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Second Annual Reader Survey


I respect you, my readers, immensely. I honor every minute and hour you’ve dedicated to reading this blog, and know this is a busy time of year. So today, we’re headed straight to the heart of the matter.

If you could take a few moments to complete the Second Annual Divine in the Daily Reader Survey, I would be oh so grateful. Similar to last year, I’ve included a variety of questions to accommodate your different personalities. Some questions are highly demographic in nature, others require a more thoughtful response. For the open-ended questions, feel free to write as little or as much as you’d like, or even leave a question blank if it doesn’t suit your style or mood today.

And rest assured, the survey is completely anonymous! 

To complete the Second Annual Divine in the Daily Reader Survey, click here.

Thanks in advance for your time and thoughtful responses. Your feedback will help me move forward with greater focus and clarity, and for that, I’m grateful.


Serenading His Way to Big Dreams


It was a work day for me. I’d made a quick stop at the mall to grab some mittens for my daughter and pay a bill at Sears, and was on my way out. Just seconds after I’d rejected the hair straightener dude who tried to sell me a hot iron as I passed, I walked briskly towards another kiosk where Pete was singing and playing guitar. I’m not sure what came over me, but I knew I needed to talk to this guy. Within a matter of 5-10 seconds, I got the gist of his brilliant business, grabbed his card, and told him I’d be back to chat another day. It was all a bit surreal, really. I’m pretty sure we were supposed to cross paths.

I didn’t have much time before I had to get to my appointment, but couldn’t wait to know more. I looked at the clock in my car and realized I had about five minutes before I really had to go. So I quickly typed Pete’s URL,, into my phone, pulled up his site, and confirmed, this dude is awesome! He has a music video (at the end of this post), a serenade store where he writes and records songs for people, and a happiness store where he’s working towards funding small, but fun random acts of kindness towards others.

My mind raced about the ways Pete and I could collaborate with his songwriting, my writing, and our joint love for philanthropy and sharing peoples’ stories. Later that night, I shared the story with my husband and showed him Pete’s website. Our whole family watched his music video and listened to sample serenades on his site.

One week later, I plugged Pete into my schedule and made a trip back to the mall!


I approached and engaged Pete in a straight forward manner. I figured there was nothing to lose, and at this point, I knew I wanted to share Pete’s story on the blog, assuming he was open to the idea.

So before I tell you more about Pete and his journey to singing and songwriting, let me share what he’s doing at the mall this holiday season! Pete’s rented a kiosk on the second floor of Ridgedale Mall in Minnetonka, Minnesota. It’s called the Serenade Store. (Yes, I’m telling you this because you need to go meet him and hear him play for yourself!) For a reasonable fee, Pete will write and record a personalized song for your loved one! All you need to do is complete a short form with a few questions about the recipient of your song, and Pete will have a song ready for you in 15 minutes. You receive a CD and digital copy of the song, and there’s even an option to create an accompanying DVD slideshow and have Pete perform the song live on location if you wish! How awesome is that?! The dude is super creative. And there’s one thing you have to know – these aren’t cheesy songs, these are awesome, professional songs! Pete has three serenade samples on his website if you want to check them out. Based on everything I’ve heard and seen, I think this would be a GREAT Christmas gift for someone, how about you?!





Now that we’ve covered Pete’s Serenade Store, let’s move on to his story.

Pete says he was born with style and charisma, but growing up, he never considered himself a musician. He started playing guitar when he was 13 or 14 years old, and started singing in college. He began business school, but part way through, had an epiphany about life. Pete dropped out of business school and moved to Argentina. (Sound like a life-altering decision? Yep, it was.) While Pete was in Argentina, he sang, played guitar, and taught music and English.

When Pete returned to the United States, he re-enrolled in college and got his music degree. After obtaining his degree, he moved to California where he played and performed. It was then that Pete wrote a song for his girlfriend. The idea “exploded” more than he ever imagined.

Pete felt called to return home to Minnesota, but continued writing songs. He originally thought his songs would primarily be a gift given between husbands and wives, but it’s been much “bigger than that.” Pete’s even performed his original, customized songs at funerals, and his serenades have been given to recognize top-performing employees at corporations.

