On Turning 40

Last month I turned 40. I can’t really say that I ever thought on that age with dread, but it does seem strange to have reached it. Can I be at that point already? Did my thirties fly by so quickly? Am I really twice the age I was when I walked that college campus, just beginning to get to know adulthood?

I wonder if the age of my children makes the whole thing seem more incongruous to me. I didn’t meet my husband until my late twenties and we didn’t marry until our early thirties, so I reached 40 with an oldest child of eight years and a youngest of one. When my mother turned 40, her children were 17 and 15.

Yes, 40 feels strange. But it’s not unwelcome. It’s even kind of exciting.

Lately I’ve been thinking on the arc of my life and looking back to how I felt on the cusp of my twenties and thirties.

At twenty, I didn’t have any idea what lay ahead. Where would I live? What would I do for work? Would I marry? Travel? Have children? Twenty was thrilling and terrifying.

Photo of Julie in college

(College photo shamelessly stolen from a friend. I’m in the white.)

My twenties, thankfully, ended up being quite good. I did interesting, fulfilling work. I traveled to seven countries and twenty states. I lived in fun, walkable, urban areas with coffee shops and ethnic restaurants a-plenty. But the decade was also hard. Oh, was I lonely. I spent those supposedly “best time of your life” twenties pining for a husband and children. I couldn’t enjoy where I was because I was worried I’d be stuck there forever.

Then lo and behold, at thirty I married the husband. Which was also thrilling and terrifying. What would marriage be like? Would we be happy? Could we have children? Where would we settle?

Wedding photo

That decade, too, turned out to be good. I welcomed healthy, happy children. We bought a big, beautiful Victorian. I stayed home and kept house and cooked from scratch. But my thirties were also hard. Wonderful and beautiful and hard. Three months into them I married and two months after that I became pregnant with our first child. Thus began a decade of morning sickness and sleepless nights, of frayed nerves and aching joints. A decade of change and acclimation and learning to put others’ needs before my own. Indeed, a decade of learning that my life is bigger than me.

And oh, was I down. I spent my “don’t blink or you’ll miss it” thirties pining for freedom, for quiet, for physical autonomy. I couldn’t enjoy where I was because I was worried I’d be stuck there forever.

It’s only in the past year, as I’ve nudged up against 40, that my vision has cleared and my attitude has brightened. A whole series of small realizations have unburdened me of baggage I didn’t even know I was carrying. And I’m finally feeling the gratitude that my mind has acknowledged all along.

I am so privileged. I was born into a wonderful family and I am raising a (new) wonderful family with a wonderful man. I have had a string of beautiful, life-giving experiences and I have had opportunities and successes that I did not deserve.

And yet for years, I’ve focused more on what I did not have than what I did.

I know how obnoxious that sounds. I apologize for being that person. I am sorry for my gloom, for my pining, for wasting chances to be, and to do, good.

At this point all I can do is thank the good Lord that something has shifted within me, and move forward.

Forty is not thrilling and terrifying. It’s a sort of hopeful-joyful excitement. At forty, I know what my adult life looks like. I know that it’s centered on a family of five noisy, inquisitive, passionate kids and a blessedly patient husband. I know that it involves an exhausting, never-ending amount of work, but that it also comes with the most precious of rewards.

Photo of Julie's children

I know that my quiet moments are becoming less rare and more fruitful, and I’m hopeful that in my forties I can forge the divide that defined my previous two decades. In one I focused on career and longed for family, in the other I focused on family and longed for career. This decade will undoubtedly bring its own challenges. (You never know what life has in store for you!) But I am hopeful that this will be a decade without pining — one in which gratitude is keenly felt, and one in which I can be both wife and mother and… something else. What else exactly? I don’t know. But I’m excited to figure it out.

Photo of Julie

Title image

Thirty-nine for the First Time

Today I turn 39. My mother quipped that this will be the first and only time I’ll be able to say that it’s my 39th birthday and mean it.

Mom wanted to know if I can believe I’m getting so close to 40. A couple of years ago I might have waffled on that answer, but now I don’t hesitate: I can absolutely believe it.

This morning I looked down at the four-month-old in my arms, all fat and soft and rosy, and I thanked God for these little lives in my care. They’re each incredible blessings in their own right, but they do something else for this almost-40 mama: They trick me into thinking I’m young. For a moment, at least. Until I go to rise out of the rocker and my hip screams at me. Until my back muscles object at lifting a child. Until my knees ever-so-reluctantly haul me up the stairs.

