December 26, 2012

The One with the Full House

This month has been filled with quality friends-and-family time, and my cup is overflowing.

One wonderful occasion was in a town west of Chicago--yes, an 11 hour drive--to finally attend our college friends' annual holiday gathering. There is something special andtotally unmatched about the friendships formed during those four years of higher education. Living with friends, seeing each other at the best of times and worst of moments, cultivates relationships that are rivaled only by family. I experienced the best jolt as more and more of us filled Chris & Katie's beautiful home. I was reminded of the dearness of these relationships and the strength of college friendships that are hardly diminished over years and miles

The "Family" Portrait 2012

When all of the guys were all together again, I was nearly brought to tears. It was such a wonderful sight to behold. And I am lucky enough to say that these boys men were my friends and not just friends-of-my-boyfriend. That first year of college I spent a lot of time visiting Kevin in his dorm; that meant hanging out with his guy friends. Ben, Gavin, Matt, Kevin, and Mel were something of a family unit that year. The next year we added Dave, Chris, Nick, Adam, Geoff & Tyler to the mix. And the rest is [mostly] history. Those boys talked with me as their friend, shared with me, and didn't exclude me from games of frisbee. They wanted me to hang out with them, to play video games with them, to listen to them (because we all know other guys aren't always the best listeners.) Those boys grew up and became godly men who stood beside us at our wedding. Many of them  have married lovely wives of their own, all work solid jobs and lead in their churches. As I was honestly sharing my fears and inhibitions with all 15 of these friends in a Facebook message window, everyone quickly said, "We'll do anything to make you feel comfortable enough to come. We want you & Kevin here." And I knew they meant it. 

Thank you, friends, for loving me for the past 9 years. I look forward to many more times together. 

27 of us filling 3 long tables for dinner!

December 5, 2012

A Spice Cake Kind of Birthday

For my birthday, my husband surprised me with all of the "favorite things" he's heard me mention over the years. He baked a spice cake (even made it double layer! and found the cake stand to display it on!), bought extra frosting and graham crackers to enjoy it with. YUM! And of course he couldn't forget to write me the most thoughtful love letter to remind me of all the ways he cares. To top it off, he asked a few of the teen girls to surprise me by bringing me sentimental cards from them and joining me in the cake eating. It was lovely. Truly lovely.

I love you, Kevin. Thanks for making me feel special (especially as I'm starting to feel "old.") 


November 28, 2012

The Very Beginning of Us

Eight years ago on this very day, I made the five-turned-seven-hour drive back to our college campus after Thanksgiving break to give a certain 18 year old boy an answer. Yes, I will be your girlfriend. That elegant response was quickly followed by a moment of naive honesty-- so what does that mean exactly?

It was a long, slow, challenging, wonderful process of learning what exactly it did mean to be a long term, committed, loving relationship. God was with us then and He has blessed us greatly over these past many years together. I love you a thousand times more with each passing year, babe.

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Kevin & Mel ice skating. 2 months into dating.
He still wears that sweatshirt. *sigh*

Are in the mood to read the whole entire love story? Well, you're in luck. I wrote it out a couple of years ago.-- Our Love Story.

November 23, 2012

On Capitol Hill

Kevin and I have had lots of great trips with family or visiting family and friends. We've gotten many weekend trips, particularly camping excursions, just the two of us. We have been so blessed to have the past 4 and a half years of marriage to focus on each other. But we had been hoping for a week away, just us, to a "foreign" location, to relax, unwind, enjoy each other's company, and do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. A bona fide vacation.

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the Jefferson Memorial sited from the banks of the Tidal Basin 
Way back in April or May, I began planning our vacation. I looked into various spots, modes of transportation, places to stay, what to eat, how much it would cost. I love planning trips like this. It's like a window-shopping addiction. (I'm pretty sure I got that from my dad.) After much hemming and hawing, we finally decided to visit Washington, D.C.! We've been saying for years how we wanted to visit the Capitol together, so no matter how nerdy it makes it, we booked the trip! 

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The Lincoln Memorial -
a moving experience
Thanks to, we got a fantastic, fancy-pants hotel--the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill--for way way way cheaper than normal, and get this--we ended up FLYING via U.S. Airways instead of making the 7 hour drive. It was less expensive to buy 2 airline tickets and take public transportation to the hotel than it would be to pay FORTY FIVE DOLLARS A DAY to park our muffler-needing, partially rusted '98 Honda Civic in the valet parking garage. *yeeesh* 

And so, from Sunday, November 18th to Friday, November 23rd, Kevin and I spent our time with the Capitol building in our peripheral vision. Our evenings were taken up with relaxing in our luxurious hotel drinking Safeway-brand diet cola and eating too many tomato-basil Lays chips while watching Friends re-runs on TBS and getting in more than my fair share of the one television network I miss most--The Food Network. Every morning we awoke around 7 or 7:30, with no alarms set, rolled out of bed feeling rested and ready to conquer the city. We walked around the National Mall through the various entities of the Smithsonian Museums and strolling wherever we felt like it--exploring our way off the beaten path. The weather was absolutely perfect in my opinion--50s, sunny, crisp, but warm enough for just a sweater. I love November. (and not just because it's my birthday). 

