Mark & Jess


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Oh, the cuteness.

I took these pictures of (my brother) Mark and Jess and the kids a couple of weeks ago. They’ve had a big year this year, with Baby Clara arriving. But behind the scenes things have been difficult. I haven’t talked about it much here, but Mark & Jess are in a place where they could really use the love and support of their friends and family.


Colleagues from Jess’s work set up a Go Fund Me page for them because their situation involves financial strain. On that page I wrote more of a description of what is going on with them, and instead of writing it out twice I’m asking you to check it out here!


Thanks for caring for these people that I love.



We Went to California – San Diego


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Coming out of Ramona, there was a bit of a culture shock when we hit San Diego. Josh’s conference was downtown right on the bay, and our room had a beautiful view of the water. But we still had sand in our shoes. Ha!


Fancy, huh? I loved the marbled art in the lobby.


This was our view of the fourth floor pool…


… (Which, obviously, is different from the third floor lap pool.)



Anyway we had some free time before Josh’s first conference sessions and it was our last day with a car, soooo – off to La Jolla to see the seals!

They made an appearance in the video I made too, so check it out!

Video link here.



I know it’s very mid-western slash touristy of me to say this, but I really love watching seals. Harbor seals are adorable, and the sea lions were swimming and playing in the waves like golden retrievers or something. I could have watched them all day.



These people were swimming in gunky seaweedy water WITH seals, and frankly I mean more power to them, but there is no piece of me that could imagine ANY of that. Gross.


Check out my kindred spirit; I named him “Monday Morning”. He just literally could not.


Once the sun burned the fog off we headed through town for lunch (fish tacos, duh) and then to Mission Beach (or Pacific? Where is the line??) to swim in the waves.




The water was super full of seaweed and I’ll never claim to be all that mature about that. But the waves were big and Josh rented a boogie board so we had a good time anyway. I actually got so thrown around by the waves – they’re so powerful! – that I kept having to take breathing breaks.


The next day, I took the bus to the San Diego Zoo, but if you squint doesn’t the map look like an amusement park? Disney? This place is huge! And hilly!


Most of the “exciting” animals were snoozing when I was there so that was disappointing (I’m looking at you, polar bear, koalas, lions, tigers, other big cats) but even still many were out and about and so cool. I mean when is the last time you sat and had a granola bar whilst hanging out with hippos?


This tortoise was super social, if that’s possible to say? He followed people along the wall and was making eye contact and stuff. He even posed for the picture. What a gem.


The NEXT day while Josh was at the conference, I took the bus back to Balboa Park and met my mom’s old friend/roommate and my “aunt” Helen. They lived together in San Diego back in the day and it was so nice to see her. And the botanical gardens, of course.


On our last night in San Diego, we Uber-ed out to Sunset Cliffs for a little exploring and oh man, I’m so glad we could! What a crazy beautiful place. I could definitely have done without the mile-long staircase (did you see it in the video?) but at least I didn’t have to carry a surfboard.



I get nervous about getting stuck out somewhere when the tide comes in, thanks to a bad experience in Alaska years ago, so we didn’t go all the way out to the farthest point, but we saw enough to get the drift.


After that we walked the mile or so back into town on Point Loma as the sun set. Life is just so hard sometimes, huh..



We sat outside at one of these tables at the Little Lion and stayed there until our next Uber arrived to take us home, and that was that.


One last sunset picture from the hotel room.. The sun in the sails – so beautiful!



We Went to California – Ramona


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Ramona? Who goes to Ramona? That would be us!

Josh’s latest work trip was to San Diego (the week before Labor Day), and I like, reeeally didn’t want to miss out. We waited until the very last minute to buy my ticket, though, because I was on oral antibiotics and didn’t know which way things were going to go. It’s hard for me to ever plan travel ahead of time – especially when plane tickets are involved. Thankfully, things didn’t escalate on orals and by the time they were finished I was feeling ready to travel.