It’s been a hard few months. We pushed through the first month or so of baby’s life in decently good health, thank goodness. We made it through Christmas. But the following week we were each hit with bugs, one falling after the next.

Then on New Year’s Day I stepped out of the shower and experienced such intense pain that I could barely walk. My old problem joint, the one at the base of my spine, between my hips (my sacrum), felt like it would crumble to pieces. My husband stayed home from work for a few days; I couldn’t sit up in bed without his help, let alone lift the baby. But after some ibuprofen and physical therapy and lidocaine patches and time, the pain faded. Soon my hobbling turned to limping, and then that went away too.

But my cough — the one I’d started the week after Christmas — it did not fade. It got worse and my exhaustion grew and one night I experienced a stabbing pain in my neck. The next day there was a rash at the spot, and soon I was diagnosed with shingles. And bronchitis. Weeks of coughing and pain and exhaustion followed. I got two more respiratory viruses on top of the one I couldn’t kick. And to top it all off, I got a stomach bug.

It was a very Lent-ish beginning to Lent.

March was quieter. The cough went away; my energy increased. My pain was spotty and weak. I began to hurry up stairs and walk around the yard. I tried on health and hoped it would fit for a while.

But now April has struck. The day after Easter I bent over to put away a child’s boot and the muscles around my sacrum clenched in pain. Not as badly as on New Year’s, thank goodness, but badly enough to keep me from lifting the baby. Badly enough to force me back into my old-lady hobble.

Today the joint feels bruised and my back muscles feel strained from compensating for it. My shingles pain is flaring up. And I’m coughing again. A new virus seems to have settled into my lungs; their crackling sounds have me worried about another bout of bronchitis.

It’s as if my body wants to be very clear: You’re at the point, lady, where birthdays begin to chart your decline.

Or maybe the message is: You have to be careful with yourself. You’re not as resilient as you used to be.

I haven’t posted much about these woes because I didn’t want to complain. (Or to be seen as complaining — take your pick.) But at this point I’m just past caring. This is what my life has been lately, and so I want to write about it.

I feel like my body — or maybe the Holy Spirit — has grabbed me by my shoulders, spun me around, and pointed me at the next decade of my life.

These Walls - Thirty-nine for the First Time - 1

I spent my twenties as a young professional — working, traveling, reading, listening to music, eating whatever I wanted for dinner, and pining after a family of my own.

I’ve spent my thirties as a stay-at-home mother — caring for children, making a home, listening to NPR, eating dinner in spurts between refilling little plates, and pining after a professional life that I’ve missed more than I expected to.

I daydream about my forties being a marriage of the two: Maybe I’ll get to do some meaningful work from home while the kids are in school during the day and then I’ll get to be fully present to them in the evenings. Maybe I’ll finally get my calendar and my household chores under control. Maybe I’ll have everything running like clockwork so I can have empty hours in which to pursue my creative interests. Maybe I won’t have to pine after anything at all.

I feel like the past few months have been a reality check on those daydreams. A big, fat “HA” from my body or the Holy Spirit or whatever. These months have reminded me that even when life is good, it is not without suffering.

I am getting older. My body is weaker than I’d like. And even if I can ease it back into better health and shape (which I would love to do), I will still be at the mercy of age and genetics and real life. There will always be something to trip me up.

So I stand here (a little askew because of the pain in my sacrum) and stare down the road toward 40. I want to start gearing up for my next decade. I want to work to heal my body so it doesn’t stop me short. I want to be realistic enough about my time and abilities to know that my home life will never run like clockwork, but I also want to stop letting my struggles and imperfections keep me from pursuing work that makes me feel alive.

Today I’m 39. My forties will be here before I know it; I want to be ready for them.


These Walls - Thirty-nine for the First Time

Lately {pretty, happy, funny, real} (Vol. 16)

Lately, we’ve been busy.

(That’s nothing new! Everyone seems to be busy these days! All the time!)

And it’s fine: I don’t even feel particularly stressed out right now. So this isn’t one of my cranky, complaining posts. This is simply me telling you a little of what I’ve been doing lately. (And yes, maybe it’s also me making some excuses for another couple weeks of not blogging.)

