The Blog

TheAmy Allender Blog is where you can find all the latest projects, freshest faces, and most current happenings from Amy Allender and The Art of Living Project.  Here, you’ll find inspiration for everyday living, Christian devotionals, awkward moments, design inspiration, and tales of my misadventures as I navigate life in Minot, North Dakota {or, as I call it…Practically Canada.}  I would sincerely love to have you follow along.

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Seven New Invitation & Card Designs

Tonight I’m pleased to be showing you six new {and one updated} printable invitations and card designs that are now available in my Etsy shop.


Most of these are modified versions of custom orders I’ve taken over the last year/two/three.  I owe a huge thank you to all the clients who have trusted me to create something special for their event.  For all of their creative ideas and their cool parties.  Without really fun people requesting my designs…I wouldn’t have anything to design at all.


So take a look.  Tell your friends.  When you need an invitation…look me up.  You can access the shop here–or directly at Etsy.


As an update of a previously listed creation….I now have more colors available in my paper doll bridesmaid cards AND…I have unleashed an additional “profile” design.  {I say “more colors” but really I mean…more samples.  These are still completely customizable.  You can get virtually any color you like!}

bridesmaid paper doll cards

bridesmaid paper doll cards


Bird Baby Shower Invitation Set

Now for sale, the entire paper suite I used for Erin’s Baby Shower.  You can buy the entire set here…or just the invitation.  Either way, your guests will love these!


Balloon Theme Birthday Invitation

For your little one’s birthday, I’ve got these adorable balloon themed invitations all made up.  The party that these were originally created for even featured a balloon artist!  Isn’t that just the funnest?!


chalkboard baby shower invitation

You know I love chalkboards!!  So you can only imagine how much fun I had making these chalkboard baby shower invitations.  I love this invitation because it leaves the theme pretty neutral and wide open.

chalkboard wedding invitation suite

And speaking of chalkboards…yes…right now, my favorite invitation of all time is for sale online!  I LOVED creating this.  I loved it so much I wanted others to be able to experience it’s joy as well.


Couples shower invitation

And speaking of weddings–I’ve got a couple’s wedding shower invitation up online as well.  This design is perfect for a low-key, dessert themed shower.


Basketball Baby Shower Invitation

For those a little more athletic than myself…I’ve got a basketball shower invitation.  I really think these are a treat.  The woman who requested these had some pretty cool ideas in mind–she throws some very cool showers.  My favorite part is the little one’s name on the back of the jersey hanging on the crib!


Thanks again to everyone who has ordered and worked with me.  I love bringing your creative ideas to fruition!



Baby Bird {A Bird Themed Baby Shower}

I simply cannot believe I’ve let so much time pass before showing you these photos.  I honestly don’t know where the time goes.  But I digress…Today I’m so excited to be showing you images from a baby shower we threw for my sister back in December.


It was an amazing group effort from our mom, aunt, a couple of Erin‘s friends, and myself.  It was an effort that spanned across state lines, and an effort that paid off big.  In my opinion, it was a fantastic shower.  I’m so happy I convinced her to let me help throw it and so very grateful to everyone who came…despite the party being only a couple days after Christmas.


Erin is going with a “Bird & Books” themed nursery…so that’s the theme we went with a book and bird themed baby shower as well.  The shower was held at our county Conservation Club, where my dad is a member.  Their lodge was a perfect backdrop.  It was cozy and rustic…and they have an amazing fireplace.  I made this word art for the nursery.  It’s a quote from Jason Mraz, one of Erin’s favorite artists.  I think it’s the perfect wish for a tiny, new soul.

bird baby shower

Erin’s friends Courtney and Nicole pulled the decor together and they did an amazing job.  Courtney decoupaged kids’ book pages to jars, which Nicole filled with pink-painted twigs.  Every table had a lace runner and a bird house or two and a couple glittery clip on birds.

bird baby shower

Since I’m a huge fan of order at parties…I created a “program” that we put at every seat.  Basically, it told guests what activities were available–to encourage as much participation as possible.  Courtney and I whipped up tiny favor nests from Spanish moss.  It was a quick–but messy task.  They are house in favor bags and filled with Jordan Almonds.  If I did it again, I’d go with chocolate covered almonds.  That’s what I thought I bought–but alas, we ended up with these hard-on-the-teeth treats.


Because we are a pretty casual bunch, the activities were loosely structured.  We set up a diaper-note station, where guests were invited to use colorful Sharpies to write clever notes on a stash of diapers to be used during late night changings.  We also set up a onsie decorating station, and asked guests to write a childhood memory on a small card at their seat.   I like that we didn’t opt for a set time to do each activity, but let folks do what they wanted at their own pace.

bird baby shower

I was responsible for buying onsie decorating supplies and I tried to keep all level of artists in mind.  In the end, this is what I decided to buy:  White onsies ranging from NB-9 months in size, markers, alphabet stencils, flourish stencils, iron on jewels, iron on embellishments, iron on ribbon, iron on “screen printing” images, scissors, iron on fabric {cut any shape.}  It was nice that all the embellishments were permanent and instantly set–no paint or drying time.

onsie decorating station

Everyone did an amazing job.  I was so excited to see how everyone loved making their own creative onsie.  The iron-on elements and stencils really them look nice and purposeful…not like a bunch of people just wrote on some clothes with markers.  I think having those things on hand also made this station feel more accessible to ladies who don’t necessarily see themselves as artsy.


