Don’t Miss Today’s Guest Post at Beautiful Undefined

I’ve had the privilege and great honor of writing a guest post for today about capsule wardrobe for one of my current blogger heroes, Alicia, over at Beautiful Undefined. Hop on over and check it out!

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Sneak peek | One shirt, three ways. Versatile pieces are key in a working capsule wardrobe!

My lovely cousin Alyssa styled and shot the photos for this post. We had so much fun together and I was thrilled with the ideas she brought to the shoot + her sharp eye.

Click the links and leave these ladies some love! ❤

A Favorite Song | Virtuoso

 
Short post for today [I’m with my sisters, enjoying the above view]…I want to introduce you to one of my personal favorite instances of skilled musicianship.

This song is so good, on so many levels. Give it a listen here.

Virtuoso

By David Phelps, lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc. 

A handful of dust a worthless piece of clay / And you breathed the breath of heaven / Then there was a soul / The heart, the hands, the voice that could sing of your perfection

Life is a symphony that only you can play / You know I can hear it through the madness everyday

Virtuoso / This heart is your instrument / This life is your song / Virtuoso

There isn’t a note of mediocrity / In all of your creation and all the beauty / We create with human hands is only imitation / Thunder crashes, waves crescendo on the sand / The wind that’s whispering can only be your hand

A timeless melody of beauty and emotion / Perfect harmony inspiring true devotion / No one else can play it’s chords so graceful yet so strong / You made the instrument and wrote the song / Virtuoso

This heart is your instrument

This life is your song

[You are] Virtuoso

Sisterhood

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S i s t e r h o o d . . . possibly one of the most inherently good things I ever talk about here, at The Realization of Good. 🙂 It’s also probably one of the first, oldest things I’ve realized as good–beginning way back at the ripe old age of, let’s see, 3 years old–when the first of my sisters was born.

These ladies–Carli, Mindy, and Krista, from left to right–are the three most important females in my life. We have the same blood coursing through our veins. We were raised by the same parents and all lived under the same roof for nine years of our lives. We share DNA, which includes horrid eyebrows and sunburn-prone skin, but also green eyes and natural highlights. Additionally, we share an appreciation for the outdoors and the arts, a super quirky sense of humor, OCD tendencies, an obnoxiously loud laugh, an over-the-top enthusiasm for Settlers of Catan (and board games in general), and a love for little kids.

We have one brother. The five of us have been through a lot of life and drama and fun and fear and tears and joy and laughter together. We are tight. We stick up for each other. Every single one of us would fight to the death for one of the others. Let me tell you, life as one of five siblings is rich and full. Also loud. But we love it.

These kids have had to put up with a lot of bossing and unwarranted advice from their oldest sister…I’m a classic Type-A firstborn, and my sisters know that better than anyone. (When I read this to them, all three of them simultaneous yelled “yup” here.) But they also know my fiercely protective side, and I can be quite the mama bear when it comes to someone messing with these girls.

Through it all, we’ve bonded like only sisters can do. Each day, we cherish a little more the sisterhood we share. We get each other because first, in so many ways, yes, we are similar. Yet in our differences, there is much we are learning (and have yet to learn) from each other.

Krista is the kind and caring one. She inspires me on a daily basis with her unconditional love for every person she comes into contact with. Carli is the disciplined one. She gets up before dawn and gets stuff accomplished while the rest of us are asleep. Diligent is her middle name. Her heart is gold, and she makes people laugh. And Mindy? Well, for one thing, she stole all the athletic genes, at least among us girls. She’s the baby, but she’s the furthest thing from entitled, and she’s sometimes more responsible than the rest of us combined.

So much love. Just so much love in my heart for these women.

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Photo credit to Beauté Photography | taken on my wedding day, May 2013

We’ve been separated too much of the time for too many different reasons over the last six years, but it’s only strengthened our bond and made us appreciate each other more. I don’t take the relationships I have with my siblings for granted. They are gifts straight from Heaven. We are growing older and becoming involved in more and different things, but we still come back and build off of the foundation of what we’ve always had in common: family.