Pete shared that there are a few other people around the country who are doing what he’s doing (i.e., writing and performing personalized songs for people to give as gifts), but not many. “It’s very novel to write a song in 15 minutes,” Pete shared, so people think that’s cool. Typically, songs like these can run as high as $250. Pete’s most affordable option is $50 for a super cool customized song!

Pete’s “not where he wants to be yet” when it comes to music. Yet he’s slowly, but surely working towards BIG dreams. “When your priority is to do what you love,” said Pete, “you gotta figure out how to keep the dream going and give back.”

Pete gets asked a lot if he was born playing music. He actually thinks it’s more about work ethic than talent. Pete’s a firm believer in the 10,000 hour theory, that no one really becomes a master of their craft until they’ve put in at least 10,000 hours practicing. So he’s putting in the hours wherever he can, he’s doing what he loves, and he’s dreaming big with the hopes that one day, his music dreams will come true.

As we wrapped up our time together, Pete shared, “It’s the little things that make a huge difference.” So let’s take time to support Pete. Let’s love on a dude who’s following his dreams and doing awesome things with his gift of music. Check out his website, definitely visit him at the Ridgedale Mall if you’re local, and stay to chat a while. Maybe, just maybe, you have someone in your life who would LOVE one of Pete’s customized songs this Christmas!




Michelle Suaralina - He is amazing! He wrote me a song-I made it my ringtone! LolNovember 24, 2014 – 2:53 am

Karen Ford Newcomer - This is what we all want to aspire to do (live our dream) and to support another person who is living out his dream. How can you not love an idea that is all about affirming those you love? We can’t do it enough – in song, verse or just in person…..make sure you tell your special person just how much you appreciate them!November 23, 2014 – 3:58 am

Vicki Thunstrom - Wow! Thanks for sharing his story! What an awesome and crazy talented guy!November 21, 2014 – 11:51 pm

Why We Identify so Strongly with Elsa (A Frozen Giveaway!)

DSC_2003I’ve been intrigued by the psychology of Disney’s Frozen since I saw it in the movie theater twice in one day. But beyond the psychology, there’s something else that will always tie our family’s heart to Frozen. Our nine-year-old daughter’s name is Elsa. After Frozen released, we downloaded the entire Frozen album from iTunes. Elsa and my husband proceeded to memorize every word of every song. And now? Well, let’s just say she’s overdosed on Frozen and is taking a sabbatical. Because with all the Frozen mania, I’m pretty sure that wherever she goes, people reference Frozen when they hear her name. “You’re Elsa, like Frozen?!”

Halloween 2014 was bound to be filled with millions of little Elsas and Annas. In fact, I asked our Elsa if she wanted to dress up as Elsa this year, and she said she’s going to wait until she’s 17 and get a “real” fancy Elsa dress for Halloween. But I was right about those millions of girls dressing up as Elsa and Anna. As I peered through a window in my daughter’s dance studio Halloween week, I saw six girls dressed as Elsa and two dressed as Anna. That represented just one dance class of 15 little girls.

On November 4, 2014, the Wall Street Journal featured an article titled “Elsa dominates Anna in Frozen Merchandise Sales.” It’s a really fascinating article if you’re interested in the psychology and popularity of Frozen, so definitely check it out. But this blog isn’t about numbers. It isn’t about sales. And it isn’t about data, marketing or anything of the like. So I have no intention of digging deeper into sales of Elsa merchandise vs. Anna merchandise.

But I would like to explore the WHY behind “Elsa dominates Anna in Frozen Merchandise Sales.” Because I like to analyze things like that. It’s simply fascinating and kind of fun.

So here we go. Let’s “Let it Go.”

Anna is everything everyone looks for in a sister or a friend. She’s vibrant, loving, energetic, spontaneous, and confident. Anna is authentic. She grieves the loss of her sister, loves chocolate, and is a romantic at heart. Anna is determined and loyal, and won’t let anyone stop her from accomplishing her mission. Not to mention, she’s cute, beautiful and rocks that green coronation dress.

But then there’s Elsa.

We identify so strongly with Elsa because of her gift.

