Saturday, May 25, 2013

Book Review: Nick Vujicic's "Limitless"

 From limbless to limitless – anything is possible with God!

Nick Vujicic knows there is no greater hope than trusting in God’s plan for your life. Born without arms or legs, Nick has experienced both the peak of hope and the depth of despair. But he has overcome his circumstances and physical limitations by clinging to his faith and understanding the limitless love and power God has for every person.

Now he wants you to experience that same reassurance of hope and the power of God, everyday. In these fifty inspirational devotions, Nick shares his most compelling, hard-earned wisdom to help you face obstacles with confidence and courage and point you toward God. Whether you struggle with faith, relationships, career challenges, anger, health concerns, self-esteem, finding balance, or doubt in your dreams, Nick’s biblical encouragement and positive attitude will transform your life and show you that you can be limitless because God is limitless.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).
I've been a fan of Nick Vujicic since I saw a YouTube video of him speaking to an auditorium full of teenagers. Here is a guy with no arms or legs, and he deliberately let himself fall down on the stage. He then managed to push himself back up, using his head and shoulders. Then he looked out over the sea of teenage faces and said something like, "I have no arms. I have no legs.  If I fall down, I shouldn't be able to get back up again. But I do. So, what is it you think you can't do?"

Limitless is a collection of 50 brief devotions based on Nick's life experiences. I got the book in the mail for review at a time when I was feeling pretty stressed out. I sat down and read through all 50 of the devotions in one night. I laughed, I cried, and I laughed some more, and I finished the book feeling much less stressed. Nick has a way of helping you to take your eyes off your problem by directing your focus back to God. He does so with a humble spirit and a great sense of humor.

This is the kind of book I'll keep next to my chair and mark up with notes and highlighting. Worried about finances? See page 112 for Nick's thoughts on his business being $50,000 in the red. Need a laugh? Oh, boy, there are loads of pages to refer you to - perhaps his adventure on a baggage carousel on page 47, or maybe his definition of "flip-phone" on page 80? Or his brief impromptu stint as a window mannequin (page 77)?  Afraid that things will never change? Page 56 will be an encouragement. Going through a time of sadness? Leaf over to page 68.

I highly recommend this book. Nick Vujicic may be been born "missing a few bits and pieces" (as his mother often told him), but God is definitely using him to spread a message of hope and encouragement.

The Sequel to "The Shunning" is finally here! And it's a great movie!

Last year, I got to review the movie "The Shunning" (based on the Beverly Lewis trilogy of Amish novels). My whole family enjoyed the movie, so when I was offered the chance to review the second movie, "The Confession," I eagerly agreed. It's produced by Sony Pictures in connection with Affirm Films and Provident Films.

Directed by Michael Landon Jr. (Beverly Lewis’ The Shunning, Love Comes Softly), the inspiring film is a sequel to the Hallmark Channel’s hit movie, Beverly Lewis’ The Shunning, and is based on the second novel of “The Heritage of Lancaster County” trilogy from New York Times best-selling author Beverly Lewis. Katie Lapp (Leclerc), a young Amish woman, goes on a journey in search of her identity -- only to find herself embroiled in a mystery that must be solved before she can be reunited with the “Englisher” mother, who gave her up for adoption 20 years earlier.  The film also stars Bill Oberst Jr. (The Secret Life of Bees), Cameron Deane Stewart (Pitch Perfect, High School Crush) and Julia Whelan (TV’s “Once and Again”).

When I got the DVD, and compared the pictures to those on The Shunning DVD, I saw that the actress playing Katie Lapp had changed. That caused me a moment's hesitation, but once I watched the movie, all those doubts disappeared. Katie Leclerc did an excellent job of portraying Katie Lapp in her struggles to do the right thing.

This is an awesome, family-friendly movie. If you haven't watched "The Shunning" yet, you definitely need to watch that first to get the back story. Katie is on a mission to find her birth mother. She doesn't have much more than a name and general location, and she runs into opposition, including an imposter!

Even though I've read the books that these movies are based on, I found myself caught up in the movie, wondering what would happen next, how obstacles would be overcome, and how conflicts would be resolved. The movie went by very quickly, and left me saying "What? It's over? I have to wait for the final movie now?"

