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It was a work day for me. I’d made a quick stop at the mall to grab some mittens for my daughter and pay a bill at Sears, and was on my way out. Just seconds after I’d rejected the hair straightener dude who tried to sell me a hot iron as I passed, I walked briskly towards another kiosk where Pete was singing and playing guitar. I’m not sure what came over me, but I knew I needed to talk to this guy. Within a matter of 5-10 seconds, I got the gist of his brilliant business, grabbed his card, and told him I’d be back to chat another day. It was all a bit surreal, really. I’m pretty sure we were supposed to cross paths.

I didn’t have much time before I had to get to my appointment, but couldn’t wait to know more. I looked at the clock in my car and realized I had about five minutes before I really had to go. So I quickly typed Pete’s URL,, into my phone, pulled up his site, and confirmed, this dude is awesome! He has a music video (at the end of this post), a serenade store where he writes and records songs for people, and a happiness store where he’s working towards funding small, but fun random acts of kindness towards others.

My mind raced about the ways Pete and I could collaborate with his songwriting, my writing, and our joint love for philanthropy and sharing peoples’ stories. Later that night, I shared the story with my husband and showed him Pete’s website. Our whole family watched his music video and listened to sample serenades on his site.

One week later, I plugged Pete into my schedule and made a trip back to the mall!


I approached and engaged Pete in a straight forward manner. I figured there was nothing to lose, and at this point, I knew I wanted to share Pete’s story on the blog, assuming he was open to the idea.

So before I tell you more about Pete and his journey to singing and songwriting, let me share what he’s doing at the mall this holiday season! Pete’s rented a kiosk on the second floor of Ridgedale Mall in Minnetonka, Minnesota. It’s called the Serenade Store. (Yes, I’m telling you this because you need to go meet him and hear him play for yourself!) For a reasonable fee, Pete will write and record a personalized song for your loved one! All you need to do is complete a short form with a few questions about the recipient of your song, and Pete will have a song ready for you in 15 minutes. You receive a CD and digital copy of the song, and there’s even an option to create an accompanying DVD slideshow and have Pete perform the song live on location if you wish! How awesome is that?! The dude is super creative. And there’s one thing you have to know – these aren’t cheesy songs, these are awesome, professional songs! Pete has three serenade samples on his website if you want to check them out. Based on everything I’ve heard and seen, I think this would be a GREAT Christmas gift for someone, how about you?!





Now that we’ve covered Pete’s Serenade Store, let’s move on to his story.

Pete says he was born with style and charisma, but growing up, he never considered himself a musician. He started playing guitar when he was 13 or 14 years old, and started singing in college. He began business school, but part way through, had an epiphany about life. Pete dropped out of business school and moved to Argentina. (Sound like a life-altering decision? Yep, it was.) While Pete was in Argentina, he sang, played guitar, and taught music and English.

When Pete returned to the United States, he re-enrolled in college and got his music degree. After obtaining his degree, he moved to California where he played and performed. It was then that Pete wrote a song for his girlfriend. The idea “exploded” more than he ever imagined.

Pete felt called to return home to Minnesota, but continued writing songs. He originally thought his songs would primarily be a gift given between husbands and wives, but it’s been much “bigger than that.” Pete’s even performed his original, customized songs at funerals, and his serenades have been given to recognize top-performing employees at corporations.

Pete shared that there are a few other people around the country who are doing what he’s doing (i.e., writing and performing personalized songs for people to give as gifts), but not many. “It’s very novel to write a song in 15 minutes,” Pete shared, so people think that’s cool. Typically, songs like these can run as high as $250. Pete’s most affordable option is $50 for a super cool customized song!

Pete’s “not where he wants to be yet” when it comes to music. Yet he’s slowly, but surely working towards BIG dreams. “When your priority is to do what you love,” said Pete, “you gotta figure out how to keep the dream going and give back.”