Lately, I’ve been taking my own advice: I’ve hired babysitters so I can “re-set” parts of my house that have been causing me anxiety for some time. I’ve tackled projects that haven’t been touched since we moved into this house 2.5 years ago. I’ve (LET ME SHOUT THIS ONE TO THE HEAVENS) arranged for a mother’s helper to come once a week this summer, to give me regular, focused time in which to write! (God-willing, maybe I’ll actually turn myself into a decent-ish blogger this summer. Stranger things have happened!)

We’ve hosted the baby’s first birthday party. (Our sunshine of a boy is already one! How can that be possible?)

We’ve celebrated Easter with friends and family and (terribly impractical, ostentatiously old-fashioned) matching get-ups.

We’ve celebrated my birthday and spent an out-of-town weekend at my parents’ house. (a.k.a. The best grandparents three little boys could wish for.) We’ve also celebrated my niece’s birthday.

We’ve painted the kitchen and put it back to rights. (My husband did the former, I did the latter.)

The two older boys have started swim lessons. And the oldest has made his second (very tentative!) visit to his soon-to-be-new-school. (Kindergarten is a much scarier prospect than I ever imagined.)

I’m preparing to host a small blogging conference in a couple of weeks. It’s the Catholic Women Blogging Network Mid-Atlantic Conference. (What a mouthful!) Registration has already closed, but if you fit that bill and you want to join us, contact me ASAP. I can probably fit you in. 😉

That’s a lot for two weeks, right?

It’s produced a lot of photos, that’s for sure. And since I feel like it’s been forever-and-a-half since I last participated in {pretty, happy, funny, real}, I thought I’d share the photos with you under those headings. Here we go:


We enjoyed a beautiful Easter.


But this isn’t Easter. This is a week earlier, at our neighbor’s egg hunt. (That’s our garage in the background.)



Grandpa and his boys.





Cousins (aren’t cousins the best?) all lined up for the egg hunt.







Sleepy little chub.


I’ve never seen a baby so happy to celebrate his first birthday. Our boy crawled all over the place, crammed his cupcake into his mouth, and smiled, smiled, smiled.


I was so proud of myself for making the (buttercream) frosting the night before… until I realized I’d forgotten to soften it for the party. My mom said they were the ugliest cupcakes she’d ever frosted. I didn’t care, though — I thought it looked like grass. (Fitting for our wild animal theme.)





There’s no doubt who the “class clown” of our family is:







 Cleaning, organizing projects, and home improvement — oh my!






Post-birthday-cake energy burning.

Post-birthday-cake energy burning.



Be sure to hop over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for more {pretty, happy, funny, real}. Enjoy!

Little Scientists And Cheerful Mischief: 7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 32)

It’s a gray and gloomy day in these parts. (I wish I’d made it to the orchard for apples – talk about perfect baking weather.) And we’re closing out yet another week of gloomy news. See this piece if you’re in the mood for a cry. And don’t miss this one for a valuable lesson:

Every moment of your life has meaning, and your suffering is not in vain. You have a right to be here. Every moment of the life you have been given is a gift, and nobody has the right to take it from you.

Not even you.

So (sniff, sniff) I thought I’d wrap up the week with a bit of cheer, courtesy of my boys whom I love so very much, even when they spend half the day fussing and sobbing.


7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!


After our two failed attempts at celebrating our newly-minted three-year-old’s birthday last week, this past Saturday we went to the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore, where we succeeded! We’re falling into a little pattern of hosting a birthday party for our child one year, then doing a fun day trip as a family on the following birthday. And so on and so forth. This year our four-year-old got a party and our three-year-old got a day trip. Next year we’ll switch.

So anyway, last weekend we did the Science Center and it was perfect. My parents met us there, but very few other people seemed to have had the same idea, so we just about had the place to ourselves. The birthday boy’s favorite game to play these days is “mooseum,” so he was thrilled to get to go to one in real life. He kept talking about how excited he was to see the dinosaurs that came alive at night and the animals that stampede down the stairs.


Lack of living exhibits notwithstanding, he and his big brother especially loved the dinosaurs. We had to visit that section of the Science Center twice. They also enjoyed the kids’ room, the weather exhibit (including an actual mini tornado you could stick your hand into!), and the electricity exhibit. (Which Grandpa, a DIY’er and electronics buff, probably enjoyed more than the average visitor.)











