Monday, August 21, 2017

Share the Love: One Last Summer Hurrah at the Chicago Botanic Garden {Ticket Giveaway!}

As August begins its fade into September and the days are still warm and long, we have this beautiful opportunity to enjoy a few last summer hurrahs.

The beach, the gardens, the sunlight, the parts of nature we miss during the long winter freeze are all still upon us even though school has swung back into session for many of our kiddos. {The homeschooled children and I are still very much feeling like we're soaking up summer!}

One of our very favorite summer adventures is heading to the Chicago Botanic Garden; while we love visiting the garden in all seasons, we go each summer especially to visit the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit. 

Words fail me when talking about the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit. So here's our explanation of why you want to make this a last summer hurrah in pictures:

All of this times one hundred!

Just imagine a garden teeming with dozens of varieties of butterflies flying around, dancing through the air.

And sometimes, if you're very still and also a butterfly whisperer {wear vibrant-colored clothing}, they will come up extra close for a little visit.

My youngest son, who is a nature lover at age seven, always takes the laminated sheet showcasing the different butterflies when he enters the exhibit so he can try and find all of the different butterflies pictured before he leaves; I count this as educational summer fun.

Excitingly, too, the exhibit is now in its permanent home at the Regenstein Learning Campus, which you simply must explore in its entirety while you're visiting. {Read about all the fun offerings for families and see pictures of the learning campus here!}

Maybe you need a last hurrah, too, before you're ready to say farewell to summer 2017?

The Chicago Botanic Garden is generously giving away four tickets to the Butterflies and Blooms exhibit in addition to a free parking pass to one of my friends here!
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Disclosure: I am so glad to be a Chicago Botanic Garden Ambassador. In exchange for writing about the garden and its happenings, my family is provided with a season membership so we can keep exploring and sharing!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Favorite (not-so-hokey) Faith-Filled & Inspiring Films

A good story holds in it great power -- power to expand minds, propel hearts forward into truth and inspire courage, beauty and love.

My husband and I are long-time lovers of art and story, and having children has given us opportunity to reflect on the stories we would like to build into our libraries of movies and books; Because stories consumed inevitably shape and inspire our children's hearts, the power of a good story on the soul is profound. And that has led us to quickly begin acquiring faith-filled films, books and music that have been set in reality and laced with the undercurrents of hope and love.

The Chronicles of Narnia films including The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Never once mentioning the name of God or referencing the Bible, these films are based on the allegorical stories written by C.S. Lewis of a far-away land in which its citizens are battling good and evil. The characters are inviting and inspiring. The films are beautifully created and feel mostly true to the heart of the stories Lewis penned. Many a Narnian tale has been referenced as we discuss the Bible and how it applies to our lives.

The Resurrection of Gavin Stone
Skeptical mostly because of the interesting title, we began watching this film and surprisingly found ourselves giggling and laughing throughout the entire story in which we follow child actor-turned-bad-boy Gavin Stone. Stone, who is actually as charming as he is pompous, is assigned to community service at a church in his hometown after yet-another encounter with the law. While mopping the church floors, Stone comes across auditions for the church's Easter play; and this is when the acting really begins. Funny, thoughtful and real, The Resurrection of Gavin Stone is a beautiful story of second (and third) chances and one man's journey toward faith.

War Room 
Again, this film was met with a high level of skepticism on my part. I mean, let's not fall into the triteness of oversimplifying the Ephesians 6 battle mentioned in the spiritual realm and here on Earth that rages. {I'm just being honest. I'm more-than-a-little sensitive to overt and unnatural portrayals of living a life of faith.} Honestly, I liked this movie. Actually, I really liked this movie. The characters were relatable for the most part, and both of the female leads were spunky in their own ways. I appreciated the themes of grace and forgiveness, and I enjoyed the humor laced into what could have been a strictly serious movie.

Made by members of the band For King and Country, I was really excited to watch this movie. For Kind and Country's music is definitely inspired by the band members' faith walks with Jesus, and also details some of the trials and hardships and beauties of life that sometimes is only given voice to vaguely in mainstream Christian music. My hopes for the Priceless to bring the same faith and realities of life to the big screen were realized as I watched the story unfold. I have only watched this movie with my husband and one of my teen-aged daughters, though, because of its mature themes centering around the horrors of human trafficking. The theme of redemption runs thick through this movie, and the three of us who watched it could not say enough good about it. Again because of the mature themes, it's best to preview this movie before watching it with your younger kids.

Soul Surfer 
The whole family was slowly drawn into the real-life story of surfer Bethany Hamilton; though the beginning of the movie was a little hokey with its quintessential beach scenes, the themes of the movie were relatable and engaging. I mean, who hasn't or won't face what seems like an insurmountable mountain in his or her life? My husband and I appreciated how the movie detailed Hamilton working through an extreme trauma in her life, with a messy but anchoring faith, inspires us all to keep moving forward in the face of great hardship. Overall, Soul Surfer is a pretty good movie with solid encouragement.

Grace Unplugged
This story of a legendary one-hit wonder-turned-worship-pastor and his extraordinarily gifted musician daughter is one that left the whole family discussing family relationships and dynamics. We follow Grace, who is on the cusp of adulthood, to California where she pursues her dreams of becoming a professional musician. Along the way she learns some valuable lessons about who she really is, and we see the themes of forgiveness, growing up and doing what makes your soul sing.

Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures wasn't purposed to be a faith-filled film like many of the other movies on the list. However, as a Christ follower, I appreciate it so very much, and I was eager to view it with my kids because of the conversations I hoped would follow. Hidden Figures details the lives of three African American Women who all worked at NASA during the era of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. As we watched their plight, my children and I became even more aware of the racial (and also gender) divide that has plagued our country from the time of colonization. We were gifted with a beautiful conversation about how we are ALL created in the image of God, and we are all worthy of respect, honor, love and dignity and how each of us are created with gifts and talents that we can and should have the opportunity to express. There is some language, so best to preview this one if you feel like that's an issue for your family.