Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things :: Winter Giveaway!

Alright friends, as promised, it's time for my FREE GIVEAWAY of "A Few of My Favorite Things" for Winter!

January is the perfect time for a giveaway, don't you think? We've survived the craziness of Christmas, and we all need a little pampering, right? Well, one lucky lady is going to get just that! (Guys, you can enter too! This prize pack would make a great Valentine's Day gift for the lady in your life!)

Here's what's up for grabs...

1. Arbonne Skin Conditioning Oil (the perfect way to keep your skin healthy and hydrated this winter!)  2. A pair of fun, flirty, swirly fashion earrings  3. A set of 3 brass bangles with teal dyed camel bone insets (all the way from India!) 4. A glittery snowflake ornament (because I love snow, and glitter, and I meant to do this giveaway in December... oops! ;)  5. Arbonne's Pampermint Peppermint Foot Scrub - full size  6. A mini "Fresh Snow" anti-bacterial hand gel (because it's flu season people!)  7. Two delicious Land-O-Lakes Mint Hot Cocoa packets (one for you, and one for a friend!)  8. Two All-Natural Arbonne Aromatic Woods Candles (Bay Leaf & Ivy and White Birch scents)  9. A set of 6 Arbonne lip polish samples (just in time to smooch someone on V-Day! ;)

Whew! This is my biggest giveaway yet with over $100 of items! I've been so excited to share it with you all, and I know one of you will be thrilled to win it. So hurry up and enter already! Here's how...

1. Like The Sound of Hope on Facebook.
2. Follow The Sound of Hope on Twitter.
3. Visit our new online store for The Sound of Hope, and leave a comment telling me what your favorite item is.
4. Tweet about The Sound of Hope's new online store. Every purchase helps provide rescue, protection, and holistic care to children in need! Be sure to include this link! -  
5. Share a status on Facebook about The Sound of Hope's new online store.
6. Share our new website on Facebook or Twitter -

You'll get ONE (1) entry for each option above. Please leave a comment on the blog for each entry, so they will count when I do the drawing! Be sure to include your email address so that I can contact you promptly if you win!

Want a few more entries? You can choose this option to get 5 entries!
7. Feature our online store on your blog. Explain what The Sound of Hope is, and choose a few of your favorite items to share with your readers. Don't forget links to The Sound of Hope ( and our online store! Be sure to include the fact that every purchase helps to care for orphans and vulnerable children overseas!

Alright friends - that's it! Choose one (or ALL) of these options, and get to entering! I will announce the winner next Friday, February 8th! Good luck! ;)

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Few of My Favorite Things :: Winter Edition

"Girls in white dresses with blue satin sashes
Snowflakes that stay on my nose and eyelashes
Silver white winters that melt into springs
These are a few of my favorite things..."

I'm a little behind with this blog because I couldn't find my white dress with the blue satin sash (wink!)  but I wanted to be sure to get it out before January is up! (January is totally still winter... so... I'm still okay, right?) Besides, I've got an AWESOME give-away to follow up this post, and this is the perfect month for a give-away... don't you think? So sit back, grab a cup of hot chocolate, and check out a few of my favorite things for WINTER!

#1 Christmas

I realize Christmas is long gone by now (and that I should probably take down all my Christmas cards... oops!) but I'd be lying if it wasn't at the top of the list! I love everything about Christmas... the lights, the music, the gifts, the time spent with loved ones, and of course Baby Jesus' Birthday... but that's enough for a whole blog of it's own. Hmm... maybe we'll come back to that next year... ;)

#2 Glittens

When the weather turns cold, I love a good pair of glittens! That's a glove & a mitten mixed together, for those of you wondering. I like them because they keep my hands warm and my fingers free! There's nothing worse than having to take your whole glove off just because you need your fingers to unlock a car door or to use your touchscreen phone. With these I can just flip the top back to expose my fingertips, then cover them back up quickly! Plus, I happen to think they are adorable!

#3 Snow

I know some of you Southerners are cringing, but I honestly miss the snow we had in Michigan. At least... in Dec/Jan/Feb. When March and April roll around, I am D-O-N-E with the snow (which is one reason we moved back to warmer climates!) But I think it's really beautiful, and I miss the way it makes everything look clean and sparkling white. It's like waking up to a whole new world when everything is covered in snow! There's just something magical about it.

#4 Arbonne Skin Conditioning Oil

Speaking of cold weather... this is my favorite way to help my skin brave the snow and wind of winter! I use it on my face and hands for chapped skin, and it is a lifesaver! It's also great to heal a red, raw nose from a cold/flu/allergies. It's packed full of all-natural essential oils that help your skin heal and hydrate quickly!

#5 Hot Chocolate

Nothing says "winter" like being curled up in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate! My favorite is peppermint, and there are a few ways to make it. You can either buy peppermint hot chocolate (Land-O-Lakes is divine!) or you can melt a York peppermint patty or peppermint stick in yours. Yummy! 

