The Unexpected Blessing of Social Media

Can I say something that most people don’t seem to want to these days? I really kind of love social media. I know we’re supposed to be skeptical of it, nervous about it, burdened by it, bored with it – and I’ll admit that I was reluctant to get involved in it in the first place. But now? I’m so grateful for its place in my life.

So often social media is presented as a barrier to “real” relationships with people – as if people choose to stay home with their laptops and smartphones rather than go out into the world to be physically present to the people in their lives. Maybe that’s how it works for some. But for me, social media has been more boon than barrier.

Facebook allows me to connect with “IRL” family and friends better than pretty much anything else I can imagine, save a utopian walking community in which everyone’s backyards abut each other. My family is big and busy and mostly spread from one end of a sprawling metropolitan area to the other. Even if we saw each other more frequently than we do (and we see each other pretty frequently by most families’ standards), there’s only so much in-person catching up I could do with my 70-odd closest relatives (not exaggerating – I counted) given my responsibility for keeping track of these four relatives:

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And then there are the family members who live great distances from us. Because of Facebook, I know that my two little cousins in Maine are learning the art of beekeeping. I know that they’ve resumed their riding lessons and that they just swam in the lake for the first time this season. I get to cheer my cousin and his wife in San Diego as they run their (very intimidating and impressive to me) marathons and half-marathons. I get to watch my teenage and twenty-something cousins in St. Louis and Chicago and Nashville go off to proms and colleges and fall in love.

I get to know new friends more quickly and I get to know old friends better. I get to enjoy playdates where my girlfriends and I don’t feel like strangers from postponing a half-dozen times because somebody is always getting sick.

Social media also enables me to be “myself” better than any situation I can imagine. (Even my fantasy utopian communities have their limitations.) Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (I do limit it to the three) allow me to indulge in a custom mix of my favorite interests, values, and personalities – a cocktail of politics and history and faith, of smart/witty/wise/idealistic/self-deprecating Catholic writers, of home-making and child-rearing and beauty found in the ordinary.

They allow me to connect with people who share those interests and values, to make friendships that transcend geography.

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Social media gives me opportunities to understand people and to love them.

On a daily basis, it presents me with more diversity and a wider range of experiences and ideas than I would ever bump up against in my physical community. It helps me put myself in someone else’s shoes; it makes obvious to me the common threads that run through families and communities that seem so different.

Social media allows me to nurture a fondness, a tenderness, not just for my family and friends, but also for the loved ones of those I’ve loved somewhere along the way. (You should see the piercing blue eyes of my college roommate’s little girl and the deep brown eyes of my high school friend’s little boy. You should read the hilarious kid quotes. You should hear how beautifully my friends love their spouses, their siblings, their children, their parents.)

Social media allows me to feel my role in the Body of Christ, praying for and supporting those in need, working with others to accompany people through their trials.

Are there problems with social media and the role it has come to play in our lives? Of course there are. There are problems with just about every way in which we humans come together. When engaging in social media, we should hold to the same principles we (hopefully) do in other human interactions: be kind, consider where others are coming from, watch what you say, consider your own disposition, recognize that the world is full of people who are like and unlike you in a million important and not-so-important ways. Love. Enjoy the people you encounter. Accept the light they bring to your life and offer a little in return.

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Becoming Community: Mid-Atlantic Conference for Catholic Women Bloggers

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I hosted a small conference for Catholic women bloggers at my home last weekend, and it was just lovely. The weather, the people, the talks, the general feeling – it was all so lovely that I’m really kind of pinching myself at how well it went.

Because I was not ready for this thing.

I greeted my first guest (thankfully, someone who’d arrived early to help set up) in my bathrobe, my hair and make-up undone. I’d had three hours of sleep the night before. I hadn’t read up on the materials I was supposed to. I hadn’t put together the folders. I hadn’t arranged the flowers I’d bought or cut the lilacs I’d planned to. I hadn’t made the coffee or the mimosas or the iced tea or the sangria. (Yes, this was a fun conference.) The tables weren’t set up. The tablecloths weren’t ironed. The outdoor chairs were filthy from being stored in a shed alongside a tractor.

And all this was after running myself ragged for 48 hours, getting everything else accomplished.

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Like the indoor chairs! I had set up the chairs!

So when my helpers arrived (several ladies came early to help – thank you, kind souls), I threw jobs at them like I’d known them for years. (Though I most definitely had not.) One – poor lady – ironed linens that just wouldn’t be tamed. Another, who’d spent the night at our home, had already ironed the more cooperative ones. Lovely Mary, who had brought flowers for the lunch tables, also arranged the flowers I’d bought, set them all out, put together the folders, and served as my weary brain’s go-to question answerer. One woman poured the mimosas. Another made the decaf. Several directed our (potluck) food to the table and refrigerator. They pulled out the cups, plates, flatware, and goodness knows what else.

In short, women did what women do: they helped.

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

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Photo Credit: Rosie Hill

(I can’t neglect to mention my wonderful husband: By this time, Brennan was knee-deep into his third straight day of helping me prepare. He’d already mulched flowerbeds and cleaned bathrooms and taken our older boys up to my parents – thanks, Mom and Dad! Now he was setting up tables and making coffee and cleaning those dirty, dirty chairs. God bless him.)

(Nor can I neglect to mention the two ladies who helped me organize the event – Rita Buettner of Open Window at the Catholic Review, and Erica Saint of Saint Affairs. Without them, I surely would have burnt out before the conference day even arrived. Both were generous, wonderful collaborators and valuable sounding boards.)

So as this big day began – and as I grasped at every bit of help I could get – all I could think about was how badly I’d screwed up by not having everything ready when my guests arrived. I’d wanted the day to be peaceful, elegant, relaxing. Instead, we – all of us – found ourselves plunged into a confusing jumble of bodies and baked goods.

And I was embarrassed.

The Idea(s)

Now, allow me to back up for a moment.

Because the more I reflect on our conference, the more I believe that there was something important at play here – that our day was guided by One who knew what each of us needed, and who helped us to meet those needs for each other.

