A Fair to Remember: Year 2

Welcome to the Minnesota State Fair!

“If you don’t smell like beer, French fries, and corn, get off the bus!” I did the smell check and found that I passed the test, so I proceeded to the only seat left on the employee bus.

That night, I sat next to a cheerful, beer garden woman who looked like Rosie the Riveter. She confessed that she loves the Minnesota State Fair so much so that when it’s the other 353 days of the year, she drives around the empty fairgrounds wishing it were State Fair time. “My goal in life it to serve on the MN State Fair board.”

That was right before the bus driver yelled, “Welcome to the love bus!” And livened up our midnight ride back to the employee lot by dangerously swerving his bus back and forth along 280.

And that, my friends, is an average day at the Minnesota State Fair.

This is my second year working at the Fair. Once again, I sold drinks and floats at the Galaxy of Drinks. I worked 8 days out of the 12 and helped break down the stand on the last day. (There was a lot of high fructose corn syrup, duct tape, and bloodshed that last night. But I survived.)

Besides my bosses, I worked entirely with kids. So when I referenced things like Facebook or food sanitation rules, I got blank stares. I was the only one NOT to change out of my work t-shirt when leaving the stand. And I spent a lot of time handling our rougher customers. “Uh, Rachel, that old, drunk guy just winked at me and I don’t feel comfortable taking his order. Can you do it?” “Uh, Rachel there is a creepy man taking pictures. What should we do?”

Regardless of the State Fair cra-cra, working the Fair has become a much-anticipated, 12-day social experiment. All the things I have learned in my day job about positivity, mindfulness, de-escalation, behavioral modification, attachment, social scripts, ideal learning environments, mutual respect, safety, and resilience are put to the ultimate “State Fair” test. In other words, I bring all that know-how to the Fair and it ends up getting a stick shoved into it, deep-fried, and sold for 7 bucks.

Like last year, I have a million stories to tell. Some of them are hilarious, like when I lost part of my lower lip to the aforementioned duct tape. (It hurt like the dickens.) Or when a customer asked us if we sold beef-flavored slushies. (We don’t.) Or when the 93rd irate millennial asked me why the h*** we don’t take credit cards and how is that even cost effective. (I took the time to explain how cost-effectiveness really works.) Or when I found a guy peeing in our storage area. (I hosed him down, twice.)

On the other hand, some of my stories are sad, like when a highly intoxicated woman lost her child. When the police found the little girl, I watched as they had to decide whether or not it was safe for the child to go home with the parent. Other times I would find couples arguing in the back alley or drug addicts hiding from the cops. Most of those darker moments happened after 9pm, when it’s no longer a happy place at the fair.

Some of my experiences were inspiring, like the senior citizens who gave $20 tips to my college-bound coworkers. Or when a dad walked by, carrying his four-year-old daughter on his shoulders. He patiently took the time to let her order a strawberry slushy and pay for it by herself.

But my favorite moments were when I saw people I knew at the fair. I got to see my own family, sisters-in-law, brother-in-law, my nieces and nephew. I even saw my cousins-in-law. I saw lots of friends, and a surprise visit from a college teammate and her family. I saw old seminary families and an American friend I met in Taiwan who is now a Minnesota dairy farmer and cheese-maker. This year, I saw more people I knew in one day, than in all the days of the fair last year. That felt good because it’s a sign that I am starting to feel at home.

Last year, when I posted about the Fair, I mentioned things I ate and did and experienced. This year I thought I would share a bunch of text messages, voicemails, and phone calls that I sent or received over my 8 days at the fair. It should give you a glimpse into what it’s like to work the Minnesota State Fair.

Don’t worry if the messages seem confusing, that’s exactly how it felt most of the time. To help you translate the messages, outgoing messages from me are indented to the right. Incoming messages from various friends, family, or my bosses are on the left.

Day 1 of the Fair

9:04am – Al Rorker is the MN fair talking about weird wacky food there. NBC Today. Totcho? I didn’t get what that was.

9:14am – Interesting. Now he’s talking about dog tricks. They’re all stunt dogs, rescues. The teaser says it involves axes.

9:52am – Wish I could blink and be there. Maybe next year.

2:40pm – This is Rachel. Just an FYI. Free employee lot is no longer available to us. Only for Minnesota State Fair staff!

2:43pm – Free employee lot is no longer available to us. Only for Minnesota State Fair staff! Argh! Parked on the creepy street and can still take the bus. Just nervous to ride home!

2:45pm – Carry your keys out to kick or scratch anything or anyone.

7:08pm – FYI – Galaxy is very low on straws and napkins. And out of strawberry slushy mix.

8:20pm – Forgot to tell Michael that the butter machine isn’t working either. (Hasn’t all day?)

10:54pm – Was it turned on?

11:08pm – Yes. It’s on. It’s warm.

11:13pm – Close up if you haven’t!

11:14pm – Got it!

Day 2 of the Fair

11:43pm – We’re done. But forgot to get the neon cow float sign down. Locked now.

11:49pm – K. Thanks!

Day 3 of the Fair

2:27pm – Is there anywhere that sells the cheaper ponchos?? Thanks dear.

2:56pm – ESPN booth by grandstand is selling ponchos for $3

4:39pm – MNy thanks!

4:41pm – This is the Galaxy. Could we order two vanilla ice creams and one chocolate?

10:33pm – We’re trying to close up but we’ve had a surge of float orders. Can’t resist those orders!

