Thursday, June 28, 2012

Friday Fun: Minnesota Style

video

If there's one thing I've learned about writing, it's that a good story should have a good setting. I believe the same is true for a good life and that's why I've chosen to live in Minnesota. It's a beautiful state and a wonderful place to live and raise a family. As you heard in my vlog, I was dubbed Miss Minnesota by my co-workers in Iowa because I talked so highly and frequently about my favorite state (this is no reflection on the great state of Iowa, however, as I speak highly of that place, as well!). So here are a few pictures from our week and, as you can see, there really is no place like home (if you live in Minnesota, that is...)


The Mississippi River is very high this year - check out the
trees that are under water!
 

We went with my parents and my
brother's family to a bike
& walking trail which crosses
the Mississippi on this old train
trestle. The dam is to the left
and the water rushes under the
bridge at a dizzying pace.
                  

 
Our oldest twin pointing to
the rushing water from the dam



 

The sun was setting as we packed up to leave

This is the same beach I played on as a child!


And last, but not least, the current corn report:
Knee high by the Fourth of July! All is well.
(This was taken from the car)

What about you? What state (or country) do you live in? What are some things you love about your setting? Have you ever been to Minnesota?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Power of a Memory

I once heard that a child's most vivid memories are the ones that have the strongest emotion attached to them. Whether that emotion is really good or really bad, those are the ones they tend to hold on to.

Often my children will ask Dave and I to share with them a memory from our childhoods and I'm always amazed that some of the first memories to surface are usually the ones that have bad emotions attached, like when I fell off a bike, or when I hit a tree sliding down a snow hill or even when my brother threw a baseball and hit my eye and it looked like I had been punched. Thankfully, I don't have to dig very deep to find the good memories of hugs and kisses from my mom and dad, curling up with my sister to watch an old movie, going to the library with my mom, family vacations, New Year's Eve parties with family and friends or softball games on Sunday afternoons, but those don't always surface first. Sometimes I have to be purposeful about finding the good memories and focusing on them.

The same can be said for my girls who will be eight and six this summer. When they talk about the things they remember, they often bring up events like the time our brand new puppy was lost and we were out searching for her into the wee hours of the morning, or when my oldest was camping with my parents and became separated from the group or when my younger daughter hurt her finger while playing with a neighbor's little red wagon. Those memories have strong negative emotions attached to them, so I'm careful to make sure the girls remember the good that came from those events, too.

I love watching my girls' faces as they follow up the bad memory with the happy ending. They love telling how our lost puppy was found by a nice woman who called the Humane Society, how my oldest has such a good memory that she was able to recall the campsite number and found her way back without any tears and how our neighbor (who is a doctor) took care of the wounded finger and made my daughter feel very special in the process.

As a parent, I can't prevent all the unhappy moments my children will experience, but I can be purposeful about helping them create a happy ending. Even when there seems to be nothing positive about a circumstance, I encourage my daughters to look for something good.  Whether it's through showing them how God provides the answer to our prayers, like He did when the puppy was found, or praising them for keeping their cool under stressful circumstance or encouraging them to be grateful for the help of a kind neighbor, there are countless ways to turn a painful memory into a positive one.

What about you? What's the very first memory that comes to mind from your childhood? Is it good or bad? Does it have a happy ending? If you'd like to share it, I'd love to hear it!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

When Fear Tells You to Walk Away

On Friday I shared a cute story about my two-year-old son while we were at the Lake Superior Train Museum in Duluth, MN. At the museum we fully expected him to burst with excitement, eager to get on a real train and see it up close, but instead, he cried, his heart raced beneath my hand and he jumped off the train and ran back to his stroller, refusing to get out again.

No matter how much we reassured him it was safe, he wouldn't get on board. I was amazed that he didn't believe us, the people he can trust most. Even when we got on the train and smiled and waved for him to join us, he still wouldn't budge. He shook his head and said: "Nope!"

He loves trains, so I knew how much he was missing. When he hears a train crossing the trestle above the river behind our house, he shouts with excitement and runs to the window to watch it. When it has passed, he cries. He lives and breathes trains.

At the museum I wanted him to get over his fear and climb up those steps and take a look from the inside out. I wanted him to trust me when I reached out my hand. This was his chance to get on board and experience it firsthand. When would he get this opportunity again?

It occurred to me, when God brings me close to my dream and says: "Get on board!" I sometimes act like my two-year-old. I look right and left at the big, scary opportunity, I hear the wheels chugging and the steam blowing and my heart pounds within my chest. I feel that nasty panic rise up in my throat and I shake my head and say an emphatic "Nope!"