I’d first thought of hosting a gathering of local Catholic women bloggers a couple of years earlier. Jen Fulwiler had mentioned attending a “salon dinner,” at which guests listened to a speaker and split into groups for a sit-down dinner/discussion. Information about the guests had been circulated in advance to help people get to know each other, and groups were assigned in such a way as to introduce guests to those who might be new to them.

I thought it was a brilliant idea. It was right up my sociable/nerdy alley.

When I thought about how I might implement the concept in my own life, I landed on the idea of using it to try to get to know other Catholic women bloggers in my area. I’m not far from Washington, D.C. and I figured that there had to be plenty of such ladies around – right? So I tried, along with a couple of other local bloggers I knew, to get something going.

But the timing just wasn’t right. For a number of reasons, it became very clear, very quickly, that the idea would need to be set aside for a while. So it was.

Fast forward to a few months ago, when members of a Facebook group I’m part of began to discuss blogging conferences and what they’d like from one. Soon those conversations turned into efforts to put on regional Catholic Women Blogging Network conferences across the country.

Quick as I could, I stepped forward to host one for the Mid-Atlantic. The time was right. And just as I’ve learned so many other times in my life, the right circumstances make all the difference.

Out of the Weeds, Onto the Meat

Now, back to my embarrassment.

I focus on it because it shows where I was as our day began. I was months into the planning of the event and sunk deep in the weeds. I hadn’t actually given much thought to the meat of the conference: how the talks would go, how the day’s events would fit together, what people would get out of it. And I’d only recently – since reading re-caps of the California conference – come to realize that some of my guests might be nervous about attending. Until then, I hadn’t thought of what they might be feeling as we started our day together.

Then we began.

We started our program a half-hour late, but we started well. I gave a short welcome and had everyone introduce themselves. (And one woman hit on the wonderful idea of introducing the babies!)

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Gabriel, Peter, Margaret, Felix, Heidi, Magdalena, and Isaac. Photo credit: Rosie Hill

I recited a special Prayer for Peace issued by the Archdiocese of Baltimore in light of the riots there last week. Then I introduced our first speaker.

Meg Hunter-Kilmer, of Held by His Pierced Hands, was terrific. She (I’m stepping into my emcee role here) has two degrees in theology from Notre Dame. After five years as a middle and high school religion teacher, she quit her job to be a “hobo for Christ,” traveling the world speaking about the love of Christ.

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I was still moving around the house a bit, making sure things were set up properly and that my guests had what they needed. (I was also grabbing my own coffee and breakfast, thankyouverymuch.) So I didn’t catch Meg’s entire talk, called “Living an Examined Life.” But I was blown away by her enthusiasm, and what I heard from her renewed my desire to set aside some daily quiet time in which to just be – to listen, to pray, to simply sit in the presence of God.

Besides providing us with some general encouragement and commiseration on that front, Meg taught us about the Examen – a daily form of prayer that encourages one to examine his life and pay attention to how God is moving in it. It struck me as a beautiful and useful exercise, and I’m eager to put it into practice in my own life.

Restoring Reality

After Meg’s talk, we welcomed our keynote speaker, Leah Libresco, of the Patheos blog Unequally Yoked. Leah grew up as an atheist and started studying Catholicism “in order to have better fights with the most interesting wrong people she met in college.” She ultimately conceded the fight and became Catholic herself. But she still likes to argue: On her blog, Leah discusses anything from dating ethics, to approaches to almsgiving, to ways to forge communities in cities. She runs a monthly debate group in Washington DC and hosts sporadic Christian forums.

Leah says that she likes to find ways to have fights that turn into friendships and she makes sure to infuse disagreements with charity and love.

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Boy, does it show: I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about arguments with as much light and joy as Leah did. She spoke on “Sharing Our Faith in Secular Spaces,” giving us plenty of smart, insightful strategies for making arguments that are not just compelling, but also life-giving.

Maybe that sounds strange. First, that we had a talk on arguments at all, and second, that arguments could possibly be life-giving. (My label, not hers.) But consider our lives since the advent of social media (and indeed blogging): how many of us witness our friends and acquaintances snipe at each other over politics or current events or parenting practices? How many comment boxes have become so nasty, we don’t even bother with them anymore? Which sort of radio and television programs thrive most today? The running theme to me, at least, seems to be: conflict, conflict, conflict…

And not the constructive sort.

Leah works hard to counter that culture – not by acting like disagreements don’t matter, but by respecting them enough to encourage them to be aired openly, respectfully, fairly, and in good humor. She remembers what so many seem to have forgotten: that behind every disagreement lies real people with (usually) honest motivations. Not one of us is a caricature of our beliefs. We’re individuals who deserve to be viewed as such.

So Leah said things like this to us:

  • Learn what your opponent loves about his argument and re-direct those goods to a better cause.
  • Discern what the strongest argument is for the particular person you’re arguing with.
  • It is more important to keep people dialoging than to “win.”
  • Leave things a little unsettled, because settling a debt exactly implies the closing of a relationship.

She also told us a story that, in my mind, somehow has come to represent our whole conference:

Leah said that she once had a couple of friends who were having quite the argument on her Facebook wall. Eventually she popped onto their thread with a suggestion: “How about you guys come over to my place and have this argument in person? I’ll make cookies!” (Leah seems to pair many such challenges with “I’ll make cookies!”) They – smart guys – took her up on her offer.

When the debaters arrived, however, Leah (deliberately) didn’t have everything ready. The cookies were still in the oven and she was scurrying around in a (manufactured – shhh!) rush. She tossed out a few directions: move this sofa there, those chairs here, carry these glasses of milk, please.

Leah took two people who’d been duking it out online and not only did she bring them together to resume their argument in person, but she made them work together on common, non-controversial goals beforehand. She brought them together so they could stand shoulder-to-shoulder and see eye-to-eye, literally. In doing so, Leah was “restoring reality” to the situation, as she put it. Working together, sharing food – these are things that bond people to each other. And when people are bonded, their arguments are more likely to be respectful and fruitful.

