Arrr! I Spy Pirates & Mermaids!

Arrr, matey! Last month we celebrated two birthdays in great style. Ella & Sam shared our long-awaited party of pirates and mermaids! We made telescopes, wore pirate patches and little tiaras, played pin the patch on the pirate, and Ella ensured everyone under the age of eight had a temporary tattoo applied on at least one arm. We held the party in our building’s community room, which fortunately opened right out onto the grass along the shore because it was a gorgeous day. Not only that, but I may have lost track of just how many invitations I sent out, so we had a whole lot of bodies in a relatively small space. Taking the party outside worked quite well, especially when it came time to break the pinata and to play pirate-pirate-mermaid (our own version of duck-duck-grey duck. Yes, grey duck, because this is Minnesota and grey duck is how we roll). By the end of the party, we had full tummies of goldfish, Jell-o ‘ocean water’ cups, oyster cookies, saltwater taffy, blue punch, and cupcakes covered in sprinkles, gummy fish, and chocolate pearls. It was quite the celebration!


Through Pinterest, I found the perfect invitations as a free printable. I was able to select most of my own text and colors, then printed them on white card stock to mail out. Super cute and free!

Party Invitation












Daddy with the birthday boy. Sam was a little overwhelmed with everything and spent time between cupcakes and bubbles in the quietness of our living room. Convenient, since it is right above the community room.


A big party hit was Pin the Eye Patch on the Pirate. I found the free printable through Pinterest, which includes this pirate and a collection of colorful patches. The players ranged in age from two to nine, but everyone was able to participate. Endless giggles!


Large piece of tag board + double-sided tape + temporary tattoos = our own tattoo parlor!








This is the pinata! The one I told you Ella and I were working on a few weeks before the party! Once the messy part was finished, she was all about decorating it. We cut the tissue paper together, glued it on together, and she did the entire face. It’s a jellyfish! I loved seeing how proud of it she was. I’ll admit that, near the end of creating this project, I had a small moment of self-discovery. I’ve made a change in one part of my parenting. I’ve always been a little bit of a perfectionist, particularly when it comes to decorating and party planning. Not to the point of being over the top, but enough that I wouldn’t typically let Ella completely take control of a project. I’ve learned, however, that it is so worth the effort to let go if it means she gets to learn and problem solve and take pride in her own work. I didn’t make the face pieces for her or select the colors or tell her just how to place each piece. I was happy to offer my thoughts when she asked, but she did most of the work. And this is what she created! I adored watching her show it off to her friends as they arrived at the party. I’m so glad I get to learn right along side my Ella.

Notice the pictures next to the pinata? Those are the beautiful cards the kids’ friends brought in place of gifts. I’m so glad we went this route for the party. Of course the kids love gifts, which they received from their grandparents and cousins, but we were able to focus primarily on playing with friends at the party. I have a feeling this will be a trend we continue in the future.


So, I made the pinata and filled it with great surprises, but I hadn’t quite thought about how we would actually hang it and break it. Pete to the rescue! With a broom handle and a long spool of twine we were in business. His most impressive idea, however, was to use the foam roller as the stick in place of a bat or tennis racket. Therefore, we had no broken windows! Boom! (I don’t actually use the word ‘boom’ in regular conversation, but my husband does, and he totally would have used it right there. So, BOOM!)



Thank you to all our friends who were able to join us as pirates, princesses, and mermaids! We loved having you celebrate with us!

And, well, Ella already has next year’s party nearly planned. That’s my girl!



          Target                                                                Hobby Lobby
eye patches                                                            paper lanterns
felt pirate hat
foam sword                                                                Michael’s
tiny tiaras                                                              paper craft tubes (for telescopes)
princess tattoos                                                   foam crowns & pirate hate
princess stickers                                                  seashells

        Amazon                                                           Trader Joe’s
pirate tattoos                                                         saltwater taffy (the best!)
vinyl anchors

My Pirate & Mermaid Party Board
Oyster Pearl Cookies
Tiffany Punch Recipe
Free Mermaid Printables
Free Pirate Party Printables


Trusting Through the Disappointment

I wasn’t planning on writing this post. I don’t even know what to say, really, but after three months of these thoughts sitting in my heart, I need to get them out. Writing is how I so often process my joys and my frustrations and my sadness. And I want you to know.