The movie had a little bit of everything - humor, light romance, conflicts, suspense. I appreciate the way the main characters of Katie Lapp and Laura Mayfield-Bennett are such loveable characters, showing grace, kindness, loyalty and forgiveness to others.

There are several scenes in the movie that could lead to good family discussions on how the character's faith was shown through their actions, such as Laura Mayfield-Bennett's dealings with her husband, and how Katie Lapp consistently thinks of how her actions will impact the Amish couple who raised her. 

The DVD for Beverly Lewis' the Confession goes on sale June 11 - and I would definitely recommend that you add this to your video library!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

There's a new store in town... and it's got lots of gluten-free stuff!

A few weeks ago, I got a flyer in the mail about a new store opening in Orchard Park (about 15 miles away from my house). "Orchard Fresh" on North Buffalo Road in Orchard Park. That particular store has changed hands a few times in recent years. I think it's been Bells, Quality, Jubilee, and Latino's in the last twenty years. I'm out in that direction a lot, so I figured I'd eventually get out there. They specifically mentioned gluten-free items in their ad, so I figured it was worth a visit.

I found them on Facebook and got a notice that they were going to have gluten-free test stations this weekend, from noon - 4, so I planned it into my Saturday schedule. I figured I'd stop there, scope things out, and pick up some ingredients to make Reubens for lunch once I got home.

The first thing I noticed was that the parking lot was PACKED! Apparently lots of people wanted to try out some gluten-free samples.

As soon as I walked in, the samples started, with some probiotic coffee. It comes in a little foil stick packet and you add it to a cup of hot water. Not too bad... Not something I would buy on a regular basis, but it was an interesting concept.

As I started to make my way further into the store, I noticed they had a huge selection of dried beans. There were bulk dispensers of dried beans, lentils and rice - quite a nice selection.

Then I found my first gluten-free sample station. Forget about the "saving the best for last" idea. They had gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, fresh out of the (toaster) oven. Just Ask Josh gluten-free baked goods was serving up cookies and brownies, and they were delicious! I walked over to the freezer section to find them and discovered one of the biggest assortments of frozen gluten-free items I've ever seen! Just Ask Josh definitely has a hit with their frozen dough. It was one of the best gluten-free chocolate chip cookies I've ever had.

Then I rounded a corner and tried some samples of some gluten-free crackers I'd never tried before. They were really good. I'd never head of the Absolutely Gluten-Free brand before, but I will definitely buy their flatbread crackers again. They had a great taste and texture, especially the roasted onion. I need to make some hummus when I get home, so I can dip the crackers in it!

Vin-Chet Bakery was there with a table of their delicious gluten-free baked goods. Carrot cake, brownies, raspberry coffee cake, cookies. So many delicious samples, and all of those products were available to purchase in the freezer case!

I got to chat for a while with a rep from U-Be-Livin-Smart, a company outside Toronto that specializes in natural, nutrient-dense foods. I sampled some muffins made without flour or sugar. They call them "Karma"ffins. They have lots of fruits and veggies in them, and the Chocolate-Banana muffin was pretty tasty!

I had seen Rudi's Gluten-Free Tortillas in the Orchard Fresh flyer that came in my mail, but couldn't find them in the freezer section, so one of the helpful employees tracked them down for  me. They were actually sold fresh in the bread aisle. When I went over there and looked, I found the biggest selection of ready-to-eat (not frozen) gluten-free bread I've ever seen in one place. Sorry for the poor quality of this picture... I forgot my camera and had to take a picture with my phone.

There were more than a dozen choices of gluten-free breads, plus a few mixes and bread crumbs. Nice. The next time the rest of the family is having Subway, I saw some Schar multi-grain rolls there that would  make a nice little sub... I used my new Rudi's Gluten-Free Tortillas to make myself a Reuben Wrap for lunch, and it was delicious! A bit messy, but soooo good!

The whole gluten-free sampling event was great. I was introduced to a lot of new gluten-free products, and will definitely be heading back to the store again. I just wish the gluten-free items were more consolidated. There are gluten-free items in the bread aisle, the baking aisle, the cookie aisle, the cracker aisle, the freezer case, and some end-caps. It takes a little more searching to find them!