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I loved this view of the Washington Monument

We ate delicious food. The birthday lunch at Moe's Southwest Grill at L'Enfant Station was amazingly filling and super cheap (but also I had a stomach ache all night afterwards. That may have been because of the run I took in the afternoon. Ooops.) The West Wing Cafe was kitty-corner from our hotel and fed us fantastic sandwiches--and I am a sandwich critic. :) Pete's Diner was this little hole-in-the-wall place right next to the Capitol building and MAN could they cook a good sweet potato pancake! We indulged a bit in a Crumb's peanut butter chocolate cupcake on my birthday (but wasn't super impressed, honestly) and made a few coffee-and-danish stops at Starbucks, Au Bon Pain and Dunkin Donuts. I am so glad we checked out Armand's Chicago Style Pizza. SO GOOD. And what's Thanksgiving dinner without some solid Chinese food from the Union Station food court?? ;) 

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A beautiful day to visit the Lincoln Memorial 

We walked a lot, we ate a lot, I ran on the treadmill in the fancy-pants fitness center and along the National Mall. We made friends with our floor's housekeeping ladies and they kept up stocked on Tazo black tea & fresh towels. We went to see the new OO7 movie--Skyfall--at the Regal Cinema in the Gallery Place metro stop on Thanksgiving day and even ordered a gigantic coke & popcorn to share (with refills! so there *is* such a thing as too much popcorn. I didn't believe it.) I brought 3 books and read exactly 11 pages. I finished crocheting 1 scarf and probably could have crocheted 3 more. But I was even too lazy relaxed to do that. It's not often I can watch tv and not feel guilty about not being busy with something else. :) Kevin read a huge book--one of the Bourne novels--and honed his Pokemon skills via the Kindle Fire. We talked, laughed, people-watched, avoided pigeons at all costs *cough* I am scared of birds *cough*, and tried our best to not stick out like the sore thumbs of tourists that we were. I was a minimalist packer for the first time in my life and we never felt stressed or rushed or pressured--even at the airports and the metro stations! 

I call this vacation a WIN. and from what I hear, my husband totally loved it as well--which makes me super happy.

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We strolled through the lovely Constitution Gardens Park

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Washington Monument

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And of course, the Capitol Building, just 1/2 mile from our hotel

November 12, 2012

On Gift Giving and Life Changing

Dear friends, 

If there is one thing I'm passionate about it's sponsoring children. For such a small percentage of our monthly income, we rich-beyond-comprehension-Americans can change the life of a child in need. We can supply food, clothing, education and the love of Jesus. HOPE. I began my journey of child sponsorship through Compassion International in 2006, my junior year of college. My husband and I added a second child to our monthly this past December through International Child Care Ministries--a program of the Free Methodist Church

Both programs have put out a Christmas Gift catalogs where you can send gifts specifically to your sponsor child or contribute to larger country projects like fresh-water wells, building schools, paying teachers, or offering medical aid. Here's Compassion's Christmas Catalog

I am going to focus on Childcare's Catalog because I feel especially connected to the ministry of ICCM as I am an advocate for child sponsorship at our church. If you flip through the pages of the .pdf catalog you will discover incredible ways that your small donations can change lives. 

$100 will pay for one thousand new trees to be planted in the devastated country of Haiti. 

$50 purchases a lifetime supply of clean water for one Haitian household. 

$100 will feed 400 hungry bellies in India. 

$20 sends a goat to a family in Burundi. 

$5 buys a chicken for a family in Malawi

$1,500 pays the way for a student to attend Hope Africa University.

People, are you getting this? Are you kidding me with these costs? We drop $50 on a couple date nights or $100 on a new pair of running shoes like it's no big deal. How much more should we be willing to give and provide for orphans in their distress

This Christmas, I challenge you to RETHINK gift-giving in your family. Perhaps you will all sit down together and prayerfully select one large donation option as a family and limit your gift exchanges to one small meaningful item for each family member? Maybe you'll do away with gift exchanges altogether and change the educational structure for children in Haiti? Or you might consider buying gifts for your friends and family from the SEED section of the catalog--where the money you spend on your purchases goes back to the women in 3rd world countries who crafted the items by hand. They can now feed their children--and you'll look super lovely in their handmade jewelry. :) 

Change some lives this holiday, my friends. 

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November 9, 2012

On Eucharisteo

I wrote this originally on February 23, 2011 and have shared its message two different times now--once with a group of teen girls and just tonight at a women's event. Its meaning is resonating with me once again and I wanted to share it. 


"And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them..." (Luke 22:19)

Just hours before Jesus was about to give up his life, He sits down to give thanks. He gave thanks?!  

Ann Voskamp, in her new book One Thousand Gifts, shares a revelation that literally changes her life and is in the process of changing mine. She digs into the root Greek word behind "thanks." It is eucharisteo and the contents of this word are unbelievable. 

Charis. Grace
Eucharisteo. Thanksgiving
Chara. Joy. 