11:14pm – Leaving early! Should be home by midnight!

Day 4 of the Fair

2:25pm – We are on the bus now I’ll tell u where we get off

2:43pm – We are heading to the grandstand

2:44pm – Never mind we are going to birthing center

8:06pm – I am in the dairy building where are you?

8:10pm – Horticulture building, Minnesota department of ag, North hall

9:07pm – Sorry to bother you. I have a question. When taking inventory, do you want the whole sheet filled out or just the candy portion?

9:10pm – All please.

9:33pm – Rachel. It’s Marlys calling for Delphine. I got 2 calls simultaneously and I took the barn call, the candy call, and yours came in also. Anyway, I’m here if you wanna call back and give me the candy. Ok, thank you.

10:47pm – Done and locked up.

Day 9 of the Fair

11:45pm – I am almost closed. I found a kid taking a whiz in your back storage area. I scared him off and then happened to have the hose on, so then hosed him down. Twice. It was fun. Closing down completely in 5 minutes. P.s. Also hosed down the ground.

11:45pm – Nice work! … Thanks! Have a good night.

Day 10 of the Fair

9:25am – Your FB post made us laugh out loud!! How we wish there were a video? Did you offer him water to wash his hands?

9:34am – Punishment fit the crime. Especially when he hit a dead end in the alley and had to come by me a second time. I was so mad. At first I thought he was trying to steal supplies. Then I realized I was going to have to clean our supply containers.

12:36pm – Currently in horse building

12:38pm – On our way

1:57pm – So excited. Front row seats to the birds show!

3:16pm – Honey candy in the dirt

3:31pm – These lines are terrible, we can meet u at Galaxy

3:32pm – Or give me all kids straight past skyway and bathroom is there by leinies lodge

4:19pm – Just got here. Water/ice key is missing??

9:30pm – Do we have more strawberry slushy mix in the pod?

Day 11 of the Fair

4:40pm – Hi Rachel. It’s Richard. Please give me a call on my cell phone. It is presently 4:40 pm on Sunday. Need to talk to you about a problem and the Galaxy finding a product that they were having trouble locating.

Day 12 of the Fair

6:21pm – Hey there! Reese asked me to text you to let you know there is a tip cup on the rafters between cups & candy boxes?

6:53pm – Sprite is out and I see no replacement box. Should I head to the pod or call sprite quits for the day?

6:57pm – Then we are out!

12:49am – Helping Richard close. Should be home by 2 or 3am. No employee bus anymore so Richard is gonna try to get me to the employee lot.

See you next year at the Fair!







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Filed under Miscellaneous thoughts, Outdoors, Relationships, State Fair, Work

Swimmer’s Itch and Me

My mom just got home from visiting us in Minnesota and is currently complaining of a mosquito bite. “We don’t have mosquitoes where I’m from,” she says.

I used to think that Minnesota’s greatest itches were mosquitoes and poison ivy. Well now I know of one more – swimmer’s itch.

I have swimmer’s itch. And only you, my husband, my mom, and two other people know about it.

For the record, swimmer’s itch is not contagious and it’s way more complicated than a simple itch. It’s actually a parasite that has me confused with either a duck or a snail. It’s fairly common in lakes and ponds and usually goes away within a week or so. (I hope.)

My kiddos at the local beach

All this I learned within the last 10 days. And up until 10 days ago, swimming in the lake was my favorite, Minnesota summer pastime.

The kiddos and I swim probably 2 to 3 times a week at the local lake. And up until last week, the biggest problem we’ve had to deal with were couples making out in the water and goose poop along the shore (in that order).

Last week I was swimming with my seven-year-old. He asked me to swim out to the buoy to see whether or not I could touch bottom. Because I do what my kids tell me to do, I swam out to the buoy and I touched the bottom. But as I was swimming back, that’s when it happened.

Like a hornet’s nest in my skivvies, out of nowhere something very invisible and very aggressive started biting my nethers. Bite, bite, bite, bite, bite, bite, bite, bite, bite, bite. The intruders were stinging me furiously from one side of my rib cage to the other. Bite, bite, bite, bite, bite, bite, bite, bite, bite, bite. BITE! I scrambled to get whatever it was out of my suit.

And then, it was over. Huh, I thought. That was weird. Wonder what that was. I never really saw anything, and it went away as fast as it came. The kids kept swimming, but I got out of the water to eat some potato chips and contemplate what had just happened.

Nothing seemed to come of it, but the next morning, I woke up itching all over. It was like the chicken pox from third grade. Then I discovered twenty-one raised welts all around my midsection.

At first I thought it was spider bites. Nope. Then I thought maybe it was shingles. Yikes! And then my husband, after further inspection, smiled knowingly. “What!?” I asked.

He replied nonchalantly, “It’s just swimmer’s itch. Take a Benadryl and it’ll go away in a few days.”

I can’t believe I’ve gotten this far in life and never heard of or experienced swimmer’s itch. Well, now I know.

The next time we went to the beach (I had to give it a few days because I was a little apprehensive), I saw a little, orange sign staked in the sand. It read: This water has been treated with copper sulfate. Copper sulfate is used to clear the swimming area of bacteria and swimmer’s itch.

Apparently, my mother and I aren’t the only ones itching this week.



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Adventures of Mrs. Pastor: Episode 4 – My awkward-moments toolbox

Chapter 1: My least favorite question and the Duchenne smile


These days my least favorite question is: “What does your husband do for a living?”