I loved the design suite I put together for the shower.  Once the main elements were created, I reused them on every piece of paper at the party.  It helped keep things consistent.

bird baby shower

We played two games.  One was “Name That Book,” which you can see in the image above.  For this game I searched the Children’s Book Guide online.  They offer a list of the top 100 Children’s Books of All Time.  I used 24 for our game.  I copied the covers onto a sheet–very small–and blotted out the titles.  Guests then had to identify as many as they could using only the tiny image as a guide.


Our other game involved childhood memories from all the guests.  Each person wrote a memory on a small card at their seat.  I collected them, then read them one at a time to Erin.  From the pile, she selected one as her favorite {Apples to Apples style.}  That lady was our winner.  Then Erin tried to match each memory to the guest that wrote it.  This was such a fun game, since all kinds of memories were shared.  They included things like:


I remember dancing to the Lawrence Welk’s show when I spent the night at Grandma’s house.

While my dad was mowing the lawn, I ‘operated’ on my sister’s arm using a play doctor’s kit and a real razor…the pretend anesthetic didn’t last….

As I child I liked to drink lemonade and read in the shade of a tree.

I would sit behind the couch and say every swear word I knew.

I used to look at my reflection in a blank TV screen and whisper news stories to myself.

I grew up in the city, but I had family who owned a farm.  Once I mistook chicken poop for gum and ate it…


That last one was our winner.  I’m telling you, it was a great time.


Game winners each received one of these necklaces which I crafted up with my bare hands.

bird baby shower

It was a great time.  I hope Erin had as much fun as I did.  Congratulations {again}…we are all s excited to meet the newest Kennedy!

bird baby shower

PS…I did a really crummy photo job with some of this.  But–I’m too excited and I can’t help bragging.  Do you see that chevron stick in the background of the photos above?!  It’s a growth chart.  I made it and I love it.  It’s just a 4″x6′ piece of wood that I sanded and stenciled!  Perfect for tracking the rapid ascend of this growing family!

Spiritual Goals

Open Bible

…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

2 Peter 1:5-8


I love this verse in 2 Peter.  {Read the whole chapter here.} Not only what it says in it’s entirety, but every tiny word and the very structure of the sentences.  Look closely.  Look at the word “add.”  It’s a verb.  It’s active, and requires effort.  Scripture challenges us and encourages us to add to our faith.  Like a plant left without water and sunlight, our faith will not flourish unless we add to it.  Without some effort to grow and move forward, our faith will become stagnant.  From there, it will be in danger of withering.


Take Peter’s advice and make ever effort to add to your faith this year.  One effective way of doing that is to set some spiritual goals.  A lot of the tips found in the first two posts {here and here} of this series apply to accomplishing and setting spiritual goals.  However, here are five tips specifically geared toward setting goals for spiritual growth.


Center around Scripture.

Sometimes when it comes to spiritual goal setting it can be hard to know where to start.  The obvious answers are to read the Bible more often and commit more time to prayer.  Those are great–and we’ll talk about them some more in a bit–but our spiritual goals can encompass so much more than that.  A thriving spiritual life will include more than that.  When it comes to thinking outside the box the Bible can be a great tool for pointing us in the right direction for finding some spiritual goals to set.  Galatians 5:22-23 lists the “fruit of the Spirit.”  This, and any other passage that lists concrete characteristics, can be a starting point for a goal.  Take one of the fruits listed and think critically about how you can manifest it in your life–then make it into a specific goal.


I came across an awesome article from Jelli Bean Journals while researching for this post.  She does a wonderful job of explaining this principle of using Scripture to set a spiritual goal.  I highly encourage you to stop over and read it.  {It’s a quick, easy read!}


Word Goals.

Being in the Word of God is vital to growing spiritually.  I tell the teens in our youth group all the time:  It’s easier to believe and trust someone you actually know.  One of the best ways to get to know the Lord is by reading His Word.  I love reading the Bible, and I’m very good at sticking to my reading plan.  But when it comes to setting reading goals, I’ve found–at least for me–it’s better to set a daily goal, rather than a deadline for my reading.


Pick a book you’d like to study, then set a daily goal.  Maybe that means one chapter, or reading for 15 minutes.  Reading the Bible isn’t a race.  It is much more important to read, understand and apply the Word, rather than simply read all the words.  I wrote a whole post on better Bible reading.  You can read it here for more help on how you can reach your reading goals.


Prayer Goals.

Along with reading the word, prayer is our other tool for really getting to know the Lord.  Make a goal to pray regularly.  In addition, you should also expand yourself to pray in new ways.  Prayer is not only about submitting requests to God, it can also be a form of worship, intercession, thanksgiving, and confession.


To help you stay on track find a method that works best for you.  Create a daily prayer time or create prayer prompts that you’ll see throughout the day.  I use prayer prompts…because often if I pray for too long my mind wanders.  Here are some prompts I’ve used…photos of my cousins/niece and nephew taped to my mirror to remind me to pray for them as I get dressed in the morning; an alarm on my phone that reminds me to pray for a certain individual at a certain time each day; prayer when for my doctors when I pull into the parking lots.  You might also find these kid’s techniques useful for diversifying and conquering your prayer goals.  One is the ACTS method, the other is a hand method.


Mind Goals.

The Bible says Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. {Romans 12:2a}  Transforming ourselves by renewing our mind means we should also set and work toward some mental goals.  Here are some synonyms for the word “renew”:  Exhilarate, freshen, reawaken, revitalize.  {See more synonyms here.} I don’t know about you, but my mind could sure use a dose of revitalization.


