The One with the {10} Likes of Late

Top Ten {things I’ve been loving lately}

1} Naturally More Peanut Butter. it’s seriously the best peanut butter ever. It’s much lower in calories and fat calories, higher in protein, lower in sugar, and straight up delicious.

2} Fresh, fragrant peaches.

3} Grilled sandwiches. As in, sandwiches cooked on the grill. I’m addicted to their crispness and depth of flavor.

4} Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips. I may or may not have bought a bag while in Seattle due to a chocolate craving. I won’t tell you if the bag’s gone yet or not.

5} Homemade strawberry jam. There’s something extra satisfying about picking, processing, and canning your own jam. Plus, you need something to go with all that peanut butter.

6} Keeping a beautiful stock pile of birthday cards. Such a simple expression of love can mean so much.

7} Our new kitty! (I just remembered I hadn’t introduced her to you all yet! My apologies! She kinda-sorta doesn’t have a name yet. We have thrown around 4 or 5 good options, but nothing has stuck, try as we might. I’ve just been calling her “kitty.” I’m leaning toward Akeelah because it’s a prettier version of her original name “Aki.” We’ve joked about Napster because napping is pretty much her thing. And then there’s Phoebe or Alice. *sigh* poor cat.

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8} Anyone else noticing that “food” largely occupies my list of likes?

9} Reading Reddit’s frugal page. It’s amazing the tips and tricks you can pick up from others.

10} and just because I’m out of awesome things I’ve enjoying lately, here’s something just plain awesome (and pretty darn funny too).  Click HERE for Parenting Tip.

The One with a Female Quandary

Is it just me or is difficult to be a woman and still effectively show the love of Christ to all people? (And by “all” I mean “men.”) I love to love. I am a people person (with introverted needs…but that’s another story for another time). Relationships are kind of my forte–where I excel. It’s a beautiful gift to have when you’ve been called into ministry. 
But here’s the thing, I feel that I have to be on my guard around members of the opposite sex. Now, I don’t really feel this way inside the church doors. Most of the men I know from any church make me feel comfortable and at ease around them. My problem is not even with “men” in general. 
The problem comes when I’m out in the public arena. Walking to the bank. Browsing the aisles at Save-a-Lot. Working outside in my yard. Going for a run. I feel vulnerable; gawked at. (Sometimes audibly, oftentimes with a look.) And this puts me ill at ease.  
How does a woman embrace her beauty, the body God has given her, with confidence and dignity, purity and modesty, without drawing uninvited attention? I like to look nice, to dress myself tastefully, fashionably. But I think (I hope) everyone who knows me could testify that I don’t wear anything to purposefully draw attention
And yet, the attention comes; and not in an encouraging sort of way. No, unfortunately this is more the “cat call” sort of way. And it makes me very uncomfortable.
I want to be able to walk down the street, smiling at everyone I meet, greeting them with cheerful hellos, and perhaps engaging them in meaningful conversation. But I just don’t feel the freedom to live that way. 
So, I ask you–
Is it our world, our culture? Is it just me, being overly cautious, overly sensitive? How should women deal with this? Is it possible to sincerely love with Christ’s love, without attracting the wrong kind of attention? 

The One with the 9 Hour Trip to Family Camp

I am so thankful that in the midst of a wonderfully hectic summer (can I get an “amen”?!), Kevin and I had the opportunity to head to Somerset Beach Campground. This camp has been our home-away-from-home for many years now (8 for me, 25+ for Kevin!). You know those places in your life that act as part of your foundation? where you can step back inside and know you belong? where memories are abundant and new joys are just waiting to be experienced? I love those spots! And SBC is definitely on that list in our lives. 
Our purpose for visiting was threefold. 
A) It was SMCFMC (long, but accurate acronym) Family Camp. We can’t miss family camp!
B) Kevin was leading one of the youth “afterglows”–a fun event for all of the teens. 
C) Many of our family and friends would be there. And who doesn’t need to reconnect now and again? (Facebook just doesn’t cut it. thankfully.)
After a 7 (turned 9) hour drive from NY to MI in 90 (million) degree heat in our efficient (yet un-air conditioned Honda Civic, Kevin and I arrived at site 79–his parents’ camp site year after year. We set up our tent with just moments to spare before darkness fell, took much-needed showers, and hit the sack. For the next three days, we enjoyed all of the time we had to catch up with Mom & Dad. (Can I just say how cool it is that the parent-child relationship grows into something so beautifully mutual as we grow older? I really love it. And yes, parents-of-teens, there’s hope. :D) It’s tough being 7 hours away from them now, after having years where we lived just an hour’s drive away and saw them frequently. We had a lot of talking to do. :)