My husband is a pastor and people are usually quite friendly until they realize that I am a pastor’s wife. It’s as if a warning switch flips in their brains. Alert! Alert! Proceed with extreme caution!

Telling people your husband is a pastor is right up there with telling people your husband is a tax examiner for the IRS or the President of the United States.

Responses range from guilty joking (“I need to watch what I say around you!”), to uncomfortable comparisons (“I knew a pastor one time”), to genuine delight (but that’s only happened twice, and they both ended up being church ladies).

But the worst and unfortunately the most common response is stunned silence followed by a forced smile. Then an invisible sign floats over our heads, reading “Awkward” or “Dead end conversation, turn around”. I can see it in their eyes. And every time I see it, I feel a little sad.

What is it about the eyes that tells me a person’s true feelings?

The secret lies in the Duchenne smile.

Dr. Duchenne was an early nineteenth century French physician who studied the physiology of facial expressions. Through his studies, he learned that there are two kinds of smiles: the fake smile and the real smile (known as the Duchenne smile).

The difference? The authentic, Duchenne smile is controlled by the limbic system (the emotional center of the brain).

When you genuinely smile, both voluntary and involuntary muscles contract. The voluntary muscle contraction (from the zygomatic major) raises the corners of the mouth. The involuntary muscle contraction (from the orbicularis oculi) raises the cheeks and shows movement around the eyes.

When you force a smile (for your coworker who has just told you that her husband is a pastor) a different part of your brain controls the smile. It’s the motor cortex.

Unlike the Duchenne smile, a fake smile involves only voluntary muscle contraction (from the zygomatic major). Because we cannot voluntarily contract the orbicularis oculi muscle, a forced smile never makes it to the eyes.*

Chapter 2: My awkward-moments toolbox


Understanding the difference between the Duchenne smile and the forced smile helps me to field the dreaded what-does-your-husband-do-for-a-living question. A rare Duchenne smile response tells me everything is okay. The forced smile response tells me that the situation has risen to awkward levels and that I need to quickly move into the recovery phase in order to save the conversation and the relationship as a whole.

When that happens (which is pretty normal), it’s time to pull out my awkward-moments toolbox. I’ve been developing my awkward-moments toolbox my whole life. Apparently, my life has been a training ground for awkward and embarrassing moments.

Just a few examples, when I was 8, I fell out of my classroom chair and my legs, along with my skirt, flew over my head. The entire class held onto their glue bottles and stared. That was the same year my friends laughed at the hot dog floating in boiling water in my lunch thermos. And the same year I got in trouble for chewing grape Hubba Bubba gum and publicly lying about it. (It’s hard to tell a lie with a mouth full of grape bubblegum.)

When I was 13, I participated in a spelling bee competition. (I was the class alternate, a.k.a “the last resort”.) I asked for the definitions of the words, bury and raisin. (I was stalling.) And then promptly spelled both words incorrectly (b-a-r-y and r-a-i-s-a-n). I can still see my dad and my spelling coach in the back of the auditorium, holding their foreheads and shaking their heads. You probably guessed it, but we lost.

When I was 14, I wore my first two-piece bathing suit to an eighth grade pool party. I felt so cool. Everyone was there, even Brian. As I confidently jumped out of the pool, there was a malfunction with my top, causing those around me to scream in horror.

When I was 15, I wore my first mini-skirt to school. Someone should have stopped me at the front door. The skirt was hot pink and too tight. Oh, and did I mention I had cut it from a longer skirt and “hemmed” it with tape? Not only was it nearly impossible to step up into the school bus (I managed by turning sideways, grabbing hold of the railing, and hoisting myself up), but when I arrived at school, there was definite laughing and pointing.

When I was 19 and working at a day camp, I spent an entire day with seven “kick me” signs on my back. I got kicked a lot that day. Even Ken, the 70-year old kitchen volunteer, kicked me twice with his heavy, white tennis shoes before I figured out what was going on.

When I was 21, I had another bathing suit catastrophe. This time, I was swimming laps in the college pool. When I got out, my friend gently told me that the back-end of my old, Speedo bathing suit had worn through. (How long had my rear been sheer?)

When I was 24, I went horseback riding with some friends and the horse, who hated me, ran off the trail and into a tree with low branches. The same thing happened two years ago with a pair of cross-country skis. I could go on, but you get the point. I am an expert at awkward.

So how do I cope when I am forced to answer the dreaded what-does-your-husband do-for-a-living question? What’s in my awkward-moments toolbox? Well, first of all, I don’t lie about what my husband does. Grape Hubba Bubba taught me that valuable lesson.

Second, I try to remember that I am very proud of my husband and I love how he uses his job to care for people. And that is something admirable. Maybe if I had been happy with my floating hot dog (I really do love hot dogs) or my hot pink mini-skirt (I designed it myself!), I would not have been so embarrassed by people’s negative responses.

Third, I consider the fact that my answer may have made the other person feel uncomfortable as well. (Remember: I can see it in their eyes.) That’s when I confidently move the conversation along, so as to save face for both of us, not just me.

For example, to continue the conversation, I might ask, “So what does your spouse do for a living?” Or I might change the subject completely by asking them about horseback riding or their favorite camp experience or if they have ever flashed the entire eighth grade class and lived to tell about it. I have found that in moments like these, it’s generally not the best time to ask them what church they go to or whether or not they love Jesus.

