Next week

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Hi Everyone!! :)

So I should be back to blogging next week! I was going to hold off even longer, but I miss it so much… and miss catching up with all of you! And the busiest of weekends is over, so I should definitely be back to the bloggy world on Monday. :)

Until then, here’s a sneak peak from Easter. I took this pic, but my sister took a bunch more. So I have a lot to recap, for sure!

‘See’ you soon!!! :)
Nicole

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You are Beautiful!

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I have a piano lesson to prep for, but I wanted to share a lovely blog post written by my sister Sarah. :) If you’re a girl, then you really need to read it. Once in awhile, don’t we all need a reminder as to what it means to be truly beautiful? Read it… be reminded… and never forget that you are BEAUTIFUL!

Blog post – True Beauty

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Busy, busy!!

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Hi Everyone!!!!!

So I thought I should give you the heads up that my blog posts will be a bit sporadic for the next month. I have SO much going on that – at first – I thought that maybe I’d take a blogging break. But there are some things that I really want to blog about (like hosting Easter), so I figured that I’d just blog when I can… which might mean only one or two posts a week for the next several weeks. :) In the next few weeks – in addition to my normal responsibilities – I’ll be hosting Easter, baking for a cousin’s baby shower, helping with a children’s outreach at my church, planning a friend’s party, taking part in a fundraiser walk, and planning a June camping trip for me and the hubby. Busy, busy! But it’s a fun busy, so that’s good!

What’s new with all of you??? :)

Outside Playing

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The snow is slowly – but surely – melting… melting… melting away, leaving behind rough, brown patches of grass.

And it makes me so happy. On my walk today, I sipped on a homemade smoothie from the Starbucks cup I had bought on a past vacation to Hawaii. And I’m pretty sure that there was a goofy grin on my face for anyone to see. Because even if I was surrounded by lots of mud and brown, there is also so much promise… of summer. Warmth. Flowers and lush green grass.

And that – coupled with my strawberry smoothie, favorite to-go cup, and bright sunshine – just made me oh-so-delightfully happy! :)

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If this week’s blog posts are lacking in any way (or non-existent), it’s because I am outside playing! ;) It is SO wonderful to go back outside and to breathe in that fresh air!!!

A Sunday Walk

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Beginning a consistent workout routine is never as easy as it was to end one. BUT the amazing thing about exercising is that every bit counts. So if I missed my workout today, I can celebrate the fact that I worked out yesterday and then do my best to get a workout in tomorrow.
And one thing that I’m learning is that fitting in a workout doesn’t have to feel like… work.

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Sunday was the nicest day of spring so far, filled with so much sunshine that I wished I could bottle it up for a rainy day. “Oh, Sunshine, how I missed you!”

And while I absolutely adore running, there is nothing like going for a leisurely walk on a warm, spring day. Somehow it’s the perfect way to unwind after a busy week and to regroup before yet another week begins. Add a winding, country road and the most amazing family a girl could ask for, and you end up with so much more than a workout. You end up with a simply magical afternoon!

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Dad threw the last snowball of the winter season.

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Sarah and I snapped picture after picture… until my mom and dad commandeered our cameras and began to take pictures of us. ;)

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Nate and Dad found a man-sized Tonka-Truck, which they – obviously – had to take turns climbing on.

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It’s too bad we didn’t have the key, or else we could have taken turns going for a ride too. ;)

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Hopefully this doesn’t mean Nate will want one of these now. ;)

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Although it felt as though we were just exploring the bumpy, neighborhood roads and having fun, we were also getting a workout in.

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(Janelle, I had to take at least one photo with my signature move, after all). ;) Peace!!

It turned out to be such a lovely afternoon, and it makes me so happy that spring is here finally! :) I missed walks like this!!

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I Want Real Food… is that too much to ask for?

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One of my main goals for the new year was to really start eating all-natural, whole foods.

And it didn’t take too long for me to come to this conclusion: I think it’s sad that we have to put so much thought into eating foods that haven’t been tampered by chemicals, hormones, and dyes. I mean, if it were up to me, it’d be against the law to sell foods that contain ingredients not meant for human consumption. ;) I can’t help but feel as though I should be able to walk into the grocery store and grab any food item and bring it home without worrying that there might be something harmful listed in its ingredients.

It’s just common sense. Food is for eating. Therefore, anything labeled as food should just contain… food.