I want you to know about the little girl who danced in my dreams. I saw little glimpses of her running through the grass, twirling barefoot in the dirt, placing her dark little fingers inside my cream-colored hand.


For years and years I’ve wanted to adopt. When I met Pete and he shared the desire, I knew we would one day have a little one…or more…who would be born from another mama’s womb but who would grow up and learn to love in the arms of our family. We talked about the time and place and the ins and outs of how it might happen, until one day, not long after Sam was born, we felt the time had come. We would begin the journey of growing our family through adoption.

There was no question where our little one would be born. After all, we hope to live a good part of the rest of our days in Africa. We asked friends for recommendations of agencies and countries and plans, but when we discovered Lutheran Social Services (LSS) had a Kenya program, our hearts felt right. When I was fifteen, my parents adopted my youngest sister from Colombia through LSS. We would follow their path.

In the spring of 2014, we had our first meetings with case workers at LSS. They were very encouraging and knowledgeable about the process. They had led multiple families through the Kenya program, which isn’t a common occurrence as Kenya requires an 18-month in-country stay. That’s just not a possibility for most families. Perfect for ours, however, as our first stay will be two years. Our case worker gave us a whole lot of information and recommended we start the actual adoption process one year before our projected move to Kenya.

In the  year between our first contact with LSS and when we were told to start the paperwork process, Pete and I often spoke to each other about our future family. We decided to begin with a little girl, and planned to only request she be younger than five. We prayed a lot about whether or not we would pursue siblings, if there was a little girl with a brother or sister, and decided we would wait for God’s leading if that became a possibility. I looked all over Pinterest and Etsy for fun, unique ways to share the news with our families. We thought this fall would be good timing, as it wouldn’t be too terribly long before our sweet girl was in our arms. We were beginning to talk about photographers to help us make the announcement. So many dreams.

When we began to work through the paperwork again this past April, we were thrilled. We had shared the news of our planned adoption with just a few friends and some who would understand our early excitement and budding dreams. We also made sure WGM, our mission organization, would be okay with our plan of being matched with our little girl shortly after arriving in Kenya next summer. Multiple missionary families have adopted Kenyan children, and our coach and Kenyan team members were supportive of our plans. We completed our first packet of papers for LSS and were ready to send it off after signing our names on the lines marked adoptive father and adoptive mother. I decided to send a quick email to our case worker to let her know we were going to drop the documents in the mail the next day, but the response we got back from her was not what we had expected.

In her email, we learned that Kenya had closed its doors to all international adoptions. I read and re-read the US Department of State – Kenya Adoption webpage, praying it was a temporary mistake and would quickly be corrected. But no. The decision will likely not change for quite some time.

My heart broke. We had thought this was the right time, that God was leading us down this path as a way to grow our family. I had been dreaming of my little girl and how she would make us a family of five. I imagined her sharing a room with her big sister and learning to play alongside her big brother. I cried hard about this ending. I told Jesus my heart was hurting, that I was confused and mad. Why was this the timing? Why, when I know there are so many children all over this world who long to be loved and to be a part of a family, can we not bring them into our family? We have so much love and patience and joy, and we want to pour that all over our next little one. Or two. Or three. But for now we can’t. And I am sad.

Why would Kenya stop international adoptions? Well, it’s no secret that there is a lot of corruption in the world of adoption, especially in poor areas. Children are not always truly orphans when they are given to an orphanage. Some are taken with force from their homes, others are sold for money to support a desperate family. It is my understanding that many African countries are currently closed to international adoption until systems can be established to control and police these situations. I understand this, and I absolutely agree that families should be kept together if at all possible. But I also know that there are many motherless children who desperately want to be loved.