At this point, I can usually put my awkward moments toolbox away. Because the conversation has either: A. Relaxed. Or B. Ended abruptly (like any potential spelling career I had). Either way, it comes down to the fact that I cannot control another person’s response. No more than they can control involuntary muscle movements in their polite, forced smile.

But what I can control is my own response. And I have learned, that over time, awkward moments are really just material for great stories that make you smile. Duchenne style.


*Information regarding the Duchenne smile was retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/thriving101/201001/what-science-has-say-about-genuine-vs-fake-smiles



Filed under Miscellaneous thoughts, Mrs. Pastor, Relationships

Dear Janet

Image result for tea and popcorn

This blogsite was created with the help of my friend Janet over a cup of hot Egyptian licorice tea and a large bowl of buttered popcorn. Janet (also a writer) and I sat at her kitchen table one cold winter night, months before I was about to move away to seminary. We challenged one other to each start our own blog. A sort of writing accountability challenge that has forced us to make time for something we both love – writing.

Five years later, we are still drinking tea for inspiration. We are still eating greasy popcorn in the late hours of the evening. And we are still challenging each other to write. Just farther apart than we used to be.

To encourage each other, we send little emails and notes that say things like: “It’s been over a month since I’ve seen a post from you.” Or “Twenty minutes before I need to leave for my next meeting. What can I possibly write while eating a tuna fish sandwich?” Or “I feel that we would write more if we didn’t have to clean our toilets!”

Today’s post is my way of sending dear Janet a little word of encouragement. And if I happen to encourage the rest of you sweet readers along the way, well then, that will be icing on the cake (or should I say, hot butter on the popcorn)!

Image result for writing a letter

Dear Janet,

For the last couple of months, our church has been studying the letters of Peter to the early Christians. Peter (also a writer) explains his reason for writing to the early Christians: “so that after my departure you may be able to recall these [truths]” (2 Peter 1:15).

Not a very profound verse, I’ll admit. But for the first time, it spoke to me. You see just this week, I turned 40. I noticed another few gray hairs. I watched my baby boy turn 13. And on Wednesday, I heard the solemn words “ashes to ashes and dust to dust” uttered quietly as a blackened cross was marked on my forehead. I was reminded once again that I, too, have a departure date set. My life on this earth is not forever.

[Now before you think that this encouraging note to Janet has taken a dangerous turn toward a depressing midlife crisis letter, let me share with you Peter’s intent in reminding us of our temporality.]

If my life is quickly sailing by, then, according to Peter, I should be making every effort to leave truth in my wake. I should be using everything I have – my gifts, my abilities, my resources, my job, my assets, my calling, my position, my location – all of it to make God’s truth known.

But here is the best news. God’s truth is not about growing older or being temporal. No, God’s truth is about anticipating life forever. It’s about having the opportunity to be at peace with God through Christ’s saving grace. It’s about knowing, but not fearing, that this hard life will one day dissolve into the promise of new heavens and a new earth in which we will dwell in righteousness forever.

So Janet, all this to say, keep writing. Keep working. Keep searching. Keep doing what you do so well to leave truth in your wake. And thank you so much for encouraging me to do the same.

Love always,


p.s. Thanks for the book, The Etiquette of an English Tea. My favorite quote from the book is: “A woman is like a tea bag; you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.” ~ Eleanor Roosevelt


Image result for keep writing








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The Favor System

by David Sipress

David Sipress

What I’m about to share with you will revolutionize your relationships. Your relationship with your spouse, your sibling, your father-in-law, or anyone else with whom you regularly argue. It is an argument-solving method called “the favor system.”

Toby and I were introduced to the favor system 14 years ago by our dear friends and expert arguers, Diane and Raymond (happily married since the last century). According to barely any research, the favor system expertly resolves 99.9% of all objective arguments. That is, any argument where the possible resolution is based on facts. In other words, the favor system can resolve any argument that has an answer.

The way it works is simple. If you are arguing and cannot come to an agreement, you simply bet a favor. The argument is then over until someone can prove that they are right. Whoever ends up in the right, claims the favor. The favor can be for anything. For example, one time Toby cashed in a favor and sent me to redbox in my pajamas at 11:58pm. With my favors, I’ve gotten out of dish-duty multiple evenings.

calvin_arguingOne condition to the favor system, however, is that in order to claim your favor, you need to remember how you won the favor. For example, if you were arguing over the correct pronunciation of the word “rendezvous”, and you, thanks to Merriam-Webster and common sense, won the argument, then when it’s time to cash in the favor, you need to say: “This is for the time you thought rendezvous was a type of dinosaur pronounced “rhen-deh-vous”. (True story and I’m embarrassed to admit, a big win for Toby.)

Unfortunately, the favor system does not solve subjective arguments. That is, arguments based on emotions, feelings, or opinions. For instance, for arguments stemming from questions such as “Does this dress make me look fat?” you are on your own.

While the favor system does not help with every argument, it has saved us from some big arguments over the years. One of my favorite wins was the “Tre Ore Service” argument.

The first church Toby worked at held a service called Tre Ore from 12:00pm to 3:00pm on Good Friday. I knew from my romance language studies that Tre Ore meant “3 hours”. Toby was convinced and willing to bet a favor that it actually meant something more like “The Really Long Good Friday Service.” I got a nice, fat favor for that one.