As you might guess, Leah’s story struck me for its similarity to our day’s beginning. Though my own rushing was genuine and my guests had not come to argue, their helpfulness served a similar role. Before many of our ladies had even met each other, they were working together. They – we – were building bonds through service, which would then be strengthened by sharing prayer, food, and conversation. So as I scurried through the jovial chaos that morning, embarrassed and a little panicky, I was unknowingly playing my part in the day’s success.

Honestly, I could listen to Leah’s talk all over again. Meeting her left me feeling a little resentful of the fact that I’m no longer a young single thing living in DC, with plenty of time (and the Metro access) to crash her homemade-cookie-fueled debate parties.

(By the way, Leah just released her first book this past Thursday! Consider checking out “Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers That Even I Can Offer.”)

Faithful, Social Friends

After Leah’s talk, we broke for lunch. I threw more jobs at people (“Who wants to make the iced tea?!”) and we all scurried around to get the food ready. Soon enough we were settled at one of four tables, where we participated in small-group discussions with ladies who blog on topics similar to our own. I’d assigned the groups in advance and asked each attendee to submit links to the three posts which best represent what she’d like to do with her blog. Theoretically, everyone was supposed to read their group-mates’ links before arriving. (Though I’ve already confessed that I did not personally get to this!)

I can’t vouch for the other groups, but mine was great. We relaxed, we chatted, we asked questions, we commiserated, and we laughed. What more could you ask for?

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

After lunch we re-grouped to hear Cristina Trinidad speak. Cristina – who blogs at what was Filling My Prayer Closet, but is now, as of this week Faithfully Social – is a married, full-time working mother of two boys. Working in corporate by day, she is a blog and social media coach by night (or whenever she can get a minute).

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Cristina says that she enjoys helping other bloggers get noticed, or providing just the right prescription to manage their social media. Accordingly, her talk, “Blogging Smarter, Not Harder,” was full of insights into social media and tips as to how to better engage with it.

Images, titles, search engine optimization, pins, schedules, branding, design software, videos, keywords, alt tags, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram… it all kind of made my head spin. But in the best possible way! Cristina was friendly and energetic and she left me with pages of notes and several ideas for improving my outreach to current and potential readers.

We spent the remaining 15 minutes of the conference in a lively wrap-up session, which was moderated by Rita Buettner, of Open Window at the Catholic Review.

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I have to say, up until this point in the day, there were many things that made me happy. But now, as people enthusiastically offered ideas as to how we could collaborate and be helpful to each other going forward – I was thrilled.

One woman offered to host everyone for a day of quiet, uninterrupted writing. Another suggested meeting for a “write-in” at Starbucks. Ladies talked of a blog carnival. They mentioned Doodle and Google Docs and a resource page on our Facebook group where people could list their expertise.

The ideas bounced around the room haphazardly but the consensus was clear: We were excited about what we’d found here and we were eager to build up relationships with one another. We wanted to get together again soon – as soon as this summer. We wanted to offer a variety of ways for people to meet up and help out and collaborate.

(The activity on our Facebook group this week has reflected that excitement: multiple posts per day, questions, request for and offers of support. It’s been really beautiful to witness. I feel so grateful for this burgeoning community – and just a little proud.)

After our conference formally broke up, women lingered to say goodbye after goodbye. They took with them lovely boxes of delicious fudge, which was generously made by Emily Borman, Editor-in-Chief of Conversation With Women. (For the writers among you, Conversation With Women is a blog made up entirely of anonymous submissions from women who have struggled with, but ultimately found joy in living the Catholic faith in regards to marriage, sexuality, fertility and society. If you have such a story to share, stop over to Emily’s to see about submitting it.)


Photo Credit: Rosie Hill

As the others headed home, eight of us struck out to enjoy dinner together. We walked to a local restaurant for some amazing pizza and more laughter than probably should have been allowed. (Seriously – we were the loudest party there!)

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I was so happy as I looked around at our group – women of different ages and backgrounds and family make-ups, women who write on different topics, whose lives have taken different turns – we chatted (and hooted and hollered) like we were a real thing, like we were a solid group.

And, I guess that now we kind of are.

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

Back row: Patti Murphy Dohn, Marie Bernadette Griffiths, Meg Hunter-Kilmer, Cristina Reintjes, Laura Scanlon, Mary Lenaburg, Jamie Gewand, Lisa Mayer, Abbey Dupuy, Laura Wright, Leah Libresco, Abigail Benjamin, Emily Borman

Front row: Erica Saint, Rita Buettner, Colleen Duggan, Kate Abbot, Rosemary Callenberg, Cristina Trinidad, Nicole Cox, Julie Walsh (me), Rosie Hill

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

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Photo credit: Rosie Hill

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(Many thanks to Theresa Conlan for designing our logo.)


Thanksgiving Eve

This morning I sit surrounded by unexpected, soft quiet. From the corner of my eye, I see our first snow of the season. It falls fast and thick. My boys are entranced, and so am I.



How soothing that this lovely blanket has come to fall upon us, covering our unraked leaves and the toys my boys leave scattered behind our house. It smoothes our roughness, disguises our messes. It insulates us. And when we glance at our windows and see only a mottled span of white and gray, somehow the space inside our home seems softer and smoother too.


Of course, we don’t have to drive in it. We’re snug indoors, ready to commence the prepping and the baking for tomorrow. Butternut squash, onions, cranberries, cherries, and chocolate – they all lie in wait.

But I have a few minutes to think and pray on the things and people for whom I am grateful – and I’ll take them. I know how blessed I’ve been.

I have a lively, loving, little family and a big, beautiful home. I have an extended family who support and love and even entertain. I have layer upon layer of good, smart, interesting friends: The few I’ve known since childhood; those I acquired in high school and college, in Washington and Annapolis; those I’ve worked with and prayed with; those alongside whom I’m raising my children. I even have some I’ve never met in person: lovely, kind women I know through blogging and long, thoughtful emails.


