August 2016

20160810_07453620160801_19143420160801_190234Birthdays. Ice Cream. Sunrises. Olympics. Lord of the Rings. Colorado Peaches. Zoo. Tea party. Cacti. Cheese. Coffee. Flowers. Monkeying around. And more! 20160806_20021920160806_15264620160807_10522320160812_10250120160816_091454b20160811_20072720160818_11170820160819_20053520160822_15034620160822_17482620160825_12243720160825_06575320160826_13494620160826_16242120160828_14563920160831_09461120160831_141204



For my 30th birthday, some of my family and friends totally surprised me with a party! The whole thing started at 1:30 a.m. that morning, when my family from out of town showed up in my room. I thought that was the big surprise- but there was more to come!20160826_19193820160826_19523620160826_195146(0)
My family and friends put lots of work and time into this. Wow! I suspected nothing.20160826_190154
When you have a younger brother, you get a dozen pictures on your phone like, this…20160826_195150(0)
Anna gave me 30 mustaches and a pun game. Gift giver level: expert. 20160826_201226
And now, 2 photos of my father and cousin listening to Kalyn with pretty identical expressions on their faces:  20160826_19015820160826_195531
(Cute baby Nick!) 20160826_205054
Stories around the fire pit to finish out the night. Perfect! 20160826_205056
In my more cynical moments, I think of myself as the one who sacrifices for others, the only one who makes things happen, who slaves away without appreciation, just like the little red hen in the story. The truth is, of course, I am loved by some amazing people. I give, and I receive, freely. This is a special birthday memory I will always treasure!20160826_205151

a baby shower in the spring

In the lonely stretch of February, my mind knew that the sun would eventually shine again and new leaves would grow. We’d hang up our coats and turn off the heat. We’d have parties on beautiful days like this one. I knew it but I’m not sure I 100% believed it would happen. Thank goodness, seasons change! It’s Spring, and what better time to gather with precious friends and celebrate a beautiful mom-to-be!   20160423_142926
The food was top notch. We didn’t even set out with great food ambitions. The menu just developed over time into mini BLT’s… asian meatballs… chocolate covered strawberries, fruit salad and veggie tray and popcorn and cake… so good. (Thanks to Sarah and Kathy for pulling the weight and completing the “one job” I had when I abandoned it to socialize.) 20160423_14134020160423_150456
This was a “friends” shower. We wanted to keep it simple and relaxed so we could all just enjoy being together! We did a silly mad lib, of course, and one other game but scrapped our other plans. It’s pretty unnecessary to do an icebreaker when you can’t get a word in edgewise. We didn’t have a theme, just the colors blue and green. 20160423_160705
Oh this girl! I can’t handle the cuteness. We are buddies. Here we are sporting the pipe cleaner bows Anna made us. (Was it only yesterday we were having a baby shower for her momma???)20160423_16014420160423_142952
The spread. I was loving those flowers, too.20160423_090624
This is how I roll.20160423_151037
Val is giving me a bit of a “teacher at the end of the school year” face here, I think. 🙂20160423_162219
Reaction to Anna’s crocodile! 🙂 20160423_161734
We had fun! These are special times with goofy, amazing friends. God is good. 20160423_141332

more from Jamaica


My traveling necessities: pillow pet pig, nook, kleenex. 20160202_101015

Watching this school start its day was a highlight all week. As students filter in, different classrooms are singing or clapping in rhythms or doing devotions. Small groups of kids would be sweeping or washing out trash cans together. Even for those who may struggle first thing in the morning, it makes you smile and think, “Oh yeah, this will be a good day!” 20160203_075902

Every morning I’d watch the ocean for a bit, keeping an eye out for Billy’s van. 20160203_100416

Sweet girls!! I miss them. That was the best, having tons of small group time every day. We’d talk and study the verses together or ask questions. Just getting to know each other!20160204_102629