Krista spent the summer in Belize, and Carli got to take a trip to El Salvador with her Spanish class from school a couple weeks ago. Last week, they both returned, and what a happy reunion we had (as evidenced by the top picture). There’s nothing quite like letting it all hang loose with the ones who know you best, and at the end of the day, going to bed knowing they love you no less. This is an incredible gift, and I acknowledge it. Today I’m filled with gratitude for the blessing of sisterhood.

Free Art on the Internet

Once I was describing to a friend where I’d gotten each of the pieces that compose the gallery wall in our master bedroom, and she asked me, “what do you mean, free printables?” So in case there are more of you who have yet to discover the world of royalty-free art on the World Wide Web, allow me to introduce you.

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Most of the artwork displayed in my home was found online, printed on my own cheap Epson printer, and matted and/or framed with yard sale/Goodwill finds. Pinterest can be a great resource for beautiful prints, but not all of them are free! (Printing a copy of someone’s art that they are selling on Etsy is stealing!) Instead, try Google searches using terms like “free printables,” “free wall art,” or “royalty-free art.” To help you get started, here are a few collections I think you might love.

I like to mat things with recycled cardboard cut from boxes that come containing things I’ve ordered online. And Goodwill is an excellent place to find beautiful frames for cheap. You can remove their original art or just cover it with your own. They’re easy to spray paint, or you can use Sharpies to give them a unique touch.

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// The hexagon corkboard tiles were from Target and it doesn’t look like they sell them anymore, but you can get square ones here. Target does, however, still have an awesome selection of push pins! //

If you’ve found another great resource for (legal) free artwork, post a link in the comments! What are other ways you’ve found to decorate your walls for cheap?

Abiart Creative | a Giveaway!

This giveway is now closed. Stay tuned for more opportunities to win good stuff in the future!


I mentioned last week that plans were in the works for The Realization of Good’s very first giveaway, and I hope you’ve been waiting with eager expectation! 😉 I’m a huge fan of giveaways, since I used to be one of those people who “never won anything”…but kept on entering away, and it eventually paid off. I now know that persistence is key, and that filling out those entries is actually worth it! The few giveaways I’ve won have felt like having an extra birthday…getting a package containing something awesome that I didn’t have to pay for in my mailbox is pretty great. (Maybe my love language is gifts.) Anyway, in this case, that’s working to your advantage, because now that I have a platform, I am looking forward to running my own giveaways regularly. It’s my turn to give back!

So I’ve been mulling over what to start with…I wanted it to be something extra special for this first run. I also wanted it to be something that would appeal to at least most of my readers, and I know each of you have varying interests. The cool thing about this prize pack is that it is a gift that “keeps on giving” — the winner will be able to use it to bless others!

Without further ado…from now until Sunday you have a chance to win twenty-five beautiful greeting cards designed by my friend Abi over at Abiart Creative.

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I feel so privileged to have grown to know, in the last decade or so, a handful of talented, artistic, budding entrepreneurs my own age, and it’s a huge honor for me to introduce Abi to you today. She’s one of those rockstars who is making her mark on the world in a big way at a young age, as the owner of her own graphic design company and designer of the fabulous Abiart Card line. Abi happened to be in Haiti visiting a friend when the 2010 earthquake occurred, and she came home with a passion for homeless and orphaned Haitians, which helped to birth the vision for Abiart Cards. (A portion of her sales support a school for girls in Passe Boi d’ormes, Haiti.)

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Letter writing is one of those golden things that people just don’t do much anymore — we stay in touch through social media and write an email if we need to. But when was the last time you mailed someone a card? Everyone loves getting fun mail, and it really doesn’t take more than a few minutes to pick out a pretty card and jot a few lines. Let’s bring back snail mail! This giveaway is designed to make it easy and fun for you to brighten someone’s day with a beautiful card filled with love from a sister, cousin, or friend.

