Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Great Purge of 2015

It was a rough summer around here. I never quite felt like we got in a good groove. People were grumpy and "bored" and we "never did anything fun". The rough summer turned in to a rough fall. Some of it was the kids, some of it was how busy we were and how many different directions we were always running (not shocking, considering there are 8 of us who all have things going on) and some of it was just me.

The past couple months I've felt really overwhelmed. Like I was barely keeping my head above water and if I stopped to rest for even a second, I'd go under. It was pervasive and noticeable in every different area of my life.

A few weeks ago I told my mom that I was overwhelmed by life and, specifically, by all the "stuff" in our house. I commented that if I came home one day and somehow half of our possessions were gone out of our house I'd be relieved, rather than upset. That's when she decided we were going to get to work on making that happen! (just the motivation -- and help -- I needed!) We have been working our butts off for the better part of two weeks now. She has come over almost every day and we've tackled a different room/area/category of stuff.

While I don't think we've gotten rid of half the possessions in our house, we have purged an impressive amount of stuff in a pretty short period of time. Lots of bags of garbage. TONS of recycling (why was it that I kept boxes from so many things I've purchased long, long ago? . . . and SO. MANY. papers!). About 40 pairs of shoes. Bags and bags of clothing. Wall art. Bedding. Furniture. Picture frames. Books. Home decor type stuff. Kitchen gadgets. Jewelry. Toys. We still have work to do. And we still have more possessions than I am comfortable with! But we are WAY closer to what I am comfortable with than we were two weeks ago. We have been able to pass things along to others who need them or will, at least, make good use of them. That makes me happy. We have donated some items to charities that we trust. We have gotten rid of some of the excess that we have in life and have simplified. All 8 of us are on board and are enjoying the end result of all the hard work -- clean, less cluttered spaces all over our house, drawers, shelves and storage bins that are completely empty and a more peaceful place to live!

We've even found a few things that I forgot we owned. It is a sorry state of affairs that this type of problem is so common and pervasive. It's not just me, I know. But I can only start with myself, so that's what I'm doing. Making a difference a little bit at a time in my own life. And in my own home. It feels good.

I had requested The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up from the library a few months ago. But it's a popular book, so the list wasn't short. It finally came in for me near the beginning of the purge. I'm almost done with the book now and, while I don't agree with everything she says, there have been many ideas in the book that have been very helpful to me while going through this process. I haven't done things exactly according to her order and her advice (partly because I had already started and partly because some of her methods aren't really geared well for a family of 8 and a few I find just flat out silly -- or maybe just culturally irrelevant, as the author is from Japan and I am not). Overall, I think it is a great book and there have been some very freeing ideas and philosophies in there that I am thankful for. Perspective is always good and the author has a very different perspective than any I have previously encountered and I appreciated the new way to think about possessions.

Simplifying and paring down our possessions certainly hasn't solved all my problems, but it has helped. For that I am grateful! Major thanks to my mom and my family for all the help!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Elementary school and our "village"

Our community is such a blessing. I love where we live and am so grateful! I try to not ever take it for granted. We are surrounded by wonderful people. I walk out my front door (actually I never walk out the front door, so make that the side door) and within about 10 minutes I can be deep in the woods spotting deer and fox and owls and all sorts of creatures. I can drive to Target or the library in less than 3 minutes . . . unless traffic is bad, then it might take 4 minutes. We have amazing parks and trails and outdoor spaces. It is a wonderful place to live and we are so blessed!

I adore our elementary school! I can't say enough good things about it! Amazing families. Fabulous teachers who are smart, gifted at what they do and have genuine care, love and concern for the kids that they are teaching. It's not perfect (no place is!), but it is so wonderful. It's a smaller, public K-6 school. It is far enough from our house (almost exactly a mile) that my kids qualify to be bussed, but for years we've walked to school pretty much every day. Joe is a walking patrol this year, which makes his "oath" similar to that of a postal worker, "in rain, snow, sleet or hail" or however that goes. The only times the walking line is cancelled is if the air temperature is below zero or the windchill is below 17 below. So, pretty much he has to walk every day, rain or shine. The other day, on the way home, the kids got pelted with some pretty serious hail! (I picked them up that day, after Joe had safely crossed the kids -- which only included his sister and the other walking patrol who has taken the same "oath" -- across the busy street. His most important job is to make sure everyone gets safely across Hamline Ave. After he had done that, I picked them up and drove them home. I even yelled at the other kid on the walking line to hop in and drove him home too.)