My love for yellow continues! Actually in the same way we say “red, white and blue” in America, the colors of the Jamaican flag are “black, green and gold.” So yellow, gold, whatever, I like it. 20160204_111405

Supreme is such a fantastic school, I always look forward to being there. This year they had a majority of boys on their teams, with STRONG PERSONALITIES and show-stealing goofiness. Which was such a blast (I’ll take high energy over bored/not caring any day) but also lead us to bring the girls outside for some confidence-building separate practice time.20160205_085054

With my new friend Pearline at the registration table on the morning of the tournament!20160205_103005

This old organ was outside the door of my quiz site. So cool! 20160205_152837

The church who graciously hosted us this year was Hillview Baptist. Perfect name although “hill” is almost not a strong enough word! How great it was to simply have one building to work with. In the past we’ve rented three churches right in downtown Montego Bay. In 2014, I had the kindest police officer in Jamaica assist me as scorekeeper, and he raised some concerns about security and safety- with school children crossing busy streets, lots of entrances and exits, etc. We all agreed about that, plus it was crazy expensive, and very tough logistically to run a tournament in that setting. We never could find a better option until now. This church, and the pastor who bent over backward to help us, was a blessing from God! 20160205_145133

Championship quiz! John Rollins Success (my original favorite school) came in first, Howard Cooke took second, and Chetwood took third! I get caught up in the competition, it is the most fun ever. My small team had practiced with the kids at Chetwood all week and it was SO exciting to see them come so far! Wow! We got to present their medals. So cool. What an awesome group of students. 20160205_152749

I love a happy aftermath! We were all celebrating. In fact in my mind I could just hear the “end of the movie” music start up! After many struggles and defeats over the past two years, the goodness of this week was not lost on me. My brain is full of ideas and my heart is full of hope for next time!

For more about my adventures in Jamaica:

Jamaican Bread & Jam for Frances
Jamaica Video
Sixth Grade
It’s the same all over the world

the rest of December


Two Texas girls experience sledding for the first time!


After a super long day of work, I took myself to Panera to celebrate surviving the crazy month of caregiving. The server walked carefully so as not to disturb the smiley face in my soup. It made my day!


Martin and Fran-Fran and Sadie!! Having so much fun! 20151221_175919 - Copy

Customized this tag for a certain brother. 😉


A whirl of celebration and fun, exhaustion and long hours on the road, hope that grows and disappointment that shrivels. I did not expect parts of it to be so wonderful, and other parts to be so hard. It’s tempting at times to try the “Kevin McCallister” option: “I made my family disappear…” but ultimately, I would miss them! So, we hang in there. We forgive, we give grace, we love, we try again. We don’t give up.



Sunset at Dad’s house.


When brothers steal your phone.


Yes. Crashed on a couch between these two after a long travel day. Eli and I were wearing matching shirts I made for Christmas Eve a few years ago.


Snow in Omaha before I left!


Getting to meet this little one was the sweetest gift!20151230_184044

Caiden wearing my boots, holding my chapstick.




Oh Leo, you poor elegant gentleman.



I call this one: “Happy New Year?”

Thanksgiving week gifts

Yesterday I had an unexpected break and was able to sit down and add to my list of gifts. This is a habit I didn’t expect to make, but I’ve kept with it for almost 5 years! My perspective has changed in so many ways. Sometimes I do it and it’s very un-inspired. Other times, I just overflow with gratitude, which is really fun. The point is to open my eyes to what is right before me, this day. What do I have to be thankful for this moment? It may be fun, hard, painful, or simple. Together these things make up my life: food, people, opportunities to trust, comfy pj pants, pretty flowers, deep realizations, cups of coffee, silly memories, and more. And they are gifts by the grace of God.