Elsa possesses a special gift. She discovered that gift at a young age and used it for good. But eventually, the gift brought pain into her life. In fact, the gift she once used for good hurt a loved one, her own sister. The only solution was to limit Elsa’s contact with people, and to “keep her powers hidden from everyone.”

Elsa had a gift. Her life had purpose. Yet, she was asked to “conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show.”

THIS is why we identify so strongly with Elsa. THIS is why “Elsa dominates Anna in Frozen Merchandise Sales.”

So Elsa hid away. She put gloves on. She became measured, reserved, and isolated. She was “a good girl.” Ultimately, Elsa spent too much of her life fearing her gift. She held back. She was scared that horrible things would happen if she released her power. She was scared that releasing her gift, wild and free, would have consequences.

Eventually, Elsa couldn’t keep it in anymore.

She had to break free. She had to break through. She sought freedom to use her gift with wild abandon.

When Elsa finally broke free, she made beauty with her gift. “That perfect girl is gone,” she sang from the tall ice castle she created in the wilderness.

Let’s face it, we’re disingenuous when we hide our gifts. There’s a falsity in putting on the good girl face. We aren’t perfect, but we are beautifully gifted.

Truth be told? We’re all like Elsa.

We’re all powerful, beyond our belief.

We’ve all been gifted with lovely, beautiful, amazing powers.

But sometimes, often, our gifts scare us.

Because we know there’s more to life than this.

We know, intuitively, that God put us here for a reason. We have a purpose to fulfill. We’re here for such a time as this.

Yes, we want to break free. Free from bondage. The good girl, the perfect girl, the measured, reserved, isolated girl wants to be free.

So we relate to Elsa. No longer could she sit on her gift. She let it go. She let. it go.

Yes, that’s what we want. To let go. To be free. To be released, to be me.

Gloriously, beautifully, powerfully, mysteriously, ridiculously free.


So I’ve presented my case, now it’s your turn! I’d love to know who you relate to more in Disney’s Frozen, Elsa or Anna, and why. Let’s chat in the comments!

And did you know I’m doing a GIVEAWAY today? I’m giving away ONE Disney FROZEN Collector’s Edition Blu-Ray DVD + DVD + Digital Copy! I know a lot of you already own Frozen, but a lot of you don’t. And NO household with girls should be without a copy of Frozen this Thanskgiving. So leave a comment on the blog, visit my Facebook page, follow me on Twitter, complete the Rafflecopter entries for each below, and you’ll be entered to win the DVD! Giveaway runs through Friday. I’ll notify the winner promptly so I can get you the DVD in time for Thanksgiving!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Noreen - We just adore this movieNovember 20, 2014 – 11:50 pm

Amy - Wow, Kim. Seven times in the theater! That’s amazing! Frozen must have really resonated with you deeply. I hear you on the crying during Let it Go. I was that way for “Do You Want To Build a Snowman,” too.November 19, 2014 – 9:43 pm

Kim K - Your blog post hit the nail on the head. I see too much of myself in Anna but Elsa’s story moved something inside me. I saw the movie in the theater seven times and cried during every performance of Let It Go. Thanks for the chance to win!November 19, 2014 – 9:16 am

Carol Femling - Great post, Amy!! LOVE the movie, Frozen!! It’s one of the BEST Disney movies made and the lessons in it are great! I know it will be a classic! :)November 18, 2014 – 1:43 pm

Valerie Hubel - I also have not seen the movie yet…but two of my girls have (and enjoyed it of course). I have heard other people commenting how good it is as far as the life lessons that are in it. Fun post today!November 18, 2014 – 3:25 am

Vicki Thunstrom - So, it’s possible that I am the only person on the earth that hasn’t seen this movie! My son has seen it and he really liked it! I know I’ll see it eventually! When I do I’ll come back here and let you know!November 17, 2014 – 11:58 pm

When Your Family Photo Shoot Isn’t Christmas Card Perfect

The plan was perfect.

We scheduled our annual family photo shoot with the photographer we’ve used since 2009. Hubs ordered a sweater, I got a necklace and boots, and we put some outfits together for the kids. Everything was ready to go.