Even though I won that argument, Toby is annoyingly right most of the time and wins more favors. But, he can never seem to remember what his favors are for, and is thus unable to cash in his favors. So I am pretty free to bet favors as often as I can, hoping for that occasional win.

While it’s nice to send Toby to the pharmacy at midnight and it’s convenient to make him drive the 40-minute round trip to the middle school to deliver the forgotten lunch, that’s not the point of the favor system. The point of the favor system is: less arguing = more peace. Because for many of our petty arguments, having to bet a favor not only stops the argument from escalating, but it also makes us realize that sometimes we argue just to argue and that is not healthy, never peaceful, and definitely NOT worth the possibility of having to scrub the inside of the grill or give a foot massage.

So give the favor system a try in your own relationships. Test it out for a month. If you do, I argue that you will see a positive difference in the quality of your relationships. Of course, if I am wrong, then I owe you a favor.




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How to survive Christmas with your children


About 23 minutes into our first day of Christmas break, I looked at my four beautiful children and had two thoughts. One, how long until we go back to school? And two, They are ruining Christmas.

Every year I have this romantic notion that Christmas will involve merry cookie baking, peaceful tree trimming, and warm conversations over hot chocolate. What actually happens is closer to half a bag of flour on the floor and eggshells in the dough, broken heirloom ornaments and a leaning Christmas tree, and hot chocolate mixed with melted marshmallow spills all over the red and green Christmas tablecloth that I just washed for the third time.

Warm, peaceful, and merry quickly turns to loud, messy, and chaotic when my kids are involved. My holiday decorating theme inevitably changes from American folk to early childhood within the first week of December. The items on my December to-do list are moved to an ever-growing list entitled, “Things I can do in 20 years.”

Like every year, I have had to switch gears and change my attitude. For example, I thought it would be nice to fill my children’s advent calendar box with homemade gifts and Christmas chocolates. Instead, I filled them with leftover Halloween candies and an occasional candy cane.

I thought it would be generous to send a tray of cookies to the office staff at my work. Instead, I simply ate the cookies that our office staff had received from another, more organized employee.

christmas-eveningFestive egg bakes and quiches were replaced with cheerios, poptarts, and bruised bananas. Family photos in festive holiday wear around church poinsettias were replaced with selfies in our pjs on the living room carpet. My yearly photo book was put on hold until MLKJ Day.

Sensing my growing disappointment, my wise and experienced co-worker gave me her best holiday advice, “Get rid of all the unnecessary. The doctor’s appointments, the haircuts, the cookie trays, the extras. Move them to the January calendar. And don’t worry about the bad hair, they make the Christmas photos more interesting anyway.”

So I guess my only advice on how to survive Christmas with your children is simply to spend Christmas with your children. Things always seem to go better when they get to add the eggs to the recipes, shells and all. I hide the laundry and we play a board game. Christmas dinner is PB&Js, because no one complains and they take 6 minutes to make.

We work together on chores in the afternoon and watch movies with pizza in the evenings. We go sledding. We drink hot chocolate and we leave the stained tablecloth on the table. We forfeit the perfect Christmas tree for something that better represents us. And in the end, our favorite holiday memory is, to quote my 12-year-old son, “Everything.”

Merry Christmas, 2016!

Merry Christmas, 2016!

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Adventures of Mrs. Pastor: The Boys

For the last 3 weeks I have been battling a mild throat virus that sends me to bed early every night. Because of that, along with holiday travel, I have not been able to keep up with one of my favorite pastimes – writing.

I plan to head to bed early tonight ..again.. but before I do, I thought I would share some of what’s going on with Mrs. Pastor.

The best compliment I got this week was from a friend of mine who said, “Rachel, you’re just real.” She said it to me, not necessarily to compliment me, but to make me feel better about the last week of Christmas pageant performance fiascos. You see, I have two sons, 6 and 8-years-old. They run circles around me, and the rest of the town.

The youngest had his Sunday School performance last Sunday and spent the entire program switching spots with his friend, turning around backwards, making faces, giggling. He performed, alright, just not any of his assigned songs or speaking parts. Let’s just say I stopped taking pictures midway through and started sweating profusely.

Then came the Wednesday night rehearsal for my older son’s performance. By the end of the evening, his shepherd’s staff had been confiscated and he was spoken to about the proper use of a shepherd’s staff. (Beating one’s fellow shepherds is NOT proper use of one’s staff.)

The boys

The boys

As you can imagine, I was feeling like a failure. Things could be worse, I know, but no parent likes to hear or witness their child doing something wrong. And in those moments of failure, God likes to send you his messengers of grace.

This week, God’s messenger was my friend. After sharing with her my frustrations with the boys, she said, “You are real.” The parenting things you are going through, the kids you have. They are real. You are real.

I remember a church friend once said that when she saw me wrangling my herd of kiddos in the pew, it made her feel better about her own frustrations as a parent. So this week, I will begrudgingly thank God for these embarrassing, real moments. They keep me humble as a parent and they open the door for others to see that even Mrs. Pastor’s kids can be stinkers.

Yours, Mrs. Pastor


Filed under Family, Ministry, Parenting

The Adventures of Mrs. Pastor: Episode 3: Part 2 – A Fair to Remember

Spoiler alert: I didn’t die at the Minnesota State Fair. (Unless you count my increased risk of heart attack due to my consuming high levels of deep-fried foods on a stick.)

Also, throughout this post, I show photos of the different fair food I tried. Just for fun, see if you can guess each kind of food. Answers are at the bottom.