Remember that what goes into our minds roots itself in our hearts.  What we meditate and dwell will over take us.  For better or worse.  Set a goal that will renew your mind.  This might mean changing your media habits–TV, books, movies, music.  Maybe it will mean starting to read books with a strong spiritual backbone, that will push your faith.  Maybe your goal will be to sharpen your apologetics skills or memorize some Scripture.  Whatever it is, make sure it stretches your mind and feeds your senses messages that Christ would approve of.


Stewardship Goals.

Our faith should be active.  As you think about your goals, don’t stop with self-improvement.  Think externally as well.  Set a goal for being a steward of the Word and the Kingdom.  Find a way to get involved and serve.  Serve at your church.  Volunteer with a faith based organization.  Sponsor a Compassion child and start pouring into the heart of a kid across the world.  Mentor a younger Christian.  Find a way to be a steward.


As you approach your spirituals goals here are a few more things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t over do it.  Set a few goals–maybe one in each area–then as you accomplish or grow in those areas, set another goal.
  • Keep at it.  Don’t be tempted to throw in the towel if you miss a day.
  • Find a partner–join an accountability group or Bible study
  • Make it a family thing.  Set goals with your family and your spouse, too.  Set goals for your family and marriage.
  • If you didn’t read this article when I linked it up on Monday, you should totally check it out.  It’s got Biblical advice and 25 verses to meditate on in regard to goal setting.







8 Tips for Reaching Your Fitness Goals

art of fitness

For many of us the new year brings on one major goal…fitness. For me, January brings on a wave of guilt as I look back in awe at all the sugar I’ve consumed over the last few months. Even when I’m trying my hardest, that time span between Thanksgiving and January 1st can often mean lots of cookies, salty meats, heavy meals. It’s a time of substituting raw, green veggies for cheese coated casseroles.


Before I go on, let me be clear. I’m not trying to guilt you. I love vegetables cooked down and covered in cheese. I love ham and cookies and eating at places you only get when you visit your home town. I’m not anti-indulgence. I’m pro-balance. Now is a great time to bring our lives back into balance: our jeans are a little tighter, our stomachs are still not sure they want more starch, and we are eager to bring a fitness goal to fruition.


I’ve spent years working out and working in gyms. {In fact, not teaching fitness classes any more feels most weird at this time of year.} Over time I learned some things that helped me and my clients keep on track. This year, hopefully I’ll be taking my own advice as I attempt to reenter the fitness game—very gently. {For those of you wondering why…I’m still recovering from a summer back surgery. Turns out those take a frustratingly long time to fully heal.}

Decide what your objective is. There is a big difference in the way you’ll approach a one-time, concrete goal {more on concrete goals here} verses a lifestyle change.
This fitness goal: “I want to lose weight and look better,” is actually a lifestyle change. You can diet for a while, lose a few pounds and have a little short term success. However, if you really want to keep weight off and live inside a a healthier body you’ll need a lifestyle change. {More on that in a moment.}
On the other hand…this fitness goal: “I’m going to run the Crescent City Classic,” is a concrete, one-time goal. The approach here requires putting together a training timeline and exercising in a specific way. The first step in fitness success is deciding on an objective.


Success in a lifestyle change will require…change. It’ll require change in diet, activity, and mindset. These changes are hard because we have to fight against habit to get there. At first the choice to say “no” to that Diet Coke and “yes” to a glass of water might seem painful and backwards. But the more you make that choice, the easier and more natural it will become. A lifestyle change is all about retraining your mind to naturally choose new, positive choices.


Something that I’ve seen really help folks make a big change, is to turn the broad, lifestyle goal into smaller more concrete goals. Take it a week at a time. {Examples in this post.} Don’t look ahead at your whole life and all the hard work it will be. Instead, focus on the coming week. Make good choices for the next seven days. You can do it. It’s only a week.


I believe in the power of group mind. It’s one reason I became a fitness instructor. Teaching kept me accountable to my fitness routine. As an instructor I kept others accountable as well. Once you start going to a class, and make some friends, it becomes a lot harder to start skipping. You know your friends will ask where you were, or the instructor will say, “We missed you on Tuesday. Is everything okay?” When those comments arise, deep down you want a better excuse than, “I skipped.”


All that said, I definitely recommend joining a gym and finding a class you love at a time that works for your schedule. The accountability there can be key.


However, if you really hate classes {but I don’t know how you can} or they don’t work for you…find another system of accountability. Get a friend or spouse on board who can encourage you and check in on your progress.


Don’t be a closet dieter. There is no reason to be ashamed, embarrassed or secretive about your fitness goal. This is exciting and something to be proud of. Make your goal known. Nothing will crush your fitness dreams faster than being surrounded by un-supportive friends and family. Make your goals known so that those closest to you can support you—instead of offering you a second helping of potatoes.


Spend some money on your goals. You know I’m pretty darn thrifty. For me to tell you to spend money is very rare. But in this case, I’ll tell you to do it. When you invest your hard earned dollars into something, chances are you’ll utilize it.

It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Even a modest investment can be enough to keep a goal on the right track. Buy a gym membership, register for a 5K, join a community accountability group like Weight Watchers.