So, Joe carries a big orange flag and wears the reflective vest and the whole deal. We leave our house (via the SIDE door) about a half hour before school starts each morning. We pick up the neighbor girl 3 houses down and continue collecting kids along the way. We can have up to 10 kids in our "pack" by the time we get to school. I have walked with the kids from time to time over the years, but this year for the first time I get to walk them pretty much every day. (If my memory can be trusted, I've only missed 1 day so far this year). We've been hot. We've been cold. We've had to work hard to not blow over. We've gotten wet . . . sometimes REALLY wet. And still we walk. It is, truly, my very favorite part of the day. Fresh air in the morning. Time to talk with my kids and hear/see them interact with other kids who aren't their siblings. The morning/before school energy of elementary school kids is good for my soul.

Once we get to school, I wait outside with the kids until they go in. Sometimes, we even walk them in to their classrooms. And, on occasion, Sara and Anna play a trick on Anna's teacher where Sara walks into Anna's classroom (while Anna hides in the hall) and puts Anna's folder away and proceeds to sit in Anna's spot and "get to work". Bless her, Anna's teacher always "falls for it" and calls Sara "Anna" and tells her to start on her morning work. Anna's friends are all in on it too (they started doing it last year -- shockingly, last years teacher "fell for it" every time too. Amazing! These woman are saints, I tell you!). It doesn't ever take long before Sara's crazy laughter starts and she admits that she's not actually Anna and Anna comes in and gets to work. The teacher laughs and says "you fooled me" and I give Anna a hug and Sara and I head out to make the trip home again.

On any given morning there are probably a couple dozen parents who either walk with their kids to school or drive them and walk them in, rather than just dropping them off at the door. I love to watch other parents interact with their kids. The kids are all young enough that you see LOTS of have-a-good-day hugs and kisses between parents and their kids. You see kids high five their friends and hug their teachers. Now, I don't want to paint an unrealistic picture . . . you also see some tears, have to yell at kids to settle their bodies down a bit, see a kid push a classmate and hear words you wish kids that little kids wouldn't know, let alone say . . . but 95% of what I witness at that school each day brings a smile to my face and warmth to my heart. It is good for my soul!

Once in a while I will be there at the end of the day too. It is just as heart-warming at the end of the day as it is at the beginning. If you are in the younger wing of the school at the end of the day you will see LOTS of hugs. I'm pretty sure 90% of the younger kids have some type of physical contact with their teacher at the end of the day. Hugs, high fives, maybe a fist bump. Lot of hugs! It is so sweet. If you are in the other wing, where the older kids are, there are certainly less hugs (they are a big too old and cool for that), but you will still see some form of physical contact from many kids. Usually a high five. Some days it's enough to make me thankful for the sunglasses that I'm wearing which hide the tears welling up in my eyes. Such caring, loving, genuinely kind teachers and such sweet kiddos. My heart nearly bursts! And I am thankful!

On Tuesday mornings before school there is a student-led Bible study that meets at the high school. Often our two high schoolers get picked up by another neighborhood parent on these days . . . but on the days when I drive the early-morning crew to school on a Tuesday it also makes me crazy happy. Tooling around the neighborhood picking up kids in my big van while it's still dark (depending on the time of year and what side of daylight-savings you are on) and dropping them off at school before 7 to study the Bible before beginning their days is almost more than I can take. Last week I dropped off my 2 and 3 others (poor Jacob was the lone boy in the van . . . good thing he's used to it) and felt so much gratitude for countless, nameless things as I watched them walk in together. For their friendship, their love for God, their desire to get up early (I've never once "made" my kids go, they genuinely want to) to study the Bible, their boldness to attend a Bible study at their public high school, the Christian teachers that I know are in the building silently cheering them on, the wonderful community of people we have in our neighborhood who love my kids. And the list goes on.

I really couldn't even imagine living in a better place. I think it is really quite unique and not the norm, and I am so grateful! (The Roseville area visitor association didn't even pay me a penny to say any of this, in case you were wondering!)

Monday, October 26, 2015

History Lesson

We live about 2 miles from the place where my parents first met. It was a college campus then. The college has since moved (about 5 miles north), due to expansion, and the campus where they met in the 60's is now a job training center.

Earlier this year I was running by the old campus and decided that, although I'd heard stories from the time when my parents met and their early dating days, I wanted to do a walking tour of the start of their life together. See where it all began. Hear the stories while we were physically present in the place where they actually took place.

I told my mom and she thought it was a great idea. Schedules and weather and life made it tricky to pull off for a while, but, finally, this past weekend we took our family history tour. My mom brought her photo album from college and we saw the pictures from 1968 as we stood right where those pictures ware taken. Many of the buildings look the same (at least from the outside), which is fun. They pointed to the windows that had been their dorm rooms nearly 50 years ago. We walked around the buildings where they took classes and ate dinner and lived. I'm glad we had the chance to do it and to hear the stories. Our stories. Our history.

