F is for Flowers: Blogging Through The Alphabet

Welcome back to Blogging Through the Alphabet!  My friends Amanda from Hopkins Homeschool and Annette from A Net In Time are co-hosting Blogging Through The Alphabet.  This week’s letter is F.

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I am a huge fan of flowers!  Especially if they’re fresh or growing in a garden.  I love their scent, shape, the velvety softness of their petals.  The entire package!

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I am a fan of peonies in particular.  But I also love the flowers on trees that bud in the spring; of the spiky purple blossoms on chives plants; sunflowers; roses; pansies….really, I can’t think of a flower I don’t like!

 

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I remember being enchanted with Indian paintbrushes as a little girl in Houston.  Bluebonnets in the hill country.  I loved getting the occasional fresh flower arrangement in college, or corsages for formals.  I love seeing them as pops of color in fields or on the side of the highway.

 

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What are your favorites of the flower world?

 

Blogging Through the Alphabet Linkup

Just click on the button below and you’ll be taken to the linkup.  You’ll be able to see lots of others’ ideas about the letter F!

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Enjoy!  –Wren

E is for Echidna: Blogging Through The Alphabet

Welcome back to Blogging Through the Alphabet!  My friends Amanda from Hopkins Homeschool and Annette from A Net In Time are co-hosting Blogging Through The Alphabet.  This week’s letter is E.

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What is an echidna, anyway?

I actually discovered it thanks to the Crossy Road game (reminiscent of Frogger from the 80s), where it’s one of the winnable characters from the Prize Machine.  In Crossy, the Echidna lives in the Australia characters set and location.  It looks rather LEGOesque in its design, and it eats ants with its long tongue.  I have always thought it was such a cute and fun little guy!

 

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In real life, the echidna (I’ve heard it pronounced both eh-KID-nuh or eh-CHID-na) is one of only 3 egg-laying mammals in the world.  There are long-billed echidnas, short-billed echidnas, and the platypus, who’s more familiar to us all.  It lives in New Guinea, Australia, and Tasmania.  If you’d like more info on the echidna, visit this link to the San Diego Zoo, which has a great write-up on it.

Or, you can watch this YouTube video of The Late Late Show with James Corden, where Jack Hanna visits and brings not only an echidna but two darling clouded leopards.  (The echidna starts at about the 4:40 mark—but if you watch the whole thing, you can see the leopards, a bearcat, a penguin, and then the echidna!)

 

As always with the Internet, I recommend parents watch the videos before their kids do.  Just b/c things can change rapidly!

Do you have a favorite “odd” or unusual animal?

Blogging Through the Alphabet Linkup

Just click on the button below and you’ll be taken to the linkup.  You’ll be able to see lots of others’ ideas about the letter E!

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Enjoy!  –Wren

My Review of Sarah Beckman’s ALONGSIDE, and a chance for you to win! (ends 2/24/17)

Do you ever wonder how you can help those around you when they’re in need, ill, or suffering a loss of some sort?  Sarah Beckman’s Alongside: A Practical Guide for Loving Your Neighbor in their Time of Trial richly answers those questions and gives so many ideas to the person who’d like to help but just isn’t sure how.  The BlogAbout Blogger Network provided an autographed (!)  copy of Alongside for me to read and review–plus a copy to give away to one of our readers!

 

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So…how to help?

Just recently, I was having dinner with two dear girlfriends.  And this very subject came up.  How do you help someone who’s suffered a huge loss?  Or is facing some significant (or even life-changing) sort of trial?  The first thing that comes to my mind is always to take a meal to the person or family who’s in need.  But what if the person has particular dietary needs you don’t know about, or can’t cook yourself?

Of course, there’s always the gift card to restaurants or grocery stores.  We were a bit stumped, though, as we brainstormed some other options.  Sometimes you want to help another person, but you just don’t know how.

 

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Alongside by Sarah Beckman

Not long after that dinner, I had the opportunity to read the book that answered those very questions, written by a woman who has both served others in their own trials and experienced challenges herself, when she was the one who needed assistance.  She also contacted trusted friends and family, and asked them:  “I’m writing a book and I need your help.  Will you tell me exactly what was helpful and not-so-helpful to you during your most difficult life experience?”

Answers poured in as Sarah interviewed those close to her via Skype, Facebook, in person, and via email.  These conversations weren’t just surface, quick answers, either.  Some of them produced tears.  But all of them brought wisdom and incredible ideas for those who wish to serve and love others in times of suffering.  In Alongside, you’ll hear stories which range from those who were helped immensely, to those who were deeply hurt by someone’s well-meaning (yet thoughtless or unkind) remarks.  And one of the reasons you’ll want to keep this book handy are 26 chapters full of wide-ranging ideas of just how you can love and serve those in crisis or trouble.