Know that most of your success will come in the kitchen. It’s just a fact. You can work out all day and still not get the results you want if you aren’t fueling your body with the right foods. On and off– even when I was teaching four classes a day—I would hate the way I looked. Every time, it boiled down to what was happening in the kitchen.


Be mindful of the season. I ran into a friend a few weeks ago. When we started talking about health and diet, she reminded me that lots of our diet success can come from choosing the right approach for the right season. She told me that last winter she tried a raw diet. It didn’t go well. Icy veggies and raw smoothies are hard to stomach when you are facing a brutal Practically Canadian wind chill of -50˚. Pick an approach that fits the season.


Don’t drink and start drinking. Cryptic, yes. But here’s the thing…one of the quickest changes you can make to your diet is simply swapping your drink choice. As you take steps toward a fitness goal you can expedite your success by eating your calories instead of drinking them. Cut out soda and carbonated beverages. Unless you are an actual athlete, of college or professional level, cut out the sports drinks. They won’t do you any favors. Look at the calorie count on those fancy coffees…it’s nearly a whole meal’s worth. Cut them too. And lastly, cut out alcohol. It slows your whole system down.
Instead of those things, buy a bottle you love and start drinking water like it’s going out of style.


I know you can do this.  Take it one step at a time.  Remember to look over the first two posts in the series for more inspiration on setting and reaching goals.  This post specifically touches on setting deadlines and timetables in regard to fitness goals.



Setting Goals & Getting Them Done {pt 2}

Hi all!  If you aren’t on Facebook, then you probably missed the bonus surprise I mentioned last night.  Just before Christmas I was invited to write a guest post on StartUp Mindset.  They are a site dedicated to posting information and inspiration for start ups and entrepreneurs.  I think they do a great job and I was honored to contribute to their plethora of information for business dreamers.  That article is live on their site–you can read it here–and is all about how to go about tackling big goals.  {The kind that are so big you don’t know how to approach them.}  Even if you aren’t a business mind, it’s a good read for anyone taking on the challenge of a big goal.


Yesterday I kicked off a series about goals–partially inspired by what I wrote for StartUp Mindset.  This week I’ll be talking about all kinds of things relating to goals.  In yesterday’s post {read it here} I covered five tips for setting goals and getting them done.  Today I’m back with the second half–five more tips to bring us to an even 10.

Badlands National Park

Setting Goals & Getting Them Done {continued…}


Timing and deadlines

Deadlines are a tricky subject when it comes to goals.  On one hand–a deadline can push us toward completion.  On the other hand–a deadline can make us feel like we have failed if it comes and goes without a finished product.  For some things, I’m a big fan of deadlines.  For others, not so much.  It all depends on the goal.  Here are a few things to consider when it comes to setting up a time table or deadline for your goal:

  • The broader the goal, the more dangerous it is to set a deadline.  Yesterday I talked about the importance of setting concrete goals.  This will help avoid vague, unmeasurable goals…but even a concrete goal can be broad.  If you are setting a broad goal, try to break it in to smaller pieces.  A broad goal can encounter any number of changes and setbacks…a deadline can often become a stumbling block of frustration in these circumstances.
  • Be realistic.  Often, I think I can do more in a certain amount of time than I actually can.  Be aware of your tendencies and try to be as real, and giving, with your deadline as possible.
  • Know that deadlines on physical or fitness goals are usually not a good idea.  Our bodies are all unique.  Deciding to lose X number of pounds in Y number of days will often be a loosing battle.  There are so many factors involved in a goal involving your body–injury, illness, body type, etc–that hinging progress on a date can lead to discouragement and the abandonment of the goal.  {I’ll have more on fitness goals tomorrow}
  • If you want a deadline, make it something that counts.  If your deadline is just a random date you picked for yourself, with nothing riding on it, it’s going to be very easy to push it off–or erase it all together.  Set a deadline that means something like–registering for a 5K {something paid is better than something free}; inviting out of state guests to stay the night on a certain weekend to propel that guest room remodel; applying to be a vendor at a craft show, to boost productivity on your Etsy shop inventory.


Check in on your progress

In our culture January is a big month for setting goals.  That’s great.  It’s wonderful to have a time of year that reawakens us to the idea of accomplishment; a time that reminds us to reevaluate and reignites our drive.


The problem with January is that is soon turns to February, March and April.  The things that we were so fired up about on January 1st soon fade into the background as the holidays end, vacations come to a close and our “regular” life resumes.  As the days and weeks go by, it’s easy for our goals to get pushed aside and given up on.  However, this does not have to be the case.  If you really want a goal to come to fruition, start with yesterday’s tips…then make absolutely sure you check in on your progress.  Schedule these check ins.  This can be something you do once a month, or even just once a quarter–just do it.  Don’t beat yourself up if you’ve gotten off track since the last check in.  That’s what a check in is for.  Assess your progress, decide if you need more frequent check ins…and move forward.


Don’t make yourself crazy

I’m speaking to myself here.  Maybe I’m speaking to you too.  When I start on something, I like to get it done.  I love working and I’ll work myself to the bone.  I’ll work until the job is done, by body gives out, or an ambulance arrives to take me away.  This, friends, can make me crazy.  I never know when to quit…so I don’t.