#6 Plum or deep cranberry nails

I love to paint my nails to match the seasons. Bright colors in the Spring and Summer, muted colors in the Fall, and rich jewel tones in the Winter! My favorites this season are plums and deep cranberry colors. They really pop with my winter wardrobe!

#7 The Miss America Pageant 

Every January we watch as one young woman's dream comes true and she is crowned MISS AMERICA! Though it didn't happen this year, I usually have a Miss America party so my girlfriends and I can watch together. It's so special to watch after competing in the Miss America Organization, and it's a tradition I can't wait to share with my daughter some day! With the way many celebrities behave these days, I'm grateful for an organization that still understands that little girls need role models who live their lives with grace, character, and integrity. Miss Americas are not just beautiful, they are also intelligent, talented, kind-hearted women who are committed to serving others. 

#8 Presents

If you know me at all, then you know gift-giving is one of my love languages. There are few things I enjoy more than giving or receiving a really thoughtful gift. So winter is pretty special for me, since I get Christmas presents in December, and Birthday presents in January! This year though, my favorite birthday gifts didn't come wrapped in a box or bag. Lots of my friends gave to this need in honor of my birthday, and that was definitely an extra-special gift! 

#9 These pictures...

As I've mentioned before, we did an iStock shoot for almost every season. We didn't get to do a snow session (sad!) but we did do a Christmas one! Here are a few of my favorites...

Looking for Santa! ;)

Our "pretend" daughters. Aren't they cute?

Decorating the tree...

This one (above) was used on a billboard AND a TV ad for a jewelry store in Philadelphia!

 Those antlers are just too cute!

I told you I LOVE presents! ;)

Okay... your turn! What are your favorite things for Winter?

*Remember to stay tuned for my next blog - I always follow up a "Favorite Things" post with a giveaway of at least one of my favorite things!

Monday, January 14, 2013

The GREATEST Birthday Gift (please help me celebrate!)

Tomorrow is my 29th birthday (whew! 29... how did that happen?! ;) and this year, I've decided to do something a little different. I am asking all my friends, facebook friends (yes, all 3,400 of you), Twitter followers, blog readers, and family members to help me celebrate in a special way. Instead of gifts or cards or sappy facebook posts, I'm asking you to each give at least $29 in honor of my 29th birthday to this need.

You see, these precious little boys and girls lead very difficult lives. They live in a country with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the world. A country with up to 70% unemployment, and staggering numbers of people living in poverty. And I happen to adore each and every one of these precious children who are fighting for their future against these odds. I've loved them since I met them in 2007 on my first trip to Swaziland. And meeting them is what inspired me to spend my life helping them get the HOPE and holistic care they need to have the kind of future they all deserve.

But that won't happen if they can't go to school.

School fees in this country are expensive, and so are exam fees, and school uniforms. Many families go hungry, just so they can afford to send one of their children to school. Often, little girls will sell their bodies to older men, just because they promise to pay their school fees.

It is no stretch of the imagination to say that for these kids - attending school is a matter of LIFE and DEATH.

So today, I am asking you to GIVE. Give $29 at the very least - $29 to help save a life. Give $50. Give $100. Give $1,000! Give these children the gift of education, and you will give them the gift of LIFE, of HOPE, and a FUTURE.

We still have $9,275 to go to meet this need, and the funds are due by the end of January. Last year (as I mentioned in the video above) we were able to raise the full amount to send every child at our carepoint to school. We saw first-hand the impact it had on the children, their families, and their community. Believe me when I say, there is no better way you could spend your money, and there is no greater birthday gift you could ever give me than to help me care for these precious boys and girls! So what are you waiting for? Please GIVE NOW!

Donate Now

**Want to learn more about the plight of these children in Swaziland, and what The Sound of Hope is doing about it? Check out our Swaziland page here!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Miss America... I KNOW HER!

Did you read that title in your best "ELF" voice? Oh good. Because that's exactly how I said it! Haha!

I just had to take a minute here to brag on my friend Mallory Hytes Hagan, who won the title of Miss America on Saturday night! Although she competed as Miss New York, Mallory is actually from Sweet Home Alabama, and even attended my beloved Auburn University for one year. She grew up in Opelika, Alabama, and was a teen contestant when I was competing in Miss Alabama. She actually held the Miss Teen Auburn Opelika title one year, while I held the Miss Auburn Opelika title another. Her precious Mom was also on my Board of Directors the year I was Miss Auburn Opelika Area, and did a wonderful job choreographing all the Miss AO pageants! (Mandy - I know you are just bursting with PRIDE right now! Look at what you did... you raised a MISS AMERICA! What an accomplishment! ;)

There she is... MISS AMERICA!