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Sarah Beckman begins with some things to keep in mind as you help and serve others.  First, why we should love others or seek to serve them.  How can we keep our own personal motivations healthy and pure?  How can we serve others without making it about us?  What are some examples of those who might be truly blessed by our help?  Depending on the closeness of our relationships with the person in need, how intimately should we try to get involved as we serve?

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Practical ways to love and serve

As I mentioned above, I’ve found taking a meal to be a very practical way to come alongside others.  I have had several surgeries (not to mention bed rest during my pregnancy, and some broken metatarsals from a bad step off the stairs), and the meals others prepared and delivered to us made an enormous difference for us and gave us what I could not at the moment.  I do love that idea.

But, there are SO, so many more, and the author’s entire second section of Alongside (18 chapters and 137 pages) is absolutely packed with categories and ideas that can bless our friends and neighbors.  Here’s a sampling of those chapter titles:

  • be present
  • offer specific help
  • listen well
  • give good gifts
  • nourish normal
  • make them laugh
  • tap into your talents
  • choose wise words

You will find tons of ideas in this book.  Great gifts lists for men, women, children, teens.  Questions to ask.  Inside- and outside-the-house duties that you could perform.  Things NOT to say.  Ways to help that won’t put pressure on the person who’s suffering.  And so much more!

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In special circumstances…

What do you do?  What if you’ve had very similar times of suffering yourself?  What if the person you’re desiring to serve doesn’t share your faith?  How do you help when your friend has a terminal diagnosis?  What about uncomfortable social situations?  Sarah Beckman covers these and other situations where we might feel even less like we know what to do or how to help, with kindness and grace but also with clarity and wisdom.

 

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How Alongside affected me

I loved this book.  Over the course of my life, I’ve been in a position to offer help to others, and I’ve required it myself at various times.   But I don’t always know what I can do (especially if I don’t have a super-close relationship with the person in need) to help besides bring food.  Not anymore!  Now, I have a huge abundance of ideas in addition to that.  I also have more perspective on how my words might sound to the person in need; and how to take the pressure off them by offering specific things, rather than just asking, “How can I help?” and leaving them to come up with solutions when they’re already in a place of suffering.  I’ve also been reminded of other needs a person in trial might have, and things I can do or offer to offset those.

 

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Alongside could be a fantastic resource for:

  • A person who is suffering–who’ll now have a long list to answer others who’d like to help but don’t know how
  • An adult with older relatives
  • Anyone who’d like to be available to serve in times of need
  • Someone who’d like creative ideas for blessing others who are suffering
  • Youth group leaders
  • Those in ministry, whether it’s to men, women, or moms
  • Anyone!

We live in a beautiful world.  But it’s also a world where we do both see trial, and experience it ourselves.  For this reason alone, Alongside is a book which will equip you, encourage you, and help you to be ready to love and serve others.  I recommend it highly!

Enter to win your very own copy!

One reader will be blessed with his or her own signed copy of Alongside by Sarah Beckman.  Just click on the pink link below to go to the Giveaway Tools entry form to enter.  Giveaway closes 2/24/17.  Best wishes!

Enter here!

 

Enjoy!  –Wren

 

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DISCLOSURE:  From time to time, finchnwren may receive a free product or service in exchange for our honest opinions expressed in our blog.  We are not required to write a positive or glowing review, nor are we additionally compensated for these reviews.  We share our own opinions, and our family’s opinion, of these products.  We’re disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.

D is for Deduction: Blogging Through the Alphabet

Welcome back to Blogging Through the Alphabet!  My friends Amanda from Hopkins Homeschool and Annette from A Net In Time are co-hosting Blogging Through The Alphabet.  This week’s letter is D.

 

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D is for Deduction

Social deduction, that is!

Is that even a phrase you’ve ever heard of?  Until recently, I hadn’t.  Social deduction games involve hidden identities; secret plans or agendas; and trying to figure out those secrets by social interaction with the other players.

And now, Chara Games has a Kickstarter project for their newest game, UNAUTHORIZED.