The joy of life--life to the full--comes only after thanksgiving for the grace, the gifts God has given. We have been given the gift of salvation, and we have been ushered into the family of God, but have we yet experienced the full measure of life that Jesus came to bring us? Have we come to Him in the spirit of thanksgiving day in and day out, thus welcoming the miracle that is chara joy?

Ann takes readers through a new prospective of the story of the leper Jesus healed in Luke 17:11-19. We have all read, perhaps in awe, that Jesus healed all 10 men afflicted with this debilitating disease. After this, ONE of the men rushes back to Jesus, praising God for his healing. He thanked Jesus.

But what comes next?

Jesus turns to the man and says, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well." (vs. 19).

But wasn't the man already healed? Why did Jesus tell him once again that he was made well?

Perhaps the secret to a full life lived in the grace of God lies in that one part of the story we never noticed before. Yes, the man was already healed of his disease. But when he came back and exclaimed his thankfulness to The Master, he was given the gift of complete healing--wellness encompassing every part of his life. By having faith and a true attitude of thanks, this man found the fullness of life--the real healing Jesus is looking to give.

It starts with the gifts God gives.
We offer our thanks.
And we receive that miracle of joy--the full life.  

These gifts are all around us. The light streaming in the window. The cold water in my glass. The cat napping on the pillow. My husband's deep breathing. The wind blowing as the dried leaves cling to the branches. We don't have to pack a bag and travel the world to see the beauty. Our lives are brimming with the gifts of our great God. Even though our days may be filled with dirty dishes and jammed schedules and heartbreak, we are called to eucharisteo. Yes, even in the hard times. 

"Thanksgiving is inherent to a true salvation experience; thanksgiving is necessary to live the well, whole, fullest life" (One Thousand Gifts, p. 39). Eucharisteo thanks precedes us experiencing our fullest salvation in Christ, being saved from the bitter, angry, resentful qualities of sinful living. 

And so, dear ones, I challenge you to be on the hunt for God's grace in your everyday life. He is there, and your thankfulness will make his presence known. 

November 2, 2012

When Wafting Roasted Turkey Takes Over My Brain

I am so excited to have my mom coming to visit this weekend. We're going to celebrate Thanksgiving a few weeks early and have invited a few friends over to join the 3 of us. I love turkey. I love roasting turkeys. It's not scary for me; it's exciting. Because I can practically taste that juicy, flavorful meat as I dress it and put it in the oven. The other thing I love to make that really intimidates a lot of people? Pies. I really really love making pies. I don't love that it can take a lot of money to buy the filling ingredients for pies, but money aside, I love making the crust, fluting the edges, baking it off to perfection. (With that one pecan pie as an exception. I overcooked that thing until it was rock candy. No joke.) 

Why am thinking about turkey and pie right now? Because I can't stop smelling their delicious aromas wafting into my office. I am roasting a turkey that I will bring to the Sunday Thanksgiving potluck at church along with a pumpkin pie. I have two crusts ready to be filled with apple and pumpkin (separate pies, mind you), on Monday when we have our early-family-friends-Thanksgiving. I am also baking two more loaves of Amish White Bread. It was so so so good when I baked it on Tuesday that I couldn't wait to try it again. Thank you to Britta for sharing that recipe with me a year ago. If only I had tried it back then! 

Now I'm off to Aldi to pick up some more ingredients for my baking weekend extravaganza. (Wow, doesn't that make it sound thrilling?) 

October 30, 2012

Supportive Listening

While having a really wonderful conversation with a really wonderful friend, I realized what a precious gift my husband gives to me every time I share my hair-brained ideas with him. I am the type of person who always has thoughts of the next thing or a great idea floating around in my head. *pop pop pop

The best way I can process my brainstorms is by talking through them, which means I have to trust a person enough to share my very roughly drafted ideas with them before they have even begun to be fleshed out. This is a risky move, as some of you might understand. The recipient of said "brilliant" idea could easily respond with pessimism masked in pragmatism
Well, what about this? Have you thought about that?
No, I most certainly have not! I am just sharing my stream-of-consciousness thoughts with you and I would just like to hear something more encouraging or at least engaged listening. 
Yeah, I can really picture that. You should go with that vision, it has potential. 
And my dear, darling husband is so incredibly supportive and I don't know that I ever recognized it before tonight. I am constantly brainstorming with him and I don't think he's EVER, in 8 years, shot one of my ideas down. He may nod along, ask questions, give encouragement, or just let me talk. 

But you know what, that's exactly what I need. 

October 27, 2012

His 26th Birthday

Dear husband, on his 26th birthday, 

Enjoy these 24 days during which we are the "same age." Soon, I will be a year old and wiser and errr...older. Ick. (It's not as cool to be older than someone like it was when we were kids.) 

Image010Even though we didn't technically "grow up" together, I feel as though we have. We may not have shared all those experiences of Bible songs, Christian school speech competitions, Veggie Tale classics, and hymn sings, but I am so thankful our experiences overlapped. It makes it feel like we've known each other since we were kids. (I think our moms and dads get two thumbs up for raising us in such similar environments.) Yesterday, when we sang Veggie Tales songs on the whole way home from Rochester, my heart was gleefully happy. I love how much fun we have together.