We saw an IMAX movie (Island Of Lemurs: Madagascar 3D) which I, personally, would have enjoyed much more if it had been in plain ol’ 2D. I think the boys would agree: they both took off their 3D glasses a few minutes in. The birthday boy then promptly fell asleep on Grandma’s lap. His big brother lasted almost all the way through the movie, until he needed to hit the can.

Birthday Boy was a little more antsy a few hours later when we attended the Planetarium presentation (Black Holes: Journey Into The Unknown). But his big brother enjoyed it and the baby, to everyone’s surprise, loved it. He laughed and squealed and had a grand old time. Who knows, maybe we have a future astronomer on our hands?



After a good six hours at the Science Center (I know – we were pushing it), we walked to the other side of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor so that Brennan, the boys, and I could grab some dinner. Mom and Dad headed home and left us to our own exhausted devices.


Aren’t they cute?

We really just barely made it through the meal: the baby screamed for the first few minutes (before falling asleep on my chest) and the four-year-old was teetering right on the edge of a meltdown the whole time. But we did it. We all ate and it was delicious.

T-Rex's like pizza.

T-Rex loves pizza.

We kept it together in no small part because of Brennan, who spent half the meal entertaining the boys with crayon drawings on their placemats. The birthday boy kept requesting pictures of dinosaurs eating one another. Perfect.





As we ate, and then later as we pulled out of the parking garage, we got a couple of quotes from the boys that wrapped up the day beautifully:

Brennan: “What was your favorite part of visiting the Science Center today?”
4yo: “Seeing Gwanpa.”
Brennan: “Seeing Grandpa?”
4yo: “Yeah, and Gwanma too.”


Brennan: “Boys, say bye to the science museum!”
3yo: “Bye science mooseum! I miss you!”
4yo: “Bye science museum! I hope we see you and your dinosaurs again soon!”



Moving on…

I feel like as our three-year-old becomes more verbal, we’re getting a clearer and clearer picture of his personality. And it is something else.

For one thing, he’s been using the word “baby” as an expletive. Any time he’s the least bit unhappy or feeling aggressive or confrontational, he spits out “Baby!” with a grimace on his little face. And because he’s figured out that it bothers his brother to no end, we keep hearing a little voice throwing out “Baby!” at random times, followed by his brother’s wail, “He said ‘baby’ to me!


The other day while driving in the car, the little guy was mad at his older brother for having done something to him. What? I have no idea. But he made it very clear just how mad he was:

“Dat wee [that tree] is mad at you and dat wee is mad at you and dat wee is mad at you… And dat sign is mad at you and dat caw is mad at you and diss caw is mad at you and AW DA DINGS is mad at you!

Yesterday while driving again, we were playing “I Spy.” Every time the boys found what I was spying, he claimed to eat it.

Me: “I spy a red sign…”
Him: (GULP) “I ate it!”
Me: “I spy a big, white truck…”
Him: (GULP) “I ate it!”



When we were waiting at the pediatrician’s office last week (because of my oldest son’s ear infection), I entertained the boys by reading one of the books provided in the office.

It was old and a little dirty and raggedy, but I quickly fell in love with it. The thing was hilarious. It (Our Animal Friends At Maple Hill Farm, by Alice and Martin Provensen) listed all the animals on a farm, with the funniest, most unexpected descriptions for a children’s book:


IBN RAFFERTY is chasing Ichabod.

CHAOS is chasing Ichabod.

They don’t mean anything by it. It’s just that everybody chases ICHABOD.

Everybody except COMANCHE, who likes Ichabod, and LUCKY, who is fat, lazy, and good-natured and thinks only about eating.

Ibn is sly. Chaos is grumpy. Lucky eats too much. Comanche runs away and Ichabod chews up fences. Oh, well, no horse is perfect, but they are fun to know.


THE SHEEP are silly. They are so silly the geese can hardly be blamed for wanting to pinch them. Still, there’s something sweet about sheep even if they aren’t clever.


GOOD NEIGHBORS are valuable and well-loved. These dogs are good neighbors. They do valuable things…

Other dogs are foolish dogs who do useless, foolish things. These dogs aren’t around any more.

This dog chased cars and was run over. His name was CANNY.

This dog bit people. Now she lives in a kennel. Her name is BISCUIT.

This dog killed sheep and had to be put away (as the saying goes). His name was ARGOS.

This dog snapped at children and wet on beds. He is not around any more either. His name was SWEENEY.

This dog ran away from home and went to live with someone else. No one can remember his name.

