Happy Twenty-Nine!



It's your birthday! The big Two Nine!

In a  lot of ways things have turned out far better than I could have hoped when it comes to getting to be your wife. Things have certainly changed in both of us over the past years, but you have through all these years been the same brave man who isn't afraid to move towards what lies ahead. The same daring guy that pursued a very saucy girl some 7 years ago is the man who carries that bravery into moving towards us daily. You're the same guy that continually takes the courage needed to say 'yes' on the wild adventure we're on. You're the same guy that can creatively work out any problem, isn't afraid of hard work, and yet has a deep understanding the place 'fun' has in making life worthwhile. You're brave enough to put work in its place, your hobbies in theirs, and your family and Christ right at the top.

And I'm super honored to be yours.

You've turned out to be an incredible dad, an even better husband, and a guy who can make the best pancakes and tacos on the face of this green earth. You've managed to work hard in everything you do, lead us in a pretty awesome marriage, dominate at difficult board games, take your family across the world (the very thing you told a 19 year old Brittany that we'd do,) grow some babies, work through grief, lead your family time and time again back to Jesus, achieve some pretty epic gaming achievements, hike a few awesome inclines, navigate the emotions of a woman for half a decade, swim in a few oceans, have two sprague girls completely head-over-heals for you, and take some pretty great pictures along the way.

And that's just since I've known you.

Well done on a well-lived life so far. Getting to be living and breathing next to you is one of the best gifts I've been given. You're a man that's easy to be proud of.

Happiest of Birthdays! Cheers to getting to put 29 candles on that chocolate cheesecake you'll be getting and celebrating your birthday in FINLAND. Woah, Ben. Woah.

You done good.

Two & A Quarter :: Where the Party's at


If there's anything I'm convinced of, it's that God had one incredible time drafting up his ideas about toddlers.

Life Lately :: October


 In a few more weeks, we'll hit our half-year anniversary of living here in Finland! Wild. I keep noticing how quickly these weeks pass by and want to remember the little ways that joys are found. Here are a few snippets of life lately:

We got our first snowfall yesterday! Most are pretty certain it won't stay long, but it has us switching gears into winter mode.

A lot has changed since we first arrived. And then again, a lot hasn't. We're definitely learning a bit about ourselves and I'm becoming aware of the unrealistic expectations I had regarding community and life in general when moving to a new place. I think it's easy to set the standard of what friendship 'should be' based on what we left back stateside. The reality is that those relationships were cultivated over years and years of time. The soul-rest that comes from knowing people for half a decade doesn't come in just a few months. And that's actually okay. It's the same with realizing that what my plate could or couldn't hold back in Minnesota may not be the same over here. I'm working through it and grateful for the grace of Ben's friendship as I verbally process through it all. 


We're also gearing up for Baby. I think this week it really hit both Ben and I that my belly isn't just growing bigger and bigger because of all the delicious pastries (well, there may be some of that) and that there is, in fact, a little friend in there. We've got 15 weeks to get used to the idea-give or take-so I think once he makes his grand debut, we'll be more than ready for him. 


 drove home from a friends house without a GPS, so...thats like 100 points. I also find myself giving tourists and other newcomers tips on what places to see. It feels strange walking away from those moments realizing that we now have our haunts that we like to visit. It feels pretty good, actually.


   There's been a lot of hoops to jump through since we got here. The latest was having to reorder Eowyn's birth certificate because the original one (with an apostille stamp verifying she was in fact born) got lost in the mail on its return to us. So, I had to fill out a new application for a birth certificate, but it had to be notarized by a US notary. 

So, we got to visit the US Consulate!  As a little side note: a lot of people don't care much for the way Finns insist on a certain way of doing things. They are people that go by the book. If your appointment says 3:30, you will meet with said person at 3:30. If you have to have a certain amount of paperwork, in our experience, that means that you better make sure you have it. So, this way of doing things has become customary. And if any of you know me, you know that my type-A personality is totally okay with this.

 So, the consulate: After waiting for them to verify our passports for entry, going through metal detectors and searches of all our things (which we weren't allowed to take with us to the waiting room,) we waited. Then we got to talk to someone to explain why were there, then asked to go sit down again. We did this process 3 times over before we finally made our way back out with notarized application in hand. I think I forgot the way the states works. The way you can go to an appointment but not be seen for several minutes (sometimes hours) after. I anticipate that'll be a hard thing to reacclimate to when we go back stateside. 

All this to say, I've gotten a bit used to the Finnish way and their timely nature and processes. It was nice to wave to the picture of our President on the wall, but then it was nice to walk out to the right-on-time tram that was (of course) arriving right on schedule.


 More "Yay Finland!" news: I got a new midwife! The one I had previously was very kind, but struggled through our conversations due to language barriers. She retired, and I was reassigned a different midwife who is AWESOME. Seriously, like...amazing. I keep praising Jesus for her.