I asked Abi to handpick 25 of her favorite designs for the giveaway. They’re made in two different shapes, tall and square, come with coordinating envelopes, and range in occasion from birthday to sympathy to friendship and more. She also included one of her silver markers for addressing the envelopes, and I’m throwing in a sheet of Vintage Rose forever stamps, because they’re pretty and will correspond so well with the gorgeous mail you’ll be sending out when you win these cards. 🙂

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Check out Abi’s website and Facebook page to see more of her lovely work. You can find her cards in a store near you or request a catalog by sending an email to abiartcreative@gmail.com.

To get your name in the drawing for the 25 cards & envelopes + marker + stamps, you must click here to visit the Rafflecopter giveaway page and follow the instructions on the screen. You get one entry each for: liking The Realization of Good on Facebook, liking Abiart Creative on Facebook, following me on Instagram (a great way to stay up-to-date with what’s happening around here), tweeting about the giveaway, and leaving a comment here on this post telling me about one of two things: either a giveaway that you won (or reeeally wish you’d won), or an item you’d definitely enter a giveaway for right now, because it’s the epitome of awesome. (I’d love to hear your suggestions for future drawings!) 🙂 You can do just one or all five of these things to get entered, and if you want, you can come back and do the tweeting once every day for extra entries.

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The giveaway will run for one week and close at midnight on Sunday. I’ll announce the winner here on the blog on Monday, so stay tuned!

The Most Important Part of Wedding Planning | A Plug-in for Engaged Encounter

It’s no secret that I love weddings. I’m a romantic at heart, and I spent a good 5+ years of my life investing in my passion for all things love, wedding, and marriage. For a while, I was being enlisted as a vocalist for friends’ and acquaintances’ ceremonies, and later, my attentions shifted to the coordinating aspect of the industry as I helped my best friend plan her wedding, coordinated a few others, and executed my own big day in 2013. Now that I’m a couple years in, I understand more fully than ever before how much more important preparations for MARRIAGE are than for the wedding day itself.

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One of the very best things Caleb and I did during our engagement period was attend an Engaged Encounter seminar. I blogged about it then, on the wedding-related blog I was writing at the time in conjunction with my wedding coordinating business. Today I’m basically just reposting that account of our experience, in hopes that it will inspire you to consider attending a Marriage or Engaged Encounter weekend, or to encourage someone you know to do so!


April 18, 2013 – Caleb and I, along with fifteen other engaged couples from PA, MD, NY, and VA, traveled to Kenbrook Bible Camp in Lebanon PA this past weekend, with a common goal of gaining insight and skills that we hoped would help build a solid foundation for a healthy and happy marriage.

Our pastoral team recommended that we attend one of these weekends, known as “Engaged Encounter,” and since we’ve also heard lots of positive comments from family and friends who’ve attended in the past, I’d been looking forward to it ever since we got engaged.

You can read all about the history of the Marriage Encounter/Engaged Encounter movement here.

Before I go any further, let me just say that, on our way home on Sunday, Caleb and I agreed that this weekend was one of the best things we’ve experienced since we got engaged, maybe even since we first started dating. And for us personally, the timing couldn’t have been more right, the material more relevant, or the time/money any better spent. We also agreed, even before the weekend was halfway over, that we’d be singing the praises of this seminar for probably years to come and that we definitely planned to recommend it to our siblings and other friends who aren’t married yet.

Whether you’ve never heard of Engaged Encounter, have heard of it but are wondering how relevant it would really be for you, or are already planning to attend and are just curious of what to expect, this post is for you!

We had been told to arrive at Kenbrook by 7:00 p.m., so we rushed there directly after work last Friday. Signs directing us towards “Engaged Encounter” as we navigated our way through the entrance to the camp gave us a first glimpse of how detailed and thorough preparations had been made for the weekend. We parked our car and as we stood outside debating whether we should carry our suitcases in or walk in empty-handed at first, a voice called to us from the doorway with the answer. We were given nametags and shown to our rooms. Caleb and I shared two rooms which were directly across the hall from each other with another attending couple, the girls in one and the guys in the other. I was delighted to recognize familiar names on the doors of a couple from our area who we didn’t know well but at least knew “of.”