And really, we have grown up together. We've learned how to be adults--responsible, God-fearing, independent, financially stable, loving grown ups. We know how it feels to buy our own toilet paper month after month, to be in charge of our own health and have to say "no" to certain foods (or getting to say "yes" just because we can!). We have moved to Downtown Detroit together and spent our first five months learning marriage there, making memories of bike rides, fireworks from the balcony, and cookouts where we are very literally the minority. We moved to Monroe where we found a new church family and discovered our passion and call for youth ministry. We moved three states east and made a new home together, built my piano business together (I couldn't have done it without you), started a new ministry to new teenagers together, and encouraged each other to be a part of this community (rather than hiding out at home as is our natural tendency.)

October 2005
I love going on walks to Tim Hortons with you, eating dinner in the living room with our favorite new Netflix obsession, reading our Bibles at the dining room table each morning. I love that you come to bed with me even when you're not tired, when you call me out on selfish or sinful behavior (really, I value your accountability), when we share crazy, hopeful dreams in long couch conversations. I love that you're always wanting to learn a new instrument, develop a new hobby, or try a new video game. I know I tease you about it, but I think it's great that you're a lifelong learner. (SAU shout out.)

I have loved watching you grow up from that 17 year old boy-out-of-high-school with his untucked striped shirts and loosely-laced Nike tennis shoes, to a 21 year old college-grad and newly-married-man with newly-broadened shoulders and a chemistry brilliance, to a now 26 year old full-time-pastor-and-seminarian who looks darn good in his suit and teaches teenagers what it means to follow Jesus. What a beautiful gift I've been given.

Happy birthday, Kevin Michael. I will love you forever. 

September 2012

October 25, 2012

Tears of Passion

Have you ever been so invested in something you've been brought to tears during part of the process? 

That's what happened to me during the teen Sunday School class I co-lead. Yes, it was embarrassing, but it managed to be simultaneously empowering. I felt freed up to be myself, to be passionate, to be so deeply invested that it showed up in the ugly cry

Those students were blindsided with the waterworks that transpired during a normally-predictable 45 minute class. I wasn't planning it or intending it, but when my gut began churning and my heart was pounding as my mind contemplated the spiritual complacency in the room, I couldn't hold back the gates to my tears. 

Yes, teenagers, I love you guys. I love hanging out with you and hearing about your life. But my purpose is greater, deeper and far richer than that. My heart's desire is that you would know the boundless grace of Jesus Christ and submit your will unto the One who gives unbelievably good gifts to those are obediently follow his lordship.  That may sound totally overwhelming or just plain unreasonable. But it's true. And I pray my life, my heart-on-my-sleeve kind of life, would show you a glimpse of a life lived in pursuit of Jesus

And that you would want the same.  

October 24, 2012

Have You Shopped {Shabby Apple}

I am so, so excited to get to introduce shabby apple to all of you. This online clothing store managed to take every aspect of my personality and create 20 different clothing line collections. (Ok, they didn't really take me into account when they were designing their wardrobes, but seriously, I feel like it's a picture into my mind's eye.)

Check out these Women's Dresses from Shabby Apple. Are they not perfection? I love the combination of beautiful figure-flattering cuts with timeless elegance of a simple style. They should totally win some kind of a award. I love the twirlyness, the flowyness, the femininity. *drool*

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I am honored that Shabby Apple chose me to be one of their affiliates because I totally love their products and I am impressed with their purpose. They create retro, modest clothing, specializing in dresses--my favorite!--but carrying a long line of skirts, blouses, accessories, bathing suits, maternity wear, and more. Check this out: 

At Shabby Apple, we believe in both femininity and feminism. As feminine women, we create clothing that is artful in design and crafted with a vintage-style flare. Each piece is carefully constructed to both flatter a women’s figure and maintain her mystery. As feminists, we created a company that is women-owned and operated and that donates to help other women start their own businesses. With our old-fashioned style and modern ideals, we believe the best is yet to come!

Don't you want to go shopping now?


October 20, 2012

Youth Ministry - More Than Sunday Nights

Youth ministry is...

...a teen wanting to come early for piano lessons just to have more time together
...text invitations to a volleyball game.
...laughing up a storm about last night's dance party. 
...3 girls sipping tea in my living, sharing hearts
...Saturday morning pancakes, with couches full of kids

a few (of many) from this morning's Brunch Bunch

Youth ministry is more than youth group messages and crazy, stupid games. Youth ministry is connecting to the hearts of students by caring about their lives--their boy-crazy, home-work-stressed, sports-centric, too-quiet-to-talk-in-a-large-group, brimming-with-potential-for-greatness-lives. When students feel comfortable just walking in the front door, when your home is a sort of second residence for them, when they know they are safe with you, when you're the best person to come to about the latest frustration or stress or heartbreak. THAT is youth ministry. 

October 16, 2012

Two Fall Photo Shoots

What have I been doing lately? Spending time with some great families, experimenting with aperture and shutter speed, and eagerly sharing some of the best results on Facebook. A Senior Photo session and a Family Session in the same week! Lots of fun! (I'm going to need a bigger memory card!)