HA! Having become a parent in 2010, I’ve become used to sickly-sweet, uber-PC children’s books. You might think ill of me for saying so, but what a breath of fresh air this one was!

I was nearly giddy about it, which made the pediatrician look at me a little warily. I thought of making the office an offer for the book on the spot, but I didn’t want to push my luck. So I emailed myself the book’s title and looked it up on Amazon when I got home.

Triumph! It’s still in print, and only something like $8 to boot. (Wait – right now it’s only $6.08! Get one for yourself!)



Guess who is already SIX MONTHS OLD? Isn’t that crazy? I think time flies faster with every child we have. It seems like he should still be a newborn.



I’ve got to close with the best grocery store pics I’ve snagged yet:


Wait. You need a close-up.


Isn’t that beautiful? And ridiculous? My boys do have an uncanny knack for falling asleep anywhere (and they have fallen asleep in the car cart before) but this… this was brilliant! Not only did it make for a peaceful shopping experience, but it elicited chuckles from shoppers throughout the store.

You never know how you can brighten someone’s day, do you?

Happy weekend, everyone! Be sure to stop over to Jen’s to check out all the other Quick Takers!

Disappointment, Truth, And Chocolate Cake

Is it Monday yet?

Because I’m really, really done with last week. With the last fortnight, actually. (“Fortnight” – let’s bring back that word. Isn’t it delightful?)

In the last fortnight the members of our household have suffered: a (thankfully, minor) car accident, a decently bad fall, a fever, a mild stomach bug, an ear infection, a glass shattering high enough up that we needed to clean a fine dust of glass off half the kitchen, two thwarted birthday celebrations before we hit upon a successful one, enough internet connectivity issues to make me somewhat concerned for my mental health, and a pickle juice spill in the refrigerator. (You might think that last one’s silly, but you didn’t have to clean out the refrigerator.)

Lesson: Steer clear of our family right now. You don’t want to be standing next to us when whatever’s-coming-next happens.

Folded into that litany of woes were two great disappointments for yours truly: First, due to my boy’s little stomach bug, I had to miss Jen Fulwiler’s talk at the Catholic Information Center in DC. And second, what “should” have been a nice evening of board meeting/reception/birthday dinner/walk by the water/maybe-even-ice-cream turned into a sad, stressful, embarrassing couple of hours of trying to distract my boy from the intense pain in his ears. And stop him screaming. (Poor boy – he suffered all those ailments in the span of three days.)

However, as disappointments sometimes do, these gems helped me recognize a few truths:

1) It’s not so awful to miss out on a good thing when you do so for the sake of someone you love. I’m definitely an angsty, crying-over-spilled-milk type of person by nature, so I surprised myself a little last Monday evening when I wasn’t a whiny, resentful mess over missing Jen’s talk. In fact, once the decision to stay home was made, I relaxed. I gained some clarity. I left my dress laid out on the bed and took my freshly-made-up face downstairs to spend some time with my sickly boy. We snuggled on the sofa and read his brother’s new books. I don’t do that often enough – just sit with him on the sofa to read. It was a lovely silver lining to our disappointing change of plans and it felt so right and so good.

2) Small children don’t care as much about plans as grown-ups do. My middle son turned three last week. Because we had a commitment the evening of his birthday, I made a few days’ worth of birthday plans so we could fit in everything I thought necessary to “properly” celebrate the occasion. Then most everything went wrong.

On Sunday, when we were to have our birthday dinner as a family – spaghetti and “wochate cake”* and presents and all – our oldest son and Brennan’s mother were both unwell. They ended up half-way joining us for the meal, present but not entirely so. Most of the birthday boy’s gifts (all but the bedtime books) were put off for another day. We sang “Happy Birthday” tired and deflated and sad about the unwell grandma and the glassy-eyed, red-cheeked, somber little boy who just needed to go to bed. We ate just a little bit of cake.

When they don't eat their cake, you know they're sick.

You’ve got to be sick when you won’t eat your cake.

On Tuesday (the actual birthday), we were due to head to Annapolis. I was to attend a board meeting while Brennan watched the boys, then we were all to attend an informal little reception. Afterward we planned to walk toward the water for a pizza dinner, maybe some ice cream. But as soon as we arrived, (though he’d seemed perfectly fine all day) my oldest son mentioned that his ear hurt.