Now I understand that it’s up to us to decide how much fat, salt, and sugar we want to consume. And it should be that way. We’re all big boys and girls and should be deciding what we do or don’t want to eat. But it shouldn’t be so complicated to find real food. I shouldn’t grab a boxed item off the shelf and struggle with pronouncing so many of its ingredients. I shouldn’t have to pay $10 for one pound of chicken, just because I want that pound to be free of hormones and cruelty to animals. (And honestly, I don’t pay that $10. I probably should, but I still go for the cheaper chicken… although I’ve begun to buy local, grass fed beef. I just haven’t been able to fit the more expensive chicken into my budget).

It’s frustrating that even when you try to eat healthy, you have to be concerned about what found its way into that 1% milk… or what was fed to the chicken that laid your eggs… or even what may have been slipped into your whole wheat bread. I mean, I know that I wasn’t the only one that was horrified to learn that Subway bread contained an ingredient found in rubber. Nate and I used to eat there every Tuesday night after church, since we didn’t get home until so late.

Considering the amount of sandwiches we consumed, we probably have a pair of cowboy boots sitting in our stomachs, between the two of us.

Granted, Subway has promised to remove that product from its bread, but – seriously – why was it in there to begin with??? I know that it’s supposed to improve the elasticity of the bread dough; but let me tell you, my Memere never put rubber in her bread… and her bread was a slice of heaven! Why is it suddenly okay to sneak non-food ingredients into our food?? I’m confused as to why the FDA approves products like this, claiming they’re safe… when studies are showing that some of these products have caused cancer in lab animals (in addition to possibly causing asthma and respiratory problems).

And don’t think that Subway alone is to blame. I was reading an article by the Huffington Post, and they claim that this same rubber ingredient (azodicarbonamide) is found in over 500 common foods! I researched a bit further, and according to the article ‘Over 500 Ways to Make a Yoga Mat Sandwich’ this rubber product is found in such foods as Fiber One hamburger buns, Sun Maid Cinnamon Raisin bread (I’m crying over that one), Freihofer’s white bread, Harvest Pride wheat bread, Manischewitz pumpernickel bread, Pillsbury toaster strudels, yeast donuts from Walmart, several Weight Watcher Smart One meals, and Wonder light wheat bread.

How is this okay?

I get that we live in a fast-paced culture and there is massive demand for quick, packaged foods. So really, it’s our fault at the end of the day. We chose to face a blind eye to what’s being served to us, because we don’t want to make it ourselves anymore than we want to pay a little bit more for a mom and pop store that would make it for us. And because of it, these non-food ingredients are being added to our meals more often than we care to admit. And to buy foods that promise to be free of such things can cost a lot more.

(Thank goodness for sales at Trader Joes)!

Now I’m not trying to encourage everyone to panic, give up food, or to live in fear. There’s a reason why I say a prayer before every meal! ;) And at the end of the day, you just have to make the best decisions that you can (or that you can afford to) and then you have to make life count. That’s all any of us can do! But I’m learning that eating more natural foods can be challenging, because a lot of additives (like azodicarbonamide) are snuck into the ingredient list… and most people just aren’t aware of it!

For me, I’m trying to reach for foods that have ingredient lists that I can actually pronounce. Like milk… flour… eggs… and yeast. And I am trying to make the majority of meals at home from fresh ingredients, instead of reaching for the packaged meals.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t – or won’t – splurge sometimes. And it doesn’t mean that I’m too good for whatever food that’s put in front of me! My hubby is totally munching on a bag of Dorito’s right now, and I think I might steal a few. :) At the end of the day, I’ll enjoy and appreciate any meal that’s sitting before me.

And I know that I shouldn’t be ranting about our food issues unless I have a solution for the problem… which I don’t.

But I really hope that change comes somehow, or else the next generation of kids will be saying things like, “Remember the good ol’ days when people ate food that was made out of just… food?”

And as a foodie, that totally breaks my heart!

Just a Girl and Her Friend

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My pastor used to say that every married man and woman needs a dung friend. Yes, you did read that right. I did say ‘dung’, as in poop. And when I first heard this, I probably had the same reaction as you currently are having. As in, where in the world is this topic headed??

But what he meant was that there are too many couples blabbing to the entire world all about their marital problems (and with the invention of Facebook, that’s a lot easier to do these days). It turns into a battle of ‘he said’ and ‘she said’. And before you know it, you’ve both cooled off from whatever it was that you thought was so important to fight about. But your friends, on the other hand, have begun to chose sides. And they cannot so easily let go all of the horrible things you said about your partner and then suddenly, your marriage might as well be front page news. “Extra…Extra… Read all about it!”