We have sufficient heating oil and plentiful food. We have electricity and too many clothes. We have peace in our home and our community.

Layer upon layer of goodness.

And I know, of course, that there are far too many people who do not have these particular blessings. Loneliness, hunger, cold, unrest and violence visit too, too many. So alongside my gratitude, I think of and pray for them. For those who long for families of their own, who struggle to provide for the families they have, who suffer violence, who live in fear.

If you’re among them, know that you’re in my prayers.

And whether you are among them or you’re not, I hope that you too get a few soft, quiet moments in which to sit. I hope that this Thanksgiving, you feel the weight of your own particular blessings. And I hope that your blessings do nothing but increase in the coming seasons of Advent and Christmas.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours, from me and mine.


Sweet, Sweet Progress: {pretty, happy, funny, real} Vol. 12

I thought I’d take a brief break from the land of Making-Preparations-For-The-Impending-Arrival-Of- Mother-In-Law-And-New-Baby to sit down and type out a little progress report on that whole thing and a couple of others.

The good news is that we are, in fact, making progress. And oh, how sweet it feels. There’s nothing like productivity to tamp down the sense of panic rising in my chest.

We found out about the change in Brennan’s mom’s move-in date (from the end of May to the end of March) the weekend before last. At the time, our house was pretty much a wreck. The future nursery was so full of stuff that you could barely walk through it (which was problematic, as you have to pass through the room to get from one end of our second floor to the other). Our bedroom was overflowing with baskets of clean, unfolded laundry and my (absurdly large) handy-dandy laundry sorting unit was overflowing with heaps of dirty laundry. Our long-dead Christmas tree was still up and mostly decorated. And the rest of our main floor was also decked with dusty Christmas décor.

But now…


Look! Nothing Christmasy! This room is as ready for spring as I am.


The tree is down and out, its ornaments have been packed and stored, and nearly all the rest of the Christmas stuff has been put away too. Thank goodness. How good for the spirit, to not be constantly dragged down by seasonally-inappropriate reminders of just how behind you are.


Our Room O’ Junk has been turned into… a room o’ less junk. In just over a week, it (the future nursery, that is) went from this:


To this:


Laundry has been washed and folded and put away, too-small children’s clothing has been sorted, baby clothes have been pulled out (still awaiting their own turn in the washer), items have been removed to their proper places, (some) papers have been gone through, and (most of) our baby gear has been stacked in one corner of the room. I’ve got a couple more days to finish clearing out the space before Brennan’s buddy comes over this weekend to help him shuffle furniture between four different rooms on three different floors, and the garage.

Speaking of help… though I really, truly didn’t intend my last post to be interpreted as a plea for help (I meant it more like a, “Hey, people to whom I write about my life, guess what BIG things are going on in it right now?”), several dear friends offered help anyway. Krista and Mary and lovely, non-blogging others offered to occupy the boys so I could get things done. Betsy watched my two-year-old (yet again!) while I helped at my three-year-old’s preschool – and she even did my dishes. Another friend brought us lunch and carried heavy, bulky things up and down the stairs for me. She and others will take care of the boys during my slew of upcoming doctors’ appointments. And yet more folks will help us with the grunt work of moving things around before and after Brennan’s mom arrives.

These people are wonderful.

I admit that receiving so many offers of help makes me feel a little awkward and uncomfortable. It’s humbling. But it also fills me with so much gratitude. The fact is, I really am tired. And we really could use the help. When I offer help to others, it’s because I really want to help them. I’m genuine in my offers and I want them to be accepted. So I figure I should assume the same of others. (Note: Never offer me help just to be polite. Ha!)

I am so happy to be part of a family and a community of friends who don’t hesitate to lend a hand when one is needed. Thank you, thank you, thank you, dear ones.



This is the antique dresser we bought the same weekend as the boys’ beds. Due to Brennan’s mom’s impending move, we’ve had to rethink a lot of furniture placement in the house. One of the funny (but really, very happy to me) results was to put what was to be the boys’ dresser in the dining room. (To which I say “Yay! It looks so pretty in this room! And Yay! Storage for dining room linens! And YAY! A non-plastic surface off of which to serve food!”)

The dresser’s marble top has been sitting upstairs in the Room O’ Junk ever since we bought it. I’ve been asking Brennan to bring it downstairs so I can just check this room off my list, already, but he doesn’t seem to think the task is anything near a priority. So the other day, I set this lamp on (in?) the dresser, hoping B would get the hint.

I think I’m going to have to just ask again.



It’s all how you look at it, isn’t it? I still have so, so much to do.

{more progress, more phfr}

There has been progress on other fronts too. For one, there’s this very pretty, very happy little scene:


How could I help but include it? I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see crocuses in my life. I’ve certainly never before waited on spring with such anticipation. This week we had days in the 60’s and even the low 70’s. I don’t care that today was blustery and back into the 30’s. Progress is progress!

Of course, there’s also the pregnancy. Here’s my latest belly pic – 35 weeks, taken last Sunday after mass.


Besides the obvious size and weight progression, I’m really starting to feel like I’m getting close. I feel good,* but close. At yesterday’s ob appointment, my doctor reviewed my most recent sono results (big ol’ baby), noted the (big ol’) size of my last baby, and said that as long as I’m sufficiently dilated, they’ll plan to induce me at 39 weeks.

Exciting stuff! (I’m totally fine with an induction. I needed Pitocin for both of my boys and did just fine with it. I honestly won’t know what to do with myself if contractions begin on their own this time around.) Also – ACK! I’ll be 36 weeks tomorrow, so I’m facing the real likelihood that I’ll be having this baby within the next three weeks, or thereabouts.

Between Hilde’s arrival in just over a week and that news from my ob, this is all starting to feel very… real.