The opportunity to adopt in Kenya is not permanently out of the picture for us. If Kenya doesn’t open to international adoptions again in the near future, it may be possible for us to adopt as Kenyan residents once we’ve been there for a number of years. Three, I believe. It’s hard to imagine waiting that long, but we have no idea what God has for us. We are quite open to other adoption possibilities, but at this time, our options are minimal because of our hope to leave for Kenya in just twelve months. So we will continue to trust and keep our hands open to what he wants to do. We know that his eyes see the orphans of this world, and we ask for more of his heart to continue to live well on this path he has set for us.

Everyday I find myself needing to ask Jesus to comfort my heart. I am a part of a beautiful community of parents through Instagram and Facebook and blogs who are currently pursuing adoption, domestically and internationally. I love following their journeys and participating in their adoption fundraisers. I am truly, truly excited for each of them. But it hurts a bit. And when I see sweet photos on Instagram of families who have a beautiful palate of skin tones, I smile and ask God again to allow that for our family.

My heart wants to be mother to so many. For now, I will continue to pray for the babes I have yet to hold and I will cuddle and and whisper wonderful promises to the two in my arms.




A Day on the Train

What a grand adventure we had today! When I discovered earlier this week that Pete had the entire weekend off, I knew we needed something fun to do together. I booked our train tickets with The North Shore Scenic Railroad earlier this week and we planned our excursion up to the small town of Two Harbors.




The train traveled along the wooded shore of Lake Superior, passing through a few very small towns and over scenic rivers cut into steep rock embankments.


To our great surprise and delight, when we got off the train in Two Harbors, we discovered a sidewalk art festival in the middle of town! I had never heard of such an event, but we we thrilled to participate.







We ate ice cream and pulled pork sandwiches in the town park while listening to local musicians.





While the boys napped in the grass, Ella and I strolled past art booths. We eventually decided she couldn’t pass up chalk art in her hair. I was fairly in love with the artist’s updo!



After two hours at the chalk festival, we made our way to the depot to catch our train back to Duluth. After so much time in the sun, drawing designs on the street, we were all a bit sleepy.


What a wonderful, unexpected adventure we had today! We sure do love our days when Daddy is home!


Simplicity: Six Months & a New Perspective

Today marks the end of our six months of intentional, financial simplicity. We began on January 12, jumping in to a commitment of six months of very little spending, meaning we were basically not going to spend any money outside of what was really necessary for our family. That included selling Pete’s Jeep and becoming a one car family. I was pretty nervous about this journey before we began. I just didn’t know what to expect. We were opening our hands and asking God to show us what changes we needed to make as a family. I knew I had some habits that needed changing, some material stuff that had sort of wrapped itself around my heart. As a family, we wanted to make space for God to speak to us about how we were spending our money and whether or not it was bringing him glory. Reflecting back on these last six months, I am realizing my heart has truly been changed in some really good ways.


Leading up to January 12, Pete and I spent a good amount of time combing through our budget to see what we could cut out or seriously cut back. We canceled a few subscriptions, evaluated our food budget, and greatly reduced the amount we allowed for clothing, coffee, gifts, and other line items that were not necessities. We spent the first three or four months of this six-month journey very strictly sticking to the guidelines we set. At that time, after we felt we had broken the spending habits we knew weren’t healthy or what God wanted for us, we started to explore the areas we did feel were okay for spending. That doesn’t mean we started freely spending in those areas, but we did allow for some leeway. After watching for six months, I can pretty happily say that these are actually areas that line up with what we’ve listed for years as values for our family: relationship with each other and with friends, education, health and fitness, and adventure.


1. Relationship with each other. I’ve mentioned a bunch of times that Pete and I have a weekly date night. We adore our dates and look forward to them all week. Before starting our six months of financial simplicity, we decided that we would definitely keep our babysitter budget so we could still go out regularly. We did, however, cut the spending for our nights out. That’s one thing that changed about three months in. We started seeing movies on $5 movie nights and going for inexpensive dinners. We know that our marriage is so much stronger because of the time we devote to each other one-on-one each week, and it’s so, so great to find fun things to do together. Pete has done the same thing with Ella on their weekly dates. They find lots of free things to do together but they’ve also started rock climbing at an indoor wall nearby and having other sweet adventures.