… I say “thankfully”, but this is something in life I am so grateful to God for. It’s hard to take risks sometimes, and when you do and it works out better than you had planned, it’s such a cool feeling.

ANYWAY so the trip! We had one night before Josh had to be in SD, so the second we landed we rented a car and headed to San Marcos to see my great-aunt Eileen. Her ranch is one of the more beautiful places I’ve seen and it is always a treat to see it, her cows, and of course her! I wish you could all see this place. It’s unreal.



In Michigan we get frogs and worms in our pools, but check out this unwanted visitor!


Again, wish you could see it. She’s probably got a story from a different part of the world for each of the things on those shelves!



It’s been a few years since Josh and I have been to see Aunt Eileen, and although our visit was brief it was really good to see her. Quite the lady, that one!



She’s got 9 cows, I believe. This is the only one who felt like hanging out.


After dinner Josh & I had to hit the road b/c we had to get to Ramona, where we had rented an Airbnb. It was sort of in the boonies and we wanted to get there before dark but didn’t quite make it.

Probably because I kept making him pull over for cactus pictures.


We didn’t get there in time for sunset, but hoooo man, the sunrise?! Beyond beautiful. You guys, Airbnb is just the bee’s knees. After this stay it is impossible to convince me otherwise. We never would have thought to stay in Ramona without it. Our “cottage” is hard to show in photos, but if you have a few minutes this video will give you a better glimpse – of Aunt Eileen’s ranch too..

Video link here.






Dead center. See him? #wildlife


We explored around all morning and then drove into town to see what Ramona has to offer. Apparently there are lots of antique shops and small-town businesses. So, right up our alley. Still sad I left that stained glass piece behind.



It’s been a while since I’ve had a good shop cat encounter, so thanks Olive. You made my day.




After a day of exploring it was time to rinse the dust off our shoes and head down to San Diego.

Goodbye little cottage! See you next time…


So that’s Ramona! We crammed a lot into those 24+ hours in some ways, but there was plenty of porch swinging and hummingbird watching too.

Summer So Far


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How’s your summer going, you guys? I know some of you are probably ready to move on to back-to-school and fall and stuff but that is just never me. The summer feelings are going strong around here! I thought I’d share a few pictures of things we’ve been up to lately.

Lots of swims at the Brandsens’ pool this summer, which we are so grateful for. We like to bring Thomas and Jane to see their fish friends.


We haven’t traveled much yet this summer, except for going to Florida last month. But really, it’s the best time of year to enjoy the back porch life and I’ve definitely excelled at that. Such a homebody. Plus I caught a cold when we got home from Florida and since then I’ve been fighting off a lung infection. I’m just finishing up a couple of weeks on oral antibiotics and it looks like I might have made it out without IV’s! Very grateful, especially since it’s been six months now since I’ve needed them and it would be a reasonable thing to expect.


We had record amounts of raspberries this spring/summer, and in desperation I started having other people come pick for themselves. Our freezer can only handle so many! Ha. We’ll see what the fall crop brings, but if you’re a local raspberry lover, let me know. I may need you.


Book recommendation! I cried my way through Hope Heals earlier this summer and then bought it so I could highlight it/lend it out. You know how every now and then a book will just hit you right? This was that for me. You should read it and see for yourself!


At the end of July we took our Etsy shop to a market for the first time since summer 2014, and it was so fun! Our pal Joyce has a vintage shop about 45 minutes away in Grand Haven, and she started a market this year with 30 vendor friends. It could have gone either way but I guess it was a smashing success for her, and a definite good day for us too. Yay!


Lake Michigan in the summer. We haven’t been enough! Hopefully we’ll get a few more shots at it. Josh and Nate bring the windsurfer and/or boogie boards but I like to just swim in the waves. My legs are still sore from swimming in this past weekend’s crazy undertow.


Peach season. One of the best parts of summer.


We swam one morning with all of our nieces and nephews, minus baby Clara. So Thomas and Jane (Patten) got to play with Callum and Everly (Brandsen)! Definitely a summer goal met for this auntie.


