Giveaway winner

   A big, fat thank you to all who entered my birthday giveaway!  What a fun, fun time that was.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I am thinking that needs to become a reoccurring feature around here.

  And the winner is.........*drumroll please*  JERIN YODER!  I am so tickled that she won, she completely deserves it!  And for all those who didn't win this time around, rest assured the winner was picked completely randomly through rafflecopter and :)  Maybe the next time will be your lucky turn!

   My birthday started wonderfully with Randy making me breakfast, but then continued fairly normal, with Randy having to work and me doing laundry and cleaning the house.  But I think that's kind of what it means to be an adult, unfortunately.  But after he got off work we dropped the girls off at Grandma's and got to go to the Duck game!  Plus the pre-game burger was possibly the best burger of my 29 years.  So that was a highlight.

   Back in the days B.C. (before children) we would get season tickets.  But that is just not very feasible in this stage of life anymore.  I used to take those games for granted, thinking it was all Randy's thing and I was just being a good girlfriend/fiance/wife to go along with him.  But it's funny how you sometimes don't realize a good thing until you don't have it anymore!  I MISS going to those games.

Turns out I secretly enjoyed them all along, even unbeknownst to me.

   Another great birthday in the books, and today I'm off to freeze up corn like a good Mennonite!

Over and out.


Lucky you.

  Tomorrow I will reach another milestone in my life.....turning 29.  This is it.  I've officially, finally, and permanently reached the END OF MY TWENTIES.

I am completely unsure of how I feel about this.

   This means that the next birthday is 30 and when I was young (and I guess by young I mean in my teens?)  30 yr old people were the ones that had like, 6 kids and a mortgage and bills to pay and lawns to mow and jaw-droppingly boring lives.  And then all of the sudden here I am, ditto to everything (except the 6 kids) and can hardly believe I am entering my last year EVER as a twenty-something.

How?  How, how, how.

   My niece Annika and I share a birthday and this year she turns 10, which is a little bit terrifying because I can remember, CLEAR AS DAY being 10 years old.  I remember my party, what we did and who I invited.  I remember what I wore and how it was hot and sticky and humid, a typical Iowan August.

   For some reason, (that will always and forever remain a mystery) I decided that it would be fun to have a beauty pageant at my birthday party.  Because what could be a better idea than rounding up a group of preteen girls and comparing them to one another in a public way?  Um, about a million other ideas, that's all.

   And for some even MORE unexplicable reason, my parents allowed me to do so.  So we all trounced through my closet, throwing together our various ensembles.  I chose to be a cowgirl.  Hat, jeans, boots, the white shirt with the fringe....the works. The shirt was an early birthday gift, and I couldn't WAIT to put it to use.

    We we were ready, we flounced and bounced downstairs, hair freshly primped and cheeks and eyes aglow as we lined up in front of the "Judges panel" which of course was one of our peers, a guest of the party.  And so in case you were unaware, YES, it's possible for bad ideas to get worse.

   My dad was videoing and we each took our turn walking down the sidewalk toward the camera with a cute little twirl at the end, to the announcement of our names and ages.  I remember my little brother Shawn zooming around on his scooter, or bike, or something with wheels, and was being "terribly annoying" in my 10-yr-old mind.  And of course now I would give anything to go back in time and drop everything and play with that adorable, gap-toothed, skinny little 6-yr-old boy.  We would have such fun together rather than experience the tragedy of a beauty pageant that was my 10th birthday party.

    So after our trouncing and flouncing was complete, we thought it would be a good idea to all line up in a neat little row, and eagerly await the announcement of the winner.  There were 6 or 7 of us in line, and I remember feeling equally nervous and excited and squirming against that gnawing pit in my know the kind that you sort of hate and kind of love?  My heart was lodged somewhere in my throat as I waited to hear the results.