That is, until a toss-and-turn night found me sleeping on a chair in our bedroom. The next morning, our toddler came into the room, wondering why I was sleeping in the chair. She flung her body back hard with the intention of lying next to me, but instead banged my eye up big. It hurt. It swelled. I cried. And I had a black eye for two weeks.


Our perfectly planned family photo shoot was down the drain. We canceled, because truth is, I still had a black eye the day we were scheduled to shoot.

The photographer wasn’t available for two weeks, and we didn’t want to take any chances with winter weather on its way. So we decided to do our own make-shift family photo shoot. I’d just purchased my dream camera two weeks prior. Why not use it?

The plan was perfect.

We’d get all dressed up, just like we would’ve for our family photo shoot. And we’d use my brand new camera to take pictures of each other. Sure, we’d miss the family photograph of all five of us this year, but we’d get all the other pictures we wanted!

Off we went. The day was perfect. The sun was shining. The temperature was just right. The leaves were golden yellow. We couldn’t have asked for more.

That is, until things started going wrong.

The baby got crabby.


And I couldn’t get the lighting right (not to mention the tree coming out of her head).


Kids didn’t sit when they were supposed to sit.


Then it was windy.


Our pre-teen boy cooperated at first, but then got irritated with this process.


We moved to a new spot and he started cooperating again.

But apparently it takes more than two weeks to master the perfect balance of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture in the live context of a photo shoot, so we experienced more lighting issues before we found our happy spot again.



When I finally got the lighting JUST RIGHT, baby started getting extra crabby.


There was this.

DSC_0882Then this.


Yeah. We wrapped this shoot with more bad lighting and more baby crying.


This is how mama looks when baby’s standing on the ground screaming and clinging to mama’s legs, and daddy’s determined to finish this photo shoot properly. (This one seriously cracks me up. NOT cute.)


Daddy dashed for the car with said baby crying. I stayed to try to get a few more good shots of our two oldest. But they were clearly fatiguing. It was time to go.

All five of us got back in the vehicle. A few words were said. Then I put my dream camera away, looked out the window, and cried.

Our PERFECTLY PLANNED family photo shoot was NOT PERFECT.

When we got home, I was still quite upset.

I could’ve given up. I could’ve given in to the lie that we’d just experienced the most catastrophic disasters of family photo sessions in the entire world.

But I knew better. I knew there was still hope for this thing. I knew we’d taken some good shots. And I knew there were still a few good ones to be taken in our backyard.

So I put my brave on and got that camera back out.

Within 20 minutes, I had a handful of great pictures of our son, and 15-20 awesome shots of our oldest daughter.

After everyone went to bed that night, I spent two hours weeding through the day’s photographs, 350 a rough estimate. I made a list of every photo worthy of being transferred to a disc, checked it twice, and burned it baby.

“Fall Family Photo Shoot 2014″

We were doing this. We were choosing to remember the good that happened that day.

Three weeks later, I received an email from Shutterfly with some crazy deal, like 30% off holiday cards + another 40% off that! The offer expired the next day, so we knew we had to take advantage of it.

That night, we pulled out the CD from the NOT-SO-PERFECT family photo shoot. We selected seven pictures we LOVED and wanted to share on a Christmas photo card for family and friends.

And just a few days ago, we received the big orange Shutterfly box in the mail with 130 photo cards in it!

What were the words that came out of my mouth when I saw the cards for the first time?

“I love these! They turned out awesome!”

Life isn’t perfect. And typically? Family photo shoots are far from perfect.

But if we’re persistent, positive, and willing to look twice through those all those “horrible pictures,” we might just find a beautifully imperfect family, a beautifully imperfect life, and perfectly beautiful photographs waiting to be shared with loved ones.

ShutterflyShutterfly is running an awesome sale on Christmas photo cards through Sunday, November 16th! Just enter promotion code JOY2ALL at checkout, and receive 50% off 6×8 flat and 3/4 folded cards OR 40% off 5×7, 5×5, 4×8, 4×5 flat, 5×7 trifold, or 5×7 folded cards. And don’t forget free shipping on orders $39 or more; just enter code SHIP39 at checkout! This is one of the best sales Shutterfly runs on Christmas cards, and is the one our family typically takes advantage of every fall.