Adventures of Mrs. Pastor: Episode 3: Part 2 – A Fair to Remember

Photographed by: Scott Takushi

Photographed by: Scott Takushi

This year, the fair accommodated a record-setting 1,943,719 people over 12 days. I am pretty sure we served root beer to at least a million of those people. The Sunderland clan told me that the best part of my job would be the people watching. They were right.

The line at the employee parking lot

The line at the employee parking lot

On my first shift at the fair, I left a ridiculous 2 ½ hours early because I was worried about getting to the fair on-time. Getting to the fair is the trickiest part of the job.

Every day, I drove to a shady, undisclosed employee parking lot in the middle of nowheresville St. Paul. Once there, I would wait in line for a parking spot (because it was always full). If the line was too long, they would send me on my way with a good luck and a park at your own risk. Then I would have to a) find parking near the warehouses a few block away – even shadier than the employee lot, and b) remember where I parked later that night. Then I needed to find my way back to the lot in order to wait for the employee shuttle bus to arrive. Let’s just say I walked quickly and carried my keys between my knuckles. (I’m not sure how that helps, but just don’t ever come up behind me in a dark alley hoping to scare me. We may both end up in the ER.)

a. What am I?

a. What am I?

My favorite bus driver had the look of a sweet, old lady and the temperament of the Hulk. I got to ride with her twice. I wonder if road rage was a qualification in her job description. Oddly enough, her yelling and overuse of the horn made me feel safe and secure.

The view from the bus coming into the fairgrounds

The view from the bus coming into the fairgrounds

The inside of the employee shuttle bus smelled like a blend of cotton candy, canola oil, and sweat. The passengers I road with were mostly security guards, Sweet Martha’s cookie sellers, Tiny Tim’s Donut vendors, Lions Club volunteers, ticket takers, and lost drunks wanting a free ride. I am not gonna lie. I think us “legitimate” riders tolerated the rude, drunk stowaways because when we finally made it back to the employee lot at midnight, it was secretly amusing to watch our offensive guests wonder where in the world they had ended up. The bus did get a little rowdy a few times, but that was mainly due to our bus driver.

As I mentioned in my last post, I worked at the Galaxy of Drinks booth. The Galaxy of Drinks is located across from Coasters beer garden and next to the entrance of the Midway. The Midway is the amusement ride and arcade area of the fair.

msfnightcrewI figured out pretty quickly that the average age of employees working the fair is around 17 years old, making me super old. So when people saw me in the booth serving up their root beer, they would assume one of two things: either 1) I own the concessions stand and am very rich because I am charging them $2 for their soda, or 2) I am someone’s mom (which is partly true).

One idea for my root beer mom pin.

One idea for my root beer mom pin.

One kid even called me the “root beer mom.” (I am totally making that into a button pin for myself.)

At the beginning of every evening shift, I would walk into the confined quarters of our 4’x4’ booth. The kids working the booth were always happy to see me. Not because I was their favorite root beer mom, but because my arrival meant that they could finally go home.

b. What am I?

b. What am I?

My shift was 4pm to close. From 4pm to about 8pm the fair is happy and wonderful. Cheerful faces smiling in the window, saying please and thank you and can you make me a slushy with more than one flavor? And what’s a cow float? And is this your real job? No, I am a preschool teacher. No way! I am too! And have you been workin’ the fair long?

c. What am I?

c. What am I?

Some of our customers were 4-H-ers wanting root beer floats, who stick out like sore thumbs with their long blond braids and bejeweled jeans and boots with spurs. But they own the place and love sharing their animal stories. Then there are dads holding up their kids so junior can choose between a twirly pop or a twist pop. Moms pushing strollers and giving into demands for a Fairborn souvenir cup. It’s basically root beer, rainbows, and lollipops for the first half of my shift.

My favorite thing to do was talk to customers about the root beer. I weaved together pieces of the Sunderland root beer history that I had heard the family members share. Is the root beer special? Why yes it is! I am so glad you asked. The Sunderland family has been selling this special recipe root beer at the fair for 50 years. It’s called Challenge root beer. No, you can’t get it anywhere else, only at the fair. People love a good story. And they love a family-owned business.

The after 8pm crowd

The after 8pm crowd

But then the clock strikes 8 o’clock. Families with small children scatter and the cops start rolling into their designated spots. Because the Midway after 8pm is a bit sketchy. Kind of like Gotham City. Besides the crazed excitement of teenagers and young adults crowding like mosh pits everywhere, there are the real crazies.

d. What am I?

d. What am I?

One night I discovered a man being hand-cuffed just outside our booth. (I think I’ll take the trash out later.) Another night a crazed man, high on meth, ran up to us dancing in his fringed mini-skirt and combat boots, asking a million indiscernible questions and not waiting for answers. Then just as fast as he appeared, he was off screaming through the night, picking up every piece of trash he could see.

e. What am I?

e. What am I?

We were asked if we sold eggs, milk, and, more than once, alcohol. We were asked for lots of ice in cups. One man even punched himself in the eye for two cups of ice. We were asked angrily, multiple times, where in the world the Aussie potatoes were. We were warned about naked ladies behind our booth. (For your information, the horse barn is located behind our booth.) One man declared that he was the least drunk person in all of Minnesota.

f. What am I?

f. What am I?