Why we are fans of Chara Games

We were fortunate to review Commissioned and 3 Seeds in 2016, and we had great experiences with each of these games (you can find out more about them by clicking on the highlighted links).   Chara Games was founded by Patrick and Katherine Lysaght to create Christian-themed games to bring families together for fun and fellowship.  And joy, because the definition of the Greek word “chara” is “unshakeable joy.”  Both the games we’ve played from Chara Games have been creative, interesting, and really fun to play as a family.

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UNAUTHORIZED

So, the newest game from the Lysaghts is called UNAUTHORIZED.  I’m sure that you know that there are countries in our world which forbid the practice of Christianity.  Churches in those countries often operate in an underground fashion, and the church members can face job loss, imprisonment, or even death if they’re discovered.

UNAUTHORIZED is designed for 6-12 players and a 30-minute game play time.  Players’ identities (individuals from the Church attempting to grow, or the State desiring to crush it) are determined by the draw of cards.  No one knows who is doing what, but during game play try to figure that out AND either grow the Church or eradicate it.  There are 12 different Role cards (Police, Pastor, Matchmaker, Clerk, Thief, and more) and 97 Experience Cards (State Education, Enduring Joy, and others) which influence what the player does.  There are also Reference Cards and a complete Rule Book.

And you can get UNAUTHORIZED now via Kickstarter!

You can join the UNAUTHORIZED Kickstarter Project (like we did!) and receive a copy of the game yourself for only $15.  (You can also become a Project Backer for less than that or more, depending on what level you choose.)  Just click on UNAUTHORIZED Kickstarter Project  to learn more.  The game’s base funding has been met (which means that the game will be shipping out in November 2017), but further funding will enable Chara Games to meet further game goals.

Just check out the UNAUTHORIZED Kickstarter Project page.

Who would like to play UNAUTHORIZED?

  • Families who love game nights
  • People who enjoy getting to get together with friends for tabletop gaming
  • Those who’d like to teach their kids what it’s like to be a Christian in a society that forbids it
  • People who appreciate social deduction games
  • Those who are drawn to high-quality games

In closing

UNAUTHORIZED will be our family’s very first social deduction game.  I love the idea of it, and can’t wait to investigate another amazing experience from Chara Games!

Blogging Through the Alphabet Linkup

Just click on the button below and you’ll be taken to the linkup.  You’ll be able to see lots of others’ ideas about the letter D!

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Enjoy!  –Wren

Kari Jobe’s “The Garden” CD ~ Review & Giveaway (Ends 2/15/17)

Recently my family had the pleasure of enjoying Kari Jobe’s newest worship CD entitled The Garden.  FlyBy/Propeller Promotions provided a copy of the CD for us to review, and also one copy to give away to one of you!

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Where do you go for help, for relief, when you’re in a time of struggle or suffering?  Of course, we know that we need to go to God.  You can look at the Bible’s book of Psalms and know that crying out to God is one of the first things that David and the other psalmists did.  (They’re also extremely honest about what they’re feeling, but I think that’s another post!)

Sometimes, though, the struggle or the suffering goes on after, sometimes long after, we have cried out.  How do we hang onto God when the loss is still there, when our circumstances are still challenging our hearts and lives, when the hope we’d like to feel isn’t really there?

Worship

Those psalmists amaze me.  How many times do they cry out to God about the struggle, but then they end with, “But I will worship the Lord.”  “I will wait patiently for Him.”  What an encouragement that can be–that He is still God even as we are trying to hang onto Him in troubles.

I’ve found that worship music can be another incredible encouragement to me; not only in times of struggle, but in times of joy, happiness, or just normal life.  Kari Jobe’s new CD The Garden is a beautiful and meditative collection of songs (written or co-written by and all sung by Kari) about reaching out to God.  About desiring Him, about our cry for hope and His love in the midst of sorrow, about His presence.  The Garden contains 14 songs that will encourage your soul; comfort your heart; and help you focus on the Lord.

 

the-garden-1The Songs

Kari Jobe’s family underwent a great loss.  When Kari and her sister were both pregnant, her sister’s pregnancy ended in the stillbirth of her baby girl, James Ivy.  In the grieving and heartache Kari and her family went through, she learned that God is there.  That He never left.  That His love is with us always.  And these songs were born out of the pain and the struggle they walked.  In the home Kari and her husband (and son) bought and moved into, the garden was overgrown and they’d been advised to just let it grow for a year.  And one day she walked outside and looked at the messy growth.  And she saw ivy; full, lush, fresh growth.  She remembered immediately her precious niece, James Ivy.  Kari said, “Ivy is the most resilient plant there is. It can grow in the harshest of climates; it can grow in the harshest of situations,” Jobe explains, adding, “I’m standing in this garden. There’s ivy growing, and I just started to realize, ‘God, You’re moving in a way that is different than what I asked for, but You are moving.’ He’s at work and doing things we can’t see.”