I can't say enough WONDERFUL things about Mallory - or how thrilled I am that she was given the honor to be our 2013 Miss America! I've been following her journey via facebook and twitter the last few years as she competed in Miss NY, and as she prepared herself for Miss America. I know that she has worked SO hard to become the best version of herself that she can be - and that she's worked incredibly hard to shine a light on Child Sexual Abuse Awareness & Prevention (which is her platform). It was such a treat to see her hard work pay off when they put this beautiful crown on her head!!! She is so deserving of this great honor, and she's going to be a wonderful representative of the Miss America Organization!

Mallory - CONGRATULATIONS on this wonderful accomplishment! I know you are going to do INCREDIBLE things this year as Miss America, and I can't wait to watch it all unfold! WAR EAGLE and God bless you as you begin the journey of a lifetime! 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What the latest Alabama win taught me...

If you're an American... or, at least, if you're an American living in the South, then you were probably watching the National Championship Football Game on Monday night. It was a boring 4 quarters, where the Crimson Tide absolutely stomped Notre Dame. And right now, you're probably thinking that the Alabama win taught me that the SEC is just as unstoppable as we thought they were!

But while that's true, it's what happened after the game that I wish I'd never learned. Because as soon as that crystal football was handed over to Nick Saban, this picture (of what I assume are some darling children in Africa), and several others like it, started circulating around Facebook and Twitter.

And suddenly, I learned 2 heartbreaking truths.

#1 - Our society believes that children in need, especially children overseas, only deserve our leftovers.

#2 - Americans are so comfortable with that belief, that we'll even make a joke out of it.

Now don't get me wrong - I don't think that every person who shared this picture (or laughed at this picture) was thinking, "Yeah, needy African kids who can't even afford food or basic clothing only deserve the crap I don't want." I'm sure there were a lot of loving, Christian people who shared this picture in an effort to be funny. But that's the point. As Americans - and I dare say, as Christians - this belief is so common, and so accepted, that we'll even laugh about it.

This picture is a cute, funny example of a deplorable and dangerous way of thinking. And maybe, it's the wake up call that many of us need. The adorable little boys in this picture, and the barefoot babies in ragged clothing in Swaziland, and the darling little girls playing in the trash heaps in India, and the forgotten little boys in the impoverished villages of Thailand - they all have one thing in common. They deserve our best.

But they rarely get it. As someone who runs an orphan-care non-profit, I get to see this sad story played out all the time. We have people who ask us if we want their old worn out running shoes to take to our kids in Africa. Or maybe we want to haul their old used VHS tapes to the kids? And don't even get me started on people and their money! When it comes to financial donations, the thought that people would actually sacrifice their wants so that these kids could have their needs met - well, the list of people willing to do that is short. Instead, they might give the $20 left over after they do their Christmas shopping, or the $30 they have leftover at the end of the month. But for a person to sit down with their family and ask, "What frivolous things could our family do without, so that these children can get the best care possible?" - well, people who think like that are very rare.

I wish I could make everyone love these children like we do. I wish I could make people understand that the orphaned baby girl in India deserves the same perfectly decorated nursery, beautiful new clothes, expensive carseat, organic baby food, and pricey formula that you bought your little girl when she was born.

And that the 3 year old orphan boy in Swaziland deserves more than one (worn out) change of clothes, a pair of light up tennis shoes, a soccer ball, a bunk bed with superhero sheets, and enrollment in the best preschool in town - just like you bought for your little boy.

These children deserve so much more than our pity and our leftovers. They deserve to be cherished, loved, and provided for. They deserve the same opportunities and educations that our children deserve. They deserve to have their needs, and even some of their wants met - just like your kids do. They deserve our BEST - not to be the punchline at the end of a bad joke.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My First Bridal Show

I realize this post is terribly late, and that I promised you all pictures from my first Bridal Show wayyyy back in October (October? Really! How has it been that long?!) when it happened. But life got a little crazy over the holidays, and my blogging fell to the wayside. Sorry about that!

But tonight, as I prep for Bridal Show #2 (yes! I got hired for a 2nd show! Whoo hoo! ;) I thought it would be the perfect excuse to dig out those pictures and get them posted! Especially since I am technically still stuck in bed recovering from the flu (and yet I'm planning to model in a Bridal Show tomorrow?! What am I thinking? Ya'll better pray for me!) So here goes!

My first Bridal Show was a Perfect Wedding Guide Show, produced by Southern Femme, and held at the BJCC. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a blast! I had so much fun getting all dolled up by the hair and makeup team, and strutting my stuff on the runway! I mean, what woman wouldn't love to be a Bride again?

I modeled 4 gowns from 2 different boutiques - Bella Couture and Ivory & White. The top 3 were from Bella Couture, and the last one was from Ivory & White. As you can see they were all absolutely gorgeous!  I didn't want to take them off when it was over!