I applied for my finnish residence card, now that I officially am married to Ben and have a number. So that's nice. And we found a pretty decent craft store out in the burbs. 

We got our car a few weeks ago. We're callin' her ruby because she is RED. But, we're grateful to have it and it'll make travelling to our friends who have a church plant every week much more of a sure thing. Also, when needed, we can hike out to the suburbs and go to one for the big grocery stores and not have to take our groceries home in the stroller-which feels pretty magical. We celebrate with donuts.

This has been probably the best month yet. Even with the darkness, I think we're finally finding our routine and having the energy to work on loving each other well rather than surviving through our brains being dead from all the decisions that need to be made. I'm grateful. 

My parents come a week from today! We're ready. Now to just figure out a way to keep them here. They're bringing a load of baby stuff I bought from target and shipped to their house, and also random goodies like ranch dressing, and vanilla extract, soooo christmas is coming next week.

Also, we got the sweetest surprise package EVER this week and it included this fantastic headband. It's been all the rage at our house this week.

I feel like I could write a book and how to be a good friend based on the way our family and friends have loved on us these past months. God did amazing when making a human be so kind as to think of a light-up-headband to delight a 2 year old girl. Then, that human buys said headband and sends it over the ocean? We're marveling.  There have been a lot of joyful tears.

There's a lot of good things happening here.

Hope your weekend is wonderful and filled with community.

DIY Christmas Card Portraits :: How-To & Other Photography Tips


Back stateside, we had great photographer friends. When the holiday season came last year, it was only a matter of setting up a date and getting some fun photos taken.  But, now that we're here in Finland, I wasn't really sure what we were going to do about those Christmas cards. I was eager to try to find a photographer, so I began the online search a few months ago. Let me tell you, it's been tricky. To find a photographer that has a website we can understand, a style we love AND a price that we feel good about, well, we were struggling. 

When I was showing Ben all our options, he asked about an option I already ruled out: "Why don't we try to take them ourselves?"

We've never taken family pictures by ourselves. It's always seemed like too daunting of task. Toddler smiles? All of us looking at the camera? Good lighting? Hello, overwhelmed. However, Ben and I kind of have a running tradition of taking our own pictures. We took our own engagement pictures, maternity photos, and have done some fun anniversary shoots as well. While the results haven't always been pinterest worthy, (of course, back when we started, there wasn't pinterest.) it has always been a good opportunity to grow together, laugh at ourselves and become better photographers. Even now, some of the photos from the early days are my favorites of us together.

So, when Ben asked me ‘why not take a stab at our own pictures this season,' I figured, why not?!

Over the last few years, we've taken a few photos we're really proud of. Some of the photos Ben captures, I can't help but get giddy over. We've really figured out our style and have pretty good luck at getting a few shots that are frame-worthy. Once I embraced the idea, I was eager to see how our years of taking photos with the two of us would translate to photos of the 3.5 of us. :)

Well, we did it and I got to say I'm a forever fan. Here are a few of our favorites:

It's been over 5 years since we first tried to take our own portraits. Over these past several years, we've learned quite a bit about DIY photo-taking. Now that we've finally taken the plunge into taking photos with a TODDLER, I feel a bit eager to share what we've learned. Hopefully these few tips will save you the headache of the years of practice we've stumbled through. Most importantly, I hope you have a good experience if you decide to be brave and venture out to capture your own family photos this season!

Here are a few things we've learned:

1. Equipment is something but it isn't everything.

I'll be the first to say that equipment matters...but only so much.  I've seen some amazing pictures taken from point-and-shoot cameras and even iPhones. Yet, I've also seen so-so pictures taken with fancy DSLRs. We had a DSLR for over a year before I really learned to use it. All this to say, user skill matters. If you have a nice camera that allows you to adjust the settings, it's worth taking time to learn the manual settings and figure out the style of photos you love. Pinterest has tons of easy to use infographs on photography. These sorts of visual aids helped me a lot in the early days. Even basic understanding will radically change the outcome of your photos. 

There are two pieces of equipment I would recommend, especially if children are involved: A tripod, and a wireless shutter remote. A tripod is kind of a must when trying to take your own pictures (a tree branch/stroller hood only gets you so far.)  We have a pretty tall tripod which helps with getting good angles. With Ben being so tall, it's nice that our tripod can grow as tall as I am! I would also recommend that wireless shutter remote. This eliminates you running back and forth to your camera to set off your ten-second timer. These remotes can run really cheap (I got my last one for about 5 bucks) online and allow you to take a lot more pictures in a short amount of time. The race against toddler boredom is REAL. Both are worthwhile investments. 