   The judge cleared her throat and started with the last place.  When she announced the name I felt instantaneous pity and relief.  Pity for her, relief it wasn't me.  (Once again, how was this ever conceived as even a remotely good idea??!)

  We all held our breath as the next name was announced......"And second-to-last place is......Shelley Graber!" 

   I remember not knowing if I had heard correctly and then everything else proceeded in a bit of a blur as one by one, the girls were named until the winner had won.


  I couldn't believe it.  It was MY birthday and I still got second-to-last!  That probably meant that they were only feeling sorry for me because it WAS my birthday, and so ordinarily I would have gotten plain old LAST!  But perhaps the worst part of all was that the party wasn't over.  It was only beginning.  And so I still needed to smile and eat cake and say thank-you and laugh with everyone there, all the while my heart was breaking.

I'm not beautiful.
I'm not wanted.
I'm not worthy. 
I'm not enough. 

  These were the lyrics to the beat that my little heart pounded in my ears and I fought back the tears that stung at my eyelids and tried so hard not to let anyone know.

   I guess up until then, I hadn't known the sting of rejection.  I was just a child, and as all children should be, I was accepted and loved and cherished.  I always felt worthwhile, and I suppose yes, beautiful.  Beautiful because I was loved.

   Of course it is all rather silly and ridiculous to look back on now, but those feelings were real.  Not dreamt up by the vivid imagination of a 10-yr-old girl (although we all know I had one).   Not conceived on paper by the author of young adult fiction, but REAL.  Playing out in real time, in my life, on my birthday.  And while I don't believe that wound was sufficient enough to hurt me into my adulthood, the messages were.

   The lies whispered by the enemy of my soul in those brief moments cut deep through marrow and bone, causing this story to bring tears to my eyes even now, 19 years later.  But please don't misunderstand me.....the tears are not because I didn't win a beauty pageant on my birthday.

  The tears are for all the years I've lived under the shadow of those lies, and for all of the years I've tried so hard to not let anyone see me hiding.  

   If I've said it once I've said it 1,000 times, but I'll say it again.........It's often the people you'd least expect.  The very ones that you can't imagine battling insecurity or facing their own demons day after day, are often the very ones who are.  And be careful to remember that it's not an imagined, fictional, is real pain.  And it can happen to anyone.

   And so what I would like my 10-yr-old niece to hear on her special day, and anyone else who may need to hear it too, is that....

You a beautiful daughter of the King.
You are wanted and redeemed.
You are worthy of grace.
You are, dear child, enough.

   And in honor of those beautiful promises, a little celebration is in order!  I was so inspired when my friend Janene hosted a giveaway on her blog one year for her birthday, and I thought that was just a beautiful thing to do.  So this year I thought, why not!

  Enter here to win everything pictured above.  Just a few things to help the transition from summer into fall....a light floral scarf that reminds us of the hot days of summer past, fall colors for manicures in cream and navy, a $10 Starbucks card for all of your Pumpkin Spice latte needs, Orchid body wash and spray and a pack of Thank you cards that truly, will never be out of style.  All you have to do to enter the giveaway is leave a comment on this post, but there are additional ways to earn additional entries listed below.  I will announce the winner on Monday.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Terrific Twos.

   These pictures are from waaaayyyy back sometime in June, and I forgot about them until now.  But I can't let this teepee just pass through our lives (may it rest in peace) without at least documenting its brief lifespan.

   One time when my Dad was out visiting us, he made a teepee for the children out of PVC pipe.  It fulfilled all of my teepee-loving desires, and we finally got it set up and covered in time for Charlotte's birthday in June.  It was no small task to cover that thing....requiring a last-minute dash to the thrift store the morning of the party for old shower curtains that (of course) weren't long enough and so I had to sew on the canvas at the bottom to make it reach.  Then after all of that, I still didn't have a clue how to fasten it to the teepee glue?  Twine?  It didn't reach all of the places it would have needed to for the hot glue option and so I resorted to using twine and safety pins, and trust me, it wasn't pretty. At least it was decorated with a beautiful bunting borrowed from my sis-in-law, Jessi.