I also modeled a bridesmaid look from Mr. Burch - with my handsome groomsman Russ! It was quite the "Pretty in Pink" look!

Here are a few more shots from backstage...

My dress rack!

I loved this gown (above) but my goodness I've never seen so much tulle in all my life! If you look back up to the runway shots, you can see that the skirt was SO big that it hung off the edges of the runway! It was extraordinary to say the least!

With Russ Hobbie - my "groomsman" for the day!

I had the sweetest "dresser" Kristen to work with that day. Thanks for taking such good care of me K!

And just for fun, here are a few interesting moments of the day::
1 - Between rehearsal and hair and makeup, I was eating a snack and reading a magazine backstage. The DJ came up to me and remarked (in a shocked tone) about how relaxed I looked, and how he expected me to be nervous. I wasn't quite sure how to explain to him that after years of pageants this was a breeze! I mean, I didn't have to wear a swimsuit, perform a talent, or answer an onstage question... and no matter what I couldn't "lose". What was there to be nervous about? ;) 
2 - My precious parents insisted on coming to the event so that they could see me model. When I explained where the runway would be my mom asked, "Will they have special seating for the parents?" God bless her.... once a "Pageant Mom", always a "Pageant Mom" I guess! I had to remind her that this was a job for me, and there wouldn't be a "winner" at the end of this event! Ha! I think they might miss my Miss Alabama days just a little bit. ;)

In all honesty, there are times I miss my pageant days too. (Maybe more often than I'd like to admit.) In the line of work we're in now, I don't get many any opportunities to wear an evening gown. As a matter of fact, non-profit work in 3rd world countries is quite the opposite of anything GLAMOUROUS! Most of my days overseas are spent in refugee camps, orphanages, brothels, leper colonies, remote villages, and slums. I absolutely love our work, but it is an entirely different world than the one I used to operate in. So it has been so neat to see how God opened up this opportunity for me to model! He knows how much I miss the glitz and glam, and He knows how much I love to be on stage (or a runway!) And so somehow, He made a way for me to do just that (and get paid for it!) It's so true that He's a good Dad who longs to give good gifts to His children. He always knows what will thrill our hearts!

*Note - the photos with the "copyright" watermark are from Arden Photography. You can see all their shots from the show here!

Friday, January 4, 2013

A rough beginning...

It's been a rough start to 2013 at the Jackson house. While most of you were welcoming in the New Year with celebrations, we ushered it in with sickness and sadness. We finally made it to Arkansas last week for our annual Christmas trip to visit friends and family there, but around the 28th Rusty came down with the flu. By the 31st I had it too, and we spent our New Year's Eve at the doctor's office and in the bed.

The same day, I got the phone call from my Mom that my Grandaddy - my last grandparent - had gone to be with Jesus. And so, with sick bodies and sad hearts, we welcomed 2013. We didn't get to visit our dear friends in Arkansas....instead, the two of us (still sick) drove the 6 hour drive home to Alabama for my Grandaddy's funeral.

My last picture with my Grandaddy - Christmas 2012

I know this is kind of a bummer of a post, and a rough beginning to my 2013 blogs - but there is a lot to be grateful for here too. Though death is never easy, I am grateful that my Grandaddy is at rest and at peace finally. It has been so hard to watch such a proud, stubborn, independent man get weaker and more dependent over the last few years and months. I am grateful that he is healed and whole and finally in Heaven - reunited with my precious Grandmother - his wife of 43 years.

I'm grateful we made it back to his funeral. If we had gotten the flu even a day or two later than we did, we wouldn't have been able to come. I'm thankful that I got to grieve with my family, and that I got to say a proper goodbye. I was heartbroken I wouldn't get to sing at his funeral - but my Mom surprised me with that too. They'd found the recording from me singing "How Great Thou Art" at my Grandmother's funeral, and played it for my Grandaddy's. It was so special to be a part of his service, even when I wasn't physically able that day.

I am grateful we got one more Christmas with my Grandaddy this year... one more time to see our stockings all "hung by the chimney with care" - the stockings with all the CRAZY nicknames he has given us all through the years! (My nickname is EKK... it's a long story... as it is with most of our nicknames... ;)

I am grateful I got a chance to give him one more monkey for his collection - which is a long-standing family joke! I've brought him monkeys from all over the place in the last few years... including Thailand and Africa, and he loved his new Policeman Monkey (which I told him was to keep the rest of them in line!)

I am grateful I got one more visit with him before we left for Arkansas - just me and him and Rusty. He could barely hold his eyes open that day, and he kept apologizing to me. "I'm sorry EKK," he said, "I'm just too sick and tired. I can't even enjoy our visit. But someday soon, I'll feel better and we'll have a good visit then."

And I know that "someday soon" we will.