2.  Attitude will make or break the experience. 

In our early days, I would drag Ben out into some forest and make him pose until I took shots that I kind of liked. He was gracious, but I was often frustrated that I didn't get *the* picture I wanted. Plus I would make us stay out so long we'd have mosquito bites or came home sweaty. Fake smiles aren't really that fun to edit either.  

We've since learned that taking pictures, especially family photos, is about the adventure.   Be flexible with your expectations and realize that the more fun you're having, the more relaxed everyone will be in the photos. With kids, involvement is key.  Letting Eowyn click the remote shutter a few times always results in smiles and looking at the camera (take a look at the photos, you'll even catch a glimpse of her holding the remote!) Also, choosing photos ideas that aren't so posed allows for kids to not get so frustrated as the photographer keeps trying to get that 'picture perfect photo.' We like to tickle our girl, say silly stuff or play around with each other all up until we see the final little light on our camera.  We take a few of the same photos (I try to get 3-5 photos) and I later choose the best one. Then, we move on. Keeping a bit of a faster pace keeps our girl interested and the pictures looking more authentic. Get creative when engaging your toddler and predict where he or she will go next. Focus on that point and wait till they get there. This will help you get sharp photos of that moving target.

3. Choose a location you love and feel comfortable in. Timing is important too.

While Ben is perfectly confident when it comes to us shooting our own photos, I get nervous if there's tons of people around. I feel hurried and in the way. So, I've learned to search for locations that aren't wildly popular. Sure, a local park might have nice cut grass, but a national park a few miles down the road offers some unique scenes, and a lot more to work with!  Think about what kind of setting you love and then search around your town. I've actually used instagram hashtags to check out a location before going. In a world of social media, searching for a great place can actually be really easy.

I've mentioned this before, but the "Golden Hour" (the hour before the sun sets, or after the sun rises) really is one of the best time for photos. It automatically rules out the harsh shadows on your face or the sweaty upper lip from a noonday sun. If you just can't swing an hour before sundown (bedtime, dinner plans etc.) look for places with good shade. Harsh lighting can often give harsh pictures. While shooting in RAW can sometimes fix a lot of overexposure issues, I'm not one to advocate sub-par pictures and then relying on editing later. Editing is better if used to enhance, not fix.  

4. Take time to pick a quality photo publishing service

So you saved some money on doing your photos yourself. Well done! Now it's time to publish those pretties. In a land of free internet, where I can post all of these online for only the cost of my time, it's really easy to convince myself that I can also get great quality prints and other photo products for next to nothing. I've tried this a few times and if I'm honest, I have to say I always end up disappointed. You spend a lot of time and energy taking these pictures, don't let them be ruined by a poor quality picture company. I've always had great success with picture quality with shutterfly. They're pretty affordable and have a pretty great customer service. In fact one time they resent my order because a picture got bent in transit. (Ten points!) I also continue to hear rave reviews about their site tinyprints.The site has tons of cards and home decor options. Needless to say, I'm excited to pick out Christmas cards this season.

Last but not least: Mom tips.
A Few Mini 'Mom' Tips:

  • BRING SNACKS! Toddlers (and husbands) often need a little refreshment from having a camera pointed in their direction. Mama likes a nice snack too. Just be sure to check everyone's teeth before you keep shooting. :) 

  • As you learn tips and tricks with your camera, be sure to share those with your spouse. This makes it so you both can capture sweet candid shots. I often set the shutter speed and aperture, but Ben knows how to play with focus and understands basic photo composition. Working together has produced some of my favorite snapshots.

  • Keep it short. I try to limit my photo taking time to at most 45 minutes. If there's other moments that arise GREAT, but having realistic expectations makes it more enjoyable for everyone AND more likely that your family will oblige you next year when you want to do a photo-shoot again.

  • A fun ball or other game-like-prop can help a lot with getting authentic smiles from kids. Just taking time to have one of you play with the kids can really make for some great photos. Also, flirting with your special man friend is sure to get a few eye-crinkle smiles. (My favorite!) 

  • I remind myself often that it only takes a few great pictures to make a successful photo-shoot. I often will take upwards of 200 pictures. Yet, I often keep only 10-30 of them depending on how they turned out. You only need one to make a great Christmas card. Keep your spirits up when taking those photos and feel free to get rid of any of the photos that you don't absolutely love. If all else fails, plan for another potential photo-shoot date if things just aren't working. 

I hope these tips prove helpful.  If you decide to take your own photos for Christmas or any other reason (and really, why not give it a try!?) be sure to share any tips you learned that you could pass along in the comments (and share a link if you post them online, I'd love to see them!)

As always, thanks for reading.

Ten on Ten :: October 2014


Today was a thorough 'grey day.' The fog settled on Helsinki before we ever got up and by the looks of it, it won't be leaving before we go to sleep. It's one of those days where when Ben walks in the place looks worse than when he left, but his girl is still a whole lot of happy. Muffins were eaten, playdough was played, shows were watched, laundry was washed and dancing most definitely occurred. So, a pretty good friday indeed.