*I think it’s funny that I’m still feeling (mostly) so comfortable this go-round. Though my weight is tracking right where it did with the other two pregnancies, and though I popped out very quickly this time, I feel like my expansion has slowed recently. Or at the very least, I must be carrying this baby and much of my weight differently than I did with the other two, because I just don’t feel as large. I can turn over in bed, I can sit comfortably, I can (even 50 pounds up from my wedding-day weight) still wear my wedding rings, I can cross my legs, and (this is the real kicker) I can still breathe. I swear, this still-breathing-normally-at-36-weeks thing is just… amazing… liberating… wonderful.

Thank goodness. It’s hard enough slogging through most of your random, pushed-aside possessions while you’re dragged down by fatigue. What a relief that my body is otherwise cooperating!

Okay, that’s enough from me. Head over to Like Mother, Like Daughter for other, less rambling looks at the {pretty, happy, funny, real} this week had to offer. And take care!

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7 Quick Takes Friday (Vol. 23): Skiing as a Metaphor for Life; We Parents as Enough

7 quick takes sm1 Your 7 Quick Takes Toolkit!


This week…

Have you ever been skiing? You know how, when you look around from the top of the slopes, all the world spread out below you seems open and peaceful? And then you ready yourself to ski down the mountain and there’s this moment (for a wimpy beginner like myself, at least) when you’re right on the edge, wavering between that peacefulness and the scary/awful/fun/thrilling trip you’re about to make down the mountain?

That’s what this week has felt like for me.

It began quietly, a carryover from our quiet December. Then we had a couple days of teetering-tottering on the edge of peace/angst. Yesterday, I tipped over that edge and began my descent down the mountain. We moved, moved, moved through the day with much to do, much to contemplate. I imagine we’ll move ever faster through the next few months. There’s so much work to do, so much fun to be had, so much to figure out, so much tedium ahead. The thirteen weeks before this baby comes will fly, I am sure.


Speaking of which, do you want to get an idea of how huge I’m becoming? Over Christmas, it seems, my belly grew several sizes (something like the Grinch’s heart). I almost never think to take pictures of my “bump” (I hate that term), but just before our open house a couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that maybe I should do so. And my dresser was momentarily not covered with piles of laundry, so it worked out just fine.


25 Weeks. Two weeks later and I’m already way bigger.

I’ve started to get those sympathetic looks from strangers who think I must be nearly there. But nope! Three more months to go! And I’m actually feeling really good, only mildly uncomfortable when I bend over or stand up. So I offer a few cheerful words of comfort to those who realize they’ve seriously overestimated my gestational stage: “Oh, it’s okay! I’m always a big ol’ pregnant lady. You should see me when I’m nine months along!” They smile and look relieved that I’m not offended. All is well with the world.


But back to my skiing imagery. Let me share with you a bit of my top o’ the mountain peace and joy:

This weekend, we took the boys (3- and 2-years-old) to see “Frozen,” their first movie in a theater. This was a really big deal for us, because (1) Brennan and I never see movies. Seriously – I can’t even begin to tell you the last movie we saw at home, let alone in a theater. (2) We never go out to do fun things. We seem to spend every weekend doing laundry and home repairs. (3) Being out in public is such a novelty to our boys that they’re awestruck at the grocery store. The mall just about blows their minds. So a movie theater? Huge and mysteriously lit with lots of people and arcade games that blink and make noise? Beyond crazy. (4) Did I mention that they’re THREE and TWO?

So, you get it: this was a big deal. But we took some deep breaths and dove in. And believe it or not, it was GREAT. The boys sat quietly and (mostly) still. They didn’t seem to annoy anyone sitting near us. They paid attention to the whole movie, and they had a blast. Our 3-year-old, who is on the sensitive side, sat on his daddy’s lap the whole time, a little scared. But he said he enjoyed the movie and he was obviously paying attention to it, because he talked about it quite a bit afterward. Our 2-year-old unabashedly loved it. He sat on the edge of his seat and kept turning his head to look at me, grinning ear-to-ear. It was all warm-hearted goodness. We did a good thing for our boys.


And my teetering-tottering? On Tuesday we had this:



What a lovely, peaceful, sweet shopping trip it was. Big brother at school, little brother asleep, would-be shoppers afraid to come out in the bitter cold… and a nice, warm Starbucks in my hand.



Nah… it wasn’t that bad. It’s just that we’ve gotten to one of those points where bad behaviors have gone unchecked for too long and parents can no longer deal with the consequences. One child has developed situational deafness: whenever Mommy speaks, he hears nothing. I’ve practically got to jump up and down in front of the kid to get him to listen to me. The other child, too cute for his own good, has become used to getting his way. And he turns downright surly when challenged.

So we’ve instituted a crackdown period: Stinkers get tossed in time-out for every. little. thing. It’s as fun as it sounds.


As for tipping over the edge and taking the plunge down the mountain…

Yesterday I drove our older son to and from pre-school, I delivered school flyers to eight locations in town, I took our younger son to story time at the library, I did that little “Mommy Dance,” I had coffee with a friend, I took the boys to get their hair cut, we went for a walk, and I attended a school meeting. Plus the usual feeding/diapering/keeping boys alive stuff.

The next couple of weeks are filled with play-dates and volunteering and doctor’s appointments. Weekends are booking up fast. There’s a long list of preparations to make and a shorter window in which to do them.

My head will spin if I let it.

So at this point, my plan is to try to enjoy the ride as long as I can. Deep breath, Julie… Take in the scenery wooshing past… Enjoy the ride…


And now for an almost wholly unrelated, far more beautiful, and yet heartbreaking Take.

When she was just eleven years old, my good friend Krista lost her mother to cancer. This week Krista marked the 23rd anniversary of her mother’s passing with a reflection not on what she lost when her mother died, but rather on what her mother lost when she died:

When my mom died, she didn’t just lose her own life. She lost her life with her children. For her, my life and my brother’s life, intertwined as they were with her own, ended when we were eleven and six.