“The whole of the life — even the hard — is made up of the minute parts, and if I miss the infinitesimals, I miss the whole. These are new language lessons, and I live them out. There is a way to live the big of giving thanks in all things. It is this: to give thanks in this one small thing. The moments will add up.” –Ann Voskamp
For the word of the Lord is upright, and all His work is done in faithfulness.
He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.
-Psalm 33:4-5 ESV

Wishing you a happy Thanksgiving!

JTreat: Big Sign

Make a big statement sign with canvases -

When dreaming up decoration ideas for the Jumping Tandem Retreat, I knew that I wanted to make some sort of huge sign. I had seen this done in various ways, like with marquee letters for a party or a neon sign on stage for a concert tour. But I wanted something easier, different, and cheaper. So I’m sharing my idea in case anyone wants to do something similar!


So basically what I did was stalk all the Goodwills for used canvases. Several of them I found had tears or other damage- so I got them for a dollar. I wanted a better variety of sizes but settled for what I found.

Each canvas = one letter.


I painted the canvas whatever color I wanted the letter to be. Then, freehanded the outline of each letter on kraft paper (comes in a roll) and cut it out. I used a few pieces of tape to keep it flat on the canvas, then painted over the whole thing with white.


There might be a few places where the paint leaks through, but if you sort of paint outward from the paper letter, that helps. If you want you can go back with the original color and fix those spots.


A picture of my pineapple pj pants, for no reason at all. 


In progress. At this point I realized the colors were too dark to go with my springy color scheme and I didn’t like the lettering exactly. So I redid some of them. I used up a lot of white paint on this project!


On some of the letters, I went back over them with a dry foam brush and white paint to make them look distressed and splotchy. I was going to do that for all the letters I think, but apparently I didn’t. Whatever! I was giving up on this big sign idea cause I had no idea what the room looked like and how we would use it. I liked having the canvases layered together more (I thought of using heavy wire to hold the frames together) but in the end the room had a big thumbtack strip so we hung them on those. It worked, I was happy, and it didn’t have to be perfect to be beautiful!

Make a big sign with canvases -

May so far



He thinks I’m a superhero and better than coffee. 🙂 I in turn shared my ice cream with him which says a lot.


It was such fun to have a visit from Cherry and her lively crew! We got to celebrate her birthday and our 21st friendship anniversary.


Very early in the morning to be this cheerful, mister.



It’s a beautiful thing when every dish is dirty.


Crashing a pre-fiesta with these two.


Making a Jurassic themed birthday box for Jacob. Hahahah. Apparently it caused him to become “a bit humid in the vision spheres” (his words), so, that’s a sister win.

JTreat Prettiness & Ambiance


This spring I had the opportunity to be the creative mastermind (ha, I just now gave myself that title) in charge of decorating for the Jumping Tandem Retreat. JTreat decor. Decor-treat. Trick or treat. What? Am I tired??


When my friend Deidra asked me to be in charge of “prettyness and ambiance,” I was so excited! Then the months went by and I realized, well, no one was telling me what to do. Which is great, but also, scary. So having no real idea what I was doing, I forged ahead. Until the very day the retreat began, I had never seen that particular retreat center. That’s a first for me, usually I am decorating my own living room or a friend’s house or something, where I know what to expect. This time I was going in blind!


So yes, I alternated between, “Oh I’ve so got this” and “this will be pitiful.” I had a small budget and lots of time. Not a bad combination. I love to spend the dark winter nights hot gluing things while watching movies. So that’s what I did!

I was majorly inspired by this post by the Flower Patch Farmgirl. She used a heart shaped paper punch to turn her kids’ watercolor artwork into a lovely Valentine’s garland. I made circles instead.

Springtime in Nebraska is unpredictable. It might be beautiful (it was) or it might be dark, rainy, and windy. I decided I wanted to use lots of springy colors, to brighten it up in case the weather was gross. And thus the watercolor festivities began.


I made garlands, painted signs, and scavenged things like used canvases and random trays from Goodwill.