   Unfortunately, I feel like we enjoyed our lovely teepee for all of like, 2 days before the wind knocked it down, breaking some of the pipe.  In the future, I will build a smaller teepee, that can be moved inside after serving its purposes outdoors.  And yes, there will be a future, because I'm not finished with you, teepee of my dreams, not yet anyway.

    We took the babies out with us and set up a couple chairs and had fun "playing house".  Jocelyn even played photographer for a while and although most of them were shots of our feet, or cutting off our heads, she managed to snag some of my favorites of the whole summer.  Just goes to show that trusting your 3 yr old with an expensive camera is sometimes a really, really stupid idea and sometimes a pretty great one.

 And since I never posted a 2-yr-old photo shoot of Charlotte around the time of her birthday, this will have to suffice.


I will never call them the Terrible Twos.

   Because you have shown me, the second time around, how wonderful two-year-olds can truly be.  I loved this stage with your sister and I am loving it again with you.  Such a happy little sponge you are...soaking up life and learning with all of the strength you can muster, as fast as you can.  You make me feel incompetent at times.  Incapable of being the teacher you deserve.  And other times you make me catch my breath and feel dizzy with gratitude.

   You are growing at lightening speed.  You are at that point of sappy sweetness.....freshly two years old and almost (almost) incapable of naughtiness, because you just have the most tender heart.  The slightest discipline causes swift, alligator tears and a wailing of earnest and honest remorse and repentance.  

   Such a big heart you have, but your appetite for life is bigger.  You ADORE Big Sis and spend most of your time imitating her words, actions and expressions, echoing her singing, and following her lead.  She can convince you to do just about anything.  Except the other day you drew the line when I heard her say (very quietly so I wouldn't hear) "Charlotte, say poop."  And you gave a firm, resolved, "NO!"  And so despite your ardent affection for her, you can still stand your ground, and I think that is just about the perfect place for sisters to be.

   Daddy's little girl is what you are, through and through, but I love to see your attachment to me growing.  I'm secretly pleased when you're so sad to see me go.....not that I enjoy leaving you, I just enjoy that you miss me so.

   Your favorite song right now is Building up the Temple.  You love to substitute "Brother won't you help me, sister won't you help me" with all the names of your relatives in it.  And each time we pray, you shout out names for us to pray for as well.  You are such a timely reminder for me to be thankful for/pray for the loved ones in my life. 

   Thankfully, you don't get very crabby when you get tired, just really silly and goofy.  And I think that is one of the things I love about you the most.  You delight my heart and make me laugh time and time again.  I can already tell that whomever is lucky enough to know you, will benefit greatly because of it.  You just light up a room.  You light up my life.  

   Never change.   Please, please, please never change.  You have such an earnestness right now about you....exclaiming Oh! Oh! Oh! about every little thing and looking with wide baby blues at the world with the best of intentions.  You delight in approval and affirmation and I desperately hope to you point you to Christ for that.  Because Mama and Daddy will let you down.  Jocelyn will too, even as infallible as she seems in your eyes these days.  

   Know that no matter how fast you grow, and no matter where you may go, God made you SO special.  There is no one on this wide earth like you.  "Charlotte" has different meanings, but perhaps my favorite is...

   "She Is quiet and artistic with a great strength of character. Don't underestimate her."

I will love you forever
I will like you for always
As long as I'm living 
My baby you'll be. 



Scandi Fest 2014.

   And now is that moment when I type up a token "summer festival post" which is entirely cliche, but I just can't keep myself from doing so.

   Each and every year the summer doesn't feel quite complete until we indulge in a little sugar and deep-fried goodness at the local Scandinavian Festival.   I am pretty late to the game posting about this year's, but I need to quickquickquick because everyone is shoving fall down our throats already.  (I'm looking at YOU, pumpkin spice latte)  Cool your jets people, it's still August!