Pete gets asked a lot if he was born playing music. He actually thinks it’s more about work ethic than talent. Pete’s a firm believer in the 10,000 hour theory, that no one really becomes a master of their craft until they’ve put in at least 10,000 hours practicing. So he’s putting in the hours wherever he can, he’s doing what he loves, and he’s dreaming big with the hopes that one day, his music dreams will come true.

As we wrapped up our time together, Pete shared, “It’s the little things that make a huge difference.” So let’s take time to support Pete. Let’s love on a dude who’s following his dreams and doing awesome things with his gift of music. Check out his website, definitely visit him at the Ridgedale Mall if you’re local, and stay to chat a while. Maybe, just maybe, you have someone in your life who would LOVE one of Pete’s customized songs this Christmas!




The plan was perfect.

We scheduled our annual family photo shoot with the photographer we’ve used since 2009. Hubs ordered a sweater, I got a necklace and boots, and we put some outfits together for the kids. Everything was ready to go.

That is, until a toss-and-turn night found me sleeping on a chair in our bedroom. The next morning, our toddler came into the room, wondering why I was sleeping in the chair. She flung her body back hard with the intention of lying next to me, but instead banged my eye up big. It hurt. It swelled. I cried. And I had a black eye for two weeks.


Our perfectly planned family photo shoot was down the drain. We canceled, because truth is, I still had a black eye the day we were scheduled to shoot.

The photographer wasn’t available for two weeks, and we didn’t want to take any chances with winter weather on its way. So we decided to do our own make-shift family photo shoot. I’d just purchased my dream camera two weeks prior. Why not use it?

The plan was perfect.

We’d get all dressed up, just like we would’ve for our family photo shoot. And we’d use my brand new camera to take pictures of each other. Sure, we’d miss the family photograph of all five of us this year, but we’d get all the other pictures we wanted!

Off we went. The day was perfect. The sun was shining. The temperature was just right. The leaves were golden yellow. We couldn’t have asked for more.

That is, until things started going wrong.

The baby got crabby.


And I couldn’t get the lighting right (not to mention the tree coming out of her head).


Kids didn’t sit when they were supposed to sit.


Then it was windy.


Our pre-teen boy cooperated at first, but then got irritated with this process.


We moved to a new spot and he started cooperating again.

But apparently it takes more than two weeks to master the perfect balance of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture in the live context of a photo shoot, so we experienced more lighting issues before we found our happy spot again.



When I finally got the lighting JUST RIGHT, baby started getting extra crabby.


There was this.

DSC_0882Then this.


Yeah. We wrapped this shoot with more bad lighting and more baby crying.


This is how mama looks when baby’s standing on the ground screaming and clinging to mama’s legs, and daddy’s determined to finish this photo shoot properly. (This one seriously cracks me up. NOT cute.)


Daddy dashed for the car with said baby crying. I stayed to try to get a few more good shots of our two oldest. But they were clearly fatiguing. It was time to go.

All five of us got back in the vehicle. A few words were said. Then I put my dream camera away, looked out the window, and cried.

Our PERFECTLY PLANNED family photo shoot was NOT PERFECT.

When we got home, I was still quite upset.

I could’ve given up. I could’ve given in to the lie that we’d just experienced the most catastrophic disasters of family photo sessions in the entire world.

But I knew better. I knew there was still hope for this thing. I knew we’d taken some good shots. And I knew there were still a few good ones to be taken in our backyard.

So I put my brave on and got that camera back out.

Within 20 minutes, I had a handful of great pictures of our son, and 15-20 awesome shots of our oldest daughter.

After everyone went to bed that night, I spent two hours weeding through the day’s photographs, 350 a rough estimate. I made a list of every photo worthy of being transferred to a disc, checked it twice, and burned it baby.

“Fall Family Photo Shoot 2014”

We were doing this. We were choosing to remember the good that happened that day.

Three weeks later, I received an email from Shutterfly with some crazy deal, like 30% off holiday cards + another 40% off that! The offer expired the next day, so we knew we had to take advantage of it.