I can’t even imagine how painful it must have been for her, when she finally accepted that the end was near, to know that she was about to lose her future with us. That she would miss all of the moments of our lives, big and small, for the rest of our lives. That she would never know us as adults, or meet the people who would become important to us as we matured. That she would never, ever, hold a grandchild in her arms…

When she knew that she was dying, she also had to know that she was letting go of a million moments with her children. That the past was all she would ever have with us. She must have experienced the kind of pain that pray I never have to face.

I have been hearing about Krista’s mom (a testament, I think, to the powerful impact she had on Krista’s life) ever since Krista and I became friends some sixteen years ago. I found this recent reflection so moving both because it brought another dimension to her mother’s story, and because it resonated with me in a personal way. I have what is perhaps an unreasonable fear of something happening to prevent me from raising my children, from seeing them grow. Oh, the ache of even contemplating such a thing.

But Krista doesn’t leave us there, ending on the ache. Nor does she admonish us to treasure every moment with our children. Rather, Krista simply asks that we parents worry a little less about our parenting, about whether we’re doing it right, or whether we’re doing enough.

Because if I have learned one thing after 23 years of being without my mother, I can tell you that what I missed, what I craved, was her. Her presence. The knowledge that the world contained her.

I didn’t need any extras. I didn’t need perfection. I would have preferred to have had her healthy, but to have had her at all was a blessing and, as I have learned, a luxury. To have had her, just as she was, was enough.

And if just having her was enough, then it follows that just having us, their parents, is enough for our own children. The fact that we are in their lives, that we are actively loving them, is enough. Our flaws and imperfections and mistakes do nothing to lessen the impact of our mere presence. Isn’t that a freeing thought?

It is indeed a freeing thought. And maybe it’s something of an invitation to just go ahead and enjoy the ride.

Be sure to check out Krista’s full post here. And as always, head over to Jen’s for more Quick Takes.

That Mommy Dance

Have you seen this post on “Dating for Moms”? It floated around my Facebook feed last week and I just recently got around to reading it. It’s about striking up friendships with other moms, and how doing so can look an awful lot like dating. Pretty funny, to be sure. As I only have two very young boys at this point, I hadn’t given the subject too much thought. My boys aren’t into any sports yet, and my oldest only just started preschool last week.

I am, however, very familiar with a little dance that has always reminded me of trying to gauge whether that cute guy might be into you and whether maybe he’d like to hang out sometime. Only it’s way more transparent – and probably smacks more of desperation than you’d like. It looks something like this:

You’re at the park/grocery store/church/library and you see a woman around your own age, dressed in kinda sorta the same style and/or level of sloppiness as yourself, with a couple of kids hanging on to her (or being chased by her) that look to be about your own children’s ages. You give her some sort of sympathetic smile regarding whatever child behavior she’s dealing with at the moment. You glance at your own children to indicate that you are/have been in the same boat.

You find a way to walk over to her and inquire about her children. You say something about yours.


If she seems likeable and interested in chatting with you, you introduce yourself. This is where you almost stumble over yourself, asking “Do you stay home?” with a sort of wild-eyed desperation that you’re honestly only a little bit embarrassed about.

If she answers yes, your excitement jumps up a few notches because Your Schedules Might Be Compatible! And She Knows What I Go Through! And Maybe She’d Like To Do Play-dates!

You ask a few of the requisite getting-to-know you questions: how many children she has, their ages, where she lives, does she frequent this park/grocery store/church/library, is she from the area, does she know lots of people here, etc.

While one part of your brain is processing the information, another part is just about jumping up and down, singing “I think I like her! I think she likes me! We could be friends!” Another part of your brain is trying to stay cool and not freak her out with your enthusiasm.

If everything goes really well, you get up the nerve to exchange contact information. You’re still trying to be cool about it, but you’re already thinking about how much time is appropriate to let pass before you email her. You might even call a girlfriend on the way home, to share! your! excitement!

Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this little dance.

Playground Climbing

Because I did it this weekend.

And in all seriousness, though the “dance” or the “dating” seems funny when you look at it through the lens of your long-ago crushes, it’s not a game, nor is it insincere.

As a stay-at-home mom, you spend the bulk of your hours surrounded by little people, yet also somehow alone. When you stumble across someone who shares that experience, and in whom you sense a spark of something that could develop into friendship, you grab at it. Or at least I do.

I know that an awful lot of people are too shy to approach a stranger and strike up a conversation. I’m pretty darned outgoing and I still hesitate before doing so. But when it comes down to it, I understand that if I want to have friends in my life who are here, right now, in my own community, I have to do something about it. I have to put myself out there. I have to walk up to somebody and make the small talk. I have to risk embarrassing myself over an awkward, hasty “Sodoyoustayhome?”

Six years ago, I decided to just get over myself and try online dating. I figured that if it lead me to my future husband, it would be worth the hassle and embarrassment. Boy, did it pay off — big time. So now I remind myself to take those smaller risks on the playground, in hopes that they’ll pay off too.

So if you find yourself at a park/grocery store/church/library in these here parts and I walk up to you, please be kind. Take my attention not so much as a mark of crazy-eyed mommy desperation, but rather as a compliment. You must come across as a reasonable, pleasant person who takes good care of her children. Because I’m not going to bother with any other sort.

Playground Slide

Monday Morning Miscellany (Vol. 4)

— 1 —

Remember when I wrote about my Friends Who Blog a couple of weeks ago? Well, my friend Mary, this lovely lady:


Sorry it’s fuzzy. Cell phone pic.

She has finally launched her blog. It’s called Quite Contrary. (Get it? Isn’t that cute?) Mary is a former journalist and communications professional, so it pretty much goes without saying that she’s a talented writer. She’s also super smart and observant and savvy, so she’s an excellent person to talk to on the Topics of Great Importance I mentioned here. And Mary is also a wonderful mother to her two lovely little girls. (Whom I won’t deny having my eye on for my little guys someday.) Wink, wink.

I hope you’ll go pay her a visit!

