Life Lately // November


Well, the promise of sunny skies for November was quickly compromised and we now are enjoying the typical November grey of Finland. It's interesting what a year and proper expectations can do for perspective. I hear my Minnesotan counterparts complain of their dark, and I kind of do a bit of a huff and a puff because you guys don't even know dark ;). The dark+lonely culture actually is a bit of a thing here, and that post link gives you a bit of a glimpse into why Finnish winters can be so bleak. Yet, it really is beautiful.

 I'm grateful for our community and for the way the "light of Christ" really has taken on whole new meanings for me since moving here. Honestly, it doesn't seem so bad this time around-not when we've given ourselves permission to embrace the cozy, keep the warm drinks a'flowin' and listen to good quality music. All this to say. There's a lot of beauty, even in the darker seasons.

There's a whole lot of nakedness too. We basically live in the tub when it's cold outside.

permission granted


She eyes me curiously and somewhat apprehensively. She anticipates, already at three, a response that will tame her wild. The question being posed in this particular moment includes a leap, a risk, a lessening of safety.

But the light in her eyes when she hears 'yes,' perhaps proves worth the risk.

There's a saying here in Scandinavian countries that 'children need a five foot tree.' Four feet and it wouldn't be much of a challenge. Six and the risk of breaking something a bit too great, but five? Five poses risk. The height guarantees bruises and scrapes, but rarely broken bones. Five feet gives enough distance from the ground to make us free.

My whole life I've been on the lookout for my five foot tree. After enough 'no's the trees all start to  look ten feet tall. I get timid. I start believing that perhaps the reason for a closed door is because I'm not able. I'm not enough. If I can't handle that five foot tree over here, my fears tell me, how could I ever manage even the four? So I subconsciously stop climbing, stop looking for trees at all.

I see kids dangle and hang off park equipment and walk alone and feel all sorts of brave. I'm beginning to see as my own children attempt to take risks. I'm discovering, if I'm willing to discover, that beauty so often lies in the risk.

I so often season my "no" with reasons of why my children shouldn't. I try to explain so thoroughly, and it's sound logic.

But, at what point, dear mother, will the skinned knee be worth it? When will my mama heart be okay with the risk? With the tears? With the broken heart?

She won't. She won't ever be okay with it.

But, she can be brave. I can choose wisdom over my fears. I can choose to walk in my hopes rather than the possibilities of failure. I can choose to say "go for it!" and hold the "but be careful!"
Even when I know that my doing so increases the probability of tears. My children will fall. They will fail. I will fall. I will fail.

While I hope my children are never reckless, I do know for certain that the only proper way to learn to climb a tree is with two hands and two feet,

with enough space to fall.

So, I'll let her dirty nailed hands climb. I'll hold my breath and let it out slowly and remind myself of this 'five foot tree.' I'll cheer out loud and remind her of how able she is. I'll parade her accomplishments to her dad when he gets home and I'll laugh when my son, seconds before, is now making the same attempts that caused him pain. I'll praise God for bodies that heal, and for hearts that can be mended. I'll teach my kids to find the trees they can climb. To be brave, and wise. I'll speak to them the truth: that it really is okay to fall.

When my own fears come and I feel too small and I look to the skies for permission, I think I know what I'll hear.

He reminds me that I'm learning to climb,

that he has made me able,

and that he isn't afraid. He heals broken bones and he raises up dead. So if I fall? If I fail?

It really is okay to fall.

Permission granted.

Perhaps in our climbing, we'll begin to grow. Perhaps as our muscles gain and our legs and arms stretch strong, we'll begin to see sights a long way off. Trees more beautiful. Then, we'll feel permission to dream wild crazy things- dreams that only hands and feet that have climbed many trees could ever seize.

Then we'll be brave because we've fallen but we keep climbing. We now know, it really is okay to fall.

Ten Things I Love About Helsinki


Photo credit : Katie K

In the spirit of our impending American Thanksgiving and in anticipation of celebrating our year and half anniversary of living in the great country of Finland (!!!), I thought it would be good fun to write a few things that I love, love LOVE about our Helsinki home.

So here you have it, dear friends! Ten things we've grown to love about our city:

1. Finns. 

Nearly all our experiences with Finns have been pretty awesome. Delightful, genuine, honest. They're just our kind of people. While in Finland, it's relatively looked down upon to be boastful about oneself, they have good reason to boast. Finns are hardworking and quite simply don't quit. They work hard, are honest, and are committed. They're loyal and often think less of themselves. There's a phrase that "If you make a Finnish friend, you have a friend for life." And I can see it. They literally don't have small talk (an introverts dream!) and when they say "we should get together," they mean it. I've learned to take people at their word (which makes it hard when interacting with other cultures who use words so flippantly!) They're just a good bunch of people. 