That night, we pulled out the CD from the NOT-SO-PERFECT family photo shoot. We selected seven pictures we LOVED and wanted to share on a Christmas photo card for family and friends.

And just a few days ago, we received the big orange Shutterfly box in the mail with 130 photo cards in it!

What were the words that came out of my mouth when I saw the cards for the first time?

“I love these! They turned out awesome!”

Life isn’t perfect. And typically? Family photo shoots are far from perfect.

But if we’re persistent, positive, and willing to look twice through those all those “horrible pictures,” we might just find a beautifully imperfect family, a beautifully imperfect life, and perfectly beautiful photographs waiting to be shared with loved ones.

ShutterflyShutterfly is running an awesome sale on Christmas photo cards through Sunday, November 16th! Just enter promotion code JOY2ALL at checkout, and receive 50% off 6×8 flat and 3/4 folded cards OR 40% off 5×7, 5×5, 4×8, 4×5 flat, 5×7 trifold, or 5×7 folded cards. And don’t forget free shipping on orders $39 or more; just enter code SHIP39 at checkout! This is one of the best sales Shutterfly runs on Christmas cards, and is the one our family typically takes advantage of every fall.

One more thing before I go…I’m excited to announce that I’ve recently become an affiliate for Shutterfly! That means that if you make a purchase from Shutterfly through the links in this blog post or any Shutterfly link on my blog from here on out, I’ll receive a small commission which will help cover some of the ongoing costs associated with the blog.

Wishing you patience and a sense of humor as you search those family pictures for one that represents your beautiful family.





P.S. This, of course, ISN’T our seven-picture Christmas card. But hey, I thought I’d give you a little sneak peek of one of the good photos and share one of Shutterfly’s cute designs!

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 1.08.45 PM

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means that if you click on the link and purchase something from Shutterfly, I will receive an affiliate commission. Having said that, I promise readers my highest of integrity in that I will only promote products I use, love, and believe will add value to your lives. I’m disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

In The Quiet

There comes a time when truth hits the road. How do you love like Jesus every day after Christmas?

Fill yourself with joy – for someone else.

Be present.

Recognize the miracle each human being is.

Offer a helping hand.

Be happy for others.

Capture the moment.

Be there, no matter what.

Know that a miracle is always possible.

Stand in for the Heavenly Father.

Quietly rest your hand on another’s shoulder in time of need.

Believe He makes all things new.

Love like a grandma, even when you’re not the grandma.

Reserve all judgement. You might find yourself in someone else’s shoes someday.

Love extravagantly.

Remember, we’re all really the same.

Give thoughtfully, generously, creatively.

Think of others who love from a distance.

See through the eyes of a child.

Forget what’s already happened. Smile, for today’s a new day.

Love, even if nobody notices.

Then rest in peace, knowing they’re in their Father’s hands.



It was a productive day, but truth be told, it was too much.

I sent the baby to daycare so I could get work done for the private practice. Work was piling up – reports, insurance billing, patient billing, finances, a license to renew, paper and envelopes to buy, and data forms to print. I got a lot done while she was away, and my work plate feels a lot lighter than it did this morning.

But tonight was a little frantic.

The kids were loud. 11-year-old was hyper, baby was whiny, and 8-year-old kept singing a song over and over and over again until it became annoying to not only me, but everyone in the household.

I barely whipped together a dinner of grilled cheese and tomato soup. Kids were asking for seconds of milk and sandwiches before I even got baby served. And baby ripped her sandwich into pieces, stacking them on top of the tipped over bowl of tomato soup, then put her sippy cup on top and started laughing. There wasn’t a moment, nor enough for me to eat, so I ate later in peace.

Daddy came home. He gave me the look, not once, but twice. This house was loud, and the kids were jazzed. It’s been negative degrees for days, and there’s no getting out. We’re all a little stir crazy to say the least.