Soon, that little off-hand comment turned into full-on wailing. The poor child couldn’t stop moving; he seemed to be trying to walk away from the pain. He wandered around, screaming. “My ear huuurts! I want Daaaddy!” (Daddy had gone to the drug store for some Children’s Advil.) “I want to go hooome!” (Please understand that this might be the first time in his life that this child has ever uttered those words. Our little social butterfly would usually rather be anywhere but home.) I tried to help. I sat on some steps and tried to hold him, to comfort him, but he was beyond comforting. All he wanted from me was pain relief, but until Daddy arrived, I couldn’t provide any.

But the birthday boy? (Getting back to my point now – promise.) He was fine. I could wish that he’d had enough empathy to be concerned about his brother’s plight, but I’m really just glad he was fine. He followed us around wherever we walked, singing and performing and pretending that a formal little flourish to the concrete steps was a trophy he’d won racing back and forth across the lawn. He showed me how fast he could go. He threw himself down on the ground and rolled in the grass. He ate a little cupcake.



He didn’t care that we’d driven so far for a couple of hours of confusion and concern and wailing. He didn’t care that we never got the pizza or walked along the docks or ate the ice cream. He was fine with pretending to be a race car. He was fine with the mini cupcake. He was fine with the chicken tenders he ate on the way home. He was fine with the frazzled, grumpy parents on his birthday evening. He’d been fine, too, with his sad little birthday meal on Sunday night. He was fine.

The plans, as it turned out, were for me, not him. He had people who loved him and wished him a happy birthday. He had a couple of presents. He had a “wochate”* cake. He was a perfectly happy little boy.

*(When I’d asked him what kind of cake he wanted for his birthday, he answered, “wochate.” “A rocket cake?” I asked. “No, not wocket, wochate.” (They sound the same.) “Oh, you want a chocolate cake? We can do that! But what do you want it to look like?” “Wochate,” he repeated, “wiff eminems.”)

I obliged.

I obliged.

3) As hard as you try, as well as you mean, as much as you plan, sometimes taking your children out into the world is going to go horribly. I’m a very stubborn person. I tend to think I can just force something into place. I tend to think that if I’ve thought something through and tried very, very hard to achieve it, I will. And even though I know theoretically that everything can fall apart for reasons outside of my control, I really don’t expect them to.

So it’s not like I went into Tuesday’s meeting/reception/dinner plans thing on a whim. I usually don’t take my children with me to such events. (Or the mobile children, at least; I routinely bring my infants to meetings.) I’d arranged to have my husband meet me there to watch our boys during the meeting. I knew he’d enjoy chatting with some of the people at the reception anyway. I knew we’d be at a location where the boys could run and play with some freedom. I knew that my boys enjoy being around new people and that they’re generally well-behaved in public. I knew that we’d only be at the reception (i.e. my little people in the same space as all the grown-ups) for about an hour before we walked into the land of pizza and ice cream and water viewing. We weren’t there because of a thoughtless, “Hey, I want to do this thing! Let’s bring everybody, regardless of temperaments/accommodations/situation!” I’d thought it through.

But it didn’t matter! Just as small children don’t care about plans, neither do ear infections. My poor boy was caught unawares by a sudden onslaught of pain, and so were we.

I wish I could tell you that when my child was wandering around that beautiful place, wailing his sad little head off, he was my only concern. But he wasn’t. Though I felt horrible for him and hated how helpless I felt not being able to make him feel better, I was concerned about the other people at the reception too. I felt badly about our family creating such a distraction. I was embarrassed. (What a cliché we must have seemed: harried parents chasing after screaming children!) I was frustrated that I couldn’t force this situation back into place.

Just keep thinking about the cake.

Just keep thinking about the cake.

This must sound like another cliché, but I feel like I learn something new from this motherhood gig all the time. And even when the something isn’t entirely new, it becomes more present in my mind or more relevant than I’d previously considered. So it was during this (wonderful! terrific! ha!) past fortnight. And like so much of what I learn, this fortnight’s truths can be boiled down to one simple message:

“Chill, Julie.”


This Child

This child… oh, this child. He is passionate, he is fierce. He loves aggressively. He’s my most attached, the one who tries to burrow himself right into me.

He has a twinkle in his eye and a grimace in his grin. He barrels. He has strong arms and tight fists.

He’s agile. He’s fast. He’s cautious. He covers his face when we sing “Happy Birthday” to him. He clings to me when we go somewhere new.