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A dung friend, my pastor said, is someone that you trust so much that you know they will listen to you vent… but they will also know that you’re going through something and that it doesn’t necessarily mean that your partner is a bad person. (They know this, because they also trust you when they need to vent). Now granted, this friend shouldn’t be ONLY used for purposes of venting! But they’re someone that sees you through the good times, and also through those times that maybe you need to shake some dung off your shoulder. ;) And they’re the one or two people that you go to when you do need to vent, as apposed to airing all of your dirty laundry via Facebook, Twitter, and maybe even a blog!

I’ve found that this advice has been golden these past five married years, because sometimes I do need to vent. Sometimes I do need some girl talk (as I know that Nate needs to chat with a guy sometimes too), and I need to share with someone who understands. Let’s face it, being a wife is unbelievably rewarding…. but it can also be challenging and frustrating at times.
We are only human, after all!

Liz has always been one of those friends for me. We know that we can trust each other, should we need to have a serious girl talk. And it’s always SO refreshing to just chat about life and what we’re facing right now, since we’ve both gone through so many stages of life together. (We’ve been shopping-buddies, food-loving, movie-sharing, and workout-inspiration friends for years).

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But reason #9,378 as to why Liz and I are such close friends may just be that both of us have a never-ending love of Panera. ;) You all know how much I absolutely love that restaurant. So when she suggested that we hang out and begin our evening together there, I was all in!

Liz ordered one of their fresh iced teas, along with a bowl of the Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup.

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I had never tried that soup before, but it sounded good and Liz has never steered me wrong. So I decided to give that a try as well. :) And, well, can I just say that I have found a new favorite Panera soup??? It…was… AMAZING! I’m not even kidding, you guys, it was the best tomato soup I’ve ever had. It had a bit of spice to it, and was full of rich, Italian flavor. Soooo good!!!

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After dinner, as the day’s warm sunshine began to set, we walked over to JcPenney to dream of summer… and to try on dresses! :)

Liz found this absolutely-adorable, floral dress and matching cardigan, which will be perfect for these upcoming spring and summer months! Too cute!!

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AND Liz, being the good friend that she is, helped me to steer away from the striped dress that I tried on. ;) (I guess that kind of falls into the trust-worthy friend category too). She reminded me that my wardrobe desperately needs color… and a pattern that doesn’t have stripes all over it. With her help, I found this adorable blue, polka-dotted peasant blouse, which I absolutely LOVE; and I also bought a red bracelet to go with it.
It leaves me wondering why I don’t buy more peasant tops, because they’re SO cute!!!

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To celebrate our bargain finds, we treated ourselves to Fro Yo from Orange Leaf… obviously! :)

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I topped my coconut frozen yogurt with strawberries and waffle cone pieces. SO refreshing and delicious!

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SUCH a deliciously fun night with this girlfriend of mine, and I can’t wait for our next adventure!! See, having a dung friend really is absolutely amazing! I guess maybe the name could be sweetened up a bit though. ;)

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What I Wore Wednesday

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March can be a bit tricky here in New England, when it comes to fashion. Spring has arrived, according to the calendar, but we still usually end up with some snow… and definitely plenty of cold weather. So while it might seem as though it’s too late in the season for sweaters, it’s definitely still way too early to bring out the short-sleeves and sundresses.
I usually end up wearing plenty of lighter sweaters and cardigans, which still offer some warmth without looking too heavy.

So without further ado, here are a few favorite outfits from last month!

1. New England Rustic - This first outfit is probably the comfiest I own, and I wore it on a casual date with Nate. It’s a thin, knit sweater ($10 on clearance at JCPenney) that’s a bit on the loose side, paired with skinny jeans (TJMaxx) and a knit infinity scarf (on sale for $20 from The Loft). On its own, the sweater is just ‘okay’, but the scarf definitely adds the cute (and extra comfy) element that I was looking for! :)

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2. Keeping it Simple - I wore the second ‘outfit’ while piano teaching last month, and I kicked myself for having not wore the thin sweater more often! It’s a light gray sweater with a touch of animal print, and I love how I can wear it with a nice pair of jeans… OR I can dress it up with a pair of black pants. (Not going to lie, I think it would be adorable with leather pants too). ;) This was definitely a fun find from The Limited, and I’ll have to get more use out of it next year!