I accidentally left a bag of stocking stuffers on the counter, and of course, the kids found it. I quizzed them about what they saw an hour later, and between the two of them, they saw everything except one item. So tonight, after delivering the 8-year-old to gymnastics, I drove to Target, returned everything and started all over again.

I thought the boys planned to bake the Christmas cookies while we were gone at gymnastics, but came home to discover they’d worked out and lounged instead. Let’s just say my grace was lacking when it was 8:20 p.m. on a school night and dad was just starting to bake cookies with the two oldest. I made it clear – “go ahead, but I’ve got to get moving along with all the other stuff I have to get done tonight.”

I got some laundry in the basket and started a load for the girls – they’re both almost out. Picked up clothes strewn on the floor from this morning, semi-nagged my husband to sign up to work concessions at the basketball tournament this weekend, prepared files for tomorrow’s day full of patients, canceled the babysitter for Thursday and found a neighbor to watch instead, responded to my mom’s voice message via text, cleaned the disgusting toilet because the nanny will be here early in the morning, addressed the overdue thank you notes from my son’s birthday party October 19th, and took a shower. All in 40 minutes.

After a cookie or two, the kids were in bed by 9:00. I managed to get in both of their rooms for apologies for a chaotic night, I love yous, and good-night hugs.

Hubs went to bed by 9:50. He’s not happy about turning 40 this week.

And now, it’s just me – alone, in the quiet.

Dishes are piled high in the sink. The counter is greasy and full of crumbles from cookies. I’m feeling not-so-full-of-grace for messes left everywhere. And the wheels are spinning.

This is my life.

This was my life, today.

Where’s Jesus in this?

Where’s Jesus in the mess?

Where’s Jesus in the chaos and confusion?

Where’s Jesus in the mail piled up high?

Where’s Jesus in a world that goes way too fast?

I can’t even think. I can’t keep up.

Is there a way to escape this rat race?

Am I doing it all wrong?

Is there an in-between place of quiet and rush, where I can live not bored, not isolated, but in peace?

Must I move to a deserted island, Lord, to find quiet?

And these dishes, Lord, they’ll still be here in the morning, and it’ll all start all over again. I’ll be going from dawn till dusk and beyond. And then the next day, it’ll all be the same.

My heart races a bit. Tears well in my eyes with the rapid typing of my fingers. Anxiety’s risen to the top from my too-full-day.

Take it slow, He says.

Lean on me.

You’re doing too much.

It’s not up to you.

Your world will never be perfect. Mine will. Mine is.

Step back. Take a breath.

Let yourself cry.

I’m here.


Lean not on your own understanding, lean on Me.

Trust not in your ways, trust Mine.

Believe not in what the world says, Believe Me.

I came to save – you. That you might have life.

So live. Breathe. Dance. For me. Because you are free. In Me.


I’m the one that manages Christmas cards in our house. My standard operating procedure for 15 years has been as follows:

1. Open the card.

2. Look at the pictures.

3. Read the card and/or letter.

4. Show the kids.

5. Put the card in back in today’s mail pile on the counter, or if I’m feeling really efficient, put it in the Christmas card box.

Sounds a little routine, right? But it’s enjoyable, and I truly love receiving Christmas cards from family and friends. It’s a tradition I’d hate to see go by the wayside.

Since my husband’s usually not home when we open the mail, we have an agreement that he can find all the cards in the mail pile or look in the Christmas box at his leisure. I strive to be his wife, not his mom, so I figure he’ll take initiative to look at the cards as he’s led.

After all the Christmas cards have come in, I bring the full box down to the basement where it’s stored until the following Thanksgiving when we take the seasonal decor out again.

Just this week, I took out the Christmas card box. I opened the box and began going through last year’s cards one last time, something I do at the beginning of every season. I admired each card, verified addresses, added new babies to the master list, removed individuals who passed away, and ripped address labels off to shred (yes, I’m a little OCD like that).