Once all the couples had arrived, the “presenters” (Nevin & Denise Horning of Lititz and Joel & Anita Zeiset of Ephrata, speakers for the weekend) began the weekend by introducing themselves and then having us introduce ourselves. We were instructed to share one of the first things that we’d found attractive about our fiancé(e), along with our names. From there, we delved into the first two sessions of the weekend, “Encounter with ME” and “Encounter with WE,” which were, as the titles indicate, basically self-analyses of ourselves as individuals and as couples.

These “sessions,” of which there were about fifteen throughout the weekend, each consisted of maybe 20-30 minutes of speaking by the presenters, after which each couple would split up for a time (around 10-15 minutes) of solo writing based on thought-provoking questions in our workbooks, then come together for a time (maybe 15-20 minutes?) of intimate discussion. Each couple had one room assigned to them as their “discussion room,” and the guys and girls would take turns writing in either their own discussion room or else spread out within the larger meeting room. Then, at the signal of a bell, each would join their partner in their respective discussion rooms.  The topics included Openness in Communication, Signs of a Closed Relationship, Sex and Sexuality, Family Planning, Finances, Loss, Marriage is a Vocation, Decisions in Marriage, Betrothal, Wedding – The Beginning of our Covenant, Two by Two, Sharing the Vision, and Forgiveness and Healing in Marriage.

All were well thought-through and well-executed. Nevin & Denise and Joel & Anita both shared many, many personal stories and experiences and we so appreciated their willingness to be so humble, open, and honest. I think we finally began to realize the reality that marriage is hard work!

Meals took place in the dining hall in another building just a short walk down the hill. And I must say, Kenbrook served to us better food than I’ve had at any other camp/outdoor retreat center! The presenters set nametags on our tables for each meal so that we sat with different couples each time.

That was a highlight of the weekend for us–meeting and learning to know and spending time with so many other couples who were in the exact same stage of life as we are. Such a feeling of camaraderie! We swapped wedding dates and details, proposal stories, honeymoon plans, and our future homes, all weekend long.

Halfway through Saturday afternoon there was a break in the schedule from sessions and a chance for recreation or relaxation. My own sweet Caleb was gracious enough to let me nap, but others enjoyed volleyball, pool, and Kenbrook’s hiking trails. (Note: if you’re the athletic type, you’ll want to bring athletic clothing along for this time!)

After supper and the last two sessions on Saturday, we all gathered in a less formal setting downstairs, with pillows and candles, for the “Wrap Session.” There was a time of discussion of several questions that had been submitted by the couples earlier in the day, and then we had a time of symbolic candle-lighting as couples, and a chance to be prayed over by one of the presenting couples. This was a special, intimate time for us as couples to be “alone” even while we were surrounded by other couples. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed ice cream floats together before retiring for the night.

Sunday morning began with the final four sessions of the weekend and ended with a special worship service that included singing and then sharing Communion together with our future spouses. This signified our place and calling for our marriage relationships to be like “little churches” and was very meaningful and special.

The whole weekend was so well thought-through, so well-executed; the time frames were just right, never too long, but not much too short, either. The entire structure could hardly have been more perfect or more fitting.


If you know a newly-engaged (or almost-married) couple who would enjoy a weekend like this, or if you’re already married and are interested in learning more about a Marriage Encounter weekend, check out the Mennonite & Brethren chapter’s website.

Caleb and I are currently serving on the Board of Directors for this ministry, and we count it a privilege to be involved in furthering the Kingdom by building strong marriages. If you have been blessed by this ministry or want to stay in touch, you can follow along on Facebook: Marriage Encounter and Engaged Encounter.

Beach Day Essentials

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If I were already the slightly more organized blogger that I wish to become, these types of posts might be spaced a bit further apart. Instead, you’re getting these in real time(!), since I have day trips to the Atlantic shoreline planned for today and next Thursday.

I’m not what one might call a huge fan of the beach, but I’m also not one to turn down an invitation to socialize! So I go along for the party, and I can get into the whole beachy scene at times, too.