The campus as it looks today ::

The kids enjoying the campus green . . . at least until they got scolded and told not to play there.
Oh well, moving right along ::

All because two people fell in love.
The result of love found here nearly 50 years ago. Grandchildren (8 out of 9, anyway) with their grandparents in front of the dorm my mom lived in the year she met my dad. (I bet you never knew Cousin It was in our family, did ya?) ::

Getting them all to cooperate and look kinda normal-ish can be a challenge ::

The lovebirds. Right where it all began . . . 

The dorm that my dad lived in as it looks today ::

I'm so glad we got our visit in this fall. It was a beautiful day and I'm glad my kids have seen the pictures and heard the stories. It's important to know the stories and hear of the faithfulness of God to our family. What a great heritage we have.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

New England in the Fall

My grandpa died in 2007 and my grandma in 2009. All my life they lived in Connecticut, so they were the "long distance" grandparents (the distance was especially "long" relative to my other set of grandparents who lived right in our house with us for much of my growing up years). I loved when they would come to visit or when we would head east to see them.

The adorable pair ::

The entire family, nineteen sixty-something ::

With my grandparents a week or so after our wedding in 1996 ::

Before my grandparents died, they had decided to donate their bodies to science for medical research. So we had memorial services at the times of their death, but did not have bodies or ashes for them, so there was no burial. Fast forward a bit and our family (the funeral home, actually) got their remains back and started planning the service at the cemetery. My grandpa was in WWII, so he was eligible to be buried in a military cemetery. We considered Arlington National Cemetery (he was eligible to be buried there), but decided on the local state military cemetery in Connecticut. So on a beautiful fall morning a small group of us gathered at State Veterans Cemetery in Middletown, Connecticut to honor my grandparents. It was such a beautiful and meaningful ceremony; I am so grateful that I was able to be there! It was a full on military ceremony. I didn't expect it to be so emotional, especially considering the years that had passed since their deaths. There were three veterans that took part in the ceremony and two current military. The elderly vets shot off their guns and one played taps (Kirby has played taps many a time at a military funeral and Jacob has too, so that is especially meaningful to me.) A lone bugle playing slowly over hundreds of gravestones is pretty powerful! Then the two current soldiers (one man and one woman) meticulously unfolded and refolded the flag and presented it to my dad with these words "On behalf of the president of the United State, the United States Army, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one's honorable and faithful service." The soldier was kneeling and looking my dad (who was seated on a chair) right in the eye. Face to face, just a few inches between them. I was not prepared for how moving and powerful that was going to be.

Entry of the cemetery ::

The soldiers who did the flag ceremony ::

5 out of the 8 grandkids ::

My dad and 3 of his siblings (there were 6 kids in his family) ::

Me holding the flag after the service ::

Following the service we hopped in the car (after a lunch together with the family) and drove to Cape Cod to stay that night with my aunt and uncle. They own an Inn on the Cape where we stayed on our honeymoon. This was my first time back in over 19 years. I enjoyed a beautiful sunrise walk on the beach the next morning complete with breaking ocean waves, seals in the water just off shore,  and seagulls. Then we drove to Boston to fly home. It was a short visit, but I was so glad I was there. To catch up a bit with family. To honor my grandparents. To spend kid-free time with my mom and dad. To make a few Dunkin' Donuts stops . . . it was a wonderful trip!

Sunrise on Nauset Beach ::

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fall Family Fun

We planned a trip to the apple orchard (our favorite one!) with some friends. The day we had planned to go turned out to not be quite so fall-ish, as the temperature was about 85 degrees -- which is a bit warmer than my liking for mid-October. But we went ahead with the plan. We just wore shorts and t-shirts and flip flops rather than jeans, sweaters and boots.

We had a great time. We are so thankful for the friendship we have with this great family. Their 8 kids added to our 6, plus the 4 adults make us quite a site when we are all together!

The (good looking) kids. 14 of them, ages 4-16 :: 2 preschoolers, 2 2nd graders, a 4th grader, a 5th grader, a 6th grader, a 7th grader, 3 8th graders, 2 freshman and a junior ::

Buddies ::

Hay wagon ride to the corn maze (love his shirt!) ::

Friends ::

Helping make cider :: 

it's not easy ::

the cider press (it was super cool) ::

It was a fun fall Sunday. We also celebrated a couple birthdays (with such a big group, it's always bound to be someone's birthday) with cake and a song! I'm thinking it might very well become a tradition.