The remedy that I’ve found {but don’t always follow} is to put some parameters on work and striving.  Yours will be different than mine, and different than you closest friend’s.  Your parameter might need to limit the amount of time you spend working on your goal.  Maybe it means turning off the computer, turning notifications off on your phone when you are out with friends, shutting the door on that project room at a certain time of day, or simply committing to eating dinner at a table and having a conversation about something that isn’t your goal.  Whatever your parameters are they should:

  • Help maintain balance in your life and relationships
  • Keep you social, keep your relationships alive
  • Propel you toward a positive mindset {an over worked mind will quickly become frustrated and negative…neither of which is conducive to accomplishment.}

Be fluid

I don’t think every goal we ever set out on is meant to be accomplished.  If we were,  I would have gone to school on a shot-putting scholarship.  Sometimes the path we take toward a certain goal can lead us to something better, more fulfilling.  That whole shot-put thing didn’t work out for a scrawny 15 year old…but being on the track team did lead me to a love of running…which in turn led me to a career as a fitness instructor.  That was a goal that suited my personality and my skill set better.


The point is to realize that goals are fluid.  Continue to pray over your progress and over what your goals are and if they should be adjusted.  Reread yesterday’s tips on prayerfully considering goals to keep you lined up with God’s will.  You might check in on a goal one day and decide to stop advancing on it, preferring instead to go a different direction.  That’s okay.  Be fluid.

Revel in your success

As you set your goals and check in on your progress, remember to take stock of your success.  Chances are you’ll have lots of little successes on the way to fully accomplishing goals.  Keep your eyes set on the victories you’ve had and remember that changing a goal along the way doesn’t mean it’s failed.  The number of goals we set and accomplish does not define our goodness or success as a person.  Goals are meant to drive us, they are there to help define where we want to go and push us toward that point.  Goal setting is not an exercise in setting yourself up for failure; it’s about becoming your best self and taking pride in the success you find along the way.


Tomorrow I’ll be posting about reaching fitness goals.  But before you walk away from this general discussion of goals…take a look at this great article I came across from Celebrate Every Day With Me.  It’s got Biblical keys to goal-setting and 25 verses of Scripture to meditate on when setting goals.  It’s really a great read!




Setting Goals & Getting Them Done {pt 1}

Siyeh Pass Lake

For many of us, the first months of a new year can be a time of reflection and goal setting.  I know lots of people who get jazzed about that.  They are thrilled to look back at the good, bad and ugly that unfolded in the past 12 months.  They assess it, learn from it and move forward with bold, improved steps.  That’s great.  More power to them.  However, I also know lots of people who are intimidated by this time of year.  Sometimes, even the most driven among us can become nervous at the thought of setting goals.  For some {maybe me included} goal setting can be scary because it increases the chance at failure.  If there is no goal, there is to measure.  If there is no measure, there is no way of telling if you have succeeded or failed.  Right?


No, actually that’s not right at all.


When the fear of failure stops us from trying, failure has already prevailed.  When we don’t even begin to try self doubt forces us to fail at being our best selves.  It robs the world around us of our best efforts, ideas, and ingenuity.  That’s not fair to ourselves or our community.  We were each designed with unique abilities and the capacity to do good work. {Eph. 2:10, James 2:14-26}  Enter this new year bravely by setting some goals.  This week I’m writing all about goals.  All kinds of goals, all kinds of angles on goals.  First up, I’ve got 10 tips on setting goals and getting them done.  Because it’s very a little lengthy, I’m splitting it into two posts.  Five tips today, and five tomorrow.


Setting Goals & Accomplishing Them

Going Places

When it comes to goal setting, I find it helpful to take every advantage I can get.  Even if it’s a small advantage.  Even if it’s almost made up.


When you set a goal for yourself think carefully about how you word it.  Starting a goal with:  I want to… already makes it seem out of reach.  You want to…but something is standing in your way.  You want to…but aren’t sure how.  Instead, start with something a little more confident:  I’m going to…  This implies that you will.  The following tips will help you set realistic goals, so you won’t set your self up for failure.  {Unless your goal is, I’m going to set an unreachable goal…}



Make it concrete

Here’s the thing about me and goals.  I’m awesome at accomplishing them…but I’m not the best at setting them.  It’s partly because my brain is just so darn interested in so many things.  I can never really decide what I want to put my mind to.  What I want to excel at.  However, when I do decide, I’m pretty keen at making it happen.  This tip is about setting a goal you can  actually see through:  Make it concrete.


I’ve set “goals” for myself, only to realize that they are too broad and too general.  They never come out the way I’d like them to.  I end up feeling like a failure.  It’s like they’re made of Jell-O.  Laying out concrete goals will help you know exactly what you are working toward.  You’ll be able to accurately assess your progress, you’ll know how the ending is supposed to look.  Here are a few examples:


Jell-O Goal:  This year I’m going to eat better.

Concrete Goal:  I’m going to eat 2 raw lunches and 3 vegetable-heavy dinners every week of the next month.

{This goal works because it sets a bar for what is considered “better.”  It also gives a realistic timeline.  At the end of 30 days, you can reassess and adjust your diet before the next month begins.}


Jell-O Goal:  I’m going to keep my house clean.

Concrete Goal:  I’m going to pick up and put away random items left in the main rooms of my home every evening before bed, I’ll do a deep clean once a week.  After a month, I’ll reassess the system.


Jell-O Goal:  I’m going to be more organized.

Concrete Goal:  I’m going to start clearing out my email inbox every Friday.