One more thing before I go…I’m excited to announce that I’ve recently become an affiliate for Shutterfly! That means that if you make a purchase from Shutterfly through the links in this blog post or any Shutterfly link on my blog from here on out, I’ll receive a small commission which will help cover some of the ongoing costs associated with the blog.

Wishing you patience and a sense of humor as you search those family pictures for one that represents your beautiful family.





P.S. This, of course, ISN’T our seven-picture Christmas card. But hey, I thought I’d give you a little sneak peek of one of the good photos and share one of Shutterfly’s cute designs!

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 1.08.45 PM

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means that if you click on the link and purchase something from Shutterfly, I will receive an affiliate commission. Having said that, I promise readers my highest of integrity in that I will only promote products I use, love, and believe will add value to your lives. I’m disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Melonie Robran - I copy what Anne said! Bless you for helping us all realize we are far from perfect (whatever that is!) and that there is always good if we can calm down and see it! :)November 14, 2014 – 2:16 pm

Anne Koste - Oh My Word…hilarious!! I can’t wait to see your card…you need to post it here if you can. I bet it’s absolutely adorable!!November 14, 2014 – 3:23 am

Tom Baunsgard - Amy, Great photos all! Playing with the camera and learning all the bells and whistles is difficult enough with out the dynamics of a photo shoot with the family. In those instances I tend to select the more automatic settings and then pic the best photos and adjust contrast, lighting and color saturation with software. Four years out and I’m still learning to use my camera. Looking forward to seeing the finished product on your Christmas Card :)November 13, 2014 – 4:00 pm

Tanya Pietz - This is great – and I am so so happy I am not the only one who has these photo shoot issues! Thank you for being real and authentic in sharing!November 13, 2014 – 2:33 pm

Monica Anderson Palmer - that’s awesome!November 13, 2014 – 2:23 pm

Jessica Revak Milkes - Awesome Amy!!! Being a photographer is hard work!!! You keep at it :). I can already see your talent shining through. No matter how awkward a photo I always see a beautiful family behind the lens. :)November 13, 2014 – 2:21 pm

Amy - Okay, Raquel. Tell me more about this remote! Obviously, a tripod would work to get the whole family, but after buying the camera, I didn’t want to fork out more money for a good tripod. So we’re holding on that for now. But I’d love to hear more about the remote.November 13, 2014 – 9:13 am

Raquel - awesome Amy! Next is photoshop and you will be set :) I found that a remote works great to get everyone in the pics :)November 13, 2014 – 8:31 am

When Life’s Burning Up in Flames


We saw the smoke billow black from a distance.

It was obvious. Something was on fire. And we were headed straight for the flames.

The girls and I had a simple morning planned. Church. Lunch. Target. Home. But we hit a detour on our way to Target.

With every turn, the smoke got closer. We agreed before we got there, this was going to be the biggest fire any of us had seen.

We were right. It was the only house fire we’d witnessed that close, and it was a big one.

There it was. A mini mansion burning up in flames. Fire trucks, ambulances, police and what seemed like a hundred people stood by watching it go down.

We pulled into the closest neighborhood and made our way through sidewalked streets. Parents and kids on bikes walked towards the flames. Cars were parked at the intersection in lines, and continued to pull up behind us, too. The fire was in plain sight. Some stood. Some sat. We watched in amazement as the mini mansion went down in flames.

The girls and I sat for 15, maybe 20 minutes, just watching.

This was a rare sight. I wondered why nobody was doing anything. Why wasn’t the fire being fought? Why were the fire fighters letting this mini mansion go up in flames in front of their eyes? Why were we all just standing there? Why wasn’t somebody yelling, screaming? Stop the fire! Put out the fire! For God’s sake, stop the fire!

Everyone just stood there.

Nobody seemed worried. Not even a bit.

I decided. Either the fire had gotten so out of control that they’d decided to let it go down in flames, or the fire was intentional. But if it was intentional, the timing was sure weird. Sunday noon. Intentionally start a fire on Sunday, the holiest of days, the supposed day of rest? Intentionally start a fire on Sunday at noon, during family lunch hour? Why?

