fun in Houston!