I made a video of that morning (of course) because I know even a year from now it’s going to be the SWEETEST memory.

If you can’t see the video, here’s the link.

Back to the peaches, they’re best when enjoyed picnic-style on the front porch. You know.


So! There’s a little look at our summer.. We just took a gamble (kinda toeing the line with my health) and bought plane tickets for San Diego, so that’s coming up soon-ish. Josh has a conference and you know I love to join in on work trips. Last year this conference was in Atlanta and I’m just realizing I never posted about our time there.. Gah! Somehow I’m always playing catch up on this blog.. Just imagine if I tried scrap-booking.

We Went to Florida – Disney World

The program that Josh works for, Upward Bound, takes a summer trip every year after they finish their 5 week summer program. This year they went to Disney World – 29 excited high schoolers, 4 employees, aaaand ME! I’ve never been to Disney World, plus it was a fun chance to get to know the kids, so I was excited to come along.

This was the first time I had done the summer trip with the kids. Usually they stay so busy that it sounds too exhausting to me, but this year their schedule easily allowed me to sleep in/do my therapy and then meet them at the parks.

There was that 4 a.m. wake-up for the plane ride there tho…


My self-given “job” for the trip was to make a video for the kids. It was a WEE bit over my head, lol, but I think it turned out pretty good! Check it out! If you’ve been to Disney World you’ll recognize a lot of it. (It is SIX MINUTES LONG so beware)

Our hotel “resort” honestly felt like we had walked onto the set of Saved by the Bell. It was a candy-colored geometric time warp.


Of COURSE Disney would have cute luggage carts. Of course.


This is from our first day in the parks, where Josh and I were coerced under peer pressure to go on the scariest/fastest rides. (Hollywood Studios- Tower of Terror and Rock n Roller Coaster, if you’ve been)


The next day before I met the group at Magic Kingdom, I snuck in to the Little Mermaid ride. Partly thanks to Disney nostalgia, partly thanks to NO WAIT.


Oh my gosh, it was so swampy hot, you guys. I think this is when Josh & I were waiting for Peter Pan. (A personal fave from early Disneyland days) We spent most of our time on rides with other people in the group but every now and then we did one by ourselves. Group texts and the Disney app kept everyone connected enough to coordinate rides together, which was really fun.


Small World! Oh geez! The nostalgia! Mary Blair! The song!

P.S. Not to be a snob, but Disneyland is way better for this ride. Just sayin’.


Everybody said to try the Dole Whip at the parks. It’s soft serve pineapple ice cream, and you can also get it with pineapple juice at the bottom of the cup. May seem like nbd, but after living in a swamp for a few days it tasted like heaven.


Do you have a minute for a story? Here goes.. I LEFT MY WEDDING RING ON A BUS. It was as dumb (DUMBER) as it sounds and it is a miracle that it was returned to me. Long story, but Esther (a manager at guest relations at the Animal Kingdom) is the most magical person at Disney. (I said that on IG but it is still so true) I realized it right after the bus left (of course) and went straight for help.. After a very unhelpful bus manager kept telling me to “go enjoy the park” while I stood next to him with tears streaming down my face, I got VERY lucky that Esther happened to personally know my bus driver and within an hour they were returned to me.

Undeserved grace. It would be like a bank manager knowing a store employee 20 minutes away. The odds are so against that situation in so many ways, and I’m just thankful. WHEW.

I’ll always love this picture.


Everything I bought was edible. This is most of it.


On the way home… “Susann”


It was a wonderful trip, really. I so loved seeing Josh in his element and wish you could all see how good he is at what he does! You know when you see a perfect fit? It’s just neat. I loved meeting the kids and couldn’t believe how well-behaved and un-complainy they were. They put up with a ton of walking and heat and lack of sleep like champs.