   We fight the crowds with one in a stroller and someone carrying the other little one, and make our way to our favorite food booths.  Sugary sweet Fri-jos, savory Nordic crab meat pies, saucy Frickadellers and spicy Italian sausage are always somewhere at the top of the list.  There is never quite enough room in our tummies for all of the flavors we'd love to sample, but we do a pretty good job of attempting to fit it all in.

   This year's Scandi Fest fell on the time of Nate & Janene's visit, and we headed there directly after picking Nate up from his lo-o-o-ong drive out West.  I would've been ready for a shower and a bed but he was such a great sport and totally up for a night out.  We are so blessed with such rich friendships in our lives, and I am just thankful that they still have fun hanging out with couples with kids.  As that DEFINITELY changes the dynamic of a "night on the town".

   Nate especially was just so great with the girls.  For some reason Jocelyn took a shine to him from the get-go, and would hardly leave his side.  It probably didn't help matters that he was a big softie when it came to her and bought her Dutch Bros and now how could a girl resist that??  But they were both just amazing with our girls and I can't wait to watch them be parents too someday.

   You can read about last year's foray into Scandinavian culture here.  And it makes me sad to look at those pictures because Ben & Emily often go to the Festival with us and this year they were missed, since they've moved back to Seattle.  Boooooo.

    Perhaps one day Jocelyn and Charlotte will be brave enough to join the children all dressed up in their Scandinavian finery and dancing cute would that be???! 

    But for now they are content to steal our sweet potato waffle fries and eat too much ice cream while watching from the stands and refusing to take nice pictures for their mama.   

Summer festivities at their finest.


Why I don't write bucket lists.

God sure knew what he was doing when He put Randy and I together.

  Not only do we make beautiful babies, (biased, but still) but I think that I would end up going a little bit stir-crazy with anyone else.  I need a little spontaneity in my life to keep things running smoothly.  I need a little "Hey let's go _____" in my day-to-day.  And Randy is SO good at that.

   The pictures from yesterday's post of us hiking was one such last-minute plan of his.  It was on a Sunday morning, one that dawned bright and beautiful and a little extra crazy.  We needed to leave even earlier because I was singing  and Randy teaches Sunday school and things are always a bit of a whirlwind at our house on that day.  But the weather was already warming up to be one of those days you knew was just going to be breathtaking.

   I'm always a little bit wistful when I remember Sunday afternoons with my family and friends, going on long bike rides and Ultimate Frisbee in the one does any of that around here.  I'm pretty sure everyone just goes home from church and takes a long nap.

   But on that particular Sunday, Randy said, "How about a hike after church?"  And I couldn't say yes fast enough.  We threw a picnic lunch together and extra clothes in the car and it ended up being so perfect and beautiful and just what we needed.  The last minute camping trip was his idea too.  So many good ideas in that head of his, I tell you.

   And so when he came home from work one evening and said, "Let's walk down to the park and grill hotdogs" I said, (of course) "Yes!"

   The girls loved it and I am just so thankful for the little time we had together.  He always comes home from work dirty and tired and I'm sure feels like crashing on the couch and doing little else.  But I'm so blessed that he takes time for them, and he takes time for me, and we all benefit because of it.

  Summer is so precious, so short, and so fleeting, that I've learned when I try to plan it all out and squeeze every last drop of it, it just becomes stressful in a hurry. My friend Nicole wrote over here about that very thing....forsaking the bucket list in lieu of living slow and thankful.  And I love it!  I've never been a huge fan of bucket lists.  SO. MUCH. PRESSURE.

   Plus I'm really unorganized and inconsistent and function best when I fly by the seat of my pants, and so bucket lists sound to me like an excellent way for me to feel like I'm constantly falling behind and just a basic failure in general.  No thanks.