He’s even-tempered for a long ways, but will suddenly explode with emotion. He’s sensitive. He’s a little bit wicked. He forgives easily. He shows mercy and he seeks it.

He loves, he loves, he loves.


And oh, how we love him back. How thankful we are for that evening, three years ago today, when he fought his way into our arms.

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Happy Birthday, Blog

Yesterday, this little ol’ blog had its first birthday. I’m just enough of a perfectionist that I have to mark the occasion, but just enough of a procrastinator that I’m doing so a day late.

And anyway, yesterday was rough. Nothing terrible happened, it’s just that the baby and I were running low on sleep after a tough night, the three-year-old was an emotional mess, and the two-year-old is coming into his ornery own.

Mid-evening, during a lull in the mayhem (actually, while the boys were eating dinner under strict orders to not! talk! at! all!), I sat on the sofa with the baby and tried to let my weary brain rest for a moment. It didn’t work very well. My mind was all over the place and all I wanted to do was blog it all out.

This little online space has become something like a pensieve for me. (Apologies for the random Harry Potter reference.) I don’t always have time to come here, but when I do, I find relief. It is good to get thoughts out of my head and onto the page (so to speak). To work through them, to revisit them, to build on them.

Sitting there on the sofa, I was pleased to realize that this blog has indeed been a good addition to my life. A year ago, I didn’t know whether it would serve as a distraction from my work caring for my family, or a boon to it. I’m happy to say that while I’ve certainly had my fair share of distracted days, by and large it feels like the latter.

I’m grateful for it, for this opportunity to share my thoughts. And I’m grateful for those of you who take the time to read them.

Thank you.

Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 7)

— 1 —

Today is the little guy’s big 2nd birthday! When I went to get the boys out of bed this morning, they were standing up, waving around stuffed animals, and cheerfully yelling. I said, “Good morning, boys!” and then: “Happy birthday, Jude!” True to form, the child dropped his eyes, scowled, and flung himself face-down onto his mattress. He is the cuddliest little thing, but he does not like being the center of attention. I think his motto should be: “Love me, but don’t look at me.”

More motherly mush to follow in a later post, but for now, here’s a glimpse of yesterday’s birthday party:


Oh, and by the way: he successfully made it through his “Happy Birthday” serenade without screaming. He did, however, squeeze his eyes shut the whole time, likely thinking that if he couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see him.

— 2 —

In last week’s Quick Takes, I announced my new Facebook page for the blog… but I forgot to include a link. That’s brilliance for you.

So here you go! If you haven’t “liked” These Walls on Facebook, I hope you’ll stop on by!

— 3 —

Living in the greater DC metropolitan area, just about everybody I know has some relative who works for the government. Most of my closest friends have at least one income earner who is employed by the federal government or a government contractor. So what’s everybody worried about right now? That’s right: a potential government shutdown! I don’t know, it might not be big news in the rest of the country, but it sure is here. I’m saying a couple of prayers today that someway, somehow, people find a way to work together to avoid this thing.

— 4 —

Okay, I’m going to fit in just one more thing to round out this very quick little Monday Morning Miscellany and then we’re off to continue our birthday celebrations.

Mass tips. That is, tips on how to get your children to make it through mass without anyone going crazy. A couple of weeks ago, Rosie (who has four small children, including infant twins) at A Blog For My Mom posted a list of helpful tips and encouraged readers to weigh in with more. If you’re trying to figure out how to get your little ones through church, stop on over to Rosie’s to check out what everyone had to say. I really loved that there was such a variety of strategies: a perfect illustration of the differences amongst children (and parents too).

Two sort of foundational tips from me first, though. (Part of which Rosie alluded to. And Auntie Leila writes about frequently.) Unless you were given the most naturally docile children in the world (Ha!), I think you have to have at least two things in order for any of those tips and strategies to make a difference. (1) Your children have to have some regular practice in sitting in one place (note that I don’t say sitting still). If they can’t sit in one place for the course of a 30-minute meal, they’re not going to be able to make it through a 60-minute mass. (2) There has to be a given expectation that your children will obey you. If they’re not expected to obey your (sometimes loud? Mine are often loud!) directions at home, they’re not going to obey your whispered directions in a crowd of hundreds of strangers.

So, work on (1) and (2), and then be creative about what little things will help your particular children to make it through your particular church service quietly enough to (a) not embarrass you, (b) not distract your fellow parishioners, and (c) eventually learn to get something out of it. Because that last one is really the point, isn’t it?