Then God reaches out His hand to me and says gently, "Come on. Trust me. This is your dream."

I shake my head, not willing to budge from my safety zone. The fear continues to whisper all the possibilities of failure, pain and trouble if I get on board.

But God doesn't give up. "You can trust me more than anyone else. I'll never leave your side. I want you to see this dream from the inside out. Come on board, I'm about to give you the ride of a lifetime, if you'll take that step and follow me."

I want to believe Him. I do. I want to get on board. I want to feel it and touch it and smell it. I want to see where it will take me. I want to see if it's everything I dreamed it would be. I've heard that whistle calling and I've watched it go by with joy and pleasure. I live and breathe my dream.

When I get up close, though, and fear strikes my heart, it seems so much easier to return to safety. The fear is shouting at me to walk away.

But I learned something a long time ago that my two-year-old has yet to learn: I can get on board, even when I'm afraid. I have a choice to make. Fear cannot force me to walk away, unless I let it. When I walk toward my dream and resist the fear, it begins to subsides.

And when I'm finally on board and I see the steam building up and feel the rumble of the engines going, my heart begins to pound with a different emotion: exhilaration. I'm living the dream and it's better than I ever imagined.

I look over and see God sitting next to me. He's watching my face as I experience this thing He created for me and me alone. He is smiling. So am I.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Lake Superior Railroad Museum

I thought I'd end the week by sharing some photos from a recent visit we took to the Lake Superior Railroad Museum in Duluth, Minnesota. We stumbled across the museum four years ago and it was a complete delight! I couldn't wait to get back. The Museum is housed in the historic Union Train Depot, which is a French Chateauesque building built in 1892. In 1910, seven railroads dispatched over 50 trains a day from there.

The depot served as a small Ellis Island to the immigrants who would arrive and wait for their connection. During times of war the soldiers would march down Superior Street and board the trains there. The last train left in 1969 and four years later the building was restored and turned into a museum.

Along with the historic trains, the museum houses Depot Square, which is a 3/4 scale recreation of Duluth's downtown in 1910. You can peek in the windows and see what a store or office looked like in that era. There is a doctor's office, a drug store, a millinery, a general store and many more. There is also a working soda fountain, where you can buy a treat.

One of our favorite exhibits is a model train and town that is easily 20x30 feet and enclosed in glass. I was impressed with the attention to details in the little city. We chased that train around and around. 
My youngest son LOVES trains. We live close to the train tracks and whenever he hears one he shouts: "Mama, choo-choo! Mama, choo-choo!" When we get stopped by the train he says it again, but then he starts yelling: "Mama, choo-choo, bye, bye? Choo-choo, bye, bye?" And he cries and cries because it's leaving. My girls giggle when he does this, and I have to confess, it makes me smile, too. Naturally we thought he'd love the train museum more than any of us, so when we walked into the gigantic structure and saw over a dozen trains dating from the 1860's, we all watched his reaction closely.
Both boys were a little unsure
And he was off

The first one we came to had replicated train noises and the wheels chugged. His eyes became huge and I could feel his heart pumping beneath my hand. He started crying: "Choo-choo, bye, bye?!?!" I'm afraid he thought it was going to start moving and we'd all be run over. He didn't want to get out of his stroller for the remainder of the visit. I was able to persuade him to go on a caboose, but it didn't last long and he wanted off. He prefered to enjoy the trains from a distance.
  
Snow plow
The rest of us loved exploring the dining car, snow plow train and an assortment of others. It was fun imagining what it would have been like to travel by train a hundred and fifty years ago and I was filled with ideas for a book!

Hopefully someday we'll be able to go back when our youngest understands the trains aren't leaving the station.

What about you? Do you have any trips or visits planned this summer? What are some of your favorite museums or historic sites?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Graduations, Weddings and Birthdays, Oh My!

 
Our summer calendar is filling up with celebrations for our family and friends. We have seven weddings, a handful of graduation parties and many birthdays to attend and host. 

That's a lot of gifts to buy! One way I save on the cost of birthday presents is shopping the clearance aisle right after Christmas. It's a great time to buy reduced priced toys. I have a general idea of who I need to buy for - all my nieces and nephews and a handful of close family friends. I know my girls will get invited to classmates parties, as well, and so I grab some age appropriate gifts for them. By stocking up on gifts when they are on sale, I'm able to save a little and I'm not as stressed out trying to get to the store at the last minute before a party.
I also save the good quality gift bags my kiddos get their presents in and reuse them when we give to others. Those bags can get spendy, so this is a great savings.