Fog settling in-this as at 9:00 this morning // baby girl toes // prettiest newest thing I own // "Is anything too hard for the Lord? Naptime Diaries Print. // Same state as they were in this morning // Homemade // Making playdough people // Sorting baby brothers clothes // book club, catching up // Best way to end a night //

Hey! It's the weekend! Happy Friday, Friends.

If you want to see more ten on tens from other bloggers in the world, be sure to check out Rebekah Gough's blog. 

To see previous ten-on-tens from this blog,  click here.

"Just do the next thing." :: Momhood on the hard days


I've journaled ever since I was a kid. I write a lot of words that never make it to the blog, but sometimes I want to add bits of what's written on paper here as well. It's perhaps a bit of a different writing style (albeit more rough around the edges) but I want to add a few posts here and there none the less. Here's one from my paper journal written not too long ago. Hope you mommas out there can be encouraged-especially on the hard days. 

"Just do the next thing."

My heart is heavy for the future. My head filled with plans gone wrong. I want to retreat and not come back. To forfeit this role of motherhood for a while to more qualified hands, to women whose character is more sure than mine.

I want her to be loved well. Yet, man I crave aloneness. She wakes and my heart is weary. 'Sleep a few more minutes (or hours!), my body isn't ready for you yet.'

"Do the next thing." the wise mother says. Just do the next thing. The planner heart says its not enough, 'don't you see all the failed things already undone today!?'

But still she repeats: Do the next thing.

The next thing is willing myself back into my girl's room. Back into the gaze of a girl who gives kisses and defiance in equal measure. Back into the questions of "is this me being gracious or encouraging disobedience?" Back into the fight of fear: is choosing the show or looking down at the phone another drop in today's unmeasurable rank?

I see the confident mom and I can't figure out if we all look more confident than we feel, or if we ought to feel more confident than we are. Is confidence and peace one in the same?

The next thing is choosing to admit my humanness. It's realizing that this doesn't equate to admitting failure. Doing the next thing is silencing the lie that the quantity of my attention and creative expression and active participation is what creates a perfect god-child. She's much better than that. She's God's child, just as I am. The quicker I show her how unconditional that reality (the quicker I rest in that reality) the sooner our two fiery hearts can swell with the joy of being loved and quit the ugly fight to prove we're lovable.

Winter haunts the corners and there's a fear in me that this place will become our prison and we'll grow dark like the creeping night outside. I fear our feelings will match the color that too often greets us when we walk outside the door.

But I know better. I know that God is the beautiful of all things and that being still in His beauty is part of His workmanship. Inasmuch as going and doing, sitting and silence is His too. So, we'll learn what that means together.

There's enough grace for her today. There's enough joy left in my heart to love her well past bedtime. If I run out (which I'm prone to do) the one who loves us and is infinite in joy will refill our empty and show us how to love once again. He'll show us how to love the unloveable. He does it everyday.

I prayed a million prayers: "Make me more like you." It's funny how you gifted me a girl with a crooked tooth and blond swirly hair to do exactly that.

Loving past reason. Putting my rights on the shelf next to the need to prove to the world I'm something, Choosing to carry the cross of today with joy rather than waving a martyr flag. Wiping floors, laughing at towers fallen, making food that won't be eaten. Wash. Repeat.

I  look into her chocolate-smeared face after yet another stand-off of the wills and asking one question:

"You know I love you?"

She knows the answer.

That, today, is enough.

The Best Part of Our Days :: Him Coming Home.


Not too long ago I took time weekly to gush about the man-half of this sprague duo. If you want to see, look no further. While life has gotten busy, and I've found that words spoken to flesh rather than over a computer screen often have more meaning, I don't want to go too long without raving about the Mr here on the good ol Celebrating Daily.

Since we've moved here, Ben has had to love and move toward two very emotional girls. We've had a lot of workings going on in our hearts, and it's no small feat to get to the core of the issues. This is especially true when those conversations happen after a long day of being an introverted man working with several people face-to-face.  Yet, he does it. He pastors and loves us deep.

I think the most obvious way that his 'shade' has benefited our home is the joy that ends up coming out of it. Our little girl is a confident little girl because of her dad and his attention and adoration. My heart is a contented heart, often even in the midst of struggle, because of his kindness. He makes room for joy. He makes room for real, and he makes room for us to just breath a little and hide away. He knows his family.

I find the longer I live, the less men of character I meet. Men that rise to the challenge of loving and caring well for their families, friends and communities, men that live sacrificially, they seem rare. I can't even list the ways this guy has done exactly that. I'm proud to be his. Humbled, really. He treasures his friendships and sees beyond just our little apartment. He's an excellent dad, and an even better husband.  He leads this family well.

Ben Sprague, you're the best part of our days. Life with you is a good way to live.