Just my two cents!

Have a great week, everyone!

Five Favorites (Vol. 1)


I’m linking up with Hallie at Moxie Wife for the first time today. If you aren’t familiar with Hallie and her beautiful writing on marriage and family (amongst other subjects), go check her out! And also be sure to visit the folks linking their Five Favorites!

— 1 —

This newly-minted little THREE-year-old!

B as green monster

I intended yesterday’s post to be an ode to my little guy, but I soon found myself heading in a somewhat different direction. So I’m going to take this opportunity to share three things I love about my new three-year-old: (1) He loves people. From his daddy to his friends to the UPS delivery guy, he loves them all. I have honestly never met anyone more outgoing than he is. (2) He loves to show people that he loves them. Hugs, cuddles, kisses, “I wuv you”’s – we’re so lucky to get them from him all. the. time. The other day I even heard him tell one of his birthday cards, “I wuv you, Thomas and James and Percy. SO much. Dee end.” (3) His imagination is really taking off lately. Just in the past couple of weeks, I’ve noticed him narrating his imaginary play, which is mostly full of pirates and fire trucks and “ress-you-ing” people.

— 2 —

Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood

I seriously cannot heap enough praise on this PBS spin-off of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. For one thing, my boys LOVE it. It’s the only show that captures their attention completely. No matter what else happens, I can count on at least 60 minutes of quiet per day – 30 minutes at 11 am when Daniel Tiger comes on one of our local PBS stations and 30 minutes at 5:30 pm when it comes on another. The boys don’t even care that they’re seeing the same episode twice in one day – they love it that much.

Also, I love it. The show teaches a bunch of little life lessons tailored to the pre-school set: how to share and wait and play nicely with your friends, etc. Each episode focuses on one of the lessons, which is set to a short song. We find ourselves singing them all the time: “Clean up, pick up, put away. Clean up, every day.” Or “When you have to go potty, STOP and go right away. Flush and wash and be on your way.” (I know, I know, I’m a dork to be reciting lyrics about going to the potty. You don’t need to remind me.)

— 3 —

“The Royal Sandbox” episode of Daniel Tiger

This episode teaches children how to make a good apology: “Saying I’m sorry is the first step. Then, ‘how can I help?’” And boy, did it come at the right time for us! At this point my little guy has learned the ropes of the harass your brother/get a time-out/apologize sequence of events. But I’ve been getting frustrated because he doesn’t seem to take his apologies very seriously. Enter Daniel Tiger! Since this episode aired, my boy has been following “I’m sorry” with “How can I help?” On his own! With no prompting from me! The other day at lunch, he purposefully crumbled his chip and dropped the crumbs all over the floor. When I told him that I was unhappy about what he’d done, he promptly apologized and asked how he could help. I suggested that he retrieve his toy dustpan and brush and clean up the mess. And whaddya know? He DID! Thank you, Daniel Tiger!

— 4 —

Family Reunions

This past weekend my extended family marked over thirty years of bi-annual, weekend-long family reunions. We had our usual campfires and card games and pool time and shared meals and hikes. And it was a blast. I feel so fortunate that my family has this tradition. What a way to demonstrate the importance of family. And what a way to foster friendships between family members who might otherwise never interact. This weekend we had nearly 100 people come for some portion of the reunion: four generations, a 90-year age span, relatives from the West and East Coasts, from as far south as Florida and as far north as Wisconsin, relatives who represent different tastes and religions and political stripes. I’m so happy that my own little family was able to take part in it.

— 5 —

Okay, this one’s a little silly.

G.H. Cretors Chicago Mix Popped Corn


At the tail end of this weekend’s reunion, the family gathered at our house for an after-party. So we became the repository for all the miscellaneous snacks, chairs, games, etc. that were gathered from the camp. This (very large) bag of “Chicago Mix” popcorn was one of the miscellany. And, oh my word – amazing! Maybe I’m totally out-of-the loop on this one and everybody else has heard of mixing caramel and cheese popcorn together, but the idea was near-revolutionary to me. Thank goodness the bag was almost empty when I found it, because I was compelled to finish the job! (And yes, in the photo the bag is entirely empty.) Warfields: Please do not tell me who brought this most delectable of snacks. And under NO circumstances should anyone tell me where it can be purchased!