{Jell-O goals that have left me disappointed also include:  This year my business will be more successful; I’m going to get better at prayer; I’m going to get back in shape.  I’ve learned that it’s vital to personally define vague terms like “success,” “better,” “more,” “in shape,” etc.  That way you’ll have a gauge for progress and success.  Otherwise you are working toward a mirage.}


Find your system

Everybody has a system that works best for them.  And by system, I mean organizational system.  If you want to realize your goals, then you have to find your system.  Maybe you already know it.  Maybe your system includes lists, spreadsheets and labels.  Maybe it’s more of a planner/ipad kind of thing.  The method doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you have one.


If you don’t know what works best for you, now is a perfect time to start looking.  Make finding your “system” your very first goal of the year.  As you seek out to improve on a system that’s already working for you {or to develop your first ever system} here are a couple things to keep in mind:

  • it should keep you punctual
  • it should prevent you from forgetting things
  • it should keep you on track/propel you forward
  • it should be maintainable for your lifestyle.


{No system is perfect.  Yours should help you in these areas, but it probably wont’ make you perfect at any of them.  If you happen across a system that makes you perfect and without fault…please send me an email, I’d like to know about it.}


Schedule it

Now that you have a good system, it’s time to start scheduling goal time.  No matter what it is, put it on the schedule.  Make an appointment {as often as you need/as often as life will allow} to work toward your goal.  If you don’t schedule it, you’ll find yourself trying to eke it in at the last minute…or in moments of downtime.  You’ll tell yourself you’ll get to it when everything else gets done…but that moment is very unlikely to ever actually arrive.


Put it on the schedule.  Make it known that you’ll be keeping the appointment.  Then keep it.  The first time you cancel on yourself opens the gate to a slippery slope.  It only becomes more and more easy to continue cancelling.  Which leads me to…


Prioritize yourself

This is something I really struggle with.  Maybe it’s because when it comes to my biggest goals, I’m worried I’ll fail.  So I push myself to the end of the list, chronically saying “yes” to the needs of everyone around me…that way I have this built in excuse of why I didn’t get “it” done.  I was too busy doing too many other things.  Friends, this is a very bad strategy.  Very bad.


It’s true that the Bible calls us to have a servant’s heart.  {Here is a pretty long list of verses about serving.}  However, if we chronically stretch ourselves too thin and never allow our spirits to breathe or dream–we are setting ourselves up to feel frustrated, discouraged, and bitter.  God calls us to serve with a joyful heart.  {2 Corinth 9:6-11}  Satan lies to the most giving among us by implying that if we ever {even for a moment} prioritize ourselves, we are sinning and displeasing God.  It’s just not true.  God does not aim to oppress. {Galatians 5}


Prayerfully consider your goals before you start working toward them.  Make sure you are working toward things that align with His word and glorify Him.  Godly goals will never contradict the Word of character of the Lord.  {Is. 8, Hebrews 13}Double check that you can do it in the name of Jesus. {Colossians 3:17} If what you are working toward passes those tests, will bring you closer to Him {even seemingly simple goals that relieve stress from your life, ie more organization, fitness, etc can do that} and will add to your testimony or spur others on to know Him–go for it.  Know that it’s okay to prioritize yourself enough to work toward a worthy goal.


Think about those things tonight.  I know it’s halfway through the month of January, but my guess is many of you are still thinking about goals, so I hope this has been even the teeniest bit helpful to you.  Tomorrow I’ll be back with the second half of this article–five more tips for setting and reaching your goals.  {And I just might have a bonus surprise for you, too!}




2014 In Review

Hi all!


I know it’s a Saturday, which usually means I don’t post…but we are several days into the new year and before it escapes any further, I wanted to throw up a quick “Year In Review” post. Thank you all for a great year. For all the support. For all of you who helped with projects, laughed at posts, were encouraged by my words. Thank you, thank you. I really like writing here, and it’s much more fun with you along for the ride. Maybe you’ll remember a few of these moments, too.


In January the world as I knew it became colder than I ever imagined. The polar vortex attacked the US and Practically Canada reached a level of chilly I thought only possible for polar bears to survive. A friend took waved her wet locks outside, it instantly froze and her photo went viral.



In February I finished my cloffice. Which I have used so much and have truly grown to love.

cloffice b&a

Also in February, our heater went out…which was a terrible experience; we had a cozy weekend at Lake Metigoshe; and my amazing mother turned 60…Derek and I honored her with this video.


March 7th changed life as I knew it…when I came home from teaching a low impact class at the gym, felt something weird in my back, and ended up in the hospital later that night. That day had a ripple effect that led to surgery, lots of faith testing, and physical challenges I’m still coping with. On the upside, the injury gave me the down time I needed to finish up a website redesign, and launch the new look of All that to say, March was an important month in my life.

I've Fallen And I Can't Get Up


In April I taught you all how to recover basic thrift store chairs. This pair was made for our youth pastor’s office–a redecorating project I headed up…and a project I should get around to showing you some day…

before and after chair

In May, I learned about the art of Practically Canadian comfort food…and told you all the hilarious tale of my time making open faced sandwiches for a funeral. We started work on the basement {a slooow moving project} and got a new roof. Derek and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary with a trip to Maine, where I packed all purple clothes, explored the region with low impact activities, and spotted a moose!

Bass Harbor Lighthouse

In June, back surgery was eminent. So, as a last hoor-ah Katie and I went to Noah’s Ark Water Park. in the Wisconsin Dells. It was a magical weekend and I met a giant cat named Bunny Rabbit. {Slide photo via Noah’s Ark Facebook Page.}

Fat cat

On June 26th I had surgery, but I came out with the ability to walk and a new pair of hospital socks. Then I ate at my favorite pizza place in Bismarck. All in all, a success.