Laurel is one of our 12th graders in youth group and it was so much fun spending the afternoon gallivanting across the blustery fall countryside with her and her mom and sister.


love long deserted country roads. 

Her prized pup, Casey, got in on the action

we couldn't pass up these impressive petunias!


And then there was the T. Family, friends from church. We've been wanting to get together to photograph their 3 beautiful children since last fall, so making last minute photo shoot plans for Sunday was impressive. The kids kept me laughing, and quickly become optimal models for our time together. "Oooh, do one of me over here!" :)




how lovely is that fall lane? 

October 12, 2012

Catching Up with My Longest Friend

This past Monday my best-friend-since birth made a stop in our quaint little village to visit with Kevin and me. She, along with her husband and their adorable almost-four-year-old son, had been traveling the New England countryside for the past few days and had made plans to drive a bit out of their way to stop at our house. I was beyond thrilled

It's not often enough that Elizabeth and Melanie get to be together again. In the good 'ol days of our youth, if we weren't at home we were together. Our parents parented both of us. Our siblings were quite indistinguishable. We spent hours playing Barbies, talking about American Girl dolls and listening to Michael W. Smith. We were Sunday School buddies, VBS leaders, and youth group attenders. We stayed up too late watching Mrs. Doubtfire, I threw up at her house on more than one homesick occasion, and she choked down a green bean that my parents forced upon her. And, in case the message wasn't clear in the introduction, we were literally friends from birth. Our moms were in the same birthing class together way back in 1985. Yep. No kidding. 


The great part about our friendship is that, though it's been nearly 10 years since we were the inseparable pair, we've maintained our connection. Roots. Through her marriage, my leaving for college in Michigan, the birth of her son, my wedding day, her new jobs, my various ministry callings, their first (and second) home, our move to New York. Still friends. Forever


Our visit in our cozy living room was easy and comfortable. Some laughter interspersed with deeper conversation, funny comments from little Owen, and stroll to the Erie Canal. After getting to spend more time together than we had hoped for, we even got to share lunch together at the local family restaurant. 

The goodbyes left me wishing we were next door neighbors. Maybe someday


October 10, 2012

Stopping for Thanks

I love....

when your best friend has your thoughts exactly and stops over for a visit. 

snuggling with my cat on the couch.

watching season 1 of Once Upon a Time on Netflix. I am currently addicted.

making myself pancakes and eggs for lunch when husband is gone for the day. 

sharing frosted pumpkin-shaped sugar cookies with my piano students. 

late evening prayer with a dear friend. 

showing your best-friend-from-birth and her lovely little boy and her husband around our town.

hearing about my husband's dream from the night before. 

having a lap full of babies.

seeing the sun poke through the dark, uniquely autumn sky. 

reading the latest Runner's World magazine

feeling stirring and upheaval by the words in a book written for teens. Do Hard Things. Am I? 

What are you loving on this Fall day? 

October 6, 2012

Yes, I have a Sweet Tooth

One fun aspect I have added to my piano teacher routine is having students fill out a {just for fun} student profile. They get to tell me about their favorite books, their favorite kinds of music, their favorite movies, and most importantly their favorite candy and cookies. I like to have sweet treats around to bring a smile to their faces, and celebrating them on their birthdays with a favorite candy bar means more than you might imagine. While putting together a candy bar shopping list for the upcoming birthday kids, I started thinking about my favorite candy (bars).

And because you love me, I know you're dying to see what made the top of the list.

{9} I LOVE tootsie rolls (of any variety).

{eight} Classic Starburst (especially the pink ones) always hold a special place in my heart mouth.

7} I don't know why, I'm love those old school Mary Janes.

Now, before we move on, I have explain something about the aforementioned chewy candies. I love 'em, but they send me through the roof with nerve pain in my teeth. (and, no, it's not cavities. I've had that taken care of. It's extreme sensitivity. So I just have to be careful. Which basically means, resisting the urge to each anything sweet and chewy.)

{six} 3 Musketeers. I don't know if it's the "lower calorie than most candy bar appeal" or if I just really love that soft filling, but these candy bars (especially in the bite sized version) are really delicious. Just none of those iterations of mint or dark chocolate. Stick to the original, please.

5} Hershey Bar with Almonds. Plain, simple, beautiful.

{4} Take 5. I'm not sure why I don't indulge in these candy bars very frequently because they're everything I love in one handy eating package==chocolate, peanut butter, pretzels, peanuts (and caramel, but I'm not a huge caramel lover. Plus it's chewy and sticky and hurts my teeth.).

{three.} Snickers. Again, please the classic version only. I've tried many of the recent variations and they just don't do it for me.

2} M&Ms. If you ever need to make me happy, M&Ms are the best way to do it. Plain, Peanut, and Peanut Butter are the best.

{1} And my [NUMBER ONE] favorite candy of all time is...drumroll...
Reese's Peanut Butter Cups! (Honestly, these are kind of tied with M&Ms. I like M&Ms slightly better for the snackability factor. I feel less guilty eating a couple handfuls of M&Ms than eating 1 or 2 Reese's cups. But peanut butter and chocolate make all my dreams come true.)