But as I reviewed last year’s cards, I was particularly struck by how some seemed so novel, as if I’d barely seen them, as if I was looking at them for the first time. Beautiful families in the prime of life, retired couples at golf courses and on the beach with grandkids, newlyweds who hand wrote each card, and wise folks who placed focus on the the real meaning of Christmas. Cards from old friends, new friends, colleagues, bosses, immediate family, extended family, and neighbors – an assortment of people we see every day and people we haven’t seen in years.

I pulled some favorites for later viewing – stunning photography, faces exuding joy, beautiful designs, letters that captured my attention with their authenticity and depth, cards brimming with personality, and pictures of dear ones I hadn’t seen for way too long.

Christmas card

But mid-way through the pile, I came across a stack of four or five Christmas cards that had never been opened.

And then I remembered.

I was in such a rush.

I was way too busy.

(And clearly, my husband was too busy, too.)

In my haste, I’d thrown these unopened cards in the Christmas card box to get them out of the mail pile. I can’t stand clutter and excess visual stimuli, so I just wanted to get them “where they belonged.” I assumed I’d sit down to enjoy them after the hustle and bustle of Christmas settled down.

But I never did.

So I found myself sitting in front of the Christmas card box, a full year later, with the cold realization that I never did open those cards. I never took time to sit down and enjoy them like I thought I would.

I sat in silence, ashamed, embarrassed.

I couldn’t help but wonder…

What does this say about me?

Who do I say I am?

Who am I, really?

Do I really love and care for people like I claim? Or am I just filled up with a bunch of words and good intentions?

And why am I so busy? Why have I allowed my life to get so big, so filled up?

What makes me so special to have left peoples’ Christmas cards unopened for a whole year?

There was nothing unusual or unlovable about those four or five unopened Christmas cards that made me throw them in the box and forget about them for a whole year. In fact, they were just like the others – families with littles, marriages thriving in a culture that values otherwise, blended families, and families impacted by disabilities. But that’s what embarrassed me most. I wouldn’t ever want ANYONE to feel as if they’ve been discarded, no matter how busy I am, no matter how preoccupied I am.

I opened each unopened card carefully, examined them respectfully and as lovingly as possible, and then I sat in the quiet, in embarrassment and shame, again. For I had not been who I say I am.

Jesus says clearly, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) And just a few verses later, “This is my command: Love each other.” (John 15:17)

In our rushing, in our hustling and bustling, in our worrying about what’s in front of us and all that needs to be done, we forget to still ourselves and really LOVE the ones in front of us. Let’s be realistic, sometimes we don’t even have TIME for the ones right in front of us.

When I threw those unopened cards in the Christmas card box and forgot about them for a whole year, I wasn’t remembering that those cards represented human beings, created in the image of God. I wasn’t remembering that those cards represented OTHERS, worthy of love and care, respect, dignity, a moment of my attention, EVEN IF I was “too crazed, too busy” with life.

So this year, regardless of my mood, regardless of my circumstances, I’m going to still myself longer, sit in the quiet a little more. Because I want to open every card and ponder the significance of each life that’s blessed mine. I want to love as He loves.

And maybe next Christmas, the cards will look a lot more familiar than they did this year.


  1. Monica Anderson Palmer says:

    I’m tearing up over here at how tenderly you value life. Our lives are surrounded by relationship-whether it be a clerk at a gas station, a employee at a drive-thru window or a card received at Christmas I am gloriously amazed at how each face that is seen by you is infinitely valued….your heart is not only seen by me, but by our Lord. Please offer yourself some grace in your journey to love like Jesus-I think you love others beautifully!

  2. Tiffany Femling says:

    Thanks for including us, once again, in this blog. Means so much! I showed Raegan the picture, and she smiled. Asking how that pink bow got in her hair. : ) We’re probably not going to have a Christmas card this year, but we’ll hopefully get something put together, once the baby arrives?

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