The Garden contains 14 beautiful songs, including:

  • “The Garden”
  • “Let Your Glory Fall”
  • “Lover of My Soul”
  • “Closer To Your Heart”
  • “The Cause of Christ”
  • “Here As In Heaven”
  • and more

How our family enjoyed this

We’ve enjoyed Kari Jobe’s singing and her worship songs for some time.  We were so excited to hear this new album!  My husband has listened to it in his car, and we’ve played the CD in our home during family worship and just on our regular homeschool days, at mealtimes or when we’ve finished school.  We’ve all enjoyed it so much.

There is so much in the lyrics that speaks to our hearts.  Kari’s singing is both peaceful and beautiful, as are the musical arrangements.  It is a wonderful reminder that God is there.  That He is loving us, shepherding us through our troubles and sorrows; but also through the good times.  That He is faithful.  And that He is worthy.

Here’s one particular portion of the first song, The Garden, that is so sweet and meaningful to me:

“Then I saw the garden, hope had come to me
To sweep away the ashes
And wake me from my sleep

I realized You never left
And for this moment You planned ahead
That I would see
Your faithfulness in all of the green…”

Because we’ve all been there, haven’t we?  In the times of suffering and sorrow.  Wondering if God was there; if He heard us; if He was listening.  We just can’t always see it…but He’s never left us to face things alone.

 

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There’s much more beauty and encouragement in the rest of this album.

I so recommend it.  If you’d like a beautiful new worship CD; if you need the reminder that God loves you and is there; if you need comfort in your struggles.  You can click through the social media links below to purchase it.

And, you can enter my giveaway for a chance to win your own copy of The Garden!  Just enter below at the pink link, which will take you to the Giveaway Tools entry page.  Giveaway ends February 15, 2017.  Blessings!

 

Enter here!

 

The Garden on social media:

Enjoy!  –Wren
Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255:  “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”):  Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway.  Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation.  I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post. Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway.  If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller /FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days on the same blog, you are not eligible to win.  Or if you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again.  Winner is subject to eligibility verification.

C is for Calligraphy: Blogging Through the Alphabet

Welcome back to Blogging Through the Alphabet!  My friends My friends Amanda from Hopkins Homeschool and Annette from A Net In Time are co-hosting Blogging Through The Alphabet.  This week’s letter is C.

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Something I always wanted to know how to do is today’s letter C:  calligraphy!  Thanks to the Homeschool Review Crew, I was able to try Everyday Education, LLC’s Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting.  I love it!  And I finally feel that I was able to jump into calligraphic writing (if that’s a word) successfully.

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Perfect Reading, Beautiful Handwriting is designed to be used to teach children handwriting.   But it can also be used for adults to learn more beautiful handwriting, or calligraphy.  I haven’t worked thru the entire curriculum yet.  It starts with italic printing.  Then, once that alphabet is mastered, it moves on to cursive letters, and ends with connecting the cursive ones.

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I’m looking forward to continuing to learn this lovely italic.

How do you like to explore your creative side?

Blogging Through the Alphabet Linkup

Just click on the button below and you’ll be taken to the linkup.  You’ll be able to see lots of others’ ideas about the letter C!

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Enjoy!  –Wren

Can There Be Creativity in Prayer? ~ Reviewing DESIGNED TO PRAY & Giveaway (CLOSED)

How is your prayer life going?  Do you need a boost?  Are things there seeming like the same old, same old?  If you’re needing something in this area, but you don’t know exactly what, then you’re going to love this book.  The BlogAbout Blogger Network was so very kind to send me a copy of Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage With God to use myself–as well as a copy for one special reader to win!

 

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So how is your prayer life, anyway?

I will admit to you that my own times of prayer have really undergone a beating in the last four years.  Two abdominal surgeries (which left quite a mark on my overall stamina and energy) plus job challenges took my own faith to a place that I never expected it would go.  Did I believe in God?  Yes, of course.  Did I spend time in God’s Word?  Yes.  But even as I read the Bible’s truths, I struggled to apply them to myself; to believe that God really was FOR me, in my corner, loving and upholding me.

Hard times.

But (and here’s where we insert a “yay!”), I’m journeying back.  Receiving healing.  Able more and more to receive God’s truths for myself.  But I still could see that my prayer life needed…life.