What are your sweet tooth weaknesses??

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October 1, 2012

A Week in the Life [of Youth Min]

The alarm rang, all too soon, and I forced myself to pull back the warm blankets and put my feet on the chilly  floor. This morning's 6am alarm clock was filled with purpose. I was so proud of myself for fitting in 20 minutes of yoga, shower/makeup/hair/dressed, and pancakes started by 7am. Seriously impressive for me. I am totally ready to do the mom thing, let's be honest. 

Carly was coming over for a very important reason. It was Geek Day at school (you remember, right? Homecoming Spirit Week?) and she needed her hair French braided. (Lest you deduce that French braids are somehow geeky...they're not. She was going for cute geek. There, I feel better about myself.) I was so glad she asked me if she could come to our house before school; I was really looking forward to it. 

I even made pancakes for the occasion. 

We didn't have nearly enough time together, but it was a wonderful way to start the week. And a beautiful continuation of last week's ministry rhythm


Monday afternoon was book club and two lovely girls talked with Kevin and I for over an hour, while enjoying the delicacy of Tostino's pizza rolls. After they left, we headed to the soccer fields for a quick tour and cheer of three different games--jv, varsity, and middle school. *whew* On our way into the school's gymnasium for a volleyball game, we stopped and talked with one of my sweet 11th grade girls and her boyfriend.


Wednesday evening, I finished up my piano teaching hours at 7pm, grabbed dinner, and headed with Kevin to LeBaron's for our second night ever of watching Survivor. I ducked out at 8:45 so I could make it over another teen girl's house for the season premier of Criminal Minds. We had talked before about being big fans of the show and it occurred to me a few weeks ago that we should make a date of watching the first new episode of season. And I'm so glad we did! It was a late evening for both of us, but it was comfortable and cozy and definitely fun. 


Thursday was filled with more piano teaching and then the time of the week that I've chosen to set aside for my high school girls. It's a pseudo-small-group. They can come, comfortable, sharing their week, laughing, growing together. I haven't pushed attendance because I wanted it to be a desired thing. It's been very small, but most wonderful. Our conversation this past week was so raw and honest and yet somehow encouraging. I like when we can all be ourselves. 


And that brings us back to today (oh, besides quizzing and youth group yesterday, and the mini trip to my house with 2 of the middle school girls to find as many "sparkly" accessories in my closet as possible to make their "Sparkle Day" of spirit week a success.)

May the Lord bless this week in ways I cannot ask or imagine. 

September 25, 2012

My First Half Marathon

I had been preparing for this day since the beginning of July--The Mighty Niagara Half Marathon (for hospice). Week after week I followed my training schedule, running something like 3 miles Monday, 5 miles Tuesdays, 4 miles Thursday, with a long run on Friday or Saturday. My long runs started at 6 miles (since that was my base prior to training) and built up one mile at a time each week. I achieved the 13 mile distance at the end of August and for the next few weeks began tapering--a 12 mile September 7th, an 8 mile the week after, and finally resting up with a 5 mile run 2 days before the race. 

I was ready

My mom and dad had been excited about my race and I invited them to join in on the fun. The world of runners is a microcosm that cannot be explained, only experienced, and my parents were looking forward to being a part of my big day. After an evening of games with mom, dad, Kevin, Randy, and Sheryl (and some competitive banter between myself and Randy), we all hit the sack early Friday night. 

Saturday morning dawned cold, windy, rainy, and just plain depressing. I do not enjoy running in the rain. I have tried to be whimsical and go for a fun run in the rain, but it's never fun for me. Thus, the morning's weather was a source of major frustration and disappointment. I kept praying and praying that the Lord would clear the skies and calm the winds. 

We carpooled to Lewiston, NY with the other half marathon trainees from our church's Run for God group and arrived with plenty of time to register, use the bathroom too many times, and take a pre-race group photo. 

Back Row: Brian, Jack, Matt, Mickey, Wayne, Tom
Front Row: Tom, Melanie, Sheryl
It was finally race time. We took our places in the sea of 900+ runners, half of the guys near the front and Sheryl, me, Brian, Wayne, Mickey, and Jack at the back of the group. I wanted to start out with my friends to ease my nerves and keep me from gunning it out of the start gate. My strategy worked! Not only was I more relaxed and even laughing, but the rain suddenly stopped my goose-bumped arms were warm again! Praise the Lord. 

I spent the first 2 miles with my friends, keeping my mood light, but soon I felt the urge to push ahead and increase my speed. I gradually began the process of working my way through the mass of runners, enjoying the sounds of their conversations and the sights of the lovely towns through which we were running. 

Mile after mile there was always something to keep my mind entertained. Bands played with enthusiasm every couple miles, there were water/Gatorade stations (where I nearly always choked--it's hard to run and drink simultaneously), guys who would take off for the nearest patch of trees for a bathroom break--rendering the nearest ladies full of laughter (and maybe some jealously!), and supporters filling the sidewalks. The air was ringing with their cheers and enthusiastic encouragement. 