   With fall right around the corner, I'm so glad we've said "yes" to the little summer opportunities that have come our way.  When the rain comes and keeps us all inside for far too long I know we will be thinking back on all of it with extra fond memories.  (p.s. photo by Jocelyn)

What spontaneous things have you been saying yes to this summer?  I'd love to hear.


Spoiler alert: I need grace.

Lately, I've felt my patience being tested more than ever before.  

   Jocelyn has seemed to come into a whole new dimension of her personality lately, and it is both endearing and exhausting.  

   Her world is one of maximum emotion, high drama and extreme opinion. She knows exactly what she wants and how exactly she wants it, and is discovering new ways to express that.  Whether it is the sippy cup with the princess castle, or a specific dress/sweater combo, or a single braid instead of two, she has specific tastes and preferences and is desperately grasping for outlets to put them to use. 

I was so unprepared for this part of mothering.

   I knew it would feel like you were trying to pull your bottom lip up over your head to give birth, and it did.  I knew I would get sappy and sentimental the first time I heard my baby laugh or say my name, and I did. I knew that discipline and consistency would be my greatest weaknesses in parenting, and they are.  I knew I would want a break from my children, and then miss them like crazy when I was gone, and I do.

But what I didn't know, was how utterly painful it would be for me, to fail.

   Whenever I lose my patience, raise my voice, and cause those little tears to fall, I crumple into a pile of self-loathing and feel like there is no way out.

The trouble with raising children is that they are not adults yet.

   They don't understand "I'm tired" or "I'm just really frustrated right now" or "Mama needs a break".  They only understand that you are Mama, and you are supposed to be cheerful and patient and loving.....always.

   You are the hands that hold them, comfort them, and soothe all their sorrows away, and so you aren't really allowed to have an "off day".  You are supposed to kiss away their tears, not cry ones of your own.  You are there to rock them when they are tired, sing them to sleep, and tuck them into bed.....not lie down yourself and shut out the world because you are just too exhausted to function.

And perhaps most difficult of all is coming to the realization that they have no concept of grace.

   They don't realize that mommies make mistakes, that mommies need second chances like anybody else, that mommies need forgiveness and time to grow and to learn and FOR GOODNESS SAKES A HEAPING, SKY-HIGH PILE OF GRACE.

   Children are too little to realize that as young and new as they are to this world.......that is how young and new their Mama is to mothering.  

   If we were all adults, it would be so easy to order pizza and pile on the couch and paint each other's toenails and laugh about how flawed their Mama is.  We would discuss my shortcomings and I would ask for forgiveness, and after agreeing that I certainly need a whole lot of grace, they would give it to me.

At least I hope that they would.

   But for now, here, in this moment and in this time of their lives, they don't realize any of that.  They just see me, their Mama, as Someone who lives somewhere above grace.  I don't need it because, well....I shouldn't need it.  I am perfect.  I make no mistakes.  I have all of the answers.  I am sweet and loving and kind and gentle because....well, I birthed them.  I nursed them.  I swaddled them.  What else could I possibly be?

   And the first time the curtain is pulled back and the real Wizard of Oz is revealed, I always want to shrivel up in a hole and hide away from the world until I am infallible in their eyes again.  It hurts when they realize that a mere human has been playing this Mighty Role all along.

Oh, it hurts.

   It hurts when I see it in their eyes.....the profound disappointment of the realization that I can be wrong.  I can make a mistake.  I can raise my voice when I should have just quietly instructed.  I can lunge and lurch when I should calmly direct.  I can glare and scowl when I should take a moment to just get off of the phone and address the issue quietly.

The list goes on and on and on.

   I feel like the day I gave birth back in 2010 I was officially the World's Greatest Mom.  And then each day since then, I've discovered a little more and more how I'm really just not.  I'm just a human. A flawed, fallen, pitiful, desperate, insecure, sinful human.  And all the while I'm wrestling this blasted humanity I am trying to be everything that they deserve.  And I fall short SO many times.