2. Transportation

 We live right next to the tram and have used the public transit for the entirety of our stint here. A family can easily function without a car-especially if they live in the city like we do. After visiting other countries, I have to say-Finland is pretty great with its transportation. 

3. Design

While I haven't purchased a great deal of exclusively Finnish items, I will say that I never really had a taste for design until moving here. Heart and soul goes into the makings of Finnish goods. There's a simplicity and boldness that Finns have that I love. They make quality, and yet take care to make it beautiful.  

4. Helsinki Beauty

Oh my beautiful city! How I love you. She really is a beauty. I love Helsinki for a number of reasons. One of the more simple reasons is this: it's a city that doesn't compete. There's so much diversity and passion in such a relatively small city (compared to other world cities) and yet there's a lack of competition. Helsinki is just what it is. Unassuming, friendly and downright beautiful.  

5. Cafe's, Parks, & Treasures

I've made it a bit of a challenge (and a joy!) to find my favorite parks and cafe's around here.  Helsinki makes it pretty easy. There's simply a lot of good here. While there isn't a new thing every week, there's good quality every couple of months. I'm starting to form my favorite haunts, and it's fun to get excited about a new place (when just a year ago everything was so new!) Cafe Regatta, Moko Cafe, Gran Delicato, Brooklyn Bakery, Johan and Nystrom, there's just so many great cafe's that I can't even begin.  Also, I love the small business culture of Helsinki. Chains aren't wildly popular here. In the states you can hop from state to state and areas will look exactly the same. In Helsinki, every neighborhood has distinct character.

This makes it especially fun to visit. I tell traveling friends that Helsinki really is a weekend city. You can see all the sites, and get tastes of great food in a short amount of time. Yet, if you choose, you can spend more time in each district and find all sorts of reasons to love each individual place. 

6. Trusting culture

 Kid's are taught independence early on, and often children in primary school go to and from school by them selves (taking trams, etc.) Ben has a coworker who's 7 year old son often is home by himself and kids are allowed a lot of freedoms to roam and be. There's just a trusting culture in general. People will leave babies in prams outside of coffee shops, I leave our stroller outside and go into a store on a near daily basis. When things are lost or have fallen out, people tend to not snatch it up, but rather place the item higher up so it doesn't get walked on. I've found missing gloves, Eowyns blanket and more by retracing my steps sometimes hours (or days) later. There isn't a "finder's keepers" mentality. The city of Helsinki actually has a lost and found. It all whirls together to create a relatively trusting culture. 

7. Accessibility of Nature

I love the accessibility of nature here in Helsinki. It's a major value and children almost always can be seen playing outside regardless of conditions. There's a saying here that there "isn't bad weather, just bad clothing." You can find what you need to stay warm and dry. Rainy days are just as good of days to go out as sunny ones. 

8. Great Food (especially desserts!) 

While I know that in the scope of all things European, Finland and Food aren't usually up on the list for being known, yet the food really is good. I have favorites that I will sorely miss when the time comes to move elsewhere. Chocolate, Korvapuusti, Reindeer, Cloudberry jam, Fresh salmon, my list grows by the day. They have some crraaazzyyy food as well. Salmiakki (gross) and mรคmmi (super gross) for starters but, my heart will always belong to Fazer.

9. Efficiency

Things are well thought out here. While the systems are sometimes tedious, it isn't for lack of planning. Our homes are incredibly efficient, the public transportation is timely, our clothing/goods lean towards better quality (albeit more expensive!) and you generally use less. We have a smaller home with less things, but those things seem to last much longer than the throw away culture we came from.

10. She's Home

 I read a blog post last year that to really make it in a new place, you had to start owning it. I read that post in a season where I felt like nothing here was mine nor would I ever grow familiar of this place. But now? I get it. We have our dear friends, our heart belongs with our church plant, and we genuinely are crazy about Finland. There's so many spots in this place that are "our places" now that I get heavy with the thought of leaving. We just really love this city, and especially the people living here.

There you have it! If you ever come to visit the Nordic countries, make Helsinki one of your stops. You won't regret it.

 I'm thinking you'll get to see more and more travel/ Helsinki specific posts coming as we get out and travel more with kids in tow! Anything in particular you want to know or see? Let me know. 

Copenhagen, Denmark :: Sprague Adventures



I imagine that those who live in Copenhagen are weekly finding new favorite spots. This place is filled, and I mean FILLED with beautiful sites, character, great eateries, and attractions. Bikes are everywhere, history fills all the cracks, there's such a rich culture here that the amount of time we had was no where near the amount of time to really get a taste of the place.