— 2 —

Any of you who are Conversion Diary readers likely already know about the gem of blog Jen shared last week: Mama Knows, Honeychild. If you aren’t, or if you somehow missed her recommendation, oh my gosh, you have to check it out. It’s the funniest thing I’ve come across in a long time. I’m not a “laugh out loud” kind of person, but I totally was LOL’ing while I read Heather’s posts. The blog is a hilarious take on motherhood, family life, trying to live the Catholic faith and instill it in your children, etc. Oh, and it’s illustrated with the blogger’s own stick figure drawings, which are as if not more funny than the writing itself. Case in point:


The fruits of an over-active imagination, an impending beach vacation, and Shark Week on TV.

— 3 —

Speaking of gems, last week I stumbled onto another, very different kind of blog gem. Nella at Is There McDonald’s in Heaven? commented on my Motherhood On The Kitchen Floor post, so I checked out her blog. I read one post, then another, then came back for another, and before I knew it, I’d read just about her entire blog. (She started it in April.)

Earlier this year, Nella figured out that she had cancer around the same time she discovered she was pregnant with her sixth child. She was formally diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma when she was 19 weeks pregnant. So, understandably, she writes about the challenges of having cancer. And the challenges of having cancer while pregnant. With five older children to care for. Now that her baby has been born, she’s writing about the challenges of having a premie in the NICU. (And, family with lots of NICU experience, it looks like Nella could use some words of comfort on that count. Comment on her blog if you have any wisdom to share with her.)

I tell you, she seems like quite a lady. Not only is she super open and honest about the whole thing, but she’s so funny. How in the world can anyone make cancer treatment seem funny? Like this:

It’s easy as humans to forget that we are animals.  Well let me tell you, regardless of the fact that you intellectually understand that this procedure will lead to life saving information, regardless of the fact that you give your consent, and regardless of the fact that the whole situation is dressed up with civilized medical behavior, when someone is coming at your outstretched neck with a sharp object…well, everything deep in side the most primordial core of your being starts screaming out “AWWW HELLZZ NO!!!”.  My primordial core is urban.  Anyhoo, you’d be amazed how perplexing it is to medical professionals that a normal person might find being stabbed in the neck, even with your consent, a tad disconcerting.  Seriously doctor, it’s not personal, I’m sure you’re very competent and compassionate, BUT YOU ARE STABBING ME IN THE NECK.  Now lest you think I was flopping around like a fish on the table screaming for my Mom, I was not.  I have birthed 5 children.  4 of them with no pharmaceutical assistance.  I am a bad ass.  But I did startle a bit when they started the procedure.  Sue me.  YOU WERE STABBING ME IN THE NECK.

There’s also this post on not being able to nurse her new baby because of her cancer treatment.  (Which, by the way, I think is a good post to read in tandem with my friend Krista’s How ‘Bout Them Apples? post the other day.)

I know I only have like five readers, but I sure hope each and every one of you will pop over to Nella’s blog. You’ll be richer for it. (If maybe a little sniffly. Yes, the blog is super funny at times. But it’s still heartbreaking. It’s still cancer.)

— 4 —

One more link. You know how, a little over a week ago, I found myself running ridiculous laps across the backyard because my 3-year-old destroyed my chance at having some quiet time to write? About abortion? I set the post aside for a while. But I revisited it last night and I think I can get it up a little later this week. ‘Till then, I thought this quote from Simcha Fisher was hilarious.

News flash.  The Church is against abortion.  Everyone knows this.  Everyone, everyone, everyone.  Find me some stoner kid living under the boardwalk and ask him what the Church teaches about abortion.  He’ll know.  Find me some juiced up Wall Street executive taking a four minute lunch before he dives back into the money pit, and ask him what the Church teaches about abortion.  He’ll know.  Find me some half demented grandpa shuffling down the hall in a nursing home and ask him what the Church teaches about abortion.  He’ll know.  And so will the nurse on call, and the secretary in the office, and the maintenance guy working on the drains, and the high school sophomore gloomily fulfilling his community service hours.  Ask the Planned Parenthood escort.  Ask the talking head who reads the news, or the nastiest combox troll.  The one thing that everybody knows is that the Church is against abortion.

What the world doesn’t know is why the Church is against abortion.  What the world doesn’t know is what the Church can offer instead of abortion.  The world doesn’t know why life is worth living. This is the message that every pope in recent memory has been preaching — that life is good!

“Some stoner kid living under the boardwalk”? I love her. I love her. I love her.

— 5 —

We got to visit with my brand new baby niece two times last week. On Thursday the boys and I drove up to my brother and sister-in-law’s house to visit for a few hours. On Sunday we gathered at my grandparents’ house for swimming and a little game of pass-the-new-baby-around. Here are some pics. Isn’t she sweet?








Meeting one of her great-grandmas…


… and meeting another great-grandma!


They were enjoying the cicada shells attached to their shirts. We named the bugs Crunchy and Crispy. Surprise, surprise, it wasn’t long before Crunchy got, er… crunched.


At the ripe old ages of 4 and 3, they’re turning into the daring big kids.



— 6 —

Here’s some extreme randomness for you: I have very wavy/curly/FRIZZY hair. Hair that’s full of body, but that has zero desire to cooperate with any of my ideas for it. So let me tell you, I have some hilarious bed head in the morning. So hilarious, that were I a little more confident in my appearance, I would post a collage of all the crazy things my hair does in the morning. This morning it was almost entirely made up of wiry, frizzy little curlicues close to my head. But I also had one big wing of wavy frizz heading up and away off the top of my head, at a diagonal. My husband must be pretty darned used to it at this point, because I honestly can’t see why he doesn’t startle or snort with laughter when he first sees me in the morning. That’s pretty much what I do when I look in the bathroom mirror.

— 7 —

Why don’t you start your week off right with a couple of toddler jokes? (My three-year-old’s FIRST! He entertained us with them a few days ago, laughing his little head off.)

Set-up: “How do trains have hands?”
Punchline: “Why dey have bats!”

Set-up: “How do trains don’t have wheels?”
Punchline: “A baby!”