In July the basement got an egress window and waterproofed by a couple dudes singing Frozen, I made a nifty tote out of an old box and some rope, and we started memorizing Colossians {we are almost done now!}

Sisal Tote

At the end of the month we traveled to God’s Country, Elkhart, IN…where I experienced The Fair via wheel chair and we got some pics of the whole fam.

Allender Family Photos

In August, I was telling those of you in Minot about the amazing sale at a local thrift shop, Derek was away in South Dakota, and the Arts Council gave me my first opportunity to shine as a local artist with this community canvas.

community canvas 4

Also in August, I took a bunch of adorable Sunflower Mini Sessions!

Sunflower mini sessions

But by the end of the month I was in so much pain from surgery, it looked like the operation had failed. The doctor was concerned and I was miserable. It was a battle of physical and spiritual proportions. At that time, I wrote one of the posts I’m most proud of: Grace and Peace. I hope you’ll read it. At the end of August, I honestly believe God performed a miracle in my life. You can read about it here.

medical miracle

In September, to continue healing and to give my mind some rest, I went to South Dakota to stay with Derek while he was on a temporary assignment. There I had an awkward moment at Devil’s Tower and I was taken aback by the beauty of Badlands National Park.

August also lead to the unveiling of two of my most popular design projects to date: An invitation and a thank you note.


In October we relieved the glory of our best costume ever when it was featured by the Huffington Post, I made spooky trees in my house, carved my best pumpkin, took a million senior portraits and joined the Artists in the Schools Program–which I LOVE! Oh, yeah and we dressed up as Care Bears.


November was Christmas Mini Session month! Most of the month was dedicated to churning out great family photos.

But I also hosted a great Thanksgiving, learned what “spatchcocking” is, and taught kids about the water cycle through art.


In December, I had a fabulous time at the White Christmas Ball in Denver.


And, I was flattered and stunned by the great response I got to my post on things to do and see during the Practically Canadian winter.


It’s been a busy year, and a good year. There has been lots of pain–there’s no denying that…but I’m grateful for the chance to over come and to get to know our amazing God more and more through every trial. I hope you can look back on the past 12 months–no matter how hard they’ve been–and realize just how special, fantastic, one-of-a-kind you are. Then take that pride and boldly move forward. There’s only one 2015, let’s make it amazing.



The Burnsides {Winter Maternity Session}

winter maternity, Minot, ND

We are down to the last few hours of 2014.  Before the “holiday season” officially comes to a close–and we all get out the label makers, gym shoes and cleaning supplies…as we vow to be more organized, more faithful to our workout routine, and more tidy–I simply must squeeze in one more holiday portrait session.


Meet the Burnside duo…soon to be a trio.  We lucked out when as portrait session fell on one of those magical Minot days when December temps are in the 30’s.  Snow is still sticking to the ground, but you can feel your fingers and the air doesn’t give you a brain freeze.  It was a gorgeous day and this is a gorgeous couple.  I’m so happy to have had the chance to get to know them and capture the art of this special season in their lives.


winter maternity

As we ventured around downtown Minot, I noticed the adorable window display at Minot’s most adorable baby boutique–Lulu Lane.  Seriously, if you live in Minot and haven’t been, you really need to stop in.  It’s precious times a thousand.  I thought since we were working with a holiday theme, a little candy land sparkle in the background would be a nice touch.


Little did I know the gems who work inside Lulu Lane would invite us inside to take photos in their lovely shop, with their delightfully sparkly decor!  At first I hesitated.  But the giant pink tree {the Burnsides are expecting a GIRL} and the notion of warm fingers eventually got the best of me and we took them up on the offer.  I am so glad we did.

winter maternity

winter maternity

I loved these super natural giggly moments with these two.  How cute are they?!

winter maternity

And what would a winter maternity session be without a few more photos in the snow?  I’ll tell you what…incomplete.  I love these evergreen images from Scandinavian Heritage Park.

winter maternity

winter maternity

winter maternity

Thank you so much to Lulu Lane!  Seriously, you guys rock.  Shooting inside your shop was a joy.  And a huge thanks to the Burnsides!  The world will be very blessed to meet a person who has her parents’ energy and charm!


Happy New Year everyone!




That Awkward Moment at Sear’s

I hope you’ve all had a grand Christmas and are gearing up to celebrate in style tomorrow night as we wave “G’bye” to 2014 and usher in a brand new year.

{This gorgeous image via}

As usual Derek and I journeyed to our home town in God’s Country {Indiana} for the holiday.  It was lovely and unseasonably warm.  I visited with my very dear family and some of my dearest friends…we only see each other if I traverse to California, or if we are all home for the holidays.  I’m back to Practically Canada now…feeling refreshed and invigorated.  Both by the restful week away and the subzero wind chill that I’ve over heard locals referring to as “brisk.”


One of these lovely friends I got to catch up with paid me a compliment that has rooted its way into my heart and made my whole soul smile.  He told me that I have a gift for seeing humor in every day life.  I never thought of it as a gift.  I just figured everyone could look around and find comedy unfolding in every direction.  From the evening news to interactions at they gym, and conversations I’ve over heard at the coffee shop…it’s true–I see hilarity happening all around me.  So, if it is a gift, or a super power, I’ll claim it with pride.