One of the nights, while my back was turned, a group of rough kids came to the window. They started messing with my 17-year-old coworker. It was relatively harmless, but I could tell my young friend was starting to feel uncomfortable. I turned around and came to the window. You guys need something? I asked with a sassafras smile.

g. What am I?

g. What am I?

As soon as they saw the root beer mom, they backed off. (I’m like a middle-aged, caffeine-free super hero!) Of course, if they hadn’t backed off, there were a dozen cops within earshot.

h. What am I?

h. What am I?

Not all the post-8 o’clock people were bad. One customer gave me his pastrami and cream cheese pickle roll as a tip. (Don’t tell my mom, but I ate it.) Multiple customers happily shared that they come every year just to have some of the Sunderland’s Challenge root beer. Another guy spent quite a bit of time telling me where to get the honey ice cream year round. One night, a boy handed me a tip, and said that his big brother had taught him the importance of tipping. One woman was in town for business and wanted to know what was so great about the Minnesota State Fair. So what d’ya think? I asked her. This is so great! she said. I may have to come here for work next year too!

i. What am I?

i. What am I?

And then the fair would start to slow down. Around 10:30pm, the Grandstand performance would end. And the nightly fireworks would go off, celebrating the close to another great day at the fair. I had a perfect view of the show every night, right to the left of our booth.

j. What am I?

j. What am I?

My tired coworker and I would slowly clean up, take a few last minute orders for root beer or slushies and close up the stand for another night. Each night, as I rode the employee shuttle bus back to the lot and drove the half hour home, I would just think about all those people. And how I never expected that pouring root beers for a couple million people would be so much fun.

msffireworks msfclosed

Respect them, listen to them, care about them, tell them a story, serve them good root beer, and they’ll come back again …next year at the Fair. ~ the Root Beer Mom

See ya next year!

See ya next year!

*Answers to the fair food trivia: a. deep-fried baklava on a stick, b. scotch egg on a stick, c. blooming onion, d. roasted corn, e. Bavarian pretzel, f. North Woods pork taco (from San Felipe’s Tacos), g. Fish Taco (also from San Felipe’s Tacos), h. deep-fried falafel on a stick, i. Reuben bites,  j. candied apple (from the Galaxy of Drinks!)

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Filed under Food, Miscellaneous thoughts, Work

The Adventures of Mrs. Pastor: Episode 2: Part 1 – A Fair to Remember

I woke up this morning dreaming of pouring sweet, brown root beer from a large barrel and serving it cold and frothy to customers outside my sunshiny window sill. I was dreaming about flowing root beer because last week, being a pastor’s wife randomly afforded me the opportunity to sell root beer at the Minnesota State Fair. I have a long story to tell about my experience at the fair but I can’t do it in just one blog post. So here is Part 1 of “A Fair to Remember.”

I worked my way through college as a student manager in the Commons cafeteria, a sandwich maker in Johnny’s Cafe, and a cleaning lady for one home and one office supply warehouse.

My first job was in the dishroom of the Commons cafeteria. The dishroom is the absolute worst shift on campus. It’s usually the international students who get stuck with the job, which is why most of my coworkers thought I was Canadian for the first two years of college (eh).

Image result for commons cafeteria calvin college

The Commons

My job was to dump out excess beverages and then scrape off any leftover food into the flowing wastewaters of the trough below. Then, as quick as I could, I was to deposit the dirty dishes onto another conveyor belt of dish racks moving in the opposite direction, heading toward the massive dishwasher.

Worst job ever. Especially when I couldn’t keep up with the conveyor belt and the wet, mulchy leftover food from the largest garbage disposer you’ve ever seen overflows all over the floor and my black converse shoes are soaked and students are throwing knives at me through the window because they think my job isn’t bad enough.

One particular Sunday evening, as I was surrounded by stainless steel, the sound of box fans and machines humming, the offensive smells coming from the garbage disposer, and the constant fear of being hit by flying flatware, something new made it’s way into the hot dishroom.

Image result for dish room

A dishroom much like my own but without the wastewater trough

From around the corner, came a tray with an uneaten slice of lemon meringue pie. In the center of the pie was a straw sticking up with a folded napkin taped to the top, like a little white flag. As it slowly made its way over to me, I noticed someone had written on the napkin. It said, “We give up. We surrender. The food is horrible.” I had to smile. I absolutely agreed, but I was raising my white flag for very different reasons.

If I’ve learned one thing from those years of service, it’s treat people with respect – no matter which side of the counter you find yourself on.

It’s been 17 years since I graced the space behind the counters – that place categorized under the heading “entry-level service industry job.” Until two weeks ago, when I found myself back behind the counter, serving up root beer at the Minnesota State Fair.

The Minnesota State Fair, hailed as the “Great Minnesota Get-Together,” is the best and largest state fair in the country. Since 1859, the state fair has featured every deep-fried food imaginable, livestock barns and shows, the crowned Princess Kay of the Milky Way, all sorts of exhibits, 4-H events, vendors, gadgets and gizmos to buy, entertainers, music, an amusement park called the Midway, and of course, root beer.

For 50 of those 157 years, the Sunderlands (members of our church) have been selling their root beer, called Challenge root beer, at the state fair. And this year, I had the pleasure of working for them, along with all the other teenagers they had hired.

Image result for challenge root beer

A few weeks before the fair, I was walking out of the library with the kids, when I met one of the Sunderland clan, Sarah. I knew she was in charge of staffing for the family’s three locations, so I asked how interviews were going. She said she just needed one more adult for the evening shifts, because younger employees were not legally allowed to work past 9pm.