I do love packing for any kind of getaway, and a beach bag is no exception! Here’s a short list of my current “essentials.”

  • Kimchi Blue Open Weave Floppy Straw Hat from Urban Outfitters
  • Sunglasses (these are similar to mine)
  • Sunscreen
  • Whichever swimsuit fits my mood (today it’s my new one for this season)
  • Sandals because they make me feel way classier than the Old Navy flips I used to live in
  • The plushest beach towel I can find (mine’s from Target)
  • Magazines + an easy-reading nonfiction book or beachy novel
  • Exotic (the rarity of my beach days deems them splurge-worthy) cold drinks

[Yes, a Target-addict post would be in order.] 😛

What about you?–what gets the highest priority for the prime real estate in YOUR beach tote?

Better-Than-S’mores Campfire Dessert

IMG_7284We’re back from a weekend of camping with family! (Friday’s post was a list of our camping essentials, if you missed it.)

We have a little recipe that’s basically become a tradition for us when we go camping (I say we — but really that just means Caleb makes it & I eat it). These things really should have a name, and maybe they do wherever they originated, but I’m not sure of the origin or the moniker. All I know is that my husband introduced me to these things long ago and now I pretty much “have to” have one anytime we’re cooking over an open fire.

The lack of title really does pose a problem, and you’d think that by now I’d have come up with a witty one, but no, they’re merely Delicious Things and for our purposes, that suffices. (Read, puppy dog eyes + a whispered “delicious things,” and my Mr. Beard will have one in the works.) If you pin this, and come up with a catchy description for them, please, by all means, do tell!

So, here’s the down-low:

  • Spread peanut butter on one half and Nutella on the other half of a tortilla.
  • Top with a row of banana slices and marshmallows.
  • Roll up (no need to close the ends) and wrap in aluminum foil.
  • Toss into the fire or over hot coals for 10-15 minutes (depending on how hot the fire is).
  • Upon retrieving from fire…revel in the warm, gooey taste & texture of what I think is The Very Best Part of Camping.

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Mmmmmmmm….take me back.

Now it’s your turn…tell me about your favorite camping dish!

Camping Essentials

IMG_7221It’s Friiiiiday, I’m in love! (The Cure song reference, in case you wondered.) We’re packing up the car for a weekend getaway! — looking forward to some good old-fashioned family time, camping with my in-laws this weekend.

Caleb and I (and the rest of his family) are “real” campers, as we like to call ourselves — as in, when we say we’re going camping, we mean we’re going to be sleeping in a TENT, and making ALL our food over an open fire. Getting back to the basics and connecting with nature, baby!

Here are some of our favorites, that we won’t leave for a campground without.

  • Trash bag holder — such a brilliant invention! Beats trying to tie a garbage bag to a tree branch or having it on the ground in a heap, by a long shot.
  • Empty laundry detergent bottle upcycled into a hand-washing station — inspired by this pin a long time ago…fill it with water and set it on a rock or an end of the picnic table with a bottle of hand soap and towel close by, and this obsessive hand-washer (ahem) is a happy camper.
  • My homemade all-natural bug spray (recipe here) is an obvious must-have!
  • These citronella candles not only help to keep the bugs at bay, but also add to the campsite aesthetic and ambiance.
  • This super cheap hammock from Target (online only) might be my favorite purchase of the YEAR. What’s camping without a good hammock, anyhow?

Not pictured:

  • Our trusty double sleeping bag makes the nighttime cozy!
  • My [awesome] eye mask from AllNaturalSleepShop…because when I’m on vacation, I want to sleeeeeeep in and early morning light in the tent is not so conducive to that. 😉
  • Nutella, because s’mores…enough said.
  • This flashlight is TOP of the line as far as flashlights are concerned. A bit pricey maybe, but you’ll never buy another — and yes, that’s pretty much a personal guarantee. We give these as gifts sometimes because they are SO good.

If you’re a camper, what are some of the things YOU have to take with you? I’d love to hear about your tried-and-true favorites!