Both sets of Kevin’s grandparents were at camp as well and they spoiled us with love (and a lunch out at Freddie’s Freeze) just as they always do. My bro-in-law, Brian, is officially grown up–he has his own staff trailer on the grounds and is working full time before heading to SAU’s campus in the fall. We didn’t get to see him as much as usual, but that’s what growing up and moving out and having a girlfriend do to you. :)

One of the mornings, we drove into Jackson where Kevin was going to do some work over a Venti Coffee at Starbucks and I was meeting up with these wonderful girls from college.

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With Karina in Chicago, Britt in Colorado, me in New York, and the others spread throughout Michigan we don’t get together nearly as much as we’d like. But it was a wonderful gift that everyone was willing to rearrange schedules and drive many hours to get together for just a morning. We enjoyed brunch at Panera and then visited for a while longer back at Angie’s house. 
One other bonus of being at Family Camp was visiting with some of the teens we’d said goodbye to last August. It was fun hanging out and catching up on their lives. It’s astounding to me to see how quickly teenagers grow up and change after just a year. Wow. Plus, we were honored to be asked by Brooke & Alisha to take their senior portraits around the campgrounds. Here are two from the collection: 
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Our time at SBC was over far too quickly! But we’re thankful for the time we had to reconnect with dear friends, like Sara and Debbie (not to mention meeting their beautiful baby girls), seeing the same familiar faces that grace the grounds during family camp each year, and just enjoying a change in pace for a few days.  

The One with the 10 Week Whirlwind

Wondering where I’ve been this summer? Me too. It’s been a busy one, but I’m hoping it’s going to…
….nope. Not even gonna say it. I don’t want to jinx myself. ;) 
It all started in May
the 17th-19th, we were in Michigan for my brother-in-law’s high school graduation party.  
the 24th-26th, Kevin and I headed to Sandusky for our anniversary camping/Tigers’ game/Cedar Point trip
June 1st and 2nd, we went an hour south to the annual Bible Quizzing conference campout
the 9th was the Strawberry Festival weekend, including my 5k race
the 16th was the community Book Brigade, my dad arrived for an overnight visit, and I hosted my first ever piano studio recital
June 24th we had a youth group pool party, and 
June 25th-July 2nd we were out on the west coast for Bible Quiz Finals in Seattle
July 5th and 6th, I helped a friend put on her super huge garage sale, and on the 7th, Kevin’s aunt and uncle (and family) from Indiana arrived and we shared dinner and dessert together. 
the 9th-13th, we were busy busy busy working at our church VBS from 8-12 every morning (plus squeezing in a student soccer game, 2 board meetings–Kevin, and having 7 teen girls over for an afternoon.) 
July 15th, I babysat our wonderful friends’ 4 children, so the adults could take their parents out to a 50th anniversary celebration dinner. 
the 17th I started my summer session of piano lessons, and at noon we left on a 7 hour (turned 9 hour) drive to Michigan for Family Camp. 
After 9 hours in an 97 degree (or hotter) car with no air conditioning (I kept a surprisingly good attitude for most of the trip–*ahem* considering the circumstances), we set up camp at 9pm and fell into bed. We spent the next 3 days enjoying time with family and friends, recounting stories of our transition to New York, and working with the teen program. 
This morning at 7am, we piled everything back into our little Civic for another 9 hour drive home. This time, however, the weather was wonderfully pleasant, and we squeezed in a shopping/sampling/lunch stop Sam’s Club on the way home. 
We’ve got a few more important events on the docket for the next month, but I just wanted to officially congratulate us on successfully getting through the 10 weeks of crazy/awesome/business. 
How’s your summer been? Are you busier than ever or enjoying the break in routine?