My last note is to anyone who is thinking about bringing a large group to Disney World.. Save yourself COUNTLESS hours of frustration and stress and let Josh give you advice first! Disney majorly screwed up the fast passes/magic bands for the kids and it was a big bummer and time soak. At this point I’d guess that Josh knows the system as well as any Disney employee. Wish I was kidding. Hehe

At the Cottage with the Brandsens


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Josh’s parents just spent a week at the family cottage that used to belong to Mom B’s parents. I think it has been about 20 years since anyone in the family has stayed there. They have lots of memories here and it was special to go back with a few new people (me, my nephew Callum, and niece Everly).

Most of us were able to spend some time there together (we missed you Jenna!) and I brought the camera so here’s a little taste of cottage life!






I *really* love this one of Callum. His face! Gah! Kills me…







Oh, and I made Josh’s mom a video for extra memory-licious-ness (okaay, Johnny Cash & I made her the video), so there’s that. Still working on learning how to use the GoPro and editing software.. Practice makes perfect, right?

Here’s the video link.


We Bought a House!


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Fruitwood House

Josh and I don’t usually go crazy with birthday gifts for each other, but this year (earlier this month) in addition to the standard socks/underwear basics I went all out and bought him… A… HOUSE!

Yup. We bought our house. I mean, we bought it almost 9 years ago, but NOW it’s paid off. Woo hooo! The first thing I did once it was official was vacuum off the front porch – I NEVER do that. Looks like I’ve finally found some pride of ownership. Heh!

I’ve had a few people ask how we got to this point, so for fun I’ve written down a few things that helped us along the way:

Fruitwood House 2

First, we took out a loan based solely on Josh’s income. We chose a house that wasn’t at the high end of what we could spend. Some of you could probably pay off our mortgage way faster than we did, but it was a good amount for us.

We live in a small house for our area in West Michigan. That comes with some inconveniences, like being limited on space for things like clothes and general stuff. While it can feel inconvenient it teaches us to simplify life (and helps keep us from over-buying). It is a constant tension but I think overall it is a good thing. It seems like our culture is constantly telling us that along with needing more things, we also need more space. We for SURE can’t share a bathroom sink (LOL). We’ve learned that it’s okay to think differently from that. Feels weird at first but it gets easier! I still want a second bathroom though. I’m not a martyr.

Fruitwood House 3

We have a history of driving cars that are suuuper old. Like, we bought my grandpa’s ’91 Buick from his estate when he passed away and we (okaayyy mostly Josh) drove it for several years. It was technically old enough to sell in our Etsy shop! I mean I think it’s pretty obvious, how much money you can save by driving inexpensive cars. We’ll never have a car payment, nor will we ever have a brand new car, and we’re good with that.

We are in our 30’s and we don’t have kids which is different from many of our peers, so of course we don’t have those expenses.

We aren’t big spenders. This is largely Josh’s influence on me, as I could easily be encouraged to spend more, in just about any category. He actually tells me to buy whatever it is I’m wanting (sorry girls, back off, he’s MINE) so his influence isn’t in what he asks of me, but more of leading by example. Howevs. If I were a big spender I’m pretty sure he’d stop saying, “Sure! Go for it!” so there is teamwork in here somewhere…

Every now and then when I’m leaving my hair salon (yesterday) I wonder how much money I’ve saved over the years by not coloring my hair. Juuuuust sayin’. My biggest reason for not doing it is sheer laziness – I cannot imagine having to keep up with roots growing out. (Props to all you salon-punctual peeps.) Probably the second reason is because I think it’s good for women to know they don’t need to do it, and the third is YES it saves money!

Fruitwood House 4

We refinanced our house approximately 500 times over the years to get down to the lowest rates/time tables possible. When we refinanced we would make sure that we kept the original time table (or lessened it) and we ended up on a 10 year mortgage.

We have side jobs – including our Etsy shop which is responsible for a large chunk of the last payment we made (although it made my “magic money” PayPal account disappear – GASP!). Since my regular job is part-time and Josh works in education, we’ll never be rolling in “large” paychecks.. Side jobs in our household really help contribute.