2. Relationship with friends. So many people mean a whole lot to us. We’ve realized even more since January that it’s super important to us to be able to love on our friends and family by giving them our time and by sharing meaningful gifts with them.

3. Education. We love books. Love love love. I am a reading teacher, after all. Way back in December, I felt like God was going to be opening a time for me to enjoy them more then I have in the past, which was actually the same time I discovered audio books. I listen to books while cleaning, folding clothes, driving, doing stuff on the computer. I get most of them online through the library, but I have found my newer reads on Audible. Pete also likes buying books, especially medical texts. And now Ella is diving into reading, though most of her books come from the library. I’ve also begun attending online classes and webinars as a way to keep up my learning after the kids are in bed. Some classes are free, but most cost a little something.

4. Health & fitness. We realized pretty early on that our food budget was so small we weren’t able to buy all the fresh food we feel is best for our family. It won’t be the case in Kenya, but for now, we have to pay more for the healthy stuff. So we ended up expanding our food budget about a month in. As for fitness, we want to be okay with attending a class or buying a workout program if it’s something we’re really going to use. Good health will allow us to keep going for a long time, so it’s worth the room in the budget.

5. Adventure. We would be so bored without adventure! It’s such a part of who we are as a family. This also kind of goes with our relationships with each other, since we usually have our adventures as a family. This is what gets our hearts pumping and minds racing. Definitely an place we feel okay spending money.


Like I said, I’m pretty happy with those categories that came to the surface as being important for our family’s spending. But what about all the other places I was spending money before starting this journey? Honestly, most of them have almost completely melted away. I was making a list a couple days ago of things I want to buy tomorrow, and I honestly could only think of a few items. I would like a set of wine glasses and a couple new shirts for Sam. We are also in great need of new bar stools as ours are falling a part. (Seriously, if you visit, I will warn you before you sit down. Pieces are for real falling off.) There really isn’t much more than that. I just don’t feel the need to buy little things for my home or extra things for the kids. My heart has changed. I would much rather spend our money on the categories I listed above and not fill space around me. Experiences fill me with such happiness, far beyond what I could feel from a new shirt or a cute little ice cream bowl. (Though I certainly still like looking at these things! Just a few days ago, I oohed over an adorable set of cone-shaped ceramic bowls that would make ice cream treats such fun! But did I feel a need to have my own set? Not at all. Just noticing their cuteness was enough. That’s a good change for me.)


These six months weren’t all about depriving ourselves of material things or experiences, which is really what I thought it would be. I was sure I was going to miss shopping and that I’d probably really struggle through the months. But I didn’t! Instead, I discovered God was showing us who we are as a family and how our finances and habits fit into that picture. This morning at church I was not at all surprised to learn the message was on finances. How fitting! It allowed me to think through the changes my heart has made and to ask if they really do line up with what the Bible says. I was reminded of a few verses I’ve heard a hundred times. “Do not store up treasures on earth! Moths and rust can destroy them, and thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, store up your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy them, and thieves cannot break in and steal them. Your heart will always be where your treasure is.” (Matthew 6:19-21, italics mine) I love that last verse, and I truly want my heart to be focused right where God wants it. In order to keep it focused right there, I know I need to continue this journey.

So, where do we go from here? We plan to basically stick to the habits that have been created in the last six months. We’ll keep our overall spending to a minimum, and we’ll always talk to each other about purchases before making them. By doing so, we’ll able to continue our momentum toward paying off Pete’s medical school loans by Christmas!! We are confident that we would not be anywhere close to having them paid without our changes in the last six months. In many ways, we’re incredible thankful that God made it so clear to us last December that we should take this plunge. The freedom we’re feeling is pretty wonderful!

Thank you for being a part of this journey with us!


Design by: Bumble + Buzz Design // Copyright © The Mango Memoirs