My nine-year-old snapped pictures upon pictures on the iPhone.

firecollage2Layer by layer, the mini mansion burned in front of our eyes. The roof tumbled. Then the windows. And finally, after we’d watched a long while and the fire was nearing the ground, water kicked in from behind.

I felt like a tourist of things bad, so I told the girls it was time to go, time to escape this life going up in flames.

A week later, it still bugged me. I wasn’t sure whether that fire was intentional or accidental. So I asked friends who lived near the scene if they knew anything more. The fire was intentional. A couple had built the mini mansion, which all the neighbors agreed was beautiful, but later got divorced. A developer came along and offered top dollar for the property. So it burned baby, it burned, for the sake of cleared land for new development.

I wondered. What about the husband and wife who lived there? Did they have kids? Were they aware that this mini mansion of theirs was going down in flames that day? And if they were there, if they did know…

How did it feel to watch the life they once envisioned go down in flames?

How does it feel to watch your life go down in flames?

How does it feel to watch someone else’s life go down in flames?

We’ve all witnessed our fair share of fires.

We stand. We watch. And wonder.

Why isn’t anybody doing anything about this?

Why are we all just standing here?

Please, won’t someone stop the flames?

Somebody! Come! Make it all better!

This house. is on. FIRE!



Fight this fire!

Don’t let it go down.

Don’t let it go.

But it goes, anyway.

And we realize…

Perhaps the fire wasn’t ours to fight.

Perhaps there are times when we need to sit and watch the mess go down in flames.

Perhaps foundations were built on sand instead of soil, or rock.

Perhaps mini mansions were built where humble homes should’ve been.

Perhaps empires were erected where walls should’ve crumbled.

Perhaps egos took a front seat to others.

Perhaps dead things needed to burn to the ground before new life could rise again.

Perhaps our lives were never meant to be built, but to be broken, surrendered, and then lived.

God promises. “In this world you will have trouble.” But He also promises crowns of beauty for ashes.

So let the fires burn. Let the old, ugly, broken-down, used-up, long-ago dead things die.

Burn. Burn. Burn. 

Until there’s nothing.

But ashes.


New life. It rises from the ashes. It grows. It springs forth. It’s crowned with beauty, more radiant than before.

But when and how do we emerge as fellow human beings?

When do we turn from mere bystanders to helpers, firefighters of the most blazing kind?

We’re there in the kindling, before the flames ignite, before smoke’s seen with the naked eye. When something doesn’t seem right, when we get that nudge, when we hear bits and pieces of this and that going wrong? We lend a hand, open our ears and say “this is how I’m going to love you today.” We remind them they’re not alone. We point them in the way of hope. And we offer ourselves as a ray of sunshine. For God makes all things beautiful. In time.

We’re there when flames burn bright. When all’s failed, when all’s gone wrong, when there’s nothing else to do but let the flames engulf. We stand. We wait. We watch. We pray. We let them know we’re there. And we let them know we’re sorry. So sorry this is happening. So sorry your home is on fire. So sorry your life is on fire. So sorry. So sorry.

We’re there when nothing remains but ashes. When life’s hopeless, worthless, and pointless. When dusty black’s all over their feet and hands, and the mess is trailing everywhere they go. We’re there. Yep. We’re there. We’re there in the waiting and wondering if anything’s going to change. We’re there in the doubting and discouragement. We’re there in the believing nothing’s possible. But we know. Everything’s possible. All is possible. So we sit. In the ashes. With them. We get dirty when we don’t want to. Even when it costs us. Because we bear all things, together, even in the ashes.

We’re there when new life springs forth. When hope abounds. When things are looking up. When nothing but better days are bound to happen. We’re there. When dead things come to life. We’re there, rising forth as fire fighters. Trained. Determined. Ready to love and fight again.

And all the while, He’s there. Bestowing beauty for ashes, making all things beautiful. In time.


Jill Tucker - Yes, God is always there, making all things beautiful. It’s hard to wait through the tough times, but somehow, with God’s help it’s all easier. Peace to you today, sister!November 12, 2014 – 3:14 pm