I don’t know if it was the heat of the summer or the exasperation of running errands with four bored kids, but I said, “I’ll do it.” Shocked and slightly amused, she asked if I was sure. I told her, “Sure. It’ll be fun. And besides, I will do almost anything for a story.” She had me signed up for 6 evening shifts within the hour – 4pm to close, the majority of the nights in the Midway at the booth called  Galaxy of Drinks.

the Galaxy of Drinks

The next few times I saw Sarah, she was laughing and chanting, “I got the pastor’s wife, I got the pastor’s wife!” I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of my decision. Then, I saw Sarah’s mom, Mrs. Sunderland, at church the Sunday before the fair. She came up to me and said, almost apologetically, “I hear Sarah’s got you working the fair.” Then she patted my shoulder and added, “I am so sorry.” That’s when I started to have second thoughts. What does she mean? How bad could it be? Was this a bad decision?

It didn’t help that my law-enforcement relatives’ responses to my fair job ranged from: “Are you crazy?” to laughter to something about preferring to be in full, protective gear when on my end of the fairgrounds. Great. What have I gotten myself into? Should I invest in a bulletproof vest? Am I going to die?

Stay tuned next week and find out if I die in Adventures of Mrs. Pastor: Episode 2: Part 2 – A Fair to Remember


Filed under Homelife, Miscellaneous thoughts, Work

Adventures of Mrs. Pastor: Episode 1

Toby and Me

I have been a pastor’s wife for about 31 days. Some highlights of my month as Mrs. Pastor include an amazing ordination with the best cake in the world (could I get another slice of the carrot cake, please?), signing up to teach Sunday school (no surprise there), being late to every service (that’s not really all that new), needing to untie my eight-year-old’s legs during communion (he had used a skull bandana from his pocket to tie his legs together), scraping my six-year-old’s mood-changing silly putty off the pew (you can guess what my mood was there), and finding opportune moments in each service to wink at the pastor.

A popular question that churchgoers like to ask me is: How does it feel to be a pastor’s wife? I think the first paragraph about sums up how I feel. In other words, not much has changed. I am still chasing kids. I am still married to Toby, but what many may not know is that I’m no rookie when it comes to pastoral ministry.

Pastor Walter Sr. and Pastor Walter Jr. with Baby Reuben

Pastor Walter Sr. and Pastor Walter Jr. with Baby Reuben

I come from a family line of pastors. My dad was a pastor. My grandfather was a pastor. My godfather is a pastor. My sister and I pretended to be pastors (we collected a lot of offerings). And now my husband is a pastor. So you could say, we’re in the family business.

One of the things I told Toby when we were dating, however, was, “Whatever you do, just don’t work for the church.” His first stateside job? A Purdue campus missionary for the church. After a few years into our marriage and life at Purdue, I said, “I don’t mind campus ministry, just don’t ever become a pastor.” His second job? A pastor. Maybe I should have said something like, “Whatever you do, just don’t become a famous novelist who works from home. And definitely don’t use the royalties from your bestselling books to buy me a dairy farm in Vermont with an all-you-can-eat cheese and ice cream bar.”

When I shared this with a friend (who also happened to grow up as a pastor’s kid), he asked, “Why didn’t you want Toby to become a pastor?” I couldn’t really answer the question. It’s not that I didn’t feel God calling us to pastoral ministry. I did. If I hadn’t, I would have fought harder against going to seminary. It’s just that I didn’t like being in a pastor’s family. I didn’t like the attention. I didn’t like the expectations. I didn’t like being called goody-two-shoes. (Kids can be mean.) And I was scared of reliving the ups and downs that are unique to pastoral ministry.


Me (left) and my sister (right)

When I mentioned this to my sister. She laughed and said, “What? I loved being a pastor’s kid!” Her perspective was so different. She reminded me of the love and attention she felt from people. She’s right, you can dwell on the painful downs or you can focus on the sweet ups. Both happen, just your perspective changes.

I am not going to lie though; early on I tried protecting the kids and myself. I was dead set against seminary. I used all my evidence and personal experience to sway Toby from the pastoral ministry path. He listened, but still felt strongly about going. My last ditch effort was to tell Toby that I would not support him until we had both prayed about it for two months. Separately. (I didn’t want to hear his prayers. And I definitely didn’t want him hearing mine. They were pretty raw and honest.)

After two months of praying, I was still dead set against seminary, but God had given me peace and the answer: Go. I no longer had an excuse, and I knew that not going would be rebellion against God. Apprehension is one thing. Rebellion is quite another. (If you don’t believe me, read the book of Jonah.)

Ordination Day

Ordination Day

But there is something amazing about seeking God’s guidance and having His peace. It’s this supernatural power that makes you do things you never thought you could. It carries you through tough moves, financial strain, loneliness, grief, and doubt. And then when you get to the other side, that same peace gently bids you to turn around and see clearly where God has led.

So what’s it like being the new Mrs. Pastor? So far, it’s the same as it has always been. Only I have had the chance to see God’s provision once again. Each time that happens, my trust in Him grows a little bit stronger. So for now, it’s just a new job, a new state, and a new house. The kids are older now and we are making new friends. I am still with Toby. I am still his wife. Only now I get to kiss the pastor.


Pastor Walter Sr. and the original Mrs. Pastor

The newest Pastor and Mrs. Pastor


Filed under Family, Ministry, Miscellaneous thoughts