 

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Enter Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage With God

I will not be exaggerating if I tell you that this book has made more of an impact on my prayer life than any other resource I’ve ever found on prayer.  It has been a delight.  It has caused me to see God differently–more truly what He is.  It has enabled me to desire prayer more fully, and to enjoy connecting with Him.  It has made my morning prayer time SO FUN.

It has been just what I needed at a moment when I really needed SOMEthing, but didn’t know exactly what.

 

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So how can a book do all that?

Kelly O’Dell Stanley, who already authored a book on prayer called Praying Upside Down, kept having ideas about journaling prayer.  Designing something for people to use that would help them see God, hear Him, know Him, get closer to Him, that could engage them both individually and creatively.  A book that could take the reader on an interactive & joyful journey.

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Designed to Pray provides a unique journey on prayer that I’m pretty sure nobody has ever taken before.  O’Dell Stanley has designed 8 weeks’ worth of daily exercises on prayer which will enable the reader to use her own creativity, colored pencils and pens to venture into prayer in ways that are exciting, encouraging, and uplifting.  The weeks’ titles include:

  • “Fumbling into God’s Presence”
  • “The Faith of a Child”
  • “Creativity…or Connecting the Dots to See God”
  • “We’re All in This Together (Praying with or for Others)”
  • “A Personal God (Knowing God, Knowing Yourself)”
  • and three more

Each of these chapters begins with an introduction from O’Dell Stanley that sets the tone for the week’s activities and prayers.  Then, the reader is given 7 different activities, one each for every day that week, Sunday through Saturday.

 

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How can art & creativity take you into God’s presence?

It’s all about the activities, the grace and fun behind them, and what Kelly O’Dell Stanley has designed them to do; engage with God on a heart level.  Sometimes, I started with a page the author designed with some beautiful doodles in one corner, and doodled more…then wrote prayer items in the spaces.  Another time, I wrote lists of things I was thankful for like rays of the sun.  Once I lettered the words to a children’s song about Jesus’ love.  Sometimes I got to color!

One pivotal day, I wrote down fears that kept me from praying.  Honestly, these were sort of buried in my mind and I wasn’t consciously aware of them.  But when the author asked the right questions, out they came…and I was able to progress beyond them.

 

designed-to-pray-4My conclusions

I like artsy stuff.  I teach art at our homeschool coop.  I have just jumped into Bible journaling.  I like to “do” art with my child.

I am not, however, a “trained” artist.  But I’ve found over my years as a mom and a homeschooling mom in particular, that art does something in me that nothing else does.  It encourages me.  It removes me a step from life’s pressures and helps me to take a breath.  It provides cool times for connection with my son.

So, combining creativity with prayer?  It felt very natural.  It created real connection points between me and God (okay, He was there already, but it helped me to reach for Him).  It moved me to pray and think about things that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise.

Best of all, it breathed new life into my prayer times.  It made me WANT to pray.  It showed me that connecting with God can happen in new and beautiful ways.  It helped me to start my days with joy and a real knowing that He is there.

To me, that’s an amazing outcome from a book!  (I have to tell you that when I finish this book, I am thinking that I need to purchase a fresh one and work thru all the exercises and activities again!)

 

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Who could use this book?

  • Someone who is worn out with legalism and the “right” way to do things
  • A mom who wants to pray but doesn’t feel like she has a lot of time
  • A person who’d like to pray but doesn’t know how
  • Someone whose soul needs touches of beauty
  • And anyone else who’d like to know that God loves and cares for them

 

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My recommendations…and a chance for you to win!

If you see yourself in the list above…if you’d like to bring more beauty and joy to your prayer times…or if you’d just like to connect with the God who loves you in a new way, get a copy of Kelly O’Dell Stanley’s Designed to Pray: Creative Ways to Engage With God!

And, you can enter to win a copy now!  (Giveaway ends February 10, 2017.)  Just click on the pink link below to go to the Giveaway Tools form to enter!

Enter here!

 

WINNERS SELECTED:

I loved DESIGNED TO PRAY so much that I selected 3 winners!  (1 gets the copy from Blog about Network, and the others from FINCHNWREN.)  Congratulations to Diane P, Kayla F, and Savannah H!

Enjoy!  –Wren

 
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DISCLOSURE:  From time to time, finchnwren may receive a free product or service in exchange for our honest opinions expressed in our blog.  We are not required to write a positive or glowing review, nor are we additionally compensated for these reviews.  We share our own opinions, and our family’s opinion, of these products.  We’re disclosing this in accordance with FTC regulations.