Copenhagen seemed to be a land of extremes. We would either meet extremely friendly people (like, hug Eowyn as we leave a restaurant, friendly) or we would have really difficult experiences. We had a fair share of both. The good news is, by the end of the trip we could quickly figure out what kind of experience we would have about 5 seconds in and could reroute accordingly! Compared to the very calculated, very straight forward Finns, we had a bit of adjustment to make when getting around in a new country, but overall, I think we did alright! 

I couldn't tell you too much about the food scene, because we really ate on the go and ate cheaply. We were okay with that, since with our two kids in tow + many a site to see, we decided to spend our money and time elsewhere. There is certainly PLENTY to see. I'm so glad we took time to wisely spend it in green spaces when we stopped, rather than dining experiences (that often don't turn out how I envision) and to allow our kids a bit of freedom to roll around in the grass a bit when we rested. I'm learning that travelling with kids really is about figuring out what everyone in the party needs. For our kids, that almost ALWAYS equals time outside.

So outside we stayed. Goodness, Copenhagen, you gave us a feast for our eyes.

We made an attempt to visit the Donut Shop (which was raved by many,) but it was closed till 10, and we had an hour to wait-so we went ahead and visited a local cafe near it- I had a cinnamon latte that I'm still missing. We then ventured to Rundetaarn, but decided against going up, since both kids were struggling a bit with the wind down below, so we figured we wouldn't get to enjoy much of the view up top. We decided to head straight over to Rosenborg Slot (castle) where we spent time in the gardens and had a legitimately fun time relaxing and enjoying the greenery. We went inside and toured a bit. Much to the joy of Eowyn, she was convinced the castle was hers. Unfortunately, she was quickly made aware that it was not when we had a very disgruntled employee follow us around to ensure we remained quiet. Womp. I didn't think she was being loud-we try to be sensitive to those things-I think she was just so excited and kept her accolades about the statues "Look Momma !A daddy stature! Look Momma! The colors! Look A Lion Statue!"  The good news is when we went to visit Amelienborg, the gal at the counter was filled with praises that we brought our three year old to see such sites. Everyone smiled, and when Eowyn was legitimately touching something she wasn't she was redirected kindly. So-as I said previously, it really was a hit or a miss.

We checked out Amalienborg (The winter home of the Danish Royal Family) and had a quick lunch in a garden nearby(we just bought food from the 7-11, which was actually not too shabby) This gave the kids time to run free and us to eat and rest a bit. We got to feed some birds and the laughs we got from that were well worth the sacrifice of not eating finer dining. Then we toured the inside and also visited Nyhavn (the classic image of the brightly painted buildings.) I was SURE this was going to be my favorite spot, unfortunately my favorite son was NOT HAVING IT and so we quickly fled the scene since screaming baby wasn't super fun on a mega tourist filled strip.

We meandered after that quite a bit and saw many other sites along our way home. With feat sore we sent out Ben to a local pizza shop and dined in style for dinner in our hotel room. We ended our stay with a sleeping babe, a bathtub big enough for an adult (!!!) and some Netflix.

It was a quick trip, but she was a beauty.

LegoLand :: Billund, Denmark


Many moons ago, Ben and I sat down and made a list. This list contains all the places we hope to see during our stint of living here in Finland. On said list is the beautiful land of Denmark with Legoland, and Copenhagen being the two main places of interest.

So when a very important someone happened to be turning thirty, it seemed like the perfect time to cross these off our list.

I'm so glad we went.

Legoland is all that it should be. I imagine it's super great with their water park in the summertime, but our visit during its last opening week gifted us with practically no queuing and beautiful colored trees. The thought they put into all the Lego buildings and figures are awesome.  We rode a few roller coasters (taking turns watching the little ones,) I laughed HEARTILY at a firefighting ride where a daddy did all the work to put out a fire while a little girl thwarted efforts by waving a fire hose everywhere, Elias enjoyed all the sites and people. The hotel was super fun, and Eowyn LOVED IT ALL.

In addition the hotel had a bunch of cool features. First off, it had legos in every room, but we also ordered 'birthday cake' for the big mans birthday. They brought out an amazing cake with what appeared to be a road flare attached (I told Ben to blow it out-we were then informed it would fizzle out on its own. Ha!) The little touches made for a special time.

The coolest part in terms of the sites was a tie between the X-Wing built to real-life size (Ben's Favorite.) and the mini-land (different places around the world, but made out of Lego.)