This photo will bother Valerie very much, indeed. No it is not centered. (Flashing back to a certain Christmas bows/OCD incident during our dorm days.) Ultimately, I didn’t care as much as perhaps I should have. I made that little garland the day of. As in, since people helped me so much setting up, I had extra time, so I made a few more things on the spot.


I painted those pennant things one day, didn’t love them, and never did anything futher. But they ended up working so I was glad! In fact, the whole experience was that way. It really blessed me, which sounds weird to say about decorating a room. I got a little glimpse that when I take little steps of faith, and show up with what I have, God works it all together and makes up for what I lack.


It looked like I measured and planned the exact amount of garland it would take to go all the way around the room. I didn’t. I brought a bunch of tiny command hooks to hang it with, only to discover, the room already had dozens of hooks in the ceiling, as if designed for garlands. So that was easy.


All along I envisioned a gigantic sign, having no ideas beyond that. I loved our theme, “Grace,” and wanted a big reminder of that! I got some inspiration from Dayspring’s Letterpress blocks, to have a variety of sizes and letters. For the purposes of “cheap” and “very big” I used canvases (mostly from Goodwill- find used ones, paint over them with white, and it’s pretty much just as good as a new canvas) and painted them with colors similar to the watercolors I was using for everything else. Had no idea how to connect or hang them. In fact I had basically given up on it.

Again, the room just “happened” to have a thin strip with thumb tacks all the way around the walls, so we simply hung the canvases in a line, and done! Some of them had small rips and tears and a bumpy texture, which I liked, cause– we aren’t perfect. We don’t have to be perfect to receive grace.

I plan to share more details about a few of the projects I did, in case anyone is in need of ideas!


Note the kleenex box. They were everywhere, all around the room. This wasn’t my doing but it was my suggestion. Hmmm, it’s like I knew I would be crying a bunch or something!


One weekend in May, a stark businesslike conference room was transformed into a happy, pretty space. My favorite part was seeing it filled with women, worshiping and speaking and talking and dancing. I got to sit back and be a part of that and be refreshed and learn about grace!

I must end with a BIG round of thank-you’s: To Deidra for your wonderful vision and letting me be a part. To Alexandra for being simply awesome and encouraging. To Alice for being my friend and helping me set up- I don’t know what I would have done without you! To Libby for bringing a stepladder and helping me clean up & tear down and always just being there for me. To a group of ladies I saw only as a blur at the time, thank you for jumping in and arranging the flowers, it made all the difference, you rock! To everyone who attended, I was overwhelmed by your encouragement, which makes me dream and be brave. Thank you.

take lots of pictures

Take pictures of yourselves being embarrassing and strange in Target. 34177_439700320989_7434412_n 1910108_4943010975_6597_n
Take pictures on hikes. Again, try not to be normal. 1910108_4943645975_5859_n Take pictures with your high school friends. 1936674_118916890989_6037073_n
Take silly pictures at the mall. DSCN1765
Take pictures with your siblings. Be as real as possible. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA S6300833
Take pictures in a field just because you feel like it. 100_0643
Take pictures by the campfire with a blinding flash. It can take some work, but try for that optimum “nostril” angle.100_3045
Take pictures in a blanket fort. 1678_45839920975_8624_nTake pictures for no apparent reason other than “hats.” 2012-07-14_16-42-40_229
Hand the camera to your brother and see what happens. 2012-07-21_16-16-37_568
Take pictures in the Youth Challenge van on a trip to Cabelas. 2012-11-09_20-35-09_409
Take pictures even when you don’t understand how to smile properly.

Take lots of pictures, because you will treasure that Christmas forever. Take lots of pictures, because the Target one will never fail to make you smile. Take lots of pictures, because you are awesome and it needs to be memorialized. Take lots of pictures, because they’ll help you see the blessings that overflow in your life. Take lots of pictures, just because.

(Remembering Katie, who took way too many pictures. She is missed.) 2014-05-17_15-01-16_8532011-11-24_14-49-06_708