While we were visiting I told him many tales from Practically Canada.  But there was one he particularly liked.  Today, before the holidays get too far behind us, I’ll tell you as well.

{This is what I feel like shopping at the mall at Christmas.  Image via ChipChick}

The date was Thursday December 18, 2014.  Because Derek and I were heading to Indiana on Friday the 19th, I had about a million errands to run before we loaded the car to leave.  One such errand was to the {dreaded} mall.  I don’t care how small your town is.  The mall is not the place you want to be less than a week before Christmas.  Especially if you have a cranky streak, like I do, and tend to get fussy when you can’t find/they don’t have/you think it’s too pricey.


I pulled in to the insane parking lot.  Because the chaos was so eminent, I reverted to an old mall-going trick I learned back in high school:  there’s always parking at Sear’s.  It’s true.  Unless you are buying an appliance or some tools…you probably won’t park at Sear’s.  Think about it.  Do you know anyone who parks at Sear’s because they plan to do most of their shopping there?  I sure don’t.


So I park and go in to Sear’s.  I’m now power walking because I have a thousand tiny things to pick up from all different stores and I have an urgent need to remove myself from the mall as quickly as possible.  As I’m flying by the shoe section, I see her.  She’s across a shoe rack that has been placed in the middle of the aisle, her face slightly obscured, but I see her nonetheless.  Tall, perfectly done eye make up, and a cute, sparkly headband–as usual.


I’m two full days from my last shower, sporting gym clothes, touting a makeupless face {save for some mascara that had been applied days earlier}.


I’m aware of how I look.  But I also want to be friendly.  Normally, I force myself to “place the face” before speaking…as in–I have to know where I know them from before saying “Hi.”  But for whatever reason, be it the cheer of the season, the urgency in my stride, or simply a lapse of judgement…I hear the words “Oh, hey,” come out of my lips.  As soon as I said it, I regretted it.


I have no clue who this girl is.


She smiles awkwardly back at me and mutters a greeting.  I’ve stopped in my tracks.  Like we are going to have a conversation.  I’m short and she’s tall and the ratty shoe rack is between us.  I take a few weird steps forward and turn to look at her.  Now on the same side of the rack.  We make eye contact.  I’m rolodexing my whole brain, straining to place who this person is.


“Did you think I was someone else?”  She asks.  Now here’s where things get weird.  The correct thing to do, would be to reply, “Yes.”  Then walk away.  Because I’m me…that’s not what I did.  I stand there and make it weird.


“No, I thought you were you.”  WHY would I say that?  What does that even mean?  “Your husband is in the 23rd right, at the base?”  Perfect, Amy…throw out some military jargon…buy some time.  Plus, the odds are I really do know her from base somehow.


“Ummm, no.  I’m not in the military and I’m not married.”


“Really?  You don’t do anything at the base?”




Silence.  Then I decide to cut my losses and bail.  “Okay.  Sorry about that.”  I walk away.  But I walk away smug…because I’m sure {super sure} that I know her from somewhere.  I’m confident that we are friends on Facebook.  And when I get home I’m going to look her up, then send her a message.  Okay, maybe not the message thing…but I’m confident I’ll find her and that I’ll prove we are indeed friendly acquaintances.  Then I’ll put this awkward moment behind me for good.


I rack my brain for the rest of the shopping trip.  I’m still thinking about it when I sit down at home to check email.  I’m cursing Facebook for not having a search feature that will allow me to narrow my results by “tall, wears sparkly headbands, has good eyeliner.”  I sit and close my eyes and try to picture her in the setting I know her from.  Gym?  No–you don’t wear headbands that pretty to the gym.  Military?  She made it clear it wasn’t that.  Downtown?  Maybe…


Then, all of a sudden it hits me.  I see it clearly in my mind.  She has a blue vest on.  She’s sweeping.  She’s scanning.


She works at Hobby Lobby.

{this is a generic image via World Mag}

She doesn’t know me.  Not at all.  We are not friends.  I don’t even know her name.  Smugness crushed.  Looks like one too many trips to the craft store this Christmas.  Awkward.  So awkward.  For being so friendly and for a person who talks so much, you think I’d be less weird.  Nope.


So, to the girl who works at Hobby Lobby:  Hi.  It’s Amy.  I’m awkward and I’m sorry for being so weird that time at Sear’s.  I like your headbands.  Thanks for being such a good cashier.  You are always really quick with the coupon code and I really appreciate that.  K bye.


Have you had a moment like this?  I sure hope your last days of 2014 are awkwardness free.  Thanks for sticking around…even though I’m so weird.





Every Good And Perfect Gift {Christmas Newborn Session}

Happy Christmas Eve everyone.  I hope you are gathering in with family and friends to celebrate the really big deal that is Christmas!  Just for kicks I thought I’d share a few images from a recent newborn session.  It was Christmas themed, and precious.  And really, who doesn’t want an extra does of cute going in to Christmas Day?


This little one belongs to the Rockwell family.  You might remember their maternity session.  Such a sweet, gorgeous couple.  This was such a fun, relaxing session to shoot.  And it was during this session that I learned about the amazing spatchcocking technique that worked out so well at Thanksgiving.


Merry Christmas all!


Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

–James 1:17

new born christmas session IMG_5316 IMG_5325 IMG_5349 IMG_5353 IMG_5409

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Hi. I'm Amy. Thanks for coming by. I'm in to trying new things and learning to live better. I hope you'll hang around...together we can come closer to mastering the Art of Living.

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