The nicest surprise was when I finished shopping and headed back out to the parking lot. They were giving away hot dogs, too! Gluten-free hot dogs (Boar's Head) on G/F rolls from Three Brothers Bakery. 

The store had a huge selection of specialty items: oils, vinegars, cheeses, mustards. While many of the items were a bit out of the price range I would usually pay, if you're a foodie and looking for a special ingredient, you'll probably find it there.

The store is still pretty new, and they're still learning. The cashier couldn't figure out how to enter a coupon when she couldn't scan it. Once they get little bugs like that out of the system, and I get the hang of where my favorite products are located, I think I'll really enjoy shopping there.

I can think of somebody else who will really enjoy my shopping there... the store is only a few miles from Bethany's school. When I pick her up from basketball practice, I often bring her a snack to help tide her over until dinner. She's particularly fond of muffins. Orchard Fresh had a nice display of freshly-baked muffins (not gluten-free):

Saturday, May 4, 2013

DVD Review/Giveaway: Ring The Bell

"Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

We're always looking for good, family-friendly movies to watch for a Saturday night movie night. Entertaining, yet wholesome movies can be hard to find nowadays. I love it when I'm offered the opportunity to review Christian films like "Ring The Bell." 

Here's a little bit about the movie:

About Ring the Bell:
Ring The Bell shares the story of a slick, big city sports agent Rob Decker who seems to have it all. But on his latest mission to sign a high school baseball superstar, Rob becomes stranded in a small town where the simplicity of life—and the faith of the people—stand in stark contrast to his own fast-paced, win-at-all-costs mindset. Torn between these two worlds, will Rob have the courage to let faith transform his life? This heartwarming story of redemption is sure to entertain and inspire the whole family.
Ring The Bell features a host of well-known Christian music artists, such as Mark Hall along with his band Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, and Matthew West, all who play a role in this inspirational drama. Several former and current Major League Baseball all-stars are also featured in the film: ESPN analysts John Kruk and Rick Sutcliffe (a former Cy Young Award winner), along with Ben Zobrist.
This family-friendly movie was produced by Mark Miller, Beach Street Records' founder and Casting Crowns’ producer. Miller, who is also the lead singer and founder of country music group Sawyer Brown, co-wrote the script with Thomas Weber and Weber directed the production. 

 I'm not quite sure why this movie got a PG rating for "Mild Thematic Elements". It seemed squeaky clean to me. Perhaps because of some tragedies mentioned (parents dying in a plane crash, boy delivered to a group home because his mother was in a car crash)? Anyways, there was no profanity, no skimpy outfits, no "cover the kids' eyes" scenes. Just a hokey little town with quirky characters and a whole lot of baseball.

Even though we're not baseball fans, we enjoyed this movie. It was a bit predictable... hot-shot, fast-talking sports agent goes to a small town to talk the local baseball sensation into signing up for a major-league team rather than going to college. You just know that instead of charming the small-town boy out of his plans, the small town will charm him into changing... but I don't want to give away too much of the plot!

The movie has a lot of cameos by non-actors. Steven Curtis Chapman plays a pastor. Matthew West plays the part of a manager of a baseball team. Several baseball legends appear in a scene towards the end of the movie (for those who know baseball, it's Rick Sutcliffe, John Kruk, and Ben Zobrist). They did pretty well with acting, being out of their comfort zones. I think it made the movie a bit more fun.

We got some good laughs out of their portrayal of small town life. They sure wrote up some unique characters when they put together this script!

The Christian music group Casting Crowns also appears in the movie, as the characters attend a Casting Crowns concert. Nice touch!

One thing I'm always looking for on DVDs is special features. I love watching the background stories, blooper reels, and other details about the movie itself. This DVD has several special features:

DVD Special Features:

The Heart of "Ring the Bell"
Casting Crowns “The Well” Music Video

On Set with Casting Crowns
Famous Faces

A Very Special Movie

Ringing the Bell

The Artists and Music of "Ring The Bell"
If you want to check it out, stop by the Ring The Bell Website, where you can watch a trailer of the movie, or visit their Facebook page. You can pick the video up for $12.99 on Amazon! Pick it up and have a family movie night at your house, too! 

I'm doing a giveaway - so one lucky family can get their copy of Ring The Bell for free! 

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