Today we celebrated my daughter's sixth birthday. There were thirteen little girls at my house and we had so much fun!  We started our celebration with face painting. I picked up a kit at a craft store with a step by step guide. It was an easy activity that all the girls loved! Then we went outside and broke open a pinata and everyone filled their treat bags. Next we decorated cupcakes - this is another fun activity that the girls enjoyed. After that my little charmer opened her gifts and was in seventh heaven with all her friends circled around her. Before the moms came to pick up their kiddos, I had my daughter take a picture with each little girl, which we'll send out in the thank you cards.

What about you? Any celebrations planned this summer? Do you have good money saving tips for gift buying? What do you do for birthday parties in your home?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Friendship

"Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What! You too?
I thought I was the only one." ~ C.S. Lewis

Nine years ago my husband and I moved back to our hometown after finishing college and discovered we had very few friends our age left! Almost everyone we'd graduated high school with had moved on.

I was hungry for new friendships. I remember being very specific when I brought my prayers before God. I wanted women of faith who were on fire for the Lord.

When our oldest daughter was eighteen months old I began attending an ECFE (Early Childhood Family Education) class and little did I know, my prayers were about to be answered and God was getting ready to pour out more of His blessings on my life.

The ECFE class was designed for children my daughter's age and the moms in the class were all in the same life stage as me. A couple of them had known each other for a while and they were just starting up a ministry called MOPS (Mothers of Preschooler). One of the moms, Beka, asked me if I'd be interested in giving it a try. I didn't even hesitate.

I was convinced MOPS was the best idea ever imagined even before I walked in the door. A room full of moms coming together twice a month to eat, fellowship and grow together - could it get any better? Between ECFE and MOPS, my tank was starting to fill up. For the first time in years I felt exactly like C.S. Lewis' quote: "What! You, too? I thought I was the only one."

I've been in MOPS and ECFE for seven years now and I've made more friendships than I ever dreamed possible. I'm honored to walk along side these phenomenal women as they mother their children and I'm always amazed when a woman reaches out in friendship to me. I'm even more blessed when I can reach out to someone else.

Not only did I make great friends, but it turns out these lovely ladies have fantastic husbands, too! Some of my hubby's best friendships have come from my involvement in MOPS. There's nothing better than to have friendships with couples when the husbands and the wives get along.

I'm convinced that life is much better when it's lived with friends.


These three ladies have become one of my life lines. We each have four children close in age (quick math: that's sixteen children under the age of eight when we're together!) which means we leave them at home with the daddies and get pedicures and go out for coffee and just refresh with one another whenever we can!

From left: Beka & Sarah (from that first ECFE Class!) and Lindsay, from an early MOPS year, and me.
I wish I could put pictures up of all my friends; you each have a special place in my heart.

What about you? Where have you made friends? Are you in a season of prayer for friendship?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Book Review: Wildflowers from Winter

I recently began following Author Katie Ganshert’s blog, just weeks before her debut novel Wildflowers from Winter was released. It’s been fun getting to know Katie and watching her launch this book. I had the opportunity to participate in her Wildflowers from Winter Blog Hop and was fortunate enough to win an Advanced Reader Copy!

Let me say up front, I am a die-hard historical fiction reader. I can count the contemporary romances I’ve read on my right hand, but I was eager to read Katie’s novel for three reasons:

1. I’ve never followed an author while they launched their first novel and that alone intrigued me to read it.

2. The story line is fascinating and I especially love that it’s set in Iowa, my neighbor state to the south and a place I lived for over a year.

3. As I meet new authors I want to be open to read all sorts of genres so that I can support their work.

From the first sentence in Wildflowers from Winter, I was hooked. The opening scene starts in first person narrative and it brought me into the heart and mind of the heroine immediately. In an interesting twist, the novel transitions into third person narrative and then flips back and forth between first and third person periodically. I liked these different points of view and I thought it worked well.

Katie expertly captured the five senses and transported me into the story world through the smell of coffee, the taste of a cool Pepsi, the feel of the bitter cold, gazing upon the Iowa farmland and hearing the falling rain.  I enjoyed the references to pop (a very Midwestern term) and the Boundary Waters, which is a canoeing area in the northern portion of Minnesota.  These references helped bring the plot into the real world and made me feel like I was right there with the characters.

I was moved along with the story, waiting as bits of the puzzle were put together, feeling the heroine’s pain and heartache and watching as she found peace and healing with her past. Every character felt real to me and jumped off the page. The hero was everything a hero should be and the love story was sweet.

Katie tackled some tough issues in this book. Really tough. And she brought you deep into the minds of the main characters. These issues could have pulled the story into a black hole, leaving the reader feeling heavy and discouraged, but Katie expertly balances these aspects of her book with carefully crafted scenes of hope and possibility. The heroine’s spiritual journey is especially poignant and Katie handled it beautifully.