I kept looking for our crew of cheerleaders--Kevin, Randy, dad, and mom--but by mile 6 hadn't seen them yet. Just then, I passed through the quaint town of Youngstown and it was just the boost I needed. The people were flooding the streets, cheering loudly, and even offering high fives as we passed. I was feeling good as I approached mile 7 and there, off in the distance, was my cheering section! Dad and Mom high fived me, Randy was videotaping, and Kevin was taking pictures and loudly yelling, "GOOD JOB EVERYBODY! BUT GO, MELANIE! I MARRIED HER!"


As I passed them by, my emotions nearly got the best of me and I had to choke back tears. Their presence was overwhelmingly encouraging and I knew I could do this--keep on keeping on (as my husband always says.) 

For the next many miles, a girl with the name "Hillarie" stamped on her back and I kept a silent camaraderie and competition going. She would pass me, I would pass her. We would be side by side. She'd pass, I'd pass. We had nearly the same tempo run and whenever one of us would slow down the other would speed by, thus pushing the other to up the ante. At one point, I heard her talking to a friend of hers and say, "Right now we're running an 8:30 and we're on target to finish in 2 hours." Oh man! I was going to stick with Hillarie. I couldn't let her out of my sight. I fell pretty far behind her at one point, but I gradually worked my way back and kept the lead for the final few miles. So thanks, Hillarie, whoever you are, for keeping me going

As we turned into the campground where the finish line awaited our grand entrance, a guy was cheering us on and shouting, "Only half a mile to go!" AWESOME! I can totally handle 1/2 a mile. Unfortunately, that guy was way off and it was closer to a mile left to the finish--which is excruciating when you're SO ready to be done. My stomach was churning from the water and Gatorade that was sloshing around, and heck, I'd been running for almost 2 hours--I was pretty beat. Just as I was praying, "Lord, please don't let me throw up. Please, Lord." (yes it was that desperate), my phone beeped with a text message notification. Elizabeth--my best friend from infancy--wrote, "You just came to mind at this moment and I wanted you to know I'm praying for you." 

OH SWEET JESUS that was JUST what I needed most. Thank you, friend, for listening to the Lord's prompting.

After nearly slipping and falling in the muddy woods just prior to the finish, I rounded the corner to hear my name being shouted by church friends, Karen & Denise. I waved and smiled and then caught my husband's eye. He was beaming with pride and I blew him a kiss as I cross the finish line. My mom and dad were there to catch me, and Kevin ran over to hold me up as my knees were nearly collasping under me. My emotions were welling up in my tear ducts but I managed to keep them at bay once again. 

I had FINISHED. and finished well. 

My final chip time was 2:00:47--a time I am completely thrilled with and find hard to believe. I was figuring I'd finish around 2 hours and 15 minutes, so I'll take the just-over-2 hours-finish! My average pace per mile was 9:13 and I honestly think I could run it even faster than that--I didn't want to risk burn out. I finished 4th in our group of 9 (7 of whom are men), 165th out of 627 women, and 45th out of 127 women ages 25-29. I think it's ok to be proud of my finish. I am!

I loved my first half marathon. I loved having my husband and my parents there. I loved finishing. And I love the sweet medal. :)


Sheryl and Mel--best friends, training partners, half marathoners!

My husband was incredibly supportive as I trained and as I raced.
He's always bragging about me. :) 

The group of finishers! 

September 20, 2012

How I Fell in Love with Oatmeal

Oatmeal seems to be one of those highly divisive foods--people either love it or they hate it. I think it's really about the consistency or texture. It could added to the list of foods like tapioca pudding (or any pudding), yogurt, and stuffing that has the potential to trigger one's gag reflexes. At least that's what it used to do to me. 
(side note--I have grown to love yogurt and have moments of really loving pudding. But tapioca pudding or stuffing are still on my "most hated" foods list.)

When my sister and I were kids, she was all but obsessed with "ointmeal"--her 3 year old name for oatmeal. She loved the little Quaker Instant Oatmeal packs of peaches and cream, strawberries and cream, and brown sugar. I would enjoy the smell of these warm breakfast cereals from across the table, begin to be convinced that I would love the stuff, give it a taste, and gag my way to the garbage can. Yuck! 

I stayed away from oatmeal of any kind until college. The dining commons produced this extremely thick oatmeal with a side of brown sugar that I just HAD to try. And you'll never guess--I LIKED IT! I quickly realized my previous issues with the oatmeal was the runny consistency. Thanks to the DC, I realized the oatmeal could be made to your desired thickness. 

I was still into the heavily-sugared varieties (included the Brown Sugar instant packets), until senior year of college. On my meager budget, I decided it would be much more frugal to buy a canister of dry, rolled oats rather than the pre-made packages. Thanks to my need to save money, I gradually began to wean myself off of the tons-of-added-sweetener bowls of oatmeal. 


A year or two into marriage, I really began to experience oatmeal to its fullest potential. Now, it's my most favorite breakfast! I combined old fashioned rolled oats with water or milk, a generous sprinkle of cinnamon and chopped fresh fruits like apples or bananas. If I'm feeling especially indulgent, a swirl of peanut butter or a sprinkle of chopped nuts tops it off to perfection. 