The One with VBS Songs

Some people say I look like my mom. I think that’s pretty true. But I also know I followed in my mom’s footsteps in more ways than just her looks. One particular path I she led me down was children’s ministry song leading. I can remember summer after summer of Vacation Bible School as my mom taught tons of kids the words and motions to those catchy theme songs. When I was 12 or 13, my friend Elizabeth and I took the lead by ourselves as VBS song leaders. 
And now, decades since my mom showed me the way, I am the music leader for this week’s VBS at our church. We’re doing Adventures on Promise Island and boy! has it been fun. The songs are wonderfully writteneasy to learn and full of worth-while theology and concepts about God. I’m not one for choreography, but the dance moves that come along with the song-leader-position are pretty darn fun as well. The kids are having an absolute BLAST with them. 
Today, as we sang an updated version of “Standing on the Promises,” the kids filled the sanctuary with so much sound as they shouted the letters P-R-O-M-I-S-E-S with no help whatsoever. I love their receptiveness and their responsiveness to my leading. Kids are so much fun to work with! (and they make you feel pretty good about doing ridiculous motions on stage.) 
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I’m thankful for Maria & Malia–two of our teen girls–who have faithfully helped me co-lead the songs each morning. 
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As we waited for the last groups to arrive for the closing session, I invited the kids to join me “on stage” as we sang Always With Us and they all eagerly ran up beside me! Love their enthusiasm!
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And now for a few other moments from Vacation Bible School
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The little ones are focused on their craft-making

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And who doesn’t love game time?!
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The kids thought this was hysterical–wrapping up the leaders in toilet paper after learning about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. 

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And we can’t forget story time–the keystone f VBS!

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The One with a Weakness, Revealed

Even a pastor and his wife have their moments of weakness, right? (oh please tell me I’m right.
Sometimes…
we get lost on trips and tension runs high
we think I’ve lost my iPod and I start freaking out. 
we bicker
we disagree on the right course of action or discipline. 
we treat other with less than the utmost respect
…a group of teens witness all of this because they’re stuck with us for a week. Maybe it shakes their faith in us a little bit. But prayerfully, it shows them that we are real people who make mistakes, get frustrated, lose our way, and let our emotions get the best of us. We’re in ministry, in the fishbowl of a leadership position, but that doesn’t mean we’re perfect. It just means we know things can still be “ok” in the end, thanks to God’s blanket of forgiveness. Those moments were embarrassing, not to mention wrong, and I’m not proud of them.

But love covers over a multitude of sin. And I’m thankful that God is love. 

The One with the SPU Photos

After a late night youth group bonfire party on June 24th, we met bright and early (or not really bright at all) in the church parking lot on Monday at 4:45am. Four Bible Quizzers (ages 12, 15, 17, and 18) and five adults (ages shall remain confidential. lol), headed to the Buffalo airport with loads of luggage in tow. 

First, a note: Yes, adults outnumbered students. Yes, it was kind of humorous. Kevin and I went as quiz masters so we got our registration paid for. One of the leaders was a student’s mom, and the other two ladies have been directing quizzing together for more than a decade.
After 7 hours of flying (and feeling like it was 11am for hours and hours, thank you jet lag), we made it safely to Seattle Pacific University. After dropping off our luggage in our dorms, we hopped on the city bus and headed for Pike’s Market. 
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the girls and me (Jayne, Catherine, Kirsten)
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a shot from inside Pike’s Market. 
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I’m impressed with this self-timed picture–
I precariously balanced our camera on a curved post
From Tuesday until Thursday, we were busy with round after round of Bible Quizzes. Tuesday and Wednesday, our team of four students had 16 rounds of quizzing against teams from all over (Kentucky, Ohio, Florida, Washington, New York, Pennsylvania, and more!) While they were reciting Scripture, Kevin and I were busy judging answers by other quiz teams like them. I quiz mastered in the Young Teen Veteran B division (aka “students in grades 6-9 who have quizzed more than one year and aren’t quite as awesome as A division, but still pretty great”). Kevin worked in the Senior Teen Vet B division. Quiz mastering is long and hard, but so much fun. What a fantastic opportunity for both of us.