Friday, October 9, 2015

5 . . . and Flashback Friday

Our "baby" is 5 today. I'm not sure how that can be possible, but there's no denying it, despite my best efforts. She has brought so much joy and laughter and fun to our lives (and also a fair dose of frustration and irritation) and we are so happy that God saw fit to give her to our family!

She was kicking her little feet and messing with the accuracy of the scale . . . none of our babies have ever tipped a scale at under 8 pounds! ::

Look at that smile. She stole that guys heart instantly! ::

Those sweet little feet ::

At family camp, almost 2 years old ::

Almost 3 years old. Clearly, she's had that spunk for years ::

On her birthday last year wearing her "I'm 4" shirt for the first time (the 3rd Stoll kid to wear it . . . I'll be so sad to "retire" it! Or put it in the "hall of fame" -- which is where Joe says we should put extra special items of clothing. For example, his "corduroy" pants, which no longer have any wale at all. You know, there is wide wale corduroy, narrow wale corduroy . . . well, Joe may be the only person to own "no wale" corduroy pants! They have been his favorites for YEARS and all the "wale" has completely worn off. You have to see them to believe it!) ::

And a current picture of our sweet, funny, sassy, large-vocabulary, thinks-she's-a-teenager girl. We think she's pretty great ::

Happy Birthday to my favorite 5-year-old on earth. Thanks for being such a blessing to those around you. My God be with you this coming year as you learn to love Him more!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Happy Day

It's this guys birthday today. He is our rock and we adore him (and I'm pretty sure we aren't the only ones!). I am continually thankful for him. For what a great husband, dad, son, friend, leader, employee and servant he is. I am so glad he survived being born with a collapsed lung and touch-and-go health for a while there. I can't imagine my life without him by my side!

Happy Birthday Kirb! We love you and are so thankful for you!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


There have been so many days the past few months where the devotional I read through each morning has said exactly what my heart needed on that particular day. It's uncanny to me (and, at the same time, so very like God) that it can be so impeccably timed. So many mornings it brings me exactly what I need in my life for that day. Some days it is so specific to certain circumstances in my life that I can hardly believe it.

Anyway, the other day I read these words ::

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hand. {Psalm 19.1}
Right now all the leaves are falling, and there's no reason that they have to turn electric bright red before they fall, but they do and I want to live like that. I want to say, "What can I do today that brings more beauty, more energy, more hope?" Because it seems like that's what God is saying to us, over and over. "What can I do to remind you again how good this life is? You think the color of the sky is good now, wait till sunset. You think oranges are good? Try a tangerine." He's a crazy delightful mad scientist and keeps coming back from the lab with unbelievable new things, and it's a gift to be a part of it.
. . . I want my every day to make God belly laugh, glad that he gave life to someone who loves the gift. {Savor, by Shauna Niequist. Entry for October 5th}

I love fall! I try to savor it each year. Spend as much time as I can outside. Looking around. Smelling the smell of it. Listening to the leaves crunching underfoot. Absorbing the beauty.

I also try to live this way. Loving the gift of this life. In the big things -- and, much more importantly, in the little, day-to-day things.

Here are some of the blessings from this past week. Keep track of your own "gifts". The things you are grateful for. The little things and the big things. See if it makes a difference in your life the way it has in mine ::

5029. a walk with Kirbs on a beautiful fall evening
5030. the smell of fall
5032. finishing up a big project
5033. a clean house (even if it only lasts 5 minutes)
5035. carpooling
5036. perspective
5039. the little girls playing dress up
5040. finding the lid to my travel coffee mug (that I use nearly every day) that I lost while walking the kids to school
5041. crisp fall air coupled with sunshine
5042. wearing socks
5044. Jacob's first ever varsity playing time (go #19!)
5048. Friday morning date with my mom
5049. the boys both asking for pink football socks to wear in October in honor of their Ama
5050. Joe and Anna snuggled up together in Joe's bed, fast asleep
5051. an eagle flying low overhead as I was running
5053. Joe's great catch for the extra point in his football game
5054. a great Homecoming week at UNW
5058. the 3 little kids giddy with excitement over new episodes of their very favorite show
5060. while mowing our neighbors lawn for them while they were out of town, Jacob noticed that their mower blade was dull and sharpened it for them.
5062. the 3 littles having a sleepover on the living room floor
5066. cheering on friends at the Twin Cities Marathon events

Friday, October 2, 2015

Flashback Friday

Five years ago this week, this was my view when I looked down ::

I'm so thankful to not have that view any longer and for the sweet girl who was hanging out in there waiting to be born. What a blessing she is!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


The weather today was pretty much perfection in my book. The morning air was crisp and cool. The sun came out and warmed it up a bit, but I still wore long sleeves, long pants and socks. Socks are my favorite! I got two walks in. The trees are turning such beautiful colors. It was glorious. I hope you got the chance to be outside and enjoy it a bit too!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Years ago (whenever it first came out) I read Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts and have read it a few more times since then. I think, the Bible excepted, it has had more impact on me and my life than has any other book I've ever read. If you haven't read it, you really should get your hands on a copy. It's a wonderful book. Ann's writing is unique and poetic. She is one gifted lady!