We had good financial advice when we bought the house. Josh had a small amount of college student loans even though he had the money in the bank from working through school. Because the interest rates for student loans were so low it made sense to use those and have his money available for a down-payment on the house. Kinda topsy-turvy but it worked in this situation. THEN because he teaches in a qualifying job, the government forgave his leftover debt after he worked in his job for 5 years. We were so grateful for that!

Fruitwood House 5

So there you have it! Writing this post actually felt a little funny, kinda braggish or weird and I don’t want it to. Many times the news you get from our household is asking for prayers for one reason or another (usually when I’m sick) and it does bring me joy to share this happiness with you. We are grateful to God that while our lives have their fair share of hardships, at this point finances aren’t on that list. I hope if finances are something you are struggling with that this can be an encouragement to keep going, and if you’re not struggling then we could like high-five or something?



Clara Frances Patten


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Cute baby alert!

Yes, there is a new baby in the family. Clara Frances Patten arrived on April 16th, 2016 and started charming us instantly! She’s the third baby for my brother Mark and his wife Jess, and her older brother Thomas was pretty enchanted from the start. Jane needed a few more minutes but she got there. It didn’t take long to love baby Clara.


Jess had a difficult pregnancy with debilitating headaches (this is minimizing a lot!) and three months later she is still struggling with them. It has made the road much harder for this little fam than anyone would’ve expected (and I’m sure she would appreciate your prayers) … But every time Jess mentions anything about Clara, her voice softens and she lights up. It’s pretty sweet.


Here’s a couple pictures from Mother’s Day in May (Josh decided to dress for the occasion, haha).



Clara was the only person who was completely oblivious the entire time. One month old and definitely the chill-est one of the bunch.

By far.


The camera came out again for Father’s Day in June. We had new “jerseys” made for SOCCBEE (soccer/frisbee, yuup), the backyard game of choice for these Patten/Brandsens.

Look at Clara’s little bum! He he! So cuuuuutee


Cute stuff, huh? We talk a lot about how she looks like a little Thomas, so much that Jess likes to keep a bow on her head or she gets bizarre flashbacks. She’s starting to come into her own, though, (she’s getting good at smiling and cooing and melting hearts) and I’m just guessing our comparisons with Thomas will be ending soon.


Team Shot!


Welp, that’s all for today! Mom and I are off to take Thomas and Jane to my in-law’s pool. Thankful to live near both families on this hot summer Tuesday.

We Went to California – Newport Beach


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Less than 24 hours in one of your favorite places? No problem. Step 1: rent an Airbnb with access to bikes AND a 25-yard pool. Step 2: Use it all. Step 3: Dip your toes in the Pacific and pack your bags for home. Check, check, check!


We spent the last night of our CA trip in March in Newport Beach, partly because we love it and partly because of the proximity to the airport. Use every minute of vacation, I guess?

As soon as we arrived, we hopped on our bikes and rode to Charlie’s Chili on the pier, a family favorite. It was a little chilly (heh) outside but perfect for a hot dinner and a bike ride. It was our last chance to dine al fresco, complete with all the people-watching we could want.



I made a little video of our boardwalk bike ride, check it out! (Anyone else LOVE this song?!)

Here’s the video link for mobile devices.

The next morning we got up bright and early and hit the pool for a morning workout before a day of travelling. After I snuggled the bougs on the patio for a while, obvs.


We didn’t have a kitchen in our Airbnb so we hunted down some coffee and walked to the beach.





One last glance at the patio, we left our twizzlers and peanut butter with the hosts because we had to make room for Josh’s cacti collection from Joshua Tree. Srsly.


Aaaaand that’s that! (Except for the cancelled flight and “bonus” night in Dallas, but we all know how those stories go) Thanks for letting me share some stories from our CA trip, guys!

For more on this trip, also see Joshua Tree and Palm Springs.

We Went to California – Palm Springs


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Back in March Josh & I spent some time in Joshua Tree and Palm Springs, CA.. I posted some JT stuff here, so now on to a PS re-cap! (Is today abbreviation day?)