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Team Shot with Team Shirts
(shirt design thought of in my brain and executed by Kevin.)
Jesus Christ (infinity sign)
the same yesterday, today, and forever

In between all of the quizzing, we had morning chapels with a fantastic worship team and a riveting speaker. We ate way too much delicious food in the dining commons.
We played lots of overly competitive Rook.
We hung out around the grand piano in the student lounge.
We went to the SPU sponsored carnival and gallivanted around campus (well, I gallivanted while the other adults went to the coaches’ meeting.)
We climbed FLIGHTS AND FLIGHTS of stairs. Seattle is crazy hilly.
We walked 2 miles to Gas Works Park overlooking downtown Seattle. It was a fantastic park where the quizzers enjoyed the sights, some soccer and ultimate frisbee, and some fun photo opps like this one–

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Kirsten and I exploring Gas Works Park
After the quizzing week was over and we had packed up our rooms, we headed into downtown for an evening of sight-seeing. First stop? The Space Needle. This world-fair-attraction from 50 years ago is really quite the fantastic experience. We spent a couple of hours goofing around at 350 feet in the air.

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At the top of the Space Needle
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we heart Seattle
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Space Needle after Dark
That night, we drove to a Super 8 motel and spent the night with more Rook and girly conversation late into the night. One of the teens asked me, “Mel, I think it’s past your bedtime.” She was right.

Saturday morning we made the 2 hour drive southeast to Mount Rainier National Park. Wow. This place is seriously breathtaking. We drove and drove through the winding (nail-biting) curves for most of the day, stopping to take pictures every few turns. We even ate our Subway lunch next to a 5 foot high pile of snow.

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Kevin and I in Mt Rainier National Park
In the middle of all the driving, we did get out and hike around a 2 mile trail for a bit. Very awesome. The sights and sounds in a forest like this one is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Incredible.

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The group exploring Mt. Rainier National Park
Another night in another hotel, and we were off for the coast. You can’t go to Seattle and not experience the Pacific Ocean, right? This was my favorite day of tourism as it was the most relaxed. The kids played in the chilly water for hours and hours, there was football throwing, and beach walking, fried-fish-eating, and book reading, window shopping, and ice cream cone eating. Perfect if you ask me.

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Wave Jumping in Long Beach, WA
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The girls and me at the Pacific Ocean
Sunday night brought us to another hotel where we had just enough time to go a brief swim in the pool, shower off, and play another round of Rook. We packed up our stuff for good in the morning, and headed to the airport. Our flight was delayed 2 hours, so we had plenty of time to enjoy the surprising amount of tourism that can be had in the SeaTac Airport before sitting on the plane for 4 hours. Thankfully, we made it to our transfer flight at Chicago Midway Airport with just 10 minutes to spare. *whew*. Another seemingly-quick flight and we were in Buffalo. It was 1:30am by the time we arrived home and I got to clean our bathroom thanks to the nasty smell of decaying fish that had found its way up the toilet after flushing our beloved goldfish last week (due to the high heats.) awesome
Despite the many days it’s taken me to get over my jet lag and the plain ol’ exhaustion of an 8 day trip, it was   A PHENOMENAL experience. I loved the time I had with those three girls, I loved the city of Seattle (and I don’t even like cities!), I loved the sight seeing, I loved quiz mastering at the National Level, and I loved the other leaders on the trip. I’d call that a win! 

The One with Seattle (hang on.)

note: If you’d like to see more about this trip make sure you check out the more recent post (and all its pictures HERE.

The last week has been filled with Rook, snowball fights, splashing in the Pacific Ocean, quoting Hebrews, eating tofu, riding public transportation, sleeping in random hotels, getting to share said hotel rooms with teenaged girls, running on steep hills, overlooking the city of Seattle from 350 feet, venturing on mountains, spitting into waterfalls, arguing with the gps about directions, whispering secrets and giggling in the dark. 

Overflowing with goodness, the past 8 days at Bible Quiz Nationals were unforgettable. And I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to attend with our quizzers. I loved every minute with them. 
And after my body adjusts from jet lag and, well, 8 days with teenagers ;) I’ll be sharing a few wonderful pictures from the week. 
Now? I sleep.

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picture courtesy of The Space Needle
(and no, that’s not the actual city behind us. This was inside the Needle.)