Wildflowers from Winter kept me up well past bedtime on several occasions! I would highly recommend it, and, as I said, I’m not a big fan of contemporary novels, but this one has me reconsidering. I look forward to reading Katie's next book, Wishing on Willows.
----
 A young architect at a prestigious Chicago firm, Bethany Quinn has built a life far removed from her trailer park teen years. Until an interruption from her estranged mother reveals that tragedy has struck in her hometown and a reluctant Bethany is called back to rural Iowa. Determined to pay her respects while avoiding any emotional entanglements, she vows not to stay long. But the unexpected inheritance of farmland and a startling turn of events in Chicago forces Bethany to come up with a new plan.

Handsome farmhand Evan Price has taken care of the Quinn farm for years. So when Bethany is left the land, he must fight her decisions to realize his dreams. But even as he disagrees with Bethany’s vision, Evan feels drawn to her and the pain she keeps so carefully locked away.

For Bethany, making peace with her past and the God of her childhood doesn’t seem like the path to freedom. Is letting go the only way to new life, love and a peace she’s not even sure exists?

----

Katie Ganshert was born and raised in the Midwest, where she writes stories about finding faith and falling in love. When she’s not busy plotting her next novel, she enjoys going on romantic dates with her husband, playing make-believe with her wild-child of a son, and chatting with her girlfriends over bagels and coffee.
----
What about you? Have you read Wildflowers from Winter? Do you prefer historical or contemporary fiction?


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Gifts of God

freedigitalphotos.net

Before staying home full time I worked at a historic site where I led a team of ten people, managed a six figure budget, helped coordinate many events and activities and served on countless boards. I was a natural leader and I was confident in my skills and abilities.

The first year at home I became involved in leadership with the MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) ministry at my church. There were about a dozen women serving that year and I found them to be confident, skilled, talented, smart, funny, caring, wise, and just as experienced as I (if not more so) in operating an organization.

As I watched them lead effortlessly, I began to envy the gifts that each of them operated in.

The more I envied them, the more inadequate I felt.

For the first time in my life I felt insecure, but these women were so gracious and kind I adored them and they edified me and encouraged me every step of the way. Praising me for my contributions and effort, which made me wish I was even more like them!

As I struggled with this stumbling block God brought me to Romans 12:4-8: "For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully."

God had blessed each woman in MOPS with unique gifts and they were working in the area He had assigned to them. If God wanted me to have the gifts I envied in others, He would have given them to me. But He hadn’t. I was created exactly the way I am, with the gifts God has given me, for a specific purpose.

When I felt insecure and jealous it robbed me of the power to operate in my gifts.

God challenged me to be thankful for what He had given to the others and to trust His plans for me. As I did this I found a new sense of confidence and peace and I became more effective in serving.

With that Truth buckled securely around my waist, I can now watch these women, my dear friends, operate in their gifts and marvel at how awesome our God is in giving each person exactly what they need - and I’m blown away when I'm on the receiving end of their gifts. I may not possess what they have, but I benefit from them every day - which is exactly how God designed it to work!

I’m grateful God taught me this lesson years ago, because as I walk into this amazing world of Spirit filled writers it’s easy for me to envy what God is doing in other people’s lives. But I’ve learned that God has a specific plan for my life and if I waste time envying others, I will miss the opportunity to do what He’s called only me to do. Instead, I'm appreciating the blessings I receive from other writers and trusting God to use my unique gifts for His purpose.

What about you? Have you struggled with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy? Do you have a hard time being thankful for what God has given to others? Do you trust Him with your gifts?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

For the Love of My Man

Friday was our eleventh wedding anniversary and my mom had agreed to babysit, so Dave and I had an entire evening all to ourselves. Ahhh... Dave said he wanted to take me to my favorite Mexican restaurant and from there it was my choice. I thought it might be fun to see a movie, since we rarely go to the theater anymore, and he agreed to go, even though I know how much he hates being inside a movie theater in the summer time. He didn't complain, but he did hint that it was a beautiful evening to go golfing.

One thing I've known about Dave since we met in high school is his passion for the game of golf. He'd rather be on a golf course than almost anywhere. He used to golf five or six days a week and he worked on a golf course during high school and college. He majored in horticulture at Iowa State University, with an emphasis in turf management. The man loves to golf.

During this season of parenting both of us have had to sacrifice some of our hobbies and interests, and Dave has willingly given up golfing. He plays now and again, but it's nothing like before, especially since the twins were born.