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3. Just Having Fun – You might remember this outfit from the cooking vlog I did with my sister! (AND from the picture I took with my Pepere). :) I found the orange cardigan at TJMaxx for $15 and bought the striped tank (also from TJMaxx) that same day for $12. My tall boots and a long gold necklace completed the look!
Who says you can’t at least look a little bright in March??

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Anyone else looking forward to being able to wear summer clothes again?

The Day I Don’t Trust Anyone

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April Fool’s Day is probably one of the most stressful days out of the entire year. Because for its entirety, people do their absolute best to tell you the most shocking of lies in order to traumatize you… and then they laugh until they can’t breathe. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I haven’t pulled a few April Fool’s Day pranks of my own. In fact, I got my dad pretty good years ago, when I called his phone and pretended to be Home Depot asking for him to return the light fixture he had just installed.

But still, it’s just one of those days that you can’t trust anyone. For one entire day, everyone thinks it’s okay to lie! I remember a particularly horrifying prank one year, when my mom told me and my siblings that she had baked us a chocolate cake… only to shout ‘April Fools’ when we all raced into the kitchen. I’m not sure that I’ve even recovered from that one yet.

But here we are, April Fool’s Day 2014.

My day started early. I was downstairs eating a banana and peanut butter before my workout, when Nate came hobbling over to me.
“I have the worst rash,” he said, itching his butt. “I hope it’s not contagious. You should see it. It’s awful.”
I just kind of stared at him in horror until he burst into laughter, quite proud of himself for having caught me so early in the day.

He was on a roll apparently. “Hey, we should call my parents and tell them you’re pregnant… and then say April Fools!” he said, really excited.
“How about we don’t?” I said.

I’m beginning to wonder if April 1st should come with a health risk. Or maybe people should at least be warned to chose their victims carefully? I’m terribly concerned for people with weak hearts or high blood pressure.

As for me, I think I just might go into hiding for the rest of the day. Well, that is, after I’ve thought up something good to get Nate back!

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After all, if you can’t beat them, you might as well join them. ;) And who wouldn’t trust this innocent face?

The Truth About Noah

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(Although I cover a few characters, themes, and general plot, I did my best to make sure there are no spoilers in this review).

There’s been a whole lot of controversy surrounding the new movie Noah, starring big names such as Russell Crowe, Emma Watson, Logan Lerman, Jennifer Connelly, and Anthony Hopkins. So much so that I found myself almost wishing that I hadn’t pre-ordered tickets. Even before seeing the film, I wasn’t so sure that this would be a movie I really wanted to support. And then when I did see it, I contemplated whether or not I wanted to use my blog to review it. But as I posted the trailer on my blog months ago, I felt it only right to share with you how I felt about the end result.

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It’s just a movie, you might think. In fact, many people are criticizing those who speak out against it, saying that Christians and Catholics are making too big a deal out of something meant merely for entertainment. And at first, I may have even agreed, never having expected Hollywood to get the Biblical story right in the first place. But then it occurred to me that there would have been outrage had movies based on popular books such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Divergent, or even The Help strayed too far from the original script. And with good reason! The books are extremely popular, and their fans would not have stood for a movie that didn’t do the original writing justice.
So it only makes complete sense that there is major concern, dissatisfaction, and even outrage over a movie that takes a beloved Bible story… and turns it into a tale that hardly resembles the original manuscript.

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Still, despite the controversy, I watched the movie with a completely open mind, for several reasons. First of all, I have to admit that I’m a huge Russell Crowe fan. Then again, who isn’t?? And secondly, the story of Noah is a favorite of mine, and I truly wanted to embrace a movie that brought the story to life.

So I shrugged off a few things. I decided to try accepting the completely unbiblical depiction of giant rock creatures – The Watchers – who, according to the movie, are fallen angels who help Noah build the ark.
“Eh, they’re just using artistic license to make the story more interesting,” I thought to myself.
Since you know, a worldwide flood that destroys everything but one righteous family and two of every animal isn’t interesting enough. But still, I could look past them and their resemblance to robots from the Transformer movies if I tried hard enough.

There were other unbiblical parts that I also could force myself to overlook. Again, I realized that the director was trying to turn a chapter or two of the Bible into a complete movie. Dialogue and story lines would have to be added, as the Bible doesn’t give you detailed accounts of what Noah and his family were feeling emotionally as they were commanded to build an ark.