If I'm totally honest, my FAVORITE part was walking away with minifigures of all of us. If you can't tell, I'm holding a camera, Ben's holding a pizza, and Eowyn a fairy wand. And see that smile on her face? So totally my girl.

We then ventured on a quick road trip through Denmark! Next up, Copenhagen.

Photo Souvenirs :: a gratitude gift


I always tell Ben how the photos are my favorite souvenirs. This has been my opinion for a number of years and for a number of reasons. One main reason is because they give permission. They don't clue the viewer into the ragged  moments of the travels. They give permission to only remember the good stuff.

When I get home and the bags are hardly unpacked, I plunk myself down and start going through the photos. When I'm done with the cuts and edits, before the mental memory of a trip has set like cement and I've made my decisions about the adventure, I corral Ben to sit with me and we go through our snapshots

One after one after one.

We begin to recant the funny bits, the wow moments, the awful ones too. In the collective, the hard moments seem a little less dominating and all the sites and sounds and tastes come back without the ache of our feet and the whines of a snack time too late.

I obviously am all about being real. Being honest. Being authentic. I'm learning, however, that in the midst of authenticity is the genuine need for gratefulness. Sometimes I have to start from square one and start just thanking the good Lord for breath to breathe and legs to walk far enough to ache. 

Sometimes I do throw my hands up at the difficulty of it all. Sometimes, the best effort for gratitude I can muster is to thank God for my ability to grieve. To feel so deeply, I'm learning-even the heavy-is a gift.

This past trip was in all sorts of ways exhausting. It would be easy to want to not travel one bit. Yet, it's been a great skill to learn how to acknowledge the fullness of the hard while still ending on the beauty of the adventure.

Traveling abroad with littles is HARD. I repeat, it is hard. As in, multiple times a day looking over and thinking that perhaps this is a bit more than we could have ever signed up for.

Yet, traveling with littles has enormous beauty and so much hilarity. It takes practice, but I'm giving my self permission to choose to see things and share them as it most blesses. So the funny stories get remembered, the sweet gifts get properly praised. 

And so many sweet moments were in this trip.

Like when my girl was very sure that the castle we were seeing was, in fact, her possession. She was Queen Eowyn and she was pleased to finally find her place. So pleased was she that she wept as we left. In between tears many a tourist heard the moans of a three year old girl"My castle! My castle...I miss my castle..."

Oh sweet girl. 

It would have been just another castle tour. I'll always remember this trip as the trip where Eowyn found her castle. 

Or when both kids were splashing in a FULL SIZED bath tub together and I was more worried they would choke on their laughter than water.

The grin Ben got when he saw the life-size model of the X-Wing.

The sweet moments of quiet as we road tripped through Denmark country side.

The moments after battling through tantrums and missing baby food when all has been made right and my good kind husband leans over and says, "We're doing it."

It was such a good trip.

I suppose all this to say, I'm grateful for photos and the gift they give in their reminder. I'm grateful for the way they can remind us of so much, but give us permission to forget a bit too. I'm really super grateful I have a curly haired girl, a screechy little boy and a handsome man who makes every moment a bit more of an adventure.

The Big Three Zero


On the day of Ben's big 3-0 we boarded a plane to Denmark to embark on the first of many adventures in his new decade. So, amidst the packing and the pancake eating and the opening of presents, and the traveling, a blog didn't post.

HOWEVER, no such birthday shall pass without a pause and an exclamation.

I've known my husband since he was 21. He's known me since I had a 'teen' attached to my age.
I've seen his character grow and his heart change and his mind sharpen with wisdom.
I've seen him choose the path of humility and great care as he honors other people, many of which may not have been deserving of it (at least by worldly standards.)
I've seen him make decisions with great intentionality and he's owned his decisions-even when they don't succeed.
I've seen him apologize, and even use his shortcomings to show Eowyn how to make things right.
I've experienced grace unmerited and gotten the great joy of being on the receiving end of his great wit.

Many a belly laugh has been had, many a kind word has been shared.

I've seen a great deal of Christ-likeness in these past several years out of him.

And all I can say is this.

John Benjamin,
There is no greater privilege on this earth that I will ever. EVER experience than the one I experience being your wife. You are a kind shade to my heart and the greatest gift. Had I lived my life outside of meeting you, it most definitely would not be as beautiful as this.

As you always say, (disregarding the science.) "In every alternate reality, I always end up with you.

On top of all that, I am, no doubt, living the most beautiful reality I could have ever lived, out of all of the potential ones.

You're the best part of my days. and Man oh man, you make 30 look good.

Happy Birthday to my greatest friend, my most daring adventurer, and the kindest of leaders, the greatest of men.

I sure do like being your gal.

You're just getting more incredible.