Shortly after finishing the book, I started to keep track of my "gifts" in effort to reach one thousand. Call it a gratitude journal, counting your blessings . . . whatever. It is something that I am thankful to have started and kept up for years now. I enjoy looking back on the blessings in life. Especially when the days are tough, it's good to be reminded of all that God has done and all the good things in your life.

So, here are a few of my recent "gifts".

4991. great tackle for Joe
4992. laundry on the line
4995. Kirbs studying so hard
4998. anniversary morning coffee
4999. good friends
5000. 19 years of marriage
5001. Kirb stepping in to run the show when I was hit with a massive headache
5003. my kids
5004. being available to help out a friend in the middle of a crisis
5006. working on spelling words with Joe
5009. fun mail
5010. book club night -- friends. laughter.
5018. glorious weather
5020. watching the lunar eclipse with our neighbors
5021. September race accomplished
2026. walking the kids to school
2028. Monday morning walk in the rain with a friend

Monday, September 28, 2015

An active weekend

With a football game Friday night, two football games on Saturday and a 10-mile race on Sunday morning it was a pretty active weekend for our family.

Roseville had a heart-breaking Homecoming game on Friday night. They had a 6 point lead with less than 3 seconds to go in the game. Then there was a touchdown and extra point scored and before you knew it our players were laying heartbroken in the end zone and, from the other side of the field, the stands erupted with excitement and cheers! Bummer. BIG bummer! We were so close . . .

Saturday morning was sunny and warm. A great day to be watching football, but a bit warm to be a player! Both boys had games. Jacob's team lost, but Joe's team won. Jacob is #19 in the black jerseys.

I'm sure Jacob had more fan support than any other Raider, hands down! I think he had an 11-person fan club (not including anyone in our immediate family) cheering him on Saturday morning. We appreciate so much the people who love on our kids and care enough about them to come watch them doing their thing, whatever it might be (football, tennis, track, theater, band, choir . . . )! What an encouragement that is to us and to the kids. And what a good example of a way to make someone feel valued. We have such wonderful people in our lives! We are so very blessed.

some of the #19 fan club

an adorable toothless fan who came to watch his cousin

the Stoll super fan himself!

Most of the fan base from Jacob's game journeyed a mile or so down the road to Joe's game after Jacob's wrapped up, which was fun. Plus, it's always more fun to watch a team win, and Joe got an interception for his team. Go #11!

Jacob has helped coach Joe's team a little and enjoys standing with the coaches on the sidelines when he is able to be at the games.

Then Sunday morning I left the house before 7 for my September race. I made it my resolution/goal for 2015 to run a race each month (3 more races and I will have accomplished it!). I haven't missed a month yet. Anyway, September was my big race. 10 miles. The biggest race I'd run earlier in the year was a 10k (6.2 miles). This is the 3rd year in a row I've run the Women Run the Cities 10 mile race. It's such a great race. I really enjoy the feel of an all-women race. The spirit in the air is so much fun and feels different than any other race I've done. The course is beautiful and goes past where we had our wedding reception (which is extra fun since the race is always within a few days of our anniversary). Plus, it's fall and I adore fall! Anyway, the past year has been a tough one. Tough for me. Tough for our family. It has had ill effects on my health, my emotions and my fitness. I was completely undertrained (I could count on my hands the number of runs I've done in the past 12 months that were more than 5 miles long) and wasn't feeling great anyway. But, I did it! I was slower, by far, than the past 2 years, but I finished!


Then we sat out in the yard watching the beauty and majesty of God in the moon. What an awe-some experience. So much beauty! It makes you feel so small and makes you thankful for the bigness of our God. Our neighbors had a telescope, so we got to watch the action close up. It was wonderful!

I hope you got to enjoy some outside time this weekend too. If you live near me, it was an amazingly beautiful weekend for late September (although I would have been happy if it was 10 degrees cooler while I was running in the morning). Sunshine, a glorious breeze, changing leaves. Perfection!