And so, my friends, the moral of the story is Give Good Foods a Second (and hundredth) Chance. Tastebuds are always changing and it might become a favorite in the future. 

The end. 

How do YOU feel about oatmeal??

September 14, 2012

How We Manage Our Money

Friday is our day off--our Sabbath, if you will. (Full time ministry necessitates a different day to rest.) Oddly enough, I spent a large part of my morning spontaneously updating our budget based on our expenses from the past year. (You can laugh if you want.) In the midst of my number crunching (who am I trying to kid with my financial record-keeping? The husband is the math wiz. How'd I end up with the figures?), I remembered a friend's request from a long while back. She asked if I'd be willing to write a few blog posts to describe, in detail, how we live frugal yet full lives? What does our budget look like? How do we actually spend our money?

Since frugality is kind of a passion addiction of mine, I decided to make good on my promise. So strap on your safety belts, friends! We're delving in the world of Kevin & Melanie's finances!*

*special note--we're actually on the verge of starting an "exploratory" study of Financial Peace University by Dave Ramsey, along with the other ministry leaders and their spouses. Should be interesting to see the affects it might have. 

The first and most important step to our budgeting lives is free accounting software called Gnu Cash*. This program is simply amazing for record keeping and has helped me organize and comprehend the ins and outs of finances at a much deeper level. The only hitch is I don't think I ever could have figured how to use the program on my own. My husband has this super-human ability to innately know or intrinsically discover how to use computer software. He's awesome. 

We've been using Gnu Cash for a few years now, and I've only recently felt 100% competent....but that's because we've expanded our usage of the program to well beyond the checkbook-ledger basic functions. (It's worth it, though, even if you only ever it use for tracking a checking account.) 

*no, I've not been paid to talk to about Gnu Cash. It's just what we use, I love it, so I'm telling you about it. 

Here's what we use Gnu Cash for
1. "Asset" accounts--one for each of the following--checking, savings, credit cards (EACH of our credit cards has its own sub account), cash on hand (for gifts or paychecks, etc). In each of these sub accounts, we record every dollar that goes in or out. 

2. Expense accounts--this is a category with as many sub accounts as necessary for every specific area of expense in our lives (groceries, eating out, entertainment, utilities--gas, water, electric, rent, cell phone, tithing, child sponsorships, gifts, clothing, medical, etc, etc, etc.) The more specific accounts we have, the easier it is to track EXACTLY how we are spending our money

3. Accounts Payable--we set up this function to keep track of the taxes we owe on our incomes. I'm self-employed and Kevin is technically a "contractor" for the church denomination, so we're responsible for writing our own checks to the IRS every quarter. Fun fun. For every dollar we earn, I multiply it by 13.5%. Then, come the quarterly tax day, I write a check for the amount in Accounts Payable, deduct it from the checking account the Accounts Payable account will be zeroed out. Makes tax day(s) so much less stressful

4. Transactions Reports--Here's the function I used this morning. You can set up a transaction report for any account in your Gnu Cash and find out exactly what's been earned/spent over XX period of time. For instance, I made a report for each of our expenses. I started with "Grocery," changed the time period to be August 2011 to August 2012 and clicked "ok." VOILA! I had a list of recorded expenses, with their description, amount per transaction, amount per month, and total amount. I divided that by 12 (months) and found out we spend, on average, $144 per month on food.  

5. Bonuses for electronic record keeping--a) You can search for any transaction by hitting "ctrl f." b) you can change a date or delete any transaction at any time without having to erase your whole ledger and recalculate. (This was a big plus for me because I remember being so frustrated with balancing my checkbook with the paper statement--the order of the transactions were always all over the place.) c) it keeps track of your total Assets (all of your accounts, minus all of your outstanding balances on credit cards, etc so you know EXACTLY how much money TOTAL you have at any given time.) 

There are a million more uses for Gnu Cash, but that's how we've been employing this tool for the past few years. And did I mention it's FREE? 

how do YOU keep track of your money? 

September 8, 2012

My Favorite Relaxing, Productive Saturday

Ahhhhhhhh. The Saturday Morning I've been longing for, but hadn't been able to grasp hold of in so many months. 

Sleeping in until my internal clock wakes me up. No alarms. (This meant 7:17am.)
Lazily rolling out of bed, still deciding what the day might hold. 
Opening the curtains to let the dreary daylight shine in. 
Doing 10 minutes of easy yoga stretches just to get the kinks out. 
No working out. (who, me?)
Showering even before my husband wakes. 
Deciding it's a perfect day for canning. Driving to Sheryl's to retrieve my canning supplies at 8:45am. 
Wanting doughnuts for breakfast and giving in (for the first time in at least a year.)
Bringing home peanut crunch and coconut crunch doughnuts.
Cutting each down the middle to share with my husband. 
Enjoying doughnuts, sipping, coffee and playing Settlers together at the breakfast table.
Starting the canning process before 10am. 
Process 16 quarts of tomatoes to yield 6 pints of salsa and 8 pints of marinara. 
Having only one can not seal. 
Pulling a cardigan over my shoulders because suddenly it's Fall