We started out with this map and it was worth every penny. It highlighted different neighborhoods and specific homes/buildings of interest from an architectural point of view. You know how people say that you should just drive around and “look at the houses/neighborhoods” in Palm Springs? It’s even more than that. I mean I’m an amateur lurker in general. Here, it’s like, WHAT YOU DO.


I had no qualms about unabashedly aiming cameras at people’s houses, sitting on stoops for pictures (oh gosh), walking up a driveway to get a second look at landscaping, etc. Definitely against the laws of etiquette but I stand behind my actions.

I wasn’t the only one. cough JOSH cough

Seriously though, there were more. We kept bumping into fellow lurkers and it was pretty funny.


It’s a small enough town that we saw a lot of it, even though we were only there for a few days.





We couldn’t have gone at a better time – everything was blooming. It was heaven for the eyeballs, especially since we were still in the post-winter, pre-spring slump at home in Michigan. Big beautiful blooms everywhere just radiated joy and life. Josh & I rarely travel during the winter months so this was a real treat. I think I soaked in the color as much as I soaked in the sun.


Our backyard pool at the Airbnb we rented. This post is getting hard to write. #TakeMeBack



Oddly enough, we did very little shopping. Beforehand we expected to do more but we were there on Easter weekend and lots of things were closed on the days we needed them to be open, scheduling, blah blah blah .. The shopping we DID do, though, blew our minds. This store below was like a high end museum of everything we’re interested in. Usually we’ll see one or two things like that and a bunch of stuff we’re not too interested in. It was like they got inside our minds and then exploded them. (Too much?)

The store I’m talking about is A La Mod, check it out!



I can’t say enough about how inspired by/fascinated by the landscaping I was as we toured the neighborhoods. Probably as much as the houses, or more? Desert landscaping is just the bee’s knees.



The iconic visitor center (originally a gas station) is where we got info on touristy stuff. If you’ve been around this blog for long you’ll know that I looove touristy things. The cheesier the better!


Our favorite “touristy” activity was getting up early one morning (like, before coffee early) and taking the tram up the mountain. I’m so glad we did, it was quite the experience! If you ever go, GO EARLY. The best advice we got. Not sure we would’ve enjoyed it much if we had to wait in long lines and contend with crowds.


I think the top of the tram is at 8,500 feet. It was cold and we walked on a path through snow, which is significantly less thrilling when you’re in the desert to leave snow behind in the first place. Ha. I have two pictures on my camera of my feet – one in the snow, and the next picture was 2 hours later of bare feet on the edge of our pool in the heat. So bizarre!


The “little hike” we did up top was a big challenge for me. I definitely felt the thin air, and to get to this area (below) we had to walk down a long STEEP switchback. Coming back up was the biggest challenge and I kept getting winded and having to stop. It wasn’t my favorite – I don’t like being reminded of my limitations with breathing, especially not in public. But I’m still glad we did it!


It was about 40 degrees that morning and of course I had refused to bring winter gear on the trip and basically froze… and I can see you rolling your eyes through the screen, Mom.


We really liked seeing the Coachella Valley from the mountain (off toward the top/right in the pic below, in the distance), especially since we had just seen it from the other side at Joshua Tree days earlier. Nothing like bringing the ol’ map to life in 3-D!


Back to neighborhood lurking. That topiary tree spoke to my heart. Loudly.


We were able to meet some friends of the Brandsens for dinner one night, which was really fun (Hi Mike and Vicki!), and every night we came back to our own little oasis.


Needless to say, we can’t get back there soon enough. You know how sometimes you go somewhere and you’re like, okay, crossed it off the list! This was more like, okay, put it right back ON the list. I’m really grateful that this trip came when it did (after a hard winter health-wise) and that it was such a boost in life-living. We’ve been wanting to go to Palm Springs for YEARS and it happened just right!

Anyway, I made a video of our time in Palm Springs so check it out if you want! It’s got some killer houses, some tram stuff, and a surprise at the end.

Here’s the video link for mobile devices.