   And so it is that we Mamas of little ones, all the while fighting our own demons and needing grace more than ever before, have to somehow live in spite of it.  But without ANY grace. God gives us grace.  He lavishes it.  And our husbands give us grace, thank goodness.  But for now, our children aren't going to give us grace. And that's o.k.

   That's o.k. because it gives me a teeny, tiny sliver of a glimpse of what God goes through with us.  Giving and giving and feeling like it is mostly a one-way avenue of grace.  He gives us grace, and we soak it up and curse and complain and thrash around in our humanity.

   And so I will choose to be patient one more day.  And the day after that, and the day after that.  And it is hard.  It is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.   But if Jesus walked the road to that cross, than certainly I can learn a little patience.

At least I like to think that I can. 


Peachy summer days.

   The weather around here is already doing that tricky, "now you see me now you don't" thing with summer, leaving you never quite sure if you have a stretch of Indian summer left, or if fall is right around the corner.  

    I am a summer child through and through, so I am always a little bit sad to see it go, but I have to admit, autumn holds such a special place in my heart.  Summer is never quite long enough, but this year our A/C decided to quit on us in the thick of it all, and so I'm a little more ready to see the seasons change.  

   Fall brings scarves and hats and cozy layers, tall boots and socks and frothy lattes, vibrant colors, earthy tones, and a crisp breeze, and it kind of makes you feel like anything is possible.  Launching that Etsy shop you've always dreamed of, writing that novel you've always wanted to, or just being braver than you've ever been before.

   I'm not sure if it's the back-to-school shopping or the leaves turning or the slight shift of summer craziness to the structure of fall, but something just feels so inspiring and new.  Sometimes the change from summer to fall feels like a fresher start for me than even the beginning of a new year.  

   And so before we start dreaming of bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils and flannel shirts, I will try to quickly squeeze in a few more glimpses of summer. 

   Long past "blueberry season" I was feeling like we hadn't stored enough away for winter and wanted to make one last pass through the berry patch.  My hopes weren't very high but I went anyway and my fears were confirmed.....barely a berry to be found.  But the girls still had so much fun, reaching and hunting and picking that we lingered for a while, and I figured it was still a cheap, fun field trip at least, so not all was lost.

   Jocelyn loves taking pictures with my camera and I hope I don't stifle any budding photographer dreams, but sometimes it makes me so nervous watching her handle that thing!  Most of her pictures are a little off (above), but every once in a while she snaps one that completely surprises me, like the one below!  

   The blueberries left a lot to be desired, but the peaches were in full glory, so we went home with a bowl of those and promptly scoured Pinterest for all of the best peach-y recipes, and this is one you simply HAVE to try:

Peach Crumble Bars


For the Crumble:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 egg, lightly beaten
For the Peach Filling:
5 cups diced peaches (about 7 peaches, peeled)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch glass or light-colored metal baking pan. Put a long piece of parchment paper in the bottom of the pan, letting the parchment extend up the two short sides of the pan and overhang slightly on both ends. (This will make it easy to remove the bars from the pan after they have baked.) Butter the parchment.

For the Crumble: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon on low speed. Add the butter, toss with a fork to coat with the flour mixture. Add egg and mix on medium-low speed until the texture resembles coarse cornmeal, with the butter pieces no larger than small peas. Pat half of dough into the prepared pan. Place reserved half aside. Place the pan and the remainder of the dough in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

For the Peach Filling: In medium bowl, gently toss diced peaches and lemon juice together; set aside.
In a separate small bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Pour over the peaches and mix gently.
Spread the peach mixture evenly over the crust. Crumble the remaining dough over the peach layer.
Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until top is slightly brown. Cool completely on wire rack then transfer to the refrigerator to chill before cutting into squares. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Source: adapted from Brown Eyed Baker originally adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Allrecipes

Via Sweet Pea's Kitchen.

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