But sadly, there were some pretty big parts that I could not overlook, even if I tried. Which I won’t.

First of all, it bothered me that only one of Noah’s sons had a wife in the movie, because the Bible clearly states that all three sons had wives. The middle son was not left alone, tortured by loneliness for a woman in his life, as the movie portrays throughout its entirety. This blatant changing of scripture certainly wasn’t necessary.
I’m sorry, but if the Bible states that all three sons had wives (a.k.a. all three of Noah’s sons had the ability to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ after the flood), then the director’s decision to cut that to meet his agenda (a.k.a. man is bad and God didn’t want him to continue multiplying on the earth) doesn’t work… at all.

This leads me to the biggest thing that bothered me about Noah. The entire theme was that of saving animals… and removing man from the face of the planet.

According to Aronofsky’s version of Noah, God was angered by man’s wickedness, and He decides to send a great flood to wipe out the entire world. In the movie, the Creator speaks to Noah in a dream (although the dream is very difficult for Noah to comprehend, so he seeks council from his grandfather Methuselah). Noah then comes to the conclusion that God wants to save the innocent (a.k.a. animals) and to destroy all of mankind. He adds that he was chosen by God merely because God knew he would complete the task. And ‘completing the task’, at one point, causes Noah to believe that he is meant to kill himself and his family, since they carry wickedness in them. Only animals are meant to survive, so that the planet can once again become a beautiful paradise (free from the brutal, destructive man).

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Yes, according to the Bible, God was angered by man’s wickedness and therefore did regret creating man. However, the Bible also clearly states that God saw that Noah was righteous and so Noah found favor in God’s eyes. Noah wasn’t just chosen, because he would complete the task. He was chosen, because he was not committing the wicked, violent, hateful sins that the rest of the world was. Noah was a good man (the last good man), and so God – in His mercy – decided to save him and his entire family. So while there is still the impending justice that will come with the flood, there is still evidence of a loving God who sees those who are doing their best to follow Him.

One good man, even if he was surrounded by a world of evil men, was worth saving.

Secondly, Noah wasn’t sent a dream that he found impossible to decipher. The movie makes it seem as though the Creator (never referred to as God) is distant and often does not answer. According to the Bible, God not only gave Noah the direction to build an ark, he also gave Noah the exact measurements needed to make it. That doesn’t sound like a confusing dream to me! It sounds more like a loving miracle!!

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The movie makes it seem as though Noah and his family are stumbling through the dark, trying to figure out what has to be done. And when there’s division, Noah has to make the tough decisions. There’s no thought to pray to the One who reached down from heaven to save them in the first place. There’s absolutely no evidence of the power that shines through the Biblical story – of the faithfulness of one man and how God saved him along with two of every living creature. Quite frankly, Aronofsky’s version is rather depressing.

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Granted, the story of Noah isn’t without great sadness, as thousands of people lost their lives in the flood. It was tragic. And I imagine that this loss did have an emotional impact on a good man such as Noah, even if the Bible says that every man on earth (other than Noah) was extremely wicked, violent, and hateful. But the movie failed to also show God’s love for mankind in allowing him to begin again. Noah was a good man, and so God saved him. (Let’s not forget that in the Bible, after Noah and his family step back onto dry ground and worship God in thanks, God promises that He will never again destroy the world with a flood… and He sets a rainbow in the sky as a reminder).

The story of Noah isn’t about God’s hatred of man. It’s about redemption. Forgiveness. It’s about a Creator who is just, which means there is punishment… but there is also saving grace. And it’s a story of miracles! While the movie makes it seem as though animals – traveling two by two into an ark – was just something that happened to save crawling and creeping creatures, it was really something more miraculous than we can even imagine.

The movie was good if you’re just looking for entertainment. But for those of us who see so much more when we read the Biblical account, it was a major disappointment. I’m sure that Darren Aronofsky is proud of his achievement, as he said in an interview that he wanted to create the least biblical, biblical movie ever made. He did just that.

But to me, it’s sad that movie-goers will miss the entire point of Noah’s faithfulness and the ark. So I have to say that if you haven’t already gone to see it, don’t waste your hard-earned money. Sadly, it’s not worth it. And it really is acceptable, as well as our right, to send a message to Hollywood that twisting a story from the Bible is not okay… nor something that we care to support. It’s what any true fan would do!