When he mentioned playing golf on our anniversary date, I wasn't too crazy about the idea. I don't mind the game, I think it's relaxing and I occasionally watch some of the PGA Tour when I'm at my in-law's, but it didn't sound very romantic or exciting on Friday.

After giving it some thought, I realized that this was something I could do for my hubby as a way of honoring our marriage and thanking him for all that he does for our family. So we went golfing.

The evening was gorgeous and it was so much fun just walking with Dave from hole to hole, enjoying the quiet solitude and uninterrupted conversation. I was able to tease him when he made a bad shot and we laughed when I put two balls into a water hazard on hole number sixteen. It was exactly what we both needed and a wonderful way to spend our anniversary. It turns out that it was quite romantic, afterall.

What about you? If you had an evening all to yourself, what would you do? Any golfers out there?



Thursday, June 7, 2012

Marriage

Today my hubby and I celebrate eleven years of marriage and, as of this summer, we've officially known each other half our lives. We met when we were sixteen, before driver's licenses, wisdom teeth and graduation. When we still had a curfew, when our mothers would warn: "It's time to get off the phone now" and when we had to ask permission to go on a date.

I often marvel that at the age of sixteen I was able to see in him the man he would become and to recognize that he was the one I wanted to weave my life with. Even though we didn't know it then, each of us has been exactly who the other has needed. I'm so in awe of God for giving us that gift - because He knew.

Dave's uncle once asked me why I thought our marriage would last. I didn't even hesitate. I told him it would last because we'll be having a conversation for the rest of our lives. Whether it's good or bad, whether it's interesting or dull, we'll keep talking with each other until one of us is called home to Heaven. I want to know all I can about him - he fascinates me, challenges me, defends me, loves me, cares for me, cherishes me and holds me accountable. Who wouldn't want to spend the rest of their life getting to know a man like that? He has so much wisdom and I esteem him higher than any other person I know. He's always the first person I want to talk to and the one who I can be completely real with - and the crazy man loves me anyway!

Our most recent picture - taken two
weeks ago at a Twins game.
We have both grown in countless ways – but we continue to grow together. Our faith and relationship with Christ comes first and it's the foundation our marriage is built upon, without it we would be a weak structure, crumbling under the weight of life's storms.

Our children are a wonderful extension of our love for one another and they complete us in a way that nothing else ever could. I've told them that I searched the whole world to find the perfect man to be their daddy and I know I am blessed beyond reason, because I found him and married him.

What about you? Are you married? What anniversary will you be celebrating this year? If you're not married, what other celebrations do you have marked on your calendar?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My First Vlog

I'm so excited to publish this blog post today! I've enjoyed seeing other authors in action and hearing their "real" voices on videos, so I thought I'd make one of my own. Between phone calls, neighbors mowing their lawn and the dog barking, I had to do more takes on this thing than I'd care to admit, but here it is. :)

video

Sunday, June 3, 2012

It Takes a Whole Village

I firmly believe that we must lead by example. If we want to get something done we need to do it ourselves. I get frustrated when I hear people complain, but never see them get involved to change anything.

This belief often overextends my schedule, and sometimes it drives my husband nuts, but I couldn't imagine living any other way.

I can't sit back and expect "them" to do it. I am "them" - we all are.

I was raised by two people who hold this same philosophy, so it comes as no surprise that I am bringing my own children along side me as I volunteer. I want to show them the great importance of investing in our community. I want them to continue the legacy of change and progress and my hope is that they fall in love with their home and take pride in it. I believe we need to aim our children at the targets we want them to hit and being a productive member of society is one of those targets. I also believe our children should learn how to interact with people from all walks of life and various age groups and volunteering is a great way to accomplish this.

We live in a modest sized community that is rich in character and charm. I love living here and I hope to make it a better place for my family and others who call it home. I'm an adult advisor on the Mayor's Youth Task Force and one area of need we've identified is a family friendly complex with a splash pad, skate park, walking trails, etc. Just last week we secured 20+ acres of land that we hope to develop for this purpose. Today we held one of many fundraisers and I think it was a great success with hundreds of people coming out to participate.

I had my girls by my side almost all day and I'm so proud of their hard work and diligence for the cause; they're excited for a splash pad, which makes it easier to volunteer! It would have been nice to sit at home on this beautiful June day, but I know how much this complex means for our town and, more importantly, how vital this lesson is for my children. I hope they continue giving back and making a difference for the rest of their lives.


The kids getting the prizes ready for the games (and
making sure all of them work properly...)

After all their hard work they were able to enjoy some fun!

Our little Charmer was a natural on the trampoline