Oh, and then he said this, which was also great:
“What’s dat again? Sowwy, I have wax in my ear.”

Cute little stinker…


He decided to eat his cookie under the table. I have no idea why.

Have  a great week!

Full Disclosure

As I plan to write about some political and religious issues on this blog, I thought it would be useful to provide a little background on the evolution of my outlook in these areas. (I have all these country songs running through my head as I write this: “Where I Come From,” “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you,” etc.)

I thought this little ‘disclosure of my biases,’ as I think of it, would be useful for a few reasons: (1) Political and religious subjects can be pretty touchy. (No surprise there.) (2) Our opinions on them usually have a strong basis in our own life experiences. (3) I aim to be as fair, open, and even-handed on this blog as I can be. And (4) I personally prefer news and commentary sources that either (a) represent both sides of an issue equally well or (b) openly disclose their opinions and make no pretense of impartiality. So I kind of thought I’d cover all my bases.

But before I go any further, let me say that this post makes me nervous and I had a hard time writing it. (Which is part of the reason I wrote so few posts this past week. I was trying to take this one in a different direction and it stumped me.) The words below represent my past and my thought processes and my faith, family, and friends, and it’s all very personal. It’s also probably a big ol’ case of TMI. But I felt like I needed to get all this out there before I proceed with a bunch of other posts I have lined up in my head.


I was raised Catholic in that I regularly attended mass with my mother and I was provided with a religious education through our parish. But my father is not Catholic and there was little mention of faith in our (very happy) home. These days when I read blogs that mention a devotion to this saint, or a fondness for that novena, or a special attachment to such-and-such prayer, or a thousand little ways to live out the liturgical seasons, I feel kind of lost. Like I don’t fully fit into a community that should be my own. Yes, I’m Catholic. Yes, I love Christ, I am devoted to His Church, and faithful to its teachings. But no, I’m not familiar with all the trappings of my Faith.

While there wasn’t much discussion of religion in my family, there was a lot about politics. My grandfather was a local elected official, so I was exposed to campaigns and political chatter from a young age. Various family members worked on Granddad’s campaigns and we all helped on Election Day (which was just about my favorite day of the year when I was a child). My family was (and remains) very Republican in a very Democratic state, so I was instilled with a strong attachment to conservative ideals, but no illusion that these ideals were universal. (Rather, I understood that they were uncommon and needed to be defended.)

In my (public) high school I had a great group of smart, articulate, and religiously/politically diverse friends. And we liked a good debate. As the sole practicing Catholic and one of the only conservatives, I became the defender of all things Catholic and some things conservative. Just as my family’s experience as members of a minority party had prodded my attachment to conservatism, so my lunch-table debate experience bonded me to my Faith. Not that I understood it very well: eight years of Sunday school and one year of confirmation class do not a well-informed Catholic make. But my own little role as Defender of the Faith prompted me to research, ask questions, contemplate, and pray.

This all set the stage nicely for my next step: a political science major at a Catholic college. More lunch table discussions, this time with classmates and seminarians who had been raised in devoutly Catholic families, gave me glimpses of the depth and beauty awaiting me in the Church. Philosophy and theology classes helped me to better understand it. And my political science courses, not to mention informal discussions with friends and professors, gave me an appreciation for the broader context in which we live out our religious ideals. I had always been interested in the convergence of differing ideas; in college I became particularly interested in the convergence of politics and religion.

I wrote my senior thesis on “The American Catholic and the Two Political Parties,” which explored the poor fit between the Church’s teachings on matters of public policy and the ideological break-out of today’s American political parties. I also completed an internship with a Catholic organization that advocated on behalf of the Church’s public policy interests. Several years later, after a stint with the federal government, I returned to the organization to work as a lobbyist for the Church.

There, I was tasked with representing the Church’s positions on social justice matters, which included a wide range of issues related to poverty, housing, health care, and immigration. (Along with a few others.) Most of the positions were what Americans would call “liberal.” Which was a real challenge for me. Coming from a conservative background, I was comfortable with the Church’s teachings on abortion and marriage. I was comfortable promoting school choice. But the Church’s social justice teachings made me uncomfortable. I didn’t necessarily think they were wrong; it’s just that they challenged the political ideals under which I was raised and so they caused discomfort.

Oh, what a learning and growing experience it was for me. I read and I talked to people and I prayed.  I began to gain something of an understanding of people who faced challenges that I never had – people who struggled to feed their children and keep a roof over their heads, people who came to this country seeking a better life, people whose poor health or poor treatment by others or whose own poor decisions had stymied their chances of making it on their own – and even people who struggled to be able to function in society at all. I was changed and I was humbled.

I was grateful for the opportunity to give voice to these people’s concerns – and also for what I felt was an opportunity to bring people closer to Christ through this work of His Church. I feel like a cheesy ball of mush writing this, but I had so many moving experiences doing this work: I huddled in a group of elderly immigrant women and tried to convey to them (through our language barrier) that their Church was there for them. I spoke to crowds at parishes and pleaded with them to connect their own preferred cause for the “least of these” with another that was more challenging for them. I testified before lawmakers and told them, time and again, that all human life has value, regardless of its age or station.

Perhaps I have digressed. What I’m trying to explain is that, yes, I come from a particular place on the political spectrum. I get the conservative thing. But I have also been emerged in an unfamiliar (liberal) political territory, and I got to know it too. I feel richer for the experience.

When I was a lobbyist, I found that I could lobby more effectively when I put myself in the shoes of my opponents – imagining and even empathizing with their motivations. I think the same holds true when you’re discussing a difficult subject. All too often these days, people seem to regard consideration of and empathy with “the other side” as a sign of weakness, even foolishness. But it is such an asset. Sure, it helps you to build a solid case for your own cause. But more importantly, it helps you to explore your own opinions and motivations and be sure that you’re on the right course.

When you get together a group of people who all bring this kind of consideration to their conversation – well, that kind of discussion moves everyone forward in understanding. That is what I feel my background has prepared me for and that is what I hope to encourage with this blog.